April 2017 Notes

April is a time for celebrations! It’s School Library Month AND National Poetry Month, and it also features National Robotics Week and Earth Day. Our book displays and read-aloud selections will include titles for those topics. Additional class activities include the following.
Preprimary students have been hearing stories about frogs and insects, in conjunction with their classroom units. Two popular choices are I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt, and The Little Squeegy Bug, by Bill Martin. After hearing the latter story, the students will make their own bugs using our Makerspace resources.

fix it duckPrimary students enjoyed hearing me read Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color, by Mary O’Neill. As I read those poems about different colors, we used the Smartboard to provide complementary images. The students also have heard several humorous, cumulative picture books recently. They especially enjoyed Fix-It Duck by Jez Alborough.

Recent Kindergarten library classes have been devoted to fiction and nonfiction about farm animals and equipment. As you might imagine, the children seemed most fascinated by the manure spreader featured in Fantastic Farm Machines!
underlemonmoonFirst graders have heard picture books set in Mexico, including one of my all-time favorites, Under the Lemon Moon, by Edith Hope Fine. We also watched a short video about a day in the life of a young boy in Mexico; after the video the students compared and contrasted his life with their own.
World Almanac Kids logo

Recent second grade library classes have been devoted to a special state research project. Specifically, the students found visual information and interpreted agricultural and industrial symbols on state maps from the World Almanac for Kids Online. They recorded their findings and interpretations into the books they created in library class using the Book Creator iPad app. The children will record a Seesaw digital portfolio entry about this project.
Third graders have spent library classes this month working on their second video book reviews using the DoInk green screen app. Additionally, the students are revisiting some library and maker skills they have acquired over the past year, reflecting on those skills and earning digital badges. When a student earns a badge I place it in their Seesaw folder. A few sample badges are shown at left.

March 2017 Notes


The Rigamajig House, complete with chimney and well.

During March, several of our library classes were devoted to Maker projects, including the Rigamajig house, shown at right. The house was a schoolwide project and was occupied by a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day! In addition to maker activities, we still found time to enjoy stories!

Preprimary students enjoyed listening to stories related to transportation. After hearing a story, the children like to select a book and “read” it to one of the library’s plush animals. In the photo at left, a child shares Uni the Unicorn with Harry the Dirty Dog. Harry seems to be enjoying the story!

Primary student correctly selects and drags the mammal image and explains his answer.

Primary students engaged in stories and activities related to their classroom study of mammals. During one class the children used the Smartboard to show me what they knew about mammals. I hope to design additional Smartboard activities for them.

Kindergartners enjoyed hearing stories by Dr. Seuss and began to explore interesting literary characters, starting with Wanda, of Wanda’s Roses. We will discuss story characters and their traits for a few weeks; this concentration complements our earlier exploration of plot and setting.

First grade library classes completed their unit of Australian Aboriginal folktales. We also enjoyed one of my favorite Irish folktales, Fin M’Coul, as retold and illustrated by Tomie DePaola.

Second graders completed the totem poles for the garden and shared their Arctic animal research reports. I was proud to read the informative reports aloud and to display them for the rest of the school community to see. Younger students wondered if the reports could be checked out!

Second-graders’ Arctic animal reports on display in the library
Second graders pose in the garden with their totem poles.

Students wear safety goggles and pull hair back before using the scroll saw.

Lastly, the third graders spent most of our March classes in the Makerspace, where they helped build — and later disassemble — the Rigamajig house. They also have begun using some of our woodworking tools and hope to make something in April. Before leaving for spring break, the students selected books for their next video book trailer.

Students in second- and third-grade continue to use Seesaw to document library/maker class activities. I have created several Maker and Library digital badges that the children can earn by acquiring and mastering basic skills. When a student earns a badge, I will add that badge to his or her Seesaw folder. I expect the digital badges will be incentives for many of our students! Sample digital badges are pictured below.


Kaboom comes to call!

Kaboom visitors in our Makerspace. Photo by Donna Sturtevant

On Tuesday, March 7th, Concord Hill welcomed special visitors from Kaboom, the makers of the wildly popular Rigamajig construction set. Kaboom is a DC-based nonprofit, dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all kids. They were interested in seeing Rigamajig being used by young students in our Makerspace.

Several Kindergartners and Third Graders came to the Makerspace to chat with the visitors and to work on our current schoolwide building project, a little house that may serve as a leprechaun’s cottage. Mrs. Opdahl and I enjoyed meeting other enthusiastic makers and even provided a couple of suggestions that might make Rigamajig even more flexible.


October 2016 Notes

octoberIt’s autumn, and with the change in season come stories about fall color,  animal migration, and Halloween.

mixitupIn addition to our school-wide topics mentioned above, individual classes have been learning library routines, enjoying story times and maker activities, and sharing their love of books with me. In Preprimary, we have explored colors and basic shapes through picture books, including Perfect Square, by Michael Hall and Mix It Up! by Herve Tuillet. I look forward to planning special Makerspace activities with the Preprimary classroom teachers.

Most Magnificent Thing (A. Spires)

Primary class children have enjoyed picture books that promote curiosity and invention, including What Do You Do With an Idea, by Kobi Yamada, and The Most Magnificent Thing,  by Ashley Spires. I may plan a special Makerspace activity with the classroom teachers that will support their classroom inquiry into boats. One of my book recommendations, Float, by Daniel Miyares, served as a prompt for classroom paper boat building.

Friendshape (A. Rosenthal)
Friendshape (A. Rosenthal)

Kindergarten, like Preprimary, focused on shapes and colors in the classroom. I supported their interest through picture books such as Friendshape, by Amy Kraus Rosenthal. We also are focusing on story plot arcs, which we define as “beginning — middle — end.” After hearing a story, the children describe events that occurred throughout those stages of the book. I am hopeful that understanding literary elements such as plot, setting, and character will enrich the Kindergartners’ own storytelling.

The Elephant's Child (R. Kipling)
The Elephant’s Child (R. Kipling)

First grade library story times are devoted to folktales from around the world. We started our exploration with “pourqoui” tales, also called “why stories.” We imagine that we are children from another time and culture, asking our parents a “why” question, such as, “why does the elephant have a trunk?” The stories I read aloud provide culturally interesting, if not scientifically accurate, answers. We will enjoy some folk tales from India while the students are learning about that country in their classroom.

The Great Ball Game (Bruchac & Roth)

Second graders have been hearing tales and legends of the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands. One favorite was The Great Ball Game, a pourquoi tales that features lacrosse, the official team sport of Maryland.  This story was retold by Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki Native American, and illustrated with collages by last year’s visiting author, Susan L. Roth. The illustrated folktales I choose to share with the children provide both visual and textual clues about the specific Native American culture and environment being studied.

Third graders
are busy makers in library class! The children have heard some Norse myths, viewed a short video about Vikings, and will complete additional Viking-related activities. The students are creating Viking longboats out of LEGO bricks or other materials, based on their classroom-based knowledge of the ships. Another library/makerspace activity was based on one of my favorite picture books for our older students, The Matchbox Diary, by Newberry Medalist Paul Fleischman. After hearing the story about a child who learns about her great-grandfather’s immigrant experiences through little mementos he has saved in matchboxes stored in a cigar box, the students decorated their own matchboxes to house their own collections. After I tweeted about the project, we were excited when author Paul Fleischman tweeted back, encouraging the children to develop their collections!



The month ends with Halloween stories for all! Happy Halloween!

A New Makerspace for the New School Year

I am so excited to start building and learning with the students in our new Makerspace! Although a few items remain on our punch list, the space is open for students and staff to enjoy. The colorful floor helps define three main zones: 1) the green construction/studio zone, which includes the green screen studio, wooden blocks, vertical space for marble runs, and the flight lab wind tunnel. The yellow floor indicates the design zone. Dry-erase tabletops provide a wonderful surface for collaboration, and the pinwheel table segments may be separated as needed. The design zone also includes a vertically-mounted dry-erase board and LEGO bricks. The blue floor defines the fabrication/programming zone. This area includes a woodworking bench, textile resources, robots, iPads and laptops. I invite parents to visit the space after the PPP meeting on Friday, September 16th, or at Back-to-School Night on Thursday, September 22nd. Classroom teachers, Mrs. Opdahl, Ms. Kapsch and I will design curricular- or skill-based activities that will put the new space and resources to good use. Scroll over these photographs of the Makerspace and student activities to view captions.

The third graders enjoyed trying several Makerspace activities, including littleBits drawbots, Cubelets, keyword searches with note-taking on the dry-erase tables, Joinks, Rigamajig and LEGOs. Second graders had fun with the flight lab. Preprimary pals created wire and bead sculptures in the green zone.

World Elephant Day

Today is #WorldElephantDay! Celebrate with these books, available in the CHS Library. I can’t recommend Babar, even though it is considered a classic by many. (First, him mom is killed by an elephant hunter. Themes of colonialism, assimilation and power abound, along with other negative stereotypes. Use with caution and a great deal of discussion!)


ISTE2016: Great days in Denver

Doll I made in e-textiles workshop
Doll I made using conductive thread, LED light, and fabric scraps in e-textiles workshop

I was one of over 14,000 lucky teachers, makers, and other educators who descended on Denver for the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference at the end of June. Renowned futurist Michio Kaku‘s opening keynote got us all thinking about the future, and what’s in store as technology evolves in realms as diverse as medicine, education, and space exploration. Among my favorite hands-on sessions was an e-textiles workshop. I hope to bring e-textiles into Concord Hill’s maker curriculum. Robotics and programming demonstrations provided additional opportunities for me to try various coding and fabrication methods. Virtual reality offerings, including the Nearpod “virtual field trips” were plentiful; the apps and devices combine to produce stunning learning experiences that take students beyond the school campus. At the annual Librarians’ Network breakfast meeting, we learned more about the FutureReady program and how librarians are critical to its success. Additionally, keynote speakers Brad Waid and Drew Minock captivated their audience as they described the global impact of social media, and the leadership role librarians should embrace in preparing students for the future. Waid and Minock are known for their,”Two Guys Show” podcast.  My days in Denver were not only about learning; connecting and re-connecting with friends, other makers, and librarians was so much fun — as was attending a Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field!

Inspiring words from the Librarians' Breakfast
Inspiring words from the Librarians’ Breakfast

May 2016 Notes

May seems to be flying by! The special book display features books about the Chesapeake Bay. Soon we proudly will display the bird books written and compiled by our Preprimary class.

Big news: our summer reading lists have been posted on our website. Each list was recently revised to include some new favorites. The list for incoming first graders includes a long list of picture books that may be enjoyed by children of all ages. You may find these books at your public library, local bookstores, and on our amazon.com store. Here are quick links to the lists by grades:

Highlights of our May library classes follow.

SqueegyBug2Preprimary students are hearing fiction and nonfiction books about birds. I hope to share some books about insects, as well. I predict they will enjoy two special books by Eric Carle that featured built-in digital effects — specifically, the clicking sound produced by The Very Clumsy Click Beetle, and the lights produced by insects at the end of The Very Lonely Firefly. Additionally, I hope we will have time to hear The Little Squeegy Bug, by Bill Martin, Jr., which may inspire the children to create their own squeegy bugs in our Makerspace. They will have fun using loose parts from our Tinker Trays to make their little bugs.

Prince NautilusPrimary library classes will round out the year with some very special fairy tales by local author Laura Krauss Melmed. The fairy tales are longer than the typical picture book choices for the Primary class, and I am eager to see how engaged the children will be throughout the story. They certainly have increased their listening span over the course of the school year, which is one of my goals for them. The story of Prince Nautilus includes  an enchanted prince, a perilous quest, and two sisters, one of whom seems to do all the work. Most of the children made a spot-on literary connection to Cinderella, and they all enjoy helping me complete stories with “they lived happily ever after!”

nana-in-the-city-coverKindergarten story time choices complement the classroom exploration of cities. One of my favorites is Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo. This book features a city-dwelling grandmother who helps her grandchild learn not to be afraid in a city full of noises and so many people. We also will enjoy some very funny picture books by Robert Munsch during the last few weeks of school.

DaulaireGreekMythsIn first grade library class, we are enjoying a few Greek myths before the school year ends. I will read selections from D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, Rockwell’s The Robber Baby, Mary Pope Osborne’s Favorite Greek Myths, and Hutton’s individual picture book retellings of the tales of Persephone and of Theseus and the Minotaur. I hope we can experience at least one of our remaining library classes outdoors!

john_henrySecond graders will round out their year of library classes by hearing some humorous  American tall tales. The John Henry tale, as presented by Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney, is a personal favorite. Before adjourning for the year, the children will share feedback about their favorite books.We will compile a list of their choices to share with next year’s second graders.

Third graders have completed their weeks-long unit on circuits, which Mrs. Opdahl and I co-taught. The students applied their knowledge of parallel circuits to make LED-equipped Mother’s Day cards. Scroll over the images to see captions. The children also completed their Scratch programming unit described in my April post and invited their former teachers to play their finished games. We also had time to invent with our Makey Makey kits. The library was a temporary concert hall as banana bongos and aluminum foil pianos produced music when the students designed and completed circuits that allowed the fruit and other random conductive materials to highjack computer keyboards. Scroll over the images in the following photo gallery to see captions of our third grade makers at work.

During one class we will set up obstacle courses for our Dash, Ollie and Sphero robots to maneuver using iPad and iPhone apps. Sometimes our learning looks an awful lot like play, but then again, play is learning — whether acquiring and using cognitive skills to drive a robot through a maze, or improving social skills through collaboration. The following video was produced by Sphero, and shows that little bot in action.

April 2016 Notes

April is School Library Month AND National Poetry Month. I will share poetry with the students during at least one  library classes.
My GardenPreprimary students have been hearing stories about garden plants, in conjunction with their classroom unit. Two new favorites are My Garden, by Kevin Henkes, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal.

fix it duckPrimary students have heard several humorous, cumulative picture books recently. They especially enjoyed Fix-It Duck by Jez Alborough.

Recent Kindergarten library classes have been devoted to fiction and nonfiction about farm animals and equipment. As you might imagine, the children seemed most fascinated by the manure spreader!
underlemonmoonFirst graders have heard picture books set in Mexico, including one of my all-time favorites, Under the Lemon Moon, by Edith Hope Fine. We also watched a short video about a day in the life of a young boy in Mexico; after the video the students compared and contrasted his life with their own.
World Almanac Kids logo

Recent second grade library classes have been devoted to a special state research project. Specifically, the students found visual information and interpreted agricultural and industrial symbols on state maps from the World Almanac for Kids Online. They recorded their findings and interpretations into the books they created in library class using the Book Creator iPad app. The children will record a Seesaw digital portfolio entry about this project.
scratchThird graders have spent library classes this month working on their Scratch programming projects. Mrs. Opdahl and I are co-teaching this unit. The students are working in teams to create online games that represent some of their favorite memories from their years at Concord Hill. When the coding and debugging are complete, we will start a special Maker unit on circuits.

Little Charmers, Revisited

bracelet copyI think it’s time to update this post from 2009 with some new additions. Enjoy these short novels with your children! April 2016

Are you looking for a read-aloud that won’t take months to read to your child? In this post I recommend what I call “little charmers,” gentle stories told in 120 pages or less. These are not raucous or irreverent adventure stories; rather, they are the kinds of books grandparents will enjoy reading to their grandchildren. In fact, a couple of the selections may be older than some of our CHS grandparents! The plots are linear and the characters are allowed to develop and grow, in spite of the shortness of the books. Rich vocabulary combined with simple illustrations make these great read-alouds for bedtime.

BuriedBonesMysteryThe Buried Bones Mystery (Vol. 1 of the Clubhouse Mysteries) by Sharon M. Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson). Here is a great introduction to chapter book mysteries, written by a five-time Coretta Scott King award winner. Ziggy and his friends Rico, Rashawn, and Jerome dig a hole in Ziggy’s yard to bury their secret treasures. When the boys try to hide their treasures, however, they uncover a box of bones and are swept up in a mystery — who could have buried that box of bones behind their clubhouse?

FortunatelyFortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young. What should be a quick errand for a loving, responsible father — running out to get some milk for his children’s breakfast cereal — turns into a series of outrageous events that he describes to the children upon his return. CHS First grade teacher Mrs. Crain also enjoys this rollicking tall tale.

LuluLulu and the Brontosaurus, by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith. This nifty cautionary tale begins when Lulu, a spoiled child accustomed to getting her way, has a tantrum because her parents will not allow her to have a Brontosaurus as a pet. Lulu undertakes a search for one anyway, not knowing that the Brontosaurus she finds wants her for a pet, as well!

TheStormThe Storm (Vol. 1 of the Lighthouse Family series), by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Preston McDaniels. Pandora the cat and Sebold the dog both live in isolation, she in a lighthouse, he on his boat at sea. A storm brings the two together, and eventually they learn that families can come in many different configurations. This is one of my new favorites!

whippingboyThe Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Peter Sis. This Newberry Medal winner is full of adventure and mistaken identity as spoiled Prince Brat and his whipping boy Jemmy, who appear to have nothing in common, are abducted and learn to empathize and appreciate each other.

catwingsCatwings, by Ursula LeGuin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Four young cats born with wings leave their dangerous alley in the city in search of a safe place to live. They encounter dangers in the countryside, as well, but finally meet two children with kind hands. This little book is the first volume in the Catwings series.

dragonMy Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett and Ruth C. Gannett. Mother and daughter combined talents to create this first volume of a delightful trilogy. A young boy determines to rescue a poor baby dragon who is being used by a group of lazy wild animals to ferry them across the river on Wild Island. Many children enjoy looking at the frontispiece map throughout the story.

cricketwinterCricket Winter, by Felice Holman, illustrated by Robyn Thomas. A little boy exchanges Morse code messages with the cricket that lives in his house and together they trap the rat that has been plaguing the boy’s father and the cricket’s friends.

batpoetThe Bat-Poet, by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. A bat who can’t sleep days makes up poems about the woodland creatures he now perceives for the first time. This slender volume may inspire young poets to write poems based on their own observations.

abelAbel’s Island, by William Steig. Castaway on an uninhabited island, Abel, a very civilized mouse, finds his resourcefulness and endurance tested to the limit as he struggles to survive and return to his home.

jennycatJenny and the Cat Club, by Esther Holden Averill. First published in 1944, this book introduces readers to Jenny Linsky, a black cat who lives in New York City, and her adventures with the neighborhood cats who belong to the Cat Club.

sarahplainSarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlin. When their father invites a mail-order bride to come to live with them in their prairie home, Caleb and Anna are captivated by her and hope that she will stay. Winner of the Newberry Medal.

keycollectThe Key Collection, by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Yangshook Choi. A ten-year-old boy in the Midwest misses his Chinese grandmother, who always lived next door until her health caused her to move. Currently out of print, this book is available from used book dealers and the CHS library.

fireworkThe Firework-Maker’s Daughter, by Phillip Pullman, illustrated by S. Saelig Gallagher. In a country far to the east, Chulak and his talking white elephant Hamlet help Lila seek the Royal Sulphur from the sacred volcano so that she can become a master maker of fireworks like her father. The author of the complex and challenging “His Dark Materials” trilogy wrote this short gem of a quest story for young listeners.

jackplankJack Plank Tells Tales, by Natalie Babbitt. When a pirate ship falls on hard times, Jack Plank is let go because he is not very good at plundering. He moves into a boarding house and begins to look for work. Unfortunately, Jack is not well suited to be a farmer, baker, fortune-teller, fisherman, barber, goldsmith, actor, or musician, each for a different reason. Jack’s efforts to find his calling, and his explanations to the other boarders, make for a very engaging read-aloud. (At 128 pages, this book exceeds my original 120-page limit, but it’s too good to miss!)