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!!

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