5 Books For November

It's time for my monthly book reviews! This is a monthly feature here at my science and STEM blog, because I love books and reading as much as I love teaching STEM!

Throughout the post, for your convenience, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon compensates me if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running and helps fund give-aways!

So, I have five to tell you about. Some of them I loved and some not so much!

  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This is about Vianne and her sister Isabelle. It is 1939 - the brink of Nazi invasions into neighboring countries, including France where the young women live. Vianne's husband goes off to the war leaving her with her best friend, Rachel, and her daughter, Sophie. Soon Isabelle joins them and then a German officer requisitions to be housed in their home. Their town is invaded and Isabelle sets out to be part of an underground network of helping the French cause.
This one has been on my next-read list for quite some time and then I read that it has astounding reviews on Amazon, so I checked. The day I looked it had a little over 28,000 reviews and 86% of them were 5 Star! I also found it at Target so I saved money....

Now, to the story!
This is about Vianne and her sister Isabelle. It is 1939 - the brink of Nazi invasions into neighboring countries, including France where the young women live. Vianne's husband goes off to the war leaving her with her best friend, Rachel, and her daughter, Sophie. Soon Isabelle joins them and then a German officer requisitions to be housed in their home. Their town is invaded and Isabelle sets out to be part of an underground network of helping the French cause. She is quite obstinate and sets forth on an impossible mission of secrecy. Later, there are some deaths that I won't disclose, but they are very sad. Vianne hides a young boy from the Nazis and then much later.... well you get it. It's a fairly typical war story with some truth in it and historical facts and maybe a little that is a tad stretched and sounds too modern.
I wanted to like this book.
I didn't.
I found Vianne to be a character that alternated between being very strong and opinionated and in the next moment being a silly girl. Isabelle was impossible to like because she was so foolhardy and I wonder how true this would be in 1939. There were a few other events that just left me thinking that no way could these things have happened. Maybe in today's world, but not in World War II.
Would I recommend it? Yes, I think so. You may love it. It is well written as far the language, although I did get tired of the overused metaphors. Given that the book is enormously popular and so highly rated by others I would say you should try it!
I'd say 2 out of 5 stars.

 Days of Awe  by Lauren Fox
This is the story of Isabel and her husband, Chris, and daughter, Hannah. Isabel is a teacher and has a best friend, Josie, that has died. The story of exactly what happened to Josie is a tad of a mystery and the book is mostly about how Isabel is dealing with her incredible grief for Josie and the changes in her relationship with her own husband.
Another Amazon recommendation! 
This is the story of Isabel and her husband, Chris, and daughter, Hannah. Isabel is a teacher and has a best friend, Josie, that has died. The story of exactly what happened to Josie is a tad of a mystery and the book is mostly about how Isabel is dealing with her incredible grief for Josie and the changes in her relationship with her own husband. Little by little the story comes out. Along the way you meet Cal, a new man that Isabel may or may not be involved with, Mark who is Josie's husband and his new relationship, and much more. 
Good things: I did read this book- no skimming, so there's that. I was interested in Isabel as a person and wanted to hear her story. 
So-so things: This book is a not a happy story. It has moments of sadness and comments that make you really think about how tragedies affect us and change us. So, it might not be one you want to tackle if this kind of melancholy bothers you.
I do think the parts about Josie were a little over dramatic. Drawn out a little too much, but in defense of the book it was probably good to make you understand the intricacies of the main characters.
The writing style was interesting, full of metaphor and beautiful passages, but occasionally I caught myself just getting tired of it. Like every chapter ended with some profound passage:
"You lose some people that way-fast and blinding. But some people inch away from you slowly, in barely discernible steps. In the end it almost doesn't matter. They're just as gone."

Would I recommend it? .......it's sad. And I didn't put it on my book shelf when I finished it. I put it in my "Donate to the Library" bag. I'd say 3 out of 5 stars for this one.

 This third book in the Bill Hodges trilogy picks up with Brady still in a vegetative state in a nursing home and Bill Hodges still obsessed with getting justice taken care of in this spectacular case. So, is Brady still comatose or not? How will Hodges piece together details of two more weird suicides and connect them back to a man that cannot even move?
Oh, Stephen King, how I love you! From my first SK book, Firestarter and my favorite, 11/22/63: A Novel, I always know what a ride it will be.
This book is the end of the Bill Hodges trilogy. The first book told the story of a disaster orchestrated by Brady Hartsfield, who drove an old Mercedes through a crowd of people, killing a bunch of them and causing horrible injuries to others. The second book continued the story as more things took place with the Brady character. Finally, this third book picks up with Brady still in a vegetative state in a nursing home and Bill Hodges still obsessed with getting justice taken care of in this spectacular case. So, is Brady still comatose or not? How will Hodges piece together details of two more weird suicides and connect them back to a man that cannot even move?
And the biggest question of all- How is this a Stephen King novel? It all seems too normal.
Never fear, because King delivers with a wild story of hand-held video games that can hypnotize and maybe get Brady's mind out of his broken body enough to continue to orchestrate some wild events. The book ended up being a typical King piece and concluded with an ending suitable for this three book trilogy.
I loved reading this series and if you like the macabre of Mr. King, you will, too!
I'd give this one 4 out of 5 stars- only because it did grow a little tiresome towards the last 150 pages.


Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman
So, this is one that was reviewed well and is supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny. It's the story of the author and his 90+ year old mother who is in the early stages of dementia and quite a character anyway. The author meanders from present day trials with his mom to his early life and back to present day
So, this is one that was reviewed well and is supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny. It's the story of the author and his 90+ year old mother who is in the early stages of dementia and quite a character anyway. The author meanders from present day trials with his mom to his early life and back to present day. It was hard to keep track of where he was in time sometimes. I also found myself just not caring about either character. The mom was a tad mean and seemed to have always been that way. George is also gay, a fact he kept hidden from his parents for a really long time and his story is just really not interesting. I wanted to finish this book, but after 100 pages I just couldn't make myself read it anymore. Sadly, I cannot recommend this book and, by the way, after 100 pages I also never found anything funny in the story. Sad and depressing, maybe, but never amusing. I would give this one 1 out of 5 stars.


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The main character Eleanor is a neglected, impoverished young teen that was removed from her home by her mother because mom's boyfriend didn't like something she did. Her mom sent her to live in a foster home for a year. Now, she has returned and begins school dressed in clothing held together by safety pins, unclean, and a little strange.

So, Eleanor & Park is marketed as a young adult book, but let me begin by telling you that the only young adult thing about this book are the main characters. The language and sexual comments are not for youngsters that I would consider young adult. Amazon lists it as a teen book, but since that includes 13-15 I would say nope. Too much use of bad language and references to sexual things.
So, what's it about? The main character Eleanor is a neglected, impoverished young teen that was removed from her home by her mother because mom's boyfriend didn't like something she did. Her mom sent her to live in a foster home for a year. Now, she has returned and begins school dressed in clothing held together by safety pins, unclean, and a little strange. Park is a half Korean young man that allows her to sit beside him on the bus. After some time they become friends and then boyfriend- girlfriend. The neglect and abuse of Eleanor and her siblings is a big part of the story and a part she doesn't seem to ever want to share with Park. Park is a teenager that has his own problems due to being a little different himself. It seems fair to say that they could end up together- in their own isolated ways, but there is also some of the story that is improbable. A lot of the book is just sad. I actually listened to this book in audio form and didn't like the readers at all. The female reader made Eleanor sound a little stupid at times and I don't think she was. 
Their story began to sound a little like Romeo and Juliet at times and it also grew tiresome and repetitive. Should you read it? I would give it 2 out of 5 stars. If you are about 17-19 years old you would probably love this book and totally understand it. Me, not so much!

So, there you have it! I am so sorry I read some clunkers this month and have nothing better to recommend, but check back next month anyway! Besides you might love all of these books!
Right now, go visit Doodlebugs Teaching for more blog posts by teachers (and readers)!

And just so you can actually try an E-reader, did you know that Amazon offers a Kindle Unlimited membership with a 30 free trial. And, don't fret- you do not have to own a Kindle to try this. Books can read by simply using the Kindle app or your laptop! I tried this recently with a first grade classroom and used the computer to project a picture book on the smart board. The kids loved it! Click on the image below to check this out!



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Apple Platforms in the Lab!

Another fantastic challenge that we used across several grade levels- just toughen the constraints a little and you can do this with just about any challenge.
This one was about building a platform to hold an APPLE!

STEM Challenge: This one was about building a platform to hold an APPLE! Check the blog post for more info!
This great challenge was part of a package created by Renee at The Science School Yard.

The package is called: STEM Back to School Fun Pack! We have now tried all three challenges and enjoyed them so much! 

I knew this one was going to be a little challenging since we have built platforms in the past. We started the class time by talking about what platforms are and how they are secured to the ground or a building (like a balcony). This challenge was called an Apple Tower challenge, but I called it a platform for a very simple reason!
I tried it with second graders before the older kids!
I wasn't sure what they would do with it if I called it a tower. I could only envision apples falling from really tall towers and bursting, so......

Anyway, Problem #1 to Solve: After the platform is built and you place weight on it, it begins to lean. What will you do?
Problem Solving in STEM: How can you prevent a structure from leaning? Check this blog post for more!
You can see from the above photos that my older kids were very quick to add extra legs to support their platforms. It was really interesting to see how those legs were moved until somehow the structure was staying balanced! You may also notice that the platforms were taped to the table, but the kids quickly discovered this was not always enough support.

Problem #2 to Solve: Can you creatively use the straws?
Problem Solving in STEM: How can you use the bendy part of a straw? Check this blog post for more!
These are still photos of third and fourth grade groups and they already know how to use the bendy part of the straw to their advantage. See where my arrows are pointing? The bendy part becomes a joint to make a leg for support!


Problem # 3 to Solve: Is there another way to use the materials to make a stable base?
Problem Solving in STEM: How can you make a stable base for your platform? Check this blog post for more!
Some groups tried the wide legs for stability while others tried the square base method. They simply used the materials to attach all the legs together with cross or side beams. The bottom photo is showing the side beams. but, take a close look at that top photo. The team tried those supports directly underneath the platform, but it was still falling over. They next tried, craft stick "skates". There was actually a good reason for this! The straws kept sliding and the sticks were not long enough, so they joined the two items together!


STEM Challenge: This one was about building a platform to hold an APPLE! Check the blog post for more info!
The third graders did a fabulous job with the platforms!


How will second graders do with this challenge?
STEM Challenge: This one was about building a platform to hold an APPLE! Check the blog post for more info!
Well, take a look! They solved this in much the same ways as the older kids! The top photo is a very simple platform, while the bottom photo shows those extra support legs! These kids were so excited when a platform would stand and hold that apple aloft!

So, what about the fourth graders! Some of them did apples, but some of them tried a different item for the top of the platform!
 I just happened to have some pumpkins on hand (from another challenge), so when they built platforms we used those!

STEM Challenge: This one was about building a platform to hold an PUMPKIN! Check the blog post for more info!

Y'all, this was so much fun! Easy prep, easy materials, and the kids loved it! Fabulous problem solving and it worked for three grade levels! (I know the 5th graders would have also done well, For them, I would have added some rules about height!)


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Brag Tags- Five Ideas for Specialists!

If you are a specialist or Brag Tag user this post might give you a few ideas!

So, I am just wondering?
What is your management plan and reward system? 
Y'all, I am old enough to remember learning about Assertive Discipline and back then we wrote kids' names on the board when they broke a rule. Subsequent problems each day resulted in a check mark beside your name. The number of check marks determined the consequence each day.
Does anybody remember this?
Then we progressed to "pulling cards" and then we jumped into Clip Charts.
Fast forward a tiny bit more and you have Brag Tags.
Brag Tags for the STEM classroom! Check this post for some ideas!
So, this is an intriguing management and reward system. The great part is that kids are awarded brag tags for generic moments in which everyone receives a tag. So, no one is ever left completely out- that would be equivalent to the child that gets his or her name on the board and four check marks in one day!
There are ten tons of other positive reasons brag tags are popular now and I thought about using these a lot.

The bad part of Brag Tags..... I am a specialist. I have 27 classes. Could I realistically make use of a brag tag chain, necklace, tag combo for 500+ students?
No.
And then I had a Brain Pop moment.
One morning one of my classes arrived and they were all wearing their brag tag necklaces. I asked about it and was told they had all received a tag that morning and as an additional reward they were able to wear their necklaces for a little while. This got me to thinking......since this particular class uses brag tags, could I make some just for STEM and award them?
Why not?
So, of course I dashed home that afternoon and started playing around with this idea and setting out to find a way to make it work! Here's some ideas for you about using brag tags- if you are specialist. At the end I will address what to do if you are a classroom teacher!

Brag Tags for the STEM classroom! Check this post for some ideas!
My "Special" is STEM, so I made some tags that are generic for that and these will be the ones every student earns. I love the way this one turned out and I made some that just say Engineer and Scientist and First STEM Project. These generic tags could be the ones you give out on the first day of school. Right now I only have three classes out of my schedule that are using the necklaces so this is allowing me to decide how to do this! The tags I made come in three styles and one of those is black/white so when I need to make a lot of these I will copy those on Astro-Bright card stock.


Brag Tags for the STEM classroom! Check this post for some ideas!
So, after I made a batch of tags, I started wondering how on earth I was going to remember all the topics I used and then hand these out appropriately. It seemed daunting. Then I thought about this: What if I choose one specific tag and only focus my attention on noticing students or groups that are following that tag's motivational topic. Say.....I decide to focus on Math Matters. As kids are working I can jot down names of students that I see using rulers, math calculations, vocabulary, or anything else math related for the project. So, I tried this and guess what? It was super easy to do! I watched for Fabulous Planning and noticed a few groups that were really working on their sketches and talking through what they wanted to do- I even heard a group talking about their "Plan B"! So, at the end of class I slipped a brag tag to those students. Yes, this got everyone's attention!
So, what happened when that class arrived the next week?
Keep reading!

Brag Tags for the STEM classroom! Check this post for some ideas!
After a week the class came back and in the first few minutes a student asked if I was doing brag tags that day. When I said there would be tags, I got a lot of questions! What are you looking for? What are the different things we can get? Could everybody get one?
This is when I had another brain pop! What if I had the class decide what they would work for?
So, I displayed three tags, they voted, and we all focused on that one specific STEM attribute which was Never Give Up! 
Perfect- kids were as engaged as always, but I saw some perseverance that was astounding that day- they really were working to earn the tag!


Brag Tags for the STEM classroom! Check this post for some ideas!
We kept trying the two ideas already mentioned- either I chose the brag tag or the kids voted and helped choose. Then I had another brain pop. What if the kids could be part of awarding tags?
So, we tried that.  I displayed four tags- one of which was Artistic Flair. At the end of class I asked each group to decide if anyone within the group had earned any of those four tags. The talk about this was intense, but also very encouraging. The kids were focusing on positive behaviors and citing reasons for it. Yes, we gave out a lot of tags that day because most groups had something that each of the students did well. This was important because a kid said this, "Today we all got something that was about the part we had in the group." And, if you will think about that it's the truth. Every student brings something different to the team work!

Brag Tags for the STEM classroom! Check this post for some ideas!
So, how can you do this as a specialist and get the classroom teacher involved, too?
Talk to your classroom teachers and let them know what you are doing and also that the kids might be coming back with tags to add to their collections. The teacher may have some ideas for other ways kids can earn these!
If you are a regular classroom teacher and use STEM in your room, certainly grab a set of STEM specific tags and add these to the ones you give out. Use any of the ideas already given in this message! Watch for one particular attribute or let the kids get involved with it. It's such a fun way to recognize those positive things kids do!

Right now here's a positive thing you can do: Go visit Doodlebugs Teaching for more blog posts!


Here's a link to my Brag Tags:


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5 Ways to Use Straws in STEM

I know I say this all the time...but, seriously, you are just like me. You have a lot to do. Huge amounts of things to plan and carry out and then you have STEM Friday to prepare for and you forget about it and at the last minute you try to throw it together.
Only the STEM Challenge you picked has some wonky materials and you don't have all of them.

Okay, what if I can help you solve that with just ONE WORD:
STRAWS!
STEM Challenges using the simplest of materials: STRAWS! Check this blog post for more!
Yes, that's right. Straws.
Inexpensive, easily donated, flexible ( in more ways than one), and simple to use.
I am going to show you five ways these can be easy, arranged quickly, and much loved by students.
Now, full disclosure here, one of these does involve something you are going to need to plan ahead a little for. 


STEM Challenge: Using only two materials kids build one of four kinds of bridges! These turn out so well! Check this blog post for more!
This one is just straws and masking tape and some copies of the kinds of bridges. It's that's simple. Kids have a drawing of a bridge and then they get busy.
Above and below you see beam bridges and truss bridges.
STEM Challenge: Using only two materials kids build one of four kinds of bridges! These turn out so well! Check this blog post for more!
The two below are just amazing, aren't they? Suspension bridges! The kids loved this challenge and I did, too! It was so interesting to watch them decide which bridge to build.
STEM Challenge: Using only two materials kids build one of four kinds of bridges! These turn out so well! Check this blog post for more!
So, if you have some straws and some tape this one can be tackled in a few minutes. You will have to make copies of the drawings and you can find those and all the directions right {HERE}.



STEM Challenge: Here's a very easy egg drop that uses only a few materials- one of which is straws! Check the blog post for more!
I discovered a long time ago that kids love egg drops! Even if we don't crack any eggs, they love the idea of tossing them to the ground. I have several egg drop challenges in my store, but you have to have some materials (like a PVC pipe) or you have to get kids to bring in things.

STEM Challenge: Here's a very easy egg drop that uses only a few materials- one of which is straws! Check the blog post for more!
With this simple version the only planning ahead would be in getting some eggs. Grab a dozen and then throw this simple challenge together for kids to complete in one hour! Straws are a main material, along with tissue paper, bubble wrap, and tape. More details can be found {HERE} and it really is easy.

STEM Challenge: Using straws as a main materials kids must build a tower to support two cups. There are some crazy rules about the cups! Perfect for STEM Friday! Check the blog post for more!
This one is a great STEM Friday choice. There is no fancy scenario to work through, no major set-up, you just jump right into it. It's purely for fun and the problem solving is huge. My kids had the best time with this- even while complaining that it was hard! Ha! That's why it's called a challenge.

STEM Challenge: Using straws as a main materials kids must build a tower to support two cups. There are some crazy rules about the cups! Perfect for STEM Friday! Check the blog post for more!
Using basic materials you probably have, straws is one of them, kids must build a tower that involves two cups. The cups have some wonky rules about their distance apart and height and the kids have to find a way to do it! The end result is scored and my kids loved using the rubric. More details about this one right {HERE}.

STEM Challenge! It's the famous bucket tower challenge! Kids must use a swinging bucket or cup that follows the task rules! Check the blog post for more challenges!
Here's one more that uses straws and items you already have in your classroom. We called it bucket towers and the kids loved it! We worked through some alternative rules for this one and found it to be either really simple or really challenging. You can just choose what will work with your students. This one is also a perfect STEM Friday challenge! Read more about it right {HERE}.

STEM Challenge: Create a geodesic dome using only two materials. Great fun!
Finally, here is one last challenge that uses straws. For this one we used neon straws to make our final structure "pretty", but you can use any straw, of course. The only other material will be pipe cleaners. The domes turned out really well and we still have some hanging in our classroom! Read more about these right {HERE}.

Check Doodlebugs Teaching today for more teacher blogs!


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