Grade 3 Builds Cities

The grade 3 students are starting a unit into the transdisciplinary theme How we organize ourselves. They will be focusing on their inquiries on cities through the central idea, “Cities are organized to meet the needs of their inhabitants.”

As for all other units of inquiry in the elementary, I have created a page on the Visual Tab of our library OPAC to support students in their inquiries. For this unit, I found an online game that allows players to create cities with roads, buildings, and people. The grade 3 students gave it a try this week as part of their tuning in* to the unit. The game is called City Creator, and was developed by Denise Wilton and Cal Henderson.

City Creator Online Game

I challenged the third graders to trial the site this week after our initial demonstration yesterday and we will be discussing the experience next week.

We did notice that sometimes the site freezes and one can no longer drag the shapes to the map. Next week, we’ll create member accounts that will let us save our maps and edit later.

I showed the third graders how to get to the game via the library OPAC. You will need to access the Visual Tab of the library OPAC, , then click on the PYP UOI button and navigate to the grade 3 cities unit page.

Visual Tab on the IST library OPAC

There are three buttons on the grade 3 cities unit page. One of them is for a list of books in our collection on cities, one is to the City Creator game, and one is to a children’s page maintained by the American Planning Association. The latter is not a very dynamic page, but it’s hard to find materials on urban planning at a grade 3 level. If you know of better websites on this topic, please let me know in the comments.


*Tuning In is the first stage of the IST Inquiry Cycle. During the tuning in stage, students consider what they already know about the topic. Teachers assess prior knowledge and adjust the unit based on what they discovered about the students existing understanding of the central idea.

Using Call Numbers

Let’s say you want to find a library book about dogs. You look up the word “dog” in the library OPAC and you find the title you want. Now what? How do you go from the book title on the screen to finding that same title on the shelves? The answer is you use the call number.

The call number is written on a white sticker at the bottom of the spine of all our library books. The call number will have at least two lines. The top line or lines will tell you where the book can be found in the library. The bottom line tells you who wrote the book as it is the first three letters of the author’s last name.

Fiction books are organized by section: E for the picture books, ER for the early readers (we also call them the red sticker books), and ELE F (we call them yellow sticker books) for the beginning chapter books. Within each section, books are arranged alphabetically by author’s last name, or rather by the three letters of the bottom line of the call number.

Non-fiction books are also organized by Dewey Decimal sections. Each of the section corresponds to a broad range of subjects. To locate a non-fiction book by the call number, one must first read the top line/s and find that number on the shelf. Once you have found that number, you then look at the bottom line and use alphabetical order to find the three letters on the shelf.

Grade 2 and 3 students have been practicing their call number location skills. They will be using those skills all year when looking for books to support their unit and personal inquiries.

We start out with a review of alphabetical order. I print out book slips from the library OPAC, and on those book slips we notice

  • availability (if the book is in the library or has been checked out)
  • the title
  • the call number
  • the cover image, if the OPAC has one. (Not all books have cover images.)

Armed with the call number slips, the students then pair up and go retrieve the books. After we’ve used up all the slips, we put the books back – using the same call number skills that we used to find them.

The second and third graders love finding books on the shelf. Last week we only looked in one section, the ELE F section because it has books that are almost all the same size and the spines are mostly wide enough to see the whole call number. Next comes getting call number slips from different parts of our fiction collection and then the non-fiction collection. Soon enough, they will be able to find books in any section of the library.

Click on the first image in this gallery for an “Anatomy of a Call Number” sheet that summarizes what the different parts of the call number mean.

Inquiring into Heroes and Inventions

This week has seen grades 3 and 4 inquiring into heroes and inventions, their current units of inquiry. For both units, we have shown students to use Encyclopedia Britannica Online (EBO), which has a new layout this year.

To log in to Britannica School Online, you will need to first log in to the library OPAC. You can use your personal account information or the Quick Login, which can be found in the homework logs and the library brochures. After logging in to the OPAC, you get to the Home tab where you can scroll down to view all of our subscription databases. Britannica School Online is one of these. Click on the link and use the username and password given to log in.

Once you have logged in to EBO, you will see three levels of difficulty: elementary, middle and high.

Landing page for Britannica School Online


Elementary is for up to grade 4. Middle is from grade 5 to 8, and high is for grades 9 and up.

The elementary level has two levels of reading difficulty. The middle and high have three levels. All have a read aloud tool which will read the article. Starting from the elementary reading level 2, there is a translate tool which will translate the article into any language. Please note that it is a machine translation and so will not be perfect.

Speaker and translate tool on Britannica School Online


Britannica School Edition is just one of the many databases that the IST library subscribes to for our community. The grade 4 students are also using World Book Discoveries and Inventions Digital Collection to help with their unit on inventions.

We will offer two sessions for parents to “show off” our databases and other resources. Please join us. Register online via the sidebar. A bus will be provided for

  • Library Resources for Parents – Elementary on 17 September
  • Library Resources for Parents – Secondary on 24 September

Spine Poems by Grade 3 and 4

Here is a slideshow with spine poems that the grades 3 and 4 created. There were many more poems, but unfortunately the photos didn’t come out well so I only included the photos where you could read the poems.

Also, the slides go by rather quickly so if you can’t read the poems, come to the library. We have a better slideshow on the large screen TV.

What’s the Weather Like in Grade 3?

The grade 3 students are inquiring into the PYP transdisciplinary theme How the world works and focusing on how to measure and predict weather. As with every other PYP unit, I have put together a group of links for the third graders to enhance their inquiries.

To access the weather links, you will need to visit the library OPAC. There are four different ways you could access it.

  1. From the IST’s website,, click on the Library OPAC link on the QuickLinks dropdown menu on the top right corner of the page.
  2. From the top left corner of this blog, click on the link below the knocker icon.
  3. From every classroom blog, locate the link to the OPAC on their blogroll (usually on the top of the right sidebar)
  4. Learn this very easy URL,, and type into your browser. You might also want to bookmark it.

Once on the library OPAC, click on the Visual tab.

Follow the Visual Tab’s buttons along this path: PYP UOI–>Grade 3–>Weather.

Click on the links to visit grade-3-friendly weather websites.

The first button on the Visual Tab’s page for each unit is always the list of books for that unit. This book list is tailored specifically for the grade level and includes books in an appropriate reading level for the grade.

Go ahead and explore the different buttons. You may want to press the Command key on a Mac or the Control key on a PC to get the links to open on a separate tab of your browser. That way, you can easily go back to the library OPAC to click on another tab.


Seen from Above

Tianjin and Beijing are featured in this photo from NASA, taken at night by the crew of the Expedition 26 shuttle.

Click to enlarge. Tianjin is the city in the bottom left corner.

Click to enlarge. Tianjin is the city in the bottom left corner.

The original NASA post for this image is here:

To cite this image:

“City Lights.” NASA. 28 Dec. 2010. Web. 1 Jan. 2011.