Friends Forever

For Valentine’s Day classroom celebrations this year, our principal asked the staff to focus on friendship. Here in the library, I often have lessons that incorporate social emotional themes, so I decided to take the week prior to, and the week of, Valentine’s Day to share lots of information about what being a friend looks like and sounds like.

Using print books, ebooks, videos, and databases (and a super cute STEAM activity), I created lessons that I believe my readers truly connected with during those two weeks.

The first week, my lesson was entitled, “What is Friendship?” and the big question was, “What does it mean to be a good friend?” In the lesson I used the wonderful PebbleGo article, Making New Friends, and the books  My New Friend is So Fun! by Mo Willems and Snail and Worm Again by Tina Kügler.  My students and I had insightful discussions about friendship and specific ways in which the characters were good friends to each other.  We also had a great time creating snail art!

PreK-Gr2 What is Friendship

The second week, my lesson was entitled “Be a Fantastic Friend” and we continued exploring what it means to be a friend. Scholastic Watch & Learn has two wonderful friendship videos:  Fantastic Friend Countdown and Can You Be a Good Friend?  which gave my young students some concrete examples of things that they could do in the classroom and at recess.  The books I incorporated were again by author/illustrators Mo Willems (The Big Guy Took My Ball!) and Tina Kügler (Snail and Worm).  I love that my young learners appreciated the humor in each of these books and laughed out loud at the characters’ silliness, while also understanding the message of friendship in each.

K-Gr2: Be a Fantastic Friend

The Year of the Tiger

February is such a fantastic month for learning!  Not only is it Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, Love Your Library Month, in 2022, we also celebrated the Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics.

Today’s post focuses on the Lunar or Chinese New Year, which is the most important holiday in Chinese culture. Because I believe it is extremely important to celebrate the diversity of our school community, I was excited to invite my students to learn about this wonderful two-week celebration. 

As I started pulling together resources for my lesson, including print and ebooks, articles in our PebbleGo database, Gale in Context – Elementary database, video in our Scholastic Watch & Learn database, and a couple of other vetted YouTube videos, I started looking for a good Google slide theme.  SlidesCarnival   and are two of my “go to” resources for awesome slide templates – for this presentation, I used the beautiful SlidesGo Year of the Tiger template, which also included information about the Chinese New Year.

Just as I did with my Mid-Autumn Festival lesson in September, I consulted one of my colleagues, Chanru, who is Chinese-American, to have her review my Chinese New Year lesson for authenticity and accuracy.  She gave me positive feedback, and also asked if she might bring in Chinese New Year decorations to help me decorate the library. While we hung the decorations, she explained what the characters on the banners and window clings meant. She has been an amazing primary resource to me!

In addition to my lessons, I also displayed nonfiction books about China and other countries where the Lunar New Year is celebrated, as well as displayed and spotlighted fiction chapter and picture books written and illustrated by Asian-Americans.

K2: 2022 Year of the Tiger – Chinese New Year

Gr 3-5: 2022 Year of the Tiger – Chinese New Year

Our principal calls for weekly “Shout Outs” to include in his Monday morning newsletter, and Chanru and I gave each other kudos that week. I shared how thankful I was that she reviewed my lessons and shared her decorations. Her comment to me was, “Shout out to Melissa, for you spent your time making the amazing Chinese New Year lesson slides for all grade levels and are willing to set up the Media room with all theme decorations. I feel so embraced and represented.”   This was a timely reminder that while we are helping to expand knowledge of our students by honoring the culture of our diverse community, a delightful outcome is that our colleagues can also feel the love.

Tiny Six-Pointed Crystals of Ice

I was born in upstate New York and my parents moved our little family to Maine when I was 3 years old, so as you might imagine, I love the beauty in the change of seasons, and in particular,the magic of a snow storm. As a young girl, I remember intently listening to the radio after (or during)  a snow storm, hoping to hear my school listed on the Snow Day – School Closed Announcements, so that I could play in the snow, and then come inside to drink hot chocolate and read a good book (or two).  

Fast forward through many four-seasons (and lots of books) … 

Within a year of moving to South Carolina with my new husband, Hurricane Hugo slammed into Charleston, and that winter we had a snow storm that dropped 8-10  inches (very unusual for the Lowcountry), and never again in the 7+ years I lived there. The January after moving to Maryland, a blizzard dumped 36 inches.  In the 27 years I have lived in Maryland, we have had 5 or 6 blizzards with major snow accumulations. I have enjoyed every snowfall, be it a light dusting or a thick blanket. 

I particularly love the snow storms that leave the ground covered in a blanket of snow, decorating the trees and their branches with snowy lace.  I savor the peace that follows a thick blanket of snow –  and enjoy taking photographs of the natural beauty that surrounds me when the world is glistening with beautiful white snowflakes.  In all seasons, taking closeups of the amazing beauty in our natural world is a fascination of mine.

Being a New Englander, I was interested in learning about Vermonter Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley and his spectacular snowflake photographs.  I created a lesson around the picture book, Snowflake Bentley, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian.  Her lovely woodcut illustrations were awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1999. At the time of the award announcement,  the American Library Association Caldecott Committee Chair Barbara Barstow said,

Snowflake Bentley has a beautiful and thoughtful design, a poetic and informative text, distinguished illustrations, universal appeal and resonance. Mary Azarian, a Vermont artist who loves snow as much as Wilson Bentley, has created strong and skillfully carved woodcuts that portray sensible, sturdy characters and a timeless rural landscape.

“Of all the forms of water the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow are incomparably the most beautiful and varied.”

Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931)

Bentley’s process for photographing snowflakes, and his persistence to keep doing it despite the challenges he faced and the difficulty in taking the photographs, is admirable, and a wonderful lesson in itself.  There are many lesson resources that focus on the social emotional aspects of Wilson Bentley’s story.   You can find many resources on TeachingBooks here.

Although I touched on the social emotional aspect of Wilson’s story, I really hoped to get my students excited about the fascinating process of snowflake’s creation.  As I was creating my lesson,  I was very excited to discover the Carly and Adam’s Snowflake Bentley (literacy-based)  STEM Activity and related Design a Snowflake STEM Challenge in their Seasonal STEM Challenges library (January and Winter STEM Challenges). 

Because I wanted to make a hallway display of their snowflakes, I combined the two challenges and shared them with my 3rd and 4th grade students.  It was a multi-week lesson. During the first lesson, we read Snowflake Bentley, studied some of Bentley’s photos, and watched videos about Wilson’s photography and the process of snowflake creation.  In the second lesson we reviewed symmetry, watched a video about high-speed snowflake photography, and began the snowflake design process. In the last lesson we reviewed the engineering design process to allow my young engineers plenty of time to design, reflect, and create their snowflakes. 

In the slide show below you will find some awesomely “cool” snowflakes that my students created using pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, cotton swabs, pony beads, and glue. 

A link to my lesson is here: Snowflake Bentley – Literature & STEM Activity [please make copy]

Feel free to use my lesson, but please give me credit. I have included links to Carly and Adam’s website so that you may purchase their lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers or join their STEM Teacher Club.   If you try the lesson with your students, please let me know how it went!