Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review of And then the Sky Exploded - coming out in October


Teachers: do you love to read books?  Do you want, ahead of time, to read books that will be out on the market within the next year?  One of the best decisions I made was when I recently joined Netgalley, a free site where you can read and review advance copies of books.  Since I spend a fair amount of time reading and I like finding out what's coming out, this seemed like a perfect fit!

My first choice, And Then the Sky Exploded looked like an interesting historical fiction read, so I downloaded it to my iPad and began reading.

There are a number of things I really liked about the book: it's told from two points of view (love that!) Christian and Yuko.  Yuko is a survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima.  Chris, an 8th grader in the United States learns, much to his surprise, that his recently-deceased great-grandfather whom he adored, had been a scientist working on the Manhattan Project.  David Poulsen does an excellent job of capturing Chris as an 8th grader with all the typical challenges of kids his age.  Although I am not very familiar with Japanese culture,  I believe he captures the kindness and politeness that I believe are part of that culture.  Without giving too much away, these two characters come together in a beautifully touching manner. I found the way they came together a little unrealistic, but I'm not sure students reading this would.

This book really held my interest!  My only reservation about it is the amount of swearing in it.  That may be the way some kids talk, but my students (and some of their parents) would not be comfortable with that.  For that reason, I can't recommend it for 6th graders, but I think it would be more appropriate for middle and high school students.

If you teach older students, keep your eye out for this book when it comes out, sometime this Fall!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

New Year, New Me...Tips for Building TpT Store from #TpTOrlando2016

I couldn't imagine my brain hurting more than it already did, after attending sessions at the TpT conference in Orlando.  So much to think about!  So much to analyze!  Oh my word, so, soo much to do!

I am so grateful for the folks who took time away from families and work to share solid, constructive ideas so that others, like me, can grow.  I am equally grateful to the many "regular" teachers who shared a smile, a comment, a place at the table, a website, an idea, and friendship.

I went to the conference alone, not knowing a single person.  I came away with new friends, new colleagues and some great memories.  I mean, Rachel Lynette loved my new glasses so much she took a picture of them!  I love that woman!  And not just because we both have curly hair :)  She's got a great sense of humor and she knows what she's talking about.

I heard that sure, success takes a bit of luck.  And maybe an original idea that grows in popularity.  But mostly, it's about establishing yourself as an expert in your field, and then just working harder than the next person.  I heard that over and over again.  Enough that it made me think.

So, here are my suggestions for myself - and for you:
  • Make a plan for what you're going to do this month  
  • Break it down by week and even by day, if you wish
  • Figure out how many hours you have to give to get to your goal

When you sit down to work:
  • Set the timer on your phone for how long you planned for
  • Put your phone on airplane mode
  • If you can't stop playing with your phone, put it behind you somewhere 

  • Spend time building your social media presence, but not more than 20%
  • Focus on just a few sites - you can't do them all
  • Network with other bloggers and TpTers
That's where I'm starting.  How about you?  What suggestions do you have?  How are you planning to step it up a bit?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Powerful new Fiction and NonFiction Read-Alouds

There's nothing better than a good book.  Even better than that is a good book that's been recommended by a student!  These two books came with strong recommendations for me to read  "first thing" this summer!

Last year, one of my students had two penpals.  She would often show me their letters, so when she heard me talk about this new book I'd purchased at the end of the year, she grabbed it up immediately. She didn't finish it before school ended, but she bought her own copy to finish. And she bought copies to send to each of her penpals.  How sweet is that?

This would make a wonderful read-aloud on several levels: 
  • It's NONFICTION and that's one genre many of us don't use as frequently for read-alouds. 
  • How much do your students know about ZIMBABWE?
  • The CONTRAST between Caitlin's and Martin's lives is dramatic, and would allow for good exploration about first- and third-world countries
  • The chapters alternate between Martin's and Caitlin's POINT OF VIEW
  • Martin exemplifies GROWTH MINDSET!
  • It could lead your students to find and write to PENPALS 
  • It could lead your students to start a SERVICE project
Caitlin is required to write to a penpal, and she can choose from a long list.  Most kids pick penpals in Europe, but she picks Martin because she knows nothing about Martin.  Martin gets to write back because he's the top student in his class, and only ten students get chosen to have penpals.  Writing back and forth, they forge a friendship that lasts years and changes both of them in ways they never imagined.

Now, being totally honest, I have to admit that Caitlin's affluent lifestyle got on my nerves at times, but I have to remember that she's telling the story from her vantage point as a teenager, not mine as an adult.  And she and her family have hearts for this young man, and went out of their way to help him in ways that took a lot of their time and money. There are some powerful lessons here!

A number of my students raced through this book when I bought it last year.  I didn't get to read it because it was never on the shelf, but I was surprised when I asked students to vote on their favorite books from the year,.  This one came up again and again.  So, into my reading bag it went!

I curled up with this book a couple of mornings ago; it was a rainy day, and I thought I'd read for an hour or so.  Surprise!  I could not put this book down.  Every time I left it to do something, I'd find myself wondering what would happen next.  I finished the book the next day.

There are many things to like about this book.  Serafina is an unusal, likeable, courageous girl who can see things other people tend to overlook.  She lives, hidden from the owners, in the basement of the Biltmore Estate in 1899, so there's lots of good historical fiction (and an element of Downton Abbey-like living from the owners!).  This book is part magical fairy-tale, part historical fiction, part courageous girl wins out in the end.

Children at the Biltmore Estate are going missing, and only Serafina know what's happening.  It has to do with the man in the black cloak who roams the corridors of the great building late at night. Taking every ounce of courage she has, Serafina enters the woods to solve this mystery, the very woods she's been told to stay out of.  

The book is recommended for grades 5-7 and I have to agree.  The fairy-tale spooky part might be too scary for children younger than that.  But I think my sixth graders will love this!  There's just enough suspense to keep them going, and Serafina and Braeden, her friend, make very believable female and male protagonists.

Check these books out if you're looking for a good read for next year!

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

People of Courage (a novel study), Where Complaining Takes Me (formative assessments), and the AT!

I have always been intrigued by people who are willing to stand up for their beliefs, especially when it puts them in harms way.   Teaching students about the world around them means that we need to be careful not to judge other cultures.  That's hard when we are called upon to explain why bad things sometimes happen.  

Thankfully, there are always people to hold up as examples of those who turn bad into good.  After reading about Malala Yousafzai, I knew I had to create novel study for some of my students to learn about this young woman who’s hardly older than they are, who has brought to light some of the inequalities that exist in education for girls in Pakistan.

This was eye-opening for the groups of students who read this book, and they admitted it was one of the best books they'd read all year.  There were lots of good discussions going on when I would drop in on their conversations!  

I'm willingly taking an online Differentiation course with our district.  You know how you get frustrated because you have to take classes in things you think you already do well?  That's how I was.  But I have to admit, the book we're reading has a lot of good information in it, especially practical ways to adjust and adapt.  So I've stopped complaining and gotten to work!

One of the projects I worked on for my classroom had to do with formative assessments.  I only had to create one for the online class, but I like to have a bunch at my fingertips, because I hate wanting to find out where kids are and not having the tools I need.

And so, voila!

My husband took a job last Fall that is very demanding.  Never again will I say a bad word about the Department of Education in our state, when I see the hours that he puts in!  So we try to be intentional about getting away from the house and doing things we love. One of them is hiking, something we don't get to do nearly as much as we'd like.  Saturday, we hiked part of the Appalachian Trail, about an hour from our house.  It was a gorgeous day and the woods were so peaceful!  Just what we needed! 

I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July weekend! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Monday Made It!

Happy summer everyone!  I've been out of school for two weeks now, and in some ways it feels like it's been forever, and in other ways I know it's going to pass by soooo fast!  I'm so glad Tara is continuing with her summer Monday Made It's because it's pushing me to get some things done! Click on the image so that you can see what other teachers are doing.  There are some amazingly creative teachers out there!
We've had plans since we moved into this house two years ago, to turn our 3-season sunporch into a year-round room.  I had hoped to get started on that soon, but the reality of having put three kids through college means that some other things are taking precedence.  So my husband and I moved out some of the extra furniture that was being stored there, bought a carpet for the cement floor, and my favorite spot has become even more of a favorite place to start my morning off with a cup of coffee.
Sometimes I make things to use with my students and I just don't think about turning them into a product to sell on TpT.  That was the case with this.  I was working with a group of students on fluency, which isn't something that gets talked about as much in 6th grade as it does in the lower grades.  But I knew that this small group of students would be better off if they could get to a place where commonly used sight words, phrases, and sentences would come more naturally to them.

I created these as a fast and fun way to get them reading and feeling success about their fluency.  I was honestly surprised at how much they had fun with these!  These were short and sweet, and they were able to practice on their own with whisper phones or with a partner before proudly reading them to me.
I love growing stuff.  Picked some herbs this morning to hang up and dry (maybe on the sunporch?) This is tarragon, basil in the back, thyme in the front, and oregano.  Yum!

That's it for me!  Link up with Tara and share what you've been working on this week, or just stop by to say hi and take a peek!

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Real Reason for Teaching TDAs or TDQs

When I first saw the changes in the kinds of Text-Dependent questions my students would be responding to, I felt just like the guy in this picture.  How will I teach this?  What strategies do I need to teach?  What are the big ideas?  Where will I find the time?  How will the kids do this?  Why, why, why?  Those questions and an assortment of thoughts which can't be repeated were going through my head.

Buckling down, I introduced my students to close reading, and analyzing how to read a prompt.  And slowly but surely, they started to get the hang of what they needed to do.  This didn't all happen magically or quickly.  We've been working at this for two years now, and each year has been modified, based on my students' feedback and where I see gaps.  

Don't know how to restate a prompt?  Let's work on that.
Can't figure out what the answer to the prompt is?  (This is ALWAYS the hardest part!) Let's work on this together.  

What I do, and what resources I use will come in a later post.

When students would question me, I'd go on a mini-rant about how important it is to analyze what you read AND then articulate those thoughts in writing.  How that was important for them to do as bright students and future employees.  Whether they chose to go to college or not, their ability to write well would help them in almost every career.

But it wasn't until I was working with our Literacy Coordinator on a workshop we're leading this on Text-Dependent Analysis that I began to explore the real reason behind why we're having kids do this. What's the research behind why this is important?

Shamefully, there's little on this.  Google "text dependent analysis" or "text dependent question" and you get the how-to's, but not the reasons why.  Until I discovered this little nuggest from OnHand Schools in Pittsburgh, PA.  I have no affiliation with them, nor do I know if the work they do is good or not.  But they were the only resource I found that provided additional information for me to understand the "why" behind my teaching this, and further supported the reasons I gave my students.  

Why is this important?  One of the reasons students drop out of college because the reading is too complex for them.  Students entering college need to analyze and synthesize the information they read. The more we practice reading complex texts with students now, requiring them to be critical thinkers, the more they'll understand what they're reading, later.  The same is true in the workforce, college degree or not.  

But there's more to it than that.  Open-ended questions of old asked kids to use their background knowledge.  What if a student had no experience with the topic at hand?  TDA's ask kids to ONLY use the text, and that levels the playing field.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need to teach this and teach it well.

One of my students wrote this at the end of the year, "Thank you for helping me work on TDA's,  I didn't always like doing it, but I know I'm a stronger writer because of it." 

{heart melting}

Monday, June 6, 2016

Monday Made It is Back! YAY!

I love that Tara from 4th Grade Frolics is bringing back her Monday Made It linky, because it's chock full of good ideas.  And, if you're like me, once you see some of these good ideas, you start making them, and one thing leads to another.... I am the epitome of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" when it comes to creating.  Unfortunately, unlike the mouse, most of my projects end up not quite finished!  Anyone else out there like that?

So, this is a different kind of "made it."  
I made it to the end of the year!  While I have loved each year of teaching, this one was just a bit more challenging on several levels, none of them major.  But just enough to make me appreciate the first day of summer vacation a little more! 

And this one is only a "partially" made it, but it'll get done in the next few weeks.  At the end of the year, I always like to do something around astronomy and reading, because there are so many hands-on activities around those.  This year, I decided to change things up a little, and found some really cool projects about our solar system on Pinterest.  

That I had to change, of course. I decided to spend a couple of days teaching kids about our solar system, then the Milky Way, and the observable universe.  And then, just when they felt their minds couldn't handle all these huge distances, they learned that there are about 2,000 exoplanets (outside of our solar system) that are considered habitable.  And they were going to learn about them.

I will have to admit that I "dive-bombed" into this project, and there are a number of things that will be changed next time I do this, including some questions on this worksheet.  Who knew that you couldn't answer some of these questions if the exoplanet you were researching was recently discovered.  Like two months ago?  WHAT?!  Oh, and it's only 600 light years away.  The kids got so used to me saying, "Multiply that by 58, followed by 11 zeroes" that it became a mantra in the room, to change light years into "human miles."

This was the only paper students worked on.  Everything else was paperless, including their final project, which they made using Publisher, Adobe Spark, PowerPoint, Prezi, or even their own websites.  It was an amazing process and I loved how much the students got into it!  They claimed it as one of their favorite projects all year.  {insert big teacher smile}
And, true to form today, this is yet another kind of "made it!"

My son, our youngest, graduated from college, and is on his way to young adulthood.  So excited to see where life takes him!  And almost equally as excited to not be paying tuition any more after 12 years!

That's it for this week.  Link up with Tara and let those creative ideas start flowing!