Saturday, June 9, 2018

Subtle (and not so subtle) racism in our classrooms

Roseann Barr made the news a few weeks ago by comparing an African-American woman to a monkey.  That got me thinking about the kinds of things we hear and correct, or hear and let go in our classrooms.  How should we respond to them?

 We were walking off a field, having just finished a game of kickball.  A young boy went to pick up his sweatshirt, but someone accidentally stepped on it.  "Oh great, now my sweatshirt's been stepped on by a fag" he muttered.

I hesitated.  It was almost the end of school year.  Should I ruin his day? 
But what about the kid for whom the comment was intended?

And so I pulled him aside.  "I heard a comment you made a few minutes ago."  He looked up and said, "Yeah, that wasn't a good word to choose."  He admitted his mistake. 
Was that enough?

"You know," I said, "You talk a lot about God and honor, and I know Scouting is an important part of your life."  At this, the tears started to flow.  "I'm not yelling at you, but I am telling you that as a kid who honors these values, that word is disgusting.  It has no place in your vocabulary.  Please stop using it.  I know you have a lot to deal with right now (he's had a recent traumatic experience) and you're allowed to feel angry, really angry.  But even with that, this word has no place coming out of your mouth."

Talking to him reminded me of this well-known story:

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, 
"It made a difference for that one.” 

The conversations have to be had, whether at the beginning, the middle or the end of the school year.  Let's turn our students into citizens we would be proud of!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

End of the Year Sales on TpT!

It's the final sale of the 2017-2018 school year for those of us in North America.  Get what you need for the end of this year.  Stock up on next year.  And buy a few fun fonts and some great clip art along the way.  If you're like me, before you know it, you've spent way more money than you thought you would....

Click on the picture to go to my store.

P.S.  Special thanks to CrunchyMom for creating the banner!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Five books your 6th (and 7th and 8th) graders will love!

"Noooo!  Don't stop!" 

Music to my ears.  

I try to make time - about ten minutes - at the end of every class to read aloud to my students.  I mix up genres, read different books to each of my three classes, and sometimes, when I don't get to read a book aloud, I talk about it so that it gets read and passed around by some of my 6th graders.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

I had to smile when the younger brother of one of my former students came into my classroom on the first day of school and asked, "When can I check out Michael Vey?  My brother said that was the best book ever!"

I've read this book for the last three or four years and it never fails to engage even the most reluctant readers.  Michael has electric powers, which he needs to keep secret.  But he's small, and he gets bullied a fair amount, and so it's hard to keep his temper under wraps.  One particularly fateful day, he blows up when some bullies try to pants him and he shocks them.  That should keep them from bothering him again, right?  True.  Except that someone saw him do it.

A very popular girl.  Who might have some secrets of her own.

The first few chapters take place at a high school in Idaho, but from there, Michael, Taylor, Ostin, Jack, and Wade take on the impossible.  This is pure David and Goliath with some good science fiction thrown in.  With both male and female protagonists and antagonists, this fast-paced ride will be greatly enjoyed!  This book is the first in a series of seven.

The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle

I found this book in the library a few weeks ago and was drawn in by the title.  Before I knew it, still standing where I found it, I was several chapters in.

Mason Buttle is a kid who struggles mightily in school and thinks of himself as pretty stupid.  He had a best friend, Benny Kilmartin, but Benny died a year ago.

In Mason's family's apple orchard.  Climbing out of the tree fort that he and Mason had built.

Lieutenant Bird shows up at Mason's house on a regular basis, but Mason's already told him everything he knows.  And he doesn't understand why the police officer keeps stopping by for more information.  Mason's already told him everything that happened.

A new boy moves into the neighborhood (shades of Freak the Mighty here.) Calvin is tiny, smart, and curious.  As he and Mason become friends and endure the bullying of neighborhood boys, they decide to create their own safe space, in an old root cellar.

But one day, Calvin goes missing.  And Mason finds himself in more hot water than he'd every imagined.

I think what I loved most about this book was how honest and true Mason's voice was.  Written in first person, I felt like I could see and understand everything Mason was trying to come to grips with.  This is a heartbreaking, lovely book about a resilient kid with more talents than he realizes!


I had seen movie trailers for this book a few years ago, and while it sounded really interesting, I just wasn't sure I could stomach the visuals.  

The book grabs you in the gut!  A defiant child, Louie Zamperini stole, broke into houses, and got into regular fights.  Upon the advice of his brother, he channels his energy into something more positive, and begins to run.  He was fast enough to compete in the 1940 Olympics in Berlin.  When the United States entered World War II, Louie joined the Air Force, becoming a bombadier flying missions over the Pacific Ocean.  On the day his plane had mechanical failure and crashed into the ocean, only he and two others survived, on a raft.  A raft that floated in the ocean for a month and a half.  Dealing with leaping sharks, starvation, and thirst, he was beside himself when he eventually drifted toward a nearby island.

Where the worst horror he could imagine came true.  

Zamperini became a Prisoner of War at  several Japanese war camps; at the final one, an evil prison guard especially seemed bent on breaking him.  With guts, a strength that he pulled up from somewhere, and a sense of humor, he survived.

This book is not an easy read, although it is hard to put down!  (I read the Young Adult version.)


I loved that this book was told in verse.  And that it was told in first person, so you could get into Grace's head.  It is eye-opening for students to read, as they learn about how Missus and Master treat Grace, who begins working in the big house.  

Grace knows the difference between right and wrong, and she knows their treatment is wrong.  But she's promised Uncle Jim and Mama that she'll keep her head down and do her job.  That gets increasingly harder to do, until one day, Grace speaks up.

And puts herself and her family into great danger.

So great that they need to run away that night.  Facing wild animals and slave traders is only part of the battle.  Not knowing whether they will get to safety is the other.  Based on true stories of slaves who fled into the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina, this was another book that was hard to put down!  I bought it, and it hasn't sat on my shelves for more than a day or two before another student begins reading it.


This book, like Unbroken, has a movie tie-in, and is a Young Reader's Edition.  I saw trailers for this one, too, and found it interesting, but just never got around to watching it.  When I saw the book at the bookstore one day, I decided to give it a try.

Oh my!  

Saroo is a five-year old boy growing up in poverty in India, with his mother, two other brothers and a younger sister.  It wasn't uncommon there for children to play alone, or for him to be left at home to watch his younger sister while his mother worked.

One day, wanting to be around his older brother more, the two go to a neighboring town, where Guddu tells Saroo to wait for him at the train station.  Nothing about this was unusual.  Saroo had done this many times before.  Tired, he fell asleep, but when he woke up later in the day, he had no idea where his brother was.  Thinking he might have boarded the train, Saroo got on, and inadvertently traveled across the country, ending up in Calcutta.  

Barely able to speak, at age five, he survived for several weeks before he was taken to an orphanage where, after several months, he was adopted by an Australian couple.  He grew up in a wonderful home, but never lost the desire to find his family.

And so he does, 25 years later; studying Google Maps satellite images for hours at a time for months and years, he eventually finds familiar scenery.  And learns that his name was really Sheru, and the area he thought he was from, Ginestlay, was actually Ganesh Talai.

You get so caught up in Saroo's quest, and as a mom, I had my heart in my throat as he navigated his way around the country.  As a five year old!  His adoptive parents are wonderful, and with mixed feelings, support Saroo's journey to India to reconnect with his biological family.

Monday, April 9, 2018

"Create a Country" project blends geography, writing, and art

"There is no military.  Because no one believes in war."

"Our most important law is do not go out after 11:00 because bad things start happening..."

In these Country histories, almost no one has a military.  The laws are typically: no stealing, no lying, and no cheating.  You've got to love the optimistic spirit of 6th graders!
create a country, geography, land forms, art, writing, project based learning

Teach of Review Geography terms

Teach students the more commonly known land forms.  You can use your own graphic organizer or click here to get a free Geography Terms Toolkit that you can copy for your students.

Once students have learned about, drawn, and found real-world examples, have them create a country where all those will be found.

Create A Central Theme 

Let students have fun coming up with ideas for their country names: pasta, cheese, Star Wars, Minecraft, baseball, basketball, candy, and cupcakes have all had countries based on them!  

Students name each of the land forms to fit the theme; for example if their country theme is candy, the country name might be Sweetlandia and you might find Snickers Bay, Reese's Pieces Archipelago, and Whoppers Waterfall there.

Design A Map

Have students create a rough draft of their map BEFORE you give them poster paper.  Trust me on this!  They can get an idea of where to put each land form, and what shape their country will take.

Then, let them draw and color their final copy.

Write their Country's History

Use a graphic organizer to help your students write about the most important aspects of their country: general information, early history, geography, government, important people, education, and lifestyle.  From this, they should be able to write a 1 - 2 page history about how their country came to be.  While this is an informational piece, you may allow students to include some fantasy elements that pertain to their theme, like the dragon who created the country, or the video game win that led to a person assuming power.

Create Currency, A Flag, or other important elements

Students love creating money, complete with pictures of important leaders, or famous tourist sites.  Flags are popular, and can include a lesson on important design elements.  Poets and writers might want to create a pledge to the flag or a national anthem.  

Want More Writing?

Are you working on Persuasive Writing?
Have your students create a brochure persuading readers to visit their country.

Narrative Writing?
Students can write a journal entry.

Opinion Writing?
Explain why the government in their country is a better fit than the current government.

The possibilities are endless!
The Create a Country project contains an interactive notebook for 20 land form  vocabulary words in two formats, graphic organizers for writing: a country history, journal entry, national anthem and pledge, as well as pages for creating money and a flag.  Teacher guides and answer keys are provided.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Who's the Greatest Hero of All Time? From Debate to Opinion Writing

Picture of crowd in arena with bright lights
I wish I had taped it, this powerful discussion.  Impassioned students debating whether their person was more heroic than someone else's.  Which led to conversations about what heroism is.  Was Albert Einstein more heroic than Harriet Tubman?  Todd Beamer?  Carson Wentz?

Elementary students' worlds are just starting to expand, and if you ask them about their heroes, they most often talk about their parents, a few athletes, Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Picture of book: Tales of Famous HeroesPicture of book: 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should MeetIt's important to expand their horizons!  And so we did, first with 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should MeetTales of Famous Heroes, and then this website:  It wasn't meant to be a huge research project, just a way to get students to think beyond their parents.

Students completed this graphic organizer (you can download it by clicking here).  There's a blank page (and this one with directions.)

Students held on to them as they read about a couple of people they weren't as familiar with.  We used  which is rapidly becoming my go-to site for great articles!

But the kids wanted to talk about the people they'd researched!  They wanted to compare and learn more about each other's heroes.  So we decided to discuss in a Socratic Seminar "Who's the Greatest Hero?" of all the heroes researched.

Oh Boy!

It was an amazing display of thought and discussion about the qualities that make a hero.  Students were the most impassioned I've seen in a while.  I hated to end the discussion, and then it occurred to me that they should have an opportunity to argue on behalf of their hero.  What a great activating strategy for Opinion writing!

Whether you try this Hero's Challenge or another idea, having students discuss and debate in Socratic Seminar is a great way to get ideas flowing!

P.S.  Special thanks to Kate Hadfield Designs and Joyful Hands Products for their clipart on the Hero's Graphic Organizer.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Project-based learning with Peeps!

Peeps challenge, project based learning, STEM
I love project-based learning!  It's fun to see kids get jazzed up about a topic and collaborate well (or not) with other students.  Mostly it's just fun to watch them create!  They have such great ideas and are so much more willing to push boundaries in their thinking.

Last year, coming up on Easter break, I came up with the idea to create a Peeps catapult challenge.  I had seen something similar on Pinterest and it looked like it would be engaging for kids who were starting to check out on the day before break.  I talked to the other two teachers on my team, and like the great troopers they are ("OMG, Marion, have you come up with yet another crazy idea?") they decided to plan something for Peeps around their content areas, too.
Project-based learning, STEM, Peeps
Project based learning, STEM, Peeps
Different designs and different approaches to catapulting led to some surprises!
Project based learning, STEM, PeepsProject based learning, STEM, Peeps
Building houses required geometry skills.  Would the homes be large enough for the Peeps chick to fit inside?

In Science, students researched the physical and behavioral adaptations that animals make, to survive in the wild.  Then, they were assigned a biome, and had to present how their Peeps would adapt to that environment.

A great day of learning!

If you're intrigued, take a look at how I incorporated these ideas, along with some other ones (better materials, more math and some writing) in this product which you can find on my 
Peeps challenge, project based learning, STEM

Have a great day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Grab some products during TpT's Valentine's Day Sale!

You know what to do!  Shop TpT and put in the promo code when you get ready to check out.  You'll get 25% off of any products in my store!  
Special thanks to PepaMaria Cabello for the great graphic!