Thursday, December 1, 2016

Junior Botball Challenge

Late last month, Ms. Yanes and I were quite excited to be invited to participate in the Junior Botball Challenge workshop.  This is a robotics program funded by the Dell Legacy of Good Youth Learning Grant.   Each participating school received six Chromebooks, six robot kits, an on-line curriculum and a one year renewable membership which expires July 31.  The expectation is that we implement a robotics program with thirty students this year. 

From the Junior Botball Challenge web-site: "The program focuses on training and empowerment of teachers so that they can teach their students how to write code and apply the engineering design process in a fun and meaningful way. Students learn through an inquiry-based curriculum that teaches discrete programming skills through challenges that demonstrate mastery of the concept."

At the workshop, Ms. Yanes and I were able to build our own basic 'bot and also program some very basic moves writing code in the C programming language.  It was fun and challenging;  I never imagined that I had the intelligence to program a robot!

Time has a way of flying by, and the second semester of school will be here soon.  I plan to familiarize myself with the curriculum over the break, as well as build the remaining four robots.  Hopefully we can get started fairly quickly once we're back in school.  It makes the most sense to have several small groups of students working this program at different times of the day/week. Several colleagues are  interested in the Botball Challenge as well, and parent volunteers are always welcome.  More information on this program will be available after winter break.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why Scholastic Book Fairs Pt. 2

This post comes with a big THANK YOU to everyone who supported our Scholastic Book Fair. Our sales after tax totaled $5018!  I chose to take the 25% cash profit amount which totaled $1254.74.  This money will be used to buy books from other vendors that cannot be obtained through Scholastic Publishing.  Our next fair is in May.

While I am (sort of) on the subject of funding for libraries, I would like to give a shout out to the Assistance League of Austin!  This organization gave $2000 to every library in AISD last May for book orders; this means we had brand new books to share with our students when we returned this fall.  Another organization that has helped Ridgetop over the years is the Rotary Club of Austin, Northeast Chapter.  Not only have they generously donated over $500 worth of library books every year for the last twelve years, but they are responsible for funding our rainwater storage system, our science equipment carts and portable computer devices for the classrooms, among other things.  

This year our PTA has started a Library Book Birthday Club.  Fifteen students have joined at this time for a total of about $200.  I'll order some books and place a dedication stamp for each child in their book, and they will be the first to check out their book.   I have heard of this in other libraries, and I look forward to trying it out at Ridgetop.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why Scholastic Book Fairs?

Scholastic Corporation has been around a long time.  I remember looking between car seats and forcing a loose tooth out for the tooth fairy so I could  cobble together 95 cents for a book from the class book order.  We did not have book fairs when I was a kid.

You might be surprised to learn that many librarians have a love/hate relationship with the book fair, but the fact is, they are (sort of) a necessity.  Why?  Why do we need them and why do librarians have such mixed feelings about them?

Scholastic will tell you  their purpose is to make life-long readers out of every kids.  That's a noble goal and certainly we do want kids to read, but the other reason is funding.   AISD provides about $2.50 per student for library books.  At our school, that's roughly $600 for books for a year or about 30 new titles.  Scholastic Book Fairs provides a decent profit for the sale of their books which is explained below.  So why the frustration?

One of the biggest frustrations among librarians is the lack of decent Spanish books;  I told the sales rep that I felt like I had been looking at the same Spanish books for twelve years.  She said they were trying to do better.  Another frustration is the quality of some of the books:  sure, they're shiny and pretty, but the content seems rather insipid; I notice this frequently with the picture books. Also,  diversity in titles seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Some librarians don't appreciate being Scholastic employees for a week, even though it's purportedly for the good of the school, i.e. "I could have chosen a career in retail and marketing, but that is not what I wanted to do."   The PR, the set-up, the money responsibility, the pack-up, and trying to accommodate patrons as a librarian and as a sales person can be draining.  Yes, book fair is a mixed bag for librarians.

At my first fair in 2004, I collected money in a cigar box and added sales on a Tweety Bird calculator, including adding the 8.25% sales tax figure retrieved from a paper chart.  Our demographic at the time was such that during the course of the fair, I only had a total of about five credit cards to run through an old-fashioned credit card imprint slide machine.  After a couple of fairs, I had saved enough Scholastic dollars to buy a cash register from their catalog;  it was a  glorified adding machine, but at least I could separate the bills and add the tax in automatically.  A few fairs later, Scholastic came out with their own cash register that travels from school to school, and is more like the cash registers you find in retail stores.  It keeps track of every title sold and every penny that goes in or out.

Here is how the Scholastic Book Fair profit works:  If we make up to $3000 in sales, the profit is 40% of that total, but  can only be spent on other Scholastic products; a Scholastic Dollar Resource Catalog is provided for this purpose and contains a myriad of products from library books to AV equipment to smartboards.   In the years before our population changed, I was lucky to get close to $3000 in sales.   However,  if sales total over $3000, schools are given a cash profit option or a combination of cash and product (again out of the catalog).  The cash option is a smaller percentage of the sales (they would not let you have 40% of the cash, haha!)but is very useful.  Because our sales have hovered around the $5000 mark for the past few years, I have been able to take advantage of the cash option.  With this money, I can buy books from other companies that are not published through Scholastic.   Some of the products I have purchased from the catalog over the years include a digital camera, a portable PA system, some Makerspace items, and the above-mentioned cash register.  This is the fun part for me!

This is my 25th Scholastic Fair at Ridgetop.  I am not resentful about being a Scholastic employee.  I'm fairly Zen about these things nowadays (although I still get grumpy when I see a terribly written book or they send an  inferior Spanish collection.)  I am here for all students whom I hope will become lifelong readers.  On their behalf, I thank you for shopping at our Scholastic Book Fair.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Congratulations to Our myOn Summer Readers

Research has proven that students who read at least five books at their level during the summer are more likely to maintain reading skills gained over the previous year and less likely to suffer a 'summer slide', that is, a loss of reading progress that was made over the year.  (Think: if you don't use it, you lose it.)  In order to combat summer slide,  AISD partnered with John Costilla to provide all students with access to over 5,000 e-books through the myOn reading program. 

Out of all the schools  in AISD, I am pleased to announce that Ridgetop placed in the top 25 category of number of books read;  additionally, several Rattlers also placed in the top 30 readers for their grade at the district level.  Two PreK students, a kindergartener, and two third graders made this distinguished list.  We are super proud of their accomplishment! 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Welcome to Rattler Readers Blog

Welcome to the  Rattler Readers Blog!  On this page we hope to share resources and ideas regarding bilingual education, as well as keeping Rattlers informed of the great things happening at our campus.

Our Dual Language Committee is starting the year off with some great activities focused on Hispanic Heritage month.  All classes are creating projects based on  Hispanic studies which should be completed by October 7.  After that date, students will be able to tour different classrooms and explore the other projects.  Hispanic Heritage month runs September 15 through October 15.

Speaking of dual language, I came across a great article concerning the lack of reading materials from native Spanish authors.
Here is the link:

At Ridgetop, we've addressed this issue by holding a book fair from Hexagramm books, a New York based company that provides books from Spain, Mexico, and Central America.  This fair was so popular, other libraries in AISD began using this vendor for  Spanish only book fairs.