World Read Aloud Day 2017

On February 16, we celebrated World Read Aloud Day.

This celebration calls global attention to the joy of reading out loud with others. This was the first year we have taken part in the celebration. We celebrate Read Across America in different ways throughout the school on March 2, but I have seen some amazing things colleagues like Andy Plemmons (Expect the Miraculous) and Shannon McClintock Miller (The Library Voice) have done with WRAD and I wanted to help our students connect with others around the country in a different way. Author Kate Messner promotes a Google doc schedule on her website that authors can fill out to volunteer for Skype visits with schools.

My first step was to send a notice out to the school, to see who would be interested in going on this adventure. I am so fortunate that there are many teachers who have collaborated with me over the years and we have developed enough trust that they are willing to “get in the sandbox” with me on a new project.

Within an hour, at least one teacher in each grade level responded that they wanted to play. With six grades, I started brainstorming ways our students could connect with the outside world. I knew we wanted to meet some authors – we have a new video conferencing system this year and 1st and 2nd grades have Skyped with authors Salina Yoon and Laura Numeroff. Other teachers wanted to know when their turn could come. This was it!


I paired 3rd grade with humorous author Alan Katz (right) and 5th grade with author Kirby Larson. Kirby has written some terrific historical fiction books and is a Newbery Honor winner for Hattie Big Sky. She has written several books about dogs during wartime (Dash, Liberty, and Duke) and my students know I am a sucker for a dog story. Both grades loved hearing about the authors’ processes and asking questions.




I wanted students to connect with other students in our system, so I reached out to my colleague Kandis img_20170216_101355 Lewis-Thomas at Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry, here in Gainesville. Kandi and I decided to conduct virtual story times for each other. I invited 1st and 2nd graders and she invited kindergartners. Kandis read the wonderfully spooky jump tale Taily-po.


Taily-po builds suspense and ends in a jump! Julian said, “She got me!”


I read “Bob, not Bob! *To be read as though you have the worst cold ever.” This was a brand new book by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, with hilarious illustrations by Matthew Cordell. This is the most fun read aloud I have experienced in a while. The kinders loved it.

 bob not bob

Our kindergartners are beginning to read whole books and I wanted them to read with community helpers. Officer Alford, our School Resource Officer and Deputy Watson, our ADVANCE officer both stopped by to read with kindergartners and 4th graders

img_20170216_085727 Kim showed Officer Alford her book.


img_20170216_104306 Deputy Watson read with 4th graders.

Connecting with our elders was important to us at Sugar Hill. Our Sweet Notes Choir performs at Smoky Springs Retirement Community each December, so I contacted their activities director to see if they would be interested in visiting for WRAD. We share a bus driver with Smoky Springs, so Ms. Carrie brought a group over. We even enlisted her to

read with our 4th graders. One of our visitors was a retired teacher, but they were all enchanted by our students. I loved watching a real bond develop between the children and their elders. I would bet that this is the first time some of the adults heard Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants! It is exciting to get community members involved in the school.


Finally, we had two brave kindergartners who stood up in the middle of the room and read to buddies at Johnson High School by Skype. The teens were so encouraging to the two little boys and their faces lit up when they successfully read their books to the whole high school library.

The day took a great deal of planning, and sometimes I felt as if I were juggling 15 balls at once, but our visitors had a wonderful time.Even when things didn’t go strictly according to schedule, we rolled with it. The Smoky Springs bus ran late and 4th graders were arriving to read during their lunch times. I drafted our principal and instructional coach (amazing women – thanks Mrs. Skarda and Mrs. Mauldin!)


Our guests were extremely complimentary toward our students. I heard that the Smoky Springs visitors were all a-bubble when they went home. All of the students who took part (especially the individual readers) went back to their grades and told their friends what a good time they had. I’m already planning next year. Teachers who heard about it after the fact are asking to be included. It was a truly joyful day to share reading with a friend.

img_20170216_142954 Junie B even shared the joy of reading with Ms. Frizzle


Rotary Club Essay Contest



The Rotary Club of Hall County is one of our partners in education. For the past seven years, they have sponsored an essay contest for our fifth graders. The topic is the Four Way Test. The Four Way Test is a guiding principle for Rotarians to use in their personal and professional relationships. The questions are:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Is it beneficial to all?

The questions were formulated by Herbert J. Taylor as he struggled to save Club Aluminum from bankruptcy in the early 1930s. He wrote the questions as a litmus test for his management team. When one manager tried to undercut resale prices in order to get a huge order, Taylor refused to let it happen. “A company’s reputation is all. If we treat one client better than the others, we will have the trust of none.”  When he was an international director of Rotary, he offered the Four Way Test to the organization.

This essay contest is the first time these children have wrestled with big ethical dilemmas. It is a challenge to explain the concept of the Four Way Test to them. With every iteration of the contest, I have tried to fine tune the explanation. When our county adopted a new learning management system, Canvas, I created a class for the essay contest. I curated resources, including Youtube videos of other students (most of the groups conduct this contest with high school students) reading their essays. Last year, I found a wonderful video from a young woman in Canada who not only explained the 4WT, she created an amazing personal example of whether to go to college locally, or go away to school. This example brings home a concrete example that our fifth graders can understand.

The Rotary members are generous with their time, visiting our students to answer questions, give feedback, and generally offer encouragement. Google docs allows students,  all of the fifth grade teachers, and myself to collaborate and offer editing suggestions. The writer is ultimately in control of which suggestions to use and which to put aside. When the essays are complete, I submit blind numbered copies to the judges. The winners are announced and they and their parents are invited to a Rotary meeting for lunch and to read their essays. The Rotarians even send a limousine to school to take the children to the luncheon.


This year’s winner, Ivan, wrote about his desire to be a police officer. The Gainesville chief of police is a Rotarian. She gave Ivan her card after the meeting, offering him and his parents a personal tour of the station whenever he likes. Experiences like this are all about the connections.

This is one of my favorite projects of the year. This is the first time these children have wrestled with big ideas of ethics and morality. I encourage them to have deep discussions with their parents. All of the fifth grade teachers give them feedback and they get to discuss their ideas with professionals from the Rotary Club. One of my winners from a few years ago said, “This is the first time that grown ups who are not my relatives really cared what I think!” I love to push them to dig deep and really think about these big ideas. They work hard and are really proud of their achievements.


Recycled Art

recycled-art-city-smallOn Friday, we hosted a group of new principals and visitors from the Central Office. They came to observe our Magnet program and our Comet Clusters – our monthly enrichment classes for 4th and 5th grades. As they entered the learning commons, they saw three groups. The first group was finishing the beaded earrings they started last month, the second group was dismantling equipment for our recycled techno-jewelry projects, and the final group was creating pins from the motherboards from dissected Promethean Activslates.

We layered the plastic boards from the slates with glass slides and decorative paper, held together with a bezel of brightly colored duck tape. We discussed how many jewelry designers like to make their pieces as interesting on the back  as the front. They either continue the story of the piece, make a little joke, or some secret design for the delight of the wearer. The students get a great satisfaction in seeing how much they can salvage from the equipment and how much waste they can keep out of the landfill. They are getting competitive to see who can come up with the most ideas for a piece. I am excited to see what they design as our year goes on. There is so much enthusiasm that we have to stop periodically and discuss safety – we are working with metal and tools – and this is the first time some of the students have had this experience. One might carelessly toss a piece of metal in the “keeper” box and it might miss and hit someone. I stress safety and respect for the tools and each other.

Our visitors were enthusiastic in their conversations with the students and the children were excited to share what they were learning. As they were taking apart one of the listening stations, they discovered that speakers contain magnets:


They decided to pose the question, “Why do audio speakers need magnets?” on the morning announcements during the Question of the Day segment.My principal said the visitors were impressed with our program and their visits with all the enrichment groups. Someone asked her who was teaching the jewelry class and she told him it is the librarian. It’s nice to break stereotypes and show the depth and breadth of learning that goes on in the library or learning commons today.


I am challenged to stay one step ahead of the children in this group, to create meaningful learning experiences, teach them useful making skills, and design projects that can be completed in the allotted time. At the same time, the challenge has stretched my own jewelry design muscles. In trying to come up with some ideas for uses of these pieces, I created these earrings from the speaker and motherboard of a dead LeapPad Explorer. While I soldered the jump rings to the pieces, we use reamers and awls to put holes in pieces to join them to beads or earring hooks. We are thinking about interesting ways to connect sections of power cord together to make bracelets. The industrial look of these components are making them attractive to the boys, who want to make accessories for themselves. I still haven’t come up with an idea to help Ryan, who wants to make a bracelet that will control a robot. Stay tuned…

Jewelry Designers in the Making

My Comet Cluster Enrichment group has been learning to make jewelry. We are exploring wirework, beaded earrings, and recycled jewelry. We are even taking broken equipment apart to create recycled “techno-jewelry”.

I love to see the excitement of both the boys and girls as they learn tjewelry-designer-in-the-making-smallo work with new tools. Some of the girls have never held a screwdriver and they had a blast digging into a dead DVD/VCR player.

On the day we took the machines apart, we were having book fair in the learning commons, so I put machines, tools, beads, and trays on a cart and took my “jewelry studio on wheels” to a borrowed classroom. It was great to see how portable the whole concept can be. I was able to leave everything on the cart for storage until the next time we met. Maria came in during recess to finish her first pair of beaded earrings. She couldn’t wait four weeks until the next meeting.

In the next post, I will share some of the background on how we set up our makerspace and how making expanded from the learning commons to our schoolwide enrichment program.

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