Book Reviews - An Amazing Year of Reading

How do you find a great book to read? I look for recommendations! I especially love those lists that have the best books of the month or the best books of the year.

So, I thought I would try this! Here are my favorites from this year. And let me just tell you...this was hard. I only wanted to list the five best. And it was hard.

The choices finally came down to the books that left an imprint on me. These are the ones I remember for one reason or another. These are the ones I thought about days later or the ones I missed. I didn't want them to end. Enjoy!

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!

How to Create a Winter Wonderland in the STEM Lab

When I was a little girl my family lived in Germany. Snow was a constant in our winter lives. We walked to the bus stop in the snow, had all the snow gear, built giant snowmen and snow forts, and played in the snow all winter. It never melted!

The absolute best memories I have of the wintertime in Germany was a place we called Sled Hill!

We went to Sled Hill every day dragging those wooden sleds behind us. Just imagine dozens and dozens of kids standing at the top of the hill and taking turns going down the steepest parts, crashing in mid-run, or flying down the grooved paths screaming with the excitement of the ride. Is there anything better?

Now, I live in Alabama and it rarely snows. When we do get a dusting or the occasional BIG snow it is such fun for our kids. I love telling my students about living in a place that had tons of snow and these challenges were invented just for my southern kids!

STEM Challenges: These three challenges are all about snow! Students build snowflakes, snowmen, and igloos! Perfect if you live where it does not snow very much!

Dominoes and Chain Reactions for the Win!

When my children were little we had this fabulous game called "Domino Rally". They would set it up in our foyer where there was a wooden floor and play for hours. They meticulously set up the line of dominoes and watched the tumbling blocks knocking into structures and cheer when it worked.

If you have ever watched domino chain reaction videos you completely understand the fascination my kids had with this. So, I knew my STEM kids would feel the same!

STEM with chain reactions! Kids build chain reaction contraptions using a variety of classroom items like craft sticks and dominoes. Great fun!

A Unique Tower Challenge with Fascinating Results

Oh. My.
This challenge is the best event ever. Seriously. 

There's a background story first and then I will explain what on earth we did.

It's basically a tower building challenge. Now, mind you, we have built towers out of just about everything and for different purposes and kids do love them. So, how is this one different? Keep reading for this amazing look at our Rotation Towers!

STEM Challenge- a unique approach using rotations to stations to complete the tower as a whole class! Fascinating challenge!

Book Reviews - The Struggle Bus or a Great Book Journey?

I read. A. Lot. Like everyday. And I purely love a book that keeps me reading for a long time.

When I have to work at reading a book I give up on it quickly. I have one of those on my shelf right now. Should I try harder? I will let you know soon what the book is and you can help me get off the struggle bus!

In the meantime, I have some treats for you this month- books that kept me reading and reading.

Book Reviews! Five books that you will love!


A Little Help with STEM at Home

Have you seen the STEM Kits that are available these days? So many of these will get your young engineers started with some STEM activities and explorations-- very much like the STEM Challenges we complete in the classroom every day. 

The thing is- these are kits that have everything you need already in them! All the materials, instructions, and photos you will need. These would make great gifts for your engineers to keep them building and designing and thinking.

STEM Kit ideas for your youngest engineers. These are things that can be completed at home!
I thought it might be fun to share some STEM Projects we have completed and compare them to kits you can purchase!


Blimy, but That Fish was Slimy- A Pirate Book for a STEM Challenge

"Blimy, but that fish was slimy..."
Just imagine the giggles you will get with this one. First and second graders love the words and will repeat them with you as you read them over and over. Stay tuned for the book this came from and take a look at the amazing STEM challenge created with pirate books as the inspiration!
STEM Challenge using a pirate book as inspiration. First and second graders build a treasure box.

It's Looking a Lot Like Christmas in the STEM Lab!

It's looking a lot like Christmas- even here in a state that rarely sees snow! We still decorate and hang lights and enjoy Christmas crafts and stories and STEM Challenges all about Christmas.

This is going to be a quick post just to remind you that we have tried some spectacular Christmas STEM Challenges and these have appeared on my blog in the past.

Take a look:
STEM Challenges for Christmas! Four amazing challenges that all feature a Christmas theme!

Easy, Engaging Sporting Events in the STEM Lab!

Ready for some truth? About a year ago I was looking for ideas for Thanksgiving STEM projects to complete a STEM  by the Month series.

Everything I found was about turkeys and Pilgrims and the Mayflower. It also really looked like those topics were covered! I wanted something different. And, I really wanted some seasonal (Fall) STEM projects to be versatile enough to use at other times of the year. You are not likely to need turkeys in May...but if that is what you are looking for I will give you some links later.

Then something lovely happened. I noticed that the end of October is just jam-packed full of sporting events. What if we tried some Sports related challenges. What sports are going on in the Fall? Football, basketball, and soccer. BAM! A new seasonal packet was born! (And, yes, you can use these sporting events all year long!)

STEM Sports Challenges! Three events using football, basketball, and soccer. Such fun!


5 Children's Books You Have to Try

Always a reader.


Always. If you visit here often you already know this and you probably also know that the last Friday of each month is a Book Review day for me. Usually, I share five adult books, but last month I threw in a book I once read to my third-grade students.

Wow, I got some great responses to that! So, I thought I would devote this post to five of my favorite books to read to students!


The Most Magnificent First Grade STEM Challenge

What is THE Most Magnificent Thing? Well, to some of us it's a pumpkin spice frappuccino...

To first graders, it's STEM time and building something, actually building anything. They love to create, especially if they have a book read to them first.

This little challenge was one we completed after reading a book about an inventor that solves a problem for her dog. And, of course, we built dogs!


An Easy Way to Use Straws - Geodesic Domes

So, one day I discovered that my box of straw pieces was getting pretty full and I also had several boxes of bright neon straws.

Now, I know you are thinking about two things!

  • Why do I have a box of straw pieces? 
  • What are you thinking about doing with all those straws....?
Well, the reason I have all those straw pieces is that I am a STEM teacher and I save everything.
And, to find out the rest of the story, hmmmm.......keep reading!

STEM Challenge: Create geodesic domes using straws a a main material. If you save pieces of straws this challenge is for you!

How to Get Your Kids Totally Engaged (with Science)

About a month ago I started thinking about ways to vary STEM Challenges! How could I increase engagement and is that even possible with highly-engaging STEM challenges? 

We seemed to be in a build it frenzy and I really wanted to concentrate on covering science standards, while still having fun, and complete some design projects, too.

Is this possible?

We found the answer! I am calling these new events an Escape Room STEM Quest! (This is a long post, folks, but stick with it to the end and I will answer all those zillions of questions you will have!)

Escape Room Quests are missions that involve solving riddles and tasks to find clues to open a locked box. This one is perfect for Halloween and October or anytime! The information within the tasks is all about spiders! It’s an Unlock the Box Challenge with a Science-based and/or Halloween theme! Kids complete math problems to solve a riddle, use small spiders on a coordinate grid to find clues, and sort facts about insects and spiders. A STEM Challenge is included in this resource!
In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!

How to Treat Your Students with Halloween STEM

Do your students love Halloween jokes and riddles? I know mine always do! Even the jokes that make us groan (pun intended)!

"What is a skeleton's favorite instrument?"

The answer to that one will definitely make you groan...
STEM Challenge: Based on Halloween- Haunted House Elevator, Haunted House Maze, and Pumpkin Launchers!
We tried some challenges specifically for the month of October and the kids loved them all! Much better than candy treats (probably not, but they did love them!)
  • Pumpkin Elevators
  • Haunted House Mazes
  • Pumpkin Launchers

Book Reviews - Books with Magic in Them!

Oh, my goodness. What a fabulous month of books- magical indeed.

I know you totally get what I am saying - if you are a reader. It's the book that keeps you awake, makes you think about the story, and read way past time to stop. The five reviews in this post definitely made me read and read and read. Three are brand new for me this month, one is a children's book I have read so many times, and one is my favorite book of all time. I have read it and read it and listened to it, and I re-read it this month. Enjoy!


Creative and Useful Hats Inspired by the Zoo

My adventures with first and second-grade engineers has been just a fun one! They are eager to build anything and cannot wait to get busy.

The best, absolute best, idea for keeping them engaged is to present them with a short (very short) video or book to set the stage for our STEM task. They love quick little videos, but I also discovered some fabulous picture books that we can read and use as inspiration.

Today's STEM task is all about being a zookeeper!

STEM Challenge- Read a book about a zoo and then have kids build a zookeeper hat! Check this blog post for ideas!


The Best Ever - A Highly Engaging STEM Challenge

So, I started a new STEM adventure and I really had no idea how my students might react. After each class completed this little task I asked for some feedback - which is kind of a dangerous thing to do with fifth graders. Nevertheless, I asked and here is what I got, 
“After three years of STEM this is the favorite thing I have ever done. I loved every part of this. I loved solving the puzzles and finding things. It made me use by brain.”

I think I have a winner with this new idea.

f you are looking for an Escape Room experience for your elementary students, these will be perfect! An Escape room is a puzzle game in which students solve riddles and puzzles and find clues to finish tasks. In our Escape Room Quests, students solve puzzles, riddles, math problems, secret messages, and follow clues to find a lock code to open boxes. Very detailed teacher directions will get you set up for this adventure- including how to use the resources without locks. Kids love these!

Plop! Plop! Fizz, Fizz in the Lab!

So, there's a story behind this one!

I was looking for something in one of our lab cabinets and a box of effervescing tablets fell out. A third grader saw the box and said,
"Hey, my grandma has these!"
Well, that was heartbreaking- this is a stomach medicine we use at my house! Am I old enough to be a grandma? #yes

Then I had to explain why I had a box in the lab and it involves rockets and it is not an event I do with third graders, but it made me start thinking.... BAM! Brain pop time.

STEM Challenge paired with the Scientific Method! Perfection! Elementary students experiment with effervescing tablets and then use the results to design their own experiment. They use timers and data tables, safety goggles and fizzing, bubbly liquid and learn so much! Take a look at this blog post for the details! #STEM #scientificmethod


How to Teach Your Classroom Rules with STEM

Are you a brag tag user? Or do you have a clip chart? What is your method of working with behavior management? Many years ago I participated in an assertive management class. This was the popular method of classroom behavior management at that time. (Remember "pulling cards"?)

The one thing I learned was that every single thing you want kids to do as far as classroom procedures, must be taught and practiced - in the same way you would teach a reading skill or a math concept.


So, how does this apply to the STEM Lab? Much the same way. We learn procedures and practice them. This year I decided to do this and add a little STEM Challenge to it!

We called it The Rules Challenge!
STEM Challenge for Back to School! Students choose a rule of your classroom and build a structure to model it!


Book Reviews - Just One More Chapter...

A page-turner! Is that too much to ask? I now have a list of 7 books I have tried to read in the last two months that I could not finish or even get past page 50.

On the other hand, in that search for a good one, I did find some this month that kept me reading....just one more chapter.....


Big Smelly Bear and First Grade STEM

Want to hear some first graders giggle?

Just say these words, "Smelly Bear..."

I promise they will roll on the floor. I have no clue why, but those words are giggle inducing. I discovered this one day when I read the cutest little book to them and we followed that with a STEM Challenge! Trust me on this- read a book to them and they will build anything.

STEM Challenges for first graders work perfectly after reading a book! This blog post is about building bear cages!

It's a perfect formula! We built Bear Cages, of course!


4 Amazingly Simple STEM Challenges to Tackle First

Are you tackling STEM this year? Will this be your first foray into a STEM challenge?

Take a look at the photo below! Y'all, that is one of the best STEM challenges we complete! It's an exploration of the ingredients of pancakes and we actually cook them and taste them and do it over and over until we make the perfect pancakes. I cannot tell you how much kids love this one!

As much as I love this challenge, I will tell you the truth. I would never recommend that you start with this one. It's messy, busy, chaotic, messy, super engaging, messy....get it?

But I can recommend some super simple and easy challenges for you to start your year with. These are perfect for training your kids with STEM procedures and getting them acclimated to STEM Class!

STEM challenge all about cooking in the STEM Lab! Kids experiment and then design the perfect pancake! This is one of our favorites, but we also have some great challenges with more simple materials and they are perfect for the start of school- using only a few easy materials. This blog post will tell you more! #STEM #backtoschool


3 Kid-Tested Ways to Conquer the STEM Planning Step

It's Back to School time and you know what that means.... brand new, never-used crayons, new clothes, and lots of new sneakers.

One year I watched all my new students filing in and noticed the array of new shoes. Later, in the day I had them all stand in a circle and I stood on a desk to take a photo of just their shoes (and legs). It was a great picture to add to my newsletter!

Now, I am just like you in knowing that the beginning of the year is a time for planning, planning, planning....... and my goal with a few blog posts this month is to help you get going with STEM.

Today's post is about planning- but not your planning. It's the planning procedure we use in STEM class.

BTS STEM Series #2- It's all about a planning procedure for your STEM Groups!


It's the Great Barbie Bungee Jump Challenge!

Once upon a time, I had two teenagers. And like all moms and dads of teenagers or young children, we would jump in the mini-van and zip off to vacation destinations. Now, I have a confession. We are not beach people, but we would still end up at a Florida beach. Which means bungee jumping and go-cart rides. Yeah, I know, but we are not beach, sand, sun, ocean people. So we went to drive go-carts. I have a photo of my daughter driving one at the age of four! 

Anyway, one year the two teenagers decided they were big enough to bungee jump. I have that video somewhere, too. They both clung to a giant red tube and stepped off the ledge to bounce up and down while screaming. Sounds like fun, right! 

Actually, it sounds like a STEM Challenge!

This post is jam-packed with deliciousness All About Bungee Jumping!
It's a Bungee Jumping STEM Challenge! This one is full of math and testing and using data and kids LOVE it!


There is No "I" in Team!

If you are a teacher I know how you are spending some days late in July and early August...

You are planning and decorating your classrooms! What is your favorite part of the new year?

Mine was always getting my class list and finishing all the labels and setting up desks and just getting ready for those kids to come on the first day. Part of my first few days of school had to be about community building- it's those relationships you nurture right from the beginning that make your year the best.

Now, as a specialist, I still do those same things!  I still focus the first few classes on team building. 

Team Building Games for the beginning of the school year! (Or all year long!)

Book Reviews - Some Stories Stay with Us Forever

Think about it for a minute....what book pops into your mind immediately that just stuck with you for a long time. Even now when you are thinking about that book you can see the characters and remember events in the book. The heartbreak. The sadness. The joy.

Whatever it was. It still resonates within you. The power of the author's words. For me, the book that popped into my head was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. If you have not read that one, you should. Today.

But first, check out my reviews for this month!


Shipwrecks and Jolly Pirates and First Grade STEM!

What can a shipwreck, a tough pirate, and a jolly pirate do for your STEM class? Good question and I am going to show you exactly what these sweet little picture books can do to get your class going with sailboats! Ships ahoy!

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!

Can You Hear Me Now? (A STEM Challenge)

This tower idea was hatched after talking with some students that love to build towers. They requested just a box of materials and time to just build a tower. Well, as much as that sounded like fun, I also thought there should be a reason for it. Then two days later I happened to see a row of satellite dish devices lining the back of an apartment complex. Every balcony had one and some had two! I thought, "Why doesn't that apartment complex just have one big satellite dish or tower that everyone can access?

BAM! New Stem Idea!
STEM Challenge: It's our latest tower event! One group divided into two teams. Each team builds part of the tower and when they are ready the two teams join their parts together! Fabulous collaboration opportunity!


A Little Inspiration from the Grand Canyon

Two summers ago we had a chance to visit the Grand Canyon! There are no words to describe this marvel that would be adequate enough to tell you. We flew from Las Vegas to the south rim and just that flight was amazing. Then we boarded a helicopter and flew into the canyon itself. One minute we were skimming over the countryside and the next we were dipping down into the immense canyon. Breathtaking! I took a lot of photos to share with my students because I wanted them to experience this same phenomenon!

If you ever get a chance to go, leap at it! It's a glorious part of this world of ours!

In the meantime, what can you do in your classroom to help students learn about the earth's landforms? Well, of course, I had to invent a STEM Challenge...but there is more!

I have several ideas for you!
  • Put together booklets showing the landforms.
  • Create models of the landforms.
  • Practice with task cards!

Landform Booklets

Many years ago I started having my third graders make booklets about the landforms. I put together copy paper and construction paper and stapled down the center. For each page, the kids drew a landform and then wrote about it. This was a major project!

Create a booklet showing various landforms. Includes a poster set for the landforms and all the parts you need!

Then I started making copies of the booklet pages with clip art in place. This worked so much better. Trust me, having students draw and write about 15-20 landforms was a lengthy project.

Create a booklet showing various landforms. Includes a poster set for the landforms and all the parts you need!
Those copies worked and I also added a poster set to the process. This gave the kids the correct colors for their booklet pages. (Now, when I do this project I print the pages already in color!)
Create a booklet showing various landforms. Includes a poster set for the landforms and all the parts you need!
We added a gorgeous cover to this and created a bound booklet. It's a great little project and the best part is that we kept those booklets in our desks and used them as a reference for the remainder of the school year!

Landform Models

STEM Challenge: Create a model showing various landforms. Label each and be sure they logically can be placed side by side.
This STEM Challenge is just one of the best we have tried- for creative purposes. Students must create a model of a specific number of landforms and label them. What makes this perplexing is that some of the parts are side-by-side so the kids must determine which landforms can be right next to one another. I mean, would you expect to see a glacier beside a desert?

STEM Challenge: Create a model showing various landforms. Label each and be sure they logically can be placed side by side.
The most fun part of the challenge is adding the details! Can you see the sand being poured in the photos? That is for the coastline and beach! We just used sand as if it were glitter! It worked great! 

In the end, we had some great models and kids were able to practice their understanding of the landforms by creating them! Total fun!

Task Cards

Task Cards for practicing landforms. Images, photos, and more!
One last perfect way to practice this skill is by using a task card set! What we loved about this set is that we had clip art images, but I also added some photo images of the landforms. The pictures were just amazing and the kids loved using this set!

This makes a great study! If you need more information about any of these ideas you can click on the images or on the titles below! And, don't forget, put the Grand Canyon trip on your bucket list!


Book Reviews - What Do You Do with Books that Stink?

This month brought many books my way, including several I just could not finish. It is always such a struggle to give up on a book. Think about it, books sometimes start out slow and then turn into fabulous reads. When I do give up I always hope I am not missing out on something. But when the book stinks- who has time for that? What do you do when you just don't like the book?

 I did find some great books to share, including this quote from one of them:
 "I try to imagine what it must be like, not being able to access the words and memories you need to say what you think."
Oh my, I had to sit and think about that for a while. The thing that resonated with me about that quote was about reading. What must it be like to be unable to read? To see the words, but not know what they say. More later about the book the quote came from!


Perimeter and Area Made Easy with STEM

Have you ever hung wallpaper? If you have then you know a very simple truth. You have to understand the measurement of the area to get the right amount of paper for your walls! To make it even more complicated you have to deal with matching the wallpaper patterns so it usually requires figuring for extra lengths. It's a nightmare.

I have hung a lot of wallpaper and my favorite part is not the measuring. I love creating the corners and wraparound parts. It's great problem-solving! Speaking of problem-solving, have you ever hung plaid wallpaper? Let's not even talk about that, okay!

Let's talk about kids and measurement! Especially perimeter and area!

The Great Flood Barrier Experiment (Which was Successful)!

I had this wild idea one day that involved kids and water and flooding. It seemed like a great idea and after some disasters, we finally made this work. And, to be honest, it turned out to be pretty spectacular!


A Fascinating Book Inspires Tower Building

Need a sure-fire way to grab the attention of your students? The lines of a recent book we read just snagged us!
"First come rumbling flatbed trucks, bundles of steel on their backs, like a gleaming endless river surging through the concrete canyons of Manhattan."
Wasn't that just delicious! The figurative language all by itself just makes a teacher's heart sing- but it's about building a skyscraper! And let me tell you, my little engineers sat up straighter when they started seeing the pictures of this book!

Simple, Engaging, and Fun Science Flip Books!

One of the things I miss most about having a regular classroom is making booklets with kids. One of my favorites with third graders was a text features booklet we made every fall. The kids created pages for a list of about 25 text features and we poured through old textbooks to find samples of each feature. They cut out the samples and glued these into their booklets. Now, here's the best part! We used these booklets for the rest of the year! Anytime we completed a nonfiction reading we pulled those booklets out to find the features in our reading selections. So fun!

Now that I am a specialist I don't have those booklets to complete anymore...
Or do I?


Book Reviews - When a Book Makes You Gasp...

There is a moment in some books where you blink and say, "What!" And you re-read or re-listen to that section because the book takes a turn you didn't see coming. Isn't it stunning!

This month's selections just might have those moments, so take a peek! Some are surprises and one is pure heartbreak.
Book Reviews! Five fabulous books- some with "What?" moments! Check the blog post for details!

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes tiny amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!

Summertime STEM Projects That are Great All Year!

A few years back (okay a lot of years) there was a theme park in Nashville called Opryland. This was the closest park we could get to and it had a fabulous section of kid's rides and even some of the adult rides were tame enough for our children. The kids especially loved the water slides. One was called a "log flume" and you sat in a passenger car that resembled a hollowed-out log. This thing ran along a track and then dropped down a huge slide to splash at the bottom. Just what I wanted- being drenched and still having to walk around a park. But on those hot summer days, it was the best thing ever for my children. (And cheaper than the lemonade.)

So, let's talk about summertime fun. Theme parks, parades, swimming pools, fishing, and carnivals. Kid heaven, right? It is and kids love these projects in the STEM lab, too. We have three we have completed that all mimic a theme park ride- roller coasters, water slides, and Ferris wheels.


How Tall Will Your Stack Be?

Give a group of kids a stack of cups and see what happens. Go ahead..... I'll wait.

So, what did they do? They built pyramids or tall stacks racing to make the tallest one- only to find the slightest movement would cause the whole stack to fall!
STEM Challenge: This is one of our favorite lab events- It's all about stacking cups, but also calculating mean, median, mode, and range! The math is used after stacking competitions and is great for group work. Practice those skills, have some fun, and learn!

Reading and STEM - The Perfect Partnership

Have you ever read a book to your first graders that included a sing-song chant they could repeat? (Think Pete the Cat and his new shoes....) Once the kids get the rhyme down pat they will repeat it everytime you get to that part. I also had this happen with There Was an  Old Lady That Swallowed a Fly. And, let me just tell you, it is purely fun to hear the kiddos giggling through those rhymes and chants.

So, I knew when I read this month's book that we would all love this it! And, of course, we'd have to invent a STEM challenge to go with it! It's Reading and STEM- a perfect partnership!

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon passes small amounts on to me- if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running!


Why is This Tower Project the Best Ever Challenge?

One of the best challenges you can try in your STEM class is one we have done over and over again. This one is a kid-favorite and a teacher-favorite. There are several reasons you will love this challenge, but I will let a fifth grader explain it better.

"Oh man, our tower was, like 30 cm tall, and then we saw one leg buckling, and we knew it was over. The whole thing crashed. We gotta rebuild, but I have another idea!"

And, by the way, when I inquired about the new idea I was told that they noticed the buckling tower leg and knew those sections needed to be built differently. Folks, this is what it means to learn from your mistakes! And that is just one of the reasons this the best ever challenge? Keep reading!


Do You Love the Girl in Distress Books?

Are you a girl in distress?
I mean, the most stressful thing in my life is when I can't find the coffee flavoring I like.....
It seems, however, that today's authors use a lot, I mean a lot of girl in distress plots...keep reading!

There's a story behind this month's book reviews.

I was standing in the fiction section of Target recently and looking over the popular books. Do you know how many of them have the word "girl" in the title? LOTS! Ever since Gone Girl we have been bombarded with female lead characters in some kind of turmoil and a never-ending fast-paced escapade to get out of trouble. Mind you, some of those books have been good! In fact, I think my favorite of all was....well, I won't say right now because I have some new ones to share this month!

 I have a list of them at the bottom of this post that I can say are great books in this "Girl in Distress" genre! And, just maybe I will tell you my favorite!
Book Reviews! Five books described that you need to read!


5 Proven Ways to Add Magic to Your Classroom

It's never a good idea to step into a classroom without clear, ready lessons. But, one day last fall it happened. I knew we were going to build a treasure box, but I really needed a way to set this up. I immediately thought of a pirate book! The book I was thinking about is a Mem Fox book and I didn't have a copy. So, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book randomly and a new challenge was born. Dare I say it worked like magic?

That's right- magic - just like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! I promise this technique worked and it will work for you, too. It's so simple.
  • Read a picture book.
  • Laugh about it and mention parts in particular. (More about that later.)
  • Tell kids what they will build.
  • Use materials you already have.
  • Share! (Be sure you have a sharing time at the end of the building time!)


Why This Might be the Perfect STEM Challenge

The fabulous marshmallow bridge challenge is the perfect STEM activity. This is one we have repeated so many times and each time is a little different. The things that stay the same are the reasons it is so perfect.
  • The materials are easy.
  • Prep work takes about 2 minutes.
  • The engineering design process is evident.
  • We use blueprints!
  • Kids love it.
Take a look!

Let's talk about prep work and the materials first.

I will tell you the truth. Always. Sometimes, preparation for STEM challenges is time-consuming and involves cutting, gathering, determining a way to dispense materials, planning for management of the class during the time, and so much more. I have a post about Pancake day that will give you more details about all of that. But, if you are like me, you sometimes need something you can throw together quickly and easily and maybe even leave with a substitute.

The marshmallow bridge is the answer! It takes two materials and I have a secret way of getting those ready. The kids need a specific number of toothpicks and marshmallows. 
STEM Challenge: Easy prep and easy materials and great fun!
SECRET: I don't count those materials. I just give each group a cup full. In all the times I have tried this challenge the kids rarely ever run out of either material, so I don't spend time counting toothpicks!

Can kids draw a blueprint?

You betcha! They are excellent at drawing their ideas. What I have also found intriguing is what happens when you insist they use those blueprints.
STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!
Look at the team in the photo above. Their structure is exactly like the blueprint! Check the one below, too!

STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!

In the photo below, the bridge is spanning the distance across a plastic shoebox. This is a new tactic we tried recently. These bridges cannot span a very large opening and the width of the plastic container was the perfect distance!
STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!

Kids love this challenge!

Another honest thing I can tell you is this: marshmallows are sticky. So, we have learned to keep wet washcloths at our tables.This helps clean off sticky fingers and spots on the tables. Even with this little problem kids love this challenge. The group in the photo below was doing a perfect job following their blueprint and I overheard this comment,

"This is so easy! I'm about ready to start building the sides of the bridge."

They were so excited and their bridge looked great.
STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!
Moments later I snapped the photo below. The whole bridge collapsed!

STEM Challenge: Even when the bridge collapsed kids kept working to complete this STEM challenge!

Remember in the beginning of this post I mentioned this challenge is the perfect STEM challenge. Here's one more reason I say that. After that bridge collapsed, the student holding it said,

"I knew I should have doubled those toothpicks. Here, help me hold the sides in place so I can start reinforcing these spots!"

They didn't give up. They went right back to work and kept making adjustments until their bridge was finished.

It doesn't get much better than this! Perfect!

7 Unusual Things About Seeds That You Need to Know

When I was a little girl my Popaw had a farm and every spring he plowed his fields with a wooden plow pulled by a mule. One summer he planted so many watermelon plants that he later had to have neighboring farmers come and help gather them with pickup trucks. That was the same summer he told me not to swallow watermelon seeds.

"Young'un if you swallow these little seeds a watermelon plant will grow in your belly."

I believed him and I would rake those seeds out of my slice of melon and leave a pile on the picnic table. I found out later that he would save those seeds and plant them the next spring. Sweet memories!

We have several seed challenges that we love so much and some unusual ideas about them that we learned. (More about my Popaw later.) RIght now, let's talk about seeds!

Are you ready for a STEM challenge that involves seeds? This post will share resources about ways seeds are dispersed, designing a 3-D flower parts model, and designing a bird feeder. Resources include teacher's guides, lab sheet, scoring rubrics, and photos! #STEM #elementary


5 Doom and Gloom Books That are Amazingly Good

Have you read Where the Red Fern Grows?

In that book, there is a scene in which a beloved dog dies and it is heartbreaking to read. You will cry.
However, the sweet, sweet ending of the book, when the red fern blankets the graves of the dogs, is the most poignant ending ever. I have never made it through the last three chapters of this book without crying. Yet it is one of my all-time favorite books and I have read it aloud to children so many times.

So let me just say, all of this month's books in this review have a death involved with the main characters. But, don't think this is all doom and gloom.

The books are all different and you will love this selection!

This month I have some chick books, a historical novel, and a crime drama. 
In this 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!


How to Use One Simple Material for a Highly Engaging Challenge

When I was a very little girl my parents lived in Germany and to this day I can remember traveling to Italy in a Volkswagen Beetle. You know, those super tiny cars called VW Bugs? Well, we drove across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and into Italy to see Rome. On the way, we stopped in Pisa and saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Many years later we went back, this time in a station wagon, with my grandparents, and we saw the leaning tower again. A vivid memory of the breathless climb to the top was holding my Popaw's hand all the way. What a remarkable thing that was! A farmer from Alabama hiking to the top of the Leaning Tower! This iconic tower is, of course, one my students of today always visualize as we begin to build a tower.

One of the first STEM challenges we ever tried was tower building. The kids loved it so much that I started planning more tower building events. We have tried towers with many different materials - like spaghetti, toothpicks, and even penny-toting buckets!

One of our all-time favorite towers is the Index Card Tower.

You will love this one, too because of....
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