What is STEAM and How Can You Support It In Your Library?

I had the opportunity to participate in a great twitter chat Monday night dedicated to discussing ways librarians can support STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) in our schools.

Working at ComputersSome of the ideas that were shared include:

  • facilitating computer coding sessions for students
  • stocking library learning centers and Makerspace areas with building materials (Legos, K-nex, Little Bits, etc)
  • displaying student art in the library
  • providing “maker” books for students (Lego idea books, duct tape projects, Minecraft manuals, origami instructions, etc)
  • donating weeded library books for project components
  • hosting themed maker sessions that are tied to the curriculum
  • sharing creative writing tools like Storybird for non-fiction writing
  • designing 3-D printing projects tied to the curriculum (i.e., math students printing geometric shapes such cylinder, cone, etc)
  • using rap, hip hop, and other types of music to memorize facts
  • sponsoring a Minecraft club
  • offering creative writing workshops for students
  • creating a collection of nonfiction graphic novels
  • leading a themed Genius Hour project tied to the curriculum
  • using Skype or Google Hangouts to connect students with other classes or field experts

You can find an archive of the entire STEAM in the Library chat here.  Please follow #tlchat (TeacherLibrarianChat) and #tlelem (TeacherLibrarianElementary level) on Twitter for new inspiration every day, and tweet those hashtags to share your own library successes!

Are you doing something different to support STEAM in your school?  Please share it in the comments!



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Creating Weather Poetry

My 4th grade teachers were looking for some new poetry ideas for their students this month, so I suggested introducing them to Found Poetry.  I was introduced to found poetry by author/poet Kami Kinnard at my state school librarians conference last spring.  It basically involves reading nonfiction text on a topic, pulling out the important words and facts to create a word bank, and then using one of the elements of poetry (repetition, alliteration) or forms of poetry (free verse, haiku) to create a poem.

Teachers are bringing their classes to the library next week to research weather using books, magazine articles, online encyclopedias, and websites.  Then some classes will create weather “shape poems” (their idea, which I love!) while another will use a “free verse” approach.

I recommended the following books as good examples of shape poems:

Flicker Flash by Joan Bransfield Graham explores light in all its forms, from reading lamps to moonlight to flashlights to campfires. (Hover over the image above to see clickable links for additional resources for this book.)


Doodle Dandies: Poems That Take Shape by J. Patrick Lewis (former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate) takes a more eclectic approach to the subject matter – with poems ranging from sports to seasons to animals – as well as with the mixed-media illustrations.  (Hover over the image above to see clickable links for additional resources for this book.)

And I just discovered a book that explains Found Poetry in a kid-friendly way:

found all around Found All Around: A Show-and-Tell of Found Poetry by Krishna Dalal gives instructions and examples of choosing words from newspaper and magazine articles, books, etc to create and using them to write poems.

Do you have other book recommendations, or poetry-writing ideas?  Please share them in the comments!

You can find more books and resources on my Thinglink Poetry page!


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After Christmas Read-Aloud: My Penguin Osbert

For my first story time with Kindergarten after the winter break, I decided to share a perfect “after Christmas” book:

my penguin osbert My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

In this amusing book, Joe asks Santa — very specifically — for a real, live penguin.  (There have been some misunderstandings with Santa in the past!)  He is delighted to find exactly what he asked for under the tree on Christmas morning.  But as the days wear on, he realizes that there’s a lot to taking care of a penguin that he hadn’t really considered.

my penguin osbert page

So he writes Santa another letter, and fortunately the solution is easily arranged.

Before sharing the book, I asked the kindergarteners if they had asked for and received something for Christmas this year that wasn’t quite as much fun as they expected it to be.  Sure enough, several raised their hands to shares tales of Transformers that were too difficult to transform (I could totally relate to that one!), electric scooters that were too hard to ride, and a remote control car with a mind of its own.

As we read about Joe’s struggles to do what was best for Osbert, rather than what Joe wanted to do, the kids shared some tidbits of information that they knew about penguins, which is nice preparation for the penguin unit they will begin in class later this month.

I should probably mention that there’s a sequel, too, although we didn’t read it this week.  Maybe for Valentine’s Day!

my penguin osbert in love My Penguin Osbert in Love

What books are you using with students this week?  Please leave a comment and share them!


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A Picture is Worth How Many Words?

Here’s another idea I shared during my Comics in the Classroom workshop last month:

For years teachers have been using wordless books to encourage creative writing with their students, but imagine putting a new spin on it by having students write dialogue and narration using a comic book format!  It’s easy when you use speech bubble sticky notes, and the same book can be used over and over again.

Here are two simple examples:

red book From The Red Book (Caldecott Honor Book) by Barbara Lehman

The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to deliver one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she’s never met is waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over!


Students could even use this as a starting point for writing their own graphic novel sequel to show what happens to the boy who finds the book at the end of the story!


lion mouseFrom The Lion & the Mouse (Caldecott Winner) by Jerry Pinkney

A wordless adaptation of one of the well-known Aesop fable, in which an unlikely pair of animals learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted.


Students studying fables could use this activity as inspiration to re-write other fables as comic books.  In this video, Jerry Pinkney offers an explanation of the thought process behind the book:


Of course, not all wordless books lend themselves to speech and/or thought bubbles, but here are some others that would work well for the comic format:

girl and the bicycle The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

“A little girl sees a shiny new bicycle in the shop window. She hurries home to see if she has enough money in her piggy bank, but when she comes up short, she knocks on the doors of her neighbors, hoping to do their yardwork. They all turn her away except for a kindly old woman. The woman and the girl work through the seasons, side by side. They form a tender friendship. When the weather warms, the girl finally has enough money for the bicycle. She runs back to the store, but the bicycle is gone! What happens next shows the reward of hard work and the true meaning of generosity.”

chalk Chalk by Bill Thomson

“A rainy day. Three kids in a park. A dinosaur spring rider. A bag of chalk. The kids begin to draw. . . and then . . . magic! The children draw the sun, butterflies, and a dinosaur that amazingly come to life. Children will never feel the same about the playground!”

secret box The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman

The story of what happens when three children find a secret box that was hidden long ago, and travel across town and across time on a puzzling adventure.  It’s up the the reader to interpret the ending, and to imagine what happens next.

Click here for additional teaching suggestions for this book.



farmer and the clown The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (who I LOVE!)

“A baby clown is separated from his family when he accidentally bounces off their circus train and lands in a lonely farmer’s vast, empty field. The farmer reluctantly rescues the little clown, and over the course of one day together, the two of them make some surprising discoveries about themselves—and about life!”
Click here for an interview with Marla Frazee about the book.  And don’t miss this blog post from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast filled with artwork (and pre-artwork) from the book!



bluebird Bluebird by Bob Staake

The story of a beautiful but brief friendship between a lonely boy and a cheerful bluebird.

Click here to view the artwork for this award-winning book.


unspoken Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

“When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn, she is at once startled and frightened. But the stranger’s fearful eyes weigh upon her conscience, and she must make a difficult choice. Will she have the courage to help him?”

Here is Henry Cole “reading aloud” from the book.  This is a great introduction to show students how to think about and interpret a wordless book.


If you’d like to purchase pre-cut speech bubble sticky notes, here are some that I found online:


Can you recommend another wordless book that students could use to write narration and dialogue?  Please share it in the comments!

Note: When you purchase sticky notes or books 
via the links in this post, I receive a small 
commission (4%) from Amazon in the form of a gift card.
I use these gift cards to buy books for teachers 
to use during special reading projects and celebrations.
Thanks for your support!

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The WWW is Back!

One of the ways I’ve shared technology with my teachers in the past is to email them a WWW (Weekly Wednesday Website) to share an online resource that might be useful in the classroom.  Starting today I’m resuming those emails, and I’ll be sharing the sites here as well.  I’ve also created an archive of all the sites I’ve shared so far so that teachers can find a particular website without having to search through a list of emails.

Today’s WWW is…

discuskids    DISCUS Kids

The South Carolina State Library provides access to $2.2 million worth of research, reference, and learning resources for students in our state via the DISCUS website.
These resources include:

  • Britannica Elementary (general encyclopedia)
  • BrainPop Jr.  (early elementary lessons and online activities)
  • CultureGrams (social studies resources)
  • Kids InfoBits  (general encyclopedia, with magazine and newspaper articles)
  • NovelList K-8 Plus  (fiction and nonfiction book recommendations)
  • Searchasaurus  (kid-friendly search engine)
  • Biography in Context (biographical information, including photos and videos)

If you don’t live in South Carolina, I’m sorry to say that you can’t access these databases.  If you do live in South Carolina, I hope you’ll take advantage of them!

Discus Kids   http://scdiscus.org/discus-kids



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My Final Summer Reading of 2014

I spent one final long weekend at the beach last week (goodbye, Summer!) and thanks to all the rain we had, I was able to finish four of the novels I took along with me:

one for the murphysOne for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

This book has been in my To-Be-Read pile for awhile, and I finally got around to reading it this week.
Carley has just been placed with a foster family after a devastating family incident, and her new situation is completely different from what she’s used to.  Letting her guard down and sharing herself with new people isn’t easy for Carley, but neither is trusting her own family again after what happened.
Please have some tissues ready because this story gets you right in the heart!  Best of all, it keeps you guessing about how things will turn out; and it has some plot twists that you don’t see coming, yet are totally believable and not at all forced.

hiding out at the pancake palaceHiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino

I just picked this book up at our local bookstore right before the trip, partly because of the “NPR Best Book of the Year” seal on the front, partly because it takes place during the summer, and partly because hey, PANCAKES!
The plot revolves around a contestant on a musical reality show seeking privacy after an embarrassing freeze onstage, and a local girl who is desperate to hear the song the pine trees played on the night she was born.  Each fills a need for the other as the two join forces in their attempt to connect with music again.
The lyrical text says a lot without saying too much, and it’s a feel-good read that’s not at all syrupy.  (Pun intended!)

timmy failure mistakes Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

     Calvin And Hobbes meets The Riot Brothers (and Chet Gecko and Greg Heffley) in this grin-a-minute romp with Timmy and his sidekick/business partner, Total the polar bear, filled with silliness that your reluctant readers will flip for.
The book trailer gives you a taste of what to expect:

The advanced vocabulary words sprinkled throughout the text are rendered less intimidating by the super-short chapters and the cartoon drawings on every page.  You can find lots of fun resources for kids, parents, and teachers at the Timmy Failure website.  Book Two (Now Look What You’ve Done) is already out, and Book Three (We Meet Again) debuts in October of 2014.

fourteenth goldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

I accessed a preview copy of this book via NetGalley, and I can’t wait until its official release on August 28 so I can add it to my library!
When Ellie’s scientist grandfather (Dr. Sagarsky) shows up on her doorstep looking like a teenager and announces that he’s found a way to reverse the aging process, it marks the beginning of a period of discovery for Ellie as well.  In this funny yet thoughtful story, we follow the two of them — along with an unlikely accomplice from Ellie’s school– as they attempt to recover Grandpa’s notes and specimens from the laboratory he no longer has access to.
Holm does a wonderful job of painlessly injecting plenty of science into this coming-of-age (for the second time for Grandpa!) novel, as well as encouraging readers to ponder the idea that scientific discoveries, for better or for worse, inevitably change the world permanently.  It will serve as an inspiration to girls who already enjoy science, and may spark an interest in the subject for girls who don’t.


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Modern Art Collages and Jazz Picture Books

As we were making Matisse-inspired collages the other day as part of our family summer art project, one of my children was working solely with black and white paper.  It seemed like the perfect time to bring out two picture books that I had been saving for bedtime reading.

ben's trumpetBen’s Trumpet, a Caldecott honor book (1979) by Rachel Isadora, is the story of a young boy who is excited by the jazz music he hears in his neighborhood and longs to play the trumpet himself.  He practices outside the corner jazz club with an imaginary trumpet, until the laughter and jeers of some of the other kids send him sadly home.  Just when he’s given up on his dream, the horn player from the club invites him inside to give the trumpet a try.

ben's trumpet zig zag ben's trumpet zig zag club

Although all of the artwork in this book is done in black and white, the illustrations are bold and expressive, and easily convey the energy of the music.  As we read it, we noticed the jagged lines on the end papers, then smiled when we saw the sign on the first page for the Zig Zag Jazz Club. (Click the page of Ben on the fire escape for an enlarged view of the jazz club sign.)

ben's trumpet art deco 1We talked about the geometric Art Deco elements in the illustrations, and I explained how popular that was in the 1920s as a style of architecture, interior decoration, jewelery design, etc.  We compared the use of the angular shapes in this book to the shapes used by Henri Matisse in his collages.  (I wish I’d also had my copy of Snow White in New York by Fiona French, with its glamorous Art Deco illustrations depicting NYC in the 1930s, with me to show them!)

bring on that beatThen we read Bring on That Beat, also by Rachel Isadora but published twenty-three years later!  This book takes a similar concept — children in a 1930s Harlem neighborhood enjoying the jazz music played by local musicians — but here the artist embellishes the black and white street scenes with splashes and pops of wild, vivid color, and tells the story in rhyming couplets rather than straight prose.

wake up that street 1 wake up that street 2

When I use these two books in my library lessons (either in January when our 5th graders study the Harlem Renaissance, or in February during our Black History Month celebration) I follow them up by giving students a page with one of five different  black-and-white silhouettes of a jazz musician on it, and some crayons or markers.   Each student writes his/her own original rhyming couplet on the paper, and then adds colorful flourishes while we listen to jazz music from the 30s.

At home, we were already listening to jazz as we collaged, and one of the kids decided on a last-minute addition of a little jazz color to his picture.  I love it!

Midnight Jazz

Midnight Jazz

When we get ready to do painted-paper collages a la Henri Matisse, we will also look at some other books by Rachel Isadora that show her delightful take on that style of artwork.

there was a tree    princess and the pea    fisherman and his wife


Books used today:

ben's trumpet
Ben’s Trumpet
by Rachel Isadora

bring on that beat
Bring on that Beat
also by Rachel Isadora

Also mentioned:

snow white in new york
Snow White in New York
by Fiona Finch



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