What Do You Call Your Grandmother?


Before reading book number 1 in the Global Read Aloud Lauren Castillo book study, we talked about this question. I asked students in grades 1 and 2, “What do you call your grandmother?” Because we have students from countries all over the world, the answers were varied.

The names  Grammie, Grammy, Grandma, Nana,  Gram, and Grannie were some of the common American nicknames students suggested.

Then we asked students who speak other languages what they call their grandmother and we had some of these answers. Grandmere – French, Oma – German, Nonna – Italian, Sobo – Japanese, Lola – Tagalog, Abuela – Spain/Mexico/Peru, South Korean – Halmoni, Russian – Babushka, Portuguese – Avo, and India – Awa.

We learned that in Chinese, you say one name for the mother of your mother, and a different name for the mother of your father. Thanks to one of our parents, we learned what the name looks like in Chinese characters. We even Tweeted it out on our CRReads library Twitter account.


Nana in the City is book one in our six week Lauren Castillo author study. Lauren was chosen as the featured author/illustrator in the 2016 Global Read Aloud program. This project started October 3rd and will run for approximately 6 weeks.

The idea behind it is very simple; teachers around the world read the same book aloud to their students and then use technology to share the reading experience with these other classrooms. It is a free project and it fits perfectly into the standards we have to cover.

Our school is one of the red markers hovering over Washington.  Each week we will be reading one of the selected picture books and then connecting with other classrooms around the world via Twitter,Padlet and this blog. Students will get an authentic global experience by talking about books with other librarians and students. Our library Twitter account is @CRidgeLibrary  We only tweet with other classrooms and libraries on this account.

We also played at BreakoutEDU game at the end of the author study. Here are some photos from our librarians playing the game.


Have you ever played a BreakoutEDU game? Are you participating in the Global Read Aloud this year?




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A Special Aussie Visitor

We had a very special visitor in the library last week. This person is from Australia and while we have been friends since 2011, we had never met face to face until last week. Who visited our library? The wonderful Miss Y from St. Martin’s Primary School near Melbourne, Australia.


Miss Y and I met through blogging and common blogging buddies. In fact, I found the very first time Miss Y made a comment on our blog. It was in March 2011!


Since then we have remained blogging buddies across the miles, sharing ideas for books, lessons and ways to integrate technology into the library. She wrote about our friendship on her blog here.

I was absolutely thrilled when I found out she was planning a trip to visit the US and would begin her trip in Seattle. Even better was that she would be able to visit our school. She shared some Australian geography lessons with students as they were quite surprised by how large the country and continent of Australia actually is.


We shared book presents with each other. She left Seattle with a signed copy of The Honest Truth and the new Elephant and Piggie inspired series books.


We are HUGE fans of Dan Gemeinhart’s books. Miss Y, some 5th graders and I had an interesting conversation about the differences between the American cover of The Honest Truth and the Australian cover of the same book. A few people were appalled that I preferred the Australian cover. Oops? Can I say that? I love Dan Gemeinhart’s books, I just think showing the mountain on the cover makes more sense.



We also discovered that Santa Claus comes to Australia in the summer when it’s really hot in Australia. He usually arrives in shorts and often rides a sleigh pulled by six white kangeroos!


One very special present Miss Y gave us is a copy of the book Pig the Pug and our own Pig the Pug. This character who needs to learn a lot about getting along well with others is a favorite at her school.


In fact, they have two traveling Pig the Pugs who go home with students and have stories read to them. You can read about his Australian adventures here. Pig the Pug has had over 153 home adventures in 2016.

It sounded like so much fun, I have decided to have our Pig the Pug also be a traveling friend. Since we only have one plushy toy, the only students who will be able to take him home are third graders. Students who want to have a chance to take Pig the Pug home on an overnight reading adventure will fill out a raffle ticket. Each day I will pull a raffle ticket out of the box and deliver Pig the Pug to the lucky person in his special traveling suitcase.




Pig the Pug in Australia

Pig the Pug in Australia

A letter in his suitcase will explain that Pig the Pug is on a special overnight reading adventure and LOVES to have his picture taken with his reading buddy. I will post them on our #CRReads bulletin board and on his own page on this blog.

We are going to have some pug fun this fall thanks to Miss Y. Save travels to Miss Y as she continues her trip to Vancouver, Toronto, New York City and Washington, DC.



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When Magic Happens


I am pretty sure that I was born to be a librarian. I read at all hours of the day and night. I can’t eat breakfast without reading something to keep me company. I read on vacation in really peculiar places.

I love also teaching, but we all know that even though you may have a dream job, every day in the classroom isn’t a perfect day. Some days are trickier than others. When you step through the front doors of the school, you can never be sure of what kind of day it will be. Will it be good, okay, or one of those you need to forget?

Today was one of those days. No, not the bad one. The kind where you sit back, smile, and pinch yourself that you are lucky to be a teacher. The magical kind of day.

The day actually started a couple weeks ago when one of the teachers at school walked in the library and asked if I had any recommendations for a read aloud for her class. She was hoping to start the year with fantasy, but didn’t want anything super long.


It just so happened that I had just finished reading The Dragon of the Month Club by Iain Reading. I handed the book over, with a brief overview and off she went. Periodically I would see her in the hall and she updated me on the book. Each time I heard the comments, my day would get a little brighter. Her students were LOVING it! I was thrilled that my suggestion was working out so perfectly. That, however, is not my story.

My story, my magical story happened this afternoon at about 1:30 in the afternoon. I was knee-deep in paperwork and trying to make sense of the mess that was my office when a group of girls ran in yelling, “Mrs. Hembree, Mrs. Hembree, you’ve got to come see our dragon!”

I stepped out of the room to see a group of giggling and ever so proud girls. They were tumbling their words over each other in their excitement to show me what they had made. In their hands was a brown cardboard dragon. More specifically, it was a Dell Technology Dragon made from the left over cardboard they found outside the computer lab. It had a wavy long tail with a wide point at the end. The mouth opened and closed. The body was made from the packing material covered with a wide set of wings.


Inspired by the dragons in the book, they had decided to create their own Dragon of the Month. The magic of the story for me at least was to see a group of girls, take a book they so clearly love and make something original and creative. They made a made project, and NOBODY asked them to! It wasn’t a homework assignment. It wasn’t something they had to make for a book project. This was a dragon born from love of reading, a bunch of trash cardboard, and a big slice of creativity!


I quickly grabbed my cell phone and captured photos of the designers and their Technology Dragon. I sent them back to their after school class and got back to work on my mess with a big smile on my face.


At 4:00, I was still there (although the mess was manageable now) when the girls ran back inside the library again. This time, the dragon was decorated with brightly colored duct tape on the wings and a silvery tape for the body. They found hot pink tape for the tongue and while they only found one wiggly eye, they figured out how to craft another one that looked almost the same. This Dell Technology Dragon had bloomed into a vibrancy all its own. The girls were on cloud 9 too. They showed me the hand signals they created for the dragon (something from the book). They told me about their plans to write to the author and tell him about their dragon.

As they left the room, I was given the responsibility of Dragon-sitting for the evening. In the morning they would be back to bring the dragon to their classroom and show their teacher.

I have a feeling that she is going to have a magical day tomorrow…

iainI hope too, if Iain Reading ever reads this post and finds out how special these students think his book is, that he too will have a magical day as well.

This is the power of books. They can bring the magic out of students in ways you would never believe could happen.


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Breakout to Checkout


Have you heard of BreakoutEDU? I hadn’t before I attended the Microsoft US Forum and ISTE conferences in Denver.

mie denver

Basically this is a game where participants try to break into a locked box using a series of clues. Sometimes the activity is to breakout of a locked room. In either instance, participants have a limited amount of time to solve the clues and open the locks. The game is heavy on problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork.

At the Forum we experienced a BreakoutEDU activity. It was fun and extremely frustrating all at the same time. I remember getting so annoyed that I sat on the perimeter of my group because I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Still I was intrigued by the possibilities enough that I joined the BreakoutEDU Facebook group and became a member of the BreakoutEDU beta group.

All summer I thought about how I could incorporate the breakout experience with an activity at the beginning of the library year.  I read on Library Media Tech Talk what Stony Evans was doing in high school library and thought I could try something similar at the elementary level. There are numerous outstanding games already written, but ultimately I decided to write my own and have the game be the library orientation for the 3rd-5th grade students.20160906_173500291_iOS


You can purchase a BreakoutEDU kit or use the open source list to assemble your own kit. I purchased my own box, locks and got to work designing the lesson. It went through numerous drafts as I needed to have a game for my fixed schedule of 30 minute 3rd grade classes and a different, yet similar one for the 4th and 5th graders. I have 5 classes of 3rd graders and 4 classes of both the 4th and 5th graders. I also have classes that are back-to-back with NO transition time.


Now after playing the game nine times with students, I can say I have no regrets about the amount of work it took because BreakoutEDU was amazingly successful in our library. I still have some classes to go, but this is what I did. The kids have been excited and I’ve received emails from parents sharing how their children went home and talked about the crazy game they played in the library. I also have had requests to share how I did my BreakoutEDU lesson, so here it goes. The photos aren’t fabulous, but I think you can get a good idea of what we did.

Breakout to Checkout Grade 4 & 5

In order to checkout, the students had to break out their check out cards from inside the 4 lock box. I divided the students into four groups of between 5-6 students each. As soon as they sat down I showed the introduction video




As soon as I finished explaining the game, I started the countdown clock. The students had 30 minutes to complete the task. I gave them 1 hint card, but refused to give them a hint when they ran right up to me within a minute or two. Each group was required to rotate through four stations. At each one, they had to find their envelope, read the contents and then go to the next station on their list. They were instructed to bring the envelopes and contents back to their table once they had been to each station.

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At this point they had to use the clues and tools available (black light reader) to figure out the combination of their group’s lock. I did not tell them what tools were available. I started with 4 pens, one at each table, but when they were destroyed, I had a tool sign at the front of the room. Students had to share the one light with one another.


I loved watching how each group dealt with the pen. I had written clues on the final clue paper with invisible ink, so when they shined the light on the paper, they could read the clue. However, that didn’t mean they used it. Quite often the students saw the pen, but ignored it. After they reached frustration level, there was always one person at one group who would discover the power of the light and then their group took off. The other groups would see how peers were using the pen and try it themselves.


Once a lock was removed, I urged those students to split up and help other groups. The goal was very the entire class to succeed, so class teamwork was crucial. When all the locks were removed, I stopped the clock. We then talked about what they learned from this experience. I also had groups who didn’t open the locks in time. They didn’t check out and didn’t fuss or complain. They realized that their inability to think critically or work together was the reason they wouldn’t check out. The lessons they learned from the failure would contribute to success next time.

Because my 3rd graders only come for 30 minutes, I had a 13 minute breakout session. Their clue was at their table. They didn’t have to move around the room. I developed this plan after as a split second adaptation. I had two back to back classes with no transition time. I had the envelopes all set up for the second class hidden under a piece of paper. Well, they weren’t too hidden to one student who proceeded to walk around the library picking everything up and depositing them in a different place. AGH!!!

Even though the 3rd graders didn’t have to walk around the room, they didn’t sail through quickly. One class opened the box with only 18 seconds to spare! They simply had a hard time thinking and problem solving in a team. This is a sample clue letter for the 3rd grade teams.

zebra 3

Will I try this again? Absolutely! I won’t do it every week obviously, but I think I will try to have a session at least once per quarter. The students were engaged in the lesson, learned some content, used critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as cooperative teamwork. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment. Please also share how you might use BreakoutEDU in your library classroom. Let’s learn from each other!

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Advertising Books Thru Media

Since 2012, my 4th grade students have created book trailers for favorite novels.  In the past four years these student trailers have had thousands of views. Video is an amazing way to promote reading and advertise fabulous books to other students.

We’ve also had the ability to connect with students around the world. For the past two years, we’ve partnered with Angels Soriano in Valencia, Spain. This year her students made hand-drawn book trailers of local fairy tales in their native Catalan language. You can view them here.

Here are the latest book trailers we have published. The students made them on Photostory3, which is a Windows 7 program for the PC. I hope they inspire you to go to your local library this summer and check out these books for some fun summer reading!

Dragon of the Red Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne


City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau


People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau


Wonder by RJ Palacio


Nest by Esther Ehrlich


A Dog’s Way Home  by Bobbie Pyron











If you would like to read more about the trailers we have completed in the past with Angels Soriano, this Sway showcases our program in the 2014-15 school year. You can also find our complete list of book trailers at the top of this website on the Book Trailers tab.


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A Year in Review

Have A Happy New Year From #EpicFireworksCreative Commons License Epic Fireworks via Compfight

It’s celebration time! Another year is over. The library is shut down and it’s time for some quiet. Before I forgot what I did this year, I made a Year in Review report using Sway. A friend of mine Sony Evans published his annual report using Sway. I also usually  make a report, and using Sway is a great idea! Thanks for the inspiration Stony!

I happened to finish my report almost a week after school ended, but a late report is better than no report at all.

Now I can concentrate on getting ready for the Microsoft US Forum and ISTE conference in Denver!

Happy summer reading!



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Book Dilemma Solved


Lately I’ve been feeling like this even though I am a librarian. I have a number of bilingual students who would really like to read stories in their native language occasionally. Who wouldn’t? The problem is when they ask ME for that book. There isn’t really a “bilingual section” in the library where I can send students to browse for that just right book. I’ve spent the last 8 months coming up with a whole lot of nothing to offer, except for a couple translated Dr. Seuss books.

Out of the blue, our ELL teacher asked me if it would be okay for her to purchase some bilingual books and donate them to the library. What? Was I hearing that right? She would spend her PTSA money and give us the books? I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Then last week I went searching for a favorite Cinderella book, only to find that the 398.2 section was a miserable mess. The next day, I took every fairy tale book off the shelves, did a fast and furious weeding of the most ugly and awful books, and re-shelved everything. It was four hours of singing the alphabet song through dust and stinky pages. Definitely not fun. At times I felt like I was buried in the stinky book muck.


Not my library, but how it feels to weed a collection sometimes!

What did I discover in the process? A whole bunch of bilingual fairy tale books! I was delighted by the news. Granted some kids don’t consider fairy tale books the top-tier of reading, but I had at least something more than Green Eggs and Ham to offer my bilingual students. Plus those new ones were arriving soon. Things were great, until they weren’t.

What would I do with them?  Where would I put everybody and non-fiction bilingual fairy tales where they could be found together easily and logically by students? I decided to ask Mary Schroeder, my “Batwoman” a librarian friend who also ponders the answers to these types of questions. Her answer? Put them in the 400’s – the language section. That’s what she has been doing. Language dictionaries, children’s stories and fairy tales will be shelved together by language in the 400’s.

Easy. Problem solved. Whew! Is it June 16th yet?

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Surface to the Rescue

Every teacher knows how frustrating it is to teach at the front of the room, tethered to the computer without ability to move around freely.  Sometimes you need to walk around the room and help students, without having the lesson come to a complete stop. Not any more, at least not for me! My FREE new Surface Pro4 is here to rescue me!


Yes, I did say FREE. In December I submitted my application to become part of the 2016 MIE Surface program. The purpose of the program is to learn and share how the Surface and digital inking can evolve the teaching and classroom experience at Cougar Ridge Elementary. In early March I received the news that my application was approved.

MIE Surface Expert email signature - large

In late April my Surface Education Training Kit arrived. I put the box at the front of the library and waited to see if any of the students noticed.

One class came and left. Not.a.word. The next group of 5th graders came in. Within 15 minutes one of the girls asked me what was inside the box. A couple other students asked too. They got to be the ones to open the box. They were even more excited than I was!


The box was filled with the typical promotional goodies like posters and a wrist bracelet USB filled with information I will be able to use in the classroom.



Want to know the VERY  best part?  I am able to  connect my Surface to my projector. What’s more – I did it myself. Once our district tech person gave me the directions, I was determined to figure it out. It took me an hour, and some frustrating moments, but as you can see, IT WORKS!



Having the ability to move around the room, between tables and anywhere I want with a device is priceless. I don’t do it for every class, but love the ability to use it as I need it.

Am I an expert? No way. I’m working through the tutorials, so I’m definitely not an “expert” by any stretch. However, I am learning from the Microsoft materials, colleagues, social media groups, Surface group connection calls, and from good old trial and error. I like it. A LOT! Especially the new digital pen. I’ll have more stories coming in the months to follow, but right now I am one happy Surface educator! Thank you Microsoft!


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Become a Microsoft Expert Educator

If you’ve read my blog very much, you already know that I’ve been part of the Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator program since 2012. I firmly believe that I would not be the teacher I am today with the skills I have developed without this program. I connect with educator friends both in the US and around the world. No you won’t get paid with dollars, but you will get paid with amazing experiences that will change your life both professionally and personally.



The Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator program is an exclusive program created to “recognize global educator visionaries who are using technology to pave the way for their peers for better learning and student outcomes.”

22 crazy teachers

What do MIEs do? We work closely with Microsoft to lead innovation in education. We give feedback on new products and tools. We advocate for effective use of technology in the classroom. We collaborate to develop new lessons and project ideas that bring promote optimal student learning. We develop life-long friendships. And often we have fun!

The self-nomination applications for 2016-2017 are now open! I urge you to view this Sway and find out more about the program and then send in that application. Find all the details and the application you need by clicking here. If you have questions, please contact me. I would be happy to answer any of your questions.


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Learning without Borders

This has been a very special couple of weeks for our books to Africa program.Our international reading project was featured in the first issue of Microsoft’s Innovative Educator magazine last week. This magazine is filled with stories, tips and helpful information from teachers. Our article is on page 35 and showcases the impact this project has had on  the teachers and students receiving these books.


Technology really works wonders with tearing down the classroom walls and bringing the world inside our classrooms. Last week we Skyped with some of the students at Pula Madibogo Primary School. We shared facts, we had an impromptu recorder mini-concert and students shared poetry they had written.
Seeing the faces of the students 10,000 miles away made the connection personal and real for the students on both sides of the world. Suddenly they understood how relevant our project is and how we both benefit from it.

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Next week we are Skyping with Thejane Malakane in Maseru, Lesotho using his mobile phone. He doesn’t have internet at his school, but he doesn’t let that inconvenience stop him. A phone with a camera can bring us together as well. In a few days 300 more books will arrive at Thejane’s school where the students will use them for lessons and free reading. It would be quite the miracle if they arrived in time for us to  see his students open these boxes.

good box

I sent off 4 boxes on April 30th.   As you can see below, the box went from Issaquah, to Kent, to New York, then Dubai, Johannesburg and hopefully to Maseru for its final stop. The tracking information is so helpful because I can see where the boxes are, if they are together and when they arrived at the destination. Sometimes communication between the post office and the schools needs a boost, so I try to let teachers know when the books are there.

world maplines
tracking a package

Whether they get there in time for our call or not, we are having a great time packing up and sending off the boxes. We raised about $1500 and roughly speaking that means we will be able to send about 1500 books this year. Since our program started I estimate we have sent about 6,000 books to Africa. We are changing lives one book at a time!


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