Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Does the Fox Say?

     I wanted to take the kids through a simple practice inquiry process, and needed a subject not too narrow, not to wide, but just right.  Inspiration struck when a fourth grade  student walked through the library singing “What Does the Fox Say?” (thanks, Olivia, for the inspiration).
     During the next library visit, we got to work.  We started by listing our THOUGHTS and our QUESTIONS about foxes.

Here are the types of things we thought:

  • They are members of the dog family.
  • They probably make vocal sounds.
  • Maybe their bodies and postures are used to communicate.
  • Like dogs, they might have territory issues and maybe communicate because of that.

Here are the types of things we wondered:

  • Do they make vocal sounds?
  • Is it possible that they are mute?
  • Do other parts of their body such as tail and ears help them to communicate?
  • How about posture and body positioning?
  • Do they use communication to mark their territory?  What kind of communication?
  • Do foxes have unique sounds only used by foxes?
  • Can foxes communicate with other members of the dog family?
  • How do foxes use their senses to communicate?

Where should we go to find out our answers?
The students decided on : Books, interviews with experts, zoo visit, websites, nature videos/TV, lectures, out to the wild/observation, articles

Possible search terms:
Fox, communication, fox sounds, yips and barks, vocal cords, dog family, animal language, body signals and language

     During the research process we learned about scanning for big ideas and reading for details, we took proper brief notes on important information, we evaluated websites for information, and we learned a lot. We used books, websites and video + audio clips.  Many of our early thoughts proved true, but there were a few surprises.

We learned…

  • That a fox uses its unique tail as a flag to communicate with other foxes.
  • A fox’s voice may be heard up to a mile away.
  •   Foxes make over 20 types of calls, and use most of them during the winter months.
  • Foxes leave their scent on bushes and rocks as another means of communication.     
  • Scientists continue to gain knowledge of fox communication; they are cataloging the various sounds made.

Yes, the song is annoying. But now at least you know the answer to the question it poses!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An End to March Madness: We Have a Winner!

What a fun March it was in the library.  We let the blustery winter blow while we enjoyed the art of the picture book. Every true Hoosier takes on a certain hysteria during this month, and we experienced a bit of that at University School.

During the first week of March, we introduced March Madness, Picture Book Version in a huge pep rally. Cheers! Drum rolls! Picture books flashing across the screen!  Thanks to the many teachers who got the kids pumped up for books.  Our Sweet Sixteen titles were met with great enthusiasm.  They were, in alphabetical order:

Boot and Shoe written and illustrated by Marla Frazee.                
The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Daywalt; pictures by Oliver Jeffers.
Flora and the Flamingo written and illustrated by Molly Idle.     
Green written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  
How To written and illustrated by Julie Morstad.                                          
If You Want to See a Whale written by Julie Fogliano; pictures by Erin Stead                       
Journey by Aaron Becker.                                             
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild written and illustrated by Peter Brown.  
More written by I.C. Springman; illustrated by Brian Lies. 
No Fits, Nilson! written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Oh, No! written by Candace Fleming; pictures by Eric Rohmann.
Open This Little Book written by Jesse Klausmeier; illustrated by Suzy Lee.
So Many Days written by Alison McGhee; pictures by Taeeun Yoo.
The Story of Fish & Snail written and illustrated by Deborah Freedman.
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great written and illustrated by Bob Shea.  
Xander’s Panda Party written by Linda Sue Park; illustrated by Matt Phelan.

All of these excellent titles have been received at our school during the last calendar year.

After the rally, the fun work of evaluating the titles began. Various matchings were seeded by differing grade levels, from kindergarten to grade six.  The older grades understood that their response to a book might be different from younger students, but that they had valuable skills that could be employed.
Week-by-week, we worked our way from 16 to 8, to a Final Four, then two. The students turned a critical eye to the books, examining how a cover or endpapers can set a tone, how word and image work together to tell a story, and how details can bring greater understanding.  Whenever possible, we examined the artistic media employed, and learned about techniques and media that were new to us.

All the books were enjoyed, but the efforts of our students paid off in a final winner, announced today.
They decided that the book that most entranced and delighted them was The Day the Crayons Quit. The story of a box full of crayons holding a protest provoked discussion, opinions, questions and laughter! 
Congratulations to author Drew Daywalt and illustrator Oliver Jeffers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stuck on Reading

    Reading motivation. It's been the subject of conferences, books, discussions, and articles too numerous to count. This year, we found a very effective motivator.
     The challenge was this.  During the month of February, students would receive a log.  They would read at least 20 minutes per night for at least 20 nights and have parents initial their logs.  Responsibly returning it to the teacher would earn them.... a piece of tape.

     But this would be special tape, for a special purpose. The duct tape would be used to stick our principals to the wall at our Read Across America celebration on the first week of March.
     SO much feedback! Parents were reporting record-breaking reading each night! I fielded questions such as "If I read 40 minutes each night, can I get twice as much tape?" or "We've got duct tape at home.  Can I bring it in and use that too?"  Our principal, Mrs. McClaine, and assistant principal, Mrs. Plumer, winners of this year's "Good Sports" awards, also received comments and many sly glances from students in the hallways.
     The month passed quickly, and our celebration was upon us.  Eager tapers lined up.

                                                                                                                                            The most amazing volunteers in the world kept everything running smoothly and kept the tape flowing!


Even teachers got in on the act.  I believe that Mrs. McClaine is asking to see proof of completion on Mrs. King's reading log.
The students read A LOT.  But would it be enough to actually to support our principals... even if the stools were removed?  Click HERE to watch the countdown!

Thanks once again to our amazing principals and to all the volunteers who made it all happen.
Thank you to Mrs. Killion for the photos shown here and to Mrs. Knepper for the video.  In fact, Mrs. Knepper was on camera duty for the entire event. All were able to watch on our "jumbotron" as she captured the exciting moments.
Stick with reading!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hats, and More, for the Jizos

Our study of East Asia continues in the library.  We've been experiencing the global art of storytelling.  Last week, we enjoyed a story called Hats for the Jizos from Japan. The storytelling technique employed was kamishibai theatre. Employed in Japan for hundreds of years, the small kamishibai theatre holds picture cards that help to tell the story.  Kamishibai was very influential in the development of Japanese television and currently popular arts, such as manga and anime.
The story shared in library class centered around a kind, humble man who sees statues our in the snow and puts hats on their heads to protect them from the elements.
    We learned about jizo statues. Our research told us that these statues exist in nearly every town in Japan.
They are there to greet and protect travelers, and can be seen along roads and paths.  We enjoyed looking at the images.  Some are very plain and others are elaborate; sometimes there is on statue and sometimes there are many. 
 People often leave clothing or other gifts for the jizos.

We all enjoyed the story, and then yesterday, something rather odd happened.
Outside the library, someone had drawn some jizo statues and pinned them to the wall.
Then I noticed several others around the building.  By now I have seen many jizo statues appearing.  I can honestly say that I have nothing to do with it.  I suspect some kind and enthusiastic students may be responsible.

I hope we all start leaving little decorations for the jizos. You can "teach" kids, and fill their heads with ideas and information, But, it's a beautiful thing when students take ownership and take their learning to the next level.
Oshimai = "the end."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Best wishes in the New Year

Happy New Year from the University School library.
This spring, thanks to a grant written by Mrs. Olivo, we'll be studying the arts and folklore of East Asia.
During library time, we decided to kick it off in the new year.
Way back in 2013, about 4 weeks ago, the students in grades 2-6 made paper fortune cookies for each other.  There was basically only one rule: BE KIND.  Other than that, creativity was encouraged.

How about:
     * In your lifetime, you will discover a new species.
     * Your greatest wish will come true ... in twenty years.     (Oof! There's ALWAYS a catch!)
     * When Saturn aligns with Jupiter, your gummy bears will come to life.

We had a great deal of fun writing fortunes for unknown recipients.
This week, after learning about the defined countries of East Asia, students were able to select a fortune cookie from a humongous box.  Some of the fortunes were met with a "awwww," and some with a "huh?" and many with a laugh.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Getting squirrely in the library

It all began with Scaredy Squirrel, an unofficial mascot here in the library.

I'd been wanting to start some inquiry with the primary grades, and decided to begin a unit in which we got to know a lot more about an animal we see every day.

We began with a very standard approach.  We discussed what students already knew, or though they knew, about these animals. Everyone was able to share in the discussion as we described what squirrels are like, where they live and what they do.

Our inquiring minds then produced a great deal of questions they had about squirrels.  The following week, we read a factual book in which we learned that squirrels are rodents, that they have only four teeth that never stop growing, that they use their tails to balance, and many other interesting facts.

But they had more questions!  And they were compelling questions.
* How can such a little animal crack open such a hard nut?
* Do squirrels talk to each other?  Do they imitate other animals?
* Do they make their own holes in trees or move into someone else's hole?
* How can they walk on wires and not get shocked?
* Can squirrels swim?  Can they walk on two feet?
* Are there flying squirrels in Indiana?  Why haven't I seen one?
* Can I keep a pet squirrel?
* Where in the world do squirrels live?

We talked a bit about the many ways we can find out answers. We listened to recordings of squirrel chatter on the internet. We saw an informational short about flying squirrels, then went to the DNR site to find that we do indeed have flying squirrels locally, but they are nocturnal, which is why many of us had not seen one. We looked up state law regarding wild animal licenses.

The final question, about where in the world squirrels live, invited another type of information seeking. Where in the world do squirrels live? We discussed the idea that when you "do inquiry" (wonder, ask, and find answers), you use different resources.  Our school has a great resource in its large international community.  Our school family became the experts, by joining together on a "Squirrels Around the World" spreadsheet.  See it HERE, and please feel to add a country not yet represented to the bottom of the list. Based on this excellent first hand knowledge, I constructed a Google map of worldly squirrels.  It can be viewed HERE; don't forget to read the key!

The library is always a slightly squirrely place, but lately more so.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The rewards of summer reading

Students who completed our summer reading challenge were in for a surprising time this year. First, they got to skip out on math... not a bad prize in and of itself. But when they got to the library, a series of fun challenges awaited them.

The students visited three stations set up throughout the library.
At Mrs. McClaine's station, they were invited to crack a code and earn a prize.
With Mrs. Hitchings, the students were invited to attempt a series of body tricks based on science.
Mrs. D'Eliso ran the mystery center, in which students' observation skills were challenged.

An additional prize consisted of a golden ticket for 15 additional free minutes in the library.
Students have also been winning golden tickets based on acts of kindness observed in the library.
Our students delight in the idea of being able to have the freedom of being able to explore.  They receive one-on-one consultations in which I recommend books to them. 

Summer, winter, any season... winning brings rewards of many kinds!