Pourquoi Stories with Second Graders

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. Do you remember . . .?

  • “How the Camel got His Hump” or
  • “How the Leopard got His Spots”

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.

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.”

In Mrs. Garcia’s homeroom class, students practiced how to “zoom in” on pourquoi stories’ problems, blocks, and outcomes.

In Mrs. Black’s art class, students focused on an aspect of a subject in the story to create artwork showcasing that “zoomed in” part.

Armadillo Tattletale

Using technology, students created and recorded a class ePub book with the Book Creator app.

Screenshot of page in Book Creator app

Using PowerPoint and an image from Pics4Learning I created a zoomed-in version of a zebra using the theme of “making smaller circles.” This became the book cover for the ebook.

Mrs. Garcia, Mrs. Black, and I hope you enjoy the students’ view of pourquoi stories.

Link to the class book: 

Pourquoi Stories: Making Smaller Circles by Mrs. Garcia’s Second Grade Class

Directions to download book 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.

 Directions to read the ePub book on a computer:



What is Leadership?

Mrs. Cooper’s second grade class spent the month of February researching presidents. They talked about qualities needed to be an effective president. This led to a discussion on characteristics of leaders. Mrs. Cooper invited our headmaster, Dr. Krahn, to visit her class to share his ideas about leadership.

The students jotted ideas in their journals but decided they wanted to share what their thoughts with others. They came to the computer lab earlier this week and started blogging their thoughts.

They would love to have others looks at their writing so please visit Mrs. Cooper’s blog and feel free to leave comments!

Here are some samples:

Seuss Critters

Continuing with Seuss week celebrations, our second graders were issued a challenge:

Dr. Seuss was good at creating imaginary creatures. Now it’s your turn to create a creature from your own imagination. Think about where it might live; what it might eat.
(lesson from Discover the Forest)

After flipping through a few Dr. Seuss books and discussing backgrounds, styles, colors, etc, the students and their teachers set to work drawing a Seuss-like critter. This was a wonderful opportunity for the teachers to be students. They are always an extra hand in the lab so they rarely get the chance to try out the things we do. But this time they discovered it isn’t quite as easy to draw in Microsoft Paint as they thought it was! The teachers quickly learned to ask other students for guidance. And, the children were absolutely thrilled to share their knowledge!

Enjoy their illustrations!

Animal Camouflage: an ePub book by Second Graders

One of our second grade teachers, Mrs. Shapard, wanted her students to research an animal to develop an understanding of what camouflage, prey, protection, and habitat means. She wanted the students to be able to share the information in a way other than the usual oral report. Mrs. Shapard chose to use the Book Creator for iPad app since it’s an easy way to make an ePub book. The app allows students to type text, insert images, and record narration. A new feature of the app allows users to make a book then email it. All books can then be combined to make one class book.

Because we only have only one class set of iPads that can be checked out, the students just wrote a few basic facts for their individual books. We were able to get the set for two different class sessions.

During the first session, the students were to use the Drawing Box app to draw two pictures: one of their animal and one of the animal in camouflage. Most had enough time to finish their illustrations.

The next week, I started out with everyone following along as I discussed the tools in the Book Creator app. It’s such an intuitive app that there were few questions and as students discovered tools they shared information with their peers. After the students wrote the animal facts, formatted their text, and inserted their illustrations, they were ready to record. Again, the app makes this super easy! While students dispersed to various corners of the room, I took pictures for their author pages.

Next step – email the book. All were sent to me and then combined into one class book. The only negative to combining books in the Book Creator app is that there is always an empty page between books (or at least I haven’t figured out how to avoid that). But, that’s a perfect spot for an “About the Author” page.

Taking this picture was probably more difficult than any other part of the process! Every time we thought we were ready to snap the photo, someone’s screen would change to something other than their animal picture. That would be fixed, then it would happen to someone else. It was rather humorous! After dissolving into fits of laughter several times, we were finally able to get all screens showing an animal at the same time!

We hope you enjoy this book from Mrs. Shapard’s class of animal lovers!

Link to the class book: To read the ePub book, you must click on the book link below while on an iOS device with the iBooks app (i.e. iPad, iPhone, iTouch). The book will not open on a PC. Downloading instructions are below the book link. We hope you enjoy the students’ work!

Animals and their Camouflage by Mrs. Shapard’s Class

Directions to download to your iOS device:

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

Lessons Learned:

  • Always pre-write! The first day the students had the iPads, we had planned to only spend time drawing the two illustrations. However, some students finished early so we let them go ahead and start writing directly in the Book Creator. The result was that we had all kinds of writing! Not everyone knew what they wanted to say and even though we had discussed where to write the information, there was no specific order. After class, Mrs. Shapard and I debriefed and decided that it would be best to have those who had started their book begin again. The students would write a rough draft in class and when they had the iPads again, would type the information into the app. When we met again, there was a bit of groaning from the few who had started their book the week before but they quickly realized that their expertise was needed to help those who hadn’t had the chance to explore the app!
  • Make sure students know how to save the illustration to the photo roll! All drawing apps are just different enough that exporting can be confusing. In Drawing Box, saving the image doesn’t automatically send it to the photo roll. There were a few moments of panic when students couldn’t find their picture but that was easily remedied!
  • Use students as “teachers”! Students learn quickly and are invaluable in helping others who have questions; especially when a teacher can’t get there quickly to help!

Spreadsheets with Lower School

Our second and third graders have been taking surveys and using the data to practice working in an Excel spreadsheet. The students took two surveys: one on favorite fruits and the other on favorite pizza toppings. I used Survey Monkey for the polling.

Both grades started with a template to create a bar graph using data collected from the “Favorite Fruits” survey. The students learned about cells and how to enter data. The students were fascinated to learn abut auto sum! Before showing auto sum, I asked the students to estimate what they thought the answer would be. Many were thrilled to discover that their estimation was fairly close. A favorite part of the lesson was learning how to change the color of the bars!

The following week, we discussed pie charts as well as bar graphs using the “Favorite Pizza Toppings” survey. Although we again had a template, I left out some information.

As soon as the students opened the spreadsheet, I heard comments such as: “You left off some of the toppings. We’ll have to write them.”

Hooray! I love it when they are observant!

Again, I had the students use the auto sum function and was pleased to discover that they remembered how to do it. The third graders even learned how to select the data and create a pie chart.


As an added piece to the lesson, some of the third graders had time to blog about what they learned about spreadsheets.

Although we learned some basics, the students were thrilled to discover that they could use a program just like their parents (Well, not quite, but they were excited!). It’s a start . . .




Celebrating Presidents’ Day

What would a second grader do if he or she happened to be president for a day? The students were able to write their thoughts using a template available in Kidspiration.

The students uploaded their self-portrait that they had previously drawn in Microsoft’s Paint program. They really enjoyed labeling their pictures as “President ___________” with their name filling in the blank. Then the children typed in three statements of what they would do if they were president. Young children really do have a grasp of what is going on the world!

 Once the work had been printed, a couple of the teachers put them on bulletin boards.

The students also conducted research to learn more about presidential pets.

Did you know . . .

  • Calvin Coolidge had a pygmy hippo, lion cubs, and a wallaby?
  • John Quincy Adams raised silkworms?
  • Theodore Roosevelt had a badger named Josiah?

The students discovered lots of new, little-known facts about our presidents!


Gifts of the Heart: Creating an eBook with Second Graders

I so enjoy sharing what our teachers do with technology and, although I’m a bit late in posting this, it’s too good NOT to share!

Before the winter holidays, Mrs. Cooper, one of our second grade teachers, wanted to build on her lesson of “Holiday Traditions Around the World.” Each year she reads the book, The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola. The class discusses traditions of Las Posados in Mexico but this year she took it a step further. During the rereading of the book, Mrs. Cooper asked her students to draw a scene or a picture that came to mind as they were inspired by the simple gift that Lucida was able to give to the Baby Jesus in lieu of the beautiful blanket she intended to give.

Mrs. Cooper chose to have the students do this on the iPads.  Each student picked one of the drawing apps (Drawing Box, Art Set, or Color Box HD) and worked on their drawing as they listened to the story. When the drawings were complete, the students emailed the illustration to me (new experience and they did extremely well!).

The next step was to write a statement about the meaning of a “gift from the heart” – this was done in their journals.

I pulled everything together in the Book Creator app and then had the students record their voice as they read their statement. Book Creator is a wonderfully easy, yet powerful way to make an ebook to share with parents. This was a class book made on a single iPad but it’s easy enough for students to do on their own!

Here is a short video showing how Mrs. Cooper and her students went through the bookmaking process.

The Making of an eBook from Trinity Valley School on Vimeo.

This was a fun and meaningful way to share student work with parents. It took a bit longer than planned – but only because the days before a long holiday are extremely busy! We weren’t able to finish the book till January but that’s alright! The students enjoyed the project and are thrilled that they have a book that they can read on their iOS devices.

Link to Mrs. Cooper’s class book: The Book Creator app only allows you to open the ePub book on an iOS device that has the iBooks app (i.e. iPad, iPhone, iTouch); not on a PC. Downloading instructions are below the book link. We hope you enjoy their book!

Mrs. Cooper’s Class Book: Gifts of the Heart

Directions to download to your iOS device:

  • You will need the iBooks app installed on your iOS device.
  • Click on the book link above.
  • Tap on the download button.
  • Choose Open in iBooks
  • The book is now in iBooks.

If you do not have an iOS device, click below for the PDF version. This is the print copy of the ebook. You will not be able to hear the recordings or view the video from this but you will be able to read the story.
Gifts of the Heart pdf


Second Grade Celebrates Dot Day

Our second graders are now finished with their dot creations, also drawn in Microsoft’s Paint program. Again, we had a wide variety of illustrations. Some chose a more abstract approach while others decided to make their dot into an animal, etc. Ren drew a skunk thinking about M&Ms!

Ava drew her dog inside a picture frame.

Raegan used bright colors as she created her picture with a big dot and a little dot.

Now, enjoy the ALL the second grade dot pictures. We have a grade filled with creative students!

“There’s No Right or Wrong?”

Are students so conditioned to giving a correct answer that they get “stuck” if there’s not a “right” one?

I read The Dot by Peter Reynolds to our second graders when they came to the lab yesterday. My statement to the children was, “Raise your hand if you are an artist.” I was delighted to see every hand waving in the air; a few were a bit more tentative than others! We talked about being an artist in different areas – music, lego builder, photographer, athlete, etc.

We then brainstormed what you could do with a dot made on Microsoft Paint program. Answers ranged from animals to planets to solar systems to flowers and more.

As the students returned to their computers to get started on their dot picture, I heard a small questioning voice, “There’s no right or wrong?” He seemed as if he was confirming to himself that, yes, it was okay to explore.

“Yes,” I announced, “You are the artist. You decide what to draw and share!”

Dr. Seuss Week eBooks

For our Parents:

In celebration of Seuss week, we have done a variety of activities in the computer lab. First graders read Wacky Wednesday, by Dr. Seuss and created a “wacky” self-portrait in MS Paint. For silly sock day, the 2nd graders illustrated their colorful socks or their sock monkey. After reading My Many Colored Days, the 3rd graders wrote their own color poems and added clip art.

The 1st and 2nd grade pictures have been combined and converted to ePub books which can be opened in iBooks (free app from iTunes store) or Adobe Digital Editions software (free download for PC and MacOS). If you have a Nook reader and Adobe Digital Editions, you can transfer the books to the Nook (the formatting isn’t perfect but it still works). The ePub books will not work on a Kindle.

The 3rd grade poems have been saved in PDF files which should be able to be opened on any computer.

You will need to have either iBooks or Adobe Digital Editions on your iPad (or other iOS device)/computer in order to open and read the ePub books. If you have an iPad or iTouch with the iBook app, you should get a message asking if you want to open in iBooks. If you are on a PC with Adobe Digital Editions, the ePub book will open in that software and you can then plug your Nook into the computer’s USB port and drag the book to the Nook. You can also read the book straight from Adobe Digital Editions software.

Click on the following links to open in iBooks or with Adobe Digital Editions.

Cantrell Wacky Self-Portraits

Kee Wacky Self-Portraits

Orehek Wacky Self-Portraits

Cooper Silly Socks

Garcia Silly Socks

Shapard Silly Socks

The third grade poems are in PDFs and can be opened on any computer. You should also be able to open the files in iBooks or Adobe Digital Editions.

Gramentine Color Poems

Prescott Color Poems

Weth Color Poems