Making Predictions with First Graders

could have been worseAn important skill for students to develop as they read is learning how to make predictions. One way I like to practice this is through children’s literature. A perfect book for making predictions is It Could Have Been Worse by A. H. Benjamin. The book is about a mouse on his way home from visiting his town cousin. Mouse runs into all kinds of difficulty as he heads home – slipping, sliding, landing in thorns, . . . After each little episode, Mouse laments that his day isn’t going well at all. However, there is much more going on in the background that Mouse doesn’t know about. As it turns out, several creatures come very close to having Mouse for lunch. Because of Mouse’s “terrible” day, he manages to escape the dangers around him!

I start by reading the first few pages of the book. The students listen as Mouse loses his balance, falls to the ground, and declares, “This isn’t my lucky day.” In the background, the children can see that Cat is just about to pounce on Mouse but misses him as the mouse falls. Cat ends up in a bed of thorns as the narrative reads, “But it could have been worse!” I read the next page but stop before finding out what will happen to Mouse this time.

We talk about what a prediction is and how to use picture clues to help decide what will happen next. Then I tell the students that they will write down their prediction in the Book Creator app and will illustrate that using Drawing Pad. (Book Creator has a drawing feature within the app that is easy to use. For this activity I wanted the teachers to see an app-smashing example that they could use within their own classroom.)

Writing a prediction in the Book Creator app

Writing a prediction in the Book Creator app

The prediction activity took about two 40 minute sessions. Part of the time was spent introducing the drawing features in the Drawing Pad app and showing how to develop their page in Book Creator  (add illustration, write sentence, record narration) – the next time the teachers (or I) use the apps, the students will be able to work more independently.

Illustrating their predictions using the Drawing Pad app

Illustrating their predictions using the Drawing Pad app

As students finished recording, they came to me for guidance in emailing their Book Creator page to me. The pages are then compiled into class books for students to read on their iOS devices. In addition, I also exported the book as a video to offer another way to view the books.

Here are the apps we used:

App Smashing with First Graders

App Smashing with First Graders

Links to the ePub Books and the videos:

  • What will happen to Mouse and Snake?  Mrs. Hutchinson’s Class ePub Book and Video
  • What will happen to Mouse and Fox?  Mrs. Kee’s Class ePub Book and Video
  • What will happen to Mouse and Fish?  Mrs. Orehek’s Class ePub Book and Video

Directions to download books to your iOS device (iPad, iPhone, etc):

  • You will need the iBooks app (free) installed on your iOS device.
  • Click on the book link above (while on your iOS device).
  • Tap on the download button.
  • Choose Open in . . . and then choose Open in iBooks
  • The book is now in iBooks on your iOS device.
Print Friendly

Beginning Coding

Last year we participated in Hour of Code (and we’ll be joining in again this year). But one day of coding is NOT enough. This year we are starting early.

The first graders came to the lab this week and I asked them to raise their hand if they knew some Spanish and Chinese (they take both in Lower School). I then asked if anyone knew other languages. Several raised their hands. Next, I asked if they had ever heard of computer language. By the look on their faces, I could tell they had not! We discussed how computer games, programs, and apps require someone to “program” them or to write computer language so that the computer knows what to do.

I was excited to discover that has recently launched Code Studio – excellent lessons designed specifically for elementary ages. This is what I chose to introduce coding to our first graders. There are three courses for students along with a “Fun for Everybody” section that includes Play Lab, Flappy Code, and Artist. The free account allows teachers to set up classes and determine log in by use of a secret picture (perfect for younger students) or  word. As students move through the levels, they snap blocks together to run each program.

The students has a blast with this site. They start out by doing some easy moves – dragging images, snapping puzzles together. The second section begins with Angry Birds and of course, that was a huge hit! I demonstrated the first Angry Birds activity so that the children could view the “computer language” or code (JavaScript) that was written.

photo(4)The students are eager to continue working in Code Studio at their own pace!

Besides Code Studio, our younger students will be using the following apps throughout the year:

Print Friendly

International Dot Day Celebrations!

the dotI love International Dot Day! September 15ish is the day to celebrate Peter H. Reynold’s wonderful book, The Dot. In the book, Vashti is asked to draw a picture in art class but can’t think of anything to illustrate. Her teacher encourages her to “just make a mark and see where it takes you.” Vashti jabs the paper with her pencil to create a tiny dot but the next time she comes to class, she discovers her teacher has framed it. From there, Vashti determines that she really can make better dots! At the end of the book, Vashti pays forward what her teacher has done for her by encouraging a little boy who believes he can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. This book has two wonderful themes:

  1. Every person is creative in their own special way.
  2. Each of us can find a way to “make our mark” by helping and encouraging others.

This year, celebrating Dot Day was a bit difficult for me. I worked part-time till Sept. 15 due to back surgery over the summer. But I had a wonderful sub, Jane Cooper, who worked tirelessly with many classes to  start our Dot Day celebrations. I returned full-time on September 15 to continue the activities – by the end of the day I was completely exhausted but it was a fantastic day to return! Below are descriptions of how our teachers and students “made our mark.”


Our kinder teachers gave each student a dot and a “swirly gold framed” paper. The students created a picture from their dot.

photo 2(1)Click here for more pictures from kindergarten.

First Grade

The first graders had a two-part lesson. Mrs. Cooper introduced the students to making their creative mark by reading The Dot. The children were then given the dot coloring sheet for use with the ColAR app (free in the App Store and Google Play). Lots of colorful illustrations were made as the students were told that the following week they would see something magic happen to their dots. When the first graders returned to the lab, I showed them how to use the ColAR app. Amazed “oohs” and “aahs” were heard as my dot became 3-dimensional! The students were thrilled to see their own dots come to life.

IMG_1060View Animoto videos of each class:

Second Grade

Mrs. Cooper worked with the second graders to create a dot using the Drawing Box app. She explained to the students that, just as people are unique, their dots would be different from their classmates. But, when joined together, they would create a tapestry of colors. The children discussed how they were individuals but each unique person was needed to make a successful group – just as each dot they drew was important to the overall tapestry.

Third Grade

I asked the third graders to combine their creativity and a desire to “make a mark” on others by illustrating a picture in Microsoft’s Paint program. The students were asked to think about how they could make a difference  – in a person’s life (a classmate, family member, friend . . .), by doing a task to help their community, or thinking about something they could do in the future. The students wrote a short description then illustrated their idea. I combined their thoughts and drawings in Animoto videos


Fourth Grade

Because of time constraints, I was only able to work with two of our three fourth grade classes (the third class participated in Dot Day in Spanish).

In one class, I asked the students to create a PowerPoint slide that included their name written in Braille and clip art that represented some of their interests. The students used the Braille Bug website to convert their name to Braille. They then used the shape tool and duplicate shortcut to create dots to form their Braille name. After adding clip art, I asked the students to save their slide as a jpeg (at this point I hadn’t decided how we would share their work). I ended up creating one slideshow with their images.

For another class, I thought I would give coding dots a try. The students had been learning JavaScript with our headmaster, Gary Krahn (see post) so they already had some practice. I asked them to use the ellipse code to create dot pictures. They eagerly set to work and programmed some absolutely amazing images! I loved watching them problem-solve with each other as they worked on placing their dots. When finished, they took screen shots of their work and I combined them into a slideshow.

Co-Curricular Classes
Of course, Dot Day wouldn’t be complete without music, art, and Spanish and those teachers led some very creative activities!
Mrs. Holloway had her music classes practicing musical note writing as they composed Dot songs.
photo 2First graders in Mrs. Black’s art classes used watercolors to beautifully decorate coffee filters.
photo 2(1)
Click here to view more art and music pictures.
Our Spanish teachers were busy with a variety of activities. Sra. Ross’s first graders learned the Mexican Hat Dance (a circle dance). Her second graders designed Mexican mirrors. Sra. Nedrelow’s third graders created colorful Aztec calendars while her fourth graders constructed Costa Rican Ox Carts. (See more detailed descriptions of the mirrors and ox carts by clicking here.)
Spanish classesClick here to view more images from our Spanish classes.
We are proud to be part of International Dot Day 2014 but our creativity doesn’t stop in September. We will continue to make our mark all year!
Print Friendly

Learning Programming with the Headmaster

Last May, I met with our headmaster, Gary Krahn, about establishing a more formal coding program for our fourth graders. The exciting news from the meeting was that Dr. Krahn wanted to teach our fourth graders on a regular basis. We discussed some possibilities – whether to use Scratch or go with JavaScript. Dr. Krahn wanted to play with both before deciding what to do. A few weeks later, we met again. The decision was to teach JavaScript using Processing 2. Dr. Krahn would teach twice a week for the entire year!

Well, not all plans work perfectly – for whatever reason, our tech department couldn’t get Processing 2 to download correctly. With one day left before Dr. Krahn was to teach, there was a frantic search for some other application to use. Khan Academy was the choice. The students were quickly set up, we added a link on my web page,  and Dr. Krahn was ready to begin.

Dr. Krahn with the 4th graders

Dr. Krahn with the 4th graders

As Dr. Krahn introduced the lesson, the students listened intently (except for the tired boy in the corner!) and asked lots of questions. Dr. Krahn started with some basics:

  • Background color – Example:  background(181, 85, 85);
  • How to place objects on the screen (x,y axis)

And then the students explored. The first session of 40 minutes went by very quickly, much to the chagrin of the students!



In the next class, fill, strokeweight, and rectangle were introduced. Using an idea from Dr. Ginger Alford, our Director of Computer Science, Dr. Krahn discussed Mondrian paintings and how to create one using coding. This time, we had high school students come in so there were plenty of helpers to go around!

The students are extremely excited about learning coding AND having Dr. Krahn as their instructor. Many have continued working at home – anytime a child is inspired to learn on their own time is thrilling! I can’t wait to see how far they go this year!

photo 2(1)

photo 3

Print Friendly

Lessons From an Incredibly Difficult Summer

After a long hiatus from blogging, I’m finally back! This was a summer I’d just as soon forget.



It started with a vacation to Virginia which was supposed to be a relaxing time before returning for back surgery. Unfortunately, we received a phone call from my in-laws on the second day of the trip. Our 13 year old dog was struggling to breathe. The diagnosis was congestive heart failure. He’s had a heart murmur for years so we knew this day was coming but to have it happen while we were so far away was horrible.

Our vet wanted to try a couple of treatments but warned us that if there was no improvement soon, we would need to “discuss some things.” After four agonizing days, much to the surprise of everyone, Nugget began to get better! By the time we returned home, Nugget was weak but very happy to see us.

As you can see from the picture, he’s looking good! He takes more medicine than most people (and he actually takes people heart meds!). We don’t know how much longer Nugget’s heart will last but we are thankful we get to enjoy his unique and loving personality for awhile longer.

Lesson 1: We know Nugget is special but others thought so too. Our vet and staff were unbelievable! They could hear in our voices how hard it was to be far away when our pet was so sick. They loved on him, called us a couple times a day, spoon-fed Nugget, and so much more. We found out later that Stephanie, one of the technicians who has always said Nugget was special to her, lined up 5 different types of food in front of him, trying to get him to eat. She would spend time holding him, petting him – often while sitting on the floor in uncomfortable positions. When a noisy cat in a cage above Nugget seemed to disturb him, she moved the cat! It helped us tremendously to know that he was well-taken care of.

A week after returning from our vacation, I had back surgery – not the minimally invasive surgery that is advertised on T.V. No, unfortunately mine was major – five hours long and four nights in the hospital (and it didn’t go as smoothly as the surgeon had hoped). I had been warned of the pain involved and the lengthy recovery but I still wasn’t prepared for the excruciating pain that accompanied the surgery. I also didn’t have a clue how dependent I would become on others. There was not much I could do on my own for several weeks. Fortunately, I have a fantastic caregiver – my husband, Joe. I was sent home for the hospital with the BLT instructions – no bending, lifting, or turning. (I’ll never be able to eat another BLT sandwich without thinking of those directions!) I’m doing much, much better now and have gradually been building up to returning to work full-time. I still have some pain but that’s common since it takes a few months for the fusion to completely fuse.

Lesson 2: Pets know when you don’t feel well and do their best to provide comfort. Thank goodness Nugget was still with us. When I walked around the house as I was told to do to help alleviate pain, Nugget followed behind. He isn’t normally allowed on the bed but he’d always jump up and rest with me; slinking down when he’d see my husband coming.

Lesson 3: Friends and family are wonderful! I had frozen a few meals before having surgery but many, many friends and family members graciously provided us with food and gift cards. We were set for several weeks which was a HUGE help as I am just now getting to the point where I can prepare meals. And it wasn’t just the food – cards, visits, phone calls, Facebook messages, and prayers from friends and people I didn’t even know all helped with the recovery.

Lesson 4: Asking others for help is hard. I am the type of person who is used to doing things for myself. Asking for help is not easy for me. One reason is that I just don’t like to bother others. It’s been a humbling experience to know that there are some things I just cannot do right now. Simple things – like getting down to plug in a flash drive.

Lesson 5: Blue Bell ice cream makes a wonderful comfort food (particularly Peaches and Homemade Vanilla). Unfortunately, it isn’t a diet food! Many people lose weight after surgery; not me! Apparently, I asked for lots of ice cream. Joe says I ate it in the middle of the night and for breakfast. I hate to admit it, but I just don’t remember much from the first couple of weeks.

Lesson 6: There are all kinds of unique ways to accomplish tasks without bending! For example, a toe or the tip of a shoe is perfect for turning on a computer that sits on the floor. Those reacher grabber tools are handy and can really do a lot.

Lesson 7: Patience is NOT my virtue. My family knows I’m not a patient person but it was embarrassing when the surgeon’s nurse remarked, “No, you haven’t been very patient. Back surgery has a long recovery.”

Lesson 8: Don’t sweat the small stuff. People that know me know that I am a worrier. And, yes, I was extremely worried about this surgery. After going through the surgery and getting through the worst of the recovery period, I am learning that the little things in life just aren’t worth working myself into a frenzy!

Despite the fact that this was a summer I hope to never repeat, I am blessed to have a loving family and caring friends. They are the ones that pulled me through painful and challenging times and I am incredibly thankful for them!

Print Friendly

Examining Pourquoi Tales

What is a pourquoi story? Ask Mrs. Garcia’s second graders and they’ll be able to tell you that it is a type of story that tells why something is the way it is. In fact, pourquoi means why in French. Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories is a classic work of this genre. One well-know tale is How the Camel Got His Hump. Many cultures have pourquoi tales that have been passed down through the ages.

In a collaborative effort with technology and art, Mrs. Garcia’s students explored some of these stories using the “making smaller circles” principle (zooming in on details).

Josh Waitzkin, an eight-time National Chess Champion in his youth, attributes his success to learning techniques he developed to bring his mind and body to peak performance. In The Art of Learning, Waitzkin reveals his self-study to define techniques to maximize student achievement. One of those techniques he calls “making smaller circles.”

photo(2)Mrs. Garcia introduced her students to the pourquoi genre by discussing the elements found in this type of tale. She shared the camel story from Rudyard Kipling, complete with a camel stuffed animal. As she talked, Mrs. Garcia asked the children to pretend they had a magnifying glass to use to zoom in on just the camel’s hump.

zooming in

Zooming in!

The students also played the “I Spy” game which is a fantastic reinforcement to understanding how to zoom in on details. In addition, the students wrote clues about an object to allow their classmates to guess. Each additional clue provided more details.


What is my object? Guess my clues.

After looking at a variety of books, the students then decided on a pourquoi tale. They examined main characters, problems, outcomes, etc and wrote their rough draft.

block change paper

Determining Problem, Block/Change, and Outcome

At this point, the students were ready to begin their illustrations. Mrs. Black, our art teacher, worked with the children on how to look at the “big picture” then zoom in on the smaller details. Each child had a picture of their object and a black “window” that was used to helped focus in on a specific part. Oil pastels were used to create the colorful illustrations.

image 3

Focusing on the armadillo’s head


How the chipmunk got its stripes

For the technology part of the project, I used the Book Creator app (available from the App Store and Google Play) to create an ePub book to share with parents. I love this app because it is extremely easy to use and it has a wealth of features!

Normally, I would have each student create a page in the app then email it to me where I would combine all into one class book. However, because we wanted the formatting to be the same throughout the book, I typed the students’ work and then we recorded each child.



After photographing the completed drawings and adding them to the corresponding page, I previewed the project with the students. I wanted to make sure each picture went with the correct story and that the drawings were inserted in the direction the child wanted. (We had to change a few!)

Checking for proper orientation of illustrations

Checking for proper orientation of illustrations

Below is the link to the finished book. While on an iOS device, click on the link to download then choose to open in iBooks. To read the book using the Google Chrome browser, click here for instructions. The file is large so it may take a few minutes to complete the download.

Pourquoi Stories: Making Smaller Circles by Mrs. Garcia’s Second Graders (ePub book)

New! The Book Creator app now allows the book to be exported as a video file. Here is a link to the book in the video version.

Video overview of the process

Extension ideas from Mrs. Garcia:

After the children completed the examination of their pourquoi stories, Mrs. Garcia asked them to create their own tales. They also worked as a class to write poetry.

Pourquoi tales from students

Pourquoi tales from students






Print Friendly

A Tech Genius Hour

In between having to work very quietly while our Upper School students took AP Exams, Mr. d’Auteuil’s class was able to fit in one more genius hour in the technology lab before the end of school.

Due to a lack of time, I established some parameters. The students could work in small groups and could choose from:

  1. Khan Academy (programming)
  2. Scratch programming
  3. Any of the coding apps on the iPads (Hopscotch, Kodable Pro, Lightbot)
  4. Stop Motion Studio
  5. Makey Makey kits (linked to their instruction page from my website)
  6. iMovie

This was basically the same list as used for Mrs. Malone’s class but no one chose #1, 3, or 4 from this group! Interesting how preferences vary!

Here is a brief video of the day’s activities:

Print Friendly

Alliterations in Book Form

book creator newMy favorite app happens to be Book Creator – I absolutely love how easy it is for students of all ages to use! And, I am a HUGE believer in having kids write in all types of genres. Students are thrilled when their book is “published” for all to see.

Recently I worked with the 4th graders to create an Alphabet Alliteration video using the Drawing Box and ChatterPix Kids apps (see Alphabet Alliterations post for more details).

The videos are great but I thought that our younger children would love to read an interactive alphabet book at their own pace! So I pulled the ChatterPix videos into the Book Creator app. What a fun way this will be for the 4th graders to share their alliterations with the younger grades!

Click here (or on the picture) to download the book to your iOS device. Then choose to open in iBooks.


Print Friendly