Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This month I’m lending my INK blogspot to Meribeth Schenk, author and librarian. We hear a lot these days about how books, reading, and learning are lighting out for the Territory – new and yet-to-be-discovered Territory. Here’s how one school is doing it.

I am a Mac lover, as are elementary students at Miami Country Day School in Miami Shores, Florida where I’m one of the Media Specialists. A recent installation of twenty-two beautiful new Mac computers transformed the Lower School Library by merging it with Technology programming, and streamlining the book collection into a renamed Media Center.

During the previous school year and continuing into this year we’ve acquainted students with not only the expected OSX and Windows platforms and Microsoft Office Suite (PowerPoint, Word, Excel), but also with several other wonderful programs like Pixie and Frames (, Paint, and the iLife Suite (iMovie, iPhoto), offering inventive opportunities for students to create their own work. Also, students and faculty are becoming accustomed to specialized databases and subscription based websites such as, Accelerated Reader (AR),, World Book online,, etc.


Presenting both traditional and non-traditional storytimes, we share websites like with kindergarten and first grade classes where the video of the author/illustrator himself reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar mesmerizes students. Then, we offer these same students a chance to increase their mouse skills by designing their own multi-colored caterpillars, using the tools on Pixie, a subscription-software designed to promote creativity, organization of ideas, and story webs.

We invite second and third graders to choose (from books written and/or compiled by Douglas Florian, Karma Wilson, Jack Prelutsky, Kristine O’Connell George, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Karla Kuskin, Shel Silverstein, to name a few in the Media Center’s collection), practice (at home in front of a mirror) and read (or memorize) a poem to share in front of their classmates. Students are filmed, for later use of combined videos, to create a poetry slam presentation during April -- poetry month -- when students also share poems they have written.

Third, fourth and fifth grade students become familiar with labyrinths by way of stories, and search engines. A labyrinth is a spiral path, leading into the center and back out. Often effective as a meditation tool, a labyrinth can be used for balancing mind, body and spirit. Searching for labyrinths in a country of their choice, students also use globes, atlases, and webquest to discover labyrinth locations around the world. By tracing mazes and labyrinths, students begin to discover differences (mazes have dead-ends and blind alleys to confuse, labyrinths are single paths allowing one to be reflective).

Then, drawing labyrinths using seed patterns, and creating their own labyrinths using the computer program, Paint, extends the experiences in preparation for walking a canvas labyrinth as a culminating event. When students share their impressions through drawings, writings and comments after the labyrinth walk, the insights are often moving, profound, and surprising.

Additionally, fifth grade students use a storyboard template to guide their planning as they prepare to share their favorite book using Frames. This simple program works like a flipbook, as students create an animated movie, generating illustrations, and adding sound and music to enhance their book trailer.


Some examples of the great work our students have done include:

• creating a rap about Accelerated Reader (AR), which they performed, filmed, edited, and presented to their classmates;

• demonstrating for parents the use of a shared wiki from their Egypt project;

• student/ grandparent pairs sharing in an interview -- WIWAB/WIWAG (When I Was A Boy/Girl) -- using questions the students had prepared in advance, talking together on PhotoBooth, discovering each other in new ways, and honoring the legacy of shared experiences.

These few sample activities give a flavor of a new curriculum as it develops: an integration of trade non-fiction and fiction with texts and classroom lessons, supplementing with cameras, internet, and computer programs, helping to expand educational opportunities for our students.

We’re excited by the enthusiasm we see:

• increasing activity in the Media Center;

• more parent involvement with books and computers;

• greater numbers of books checked out;

• deepening interest in non-fiction (especially poetry and folktales, but also sports and animals);

• strengthening teacher use of classroom computers;

• expansion of assignments using both books and computers to maximize learning potential.

Final products are often available on a loop, displayed on screen in the Media Center during parent open house and conference sessions, and at years end. Students regularly bring their families to “show off” the Media Center. They want their families to view what they’re imagining and producing -- a satisfying moment for all participants.


Meribeth Shank is a Florida native who writes for children, reviews children’s books for Family magazine in Miami (, teaches occasional classes on Writing Books for Children, is a certified Labyrinth Facilitator, and earned her BA in Elementary Education from Goshen College (IN), and MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web at:


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Cheryl Harness said...

Huzzah for librarians! I count them among my blessings.

April Pulley Sayre said...

Hurray for extending books this way. Love the labyrinth exploration. Meribeth is a Vermont College MFA-WC grad and also has an encyclopedic knowledge of children's picture books, by the way, folks. Glad you featured her digital work, Gretchen.

Carmela Martino said...

How wonderful to see all you're doing, Meribeth!