A Day in the School Library

Sandy Bixby

Library Media Specailist

Edgemere Elementary

“Oh, you’re a librarian.  I would love to check out books and just read all day.”  Library media specialists hear comments like these all the time.  But our job is so much more than that. Peek into what has been happening in our school library during the past week.

Every week grades K through 5 arrive for 50 minute class periods.  During that time, they receive curriculum based instruction, return/check out books and utilize digital resources to enhance content.  Some classes are lucky enough to visit the library twice in a week. Our library is genrefied.  This means our books are arranged by genre, or category, instead of Dewey Decimal classification. Even our youngest students can independently find materials, regardless of reading ability, and students regularly and actively engage in organic spontaneous book discussions as they are participating in a free flowing book check out during their time in the library. So really, I don’t check out books to students. They do it independently and they do it very well. I facilitate independence and learning.

Mornings begin with open library time. Library helpers are checking in books from primary classrooms, individual students are returning and checking out books (some of my best connecting and book recommendations are given during this time because I learn what every student likes to read about), groups of students stop by to work on the puzzle in the library or create a word on the Scrabble board and play a round (or two) against Mrs. Bixby.

This week, 5th graders have begun to plan their Virtual Vacations.  Always a popular unit, students incorporate math, public speaking, research skills, digital technology skills and time management as they research a locale on a different continent.  They must create a budget, research transportation (don’t forget to account for the time change when planning your flights!), determine accommodations, learn about local culture and how to communicate in the native language using common phrases such as: Hello!  and Where is the bathroom? This information is recorded on an Excel workbook they downloaded, saved and update each class period.  They have learned how to use the snipping tool to grab components of a webpage they want to preserve, document sources, complete the day’s task AND return/check out books at the same time.  They are stewards of their own time and approach their final project, a travel package sales pitch, in any format they desire.  Will they utilize the school TV studio to make an infomercial or create a digital presentation using PowerPoint or MovieMaker or present orally with materials created using Wixie, Microsoft Word or another digital resource?  The choice will be theirs as student driven project based learning creates real life, meaningful experiences for them.

Peek into a 4th grade class, you will see creativity coupling with curriculum as students work on final projects for the Digital Media Advertising unit.  After learning about advertising bias and techniques advertisers use, students selected groups and each group was given a “mystery object” (a plumbing part, specialized bolt and so on) that they had to determine a use for, name and create a print and digital advertising campaign about the item.  Hard at work utilizing their devices to photograph, film and edit digital images, students are learning valuable 21st century skills they will need beyond the classroom. And let’s not forget writing as they create slogans and scripts and the social skills of listening, compromising and communicating with group members to make sure all voices are heard and appreciated. Oh, and they are checking out books, too!

3rd graders are celebrating National Poetry Month.  This week we learned about similies and metaphors. Students will self-select their own poetry convention to research, apply it to their writing and teach it to their classmates.  Using digital resources in the BCPS Digital Databases, ClassFlow lessons and internet resources accessed through Lesson Tiles in Engrade, students gather information and synthesize it into their own writing projects.  Oh, and they are checking out books.


Our PBL Adventure

Ridgely Middle School

By: Stephanie Strayer, World Cultures classroom teacher


Maintaining student engagement during the time when the end of the school year collides with the imminence of summer vacation can be challenging. And, how many times have we, as educators heard, “When am I going to use this again?”  Last year, our seventh grade students completed a Project-Based Learning activity to maintain rigorous instruction as the temperature and anticipation of summer increased.


In keeping true to the spirit of PBL, students should be the deciding factors for all choices including the direction of the project.  As this was our first foray into the world of Project-Based Learning, the seventh grade World Cultures teaching team decided to keep the activity on the school’s campus.  Having space to conduct class outside has always been a desire of both faculty and students.  We settled on having students create an outdoor learning space.


To kick off the activity and build enthusiasm, a video was created and shown to the students at the end of a lunch shift.  Currently, Ridgely has designated space for an outdoor classroom.  But, the decaying, splintered, weather-worn benches are not an inviting spot for students or teachers to spend any length of time.  We identified two different locations.  The following day, in World Cultures classes, students were given a tour of the two potential sites for our outdoor learning space.  Once the tour was complete, each student was able to select which space he or she would prefer to design.


Through the process, we encountered many obstacles along the way.  One of the first was how to making this activity engaging for all students. We were working with roughly 400 students.  Finding a job for each student proved to be near impossible.  We decided to take a page from reality television.  We created a design competition where each student group would compete against all the others and the last design standing would be built.


Students arranged themselves in groups of up to four students.  Each week, the group had questions or topics that must be researched and answers submitted.  Although students had free reign for every aspect of their design, we did provide them with a few guiding principles.  Students needed to research ADA requirements and ensure that their learning space met the laws established.  Our students researched native plants and animals along with analyzing the impact the learning space would have on habitats.  Students were provided a budget and were required to stay within it. Each group needed to include an art component as well.  In one space, that meant designing a mural for one wall.  The other space needed some type of found art installation.  Accessing technology while using the outdoor learning space was also important to many of our groups.  Groups researched internet connectivity, interviewed our technology liaison, and worked with the Office of Technology to extend our Wi-Fi signal strength to include our new learning space.


Students needed to work through their own questions and could often be found sitting in the hallways talking to local merchants.  Many groups had our community Lowe’s and Home Depot on speed dial.  In the end, students presented their ideas and a blue print to their classmates.  We conducted three student votes until eight groups remained.  At that point, we assembled a judging panel of stakeholders and the students presented one last time.  After much deliberation, the panel named a winning group.  Work to fulfill the group’s vision began almost immediately.



Fast forward to the present – we have been fortunate to work closely with the carpentry students from George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.  Our winning group has had one design meeting so far to discuss outdoor furniture and planters.  Being able to partner with another Baltimore County School has been such a rewarding experience for all involved.  We hope to have the outdoor learning space complete for use soon.


Keeping students engaged can be a tall order.  However, providing students an opportunity to be creative and develop their own learning environment has been a positive experience that enabled the students to gain valuable, real-world, lifelong skills.  I would be more than happy to discuss our PBL adventure further with anyone who is interested.

We can do anything we put our minds to at Battle Monument!

Diana Stansburge ( Resource Teacher)


** I am in a wheelchair and have a difficult time moving my arms.  I use a head switch attached to a device switch to communicate my needs and wants.

**I have a difficult time letting people know when I get frustrated, so I used to hit and kick.  Recently, I have learned how to calm myself down and use pictures to explain my frustration.

**I used to hit myself when I got upset and couldn’t do the work that was expected of me.  Now I have work delivered in a way I can understand and I enjoy coming to school.

These students and so many others are part of an amazing little school in Dundalk called BATTLE MONUMENT.  We are a separate public day school with 75 students ages 3-21 who are unable to meet with success in a comprehensive school due to significant intellectual disabilities and sometimes for medical and behavioral support needs.

Walk our halls and you will be amazed by all the incredible things going on here.  Our smallest students, ages 3 and 4, are learning to play appropriately, learning to activate a computer program with switches, and some are learning to stand and take steps independently.  They get so much done in their ½ day here.

In Physical Education class, we are finishing up a unit on the Olympics.  Students competed in bobsledding, biathlon, snowboarding and curling.  At the end of the unit, we had a school wide awards assembly and students received Olympic medals.

We are also part of a special program called “Trout in the Classroom”.  We have a huge fish tank in our lobby and we are raising trout from eggs.  In the spring we will take a trip to release them into a local waterway.  This has been a new and exciting experience.

Some of our high school students are working outside the school building.  They complete jobs at a local church and will soon begin working at Franklin Square Hospital bagging gowns and socks for patients.  We also have a food pantry for our community and food is unloaded and organized by our high school students.

Our staff spends a lot of time not only teaching our students academics but also communication skills, social skills and functional skills.  We strive to make all of our students as independent as possible to meet with success after their time at Battle Monument.

If you want to learn more about our school and our fabulous students, follow us on Facebook or twitter @ battle_monument.


Bedford Bees…Learning With Ease!


It’s been an exciting week of learning, sharing, and growing at Bedford Elementary School. Students in grades 1 and 3 worked diligently to complete the winter session of the MAP assessment. Both grades saw an increase of student growth from the fall administration. Hooray!!! : )  As we keep on track with the county-wide focus on literacy, the entire school paused on Wednesday to “Drop Everything And Read.” Both students and staff look forward to this special time when we are all reading together. The kids really enjoy when our principal, Mrs. Connolly stops in and stretches right out on the carpet to read along with them.

In mathematics, students are working to solve problems to develop strong, foundational skills using manipulatives and pictorial representations.

Newcomer ESOL students from various countries have been meeting together for a beginning level English class. During one of their recent sessions, each student shared a little bit about their language and home country. Even though there were several different languages being spoken, there was at least one student there who was able to translate for the group. ESOL instructor Nicole Obregon stated, “it was a beautiful cultural exchange among peers, and highlighted what a great job the school does to embrace differences.”

Students in grades 3, 4, and 5 auditioned this week to showcase their talents in the upcoming “Bedford’s Got Talent Show.” More than 40 students displayed their singing, dancing, martial arts, dramatic reading, gymnastics and joke telling flair for one of the 15 spots to compete in late March. It’s going to be an awesome evening!!! : )

Members of the Bedford Garden Club have been busy with making stepping stones this past week. The stones will be placed in the front flower beds when the club members do their spring planting in a few weeks.

Bedford Bee students, staff and families are looking forward to our exciting upcoming events. In addition to “Bedford’s Got Talent”, we will be hosting Reading Night later this month and Family Night at Chuck E. Cheese in March.

It’s great to a part of the Bedford community!!!


Making Connections at Middleborough

Middleborough Elementary is tucked into a small peninsula in Essex, surrounded by Hopkins Creek, Norman Creek, and Middle River. Does this mean that we, the Middleborough Mariners are isolated? Not at all! In fact, this year we have been making a conscious effort to build relationships both within our building and beyond. This past fall, when Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, our Student Council decided to help. We contacted a school, Kirk Elementary, which had suffered great damage and offered to send them resources to assist in their recovery. During Halloween week, members of the Student Council sold Boo Grams. For a dollar, a student could send a note and trinket to a friend, and the profits went towards helping Kirk Elementary students hundreds of miles away. The Boo Grams sold out quickly each day, and by the end of the week, our students had raised $561.72! Closer to home, we have forged a connection with a technology innovation class at Chesapeake High School. The high school students are learning game design and needed a target market…and our fifth graders were glad to be just that! By skyping between the two classes, their students have learned the interests and motivations of one of our fifth grade classes. Meetings between teachers at both schools have insured that the games, though engaging and based on these interests, will actually prompt students to practice math skills that they find challenging. In March, we will take our fifth graders to Chesapeake High to try out the games made just for them, and to see some of the technology opportunities that lay ahead for them in high school. Everyone involved is quite eager! Relationships are also being nurtured within the walls of Middleborough. This year we began a mentoring program which matched intermediate students with primary students. The “buddies” connect daily before school. Their meet-ups might involve goal setting, reading together, or organizing their materials. Then, at the end of the day, mentors touch base again with their mentees to follow up on how their day went. Teachers report that the mentees strive harder to achieve in the realms that they address with their older buddies. And the buddies love the sense of responsibility and importance that this role provides. By encouraging our students to see themselves as empowered citizens of the school, the local area, and the nation, it is our hope that they will also come to understand their ability to change the world!

Books Alive!

A story of Novel Integration in the Social Studies Classroom
John Ayres, Social Studies Department Chair – Ridgely Middle School

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, we were introduced to BCPS’s literacy initiative. The Ridgely Middle School Social Studies Department has always had a commitment to student literacy, but wanted to be different and take a new approach on learning. As a seventh grade team, we discussed the opportunity of participating in the Global Read Aloud, by reading the book “A Long Walk to Water”. We wanted to find a way to make meaningful connections to curricular standards and outcomes in the Africa Unit of study, but also make the learning personable to students. Each week, students were tasked with reading 2-3 chapters of the book and interacting with it in a way where they could make connections with each other, their own lives, as well as discuss geographical challenges faced by the people living in Sudan, Africa.

In planning for novel integration, we planned to have students complete several tasks to provide a unique experience interacting with the text. These varied strategies and activities not only motivated students to read, but also made the study of Africa more fun and interesting. Each week, students were excited to learn about the next steps in Nya and Salva’s journey as well as what challenges refugees in war torn Sudan faced.

Throughout the novel study, students had the opportunity to interact in book talk formats using discussion protocols. Here students were able to answer proposed questions about their reading and how it related to their lives. Students were also given the opportunity to pose questions to each other about how characters were handling difficult situations, or what meaning they took from the reading assigned that week. Students were also able to interact with the text by using Notice and Note strategies. During this part of their study, students were asked to look for quotes containing extreme and abusive language, or contrasts and contradictions. Students were able to determine author’s purpose and answer the question, “Why would the author want us to know this?” The result of these discussions allowed the students to dig deeper into the meaning of the text and take on the perspective of the author in why she told the story the way she did. One of the most popular assignments with students was the use of Voice Thread. With these assignments, students were able to interact with others via text or video response discussing not only the theme of the week but also making connections to themes such as scarcity, conflict, resources, and interdependence; all concepts which students were learning during the Africa Unit.

To celebrate concluding the novel, students participated in two culminating activities. Students had the opportunity to discuss their new learning with students on an international level, via “meet.in”. During this experience, students from Ridgely interacted with students from the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Canada. Students took turns asking each other questions about how they reacted or felt about the week’s assigned readings, geographical challenges faced by the characters, or decisions made by characters. One of the most interesting things that came from this experience was when one student stated that, “I was surprised the students from Canada thought that mosquito attacks were worse than walking through the Akobo Desert. They must not have a lot of mosquitos in Canada, that’s probably why they said that.” At the conclusion of the novel, students were able to hear from Mr. Jeff Huber, a missionary, doing work in Sudan. He shared his experiences with students and allowed them to ask questions about his first-hand account of living and working with the Sudanese people. This interaction provided a new perspective for students and helped bring meaning to the real life struggles faced by people in Sudan.

We are actively looking for new novels to use in our Social Studies classrooms. Our eighth grade students are currently concluding their study of the American Revolution through their novel study of, Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen. The novel study approach in the Social Studies classroom has been extremely popular with students. In addition, teachers have embraced this concept. Teachers have been given the freedom and flexibility to be creative, and take risks using new and innovative pedagogical methods as a way to create connections to students’ lives in order to make history come alive.

Student Leadership and Universal Acceptance

Jill A. Carter – Principal

Halethorpe Elementary School

We begin morning announcements every day with a student leader stating, “Good morning, Mingalaba, and Ni Hao Ma!”  This statement exemplifies the importance of student leadership and universal acceptance.  This greeting is typical in our school and it makes us unique.

Halethorpe is one of the most distinctive and welcoming elementary schools in Baltimore County.  Many people do not know that over half of our students are from Burma.  In addition, many of our children came to this country as refugees.  Yet, when walking the halls of our school, you would not realize that many of our children have only been in the United States for a short period of time.

As you walk from room to room, you will see all children engaged in learning experiences that encourage them to read, write, speak, reflect and think critically.  It is very common to see small groups collaborating around tasks.  All teachers and support staff are on the same page; as a result, they are able to provide support structures allowing for universal access to grade level material and content.

We strive to incorporate VAKT strategies to support the needs of English Learners and the learning styles of all children.  If you visit our school, you will see push-in and pull-out ESOL support, extended day programming addressing the needs of gifted math students and the needs of English Learners, clubs addressing a variety of student interests, Cloze practices supporting vocabulary learning, math mats supporting problem solving strategies and Mathematical Practices, and inclusive practices throughout our school.

Another thing that makes us unique is the culture of acceptance.  We utilize Restorative Practices and have daily class meetings.  All of this has led to a culture in which children look out for each other and adults continually teach the importance of supporting our school family.  We have created a safe, supportive, engaging learning environment in which all children can thrive.