Our Table STEM Challenge

In October, my students enjoyed learning about U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomoyor by reading her picture book biography, Turning Pages: My Life Story, and completing the Carly and Adam Tower of Knowledge STEM Challenge.   

Since I am a long-time reader of Peter H. Reynolds’ books, I had pre-ordered Our Table as soon as I found out about it, and received it on its book birthday in early November.  I thought it would be a good story to share with my students during Thanksgiving week, when my students would have a special meal with their families.  Because the Tower of Knowledge STEM challenge was so successful, I was inspired to create a similar STEM challenge for my students to help them extend their learning.

Our Table is a reminder that our family time together is precious and in the book, Peter asks us to “rediscover the gift of time shared together.”  The message of this picture book is particularly poignant to me because my four children have all grown and flown from the nest.  The times that I do have all four of my children around the table is precious to me.  The publication of Our Table was ten days before my father passed away, and knowing that we will never share a meal with him again added to the importance of its message to my family.

In my media lesson, I focused on students finding a text-to-life connection with Our Table and  reflecting upon how their own family shares a meal at their table, discussing Peter’s use of color to visually explain the separation Violet was feeling and her happiness when they came back together.

Lesson slides: Our Table STEM Challenge. You are welcome to make a copy of my lesson plan, but please give me credit.

My friend Georgann made a tiny table for me to use as a prop when I read the book to my students and it helped them to make a connection with the idea of the disappearing table.

The STEM challenge was simple: build a table that could hold a can of vegetables with only 6 index cards and masking tape.  Since I was doing this challenge with my 2nd graders, I did not give them a specific limit on the tape, but none of the teams used more than 18 inches.  If I were  to do this challenge for upper elementary students, I would limit tape to 12 inches in 6-inch increments (and encourage them to use the least amount of tape that they can).

For more lesson ideas using Peter H. Reynolds’ books, please click here for the Scholastic Activity Guide.

If you use my lesson, or create your own, I hope you will share your thoughts with me!

Watch my blog for future literacy-based STEM and STEAM challenges!

Dots Helps Us Make Our Mark!

Every September, we participate in International Dot Day – a global celebration of courage, creativity, and collaboration. It is based on the Peter H. Reynolds’ book entitled The Dot—the story of frustrated grade school artist, Vashti, as she sits slumped over her blank piece of paper at the end of art class. “I just CAN’T draw!” she tells her teacher. Her teacher first uses wit, then subtle yet clever encouragement to inspire her student to go beyond her insecurities and become, in the words of a younger boy who “can’t” draw either, and laments that he could never become “a really great artist” like Vashti. However, she encourages him to try, just as her
teacher did. The open-ended conclusion encourages students of all ages to contemplate how they can make their own mark in the world.

Peter H. Reynolds is one of my favorite author/illustrators!

We discussed fixed versus growth mindset, making our mark, and then students created their own art to take home and share with their parents.

Students used our recycled dot-shaped crayons, too! This is a great use for old, broken crayons — find out how to make them here.

Pocket Poems & Journeys

Every month there are celebrations both large and small in the Flower Hill media center. We celebrate learning, connecting, collaborating, creating – and reading!

April is not only School Library Month:

school library month

…but also National Poetry Month, and April 30th was Poem in Your Pocket Day.   poem in your pocket day

If you visited our school during the month of April you would have noticed our large bulletin board inviting all to pick a poem or two from the pockets, and share them with others.   Throughout the month (and into May) we have been exploring different types of poems – Haiku, List, and Book Spine Poetry, to name a few. Book spine poetry is a bit eclectic, and it’s created and read by stacking books so that the title of each book is one of the lines in the poem. Below are a few examples of book spine poetry that my fourth grade students created:WP_20150414_14_12_47_Pro[1]



We read Guyku (haiku poetry for boys) by Bob Raczka and Peter H. Reynolds and my 4th grade students created some fantastic Guyku and Galku (haiku for girls) –

Diego Guyku

Ryan Guyku


During the week of April 27th – May 1st, many of my classes connected with students in other states via Google Hangout. We collaborated together to create some wonderful list poems with our new friends in New York and South Carolina.  We read a few selections from Falling Down the Page –  A Book List Poems, edited by Georgia Heard. and then, using Google Docs in real time, we created poems together, alternating lines, and color coding the poem to help!  If you’d like to read some of them, please click here.                               

The month of May was filled with industrious students finishing book trailer videos, researching and creating online newsletters, learning about effort and persistence, taking care of the earth, and much, much more!

I will be preparing my 2015-16 library book order soon, and have asked all the students to give me input. I have several book catalogs available for them to peruse, and they can add their suggestions to the wish list.


The Black-Eyed Susan Book awardees were announced on Saturday, May 2nd. I attended the event, and knew my students would be thrilled to find that The Day the Crayons Quit (educator guide), and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (website) were this year’s KidLit winners!  All three have been very popular titles in our Flower Hill ES library, and rarely stay on the shelves – if they make it back on them at all!  WP_20150504_07_37_53_Pro[1]

On June 16th, I was thrilled to be a guest reader in the Story Time Tent at the 6th annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.  I read two great books by Patrick McDonnell – Wag! and The Monsters’ Monster. WP_20150516_10_38_52_Pro[1] Both have wonderful messages of friendship, kindness, and love, and both have downloadable activities from the publisher’s website.  I also volunteered in the Edgar Allan Poe Pavilion, and there was able to listen to many authors of adult literature.  At one point during the day when I wasn’t volunteering, I had the opportunity to listen to Michelle Knudsen and Matt Phelan discuss Marilyn’s Monster, a delightful book about a little girl who has been found by her monster yet, so she decides to go out and decides to go out in search for him herself, and the adventure that ensues.  (Michelle reads her book to us)

 (Matt gives writing tips)


Another book I like to finish my year out with is The North Star  by Peter H. Reynolds – a quiet book about a little boy who learns to follow his guiding star.  I love sharing this book with my 4th and 5th graders and getting them to think about their own strengths and following their own paths to greatness.

WP_20150512_19_29_41_Pro[1]Reading is my super power, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share my love of books and learning with my students.  I have spent many enjoyable hours this weekend listening to The Busy Librarian’s podcasts, and have been so thrilled to learn more about authors and illustrators (and everyone in between) and their amazing books and hope that I’ll be able to stretch my media center budget to include the purchase of all of the books I have heard about on the Let’s Get Busy Podcast.  If you haven’t discovered Matthew Winner’s fantastic website or podcast series, you need to do so quickly by clicking here!

Dot-to-Dot Connections

My students and I just completed a fantastic week of dot-to-dot connections as we celebrated International Dot Day with educators and students in Florida, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and nearby neighbors in Clarksburg!

Dot Day 2014 018 Dot Day 2014 141 Dot Day 2014 071 Dot Day 2014 022

This was my third year participating in International Dot Day, inspired by the book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.     This was a celebration of creativity, courage, and collaboration, and we made our mark (and the world a better place) by connecting with new friends around the United States via Google Hangout.

After reading and discussing The Dot, my PreK–grade 2 students created dot pictures using the template in the official educator’s handbook, which we shared with our video chat partners.  A few examples are here …

Dot Day 2014 185 Dot Day 2014 184 Dot Day 2014 154Dot Day 2014 183

My students in grades 3-5 created dot day trading cards using index cards, and these cards were sent to our video chat partners in Florida (a few examples follow).  We’re looking forward to receiving some back from them, too!

Dot trading cards

During our video chat connections, we shared state symbols, read additional “dot-and-creativity- related” books, such as The Dot and Ish, also by Peter H. Reynolds,  Dot by Patricia Intriago, Press Here by Hervé Tullet, Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg, and Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown.

Thank you Irene Allaire (Wilson Wims Elementary School), Lori Dearmore (Naselle Elementary School), Sue Halbert  (J.F. Tatem Elementary School), Cristol Kapp (Clifton Hills Elementary School),  Meghan Nels (Turtle River Montessori), Cathy Potter (Falmouth Elementary School),  Carol Scrimgeour (Essex Elementary School), and  Esther Uribe (Rutledge Elementary School) for your creative and fun dot-to-dot connections!

Dot Day 2014 196


Another blog I encourage you to follow (if you don’t already) is Jennifer Reed’s Reederama.  She posted every day last week about her school’s experiences, and then posted a wonderful reflection – “The Value of Virtual Visits” –  on Monday.  Please take the time to read it (you’ll want to go back and read the others, too)!

If you didn’t connect the dots this year, I highly encourage you to do so next year!   Participating in International Dot Day is a wonderful experience for our students to celebrate creativity, courage, and collaboration, while also developing there digital citizenship skills!