Books Really Do Show Us How to Live


“Mrs. D., can we talk to you?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you outside in just a minute.” The two 3rd grade girls went and sat at the table outside our classroom and waited. I reminded the remaining students to take a seat and today they all mostly did. After lunch, our routine is to return to the classroom and have 10 minutes of quiet time. We can draw, read or just rest. It is a time to settle ourselves and prepare for the next 2 and a half hours of our day – Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop and Social Studies or Science. It is 10 minutes for me to gather materials and my strength for the afternoon lessons. But not today. Today, two girls were waiting for me outside our classroom.

“Girls, what’s up?” I asked as I took a seat across from them wondering what drama must have occurred at recess or during lunch.

They both looked at each other. Then at me. Then back to each other. Their eyes were saying “You go…no you go…” Then Jill asked, “Do you want me to explain?”

In a low, quiet voice, Mary replied, “Sure”

Jill scooted up in her chair and her eyes got bigger and she began spilling out the drama, all in one breathe. “Well first during Art class, Johnny and Jack were not being nice to Mary. They were saying that her drawing was really small. And I spoke up and told them to leave her alone and that her drawing is great and it was fine that it was so small. And they just laughed and I told them they shouldn’t be laughing. Then at recess they both followed us around. We told them to stop and they laughed more and ran away. And we don’t think they should be bullying Mary.” And she stopped. Mary gave her a positive nod. And then they both looked to me, ready to hear how I’d fix this situation of 8-year-old school oppression.

I took a breath and calmly started, “Well, Jill you are a good friend, sticking up for Mary and being assertive to the boys and reminding them to be kind. So first. Thank you. And Mary, I can tell from what Jill described that today these two boys have really been annoying you. Is that right?”

“Yes,” again in a small voice.

“Well, I could ask them both to come sit and talk with us now. However, as you talked, this reminded me of a scene from our novel – Because of Winn Dixie. Do you know which scene I am talking about?” I asked.

“The one with the Dewberry boys?” Jill suggested.

“Yep. Maybe Johnny and Jack are acting this way because they want to be friends. They just are showing it by teasing you. And do you remember what Gloria Dump told Opal she had to do?

“Be friendly to them,” they both replied in unison.

“Hmmm….I’m wondering if you both try to keep an eye on this situation and maybe you try to follow Gloria’s advice and be like Opal. Who knows, maybe it is the boys’ way of showing that they want to be your friend. Want to give it a try?”

“Sure” both said easily. And then they got up and returned to a quiet classroom.

I smiled as I entered my third grade classroom. My inside voice offered a “Thank you” to Kate DiCamilla Books really do show us how to live.

OLW update

When I read Beth’s blog yesterday about her reflection on her OLW, I at first couldn’t even recall my word. Lately, I’ve struggled with my remembering. So much is happening and  I feel I’m on overload and I can’t think clearly. This year more than most, I really need summer vacation. However, when I put OLW in my blog’s search box, I was led HERE and quickly remembered – ROUTINE is my word! As I start to reflect, I actually feel pretty good about how this word is working in my life, despite that fact that I am not consciously remembering it!

I was hoping to have a READING ROUTINE – I definitely have read more since January 1st. Yet, the idea of posting to a padlet didn’t last more than a few days?? Not sure why it is hard for me to physically log books? However, I do have a plan. In August Katherine Paterson will be speaking at the TCRWP August Writing Institute and I got in!! So I started reading her books. She has many and by August, I plan to have them read! I even have a notebook to scrapbook my thinking around her books, something I can share with my students. I like having this goal.


Also our staff book club read 2 books so far and have 2 more to go, so that is 4 more books. (Maybe I’ll go back and add to my padlet!!)

I was hoping to have an EXERCISE ROUTINE: This is actually happening but not because I wrote about it on January 1st. My husband has planned a great 2-week vacation to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in July to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary. So 3 weeks ago, I joined a gym and my routine is Sat, Weds and sometimes a third day. It’s a start. Nothing like swimsuit season to kick me into an exercise routine!!

I was hoping to have a HEALTHY EATING ROUTINE: Again, my husband has helped with this. My girls got him a Nutribullet for Father’s Day a year ago. At first it just sat on the counter. It was his gift so I just left it alone. During Christmas break, he read up on it, found recipes, and started using it. Now he has a routine – he shops for his ingredients, he chops and prepared the container the night before. And each morning I have a healthy smoothie, thanks to his routine! My oldest daughter is helping too. She is hanging with us for a few months and she started having Blue Apron delivered. She cooks 2 times a week using the recipe and ingredients that arrive in her Wednesday delivery. Saturday night she prepared the best fish dish with rice and kale. Yummy and healthy and all I did was set the table! Thanks to those I live with, I am eating healthy.

Despite the fact that I had to search to recall my word, I think I’m doing OK!
Do you recall your word?
How is it going for you?


Another Saturday Funeral

Saturday I found myself at a funeral. Another, as I wrote about attending the funeral for the mother of another Slicer HERE. This Saturday it is to celebrate the life of a man that was a good friend to my parents. I sat in the church and was taken back to another time – growing up during the 70s and 80s. Thanks to my parents and this man, I remember so much laughter and so many fun times during the summer at our community pool (a pool I can proudly say came to be because my father thought the neighborhood needed a pool and in the 1960s, such an idea from a man and a handful of neighbors could build a community pool, but that’s another slice).

My memories were summer memories. This man always wore a big smile and told jokes. He got all us kids laughing and cheering as he announced the events on Saturdays during the swim meets. I sat and laughed with tears as his son and daughter retold some of his antics from all those years ago.

I also learned that when he was not entertaining us at the pool, he was a writer. Funny how as a kid, you don’t really know what the jobs of the adults around you are, unless that adult is your teacher. So I learned on Saturday that this funny man from my childhood helped launched Southern Living magazine. And he was part of a travel writing writers group. His son stood at the church pulpit and recalled that his dad was home every night for dinner. Then after dinner, he went to his study and worked some more from home and told us that this was the sound he heard  each night as he fell asleep. His son played the sound of a travel writer in the ’70s and 80s on his iPhone for us to hear.  A perfect sound to play at the funeral for this funny man who spent his life as a writer.

Writing Publicly

Now all 4-parts of my article about my Maker experience at my school has been posted on the National Association for the Teaching of the Young Child’s website.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

I guess my writing is always public when I add to my own blog. However, I humbly know that just a handful of people know of my blog and a handful read it and/or leave a comment.

I loved having the opportunity to be a “guest blogger” on the NAEYC website. It feels like a different kind of public writing.

I learned a few things by sharing my writing on another’s website:

  1. I enjoyed being able to show my students my NAME as a published blogger. Once I clicked on the website for NAEYC, I could show them “By: Sally Donnelly” under the blog title and also the bio-line stating “Sally Donnelly is a third-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Virginia” It is in print, right there, on someone else’s blog!
  2. I learned from an email I received after Part 1 was posted that using the name “Maker Faire” breaks trademark rules. The email kindly asked that our school register with Maker Faire or stop using this trademarked name. We chose to stop using their trademark and instead, are having a student contest to name the 2017 June event at our school. And NAEYC agreed to change the times I said “Maker Faire” in the article to “Maker Fest”. A part of me felt annoyed by this extra hassle. A bigger part of me respected the importance of words and a group who worked to use a phrase for a movement they cared about. They cared so much that they own the trademark. Another part of me realized how much about public writing I don’t know, like trademarks.
  3. I realized that my school’s Maker Group have a specific definition for a Maker event. My broadly described definition stated in my article helped them to more clearly define what their expectations are for our school’s 2017 Maker event. They want it to be a messy process-based, problem-solving, technology project. A part of me still thinks MAKER can be seen more broadly. I think it could include a projects like the ones I describe in the article, projects related to a teacher’s own passion with kids solving a problem. With my definition, my colleague’s use of the technology of photography to make a video would qualify, as would my pillow project, using a sewing machine and old fabric. Instead, I’ve been told that the 2017 Maker team wants me to start with a problem and let students use recycled materials and technologies to solve that problem and make. So at our 2017 planning meeting, my 3rd grade team picked the project: The problem – there is an emergency and you need to make a shelter. Be sure to check back after June 12th to read about this and see photos of the results.

    I also plan to use my passion of reading to have my students create e-books written at an emergent reader level for our Kindergarteners to read. I’m still going to do this project. I just won’t call it a Maker Fest project.

Electronic Writing

I heard on the radio that by 2020, the people on facebook who have died will outnumber those alive. This got me thinking in general about social media and specially about my own blog writing. Over this past weekend, I searched my blogs for an entry I had made to share with a current colleague. I found it. Finally. After searching all 3 blogs. Why 3?

I started the first blog called Fun With Reading and Writing on July 13, 2011. I know because my blog records the precise details of when a post is made. It mostly is about books I read and  my notes from learning about reading and writing while attending institutes at Teachers College.

Then on August 14, 2013, when I decided to return to being a classroom teacher instead of a reading teacher, I started another blog called Back in the Classroom. I regularly posted on Saturday about my week. I had anticipated this year being different and hard  and I thought writing about it would help. It really was good therapy for me.

That same year I decided to do this thing called the Slice of Life Writing Challenge in March of 2013. Some of you may have heard of it?! So I started my 3rd blog. Why another? Mostly because the Back in the Classroom blog was just for me – I didn’t really want others to read it unless I wanted to share. Since the SOL challenge is about building an online writing community, I wanted a new blog – I called it My Writing Stories That Only I Can Tell . It’s purpose is to post my daily small moments. And that year I did write a small moment every day in March. And the following year I returned to it and wrote again each day in March. Then in 2014 when March ended, I started to post on Tuesdays too (another option of the Two Writing Teachers). Now I consider this my main blog and weekly post to it (like I am doing now HERE!)

So that’s why I have 3 blogs. I know how to access them. I know how to now. But what about 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, when my memory starts to fade even more? I wonder if I should print them out? Or maybe add the links somewhere so others can find them? Or could WordPress stop being a product and go away someday and my stories, too? Is it ok that, just like my facebook page, when I am gone or start being forgetful, my electronic stories will be forgotten too?  Will they be there for anyone who would know how to search to find them? Is it fine to just have the stories be there, out there, in the electronic cloud?

Anyone have any tips for keeping your blog writing over the long haul?

Weekend Edition Saturday – my thoughts

It’s Saturday, April 22, 2017 and I’m up and dressed in a skirt and heading out to do errands and then attend a funeral. On the radio, NPR is on as usual and Mary Louise Kelly is saying in a segment called:

Peanut Butter Bars To Soothe The Soul

April 22, 20177:19 AM ET

The day President Trump tweeted that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, I worked my sources on the story — and then I went home and cooked Swedish meatballs in brandy sauce.

The day the U.S. rained cruise missiles down on Syria, I filed for our Newscast unit and then made a pot of pumpkin soup, laced with cumin and parsley.

The other night, after long hours trying to persuade CIA officials to talk on the record about Russia, it occurred to me that my greater contribution to humanity that evening might have been the crust on a glorious chicken pot pie.

Lately it’s the recipes of my childhood I’ve been craving; my mom’s cooking. I grew up in Georgia, in the ’70s and ’80s, and her repertoire ran the whole range from green bean casserole to tuna casserole to sweet potato casserole. Pretty much all the recipes begin with, “Melt two sticks of butter.” Then Crisco shortening usually makes an appearance.

In her kitchen in Atlanta, I recently found a recipe handwritten in her looping cursive. The first ingredient: “Cool Whip, one large tub.”

I think of Fran at this point.What images and foods is she recalling as she awakes today to attend her mother’s funeral? After that one year of teaching at Janney ES, these three women invited me to join their writing club. All summer, we met weekly at a Starbucks. After initial hellos and catching up, we sat and wrote. After 20-30 minutes, we put pens down or stopped typing on the computer and took time sharing. Each bravely read aloud their writing. Then the 3 listeners offered feedback. Then we picked our next date to meet and departed. A few times, Fran wrote about her mom. I only met her through these stories shared in writing club. When she emailed me of her mother’s passing this week, I replied “I am treasuring the summer mornings when I got to hear stories you shared aloud inspired by your mom. I feel like I have met her and am sad too.”

I take time this Saturday morning looking through Fran’s blog writing found HERE. I love her blog title – Pencil on My Back Porch! Her very first story is called Flower Arrangements  I realize it is about visiting her mom in her retirement home. She ends it saying , “I wonder what I will do when I am that flower lady. ” Today I guess she will know. As Mary Louis Kelly finds comfort in cooking, I think Fran will find it through writing and through walks in nature. I listened more to NPR:

Mom’s best recipe, though — the one she is justifiably famous for at school bake sales — is peanut butter bars. Carol Kelly’s peanut butter bars call for enough sugar to sink a ship, but they turn out like heaven, every single time.

Now, I mention all this because my parents are in town to visit this week. So Mom and I donned aprons. Got out the self-rising flour and the sugar and the Jif — did I mention you cannot use organic peanut butter? It turns out gummy. You gotta go old school Jif or Skippy — and Mom and I baked two big batches.

I brought one of them into the newsroom, to feed the Weekend Edition team.
I could say it was like watching vultures descend, but that doesn’t quite do justice. Vultures don’t return with spoons to scoop up the crumbs. So chalk one up for peanut butter bars, as respite from the demands of this current deluge of breaking news.

On the other hand, all this cooking has created a new demand on my time: I need to hit the gym.

Our Writing Club is coming over on Monday to my house. I am definitely going to serve some comfort food  for us to share on Monday. It can be our “respite from the demands of this current deluge of breaking news”.

Friends, food, and writing will get us through.

A few more beautiful posts Fran wrote about her mom:
My Mother’s 97th Spring
Mom’s Place
Favorite Photo

Part 2 of my Maker Faire Reaction

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Yesterday I returned to work after a lovely week off for Spring Break. It was a day to finish report cards and prep for the final quarter of the school year and another day for kids to be on vacation. As I worked and worked in the quiet of a normally buzzing classroom, I took a break and clicked on Chrome on my computer. Then I typed in NAEYC, the letters that stand for the national Association for the Education of the Young Child and once on their homepage, I clicked on BLOG on the right hand side. And there it was – Part 2 of my Maker Faire story!!

As I strolled down, I couldn’t wait to have the kids back in our building, especially the now-4th graders. I want to show them the photos that got included of the objects THEY made last year during our first Maker Faire!

However, one “maker” was in the building today so I ran next door. “Sorry to interrupt but look – the next part of the blog got posted and it includes YOUR link to the video you made with your kids! Look, when I click the link, it opens and there is YOU, staring back at me! You got to share this link with your family!” I blurted out to her.

I was excited today to see my blog shared as a guest blogger for NAEYC and just as excited to share all that my colleagues and students created. I can’t thank NAEYC enough for this publishing opportunity! Click HERE to read the post or scroll down to read it.

AND I highly recommend taking 2 minutes and watching the video linked under #2. It is an inspiring video about being BRAVE – a video I plan to share with my students today as we begin the hard work of the 4th quarter of 3rd grade. It’s an inspiring video MADE by my colleague with her students last year to show ways they are brave. Be inspired and watch it!

By: Sally Donnelly

This blog post is the second of a 4-part blog series on the reactions and experiences of a 3rd-grade teacher’s first Maker Faire with her elementary school.

The five third-grade teachers at Discovery Elementary School are a diverse group with various passions. After being introduced to the maker faire concept at the April staff meeting, we met as a grade-level team. We decided collectively how we’d incorporate maker faire work time into our schedules. We each picked a project that matched our personal interests. We agreed that the 107 third grade students could choose which of the five projects to tackle. The art teacher assisted us, creating a list of materials we would need to gather. The materials would be donated, and we put out a call for family volunteers.


Our projects included:

1. A Wind-Powered Vehicle. Two of the third grade teachers liked the idea of an atmosphere-inspired project. They found their project on the PBS Design Squad website and selected the creation of air-powered vehicles as a problem.


A third grader made this vehicle using recycled materials.
Just fill the balloon with air, and it moves!

Watch the video of an air-powered vehicle to see such a machine in action!


2. An iMovie Music Video. Another third grade colleague is a talented photographer. That passion sparked her interest in supporting third graders making a music video. The project was based on a commercial music video—“Brave,” by Sara Bareilles—that the students often danced to during brain breaks . Click here to view the 4-minute video they made: Discovery Brave Video on Vimeo


3. A Computer-Aided Design. A colleague with a love of computers offered to challenge students to design houses using Google Sketchup, which they had no previous experience using.


A third grader learned how to use Google Sketchup
commands to render the beginning 3-D plan for this house.


Another third grader’s 3-D design! 

4. A Soft Sculpture Using LEDs for Light-Up Eyes. The art teacher added a sewing choice with a problem-solving layer. The students would use electric thread to sew a circuit with a battery, allowing their stuffed animals’ eyes to light up! For this to work, the students had to complete an electric circuit. One student made Arno, the orange pizza guy from our Zoombini game. Another student decided to make his white stuffed figure a pirate.


5. A Zoombini Pillow. I gathered fabric remnants and pillow stuffing. I made stencils for Zoombini hair, eyes, noses, and feet, and I lined up volunteers with sewing machines to help students make Zoombini pillows.



Stay tuned for Part 3!

Resources on Making

Making and Tinkering With STEM: Solving Design Challenges With Young Children

Activity page for Making and Tinkering With STEM: Solving Design Challenges With Young Children

Now Read This: Books That Encourage Making

Making With Young Learners: An Introduction

Learning Practices of Making

Message in a Backpack: Making at Home

Sally Donnelly is a third-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Virginia.

Reactions to My First Maker Faire: Part 1—From Skepticism to All In

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I had the pleasure of working with the National Association for the Education of the Young Child over the past several months. Their director of Digital Content Strategy, Michael Coventry, and his assistant, Rasheia Harris took my very long blog entry about my first Maker Faire experience as a third grade teacher and made it into a 4-part blog series. Part One posted to their National Website on Friday, April 7th, just two hours before Spring Break began. Yep, I’m excited!

Once I got Rasheia’s email saying it was posted, I pulled the link up on my classroom SmartPanel and told my class, ” I have something I want to show you. I haven’t even shown Mr. Donnelly yet. I am a published blogger!” and I scrolled down so they could see: By Sally Donnelly. A few clapped. I smiled widely. I loved that I could model the importance of publishing. Writing starts in a notebook but it doesn’t have to stay there. It can be published for those in the world to read, learn, be changed.

I feel very fortunate to have my writing be on the NAEYC website, an National organization doing great work to support the learning of the young child. Here’s the link to this first part on the NAEYC website or just scroll and read below.

It was April—the fourth quarter—and as a third grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Virginia, I still had lots to do before the school year ended in June. Then the principal announced, “After testing in June, I’d like you and all the students to participate in the First Annual Discovery Elementary School Maker Faire.”

My first reaction was along the lines of “What? Another task to add to my already long to-do list at the end of the school year, when we are trying to wrap up and pack up the classroom? Really?” Then she told us we were free to create our own schedules and to choose whatever project we wanted to lead. Maybe this school requirement was going to be a lot more fun than other end-of-the year tasks.

Just like the third graders I teach, I’m happiest when I have a choice. But I still wasn’t sure how I’d find the time. With the words “choose whatever you want” in the back of my mind, I came up with an idea I wanted to integrate into the maker day: students could make pillows depicting a character from the Zoombini app we played in class. Maybe the principal had just inspired me to find the time!

What’s a Maker?

I admit, I wasn’t sure what it meant to be a maker. Fortunately, the principal had put together a Maker Support Team (the librarian, an art teacher, a gifted resource teacher, and a technology teacher) to guide us.

A maker can be any age. Students, teachers, family members, and community volunteers can all be makers. The Discovery Maker Faire would be a gathering of makers who are crafters, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science club members, authors, artists, tech enthusiasts, and more. A festival celebrating invention, creativity, problem solving, and resourcefulness! Our student makers would spend time tinkering with recycled materials, collaborating, and exploring possibilities in order to solve a problem.The “loose parts” and materials might range from everyday items, like recycled fruit trays, pipe cleaners, egg cartons, and cardboard boxes, to PVC pipes, circuit boards, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) at the high-tech end of the spectrum.

Basically, maker is a new term to describe a hands-on, playful, creative person engaged in project work. “If that’s the case,” I thought, “no problem! I’ve ALWAYS run a maker-like classroom, because hands-on learning is my mantra.” I believe children (and adults) learn by doing and learn through play. Whether teaching kindergartners or third graders, I use a workshop approach: I teach an explicit mini-lesson daily in each subject, and then I act as a guide-on-the-side. I watch the students work, and I offer guidance as they think, learn, experiment, and explain. While the state standards drive my instruction, my ultimate goal is to help students think critically for themselves, so they can live richer lives today and every day.

When I realized that maker faire was just a new label for my lifelong philosophy of project-based learning, I was a little perplexed. Why was project work being presented as something new? However, I thought back to my days as a novice teacher, sitting wide-eyed at staff meetings. I dutifully took notes to help me implement whatever new initiative was being introduced. Days later, I’d overhear veteran teachers in the faculty room say things like, “How long do you think that plan will last?” and “Isn’t that like what we did years ago, only with a new name?”

I personally vowed early in my career not to become closed minded or set in my ways. Yet, here I was about to finish my 24th year as a teacher, and I felt myself moving toward that veteran been-there-done-that mindset. However, I realized I needed to keep an open mind and keep listening.

In fact, I was really looking forward to working with my colleagues and students on the maker project.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Resources on Making

Making and Tinkering With STEM: Solving Design Challenges With Young Children

Activity page for Making and Tinkering With STEM: Solving Design Challenges With Young Children

Now Read This: Books That Encourage Making

Making With Young Learners: An Introduction

Learning Practices of Making

Message in a Backpack: Making at Home

Sally Donnelly is a third-grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School, in Arlington, Virginia.

Saturday in Hyde Park

“Let’s have brunch at Obama’s favorite cafeteria?” Bridgit suggested. After parking the car on a nearby side street in Hyde Park, we strolled along the main street, lined with shops, a mixture of longtime establishments, like the one we were headed to, and newly opened chains. “Since I left in June, a Target and a Whole Foods and a Roti have opened,” Bridgit laments. “So many more options now.” Yet, we walk into one option that has been around for a long while and I see this menu. I order President Obama’s #4 Favorite!

After a filling brunch, we stroll down the street and I see this landmark:


We wandered around some more and Bridgit points out, “That house beyond the trees is the Obama’s house. Those evergreen trees got added for privacy by security.” I snapped this photo, showing the chimney peeking out. IMG_8868

We strolled some more around the campus of the University of Chicago, a place where many smart people have strolled and thought. Where many people’s thoughts led them to grow ideas and hope for change. As I strolled, I was even starting to think, “Yes, we can!”

Road Trip!

We left Arlington, VA at 8:30am….saw this sign right away…


After seeing this sign, we drove a little more and then stopped for lunch and filled up with gas.


Then we drove from one end of this state to the other, mostly in and out of heavy rain. And then stopped for a snack and more gas.


Then 2 more signs…

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And at 7:30pm, we made it…. to Chicago!!

My oldest graduated from University of Chicago last June but had to start a job ASAP in NYC so friends stored her stuff. Tomorrow and Saturday, we retrieve her stuff and then do this trip in reverse on Sunday!! One thing that helped today – listening to the This American Life S-Town podcast. I highly recommend it!

Thanks for the space and opportunity to write for 31 days!! I did it, again, for the 4th year in a row. Thanks for all the comments. Thanks for writing such great stories for me to read each day!! Really….THANK YOU!! I love this writing community and love having writing friends. Though I will be busy today and all weekend, I WILL miss posting tomorrow and reading tomorrow. PLEASE consider showing up on TUESDAYS all year long. Because now we are ALL writers and NEED a space to post our stories, he ones only WE can tell!!