classroom activities

Urban Ecoystems

I went out on a nature journaling expedition with Davis Magnet School fourth graders yesterday. Several kids in each class noticed this. One sketched it. Another called me over. We wondered what on earth it was.

kids found this

Another fourth grader noticed this one.
kids found

We were in the Mississippi Museum of Art‘s Art Garden, gathering information for our series of Davis Field Guides to the Art Garden. The students had clipboards, “instant book” journals (see my post), and pencils.

Next week, the fourth graders will be back in the garden with clipboards, journals, pencils, cameras, and a set of published field guides for reference (we’re using Kaufman field guides to birds, insects, butterflies, and an Alabama and Mississippi Gardener’s Guide co-authored by Felder Rushing).

After Wednesday’s session, I went over to Eudora Welty Library and checked out two visual field guides to mushrooms, which I sent to Davis this morning with one of my neighbors who teaches there. So, I know what is in the two photographs above, but I am counting on the fourth graders to find out for themselves.

fourth grader nature journaling

In addition to journaling with me in the garden, the fourth graders had a guided tour of the Mississippi Story with Elizabeth Williams, curator of education, and a drawing lesson with Carol Cox Peaster, the art garden coordinator. Specifically, Williams talked with students about Bill Dunlap’s Flat Out Dog Trot and Carol Cole’s Jackson, MS as examples of landscapes and cityscapes.
e williams with fourth graders
Here are some of Williams’s comments: “It was interesting to see how the students who had been outside and had already used their journal, got out their sketchbooks and began writing everything they saw in the works of art. They were very perceptive and each group noticed very different things about each of the painting. Lastly, we took a look at the four Walter Anderson’s on the walls and tried to develop a pool of words that could be used to describe Anderson’s style. Some students interpreted his word as “bright” “energetic” and “creative”, while others noticed some of the cooler colors he used that might be interpreted as sad or gloomy. All of the students noted that the work was not very realistic.”
hands upHere is Peaster teaching the drawing class.

Carol Cox Peaster leading drawing classIvy Alley, curator of education, docents and volunteers at the museum, led a tour of the art in the Art Garden.

sculptureDuring our last sesion at the museum, the fourth graders brainstormed about the topics they might choose for their Davis Field Guides to the Art Garden.

brainstorming report

Thank you, Beth West, Davis’ IB Coordinator, and Kacy Hellings, Davis’ Librarian, and Julian Rankin, the museum’s public relations coordinator for taking photographs. You can see Rankin’s Facebook album of images here.

Thank you, fourth grade teachers, Jalesha Cross and Jordan Gunther, for guiding students; and two parents who came along as chaperones. We are grateful for the help.

Photo Math

My second school-based project this month involves teaching third graders to use digital photography to illustrate math stories. I began by reading Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature in each class, and then I talked about my process — from idea to publication. I showed them early (and awful) drafts, described my breakthrough on layout, my complete re-write, and the photography.

Sarah Campbell school visit

As noted in my previous post, I am working with Beth West, IB Coordinator at Davis Magnet School, to develop a lesson plan for a presentation we are giving at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in Philadelphia in April. Two books that have helped us a lot was we’ve developed our unit are Math is Language Too: Talking and Writing in the Mathematics Classroom and New Visions for Linking Literature and Mathematics by David J. Whitin and Phyllis Whitin.

The Davis third graders will work in groups to make photo-illustrated books about patterns or measurement. Our primary model texts are: Growing Patterns and For Good Measure by Ken Robbins.

We will ask our students to write regularly in their math journals about the project. Beth and I are very interested in seeing how the students make sense of the pattern and measurement concepts and the book-making process. I will write regular updates here to let you know how the process is going.

Putting Plans Into Action

I mentioned last week that I’m working with the Mississippi Museum of Art and Davis Magnet School to develop a lesson plan that will get students engaged in science, writing, photography, and art. I’ve been working with Elizabeth Williams, curator of education at the museum; Jalisha Cross and Jordan Gunther, the two fourth grader teachers at Davis; and Beth West, the IB Coordinator at Davis.planning curriculumPhotographs of planning meetings are never very exciting, but we did good work that day. We made books, practiced nature journaling, set up dates for further contact sessions with students. These include times when I will guide the students in photographing the museum’s garden and when Ginger Williams Cook, the museum’s master teaching artist, will guide two sessions on creating watercolors from sketches in their nature journals.



During the final week before the break, I visited both fourth grade classes to introduce the lesson and to talk about my book, Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator.

sarah talking about storyboarding

sarah with wolfsnail book

Fibonacci Folding Book Examples

Now, for the teachers from the other side of the room… Julie took these with her camera and I downloaded them from her flickr album. I trimmed a little here and there so you can see the books. Once again, I tip my hat to the creativity of these teachers.




ex 5

ex 6

ex 7
ex 8
ex 9
ex 10
ex 11

ex 13

x 14

x 15





NSTA Annual Conference

I blogged about my school visits in the San Francisco area, but once I moved on to the NSTA conference, I stopped posting updates. There were a few reasons for this: First, I moved into The Palace Hotel and they charged for internet in the rooms (I still don’t understand why budget hotels provide free internet and breakfast and so-called luxury hotels charge through the nose for both). Second, I was working from breakfast to supper and falling asleep after a few clicks of my Kindle.

Boyds Mills Press rented a corner booth in the conference exhibit hall and my editor, Andy Boyles (pictured above helping M. make a Fibonacci Folding Book), and I were responsible for greeting conferees. Andy arranged display copies of all of BMP’s science titles around the walls of the booth. We set up a table in the front of the booth with display copies of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I put out my two mini-quilts (here and here), some private eye loupes, a pinecone, a nautilus shell, a sample Fibonacci Folding Book, and a stack of my postcards. I’ve gone to two other national conferences, the 2009 American Library Association meeting in Chicago and the 2010 International Reading Association convention (also in Chicago). In those cases, I was one of many BMP authors and illustrators who signed books. I was scheduled for an hour on each day. This time, I was signing all day every day. We left the booth only for three presentations (two featured information about 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books) and a lunch meeting. I met lots of interesting people — some who teach science to kids, others who teach teachers how to teach science to kids, and people who work with organizations that promote science education.

We sold all the copies of Growing Patterns that BMP shipped and could have sold at least a dozen more. It helped that many teachers had seen the feature article about the 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 in Science & Children, NSTA’s magazine for elementary school teachers. Andy and I had a great time having lunch with current, former, and future members of the Outstanding Science Trade Book selection committee, including Suzanne Flynn, J. Carrie Launius, Betty Crocker, Steve Rich, Karen Ostlund, Kristin Rearden, and Juliana Texley. We also met Lauren Jonas and Emily Brady, who are on staff at NSTA and help coordinate the NSTA Recommends program and the OSTB list. We learned about the process and met some great people. Most of them seem to be on their second or third career. They started in classrooms teaching kids and then went into either administration or into teaching teachers at the college or post-graduate level.

They had stories about using trade books in classrooms. Juliana told me about the time she took flowers on an airplane so she could use them in a presentation about my book. They didn’t like the dry environment and shriveled beyond use. She had to hit a grocery store for replacements. One plant she bought was a peace lily (featured in the book to illustrate 1). When it was time to go home, she put it in her suitcase. “I threw some clothes away and made room for it,” she said. “It’s still doing fine.”

Right after lunch, I participated in a session featuring the 2011 NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books led by some of the teachers at the luncheon. Other authors with winning books who participated were: Debbie S. Miller, who wrote Survival at 40 Below, and Seymour Simon, who wrote Global Warming.

The final session Andy and I attended was led by Seymour Simon and centered on the changes in children’s book publishing being driven by electronic devices. Simon and his wife, Liz Nealon, who has worked in many creative capacities over the years including with Sesame Street, talked about the growing numbers of children and families who have access to electronic reading devices such as Kindles, iPads, Nooks, iPhones, etc. Simon demonstrated how he has begun publishing some of his out-of-print titles in electronic format. His talk was very inspiring and I left there thinking about how I could get some e-publishing going.

I mentioned it to Richard when I got home and he’s spent a good amount of time this week building an iPhone app for Wolfsnail. How cool is that?!

Guest Post on Cynsations

Today I am a guest on Cynsations, where I write about how I developed educational materials for my books. Come on over. I have a special treat for the next month.

another book

New Ideas for Teaching With Wolfsnail

ws geisel coverAuthor Melissa Stewart blogged today about a great way to use Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator in classrooms.

Stewart suggested pairing it with The Snail’s Spell by Joanna Ryder. See the whole post here. (I love the idea of the predator and prey game.)

Stewart has a bunch of other Perfect Pairs on her website in the teachers’ resource section.

Please let me know if you have come up with interesting ways of using Wolfsnail or Growing Patterns in your classroom.

My Classroom Projects

Sarah reading Growing Patterns at St. ThereseAs a teaching artist, I am excited about the new school year. I am scheduling traditional author visits, but I am also scheduling a few longer residencies. Tuesday, I will join other Jackson-area artists and arts organizations in meeting with elementary school faculty and principals committed to integrating the arts into everyday academic instruction. This group is the Ask for More Arts Collaborative, a program of Parents for Public Schools of Jackson. I will offer my services through the AFMA JumpstART program.

St. Therese Student Share Fibonacci Folding BookIn collaboration with teachers and a librarian friend, I have designed two projects that combine writing and photography. They are: The Fibonacci Folding Book Project and [Your School] on the Map. Regular blog readers will have followed the development of these projects. Julie Owen, librarian at St. Therese Catholic School, helped develop the Fibonacci Folding Book Project. It is a companion to Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.

Student photographer composes imageSecond grade teachers at Davis Magnet School, most notably Beth West, helped develop Davis on the Map, or [Your School] on the Map. You may click on the “Davis on the Map” category to the right to read about this project. Both of these projects feature the study of the work of a master artist, the opportunity for students to create original artwork, and an exploration of the program’s theme (Community: A Sense of Place.) Each meets curriculum objectives in the visual arts and several academic areas.

Book Party for St. Therese Authors

Today I attended a book party for the St. Therese Catholic School fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who made Fibonacci Folding Books. Click here to read about the pilot project we did earlier this spring with St. Therese third graders.

Librarian Julie Owen stacked all the books on her display steps. The impact upon entering the library was impressive.
Stack of Fibonacci Books

In addition to listening to the authors read their work, we enjoyed fresh fruit on skewers, speared in Fibonacci patterns. (This was Julie’s idea and it was the perfect finale for a fabulous project.)
skewers and fruit for fibonacci
Students Make Fibonacci Treats

Davis Neighborhood Photos and an Exhibit

Spring brings sunshine, flowers, recitals, and exhibits. On Friday, Richard and I will attend the Opening Reception for the JumpstART project. My participation in JumpstART this year was at McLeod Elementary School. I worked with 5th grade students to photograph and research living things in the Schoolyard. (Read previous posts here.) With generous support from the Beth Israel Congregation, an adopter of McLeod, we enlarged five photographs for display. The students compiled the rest of the photographs with titles and captions into the first McLeod Schoolyard Field Guide. See the photos in a gallery on my website.

In addition to the work with McLeod, I returned to Davis Magnet School for a second year of Davis on the Map. Instead of being paid through JumpstART, the Davis Magnet principal and second grade team found separate grant funding to pay for my time. (You can read about this project in these previous posts.) You can see some of the photographs I took below. I have the students’ photographs in galleries on my main website.


Amy Lancaster Answering the Door

Visit the JumpstART exhibit at the Mississippi Art Center from Saturday, April 17, through Friday, April 30.