4-6th Grade Virtual Book Discussion: Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carols Hernandez is a juvenile fiction book best for 5-7 graders. 
Sal Vidon is the new kid at school and a budding magician, but it wasn’t magic that landed him in the principles office for the third time in three days, it was for allegedly putting a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker… a raw chicken that has since mysteriously disappeared. 
In steps Gabi Real, student council president and editor of the school paper. With her keen eye, book smarts and unwavering task oriented personality, Gabi soon realizes that Sal Vidon is hiding something big. 
After getting off on the wrong foot, Gabi and Sal become fast friends and it’s a good thing too because Sal is going to need all the help he can get if he doesn’t want to irreversibly break the universe for good. 

Discussion Questions:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?  
2. Sal is the new kid at a creative arts school. Why is it hard to be the new kid and how might being the new kid at Sal’s school be different than being the new kid at a public school? 
3. Sal has type one diabetes. What do you know about diabetes? Is you or your family affected by diabetes? How does this disease make life harder for Sal? 
4. This book embraces Spanish culture and is written with many Spanish vocabulary and phrases. For my Spanish and non-Spanish speakers, how did this effect/change the story for you?
5. Chapter 27 – “The key is to make your best move in the moment…” What do you think this means? How does Sal make his best move in the moment? 
6. Bonita-Dad: The Final Frontier is an AI. How would you like to have a robot for a parent? What would the pros and cons be? 
7. What is an everyman play and how does Sal and Gabi embrace the theme? 
8. Chapter 36 – “Sometimes, when it’s too hard, when it hurts too much, only silliness can save us.” How have you used silliness to defuse a situation in the past?  
9. Yasmany and Gabi both go through some hard moments in this book. How does Sal handle these situations?  
10. Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe is the sequel to this book. Do you have any predictions?  

STEM Activity:

Pringles Ring STEM Challenge

Engineering Challenge:
Pringles Ring 
1 full can of Pringles chips 
The Challenge:
Building a ring using only whole Pringles potato chips. No glue, paper, etc.  
Things to think about: 
-How will the base of your ring be able to support the top? 
-Will you layer your chips in a certain pattern? If so, what pattern? 
-What other strategies will you try if your first design doesn’t work as planned? 
The Science: 
“As the sides of the ring get taller, gravity pushes down on the chips causing them to slide down. In order for the chips to not slide, there must be enough frictional force on the sides of the chips so that gravity can’t push it down.” 


How’d it go:
We had quite a few kids for this one, which was awesome! AND quite a bit of discussion… that kept going back to food and was somewhat off track, but we are craving social interaction, so I take it as a win!
The Pringles ring however, was HARD. In half an hour only one person was able to fully complete it. So make sure you bill yourself some time if you are going to do it.

That’s all for now!


4-6th Grade Book Discussion: Shine by J.J. & Chris Grabenstein

Shine! by J.J. and Chris Grabenstein is a juvenile fiction novel for 4-6th graders.

Piper Milly has a talent for blending in. She can’t sing or dance, she doesn’t excel at sports or hangs with the popular crowd. She’s smart, she likes astronomy and she’s happy with her small group of friends. So when her dad get’s a new job at a prestigious prep school, Piper is bummed that she has to transfer.

Chumley Prep is definitely a school for the rich and Piper definitely doesn’t fit in. Shortly after she joins the school, she finds out that a mysterious award will be awarded to the “best” student of winter break. Piper shrugs off the contest because she would never win that sort of thing, or would she?

Discussion Questions / Further Reading 

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. What did you like and dislike in this book? What would have made it better?
  3. What STEM themes can you pull out of this book?
  4. Do you think Piper did the right thing when she gave back the money that she and Hannah found at the mall? What would you do? What if you only found a $1? $20? $50?
  5. How important is it for you to get good grades and excel in school, sports, and/or the arts? How does this make you feel?
  6. Depending on the culture and area in the world, people see the moon’s shadow as something different. It makes Piper realize that a lot of things look different depending on your point of view. Can you think of an example in your life or an issue in the world where this applies?
  7. What do you think of Piper’s acts of kindness? Would you do the same?
  8. Let’s think about Mr. Van Deusen’s assignment (p51-52). Who do you want to be? Not when your grown up. Not in the future. Now.
  9. What did you think about the Excelsior competition now that you know what is it? Why do you think Chumley Prep needed this competition?
  10. Why is this book called Shine! What message is this book meant to inspire?

DYI Moon Craters

Supplies: Foils cooking pans, flour, coco powder, various size/weight marbles, balls, step stool, ruler

How to:

  • First, create your moon surfaces by pouring an even layer of flour in the foil pan. Smooth it out and then lightly sprinkle a layer of coco powder on top. You may want to use a tarp or plastic table cloth underneath.
  • Try to select “meteors” of varying size and weight.
    • A small and large marble, a foil ball, maybe a nerf ball or a large bouncy ball.
  • Set up three different heights to drop the objects from. ie standing, on a stool from a table top.
  • Take turns dropping each item. For the first test, try dropping the same marble from each height. Then test your other sized objects.
  • Measure the size and depth of each “crater” made. Keep track on paper.
  • Which marble from which height made the deepest/largest impact? What does this tell you?

The Science:

  • Dropping the marbles at various heights can show us how speed affects the size of the craters. Using different sized objects, shows how the mass of the object also affects the size and shape of the impact crater.
  • Piper found that “The rounder the object hitting the moon, the faster an object is travelling, the farther away an object is from the moon, the larger the crater it creates.” (p104)


Brightly’s Book Club for Kids: Shine!

Click to access 9781524717667_6417.pdf

How’d it go:

This was the last one run by my colleauge while I am on maternity leave but I decided to join in because I just loved this book. Overall, this was a fun one and everyone had their supplies ready. I made my coco level a little too thick but other than that everything went great!

That’s all for now!


4-6th Grade Book Club: COG

COG by Greg Van Eekhout is a juvenile fiction book probably best for grades 3-5.

What do you get when a trashbot, a robot dog, and two extremely lifelike automatons steal a smart car? Five allies on a mission with very little real world experiences.

Cog looks like your everyday twelve-year-old, except that his name stands for “Cognitive Development” and he’s a robot built to learn. When a “bad experience” leaves him injured and unconscious, Cog wakes up separated from the only human he has ever known. Now the scientists at UNImind want to take out his brain and study him and Cog thinks this is a very bad idea.

Along with some unusual allies, Cog breaks out of UNImind in search of his creator, Gina. But little does he know, that he is the cog that keeps the wheels turning and the hunt is on for him and his friends.

Will Cog find Gina? And will he escape UNImind’s nefarious clutches?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. COG stands for Cognitive Development. What does this mean and how does this make Cog different from other robots?
  3. Cog learns during his trip to the supermarket that sometimes the best way to increase his cognitive development is to learn from his mistakes. Why is this a good/bad technique for learning? Have you ever had to learn from a big mistake?
  4. Why do you think Gina created Cog and Ada to be twelve-years-old instead of adults?
  5. If you had to pick one of the robots to be, which would you be and why?
  6. Gina creates Cog with a special X-Module embedded in his programming. What is the X-Module and how does Cog use it to get out of trouble throughout the book?
  7. UNImind wants to control the worlds technology, how does Cog use his experiences to overtake UNImind’s primary directive?
  8. One of the main themes of this novel is the ability to choose—to have a choice. Why is this such an important theme and how does the author portray it in the novel?
  9. The world this book takes place in, seems both similar and more advanced then our current society. Would you rather live in a high tech or low tech society? Why?
  10. What did you think of the ending? Is there anything you would change?

STEM Activity: DIY Robotic Hand

Supplies: Construction Paper or Cardstock; drinking straws; Yarn or heavy string; Tape; Scissors. Optional: large knitting needle. 

IMG-0848How to:

-Trace your hand on the cardstock. If you have a tiny hand, you may want to trace an adults hand so you have more to work with. Cut out your hand.
-Put your hand back on and make marks where your finger joints are on the paper. Fold at the joint marks.
-Cut the straws to the length of your finger segments. (Hint: four of your fingers have three segments and your thumb has two.) In total you should have 14 straw pieces for your fingers.
-Cut 6 more straws about an inch and a half in length.  And a few extra about half an inch in length.
-Starting with the fingers, tape your straws to the hand with just a small space between each straw. Your paper hand should look like it’s starting to get a skeleton. You may need to play around with how they are laid and the length of the straws, depending on the size of the hand you are using.
-Once taped, you are going to take your yarn and make a big knot at the end of it. Start threading your yarn or string through the straws, starting at the tip of the finger. The knot should be at the tip of the finger, keeping the yarn from pulling out of the straw. Repeat this for each finger until all five strings are come out through the single “wrist bone” straw. Do not pull the strings tight. Keep them loose for now.
-Now, when you are ready, you can slowly pull the strings. The fingers of your hand should move. You can pull all the strings at once or one string at a time.

What’s happening:

This activity gets kids thinking about how the various parts of the human body functions. We’re using the activity as an engineering experiment but it can also be used to talk about the human skeleton and how joints and bones work together to move our bodies.


How’d it go:

This was maybe too complicated of an activity for the virtual world but we had fun and we had a few new faces too!

That’s all for now!


The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable

The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman is a 4-5 grade juvenile fiction novel.

Twelve-year-old Coke and Pepsi are getting read to go on a cross country road-trip with their “clueless” parents, when they find out that they are being targeted by a mystery group that is out to kill them. Good thing they are hitting the road for awhile. Or is it?

Coke and Pepsi seem to have been roped into a secret government organization called The Genius Files, where it is up to genius kids to save the world. With no real choice in the matter, the twins go about their vacation with one eye open but can they keep the secret from their parents and more importantly, will they make it home alive?

Full of geography and little-known tourist destinations around the county, The Genius Files is a quick, action packed read.

And with that summary, I hate to say, I wasn’t wowed by this book. It could be because of the many “questionable” moral decisions the twins make–but they didn’t feel even remotely like realistic characters to me. And I get that this is fiction and they really aren’t meant to be “normal” but I didn’t find them relatable at all.

I did enjoy the many out of the way, wacky destinations that Gutman includes in the novel and it’s sort of neat that you can follow along via Google Maps if you want to. I could totally see an interesting book report coming out of this.

The ciphers were fun; I am a sucker for a good cipher. I could totally see making one up for my book club to uncover. You could even do a STEM project where each cipher leads to a different spot on a map, until you discover your final location.

Overall, this was an entertaining read and I think will be popular with fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants and Dog Man. But for me, it only gets three stars.

That’s all for now!


STEM Book Club: Scouts by Shannon Greenland

Scouts by Shannon Greenland is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6th graders.

Annie, Beans, Rocky, and Fynn make up the Scouts. A name they gave themselves when they were little. They’ve been best friends for a long time, doing everything together. Hiking, biking and most of all getting in trouble.

But things are different this summer, and Annie isn’t so sure the Scouts will make it to seventh grade in tact. Trying to get back that feeling a rightness, Annie and the Scouts climb Old Man Basinger’s silo to watch a meteor shower. When one of the meteors seem to crash nearby, the Scouts are determined to track it down.

But this will be easier said than done. After their campsite is invaded by a bear, they fall into a river and are kidnapped by the Mason Mountain Clan, the gang is starting to fight more than ever. Will anything be the same after this trip? Will the even survive?

Discussion Questions / Further Reading 

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. What did you like and dislike in this book? What would have made it better?
  3. What STEM themes can you pull out of this book?
  4. Annie, Beans, Rocky, and Fynn consider themselves the Scouts because of all the adventures they go on. Can you relate to any of the Scouts? If so, who and why? (You can include Scarlett and Edge too)
  5. Each of the Scouts wants to find/follow the trail of the meteor for a different reason? What are they?
  6. What are some ways that the Scouts use, or could have used, survival tactics to make it through this unexpected journey through the woods?
  7. Scouts is the story of good friends who may be on the verge of drifting apart. Has this even happened to you? Why do you think boys and girls drift apart as they get older?
  8. Throughout the book, the Scouts seem to fall apart and then come together to get through. What are some instances of this teamwork that helps them to survive?
  9. This book takes place in 1985, near the very end of the Cold War. What threat might the Scouts worry about when seeing strange object fall from the sky?
  10. At the end of the story the Scouts find out that they weren’t chasing a meteor, or an alien space craft, but instead a spy satellite. In the context of the story, did you believe this? What were some hints that the truth may not be what it seems?

DYI Alien Hover Crafts

Supplies: Old CD, sports cap lid from water bottle, 1 balloon, hot glue gun

How to:

  • Do not remove the cover of the sport cap lid.
  • Take an old CD and carefully place a ring of hot glue along the inner circle of the CD.
  • Carefully, press the ring of the sports cap into the glue. The sippy part of the cap should be upward facing.
  • Slip the balloon over the cap. Try to make a tight seal.
  • Now you are ready to blow up your balloon from the bottom side of the CD.
  • Once you have blown up your balloon, try closing the cap to keep the air in until you are ready to let your craft fly.
  • Place the CD on the floor. When you are ready to let it hover, gently remove the lid and watch what happens.

What happens if you don’t blow your balloon up all the way? What happens if you inflate if fully? Try it on different surfaces, does that change anything? Does the size of the balloon matter? Can you think of any ways to improve this design?

The Science:

The balloon and the sports cap lid create a seal that keeps in air. When that air is released it is forces to travel back down the cap and along the sides of the CD. The force of the air expelling from the balloon creates a cushion of air between the bottom of the cd and the surface it is on, allowing it to glide, just barely resting above the surface.


Hovercraft Science Experiment

How’d it go:

Well, we had to tweak things here a bit since we went totally virtual for this one, but I think it went well, technical difficulties aside I think it went pretty well.

That’s all for now!