Monday, May 15, 2017

Discovering Our Superpowers: Teaching Coding to 5th Graders Using Scratch

Coding is a superpower. Technology is becoming embedded in every industry imaginable and there simply aren't enough qualified applicants for the growing computer science field. In order to attract the best applicants, companies are willing to give out generous salaries and the best benefits imaginable: free gourmet food, play rooms, nap rooms, and more. This is all part of the reason we decided it was important to teach our students just a bit about how to code.

 When planning our coding unit, the technology teacher and I were directed to use Scratch (I personally prefer as I find it more user friendly for just learning the basics.) Rather than reinvent the wheel, we went to the internet to find Scratch lesson plans. We found this guide from Scratch and used it as the springboard for what we did with our students. Below is a description of the unit we developed. Each "day" is one 50 minute period. The computer teacher and I co-taught this unit, however it could easily be taught by one teacher.

Day 1: Why Should We Learn Coding?/ Brainstorming
We wanted to stress to our students the importance of coding and how embedded it is in everyday life. To share this information, we went through this PowerPoint with students. After watching the video at the end of the PowerPoint, we had students brainstorm the kinds of things they would use coding to create.

Day 2: Join Scratch and Complete Tutorial

Our next step was to get students into Scratch and familiar with the program. We began by showing this video to students. We then had students use their school computer username and password to set up their account. We had students use our email instead of their parent's email so that we would be able to reset their password if necessary and immediately confirm their accounts. To ensure they used the correct username and password, we created these direction sheets for each student. After students were logged in, we directed students to go through the Scratch tutorial. The major downfall of this tutorial was that students could click through all the steps without performing the actions and complete the tutorial without having any idea how to use Scratch. This meant that we needed to be very specific about how to complete the tutorial and even perform the first few steps for the class to see.

Day 3-4: Ten Blocks Project

To help students build more familiarity with Scratch, we had students complete the "10 Blocks" project (page 30-31 in the Creative Computing Guide). Students were directed to use only the 10 blocks listed on page 31 to build a project. They could use the blocks more than once, but they could only use the blocks listed. To introduce the project, we showed students this video explaining what each block did and how to put their project together. After the video, students logged in, clicked on Create, and began working on their project. We printed out page 31 as a guide for each student and displayed the list of blocks on our projector screen. We found that one day was not enough to complete the project, so we had them work on it for two days. On the second day, students logged into Scratch, opened their folder, and completed their projects. At the end of the second day, we had students write a response to the reflection questions for the project:
  • What was difficult about being able to use only 10 blocks?
  • What was easy about being able to use only 10 blocks?
  • How did it make you think of things differently?
Day 5-7: About Me Project
We wanted the final project to be simple, but allow for creativity. After skimming through the Creative Computing Guide, we decided on the "About Me" project on page 36. We began by showing this video to explain the project to the students. Before we had students begin working on their project, we had them think about what 5 sprites they might put in their project and turn to a neighbor to talk about these 5 sprites. After a bit of brainstorming and discussion, students logged in, clicked on create, and began working on their projects. We allowed students three days to work on this project.At the end of the third day, students shared their projects with a classmate and wrote a response to the reflection questions for the project:

  • What are you most proud of? Why? 
  • What did you get stuck on? How did you get unstuck? 
  • What might you want to do next? 
  • What did you discover from looking at others’ About Me projects

We were a bit crunched for time, since we planned this quickly at the end of the school year, so if I were to do this again, I would suggest using Day 5-7 to only work on the About Me project and using an 8th day for students to present their projects to the class and write their responses.

How are you teaching coding at your school? How have you used Scratch?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Summer Reading Lists

We all know it is important to keep our students reading during the summer, but what do we encourage them to read? Below are links to my summer reading suggestions for Summer 2017

Entering this grade in August/September 2017:
1st Grade
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade
6th Grade
Middle School
High School

Be sure to check with your local bookstores and public libraries for summer reading programs and events!

Resources and Book Lists:
Kindergarten- Grade 2: 

Grade 3- Grade 5:

Middle School:

High School/ Young Adult:


Friday, April 21, 2017

It Takes a Village: Tools to Help Keep the Community Informed, Engaged, and Supportive

The Media Center is an integral part of the school community. Media Specialists and Librarians are aware of this, but how do we keep the community informed of all we do? How do you engage your school and the community itself in the Media Center programs? How do you in turn get the community to stand behind the Media Center and support the many programs? Well, below I will tell you what I have done to get our community involved here. I'd love to hear how you get your community involved as well.

  • Web Site: The Media Center website has all of the information about everything that happens in the Media Center. I designed my Media Center website using Google Sites and some HTML coding. I tried to design it to be simple and functional so that parents, staff, and students could easily access what they were looking for. On the home page, I had links to my contact information, newsletter sign up, the school library catalog, the public library website, and useful websites and online sources.
    I also included a link to a page with our schedule embedded and the objectives to lessons currently being taught in the Media Center. Aside from regular Media Center business on the home page, I also included a page for our Monday Morning Makers and Coding Club programs. On these pages, I embedded videos that helped to explain why we have these programs and what they are. I also included written information about the programs and a schedule of events. I taught the students how to use the website and sent home information about the website in our school newsletter. You can access the Pinewood Media Center website by visiting:
  • Newsletters: During open house, parents were able to sign up for the Media Center newsletter. The teachers also sent a sign up link to all their parents. I easily could have sent the newsletter out to all the parents, but I did not want it to be looked at like spam. I did not want it to be irritating. To manage my newsletter, I chose to use the free email marketing tool Vertical Response. This program allows you to create various contact lists (I also use this to send out reminders about coding club) and easily lay out your newsletter with a number of templates to choose from. You can also add a widget into the newsletter for people to share the newsletter on Facebook and Twitter. You can access my March Newsletter here. In my newsletter, I share reading tips, blog posts, and upcoming events.
  •  Blog Posts: Another way that I reach out to the community and to other Media Specialist is through this blog which you are reading right now. I set up my blog using blogger in college and began updating it again a little over a year ago. On the blog, I share about lessons I am currently teaching, recommend books or authors, and share about technology I have found useful. Use the navigation bar on the side to browse through some of the other posts I have written.
  • Social Media: I use Twitter and Facebook to connect with the community and with other Media Specialists. I share short blurbs of information on both, things like cool apps, book suggestions, and Media Center happenings. I also share my newsletter and blog posts through social media. To make things easier and save time, I often schedule my posts ahead of time using a tool called Hootsuite. This allows you to create your posts and schedule when you would like them to go out. I often schedule 2 weeks of posts at a time.
     To increase followers on social media, I often tag others that are relevant to the post and utilize hashtags, especially the school's hashtag. I also include links to my social media profiles on my website and blog and in my newsletter. To engage with colleagues, I find Twitter chats are very engaging.You can find me on Twitter at @LisaNewhouse4 and on Facebook on my page Media Specialist 4 Life.
  • PTO and School Board Presentations: Finally, in person meetings and presentations are also important to engaging with the community. I have made it a habit to attend school board meetings and PTO meetings. I also try to attend a variety of school events. It is so much fun to see the students outside of the normal school day. I have also found that a great way to get the parents and school board invested in programs is to invite them. We have had administrators and school board members visit our coding club and have even presented about coding to our school board. Here is the video that we shared last fall:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Graphic Novels: Why They're Not Junk

If you have been paying attention to the books that children are gravitating towards these days, you may have noticed that many of them are choosing what appear to be comic books. These books that are so popular now are called graphic novels. As Amy Mascott mentions in her blog, these books, just like your average novel, have defined characters and complex plots. Unlike your average novel, they are written in a comic book format with panels of pictures and with text mostly in speech or thought bubbles. You may think that these books are less worthy to be read than novels that are purely in text, but I assure you that graphic novels are a key to reading success for many students.
When trying to get a reluctant reader to read, you may not have much luck with a book full of words, but once you show them a book with illustrations and words they are much more intrigued. There are numerous students that would not read if it were not for graphic novels. These books are thick and have an interest level appropriate to the child so that they are not embarrassed to be caught reading it like they might a picture book, but with the help of the illustrations, students can comprehend what is happening in the book and feel successful at reading. Once students have built confidence through reading graphic novels, they often turn to regular novels with similar plots. This is why graphic novels based on the classics or on popular chapter books are wonderful. A student who reads The Lightning Thief graphic novel may be so intrigued that they then try the original version of this book. For these reasons, I often encourage my struggling readers to try graphic novels.
"But my student is not a struggling reader and they are still reading this junk!" I assure you these books are not junk. There is quite a bit of value to reading graphic novels. Many graphic novels use rich, challenging vocabulary words, but students are able to comprehend what is going on because they have the assistance of the rich, beautiful artwork. Thus through reading graphic novels, students are able to learn new vocabulary words and improve their reading fluency. There are also graphic novels that are based on classic literature. I love these books because they make complex texts accessible to all students. Even a student who is an avid reader can struggle with the vocabulary and text structure of a classic novel, but through reading the graphic novel version they are able to comprehend the text and access the important lessons embedded in the story. The same goes for graphic nonfiction. There are a number of nonfiction books that have come out in the last few years in graphic novel form. These are wonderful for learning history and as biographies since you are able to get a real picture of what happened that you would not be able to get from a traditional nonfiction book. Finally, reading graphic novels requires another whole set of skills that a novel does not require. Students have to track the story through cells, learn to read both pictures and words together, and learn to slow down and really breathe in the whole story. All of these are reasons why I have no problem with my students reading graphic novels and even encourage them to be read.
How do you feel about graphic novels? Why? If you like them, what are some of your favorites?

Please help us grow our graphic novel collection at Pinewood by supporting our Donors Choose project.

Further Reading:
Anderson, M. (2016). 10 reasons to let your kids read graphic novels. Retrieved from
Filucci, S. (2016). How comics helped my kid love reading. Retrieved from
Jones, E. (2014.) 5 great reasons to read graphic novels. Retrieved from
Mascott, A. (2017). 3 reasons graphic novels can be great for young readers. Retrieved from

Monday, March 6, 2017

Weeding the Garden: How We Determine Which Books to Remove from the Library

I love to garden. We purchased our first home about 3 years ago now. Each year I have done a little bit with the landscaping and gardening around our house. I spread the preexisting hostas and lilies out to line the sides of the house and garage. I tore out the dead bushes in front of our house and planted tulips, irises, and hydrangea bushes. I trimmed the lilac bush and I tilled up (ok my husband did the tilling) part of our backyard for a spacious vegetable garden. In order for my flowers and vegetables to grow, I needed to be sure to pull out the ugly dead plants and continually pull up the weeds. Without doing these things, it would be hard to see the beautiful new growth and it likely wouldn't have room to grow well. The same is true for a library collection. As much as we treasure every book in our library, from time to time we need to reevaluate, pull up the dead things, keep up with the weeding, and plant new things.
This is my second year teaching at Pinewood Elementary. (I hope to be here many more if they allow it.) This past summer, the Library Media Center got a little facelift with new paint and new carpet. This summer we will be doing a major overhaul with new furniture (shelves, tables, chairs, circ desk, the works). In order to make room for new spaces, like a comfortable seating area and STEM/Makerspace stations, we need to go through and weed our books. This means that we will be removing books from our library collection and either recycling them, offering them up to teachers, or donating them to a charity like Books for Africa. This is a big job and requires a lot of evaluation and consideration. How does one know which books to pull from the shelves and what to do with each one once pulled? How do you know whether the books should just be removed from the system and forgotten about or if they should be replaced with updated copies? Well. that's what this blog post is about. Read on to learn how this librarian chooses which books to weed and where to go from there.
I have to say, I am very grateful for technology when I start projects like these. The first step I take when planning to weed is to submit my library collection data to a company called Follett for an analysis. They then provide me with charts showing the age of different sections of the library and providing me with a base list of books that are good candidates for weeding. I use this list primarily for our nonfiction books as it helps me to pick out books that likely have outdated information. After looking at each book on the list, I pull the books that are indeed outdated and they are recycled. Next using our online library catalog software I run a report of how often books have been checked out in the last 3 years. The books that have been checked out fewer than 3 times are reviewed and I decide whether they simply need to be weeded, are good books hidden among ugly ones, or need an updated cover. This report assists me in weeding the chapter books, picture books, and sections of nonfiction like the folk tales and poetry.
My usual process involves starting an inventory in our online library catalog, grabbing a cart with a laptop or Chromebook and my USB bar code scanner, a stack of post its, and a book cart. I then start in the 000s section of the nonfiction books and slowly follow my list either pulling books and deleting them or scanning them for inventory. Deleted books go on the book cart while the other books remain on the shelf. By going through each shelf, I can also see books that are in distressed condition and pull them for weeding as well, even if they aren't on the list. This also allows me to pull books that may do better to be shelved elsewhere (this is where my post it notes come in).After I get through the nonfiction section. I continue with the remaining sections of the library. As my book cart gets full, I review my deleted books and decide what to do with them. Books that are in poor condition or contain outdated information get recycled. Books in good condition without time sensitive information (think fiction books) are put on a cart in the teachers lounge and after a week or two are donated to a charity. When I have finished going through all the shelves, I can also finalize an inventory of the library so that books that are not in the library are marked as lost. Now the library has room for new books and new spaces and the kids are able to more easily find the attractive new books.

For more information about weeding a library, visit this page for a comprehensive list of resources.
Standards for weeding are available here.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Spring Cleaning/ Library Media Center Wish List

This year we have worked hard to provide better Media Center programming to our students at Pinewood. We have run five sessions of coding club, monthly Monday Morning Makers events, and purchased books for information and entertainment. We work really hard to stretch our budget and support all these endeavors. We have also been blessed with donations from the Pinewood PTO, Horace Mann, and DonorsChoose donors. Now we are reaching out to you. It's that time of the year where we start doing a little spring cleaning around the house. We think it might be possible that while you clean your house you may find some things that are no longer useful to you, but could be useful to us. Please take a look at the list below and if you happen to find any of these things just laying around unused, feel free to send them with your child to the Pinewood Media Center. Thank you again for all your support!

For Monday Morning Makers:
  • Craft Supplies
    • Stamps
    • Pipe cleaners
    • Puff balls
    • Googley eyes
    • Stickers
    • Toothpicks
    • Popsicle sticks
  • Legos
  • K'nects
  • Tinker Toys 
  • Kids circuitry kits
    • Snap Circuit
    • Little Bits
  • Plastic dinnerware
  • Origami Paper/Kits
  • Knitting, Crocheting, or Weaving Tools
    • Needles
    • Looms
    • Yarn
  • Hand sewing kits for kids
    • Sewing Cards
  • Embroidery Tools
    • Dish towels
    • Pillow cases
    • Fabric squares
    • Patterns
    • Hoops
    • Needles
  • Art supplies
    • Scissors
    • Glue/ Glue sticks
    • Markers
    • Crayons
  • Various Arts and Crafts Kits
For Library Collection:
We will take gently used books that are popular. If we cannot use the books that are donated, we will pass them on to where they are needed. Some popular titles/series we could use include:
  • Lego Books
    • Ninjago
    • Chima
    • City
  • Dear Dumb Diary
  • Dork Diaries
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Elementary level graphic novels
  • Mo Willems books
    • Pigeon books
    • Elephant and Piggie books
  • Guinness World Records
  • Ripley's Believe It or Not
  • Goosebumps
  • Barbie or Princess Books
  • Minecraft
  • Kids superhero books
    • Batman
    • Spiderman
    • Superman
    • Avengers
    • Transformers
  • Audiobooks on CD
Thank you for your support of our  Media Center Programs. If you do not have any of these items, but would still like to support our programs, please consider donating at

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beloved Books for Lovely Readers

Why should my child read the classics? More importantly, how do I encourage them to do so? The main reason for reading the classics that I hear is that they are high quality literature, which of course they are, but what does that mean to our little readers? I would argue that the 5 main reasons to read the classics are as follows:
  1. Improve  Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking Skills: It is almost common sense that more reading will lead to improved reading skills. It's just like exercise, the more you practice, the better you'll be. If you ask most authors, they will tell you that they improved their writing by reading more books. In fact many books mention other books that may have been important to the author. For example, Twilight's main character Bella mentions that Wuthering Heights is one of her favorite books. No doubt this was mentioned because the author of the book enjoyed Wuthering Heights. The biggest difference between any old book and a classic is the challenge the book presents and the big world questions they explore. These aspects in particular will truly stretch reading and writing skills while they also stretch critical thinking.
  2. Relate to Older Generations: Classics have been loved by many many generations. This is how they have come to be known as classic literature. When children read the classics, they will be able to better understand the culture of the times they are reading about, but also be able to talk about these books with older members of their family. Parents and grandparents can share with their children the memories of reading these books and the feelings they gave them leading to wonderful relationships.
  3. Increase Vocabulary: When having kids find "just right books" we tell them to choose a book in which they know most of the words. Why not all? Because we want the kids to learn more words. Classic literature often uses more challenging language, so it naturally leads to an increase in vocabulary as students use context clues or even the good old dictionary to come to an understanding of these new words.
  4. Improve Intelligence and Earning Potential: In the words of Dr. Suess, "The more you read, the more you will know. The more that you know, the more places you'll go!" When students read more books they are increasing their knowledge. When students read classic literature they are gaining more knowledge from a quality source. People with a higher intelligence often make more money. So it can be gathered that the more you read, the higher your earning potential. Why not start building intelligence while still in school?
  5. Understand Literary References: Lastly, we often hear or read literary references, like "Don't be a Scrooge" or "Well, it's kind of a catch-22.", without realizing that these actually are literary references. When we read classics we become more aware of the things we hear, read, and say and where they came from. This makes it easier to understand the books we are reading and the people we are talking to.
Ok, great, so we have reasons to read the classics, but how do we get our kids interested in reading them? Here are some suggestions:
  1. Read to Your Child: I've previously mentioned this in my blog post on helping your child to improve their reading skills, and it's worth saying again, reading to your child is something you should do as long as they will allow you. A bed time story helps children and adults to wind down and relax. Reading to your child models fluency in reading and allows for discussions of what was read. I remember my mother reading Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie to my sister and I when we were young. Those memories are treasures.
  2. Read with Your Child: Just like reading to your child, reading with your child can help to improve reading skills and encourage a love of reading. Both of these are great ways for you to share your favorite books with your children. Why not take turns reading maybe you can take every other paragraph, page, or chapter? You could start with a simple book like AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh books or any of Roald Dahl's fantasy wonders.
  3. Start with Illustrated Abridged Versions: I remember when I was younger getting a copy of the Great Illustrated Classics version of Great Expectations. I absolutely loved the book and reread it many times. As I got older, my love for the book led me to read the original version which I loved just as much. This series of illustrated classics is still available on Amazon. Usborne books also recently published a set of illustrated abridged classics for kids that are amazing in quality.
  4. Try Graphic Novel Versions: Graphic Novels are some of the most popular books in our school library. The comic book format easily draws in reluctant readers which explains why so many novels are having companion graphic novels made out of them. The graphic novel format is also helpful when trying to follow along and understand the story. 
  5. Connect the Classic to a Modern Book: As I said before, authors often mention books within their stories. One way to connect a classic to a modern book would be making note of these mentions while reading a modern book and reading the classics mentioned after. Often you can make connections between the story line of the two books. Another way to make connections would be to pair modern remakes of a book with the original. For example, A Tale Dark and Grimm or The Sisters Grimm could be paired with the original Grimm's Fairy Tales,  or for teens, you could pair Pride & Prejudice with Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies.
  6. Watch the Movie as a Reward for Finishing the Books: When the weather is icky like it has been lately, what would be better than a movie night? Many of the classic novels we love have been turned into movies or TV miniseries. Why not use the movie as an incentive for reading the book. When you finish the book you can curl up with a blanket and some popcorn and watch a movie. A great example would be to read A Jungle Book  and then watch either the old animated Disney version or the beautifully done updated version of the movie. After watching the movie you can compare it to the book, which in turn improves critical thinking.

Further Reading:
Buchanan, J. (2013). How—and why—to encourage your kids to read classic literature. Retrieved from

Carlyle, R. (2015, March 17). Hooked on classics: Top tips to get your children to read quality books. Express. Retrieved from

Chen, G. (2015). Why read the classics? Retrieved from

Kersten, K. (2009, September 19). Katherine Kersten: Why students should read the classics. Star Tribune. Retrieved from

Leigh, J. (2016). 10 reasons you should be reading the classics. Retrieved from

Richardson, H. (2015, September 26), Do children still need to read the classics of English literature? BBC. Retrieved from