Some Kind of Courage

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My students and I are BIG fans of Dan Gemeinhart. When he published The Honest Truth, I couldn’t wait to share it with my students.

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This novel of a boy with cancer who wants to make his own choices, tugged at my heart. I don’t have time to make many book trailers these days, but I made time for The Honest Truth. I convinced my husband to take me on a road trip to Mt. Rainier, so I could capture photos of the scenes in the book. I shared the finished trailer with Dan and he published it on his blog.

My students fell with it too, and soon even four copies weren’t enough to circulate in the library. They begged for me to see if we could Skype with Dan. He told us last spring about the new book he was doing the final edits on. We were all eager for January 2016 to come.

Then I switched schools and had a new group of students who had never read The Honest Truth. What would be their reaction to this fabulous book? Would it be similar to my last school? The answer is a resounding yes! Again, I had more students wanting to read this book than I had available in the library. Many students bought their own copies at our book fair and teachers bought copies too after hearing the buzz from their students.

So, when Some Kind of Courage was released in late January, I was eager and nervous to read it. I loved The Honest Truth so much, I was worried that Dan’s second book wouldn’t measure up to my expectations.

I was silly to worry. Dan scored again with Some Kind of Courage.

Set in 1890 in Eastern Washington state, this historical fiction book is the story of Joseph Johnson, a twelve year old boy in search of his beloved horse Sarah. Sarah is the only family he has after his father, mother and sister die. When Joseph finds out she has been sold, he is determined to get her back as fast as possible.

Joseph faces numerous obstacles along the way, but never gives up. Joseph is the kind of realistic character, that as a reader you feel like you know him, and feel his heartbreak at every turn. At many points I wanted to bring him home and go get that horse myself to put him out of his misery.

And that’s Dan’s gift. He knows how to create characters that you relate to emotionally. Every trial the main character faces hurts and each success is a celebration that you feel as much as the character. This historical adventure story will take you on a ride full of hope, angst, and courage. Bring a tissue, you might need it along the ride.

Some Kind of Courage

Dan Gemeinhart

ISBN:978-0-545-66577-3

Published by Scholastic Press 2016

Honest Truth Book trailer

Dan’s blog http://dangemeinhart.com/

 

 

Hack the Classroom

On Saturday, January 30th, Mrs. Moynihan and I were very fortunate to be able to be part of the Hack the Classroom live studio audience on the Microsoft Redmond campus.

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During the event we had the opportunity to listen to Hadi Partovi (founder of Code.org), speak about his experiences with computers growing up and the importance of teaching students how to code as early as kindergarten. The same morning President Obama gave his support for coding in his morning address.

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly television and radio address. “I’ve got a plan to help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science.”

When we think of programming, we often think of teenagers huddled over complicated script, but coding works with the younger children too as demonstrated by Canadian teacher Leah Obach. Leah teaches first grade and her students have been coding most of the year. Her class was chosen to be featured in the Hack the Classroom event. Here is her classroom in action.

Seeing how easily her students approach computer programming has inspired me to try more in my library classroom.

Another one of the speakers was Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and Maker Faires. He brought attention to the fact that our students need time to be creative in the classroom. They need time to make things because it helps them develop their critical thinking skills, perseverance and expand their creativity.

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3D Magna Tiles

Richard Snyder, a middle school librarian in the Lake Washington School District asked Dale what the role school libraries have with the maker space concept. The librarians in the audience were thrilled when he said, “My secret weapon in class is the school librarian.” Makerspace time is so important to bring into the libraries because we work with all the students.

Jeff Kash spoke about how he uses OneNote and OneNote ClassNotebook in his classes. Students using OneNote no longer lose all their papers or have trouble organizing themselves. OneNote stores everything digitally, so students and teachers can access anytime from any device.

Rafranz Davis explained how she uses Minecraft edu in her classes. I’m probably the last person on earth who hasn’t played Minecraft yet, but I am intrigued by the higher level thinking skills that are engaged when playing this game.

If you would like to watch the recording of the Hack the Classroom event, this link will take you to the website, where it will be available for about 90 days.

Coin Drive Exceeds Goal

Our Coin Drive to raise money for postage to send boxes of books to our partner schools in Ghana, Lesotho and South Africa exceeded our goal!

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In the course of three days we raised –

http://www.rasaint.net/ - Glitter Graphics
http://www.gigaglitters.com/ – Glitter Graphics

How absolutely fantastic is that?! Our goal was $1,000 and we raised over $400 more than our goal!

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Most of the money we raised was in coins. We had over 4800 pennies donated! It took hours to sort and count the coins. Thankfully there were many volunteers (students and staff) to came to help! We did use Coinstar to count the pennies otherwise it would have taken hours to count and roll them.

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Now that we have money, we can box up donated books and send them overseas! Each student will have the opportunity to sign a book and create a book mark to insert in the boxes.

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In a few weeks, we will see some happy faces from some children who can really use these materials. Here is a photo from Mr. Malakane’s classroom in Lesotho taken last spring. His students often use these books in lessons as well as free reading at home.

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I want to thank our school community and especially our students who donated their own money to help a student in another part of the world.  Your generosity is amazing. Whether you donated a penny or a dollar, every cent helps. Your actions matter!

 

African Animal Research for 2nd Graders

Our second graders will be doing research using the database PebbleGo about an African mammal. Today we are collecting information about which African mammals to study in each class. We are using Excel Online to collect our data. The data will help us form study groups about different African mammals.

Please, if you are not a second grader at our school, please do not take our survey!

White Rhino Valentina Storti via Compfight

African Mammal Survey Link

 

Britain's Next Top Zebra

Scorpions and Centaurs via CompfightCreative Commons License Tambako The Jaguar via Compfight

If you would like to learn how to make an Excel online survey, this QuickTip video will give you all the directions you need to get started.

Penguin Survey for 1st Graders

Our first graders will be doing research using the database PebbleGo about a penguin. Today we are collecting information about which penguin to study in each class. We are using Excel Online to collect our data. The penguin with the most votes will win for each class.

IMG_6729Creative Commons License Dwilliams851 via Compfight

Please, if you are not a student in our first grade classes, please don’t take this survey!

Penguin Survey Link

 

If you would like to learn how to make an Excel online survey, this QuickTip video will give you all the directions you need to get started.

A 2016 Facelift for Dewey

“Mrs. Hembree, can you help me find the wolf (substitute any animal) books?”

“Did you look on the poster to find the number?”

“Yes, but I can’t find the number on the shelf, can you help me?

Sound familiar?  I moved to a different school this fall. The library has a big collection and is very well organized. We have a big poster with all the important animal Dewey numbers listed in alphabetical order. Yet questions about how to find books happen daily in my library and I’m willing to bet it’s happened in yours.

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We have signs with numbers on the edge of the shelf.  However, when you are 8 or 9 years old, trying to find a book with Dewey numbers extending two and three numbers past the decimal point is….well….pointless.

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They can’t find the numbers on the spine and give up. Even our parent volunteers find it difficult to shelve the books sometimes.

 Student frustration with finding the books they want to read is the major reason I switched to genre shelving in my fiction area.

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It’s also the reason why last year in my former library I switched to a subject/theme organizational system in the picture books.

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I plan to do it again in my new library, but that’s a project for next year. When I do, it will be modeled after the method the King County Library System is now using with their picture books in the 48 public libraries in the system. Their changes came after research with parent focus groups to determine how parents think books should be organized. After analyzing the results, the picture books are now arranged by categories and have as many face out books as possible.

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 If it works for the largest library system in the country, I think it can work in my elementary library. While this bird walk into the KCLS shift may seem irrelevant, seeing the books on the shelf this way actually helped me take action on doing something about the non-fiction problem.

Back to the non-fiction books. I’ve never touched or messed with the non-fiction books.

Until now.

I’ve read countless blog posts and articles about librarians who ditched Dewey completely. I may not like Dewey 100%, but I do like the basic organizational system. In many ways it really works.  I wasn’t ready to destroy a system that had its merits. I just wanted to re-vamp it, but I didn’t know how. 

Then this fall I read a blog post on the Wrinkle in Tech blog by Mrs. J who simplified Dewey with a whole number dewey system. No more decimal points! She’s made terrific signs to use to lead students to the area they are looking for. We exchanged a few emails as I asked some more clarifying questions. I thought I had an answer to my dilemma. I bought the signs on TpT and started adopting this method in certain sections. Yet, I still had the animal problem.

When students go to the shelf to find books on panda bears for example, they expect that all the panda bear books will be together, as in next to each other. Not some here and some more 5 books away farther down the shelf. After all, isn’t that the point of the numbering system? It’s what the kids think. Of course, that’s not how it works in reality. I still needed to figure out how to keep the animals together on the shelf. I went back to the drawing board and dug deeper in my research.

To my absolute delight, I found a 2013 blog post Mammals: A Dewey “Do-over” by Sarah Ducharme on her Try Curiosity library blog. She figured out the solution, that is so obvious. Hallelujah! She organized her land mammals by animal and changed the call number to reflect the area and subject of the book.

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Generalized books on multiple mammals are 599, but all land mammals are 599.1 plus the animal name. For example, 599.1 ELE (elephant) All the elephant books have the same call number and are placed on the shelf next to each. Instead of having to remember an author’s last name, a student can search for a book on the shelf in alphabetical order by animal. You can read a more detailed explanation of Sarah’s system here. It’s simple. It makes sense. It meets my objective of making it easier for kids to find books on the shelves independently.

Winter break gave me some time to think about how I could interweave these two systems in our library. It’s also when I walked into the KCLS library and saw their complete changes. In addition I was reading Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students by Pernille Ripp for a book study group.  In chapter 2, I read this:

“Once again, reflection is where we begin. Ask yourself, would you like being a student in your own room.”

I want our school library to be a place where students can successfully and easily find the books they want. It’s not a book depository that must uphold the merits of an organizational system developed in 1876. My students are frustrated by our system. That part is obvious. If I was an elementary aged student, I wouldn’t like how complicated it is to find a book in the library when it’s so easy at a bookstore. Pernille’s two sentences cemented my belief that change was not only important, it was necessary for students to be successful library users.

There’s nothing like a new year to begin a new system. Not to be overwhelmed by the vastness of animals, I started small with the pet books. All the cat, dog, horse and other small pet books are together in 636 with a whole number dewey system. I typed up new call numbers, changed the numbers in the catalog and got to work re-labeling and shelving books.

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Furthermore, I decided that pigs, sheep and cows would be removed from this section and shelved with the other land mammals.

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Yes, they are farm animals, but it’s 2016. We live in a suburb near a large metropolitan city. My students don’t think of cows, pigs and sheep as being anything other than a mammal. I doubt more than a few have ever seen a farm, let alone know what animals live on a farm. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen quizzical looks from students when they see cows near the pet section. The farm animals were moving.

Here is the final result of stage one of our revamped Dewey project. I’m not sure if the sign at the top is what exactly what students will find useful, but it’s a start.

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Now I can’t wait to see what the students say! Check back in the next few weeks. As I move through other areas, I will publish more photos and share student reaction to the changes.

 

Hour of Code Week

We just finished 5 days of Hour of Code week. Many of the teachers used the Hour of Code website and tutorials like Minecraft, Star Wars, Angry Birds, Ice Skating to promote in our school. I had countless questions about whether kids could do this at home too! Yes! Hour of Code doesn’t have to be something you do at school. You can experiment with the games at home too. Go to https://code.org/learn for lot of options.

Here’s a short video that Josh Moore, one of our district Tech TOSA, created about our Hour of Code activities.

Hour of Code 2015 from Tech Tosa on Vimeo.

 

In grades K-3 we focused on Robotics with our new Bee-Bots. A Bee-bot is an exciting new tool to teach robotics, sequencing, critical thinking, problem solving while having lots of fun! The children use directional keys to enter a sequence of commands, push GO! and send Bee-Bot on its path. The robot eyes light up and flash when it has finished its program. As the children became used to the commands, simple sequences became more and more complex as they guided Bee-Bot around the mats. The children learned programming skills and had a blast in the process.

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The Bee-bots are made in the UK and brought to the US by Terrapin Tools for Thinking which is, according to their website, one of the oldest and most experienced educational software companies. A huge shout out to Donor’s Choose and the Chevron Corporation for funding my grant!

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In the intermediate grades, we worked with the games on  https://code.org/learn.  Mr. Larry Golding, a Microsoft programmer and his wife helped us with the Minecraft, Star Wars and other games on the Hour of Code website.

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In the 5th grade classes we did some beta testing  with the BBC micro:bit devices. The BBC micro:bit is a very simple computer. It is programmed using another device like a computer, smart phone, tablet, etc to write the program, which is then compiled and downloaded onto the BBC micro:bit. The device has a display made up of 25 LED lights which light up when it runs the program.

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The purpose of the BBC micro:bit is to offer a gentle introduction to programming. It’s designed to be a starting point to get students interested in coding so they can move on to other, more sophisticated devices in the future.

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The BBC micro:bit is supported by Microsoft and we were very fortunate to have one of the programmers on the program, Michael Braun, bring the devices to our school as part of their beta testing. Michael and I know each other from the Microsoft Expert Educator program and it was so much fun to experiment with a device that isn’t even available to the open market yet.

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Our Hour of Code was a week-long introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. All week long I repeatedly heard students cheering  “I did it!” as they successfully figured out a command sequence. Remember, it’s not limited to school. Try coding at home too!

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(Information obtained from  BBC micro:bits handout, Hour of Code, and Bee-bots websites.)

Grateful for Stories

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What’s their story?

I was in California over the weekend with my husband and we had a surprise encounter with thousands of migrating monarch butteries wintering at a small grove of eucalyptus trees at Natural Bridges State Beach. We arrived when the sun was filtering through the leaves and warming the orange and black wings of these delicate creatures. Seeing thousands of butterflies wake up and begin fluttering through the grove filled me questions. Why are they there? How do they know where to go? Is one of the senior butterflies their director of story?

Seeing them made me think about the gala we attended on Friday evening and how I have a serious case of job title envy. My husband and I were at the Digital Innovation in Learning Award gala and heard the Karen Cator, the CEO of Digital Promise introduce the keynote speaker and his position within the company.  I thought I misunderstood what she said, and had to check the facts on their website.

Director of Story

Digital Promise believes in the power of story enough to actually have a person be a Director of Story. Not a Communications Director.  Not a Media Relations Specialist.

Director of Story.

I think that job title speaks volumes about the vision and uniqueness of this company whose dream is for all learners to have access to learning technology.

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And a storyteller he is. Marco Torres spent the next 20 minutes illustrating how math and music can integrate through GarageBand and iPad orchestra. Within minutes he had created a musical composition without ever touching a “real” instrument. Then he shared his story of how some students in Geneva, Switzerland saw a similar demonstration and then proceeded to make their own version of Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel. You can view this incredible piece here: https://vimeo.com/43162659

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What I took home from that gala event were the stories about amazing educators being recognized for doing amazing projects in their schools. Administrators bringing coding to entire school communities. Teachers finding ways to connect their students with peers around the world. Companies bringing cross-cultural and meaningful exchanges to school aged children. Everyone in the room had a story. Stories with heart. Stories with vision. Stories with children as the core element. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in the DILA gala event as one of the honorable mention award winners in the Busting Boundaries category because I could share the story of how my students have worked to make our world better through generosity and literature. Their story deserves to be heard.

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That story and those of our partners in Africa will continue to be heard in 2015-16 within the Microsoft Expert Educator program. Educators around the world have been celebrating for the last week after receiving their congratulations letter. Me too.

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My letter highlighted a spectacular week – acceptance into this amazing program, the DILA gala, and a Skype call across continents with 120 students from different cultures. I am grateful for the opportunities Microsoft has opened for me to meet and collaborate with teachers around the world and close to home.

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I have been involved with the MIE program since 2012 and it has changed my life. I am not the teacher I used to be. I don’t regret the way I taught, but now I’m thrilled with how my lessons are evolving and integrating technology in meaningful ways. The world is coming inside my classroom without the need of a passport. This year my students will be making book trailers with students in Spain, writing cards and mini-stories with a teacher in Turkey, creating videos for students at a refugee camp in Kenya, plus continuing our Books to Africa program. All it takes is technology and a willingness to experiment and step outside the traditional box. I am not the extroverted person in the group and I certainly am not the most talented. I need quiet to re-charge my batteries and time to write. What I am willing to share is what my students want to say to the world. I am grateful that the MIE Expert Educator program has helped me find the voice for my students and myself through story, technology and education.

I am a teacher. I am a librarian. I am a Director of Story.

 

A Cross Continent Learning Round Up

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What do you get when you combine 120 students in two classrooms in two different continents to share their research? A cross continent learning round up of course!

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This morning (7:30 am Seattle) and afternoon (5:30pm Durban) our two schools – Cougar Ridge Elementary in Bellevue, Washington, USA and Highbury Preparatory School in Hillcrest, South Africa made the world a little smaller via Skype.

Our students walked into the library with breakfast and the boys at Highbury were looking forward to a South African “braai” which is similar to our barbeque. Their head master (principal) was cooking a special kind of sausages for all the 5th grade boys.

The head master of Highbury cooks boerewors (sausages) while the boys Skyped with us.

The head master of Highbury cooks boerewors (sausages) while the boys Skyped with us.

These students broke down the physical classroom walls and connected virtually for nearly an hour. Their conversations crossed two continents and 13,000 miles. It’s a perfect diagonal line between our schools from the northwest corner of the US to the southeast corner of Africa!

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What did they talk about? Fun topics that kids are interested in like what does your school look like, what kind of classes do you take, what can you play on outside during recess and breaks, what sports do you play, what are your favorite books or where do you go to get some fast food?

This student dressed for the part as he did a quick explanation of American football and our Seattle Seahawks.

When the librarian Louise MacLeod, technologist Desiree Dunstone and I spoke at Highbury in July, we agreed that our goal was for our students to get to know each other as peers and therefore, the topics they would research and share needed to be kid-friendly. We divided up our 5th grade classes into groups, assigned topics, and the students got busy. For the past 5-6 weeks, the teams have been collaborating and collecting information to share with their counterpart classrooms. Today was celebration and share day!

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Topic by topic team representatives spoke via Skype sharing pieces of their cultures with one another. With only an hour  and 22 topics, we couldn’t go in depth on camera. Each team was only able to share a sentence or two of the highlights of the research. However, with OneDrive, we are able to share the complete research projects with each other and will use class time to view the student work in our respective schools.

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“We like going to Starbucks and MacDonalds.”

It turns out we both enjoy going to MacDonalds and KFC! Starbucks isn’t in Durban yet, but we both have Burger King. One group also helped us understand what the Durban “bunnychow” is (a bread and curry sandwich).

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KFC is popular in Durban.

 

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A camera, computer, Skype and a great internet connection brings students from different cultures together.

We learned about the Big 5 animals and how there is a serious poaching problem of white rhinos in South Africa. The rhinos are killed for their tusks which are then sold to people in other countries who believe the tusks have medicinal qualities. This group in the video explains that the African elephants have ears shaped like the continent of Africa.

I’ve never taken on a Skype experience on this scale before, but I can say it was worth every second of preparation time. I have listened to the excitement build for weeks and then to see students connecting with each other today was priceless. This morning we were all a little nervous and a lot excited before our call began. Yet, the nerves melted away as everyone discovered we are all the same – just separated by continent. These virtual connections make the world a smaller place and bring the learning inside – without borders. It was hard to say goodbye and I know this is the first of many learning opportunities our students will make.

"Thank you Highbury Prep!"

“Thank you Highbury Prep!”

If you want to learn more about how you can use Skype in the Classroom, visit the website. Join the Skype-a-Thon on December 3-4, 2015 and be part of a global movement to celebrate learning without borders. If you would like to learn more about our connection with Highbury Prep and Books to Africa program, here is a post about my trip to South Africa, a video , and a recap of three years of friendship.

Punctuation, Research and Halloween Fun!

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For week #4 of the Global Read Aloud Amy Krouse Rosenthal author study, we laughed our way through exclamation mark. This punctuation mark doesn’t understand why he is so different from the periods, until he meets question mark. Her rapid fire questions irritate him so much, he finally yells for her to STOP! In that moment he discovers his voice and learns that his uniqueness is his gift! Again, Rosenthal weaves the concepts of individuality into seemingly silly books, adding a layer of depth to each. Is it a book about an exclamation mark or it is more?

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When it comes to Halloween books, I still love my favorite 13 Nights of Halloween by Rebecca Dickinson. There are other versions now, but this goody from 1996 has such detailed illustrations, that I can’t let it go. I also add a little spin to it but singing it to the tune of “12 days of Christmas”. If you ever find this out of print goodie, pick it up.

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The fifth graders have spent their class time for the past month researching information about our school, the area, favorite grocery stores, landmarks, facts about Seattle and Washington as well as other related topics. They are creating mini-reports to share digitally with the level 5 students at Highbury Preparatory School in Hillcrest, South Africa. Hillcrest is a suburb of Durban, on the northern east coast of South Africa.

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This school is one of our partners in my Books to Africa literacy program delivering books we send to neighboring schools who need books for their libraries. On November 19th, the 5th graders have the option of participating in a before school Skype call to share the results of their research and virtually meet their partners 10,000 miles away. I can’t wait to see my friends again, even if it is through a computer!

 

Finally it was Friday- Book Character Day! Despite a storm that knocked power out for two hours, the hallways and classes were filled with smiling faces. Who can resist a little literary fun at school? Certainly not the students, or the teachers. Here are a few of the costumes I saw during the day.

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The week ended with the PTSA sponsored Spooky Spaghetti evening. Volunteers spent countless hours turning our school into a monster zone.

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The Dads set up dinner, made all the spaghetti and served to over 700 spooky guests!

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Next week the monsters will be back for our annual Scholastic Bookfair! Books go on sale Tuesday through Friday. Students can shop during the day and after school. There are extended hours and a movie night on Thursday. Due to the set up of the fair, students will not be able to checkout books. Everyone can keep their books for an extra week.
Often at this time of year people wonder how they can help others in need. We have the answer! We have local and global literacy programs to promote reading.
Our student council is collecting new books or change from your purchases to buy new books for the children at Swedish Hospital. The new Books to Africa program is also accepting cash donations from pennies to ??? which will be used to buy postage to send boxes of gently used books to our partners in Africa.
We hope to see you all there!