Sunday, March 15, 2009

New Furniture!

The couches from Ikea arrived not too long ago. It really helps make the room more cozy! The kids love them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brandon Mull

When I found out that Brandon Mull was coming to my school, I quickly went to read his books to prepare my students. I am not a fantasy reader at all. My feet need to be on the ground. Therefore, I bypassed the book with the witch on the front and began The Candy Shop War. I finished it in two days and my appreciation of Brandon Mull and his craft began. I told everyone I knew about this book! To me, Brandon's writing was J.K. Rowling with a dose of Stephen King. The characters he created were so lovable and realistic you felt as if they were your friends. The idea of magical candy was just comical to me. What kid wouldn't do anything to have some candy with magical powers? I then moved to Fablehaven. The concept behind the book is that the magical creatures, like fairies and dragons, do exist but they are endangered and now live on wildlife preserves. There are strict rules that must be obeyed and in this way all is kept in order. Enter two children Kenrda and Seth, whose curiosity over their grandfathers property soon threatens to overturn that law of order. Wow! I am in awe of imaginations that can create entire worlds but even more in awe of the visual images that are created through Brandon's words.

Brandon is continuing an extensive New Jersey school tour promoting the fourth book of the Fablehaven series. He made an appearance at our school today and the kids went nuts! Brandon's message for kids was just as inspiring as his writing. He encouraged all of them to use their imagination. Brandon pointed out that when children watch TV or video games they are using someone else's imagination, but when they read they are using their own! He outlined two ways to make your imagination stronger. 1. Read 2. Create Simple yet powerful! Brandon also encouraged the kids to write about their lives, pointing out that they can be more descriptive when they write from what they know. Brandon explained that even in a fantasy book, such as Candy Shop Wars, the town where the story takes place was based on a real town that he lived in as a kid. It is this personal connection, he said, that allows his writing to be more descriptive and believable to his readers. I agree! Brandon also encouraged the children to value the feedback they receive from their teachers and peers. He displayed a copy of a page from Fablehaven with all of the revision marks from his editor. The children gasped! Brandon shared that it is this feedback makes him a better writer.
I was so impressed with the powerful messages he gave to our students today. I feel that his message came from his true passion for wanting children to read and create using their imagination. It was an honor to meet him at what is certainly the beginning of a long creative career.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

EBSCO Search Engines for K-5 students

By exploring EBSCO’s Searchasaurs, Kids Search and Student Research Center a definite developmental continuum between the three search engines emerged. Not only does the amount of information found increase through each database, but the features grow to meet student’s needs as well. Each search engine layout builds upon the previous site. This guarantees that children will locate information with confidence and a sense of familiarity. Searchasaurus is a great place to begin with second and third grade. Young students are able to navigate through the pages easily and they will be able to read most of the content. The topic search feature helps to further visualize the concept of sub categories. Having children visualize the relationship between topics and subtopics is so important in building a solid searching foundation. The children will click on the animal dinosaur to learn about animals. The screen then reveals several sub topics like birds, mammals and habitats. The children will then be able to choose birds to narrow their search. Once on the bird page several topics are listed. At the top of the screen the pictures of the source choices are shown. Teachers are able to show how to reduce the number of results by asking the students what information they want to know about birds. By selecting animals at the top the results go down to 1,078. The children will also see specific birds listed. With Searchasaurus, teachers are able to begin search strategies such as terms in quotes, and Boolean terms. Third graders will find more information is needed as the year progresses and will find by the end of the year that Kids Search meets their needs more than Searchasaurus.

Kids Search contains more advanced searching options to help narrow a topic for fourth and fifth graders. There are now side tabs as well as filters on the top. The Detailed Search option allows the children to see how Boolean terms are added as well as filtering results before hitting the search button. Primary Source documents have been added to the sources as well as folders to save the search results and documents. In this way, children can access the documents from their library, classroom or homes. The Primary Source documents allow for more discussions to take place about the different kinds of sources students come into contact with and how to evaluate those sources. The folder feature takes into account the growth of the searching process. It acknowledges that children at this age need more than one source for their research and provides a tool to help keep the children organized. Students are also able to see the title list of the databases and search exclusively from one periodical if they desire.

Right away, Student Research Center looks more grown up. The cartoons have been replaced with photographs and the screen is filled with type rather than pictures. Student Research Center allows students to filter and narrow their topic from the homepage. Their choices are now more reflective of a middle school environment. Title lists reveal that Health Source - Consumer Edition, MAS Ultra - School Edition, Biography Collection Complete, and TOPICsearch have all been added to provide more “grown up” results. The topic of Animals is replaced with a sub-topic Wildlife under the science heading. The topics such as literary criticism, current events, and careers also suggest articles that stimulate discussion and points of view rather than simple fact-finding. Within Student Research Center, students still have access to sharing, printing and saving the information they find. When students save the articles, they are able to choose the proper citation format they need, greatly helping them document their sources properly. Taking the time to view these search engines side by side reveals how powerful searching instruction could be when Searchasaurus, Kids Search and Student Research Center are used as a developmental continuum with students.