The 13 Story Tree House

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” -Dr. Seuss


Using the new tree blocks to make a 13 story treehouse and pathway leading up to it

Our engineering challenge this week was for students to build a treehouse that was 13 stories high and sturdy enough that the “big bad wolf” couldn’t blow it down.

This wasn’t something that came easy to them. They had to use their problem solving skills to figure out how to build a 13 story treehouse that could stand alone.

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Cameran’s treehouse kept falling down, so he was really excited when he finally got it to stand up!

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Kids started to collaborate and help each other. They gave each other feedback and we heard them telling each other that, “Your foundation isn’t strong enough” or “You need to make this part sturdier.” Many kids had to start over, while others had an easier time. The students who finished their 13 stories then went around and helped their friends.

Many of the students got frustrated when their treehouse kept falling down, so we talked about the importance of perseverance and not giving up even when things are hard. That is one of our school’s core values that we have been working on. We wanted to give them this experience so that as they are learning to read, they have started to develop the perseverance and grit they need to succeed. Click here to read more about grit, why it is important, and how it helps kids

We read Jack and Jill Build a Treehouse, we looked at the book Treehouses of the World, and finished reading the 13 story treehouse. This is a chapter book. Students listen to a read-aloud for 30 minutes each day after lunch. Research states that reading books aloud that are above students’ grade level out loud for half an hour each day helps to increase their vocabulary, comprehension, and reading stamina so our students will become lifelong readers. (Click here to read about the research)

This week, students are going to start building their model treehouse out of popsicle sticks and other materials. They will be doing the landscaping for their treehouses as well.

What our students had to say about their learning this week:
“We have our own ideas to build the treehouses that we want to make…”

“Ziplines are cool. They help you get from one place to another without walking.”

“We finished reading the book 13 Story Treehouse. It’s one of the best and funniest books.“

“Our engineering challenge this week was to build a treehouse that was 13 stories high. We had to count and keep checking to make sure we had 13 stories. “

“We finished the chapter book 13 story tree house and are now reading 26 Story Treehouse. “

“We are wondering if we can build a 26 story tree house that would be strong enough for a wolf not to blow down. “

“We had to count 13 stories and use platforms in between the stories. We used materials like different types and sizes of wood, blocks, cardboard squares, plastic bubble squares, cubes, half spheres, cardboard circles and a lot of other stuff. “

“We figured out addition math stories. Not tree house stories. “

“We read the book Jack and Jill Build a Treehouse. We could read a lot of the words in the book. The book has pictures with words. You can read the pictures if you can’t read the words.”

“Our voices are powerful (when we say something we believe in).”

The Power of Girls’ Ideas: National Engineering Week

This week was National Engineers Week, so we looked at the question of how we can use technology to inspire girls around STEM. Women are grossly under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, so we want to help our girls develop an interest in these fields. We hope to ignite a passion in them so they become doctors, architects, scientists and astronomers. We have an opportunity to start this when they are young so they grow up believing that they can and that they have the ability to do so.

We aren’t trying to leave the boys out, but these are male-dominated fields. We want to continue to encourage our boys of color to pursue these fields as well. STEM will open doors of opportunity for all our students. It will help them get into college, earn academic scholarships to pay for college, pursue a career and have a positive impact on the world.

Harvard sponsored an discussion with women who are at the top in STEM fields about the importance of giving girls experience with STEM from a young age. You can hear the presentation and discussions at


Our girls designing and drawing the blueprints for their houses and treehouses. Go girls!

We have been reading books about and building models of tree houses. We talked about all the different jobs that have to happen for a house to be built. We read a book by Gail Gibbons called How to Build a House and looked at the engineering process of building a house. We watched a video called How a House is Made that gives a step by step process of how a house is built and talks about the different professionals who are needed (electricians, plumbers, contractors, surveyors, brick masons, architects, engineers, etc). Initally, our students had to come up with and write about a house or a treehouse they wanted to build. Secondly they had to draw a blueprint or a plan for what they wanted to build. We have talked about blueprints before (because builders have to read blueprints to know how big to make things), but this was their first make making their own blueprints. Thirdly students had to build their houses or tree houses based on what they drew in their blueprint. We wanted them to understand that builders have to follow blueprints so they build what the architect designed. We went around and asked kids to show us where their designs were in their blueprint. (Can you show me in your blueprint where you put this door?) They had a lot of “Ah-Ha!” moments about the importance of builders having to “read” a blueprint to check their work. The kids have been looking at non-standard measurement as a part of the TERC Investigations math curriculum (students have been using popsicle sticks, cubes and pennies to measure objects around the classroom). This enables them to make connections between math and real life experiences.


Reading a blueprint to build a s’more with our K0/K1 book buddies


Building a house based on the blueprint


Looking at other student’s houses and treehouses during a Gallery Walk. Students gave each other compliments and feedback about their structures.


We talked about stories (how many levels) they wanted to make their structures. Quintin decided to build his tree house two stories high.


Tyree had to persevere and try many times to get his house to stand up. He never gave up until he got it!


Amarilis was so excited when she was able to build a stable house!


Our future doctors, engineers, architects, and mathematicians!


Drawing our blueprints

Following these steps continues to develop their story sequencing and writing skills. The engineering process is connected to both reading (story sequencing) and writing (beginning, next, and the end). When kids are writing we use a graphic organizer to help them organize their ideas visually. It has beginning, middle, next, and end. It is similar to the engineering graphic organizer they used to design their houses, which had them create a plan, enact their plan and then test it out. We have also continued to build houses that the Big Bad Wolf, the Big Bad Boar, and the “Big Bad Ms. Alicia” can’t blow down. We have continued using a variety of materials including blocks, cups, wooden Kapla blocks, cardboard, plastic lids, and bubble wrap. This week was National Engineers Week, so we looked at the question of how we can use technology to inspire girls around STEM. Women are grossly under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, so we want to help our girls develop an interest in these fields. We hope to ignite a passion in them so they become the doctors, architects, scientists and astronomers of tomorrow. We have an opportunity to start this when they are young so they grow up believing that they can and that they have the ability to do so. We aren’t trying to leave the boys out, but these are male-dominated fields. We want to continue to encourage our boys of color to pursue these fields as well. STEM will open doors of opportunity for all our students. It will help them get into college, earn academic scholarships to pay for college, pursue a career and have a positive impact on the world. Harvard sponsored an discussion with women who are at the top in STEM fields about the importance of giving girls experience with STEM from a young age. You can hear the presentation and discussions at

Dan Cheek from the North Bennett school came to talk to us last week. He talked to the students about his school and explained that he builds cabinets and other things. He talked about the tools carpenters use. The kids told him how we have been looking at pictures of tree houses around the world. He said that he is going to bring in wood from different African countries so they students can see what it looks like.

Treehouses: Engineers at Work!

Tree House

A tree house, a free house,

A secret you and me house,

A high up in the leafy branches

Cozy as can be house.

A street house, a neat house,

Be sure and wipe your feet house

Is not my kind of house at all–

Let’s go live in a tree house.

-Shel Silverstein

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This week we are going to delve deeper into looking at tree houses around the world so our students can start to generate ideas additional ideas for their tree houses. We will be reading the book What Happens To An Idea and students will start putting their ideas onto paper in the form of a blueprint.

Following the engineering design process, students have been Imagining what they will use for their tree houses and how they will build them. Next we have been (and will continue to) Exploring tree houses by practicing building houses that the big bad pig, wolf and boar can’t blow down. We read The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Boar  and the Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. 

Guided reading groups and reading response sheets

Guided reading groups and reading response sheets with the book Piggy, Piggy

Sequencing the story of the Three Little Pigs

Sequencing the story of the Three Little Pigs

Practicing addition by rolling the dice and adding the two numbers together

Practicing addition by rolling the dice and adding the two numbers together


Practicing counting and number identification with pigs and images from the story of the Three Little Pigs


Reading vocabulary words from the Three Little Pigs, following simple directions to draw a pig, and making our own picture story books


Illustrating the setting from the Three Ninja Pigs and sounding out words to write the title with Principal Osie-Bobie


After reading this story, we located Japan on our classroom map and globe. We looked at a picture from Japan, learned other Japanese words like dojo, sensei, gi, sayonara and then built a community and a dojo from the book where the Three Ninja Pigs lived (pictured here).


This is the courtyard of the Dojo from the Ninja Pigs where they practice their martial arts skills. This is modeled after the illustrations in the book, which you can see on the floor. This has been their favorite story!

Now students are ready to start designing their treehouses. They will get graphing paper and pens to draw out their treehouse designs. We are going to continue to brainstorm ideas for our class model of an outdoor classroom of tree houses at the Savin Hill Cove. Dan Cheek from the North Bennett School will be coming to talk to our class about designing and building tree houses and other projects using wood. He has some pictures of children engaged in woodworking from a hundred years ago. We are going to be looking at pictures built in countries around the world, including ones in Kenya, Germany and Spain. We will select one to build in the block area.

As they design their treehouses, they will be making a plan for how they are going to build their treehouses. They are going to be thinking about what materials they are going to use and what steps they need to take to build.

We are going to continue integrating the Three Little Pigs across the curriculum. Enjoy!

Fairy Tales 

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales. -Albert Einstein

This week we started talking about fairy tales. We talked about what the students know and want to learn and when we are done with this unit, we will talk about what they have learned. We read The 3 Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff,  and the Little Red Hen and with each story, we talked about the title, characters, setting, plot and solution.

Now we are going to focus on the three little pigs story. Next week we will read different versions of the story. The kids are really excited about the different versions we will be reading, particularly The Three Ninja Pigs, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, The Three Little fish and the Big, Bad Shark, The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig, The Three Little Gators and Big Bad Boar, The Three Little Javelinas, and The Three Little Cajun Pigs. They are just thrilled we will get to read all these different versions. 

We are going to connect geography to the stories by looking at where the stories originate. We will be using a map to show the students where those places are. 

Going along with the mapping, we want to put our construction unit in a global context for kids by having them build structures from around the world.  There are many paths for teaching the Focus on K2 curriculum, and we are developing our own independent path, the Focus on Kindersteam (Steam stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.)

With this in mind, each day we will put up a picture of a different structure in the block area so students can build their version of it.

Students requested that we read The Three Ninja Pigs first.  That story takes place in Japan, so we will be finding Japan on a map, talking about how to find Japan on a map, learning some Japanese words, and then building one of the Japanese buildings that are in the illustrations of this book. We are going to blow up one of the illustrations and have them use the illustrations to guide their building in the block area. As we read all these versions of the Three Little Pigs, we will continue talking about elements of story, focusing on beginning, middle, and end. 

Additionally, students are going to design a set from the book so they can act out the story in the dramatic play area, which we are converting in our “Black Box Theater.” 

Reading and writing will also be integrated into the curriculum. We will be continuing with the guided reading books and writing responses to what we are reading as well as writing about the beginning, middle and end of the story. In math, we are starting a measurement unit. We will be measuring different objects around the classroom (how many cubes long is my shoe?). We will also be continuing with addition and subtraction. 

For engineering, we will be building structures from around the world, working on designing and building tree houses and thinking about how the materials we use impact the strength of the structure. 


Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. – Benjamin Franklin

During the month of January, we defined what an autobiography is (which is a really big word for a 5 year old) and have been reading interesting autobiographies by Jackie Robinson, Bessie Coleman, and other African American inventors, scientists, engineers, athletes, and activists. Now each student is writing their own autobiography, including their room in their house, a self portrait, interesting facts about them, things they like to do with their family and friends, and how old they are. We also asked them to visualize and then build their favorite place in or outside of their home. Some students chose to build their bedrooms and others chose to make their backyard where they like to barbecue. Teachers looked up the meaning of students’ names. For example, Jamal means handsome and Jael means leader.

Students were very excited to learn the meaning of their names and have internalized that meaning with pride. For example, once Jael found out that his name means leader, he has really stepped up as a leader in our class, has helped other students and has been leading through example and continues to “tell” other people that his name means leader.


Naomi and Cameron are working on their autobiographies. Their cards represent the meaning of their names and they are writing and drawing about their birthdays.


We created these charts for kids to read and be able to spell words that they are using in their writing. As a part of our art, we are modeling how to draw people, foods, and faces. Kids are beginning to develop a confidence in their drawing abilities. Kids would tell us that they “don’t know how to draw things”, but now we are hearing less of that. They are growing and developing as young readers and writers.

Our class has been exploring and practicing how to use shapes as a way of drawing pictures. For example, they can use an oval to make a face and circles to make eyes.

During Writer’s Workshop, students are sounding out words and writing the sounds they hear (you might hear them say, “I’m stretching the word out like a rubber band” at home), making letter and sound connections, using sight words in their writing with standard spelling, leaving spaces between words, and rereading what they’ve written.


This is an anchor chart that students are learning to use while writing. They are beginning to internalize it and use the steps on their own. They can also use it to check their work once they are done writing.

Each student built their favorite place in or outside their home. As a part of our storytelling curriculum, students dictated their “story” about this favorite place to a teacher. Storytelling is an important tool to use for kids developing literacy skills.

Building and making is a way for some students to know something deeply, while others learn best through seeing, hearing, and speaking. We want to give you a glimpse of what students are doing in the classroom so you are virtually visiting the Dolphin class and learning with your child. This is a way for you to spark a conversation with your child about what they are learning. We feel that the parent and school connection is vital to student’s success in school.

Below you will find your child’s story and model of their favorite place at home.


“I built my bedroom and kitchen at my house. The living room has my cousin playing games on iPads with me. I used a lot of 3-D shapes; squares, rectangular prisms, a big cube and a small cubes. I also used a triangular prism. In my kitchen, I have my grandpa and grandma, my dad and mom’s friends. My uncle is there too. They are eating pancakes.” -Jael


“I built my bedroom. I built my mom’s bedroom too. I like to sleep in my bedroom and play games on my mom’s phone. I try and read books in my bedroom like fairytale books. I used rectangles, cubes, squares, and rectangular prisms. That’s it.” -Cameran


“My favorite room in my house is the kitchen. I like to cook with my mom. We like to make pancakes, bake cakes, make chicken and rice and beans. Sometimes I color with my mom in the kitchen. I used triangular prism, cubes, rectangular prism and bears.” -Amarilis


“My favorite room is my bedroom in my house. Mommy and Daddy are sitting on the bed with me. I’m the red person, my dad is the yellow person and my mom is the blue person. I used cubes, triangles and a rectangle for the door. ” -Lenin


“The living room is my favorite room in my house. We get to watch TV and watch the Disney Channel. I jump on the chair and put my face in the chair. Sometimes I play with my brother in the living room. We play jump on the chair and that’s all. I used the 3-D shapes like rectangular prisms, flat squares and one cube.” -Jamal


“My favorite place in my house is outside in my backyard. We have barbecues a lot with all of my family. My Great-Grandma, my Mommy, my Nana, Uncle Tim and my big cousin Kendra. We eat a lot of steak and my Uncle Tim loves steak. We have a dance contest. I like to dance and win. That’s the end. I used a lot of cubes, triangular prisms, rectangular prisms, and a pyramid. I also used only yellows tiles and some of the colored bears.” -Nehemiah


“My favorite room is my kitchen. I built a table with my mom, dad, me and my cousin Poppa. We are eating pancakes together. I built the stove to cook the pancakes on and my refrigerator. I used one rectangle, four small cubes for pancakes, a rectangle for my kitchen table. The stove is one big cube, and four small cubes for the knobs to turn on the fire. I like to make popcorn, sometimes muffins and oatmeal.” -KhaiRyce


“My favorite place is my living room. I built a TV with video games. Me and my dad are sitting on the couch playing video games. I used a cone, cubes and rectangles. I used two tiny cubes.” -Jason


“I built the floor of my bedroom first. I’m sitting on the floor in my bedroom. I built my bed where I sleep when I get tired. I have toys in my room and a dresser to put my clothes. I used cubes, squares and rectangles.” -Yuri

Repairing the Dam

Here is a conversation we overheard today.

Stanley and Jamal were working on repairing their dam. Stanley said, “I don’t want to get my hands dirty if we need to repair the dam.”
Jamal replied, “Beavers use their mouth and their paws to mix the mud and they don’t care. Why should you? We can just go and wash our hands.”
Stanley responded, “You make a good point” and then dug in.


Building Challenge: Marble Ramps

Today and yesterday, students have been building marble ramps out of cardboard tubes, plastic marble run parts, and refrigerator packaging. Yesterday, some of the students built a marble ramp in the classroom. In addition to a ramp, they created a wall so the marbles didn’t go flying across the classroom. LaQuan was working on this and told Ms. Alicia that he, “want(s) to draw a blueprint of the Super Marble Run” and “make improvements and test out the marble spheres.” Other students put together plastic pieces to make a ramp. IMG_3902 IMG_3906 IMG_3907 IMG_3909

Today we used long, thick cardboard tubes and three different kinds of balls. We tested what we had to do to make the balls go through the tubes and how the speeds of the different balls compared (the marble was always the fastest!). One of the tubes had a bend in it, and even though the marble would go through, the bouncy ball kept getting stuck. The students loved chasing the balls around the hallway and experimenting with the angle of the tube to make the ball go farther and faster.