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. (http://vimeo.com/100934400)

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






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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:

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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.


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Wow! Young Artists at Work!

Every year I start the year off with the 2nd – 4th grade students making self-portraits using Microsoft Paint so that we can use them for avatars on our blogs. I like to wait till later in the year to do this with the first graders so that we have time to do a variety of drawing activities to get used to illustrating on a computer.

Drawing self-portraits is one of the few times I truly focus on direct instruction. During the first session we draw the head, neck, shoulders, and an eye. The children are always thrilled to see the copy feature – SO much easier than drawing a second eye (which never quite looks like the first!). The second session is when the students really create! All I do is show ways to add hair and then remind them to add all their features (nose, eyebrows, etc). Mirrors are provided. It’s really cute to watch them look at a mirror then examine all the colors to get that perfect match!

I am always floored at what these 6 and 7 year old students produce! Their drawings are incredible and what’s always fascinating to me is how closely their self-portraits resemble each child.

When the students have completed their work, I use PhotoScape (free) to make a class collage. These are printed and given to the children as a keepsake.

Here are the self-portraits of the class of 2025:


Kee 1

Orehek 2

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1st Graders Demonstrate Different Ways to Show Numbers

After discovering a tweet from a student in Kristen Wideen’s class telling how the children were representing 2-digit numbers, I shared the idea with the 1st grade team. They were excited to have another way for the children to practice number sense.

After brainstorming with the teachers, we decided to use a combination of manipulatives and apps to represent numbers. The children use concrete manipulatives throughout the year so they had lot of experience working with money and base ten blocks before moving to apps.

photo 4

Individual White Boards
- to draw tally marks of their number.



photo 3Dice – We first started out with 2 regular dice (1-6). Those students who had chosen a number with digits greater than 6 quickly discovered regular dice didn’t work! This turned into a perfect problem-solving activity. Should we change the number? What else could we do to show our number?

photo 2Hundreds Chart - We chose the free, easy-to-use SchoolKit Math app. The hundreds chart is one of 10 activities within this app.



photo 1Base Ten Blocks - We used the Number Pieces app. (Thanks to Mrs. Wideen’s class for recommending the free app!) We asked to draw a T-chart and label it with tens and ones.




photo 5Money – One of the choices of the SchoolKit Math app is money so this is what we used. The students were asked to represent their numeral using a couple of different money combinations.




Before starting, we reviewed how to use the camera and tips on taking a clear picture. Then we practiced taking a screen shot. We also talked about cropping images and I was amazed at how quickly the children picked that up!

Next, we went through each method and “built” our numbers.

pic collage appFinally, we were ready to pull everything together in Pic Collage. The students LOVED building their collage and trying out the wide variety of backgrounds!

Because we ran out of time during our first session, we met later to have the children post their collage to their blog.

The children loved the activity (as did the teachers). Plus, it was a great way to check to see how students were doing with their number sense using 2-digit numbers.

The students at work:

Hutchinson collage









Kee collage









orehek collage

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Another Amazing Alphabet Alliteration!

Mrs. Malone’s fourth graders came to the lab for their music/art/computer rotation last week and they went all out on the alphabet alliteration creation! (see previous post describing the activity)

Here is their alliteration video created with the Drawing Box and ChatterPix Kids apps:

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Technology Genius Hour

Mrs. Malone’s class has truly enjoyed having genius hour this year. In fact, the previously scheduled hour turned into a genius week! That’s the nice thing about having the students in the lab – I have much more flexibility with the curriculum.

Because of the music, computer, art rotation, last Friday was the final time that Mrs. Malone’s class came to me. So I decided another genius hour was needed!

I gave more parameters this time because I wanted the focus to be on coding. But they still had several choices:

Only one student asked to do something different – she really wanted to draw and that was okay. For the others, I provided any materials they needed and let them go. They did a great job!

I was especially thrilled to watch the ones who chose Makey Makey. I was available to help but let them make all the necessary connections. The response of one student was, “I really want one of these to do at home.” That’s what makes this worthwhile! ☺

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Draw & Tell Visits the Farm

duck duck mooseWell, actually the Draw & Tell app came after the farm visit!

The kindergarteners took their annual trip to the farm and I wanted them to share something about the visit. When they came to the lab, I asked them to open Draw & Tell. This is a kid-friendly app that allows children to do just what the name says: draw a picture and tell about it by recording their voice.

I honestly did not know if the students would be able to complete their drawing, record, and save to the camera roll within our short 30 minute time period! But they did! We had 3 adults per class – teachers, assistants, and myself – and those extra hands made all the difference. But credit certainly goes to the kindergarteners who quickly learned what to do. (And kudos to Duck Duck Moose for a superb app!)

After the children left the lab, I air dropped the screen casts to my iPad so that all could be combined into class videos using the iMovie app.


Mrs. Moore’s Class

Mrs. Newton’s Class

Mrs. Rea’s Class

In addition to making a creation to share with parents, the teachers were able to see the power of this app. They are excited to find more ways to use it within their classrooms.


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We’re Moving On!

We are a K-12 private school divided into three divisions. Our 4th graders are at the “top” of their division and will be moving on to middle school very soon.

As a “Good-bye to Lower School” project, I ask the students to think back over their past years at our school (whether they’ve been here just for one or two years or they’ve attended since kindergarten) and illustrate their favorite memories. I then ask the children to look ahead to the future and illustrate what they would like to do for a career. We discuss how ideas may change in the coming years but it’s fun to look back when they go off to college to see if their career plans are similar or completely different!

We used Microsoft’s Paint program for the illustrations. These were uploaded to my Picasa Web Albums – that allowed the students to save their pictures to an iPad. Then they could import the pictures into Explain Everything to record their thoughts. The completed videos were combined into class movies using the iMovie app.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t check video size limitations to upload to Vimeo! Each video was much too large so I split each class into parts one and two!

Mr. d’Auteuil: Part 1

Mr. d’Auteuil: Part 2

Mrs. Malone: Part 1

Mrs. Malone: Part 2

Mrs. Wright: Part 1

Mrs. Wright: Part 2

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