Zoey and Sassafras: Science Process in an Early Chapter Book = Love!

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Overview of the Series: Written by a former science teacher 🙂 the Zoey and Sassafras series takes you through the scientific process with your very capable guide, Zoey and her sidekick Sassafras. Zoey is a fan of nature, wonder, questions, and has a strong desire to help all animals (including magical ones) through her knowledge and use of science. Readers will delight in this relatable character and adults (like teachers and parents) will love the clear but discovery based approach to science and how the main guide (the mom) doesn’t step in, but poses questions so that Zoey can reach her own conclusions and next steps.

Book One

Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallow: After discovering an interesting photo, that reveals a family secret, Zoey meets a sick young dragon that is need of her help. I loved the specific science process connections and the trial and error as Zoey had to work through a problem on her own with just the knowledge and tools around her.

Book Two

Zoey and Sassafras: Monsters and Mold: A grown forest monster, matching the colorings of Sassafras, shows up in need of support to fix an embarrassing problem…mold on his fur. Yikes! Zoey is put to the test as she has to process through the scientific method a few times before reaching her conclusion. Her process mimics many pathways of taking a simple solution to a complex problem, which provides great opportunities for misconception conversations, misunderstanding conversations, and some experiments of your own. In addition, I really love the scientific method clearly displayed in this story, along with other science practices: growth mindset, problem solving, what to do when it does work out, and giving yourself some thinking and reflecting time. This story also brings in control and variables. I want this collection for my school, especially for my K-2 teachers.

Book Three

Zoey and Sassafras: Merhorses and Bubbles: Wow, this one got me thinking, wondering, questioning, and investigating the effect we have on nature, in particular our drainage systems and the local rivers. I don’t want to give anything away, but this would be a great read for that thought-provoking question and possible investigative project, both on a local level and a national or world level. I had an in depth conversation about (well, I won’t spoil it) it with my boyfriend while on a nature walk, all to the thanks of Zoey and Sassafras.

Book Four

Zoey and Sassafras: Caterflies and Ice: First off, what a cute and clever concept for a magical creature! As a cat fan, I loved it! 🙂 Ok, back to the story…an unexpected spring snowstorm hits and causes some trouble for a nearby group (Kaleidoscope? Swarm? Rabble?) of caterflies, their eggs, and their host plant…catnip. A few group members seek out Zoey for help and she has to use her background knowledge to help solve the problem…which she does…but, unknown to her (at the time) it also causes some additional harm. Asia Citro does a great job of capturing Zoey’s emotional struggle and scientific struggle as she explores time sensitive solutions. While I love this series for the problem solving approach of Zoey’s character, I especially love how this book also demonstrates that sometimes you really need to seek out the advice of the more experienced other…scientists don’t work alone.

AND…BOOK FIVE: Zoey and Sassafras: The Pod and the Bog

I didn’t think I was going to be able to read this one. 😦 It took quite the time to get it from the library, but it finally came! 🙂 In this book Zoey wraps up the notes on her own plant experiment, and is ready for a bedtime read from her mom, when they both hear the barn doorbell. It is their good friend Pip with quite the mysterious and colorful pod. In order to return the pod to the right habitat, the trio, especially Zoey, need to tap into all they know about plants, habitats, and the connecting thread…what type of habitats certain plants need in order to survive. It is a race against time to help save this species of plant. The time pressure is a stress pressure for Zoey…and isn’t it for us all? Multiple lessons learned and demonstrated here, beyond the typical science process ones, for stress, unfortunately, is often part of the process, but where we go for support and how we react is key.

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Learning About Shapes? Then you will want to read this (K-3+) book…

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So clever!

I loved all the shape based mathematical language being use to tell this tale of friendship drama and reunion! For example: “Circle admired Square for all his good points”. Ha! Ha! Love it! 🙂

Originally I bought this book for my kindergarten and first grade teachers, but no, the benefits and delights are not for those grades alone. There are clever math connections for K-5, really. It all depends on how you see the story. Also, the classroom lesson connections don’t even have to be math or, specifically, shape based. It can be used as a mentor text for another mathematical story or a pun-based story with a real-world problem-solution plot.

It is definitely one of those stories you could read and then re-read for different purposes…including reading and re-reading it yourself for a good laugh.

Learning About the Colors? Then You Will Want to Read…

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If you are learning the colors, then you will want to read this book! I loved the clever way that the colors were introduced, with words, curiosity, and with a tactile component. This book put a smile on my face–the prediction that will take place with a turn-and-talk, or whole group share, will easily spark engagement and language use. In addition, there are so many spin-off questions from this text, like…what is an aardvark…does he really eat ants…and how is a carpenter ant different than the ants we see on our sidewalk? And so many more! 🙂 I cannot wait to share this treasure with my K and 1st grade teachers. Fun!

For some additional Resources:

And did you know that aardvark means Earth Pigs? That sometimes they are called Antbears? I didn’t, but I learned that on Fun Aardvark Facts for Kids by Easy Science for Kidshttps://easyscienceforkids.com/all-about-aardvarks/

Libby and Wimbley: An Early Reader Science Series

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Libby Wimbley: Birdhouse Builder by Amy Cobb, Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

  • Libby loves to explore, observe, and is a problem solver. When she and her best friend, Becca, find out that there is a snow day–they are off for an adventure. Following a series of tracks, they come upon some bright red, and hungry, birds. Together Libby and Becca work through the design process to engineer a solution for their newfound friends. While not the complete design process is included, this story provide multiple opportunities for you to pause and/or engage your class in a discussion…or even some engineering themselves. The initial problem, hunger, isn’t completely solved in this story…their thinking partnership goes down another path, which is also demonstrates how often that happens and invites you and your class to identify problems to solve, either story connected or locally connected.
    • Connections: Engineering, Problem Solving, Observation, Thinking Partnerships

Libby Wimbley: Bug Rescuer by Amy Cobb, Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

  • You would think that nothing could be more exciting than a bike ride on a Sunday afternoon with your best friend–but Libby and Becca have just one task before pedaling down the dirt road…science homework. They need to be on the lookout for certain bugs in nature, and their experience tells them where to look. With just one more on their list, they come across a dragonfly in need of help, turning their role of bug detectives into bug rescuers! What bike ride? 🙂 While the needs of living things, in particular insects and their habitats, isn’t deeply discussed through the words, the pictures take the concept deeper and set you and your class up for a discussion and an exploration of their own. One of my favorite parts of the story is when they roll over a log, find a few of the insects on their list, but before they head off to find more, they roll the log back over, to help keep the insect home intact.
    • Connections: Insects, Observation, Tools, Habitats, Caring for Nature

Libby Wimbley: Goat Trainer by Amy Cobb, Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

  • How many of us head toward the animal shows and exhibits when you go to a county fair? I know I do and so does Libby and Becca. It is one of their favorite parts, especially the shows where they see all the extraordinary tricks the different animals can do. It gets Libby thinking of her own pet, Elvis the Goat, and the tricks she could teach him, with help from her friends. After trying all the tricks she saw at the show, and taking a much needed break, she realizes that Elvis’s trick is no trick at all. It is being himself and sharing that gift with others. What is his gift? You’ll have to read it to find out. 🙂 Early chapter readers will love and relate to the animal theme, and if read to the class, it offers a good example of trial and error, as well as following an idea through to impact, and help, others.
    • Connections: Ideas, Process, Reflection, Plan to Share Knowledge

 

Also included in the Libby and Wimbley series is Rooster Instructor by I wasn’t able to read and review it.

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Kickoff the Year with an Interactive Bulletin Board!

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Last year I started pursuing interactive bulletin boards–A space where students, teachers, and parents, could add their own thought, response, opinion, or idea. It was a huge success. 🙂

Now that I have my own classroom this year, running an inquiry lab, part-time, I wasn’t sure I was going to continue creating interactive boards. I wanted the bulletin board space I had to be focused on student work…well, that was until someone changed my mind. While attending a colleague’s wedding, I sat among my other colleagues and the topic of my boards came up. A 5th grade teacher shared that she was excited that I was now in a more central location (middle of the building, next to specials like computer and library). She shared that where I had the board before (across from my office in the 2nd grade hallway, next to the workroom), her students didn’t often get to see and participate in it and she thought it was such a great idea and opportunity. Other teachers nodded in agreement and added their own specific compliments. I didn’t share my thoughts on not continuing, just thanked them, smiled, and had the comments linger. Maybe there was a way to share the board and continue. So I did, and I am kicking it off with the #GoalSetter board for students, teachers, and parents to contribute. Our Open House is next Tuesday, and I can’t wait to see what new goals are added that night and the first days of school.

“Too Many Carrots” a STEM Launch

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Recently, my amazing co-teaching partner in 2nd grade, Quincey Williamson, and I presented “The Big Picture and Small Details of Incorporating STEM Ideas in Your Elementary Classroom”. The main take away from our presentation was simply this:

Story is a great way toward incorporating STEM into your classroom!

Fictional Stories, Historical Stories, Science Phenomena Stories, News Stories, Your Story, Your Students’ Stories, etc.!

To illustrate this point we used the book, Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson, but we didn’t use it in the traditional way. We didn’t read the whole story, we stopped as soon as we came to the main character’s problem (around page 4). Rabbit had too many carrots, that he didn’t have a place to sleep.

"Too Many Carrots" problem page

We paused the story there and asked the teachers’…What are some possible solutions to Rabbit’s problem? We did this by providing them some independent think time (with drawing paper), followed by some table sharing and listening.

Next we challenged them to collaboratively think of idea #5 (if in a group of 4), based on all the solution ideas shared. We really stressed, like we do with our students, to think of a collaborative idea, rather than going (or voting) on an already shared solution. This allows for more opportunities for language use, through negotiation and brainstorming, creativity, and for honoring the individual contributions of each group member (my favorite part!). 🙂

But…we added an extension to this collaborative session and some constraints. Each group was also asked to construct their model, using a bag of $1 store materials + some blocks-like materials, AND to do so while making sure their model included some key components: Rabbit, 100 carrots (cut orange pipe cleaners), and 1/4-1/2 piece of construction paper to represent Rabbit’s available area. Note: This component makes this idea easy to modify based on grade level needs.

Additionally, each group was given an iPad to document PROGRESS and to later select a platform/app to help them communicate their process to solution. Here are some of the creations!

Quincey and I were WOWED by their solutions and how they communicated those solutions. So many ideas we never would have thought of alone! We learned so much from their models, and their selected platform/app. Many groups selected Popplet, which we have used before, but never to communicate process. It was an Aha! moment for us. 🙂 After the gallery walk I read the rest of the story so they can hear another solution, Rabbit’s solution, which was actually several attempts at finding a solution with the help of his friends.

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There were many faces of delight, surprise, and a new type of self-to-text connection, since they were able to journey with Rabbit and be part of the problem solving team.

Afterwards, we gave them some more independent think time to jot down possible extensions, new ideas, connections, etc., which they shared whole group. We wrapped up the session by challenging them to think of their own STEM prompt by providing groups 3-4 picture books (ones I have featured on this site), along with Newela articles and stories found in their grade level reader. They shared these group generated STEM Story Prompts to the whole group, table by table.

Our presentation was a blast and really conveyed our goal: Story is a great way toward incorporating STEM into your classroom! Fictional Stories, Historical Stories, Science Phenomena Stories, News Stories, Your Story, Your Students’ Stories, etc.!

I hope this post sparks some ideas for your own STEM Story prompt. 🙂

Resources

  • The books I provided the tables came from ones I received from a grant. You can access many of those titles HERE and HERE. You can also access them on my “Science Topic Book List” tab.
  • The inspiration of this story pausing idea came from research from Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, which I have featured on my website. You can access that research and post HERE.
  • The handout we provided teachers that reviews our key features can be found HERE.

What do you plan on reading the first day of school?

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The first day of school is just around the corner for us, and it is always a big summer debate in my mind about which book I am going to read to introduce myself and to use as a springboard to learning about them. There are just so many great ones to select from! 🙂 You may be thinking…why just one? Well, while I am an elementary teacher, I don’t have my own grade level and classroom. I am an ELL (English Language Learner) Specialist and for my district that means that I am a co-teacher. I work with six other amazing teachers, K-5, one per grade, who have the majority of our ELLs. We co-plan once and week and co-teach three days a week. Our main subject area is writing, but as you would probably agree with me, writing is in every subject, so there is a lot of the other content areas, especially SCIENCE! Each teaching segment is between 30-45 minutes, depending on the grade level. So for my first day in the classroom, I am just there a small segment of time, but I want to make it impactful. 🙂

This is why I am going to once again return to Rhoda’s Rock Hunt for my K-3 grade levels! Not only does Jennifer A. Bell do a tremendous job of capturing story and emotions with her beautiful illustrations, Molly Beth Griffin weaves together a relatable story of a young girl, Rhoda, and her captivation with rocks. I, too, like Rhoda, love rocks, and I can share that text-to-self connection with my new students and use it as a prompt to learn about their collections, if any, or what captivates them in nature, or just what captivates them in general.

Rhoda’s Rock Hunt also provides an opportunity to share with the students all the science we are going to explore this year, as we, like Rhoda, get in touch with nature, use our observation skills, and use our decision and describing making skills to sort and communicate. This school year we are also going to take a page from Molly Beth Griffin, among so many other great authors, and tell our story, tell the story in our imagination, and share our expertise through writing. It is going to be a great school year! 🙂

Note: Back in 2016, Rhoda’s Rock Hunt was one of my Featured Books! You can access what I wrote about it HERE.

Also, if you want to check out some other potential first day reads, then checkout this post by We Are Teachers, 18 Perfect Picture Books for the First Weeks of School, written by Elizabeth Mulvahill.