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!!

Answer Key to My Ballad

The question I asked yesterday, “How many books you can name from the books from the poem clues?” inspired my matrix making today. I love organizing information in charts. It’s easy for me “see” it.  So today I share the book titles mentioned in yesterday’s ballad in chart form, a favorite way for me to write and share information easily so you can see it. And just maybe you’ll take time to read-aloud one of my favorites with someone you like reading with, too!

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Happy Reading with your family!

Revised Ballad

Time to update this poem. Years ago I was helping the 6th grade students at my school understand what a ballad is – a songlike, narrative, poem that has rhyme, rhythm, and a refrain. In the process, I wrote this ballad-like poem, inspired by my daughters, Bridgit and Anne!! I love that it records for me the best part of being a mom, getting to read-aloud so many stories filled with so many great characters with my two favorite readers. Three years ago I added an additional final stanza. Today I add another final stanza recording us as readers (and writers) today in 2017. Enjoy reading with Sally, Bridgit and Anne from 1993 to the present!  How many books you can name from the poem clues!

My daughters, at 4 and 1
Lick their cone of ice cream
Listening to me read The Tweedle Beedle Battle
And the adventures of Spot and his mom, also Sally,
While taking turns to open the flaps.

The clock chimed eight.
I said good night, sleep tight, and turned out the light.

Once they turn 6 and 3
They spooned their jello
As I read everything by Donald Crews
and rode his train, plane, boat, bike, and carousel.
Then listened to the troubles of Arthur and DW.

The clock chimed eight.
I said good night, sleep tight, and turned out the light.

Soon both could read at 8 and 5
Yet, they still listened, munching on popcorn
As I read of Elmer on Wild Island
And we met Samantha, Molly, and Josephina
Living in other times.

The clock chimed eight.
I said good night, sleep tight, and turned out the light.

By the ages of 10 and 7
We met Ms. Jewels, Louis and the 28 students
in that tall, skinny wacky school.

Also, Anastasia and her funny brother, Sam.

The clock chimed eight.
I said good night, sleep tight, and turned out the light.

Time flew by, and suddenly they were 12 and 9.
They made the cookies we munched on
As I read-aloud the adventures of their newest friends:
Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

The clock chimed eight.
I said good night, sleep tight, and turned out the light.

Three years ago, they were 25 and 23.
The clock chimes 2:00am.
I’ve been asleep for hours
Closing my eyes after reading a chapter alone on my kindle fire.
Bridgit tweets the latest news of the day.
Anne posts a TEDtalk video to her facebook wall and grabs a play to read.

Good night, great readers.
Sleep tight.

Now they are 28 and 25.
The clock chimes 9pm in VA and 3am in France.
I head to bed to read,
after drafting my latest Slice to posting tomorrow for my blogging friends to read.
Bridgit downloads the S-town podcast
for us to listen to as we take our rode trip to Chicago tomorrow.
Anne celebrates playing her own homemade version of CLUE with her French students
and blogs from Marseilles.

Good night, great readers across the globe.
Sleep tight.

Monday Date Night

It was Monday.
It was also my husband’s birthday – 53 now!
It helps to have a 28 year old daughter who can ask her friends and then suggest the a restaurant.
It was fun to end the yummy meal sharing this:

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I look back and see 35 years of fun with this man I call my a great friend/husband/father.
Here’s to many, many more fun years partying together!



I texted, “Sure. Can you drive? I can be at your house by 6ish” and got a “K” response. My librarian at my school was asking if I wanted to go hear our 5th grade teacher’s “graduation night” of his storytelling class. This same 5th grade teacher had planned to do this SOL writing challenge with us but then he started this storytelling class and found there is only so much he could do. Now having this plan, I was motivated all day Sunday to get my homework done and head into D.C. to hear a few stories.

We crossed the 14th Street bridge into D.C. and headed to a part of town new to me. We turned right onto Rhode Island Avenue and parallel parked on the street lined with 3-story old Victorian row houses. I thought to myself how D.C. has so many different pockets and here’s a new one for me to experience. We started walking, looking for 70, the address of our destination. It turned out to be the basement space of one of the row houses. We walked in to find the words The Unified Scene Theater painted across the far long wall with folding chairs facing this sign on three sides. We took a seat to the right of the open space and our colleague came over to thank us for coming. He seemed relaxed. “I’m going first,” he explained. “There’re seven of us sharing.”


And share they did. First our friend, a male 5th grade teacher. He told the story of a fight, his brothers against the grit. It was about a fight on the playing field but also about so much more. Then two more guys and four women. Each story was so different. All about 10 minutes long. All so honest, filled with precise details that I felt like I was also on the playing field during the fight and in the car driving to the Outer Banks and in the plane trying to pass the fighter jet test and watching the elderly man close his wife’s eyes for the last time and drinking vodka around the campfire and standing at the rim of the volcano in Hawaii and eating fresh baked cookies at 3am in the morning. All bravely stood in front of the painted wall and shared aloud the story they wrote, a story only they could write and tell.

I’m not sure if I will ever signup for a storytelling class. Right now, I am happy writing my stories on the page (screen). A little bravery is needed to post and share on my blog. A whole lot more is needed to commit the story to my memory and stand up and deliver it to an audience. But boy, did I enjoy being a listener.


Storytelling opportunities:

The Unified Scene Theater of DC
Moth Radio Hour
Jim Weiss storytelling CDs – he has visited schools I’ve taught in and does an amazing job telling traditional stories. Look for his CDs at the library!! My favorite is his telling of Aesop’s Fable, the Tortoise and the Hare!!

Grammar thoughts

My daughter is also doing this Slice Challenge (I wonder if we are the only Mother/Daughter pair?!! Maybe a badge needs to be made!) and last week she wrote about GRAMMAR here.

As I read her very colorful, color-coded Slice, I realized how much I don’t really know/remember about teaching grammar. I pulled out Jen Seravallo’s Writing book and found this chart on page 358.


This chart helped me to understand these three tenses. Yet, it feels like it would be an abstract concept for my third graders so I don’t think I’ll be planning a lesson on it any time soon at school.

I do have a vivid grammar-related image in my mind from 4th grade. Starting at the door and continuing all around the room, were 4 x 8 cards, stapled side by side. On each was written in bold, clear print a word. A very specific work – a preposition! The cards were arranged in alphabetical order and our teacher would have us recite them in order.


I was in 4th grade in 1972 and 45 years later, I can still recite this list. Not sure I am a better writer because I can but I do know that as I revise, I do look at the preposition and will think, “Is this the most accurate one to use?”

As I was writing this, I found this list:

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It looks like my 4th grade teacher left out some, like aboard. Maybe that was before Amtrak’s ALL ABOARD ad campaign came out!

KEY – blue = preposition

A Puzzle


My new living room coffee table looks like this right now. My oldest is hanging out with us. A few weeks ago, an Amazon package arrived on our doorstep and this puzzle was inside. “I ordered it when I saw the weather report. I thought we could work on it during the snow storm.” So a few weeks ago, she sorted to find the outer edges. Once connected (except for one piece), she then assembled the stunning pink streak of the sky and then the colorful homes of the Cinque Terra. Now the many shades of the blue sky and Mediterranean Sea need to be sorted and pieces together. Plus the grey-green rocks. Who knew my coffee table is just the right size for a 2000 piece puzzle? Who knew a 2000 piece puzzle would require such time and single-minded focus?

Why is she home? Why does she have time on her hands? She took some time off after working tirelessly in Brooklyn for a political candidate. She needed some time to comprehend the loss of the campaign. Now she is starting to feel ready for her next job. She has some irons in the fire and is just waiting for an offer. I admire her courage? persistence? confidence?….Not sure exactly what to call it – that ability to wait to say yes to a job. But not just any job. A job that she really wants. It helps that she planned well and has a large savings account to tide her over as she waits. It helps that we have a spare bedroom and easily cook for three now.

The snowstorm allowed for only one day off from school. So now, weeks later, I help add pieces to the puzzle on the weekends. She continues, in her spare time. Soon, the puzzle will be competed. Soon, she’ll take that next job. For now, I’m going to post this story on Day 25, a Saturday, and add a few more pieces to the puzzle.

A little thing…compassion

Yesterday reminded me that it is the little things.

Just as I was lining my students up for recess, my phone dinged loudly, meaning I had a text. As I was corralling the students to transition from ReflexMath on an iPad to now grab their coats and lunches to go outside, I also found my phone under the math morning work papers. It was from my teamate, four doors down the hall. She relayed that she just got word of a death in her family. “Can you take me kids to recess…I need a minute.” I zoomed down the hallway, gave her a hug and told her line of energetic students to follow me. Back down the hall, I asked my students to form a double line with this class and outside we went, providing some space and quiet inside the building.

The reaction of my other three teammates matched mine – let’s tell her to go, be with family and we can easily divide up her kids into our 4 classrooms for the remainder of the day. After recess, we shared this idea and sent our sad friend home.

As I was passing out the feeling/character trait cards to my class plus 6 during the afternoon Reading Workshop lesson, I asked, “Are there any words you see on the card that you aren’y sure of its meaning?”

“Compassion?” one student asked.

“Compassion is when you know how another is feeling when they aren’t feeling good. FOr example, the third grade teachers showed compassion by helping your teacher today. We knew she was sad because of her family loss and we showed compassion by teaching for her now.”

I think we all understand this word clearly.