Chop, Chop, Chop!

How are you at using Chopsticks? We got some great practice last week after we read the book Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. This book about how two chopsticks learn about independence  when one chopstick breaks his “stick” and then can’t do everything with his partner while he’s resting and healing. It’s a book about chopsticks, friendship, independence and learning new skills.


Chopsticks is book one in our six week Amy Krouse Rosenthal author study. Amy was chosen as the featured author in the 2015 Global Read Aloud program. This project started October 5th 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.

During the project, our class will be reading and connecting with students around the world who are reading the same book.  We will use technology tools such as Twitter and this blog to facilitate these connections and conversations.

The founder, Permille Ripp, a teacher in Wisconsin, started “GRA” in 2010 with one goal in mind: Connect the world with one book. Now it’s grown to over 500,000 children in 60+ countries around the world.  This project will allow for our students to use technology tools in a meaningful way, as well as learn about other cultures, all while listening to a fantastic read aloud.

Our school is one of the red markers hovering over Washington. There is only 1 marker per state or country. Each week we will be reading one of the selected picture books and then connecting with other classrooms around the world via Twitter. Students will get an authentic global experience by talking about books with other librarians and students.

Speaking of connections – we have a new school Twitter account! This account is only for our library classroom use only. If you are a family member,  teacher or librarian with a designated library/classroom account, please follow us. Search for @CRidgeLibrary and you will see our #GRA15 updates live from our library.


Families who would like to participate at home can also join the GRA movement. I highly suggest you visit the Global Read Aloud website. You will find the books chosen per grade level and connections you can make with the books and sometimes the authors.

Happy Reading!

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Intro to Makerspaces


Our students had their first introduction to Makerspaces in the Library. Makerspace in the library is all about dreaming, creating and inventing. The activities focus on  Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art and Math.  Think Legos, K’Nex, Cardboard creations, origami, LED light crafts, 3D MagnaTiles. Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher on Twitter, recently published an article Essential Information on Maker Movement on her blog explaining what the Makerspace Movement is all about.   Sylvia Martinez, coauthor of Invent to Learn, also believes libraries are perfect places for makerspaces. Students can come to a safe learning environment and have the freedom to create and experiment.

This is our first year with Makerspaces in my new library, but my second year using it as a librarian. You can read more about other blog posts here, here and here. In our introductory experience, I opened stations with 3D MagnaTiles, Legos, Snap Circuits, Coding, Magformers, Ozobot Mini-robot, and plastic cups. Students listened to the story Press Here by Herve Tullet, which is such an amazing example of creativity and simplicity in early children’s literature,and then they had time for Makerspace and check out time. Here are some images from the week.image image image image










Judging from the enthusiasm of the students all week, Makerspaces will be a fun learning addition to our library curriculum.

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Book Care Funny Videos


Hurray! Everyone is checking out library books and taking them home to read. We have also been learning about book care rules to make sure they don’t get damaged when they go home. To help out, the second graders made some Sock Puppet and ChatterPix videos in the iPad. We hope you enjoy our latest funny book care videos!

Keep your books away from siblings!

Keep your books out of the rain!

Please don’t take your library books outside on the playground!

Please don’t eat near your books!

Please don’t step on your books!

Keep your books away from little sisters!

Thank you second graders for helping us learn these important rules!

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A Dot-Art-a-licious Week



We made our Dot Art Mark last week in grades K-5 to celebrate #dotday15! During International Dot Day or week, children all over the world read the book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds and celebrated what makes them unique and creative. Over a million children in countries around the globe took part in this fun reading activity. Many of our blogging buddies participated around the country and in other nations including Mrs. Camp in Texas, Mrs. Monaghan in Middleham, England, and Mrs. Moore in Michigan.

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In library class we read The Dot and then the students in each grade learned about a different artist. After the mini-lesson, the students imitated that style of art to create their own awesome dot.




We also had a special guest Ms. Bower from New Zealand visit our library during Dot Week. Ms.Bower has met Peter H. Reynolds many times and enjoyed reading The Dot to some classes with her Kiwi accent!


This week in class, the first graders will be viewing the dots made by the students in our partner library in Texas. Mrs. Camp, the librarian at Benfer Elementary, and I have been collaborating on various activities in recent years, but this is the first time we have shared Bobcat Dot Day art! Since I moved schools, we are now both Bobcats. It will be fun learning how to make quality comments on their blog. They even learned The Dot song by Emily Arrows and Peter H. Reynolds.



Still wondering about that book? Watch Peter H. Reynolds read his book on this video.

We are all so talented in ways we don’t even realize. Let me know in a comment how you are special, creative and talented. How are YOU making your mark on the world today?

make your mark

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It’s a New School and New Year!


Greetings from my new school! I have a slightly new name for my blog to incorporate the mascot for my new school. The Bulldog Readers would like to welcome the Bobcats to this blog! We are going to read and learn together this year. Thank you to Summer M. Tribble for the Creative Commons photo of these bobcat kittens. “Bobcat-Texas-9110” by Summer M. Tribble (daughter of David R. Tribble) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –


Our first mission is participating in International Dot Day. All week we are celebrating the fabulous book The Dot by Peter Reynolds and taking on the challenge of making our mark and seeing where it takes us.


In my next post I will show some of our art in Dot Day style!

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All endings are beginnings


It never fails to be true. Life happens. Not always the way you planned.


Most of you know I spent three weeks in South Africa this summer visiting the schools where we send books for our Books to Africa project. The trip was life-changing for me. In both of the impoverished schools I visited, the only books the children had to read were the ones we have sent. The impact our students are making on the education of these children is real.

If you would like to read more, I published a post on the Bulldog Reader Blog The principal at Pula Madibogo Primary School  also published a video on YouTube about our experience there together.  I left South Africa inspired to do more for these children.

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On the way home however, my life took an unexpected turn. I received an invitation to come back to teach in the Issaquah School district. When you are squished like a sardine in the back of a plane for 14 hours, you have a lot of time to think. I love teaching at Bell. I love the students. I love the staff. I love the parents and Bell community. Sadly, one thing stands in the way – my commute. Driving to school from Sammamish has been taking up to 1 hour each way. The day after I returned home, I applied for the position.


Last week I accepted the offer to be the new librarian at Cougar Ride Elementary School. They are looking forward to adopting the Books to Africa program into their school activities as well. As sad as I am to leave Bell, the decision to teach in my home district feels right. If circumstances were different, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post.

Working with all of you at Bell has made the days and years fly by. You have always supported my ideas to make the library a great place for kids to learn. Bell has a fantastic community of readers. I learned the ropes of librarianship at Bell and will cherish the memories from my years there.

I know another librarian will come to Bell who is the perfect match for the school. This person will be your new beginning. After all, all stories have a beginning, middle and an end. I hope the Books to Africa will continue at Bell as well.

Thank you for being part of my story. Check back to this blog too. It may make some kind of transition, but it’s not ending.

Mrs. Hembree

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10 Takeaways from My Literacy trip to South Africa

IMG_5578I spent countless hours reading to my daughter and showing her by example how joyful reading can be. She is now what I call a joyful 21st century reader. She reads eBooks while exercising on the treadmill. I still sit with my hardcopy book on the couch because I need to touch the pages. What we have in common is experiences with reading because it’s a valued part of our family’s culture.One of the greatest trips of my life ended a week ago when I returned from a three week trip visiting our Books to Africa partnership schools in South Africa. Adjectives like amazing, extraordinary and life-changing only begin to describe my reaction to this experience. Instead of searching for more descriptive words, I thought I’d list my top 10 takeaways of my literacy trip.

1. South African people are generous and caring.

When I began planning this trip from home, my partner teachers quickly stepped in with ideas of where to stay and what to do. Once I landed on South African soil, I was overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of everyone I met. From the owners of the guest lodges where I stayed to the teachers who took care of me – everyone stepped way beyond the boundaries of being nice. The side trips to Soweto and the Lion Park, the authentic dinners in teachers’ homes, the trip to see the Natal Midlands and Nelson Mandela’s Capture site, the visit to the Indian Market and beach front in Durban and the extraordinary weekend at the game park each contributed to making my experience epic and came from the generosity of those incredible teachers.

2. Students are the same throughout the world.

When I visited each school, I thought the same thing. The only thing that separates students in South Africa with ones in the US is geography and circumstances. No matter where I went, I found students who wanted to learn. They listened to stories or watched book trailers with the same enthusiasm as my students at home. I think actually I saw more students interested in doing their best school than students at home because of their difficult circumstances. Students who live in extreme poverty know education is their key to a better life.

3. Teachers deserve medals for their efforts.

I visited two very impoverished schools in South Africa – one in the Limpopo Province and the other in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Teachers in both schools handle overcrowded classrooms on a daily basis. Here we complain bitterly when our class sizes reach 30-35. There I taught in classrooms where the average was 60 students per classroom. One class had 78 children squeezed into a room build for 30 students. How do you maintain control, teach effectively and find the time to assess all these children? How do you know your students as unique individuals when they are one in 60? I’m still looking for the answer to that question.

4. Inequality of school conditions is astounding.

I wish I could say it didn’t exist, but from my experience I saw a huge discrepancy between the conditions of schools in town and in rural townships. Apartheid has been over since 1994, but this country is divided into two parts -those with and those without. Schools in rural areas have old buildings with broken windows and floors with holes you have to side-step to get inside the classroom. In the city I saw schools with interactive whiteboards and large inside lunchrooms. In the rural countryside, teachers still use chalkboards and the support staff cook lunch outside in open flame kitchens. I heard teachers from both sides of the line say it’s hard for every child to have a high quality education when the conditions of schools are so different.

5. Teachers inspire learning by example.

My friend and principal, Phuti Ragophala has a saying at her school: Make Every child a Star. When her school opened in 1966, it had 66 students, 4 classrooms and 2 teachers. Now in 2015, it has 1252 students, 21 classrooms and 34 teachers. The classrooms are crowded, but the children hear every day that they are valued – that they are each a star in their own right. Teachers inspire their students with how they dress, walk, talk and teach. They are grooming stars and future leaders and take this job seriously.

6. Reading for enjoyment is a new concept.

I spent countless hours reading to my daughter and showing her by example how joyful reading can be. She is now what I call a joyful 21st century reader. She reads eBooks while exercising on the treadmill. I still sit with my hardcopy book on the couch because I need to touch the pages. What we have in common is experiences with reading because it’s a valued part of our family’s culture. However, the concept of reading for enjoyment seemed to be new to the children I worked with. Their cultures emphasize oral storytelling, and having books at home to read for enjoyment is vastly different from reading a workbook to complete homework assignment. When I read stories aloud to children in the classrooms or outside on the terrace, the children were hungry for more. Children need and want stories.

7. The children need books for their school libraries.

My school has sent hundreds of books to the children at our partner schools. Naively, I thought these would supplement the books they already had in their libraries. Nope, nada, not even close. There are no other books. At one school, I discovered the library in plastic tubs in the school office. The only books they have are the ones we’ve sent over the past 18 months. It’s hard to create a reading climate when you don’t have books to read. The teachers are embracing the idea that “Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.”

8. Teachers want to learn new teaching techniques.

I was nervous about whether teachers would accept me as an equal when I visited their schools. I didn’t want to go in as the American know-it-all and alienate my peers. What happened is the teachers asked me for ideas on how to use story books in lessons. They asked me for tips on integrating technology in schools with limited technology and internet access. They asked me how they could use the materials given to them by the government because they hadn’t had training on how to implement them in the classroom. In most cases, the teachers asked to see different teaching techniques. You can’t change if you aren’t given the tools. The teachers want the tools.

9. This program needs to grow.

As I left one of the schools, a couple teachers and many students said something that’s ingrained in my memory. “Don’t go home and forget us. We need your help!” Our work in these specific schools is having an amazing impact on their education. Somehow, I need to grow the program, so we can send them more reading materials. I’m a teacher, not a fundraising guru, so I definitely need advice and help from others on how to make our Books to Africa more impactful. If you have ideas, please share them!

 10. Animals are amazing.

I saved the animal take-away for last because it was the last thing I did in South Africa. Rod and Desire Dunstone with Louise MacLeod, three of those generous people from lesson #1, took me for a weekend to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. These two reserves have over 120,000 acres of land for animals to live and roam naturally. Rod drove us for hours down the red-dirt roads and patiently stopped every time I squealed, “Stop! I need a picture please.” I was overjoyed with every rhino, giraffe, elephant, buffalo, warthog, zebra and antelope sighting. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go to a zoo again after seeing giraffes nonchalantly eat leaves from a tree only a few feet away from our vehicle. Between the Lion Park in Johannesburg and this game park, I was able to see 4 of the African Big 5 animals: lion, elephant, buffalo, and rhino. Maybe next time I’ll see a leopard!

Yes, this trip is one I will never forget. I just don’t want to call it a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip because I want to go back. Here is a short video of the highlights.

Phuti Ragophala, Principal of Pula Madibogo Primary School in Limpopo Province, also made a video of our collaboration.

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Who’s in the cage now?

This morning I finally got to see our teaching partner from Lesotho again! Thejane, his wife Sophia and darling daughter met me for coffee and conversation.
It’s clear that teachers are the same everywhere. We care about our students and think about how to make lessons better.
When I learned that Thejane’s school not only does have heat, there’s no electricity either. He’s trying to convince officials to bring electricity there, but so far nothing happens. So, he brings technology tools to his students via his personal laptop and phone. When teachers are motivated, nothing stops innovation.
In the afternoon I went on a mini-safari drive at the Gauteng Lion Park. I learned it’s considered one of the top 100 tourist sites in the world.
I joined a group of others on a truck with steel caged walls and a solid steel top. We were sternly instructed to keep our hands and cameras inside at all times. It was quite a role reversal being the cage one in a lion park!
I couldn’t believe I was only a few feet away from lions chewing on their afternoon snack. We also saw zebras, wildebeests, springboks and African wild dogs which are quite endangered now.
What a way to spend a Saturday!





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Soweto: A City of Contrasts


Hurray! The waiting is over – I’m in South Africa! It was a challenging trip to be sure. The first leg from Seattle to Dubai was 14 hours of flight time, plus the two hours of being at the airport waiting to get on the plane. Leg number two consisted of 4 hours sitting around the Dubai airport and 8 more hours flying to Johannesburg. You can do the math, it’s a long trip. However, something quite magical happened in Seattle. I was upgraded to Business Class on the 14 hour flight with Emirates. A seat that lays out like a bed, white linen meals, a large TV screen – in other words all the comforts of home on a plane. I got it for FREE! If I never experience business class seating again, I am beyond thankful that I had the chance on a 14 hour flight!
So, now I’m here in Johannesburg and the first day in, I hit the ground running.  Johan who owns African Timeout Tours gave me a private tour around the sprawlingly massive series of townships collectively called Soweto (South West Townships). Most Westerners looking in with only media hype as their frame of reference, view Soweto as a dangerous place of squalid living conditions. Yes, there are shacks and you will see women washing their laundry outside in a large basin, but that really isn’t the norm.

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Mandela House3

What is in Soweto is a vibrant community of people, many of whom could live in other neighborhoods, but choose to live in Soweto because of its sense of community. Generations of black people have lived there from the gold rush era of the late 1880’s to now. This area is best well known for being at the forefront of the struggle against Apartheid. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world where two Nobel Peach Prize winners lived (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu).


We visited Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, home of the Freedom Charter monuments. Parts of the square were brand new and I enjoyed holding hands with Nelson Mandela.

Orlando Towers

All day long we drove to the historical places that make Soweto so famous – Orlando Towers, the Mandela House Museum, and the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum, named after the 13 year old boy who was shot dead by the apartheid police with hundreds of other school children during the protests of June 1976.

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The history lesson was great, but my favorite portions of the day were witnessing everyday life in Soweto and having lunch with the locals. In the northern suburbs of Joburg, you don’t see many people walking around. Huge walls loom everywhere and it feels closed to me as a community. In contrast, when driving around Soweto people are everywhere.


Whether they are selling their wares at an outside shop,  walking to buy groceries, visiting with friends, working or  taking the infamous taxi vans with the complicated hand signal system to work, you see people who give off the vibe of optimism and hope.


Every house was a wall just like in the suburbs, but the walls don’t close people off from one another. It’s equally possible to see tin shacks with goats grazing nearby and then drive a block and view large affluent brick  homes with children playing with their iPad in the front. Apartment buildings are not common, and some of them are brand new, empty and waiting for tenants. My understanding is that most people want to own their own house on their own piece of land.

Wandi's place4

We had a buffet lunch at Wandi’s Place. Wandi is a shrewd business man who has built up a very popular restaurant, but has also worked to improve the infrastructure of the area with new sidewalks, school upgrades and a neighborhood park. Lunch was typical South African food and we sat at tables covered with white linen.

Freedome charter monument1

Reflecting on my day in Soweto, I realized that the experience was nothing like I anticipated. I hopped into the tour van with preconceived notions, and returned hours later with a new sense of life  in Soweto. Like anywhere else, it’s complicated.

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Tech Tools in my Backpack






It won’t be long now until I fly off  to South Africa for three weeks and visit the schools where we send books in our Books to Africa program. In my last post I listed the books that absolutely must go in my suitcase. I hope to read most of them with the students I meet and most of the  books will live in a South African school permanently.

For the past few weeks I have been researching, asking fellow educators and using my experience to decide what technology tools I need to make this trip more efficient and less stressful. I was inspired by Kurt Soser, a Microsoft Expert Educator from Austria, who wrote a post in April “Traveling Geek Style” listing what he was bringing on his trip to the E2 conference in Redmond. I’d never used some of the tools he was bringing and I was curious to learn if I needed to take some of his advice.




A few dollars later, I think I have what I need. I love, love, love my Asus laptop computer. It’s fast, has a touch screen and Win 8.1. When I bought it three years ago, I thought it was a lightweight laptop and perfect for traveling. A few years later, cool tablets running 8.1 arrive on the scene and suddenly my laptop feels like it’s heavier than a boat anchor. I already have an iPad, but I don’t use it for heavy-lifting computing. Thank you Microsoft for timing the arrival of the Surface 3 to coincide with this trip! I now have what I need for presentations, blogging, video creating and reading. I can use my Bluetooth mouse and my digital pen.

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One frustration I have had traveling and attending conferences is battery life – or the lack thereof. Inevitably my tablet or iPad or iPhone runs out of battery in a place where I have no access to electricity. With a 26 hour travel time between Seattle and Johannesburg, I knew I needed to address this problem next. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a powerbank until I read Kurt’s post. Ta-da! Battery recharging to the rescue. The TechNet Powerbank has 15000 mAh, so if all the reviewers are right on Amazon, this has enough juice to recharge my Surface with no problem. The small RavPower recharger fits in my purse and is perfect for pumping up my phone when I’m on the run.

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I love to take photos, but prefer to travel light. As much as I would love to use a nice beafy camera with a big lens for super shots, I’m not ready for that stage yet. A camera shoved in a pocket or small purse works just fine for me. Between the Sony, Canon and iPhone, I should be great in the photo department. The Surface and iPad also have cameras, so if I have any photo issues, it’s my own fault. An extra SD card or two and a mini-tripod and I’m all set.

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Where there are electronics, there are cords. Masses of cords, cables, VGA adapters, plug-adapters, earphones, etc. Why can’t one kind of cord work to recharge everything? Is it really that hard? I understand the need for the country plug-adapter, but do there have to be so many? What works in the US or Europe doesn’t work in Africa or Asia. Go figure.

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The assortment of electronics opens up the problem of how to travel with it all and not loose something. I’ve lumped everything together in one bag before, but spent too much time sorting through the mess to find what I needed. I don’t know where I saw it, but somewhere in my research I stumbled across bags to organize all the cords, plugs, tablets, powerbanks, etc. Just what I needed! Of course when you call it an electronics accessories travel organizer, the price is $20.00 or more. If you call it a purse organizer, then the price goes down to under $10, it’s lightweight, fits the tablets, all the accessories, and fits inside  one section of a backpack. I’m pretty excited about this solution by Hoxis!

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Between the books and the tech, I think I’m ready for this travel party to get started! I’d better not forget to charge everything up first. If you have any other suggestions, let me know. I’m still wondering where those clothes are going to fit though!


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