ReadingCon ALAAC17 A Week of Literary Wonders!

It’s hard to believe that just last week was the first ever Reading Con at Northern Illinois University and the American Library Association’s Annual Conference.  In the course of just a week I met and learned from phenomenal authors and educators.  The first-ever Reading Con gave me a chance to hear and meet Kwame Alexander and Gene Luen Yang.


I had never heard Kwame Alexander present before and his sense of humor and gift of poetic prowess were augmented by his back up man, musician Randy Preston.  The two of them had the entire audience reciting and singing along.  It was pretty magical.  I can’t wait to get and read his newest book: Solo.

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Gene Luen Yang gave a powerful keynote that opened my eyes to the ways he and Superman are exactly the same.  I mean, they both have black hair.  They both have foreign parents who didn’t speak English, and they both wear glasses.  What more proof do I need that Gene is a superhero?  None.

His powerful program; Reading Without Walls has a powerful message for us at this time in our world.  We need both mirrors (books that reflect who we are) and windows (books that let us see the lives of others.)  I was inspired and encouraged to bring this program to my school this fall.  IMG_1426IMG_1429

I was happy to share the journey our school has gone on to transform our traditional library into a 21st century learning environment, complete with a state of the art makerspace.

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I was also able to attend several session with some of my favorite authors.  I was inspired by Barb Rosenstock, Aaron Reynolds and Judy Schachner as they talked about their process.  There were lots of laughs and an incredible amount of authors hanging out and signing books.

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ALA started bright and early for me.  I decided to take the train into the city and that meant a 4:30 a.m. train for me.  That got me into the convention center WAY earlier than I needed to be.  It was nice getting my bearings and orienting myself.

I was there early to meet with some movers and shakers in the library world who were there to help the folks at Mackin develop their TYSL; Transform Your School Library program.  Their aim is to help advocate for school libraries and to help them ‘transform’ and remain relavant.  I’m grateful to the folks at Mackin who are truly advocates for 21st Century Libraies.

Here are just a few snapshots from the conference.  I was so happy to see the Librarian of Congress again.  She continues to inspire and lead by example in such a powerful way.  I was also able to speak about transforming libraries at the Mackin booth and talk about one of my absolute favorite learning tools: Rigamajig!

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This was the first ALA Annual Confernece I have been to in many years.  I was truly overwhelmed with the number of concurrent sessions and the incredible number of authors and illustrators.  Everywhere you looked there lines of people waiting to meet and have authors or illustrator sign their books.  It was pretty incredible to hear the final speaker of the conference Hillary Clinton.  My friend Andy had the best seat!  She spoke about the power of libraries and their growing importance as places of inclusivity and knowledge.  I couldn’t think of a better speaker to close out the week!

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Demco Blog: Makerspace Tools

I get asked all the time, ‘what tools do you recommend for maker spaces?’  It’s an important question because funds are precious and you want to be sure that whatever tool you add get used in the best possible way.

One of my biggest hopes as an educator is to inspire students to keep learning outside of the classroom.  The Hour of Code has become a staple in our community, and I’ve worked hard to push ‘beyond’ that single ‘hour of code.’

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We have several ‘programmable’ devices in our space: Sphero, Dot and Dash and even BB8.  Our students love programming these tools to navigate obstacle courses and perform missions.  However, nothing has made more of an impact than our Parrot Minidrones.

I’m an early adopter when it comes to drones.  I’ve kickstarted multiple drone platforms. Sadly, none of them were as slick and easy to fly as their rollout videos were.  I’ve fallen in love with the Parrot drone family.  My first Parrot drone was the AR 2.0.

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-5-40-26-pm I saved for a year to buy it, and I still fly it with my students.  I like that it has a giant foam bumper that protects the props as well as fingers.  I’ve only had to replace a single motor and that was totally my fault for flying indoors without the bumpers.  Since then, I’ve purchased ten of the Parrot Cargo Minidrones.  Don’t let their size fool you.  These little guys are powerful and surprisingly smart.

I wrote a post earlier this month about my experience teaching an all-day professional development workshop with educators about drones in education.  You can check it out here.


If you do a quick search on Youtube for drone fails, you’ll find tens of thousands of examples of people of all ages destroying their drones; many on their maiden flight.  While these mini drones are not nearly as expensive as the more advanced Bebop Drone I also purchased, I think it is essential to take good care of your tools.

Parrot has a native app that you can download to your tablet or phone and fly in seconds, but unless you have piloting experience, you will probably end up wrecking your drone in minutes.  For example: out of the box, the drone’s maximum height is set to 9.6 feet.  Most homes and schools have significantly lower ceilings.  So, when you start climbing it is probably going to go straight into whatever is directly above it; light fixture, ceiling fan, etc.  If you are outdoors, any breeze at all will carry these tiny quadcopters into the clutches of trees and bushes. Setting that height to a lower maximum and teaching students to use a block coding program like Tynker has helped me turn these ‘toys’ into ‘tools.’


Once my students were familiar with the basics of block coding with Tynker, I created some basic ‘missions’ for them to fly. (Parrot gives the Tynker Drones 101 curriculum as part of its EDU purchasing plan.)  

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The first mission was simply taking off, traveling a set distance and landing safely.  The missions grew in complexity.  Eventually, they were traveling in complex flight paths and performing aerial acrobatics that would make any pilot proud.  Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 11.27.35 AM

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 11.27.16 AMAfter completing what we called ‘flight school’ students were ready to navigate obstacles with the native free flight app.  Soon we were timing ‘runs’ and setting records on the courses.

By establishing rules for safety and responsibility, we’ve minimized damage.  By adding the block coding to these drones, my students have taken this ‘toy’ and turned it into a tool that pushes the boundaries of the Hour of Code.  I’ve never seen something motivate students to solve problems more passionately than these drones.

What’s next?  I’ve just recently learned about another platform for developing block coding.  It is called Drone Blocks.

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This drag and drop programming language is deceivingly powerful.  Programmers have used these basic tools to create fantastically complex autonomous missions that collect an incredible amount of information and data.  One, for example, creates 360-degree panoramas all autonomously.  There is no doubt that as students at younger and younger ages become proficient in basic coding and flight of unmanned aerial vehicles, fantastic new developments are in the near future.

Three Reasons Why You Should Let Kids Get Splinters at School!

Let me preface this post by saying, if I got you to find your way here, I want you to know that I don’t necessarily favor letting kids get splinters.  However, if they get them in the act of doing something super meaningful and fun, I think it’s definitely worth it!

Several weeks ago my colleague, Gary Wendt, shared with me that he had found some benches on Amazon to fit in the music room hallway.  We need benches there because students wait in that hall during the switching of classes several times a day.  Almost impulsively I blurted out, “Don’t buy them!  Let’s have the kids build them!”  Gary is one of the most progressive educators I’ve ever worked with.  He immediately said yes and my mind started thinking about how we could get a bunch of elementary age students to research, prototype and build benches in the few short weeks that remained of the school year.

“We only think when we are confronted with problems.” John Dewey

The very idea might sound odd to some educators, but not at Hubbard Woods School.  We have a long history of kids constructing and solving real world problems like this.

 Last year, the second grade built custom wagons over the course of a couple of weeks to transport book sets that the teachers had received a grant for.  It turned out that the second-grade students were ready for another challenge.

Reason Number One: By Solving a Real World Challenge, the Students Became Invested in Both the Process and the Final Result.

We started by talking about why Mr. Wendt saw the need for benches.  The kids all agreed and were very enthusiastic about being given the chance to research and build the benches themselves.  Friday’s Mr. Wendt is at one of our other elementary schools teaching Kindergarten music, but he agreed to Facetime the students in each of the second-grade classes so that they could interview him and find out what he was hoping to put in that space.

We Facetimed Mr. Wendt to ask him questions about what he was hoping to have us build for the hallway.

 After about 20 minutes, the classes were broken up into teams and we set off to analyze the space.  Each team had: a measurer who brought along a measuring tape; a recorder, who was going to record all of their measurements and observations as well as drawings; a documentarian who brought along an iPad logged into our digital portfolio platform Seesaw, and a ‘builder.’  The builder assisted the other students as well and knew that their real chance to shine would be when we started prototyping.  We reviewed how to safely use a tape measure and some key terms: bird’s eye view, length, width, and depth.  

In addition to measuring the space where we wanted to build the benches, we also found some other benches we had in our school already and drew and measured them as a reference for our build.  After gathering all of this information, we came together as a group and reflected on the process so far.  We discussed that the following week we would begin building prototypes using one of our favorite resources, Rigamajig!

The teams were excited to build their prototypes.  They referred to their notes from the previous week and got to work right away.  Rigamajig was not ‘exactly’ the right size for the benches, but we talked about the idea that prototypes are not the final design, they are a step along the way.  After building their prototypes, the teams came together and evaluated the different designs.  What was similar or different.  Again, the students used the measuring tape, clipboard, and iPad to document the process.  Finally, after evaluating the designs, we took them down to see how they worked in the actual space.  

Reason Number Two:  Measuring and Documenting Took On a Whole New Meaning When the End Result Was Something That They Will Use Every Day.

Prior to the actual session when we built our benches, I did a little research and found a bench design that was almost perfect for our application.  Everything about the design fit our parameters.  After double checking the measurements, I set out to visit Home Depot.  I bought all the materials and brought them out to the parking lot.  I drive a Honda Civic.  I can fit boards that are about 4’ long in it.  


I had planned ahead and brought my battery operated circular saw along.  I was hoping to cut the lumber down to size and transport it all in my car.  What I didn’t count on was the batteries not being fully charged.  I got about one-third of the lumber cut before the batteries died.  I had to go back to the store and buy a hand saw to finish the job.  It worked.  

The day of the build arrived.  It was the Friday before Memorial Day; a half day.  I knew that I was going to struggle to find volunteers so I decided that I wouldn’t worry about that.  Instead, I had the kids work through three rotations.  One station was a sanding station.  Another was a pre-drilling and assembly station.  The last was one of their favorite options during the year: Osmo Pizza Co.  Ideally, I would have had all the students participating in some part of the construction project.  

Last year, I had nearly a dozen parent volunteers and all 75 of the second graders working at the same time.  This year, given the situation and timing, I decided to pre-cut the lumber and have the kids focus on finishing.  It was the right decision.  The students LOVED sanding and each student had the chance to use a power drill.  For many of them, this was the first time they had ever done something like this.  I was able to ‘teach’ them some of the tips and tricks that come along with a construction project like this.  I showed them how to use a ‘square,’ mark holes for pre-drilling and more.  

Our entrance monitor was giving a tour to some incoming parents.  She came in and saw the entire library abuzz with activity.  She had seen the students measuring and recording the two weeks prior and so she began to explain the process the kids were completing.  Standing in the center of the library, the floor completely covered in sawdust while several students noisily sanded the planks for the bench, one of the new parents said to me, “You need a workshop.” Without even thinking, I said, “This IS my workshop!”

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

As the school cleared out for the holiday weekend, I cleaned up the saw dust with our shop vac.  I placed the completed bench next to the prototypes the students had created.


 They had done it.  They had analyzed the need, interviewed those who were impacted, prototyped and adapted their designs and then completed the process by building the benches.  I couldn’t have been prouder of the students, or happier to work in a district that supports and encourages learning in this way.   

Reason Number Three:  The Students Beamed With Pride As They Looked at Their Finished Projects; Even If They Had Picked Up a Few Splinters in the Process!

One of the three benches the students created.

Custom T-Shirt Stamp Step-by-Step on the Carvey

This year we added the Carvey to our maker ‘toolbox.’  Our makerspace is directly connected to our library with only a brick archway to separate us. For this reason, I was hoping the Carvey would be as quiet as advertised.Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.15.42 PM (They advertise it as being as quiet as a desktop printer, but depending on the material and the amount of ‘cutting’ the noise level can vary.  I have had to pause it a few times when there was a class being read to or a quiet activity was underway.)Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.16.01 PM

There is always a learning curve with a new tool and this is true of the Carvey as well.  However, that curve was pretty slight and within a few hours, we were creating all sorts of creations.  The designs, at least for beginners, are done with the web-based native software app called Easel.  It was very easy for this newbie to navigate and create my first few projects.  For this particular project, I wanted to create a ‘staff’ t-shirt for our student directors and producers for our school television studio: WGST (the World’s Greatest Student Television).  After designing the ‘stamp’ I had to flip it so that I would be carving out the ‘reverse’ for stamping purposes.

You can download the step-by-step PDF HERE.

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Here is how the stamp ‘blank’ turned out.

I glued the 1/8″ board to a larger piece of wood just to make the stamping easier.  To help me align the design, I added a couple of wooden spools to the back of the wood blank too.


Next, I just needed somebody to help me make some shirts!  Thankfully my wonderful daughter was home from college and was willing to help me create the shirts for the students and adults who help with the broadcasts.

The process was pretty straight forward.  We placed a cardboard square inside each shirt to keep the paint from seeping through and also to give a little ‘resistance’ when the stamp was pressed down.  We used regular latex high-gloss interior paint.  It was applied using a foam brush and then carefully pressed on the shirts.  The ‘weathered’ look was perfect!  Each one is slightly different.


 I think they like them!


I look forward to finding ways to integrate the Carvey into our future projects.

Game of Drones Presentation @ #ICE17


This past week I had the pleasure of presenting a day-long workshop at the Illinois Computing Educator Conference.  As I told my participants, I am not an expert in drones, but I have had a life-long fascination with flight.  I’m sure this is in part due to growing up on Air Force bases around the world as a child.

My first airplane

I have purchased a wide variety of drones in the last decade.  My first drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was the Parrot AR Drone 2.0.


Believe it or not, I still have this drone and flew it during my workshop last week.  While it was cutting edge when I bought it, the much smaller drones made by Parrot in the last couple of years are far more responsive and stable.

The core concept I wanted our participants to walk away with was that drones are much more than remote controlled toys.  In fact, they are powerful tools that can teach coding, problem-solving and develop grit and resilience.

Drones I’ve used with students. My favorites are the Parrot drones.

I began by familiarizing folks with the Tynker Coding App.  Tynker is currently the only block coding app that works with the Parrot Minidrones.

Most were familiar with block-type coding, so after some exploring with Tynker’s Crash Course, they were ready to connect and begin coding their drones.


I developed three challenges for the participants.  My goal was to give them a chance to work through the design thinking process that my students use.  Through these challenges, I was also hoping to highlight different STEAM subject areas.  The first lesson, The Cargo Challenge, asked them to transport the maximum amount of cargo a predetermined distance and at a minimum height.


The Parrot Minidrones have Lego connectors on top and this allowed us to easily attach Lego bricks to the top of the drones.  It was exciting to watch the different groups try various amounts of bricks.  The most interesting part of this exploration was that not only does the amount of cargo matter, but how it is affixed to the drone.  A wide base helped keep the drone steady in flight.

Our second challenge was an example of how coding and robotics could be used to create art.  I taught everyone a mini-lesson on low light photography and light trails or light painting and showed them several videos that demonstrated some of the ways professional drone choreographers have used this technique.


We attached tiny LED blinking lights to the drones and then programmed a variety of simple programs.  We captured the long exposures with a slow shutter speed app for the iPad, which was mounted on a tripod.  One key point was that the Parrot Minidrones need to be able to see the ground in order to orient themselves.  Because the lights were low, we used a flashlight to illuminate the ground below its flight.   Setting up several small LED’s to illuminate the ground would make this process even more successful.  Here you can see the whole process in action:

Our third challenge incorporated much of what was learned earlier.  The challenge was to transport and deliver a minifigure from one point to another.


I should have added ‘safely’ to the instructions because several of the groups found novel ways to ‘deliver’ their cargo.

We closed out the day exploring all the different drone platforms and exploring various curricular areas and how drones can be incorporated.  Here is probably my favorite part of the day when we had all the different drone platforms flying around the room.  I love the ‘buzz’ of both the drones and the participants learning and sharing.

I created a padlet with resources and lesson ideas.  You can access it here and feel free to add your own ideas as well.

Made with Padlet

This was my first time leading a full-day professional development.  It took an incredible amount of time and preparation, but I think it went incredibly well.  If you are interested, the entire presentation is available HERE.

Tynker Feature!

Tynker Teacher Feature: Connected Toys and Connecting Dots with Todd Burleson

This is a cross-post from the Tynker Blog: 

In our new blog series, we feature Tynker Teachers who are moving coding forward in their school district.

This week, we’d like you to meet Illinois educator Todd Burleson. Todd is excited about Tynker and coding and recently shared his love for drone programming at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference, one of Illinois’ largest ed tech conferences.

So, Todd, who are you, and what do you teach?

I’ve been an educator for 24 years, teaching kindergarten to college age students. I’m currently the Library Media Specialist at Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, IL where I work with Kindergarten through fourth-grade students. I’m a passionate teacher-maker-librarian always striving to find just the right balance of books and bytes and igniting the imagination to explore both. My biggest honor was being chosen as the 2016 School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year.

Your excitement about drones and programming is infectious. What is it about programming drones that get you so excited?

I have had a lifelong fascination with flight. I dreamed of being a pilot in the military, but color blindness foiled that plan. It probably started by growing up at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The Wright Brothers famously designed and improved their flying machine there. I spent days at the Air Force Museum of flight dreaming of flying myself one day. Remote control helicopters, planes and now quadcopters have gotten me pretty close. Now that you can fly with a live camera feed streaming to your iPad or phone, I feel like I’m on board. I do hope to one day earn my pilot’s license. For now, however, I am excited to learn to program quadcopters. I think there is such a difference when kids ‘program’ a drone as opposed to simply flying. What typically happens when anyone, me included, starts out ‘flying’ a drone, they crash. By using a block coding app like Tynker, it slows down the process and teaches users to think through each step of a flight. This is a great metaphor for life and will result in a lot longer lifespan for drones too!

The “connected toy” movement seems to be growing. Where do you envision this movement going?

I think that ‘connected toys’ have tremendous potential for good. Toys that can read and respond to user’s facial expressions and words can go a long way toward teaching and be develop empathy. I think that a toy like Cognitoy takes away some of the obstacles for young children to research and technology by allowing users to simply talk to it. cognitoys-790x385.pngThe cute and friendly dinosaur has a ‘Grover-like’ voice that makes me happy to hear it talk. It can tell and create stories with children. It can answer questions and it develops a unique personality. It’s not designed for adults, but I would love one. It’s like an Alexa for kids.

A growth mindset is a big deal these days. Do you see growth mindset behavior from your students? What does that look or sound like?

The key word around growth mindset is resilience. I see that when it comes to learning to code. Even our youngest learners understand the concept of block coding. When students struggle and eventually succeed, they realize that problem-solving, while challenging, isn’t insurmountable. Failure is just evidence of trying. This is something we say over and over in our school. We want kids to know that iteration is simply part of the process. In our school, it is kids successfully learning to code a robot through a maze or deliver a Lego mini fig to from a home base to a landing pad.


What other kinds of toys would you like students to be able to program?

I start my youngest coders with tools like KIBO and Beebot/Bluebot. These two tools teach sequencing and have a physical component to the actual coding. By connecting the wooden blocks for KIBO and pressing the forward, left, right and backward buttons on Beebot/Bluebot, students realize that they can totally control the movements of the robot.

This builds familiarity and confidence and leads to more complex block coding with devices such as Dot and Dash, Sphero, and my favorite, Parrot Minidrones. 

How do we get STEM and coding into the core classes? What’s your strategy for making coding an everyday skill?

The first step is to breed familiarity with the tools. When kids can get over the hurdle of the basics, they can begin to think beyond simple coding projects. There is always a bit of resistance from educators because we often feel that we have to have mastery of the tools we use in education. For me, I’ve embraced the idea that kids will probably ‘get’ the programming faster than I do. In fact, I turn that around and have them teach, support and encourage one another. If teachers can be brave enough to let kids lead, I think it will help get coding into the typical classroom. I also think that as technology educators, we have to create opportunities to collaborate with teachers. Being willing to spearhead a project with a class that is eager can be a tremendous opportunity. When teachers ask if I can help them integrate technology into their class, I always answer, “Yes, and…” That’s where the magic happens, in the “and…” It is where we all grow, stretch, and extend our learning.


Paying it Forward: Share the Love


Last year I was named the 2016 School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year.  It was one of the proudest moments of my teaching career.  One of the incredible components of the award was $2,500 to spend at the Scholastic Book Store.  I am fortunate to work in a district that believes in and supports my mission as a school librarian.  My library is well-funded and properly staffed.  Because of this, I wanted to do something different with the Scholastic funds.  I’ve decided that I will donate them to five schools in need; each school will be awarded $500.


Do you know a school who’s library could use these funds?


The most democratic way I could come up for distributing these funds is to create a Rafflecopter page.  Here’s how it works:  if you tweet about the contest and/or leave a comment on the blog, you will receive an ‘entry’ in the raffle.  On March 1st the Rafflecopter ‘engine’ will randomly choose five lucky recipients.  The more entries you have, the better your chances.  So, go ahead and submit an entry on behalf of your school or a deserving school you know about.  Click the link below to enter the raffle! Share with as many folks as you can and I can’t wait to see how this turns out!  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Valentine’s Tutorial Part Two: Sewn Heart Cards

img_7127I’ve never been accused of taking the easy route.  That was especially true today!  I decided to try sewing with first graders today.  The project began with the idea of creating lacing boards.  I initially explored making them on our Carvey machine, but in the end, it took too long to be practical to make them for all of the first-grade students.  So, I started exploring other options.  To be clear, I have never done sewing with first graders, but I thought that they could do this project if they worked on concentration and focus.  So, I started by reminding them of these two words.  I’m actually impressed with how well they turned out given their lack of experience with the tools.


I began by showing them a completed project; I just so happened to have made a few in preparation for today as gifts for my amazing library associate and my wife.

Step one is to trace the outline of the heart on a folded piece of cardstock.


Step two is to use your needle to punch holes.  I showed the kids how to hold the section of the paper they are ‘punching’ with the needle over the edge of the table.  This helped them have control over the needle a bit more.  The second time I introduced this, I decided to have the kids space their holes apart by the width of their finger.


Step three is to use the threaded needle (we pre-threaded a ton of tapestry needles to speed this initial stage up a bit) from underneath through the cardstock.  This lets the large knot at the end ‘stick’ on the back of the card.

Step four is to begin ‘sewing’ up and down through the various holes.  I did not tell them to do a set pattern but instead, let them choose.  It was interesting to see who struggled with keeping the thread untangled or remembering to go up and down not ‘around’ the card.  These are great lessons to learn on cardstock because you can easily ‘fix’ it by going back through the hole.


Caden created a very interesting pattern with three different colors of thread.


We folded the second piece of cardstock and glued it on the inside to ‘hide’ the stitching on the inside of the card.


We couldn’t give the students really long pieces of embroidery floss because it was apt to get tangled, so we just tied off the floss underneath and then re-threaded the needle with their choice of color.  This ended up creating some beautiful contrasting layers.

All in all, this was a big success.  They now have an introductory project under their belts and when we learn all about buttons in our inquiry project, they’ll be ready to learn to sew their own 3d designed and printed buttons!


NOTE: In later classes, one of the kids chose to stitch around the outside rather than across.  It turned out that in some ways that were easier for the kids to do.  So, we had our last class of the day start with that and then early finishers could add the cross stitching. Turns out that very few had time to add the extras and that was just fine.  A good example of ‘going with the flow’ for both kids and our parent volunteers.We also figured out that we could tape the end of the thread on the inside if it were too short to tie off.  This was a very handy thing because many kids ended up only having a tiny bit of thread left.

Valentine’s Day Projects Part One: Simple Felt Heart Sewing Project

I decided to try sewing with my third-grade students this year.  I was emboldened by taking the phenomenal free class on Instructables by Jessyratfink.


If you want to know how to do just about anything, there is a tutorial for it on Instructables.  I was blown away how thorough and detailed this class was.  In addition to that, it was beautifully photographed with clear and concise instructions.  Well done Instructables and Jessy Ratfink!


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Image courtesy of


We began by doing a very simple project: hand stitching together felt hearts.  Our school has an Ellison Die Cutter so I was able to pre-cut the hearts on the machine.  You could easily have students draw their own as we are limited in size by the dimensions of the machine.  I cut several colors and made many extras just in case.  I decided to use a thicker thread and larger ‘tapestry’ needles.  I chose the tapestry needles for the size of their ‘eye.’  In hindsight, the tapestry needles were a bit dull and it was challenging for those with weaker fine motor skills to be able to pierce the fabric.


I taught the students to cut thread the length of their forearm and back.  We doubled the thread and tied a simple knot.  Next, we pinned the two pieces together to help keep them lined up while sewing.  I showed the students how to open the ‘felt sandwich’ and push the needle up and through one of the layers.  In this way, they were able to hide their knot.  The running stitch might not have been the ideal ‘first’ stitch to teach them.  Many of them began doing a ‘whip stitch,’ which students said felt more natural.


Link to image source:


Some students wanted to stuff their heart to make a pincushion or a heart pendant.  For those students, we stopped with enough room to stick our finger into the heart and used cotton batting to ‘stuff.’


I ended up using my own model as a great pin cushion for the kids!


The kids learned grit, resilience, and patience while learning a very valuable life skill.  img_6858

In the end, the kids were very proud of their work and eager to share their gifts!



How and Why You Need to Build Your Very Own Fairy Door or Fairy House

When my daughter was about eight years old, we heard about some mysterious fairy doors that existed in Ann  Arbor, Michigan.  Each summer when our kids were younger we visited Sault Saint Marie, Michigan where my in-laws have a cottage.  We decided to stop in Ann Arbor on the way up north on one of our trips and investigate these fairy doors.  We had done our research online and found the fantastic UFO Site.  UFO stands for Urban Fairy Operations.  This site is the all-inclusive site that helps visitors to Ann Arbor find the fairy doors in town and has a ton of other assorted information about building your own door and much more.


You can download a map that shows where each of the fairy doors are located.  It was tremendous fun for all of us to search the streets for these unique and fascinating little doors.


Some of these doors open, some of them also have windows and several even had electricity inside them.  To say it triggered our curiosity is an understatement.  We went home and immediately purchased and painted our very own Fairy Door.  We mounted it at the top of the stairs.  You can imagine the fun we had with the door as we invited fairies to move in.  My wife and I had enjoyed leaving trinkets on the step for our kids to discover.  They went as far to write notes on tiny pieces of paper, left gifts and special decorations for the holidays.

My daughter is now in college and the door has come down from our hallway.  I recently saw some images on Pintrest that fired my imagination.

I started thinking about how cool it would be to have a fairy door, maybe even a fairy house in our school library!  I knew I could ‘hook’ the girls, who are already fascinated with fairies, both Disney and otherwise.  What would be harder would be to find a way to link the boys to the sense of wonder.  More on that later.

It just so happened that our community’s giant rummage sale was taking place and a parent had emailed me and asked if we needed any items for the makerspace.  I asked her to be on the look out for some ‘big books’ and I sent her the above picture to explain why.  She found some and dropped them off and I immediately got started making my very own fairy house.  I looked online for a tutorial on how to make one out of old books and I couldn’t find one.  So, I hope that this step by step tutorial will help those of you who are as eager to create one as I was.

Step One: Find some great old books that are tall and thick.


Step Two:  Cut the covers off with a razor knife.

Step Three: Use glue (I chose wood glue because I had it on hand) to cover all four edges of the book’s pages.  I discovered a bit later that if you have a cup of warm water, it helps keep the brushes bristles a bit more pliable.  I also added a bit of the hot water to the glue and that helped make applying it a bit easier too.  I would also recommend that you put the books on wax paper or cardboard when doing this step as well.  I didn’t have any wax paper and thus had some cardboard that stuck to the edges a bit.

Step Four: Stack and place heavy objects on the books to help compress and set the glue.  Let it sit for 24 hours.  If you are impatient like me, this will be the hardest step!

Step Five:  Mark the book pages so that you can begin ‘hollowing’ out the book.  You don’t have to do this step.  Many have just added the doors to the books in other ways.  I wanted to have a physical ‘room’ inside the books for the fairies to live, so I decided I wanted to hollow them out.  This ended up being a much harder project then I originally thought it would be as you will see below.



Step Six: The book ‘blanks’ are now more like a chunk of wood than a book.  I added another layer of wood glue several hours after the first and that made the book ‘blank’ even more solid.  Make sure that you mark the book blank so that you are ‘cutting away’ the area that includes the spine.  This is so that the book will still look ‘whole’ when the fairy house is complete.  I was able to initially begin cutting the blanks with a saw.  In hindsight, what I should have done was cut several ‘slit’s in the book and then notched them with the chisel.  See the next step.


Step Seven:  After you have cut the two sides, you will use a chisel to begin chopping away the interior of the book.  This is a very messy step.  A heavy hammer and a very sharp chisel are essential.  This could also be done with a razor knife, but the chisel worked much more efficiently.  It is possible that a band saw or a scroll saw would have worked.  I tried using my scroll saw and it cut crooked and did not work well with the texture of the book pages.  I do plan on trying my band saw for the next project.


Step Eight:  When you have completely hollowed out the book, do this for as many books as you wish to have in your house.  I found that putting a piece of plywood under the book gave me a firmer surface to be able to hammer.  Plus, then I didn’t have to worry about damaging the tabletop.

Step Nine:  Stop and clean up!

Step Ten:  Purchase and prepare your doors and windows.  I found these at our local Hobby Lobby and painted them with regular acrylic paint.


Step Eleven:  Cut covers to fit the window and door sizes.


Step Twelve:  Dry fit the window and door.

Step Thirteen:  Glue the window and door into place.


Step Fourteen:  Electric?  I’m going to start with one of those candle lights that you can use in place as a tea candle light.  I might add a 12 volt power supply at some point, but for now I think just the notion that there is light inside the house will trigger the imaginations of my students.


Step Fifteen:  Invite Wonder!

I knew I could ‘hook’ my girls. They are devouring every ‘fairy’ type book I could put on the shelves, but how to hook the boys?  That was more challenging.  Then I remembered back to when I must have been ten or eleven years old.  I would visit my step-sister, who was much older than me.  I remembered that she had this one book on Gnomes that fascinated me.  It was a whole world of tiny people.  I poured over that book for weeks, filling my head with wonder.  There was just enough ‘naughty’ talk about trolls and farting and other silly things to get my 5-10 year old boys hooked for good.  If I could get them to believe that it was possible that we have a gnome living in our library, I think I might be able to get them to set aside their doubt and ‘wonder’ with me!  I’m building a bibliography of excellent ‘fairy’ and ‘gnome’ books.  If you have a recommendation for one, please let me know in the comments section below.