Friday, November 10, 2017

8 Books to Teach Empathy & Acceptance While Helping Students Gain an Understanding of the World

We are so excited to be working together for our new unit. Since I am back in ELA this year, Robyn and I brainstorm constantly about how we can make the units more effective, engaging, and fun. We want the students to understand WHY they are learning what we are teaching and we want to teach the WHOLE CHILD, while teaching the standards. This year we have a high focus of social/emotional students and because of that we are very excited for this unit.

Our focus question is, "How can literature teach us about empathy and acceptance while helping us gain an understanding of the world?"

Not only are we teaching the students about empathy, but we wanted a highly engaging unit. There is nothing worse than listening to the same book every year for a lesson. Some great books are read every year from K-4, but we wanted something new for the surprise factor. We looked for new books and books that aren't hugely popular and this is what we found.

We are going to read Wonder as a class and constantly refer back to the novel. Stay tuned for more information on our plans for this book! I was able to get a whole class set for $36 through, so be sure to check that website out for book deals.

We found the best prices on Amazon and ordered them all with Prime! :) The other books we are using in this unit are (affiliate links provided):

Check back tomorrow for our first lesson inferring using The Invisible Boy!

Friday, August 11, 2017

THREE ways to make students feel SPECIAL before they meet you!

I'm sure all of your are in the back-to-school rush and have either already started school or will be in just a few short weeks. Here in Connecticut, we start the last week of August. So while my kids are finishing up their last day of camp today, I am sitting in Starbucks, crossing a bunch off my to-do list. Unfortunately, I cannot get into my classroom this week because the floors are being waxed, but I know early next week students and parents will be wandering around eager to take a peek at where they will be learning for the next year. So I am going to explain some tricks I have to make me look supper prepared because let's face it, are we ever ready for the year to start?

#1. Send home a welcome letter. This year I have a new partner teacher who I am excited to work with. I wanted to send something home to our new classes to introduce ourselves. I made this letter quickly in Power Point and added pictures from our personal Facebook pages (don't worry, my partner sent me some he approved of). I'm just going to print these (thank you insta-ink) and mail them home. The kids will surely get a kick out of seeing their teachers "in real life" as well as receiving snail mail! (Don't worry, I only made it blurry here for privacy reasons, it printed out crisp and clear.)

#2. The Classroom Door! I haven't completed my door yet, but it is on my to-do list. I've seen such amazing designs floating around on social media, but since the door normally the first part of the room seen, it should be a great reflection of your classroom. It would be extra special if you had student names on it, welcoming your new students. A little hint is to go on Instagram and search the hashtag #classroomdoor - there are some great ideas to spark your creativity. The hard part is picking out which one you want to create!  

#3. My favorite classroom trick is really special. Since my school allows parents and children to walk around and look at classrooms during the summer, I like to leave my room presentable. One of the first things I do is make a personalized birthday lollipop bouquet. When students see these jumbo rainbow lollipops with their names on them, they seriously get excited. Little do they know they will not get one until their birthday, but they still look awesome all year long. Since these lollipops are so large, I love sticking them in a tall vase. If you think it will fall over, try adding some of the green foam you stick flowers in. I even had thank you notes from parents with pictures of their child enjoying the giant pop! What I like about these pops is that they are packaged carefully and never arrive broken. Plus they are at a price on Oriental Trading, that even a teacher can afford. To make them personal, I just create a circle in Power Point and decorate it with clip art and color. I then print, cut, and tape to the pop. If lollipops don't interest you, check out the other assortment of candy on Oriental Trading, it will surely arrive in great shape and is at a price you can afford. This will be a great focal point in your classroom, and even if the rest of the room is a mess, eyes will surely be drawn this vibrant display of yumminess! 

Best of luck on setting up your room. If you want to make the lollipop labels and cannot figure out how, email me and I will gladly send you my template! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Mentor Text Must Read: Historical Fiction

During the summer I spend a lot of time reflecting.  I'm a busy mom of three little ones and am constantly on the go, but whenever I get a chance, I sit down and think about the read alouds I did during the year and which ones were amazing and which ones don't need an encore.

I'd love to hear some suggestions from you too! Please let us know your favorite historical fiction mentor texts in the comments below!

One I HAVE to share with you is the book, Rose Blanche, by Christophe Gallaz.
This past school year was the first time I picked up this book and I COULD NOT put it down! If you teach historical fiction, this is the perfect picture book for you.  The author takes you on a journey through the injustices of the Holocaust in Germany. The character notices the horrific changes around her which lead to a dramatic ending!  In order for my students to get anything out of the book, I had to build their background knowledge.  We spent numerous days completing a Think-Puzzle-Explore (more to come about that soon!) activity where students where in charge of their own questions and exploration about the time period.  Once I felt they had a deep grasp on the time period, I started my read aloud. The reading strategy I was focusing on was inferential thinking (if you don't teach historical fiction, this book leads itself perfectly to inferring).  I was blown away with the inferences my students were making! It was imperative for them to build their background knowledge before reading the story because it dramatically increased their understanding of the story (just something to think about if you do choose to use it). Every single page lead to a deep discussion- my students were intrigued, fascinated, engaged, and outraged about the TRUE events within the story. This book is filled with drama, distinct tone, emotions, and will leave your students begging for more.  I won't spoil it for you, but the end will leave your class in an uproar and they will be begging to discuss, question, and read it again! 

Don't forget to let us know your favorite historical fictions mentor texts in the comments below! Thanks for reading! :)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

How I Brought Geography into 21st Century Learning!

Social Studies used to be a small subject that was put on the back burner during the year. Since we
are now much better at integrating subjects together and teaching social studies content through language arts standards, it seems like there is more of a chance to get some learning in.

In fourth grade, our social studies curriculum revolves around geography. Plain and simple...Regions of the United States and Geography. Pretty bland. Not memorizing states and capitols anymore, but actually understanding that Connecticut is on one side of the United States and California is on the other side. The climate for those two states are different, that there might be reasons why people choose to live in those states, and the culture is also diverse throughout the United States. Just teaching those skills to students does not leave a lot of integration into content or inquiry based learning.

Nobody knows more than teachers, how to whip a boring topic into something fascinating, but it does take a lot of work and research. Kids tend to get bored with anything they can simply ask Seri about, so why not use it to our advantage? In an age when maps are becoming alive on smartphone screens, it is important to make full use of these devices’ capabilities. Check out some ides below.

Combine interactive maps with multimedia 
An easy way to provide rich information on a given location is to incorporate audio and video to a landmark. Multimedia is highly engaging with students, and can give context to what is otherwise little more than a name or dot on a map. The ability to access the material individually at any given time makes mobile learning suitable for both work in class and revision at home. Kids can easily use Google Maps for this idea. Google Maps can be used on an I-pad, I-pod, or even Chrome Book!

If your students are like mine, nothing sparks their interest like the word "competition".  Here's a great idea, divide a class into teams and let them compete for points in a landmark scavenger hunt. Once students learn map skills, take them outside on the playground for a fun scavenger hunt. Before school mark some "landmarks" with spray paint (can simply be an X on the grass). Clues can be given from one spot to the other and the first team to finish, wins! They can use the compass app on the ipad for extra map skill practice. It's even more fun part to make a rule that at each landmark they have to snap a picture with their group at the spot. This might take some prep, but it will be something the students remember forever, not to mention put those map skills to use!

Summer Postcards
When you send a "Welcome" letter to students during the summer, ask them to send you a postcard
from where ever they travel over the summer. Create an easy bulletin board with these postcards and the students will be excited to see that they contributed to the classroom without even knowing! Let students point out what landmarks they find fascinating and create a buket-list of important places they'd like to research or visit someday. Active participation in the learning process is proven to increase academic success, and now students can take part in shaping the study material, both for themselves as well as for their classmates.

My students LOVE music in the classroom and so do I. I use it for transitions, rewards, brain breaks, background noise, and learning. There are so many different geography songs on youtube, but my favorite it the Tour of the States, where the man draws as the song plays. We also put the CC on and sing along and before long the students know all the states and capitols. They also get the visual of where each state is located in the United States.

Engaging Work

Sure there might be some worksheets and ideas online, but I put together my own curriculum for Geography that is great completed in order. Let's face it, I LOVE hands on activities, but sometimes students need to learn or be refreshed on the skills before they can successfully attempt the hands on activities listed above. These are the PERFECT Map Skills Units. They are excellent for sub plans, homework, morning work, or a reinforcement worksheet. I like to have fun with my students so I incorporated a lot of crayon/color work, fun clip art, and visual aids to help my students master geography skills. Not confident in teaching map skills and geography? No worries, my units are teacher friendly and explain EVERYTHING. There are extensions and technology ideas for each unit as well as answer keys too. I have heard this works well with grades 2-5 and students and teachers love how organized it is. I have. Of course word wall words are provided for each unit and Geography 1Geography 2, and a bundle deal containing both!

So what are your go to plans for teaching Geography? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

I Finally Own a Plant I Can't Kill!

Sadly, I was not born with a green thumb, but luckily my husband has an awesome love of anything having to do with the outdoors. He has an amazing vegetable garden and usually plants and mulches our gardens surrounding our house. My parents and brother are the same on the other hand...I hate flowers. I have no luck with growing them, keeping them alive, or even remembering to water them.

For example, my husband bought me a gorgeous planter filled with succulents. I was shocked it survived THREE months, now it is a pot of dirt. :(

Don't get me wrong, I love the look of flowers, especially hanging plants, but I just don't have luck with them. If I don't forget to water them and the constant sun on our always sunny front porch will toast them.

In fact, just last week I hung a new flower basket and when we came home from a visit to the in-laws, we noticed the GIANT tree across the street fell and landed on our front porch...knocking down everything in its path. Power lines were all over our front yard and our yard was literally branches, sticks, and leaves. It took almost two days for crews to clean that mess up and now our front garden, grass, and my poor hanging basket is ruined.

That was the final straw...over the ten years we have lived in this house, we have tried a wide variety of hanging baskets. I spend a ton of money each season (and sometimes multiple times per season) replenishing my dead flowers throughout the summer, but I am now D.O.N.E.

I recently found out about silk baskets. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try one, at least I knew it wouldn't burn in the sun or die from lack of water. I chose a pretty orange/yellow plant from a new website called PermaLeaf®. It arrived very quickly and all I had to do was open the box and hang it up.

I absolutely love it. The leaves are shiny, the basket is adorable, the plant swings in the wind, and the flowers are vibrant. (My husband laughed at me because I probably shouldn't have picked a Hawaiian looking plant if I wanted it to look real, since I do live in Connecticut!) Overall, it makes me happy. Every time I go out the front door I smile because it is still flowering. I have a feeling it will be full of flowers all summer and my neighbors will probably be impressed (haha).

The only thing I need now is four other matching baskets because my front porch has hanging hooks surrounding it. Check out my plant and let me know what you think!

Friday, January 13, 2017

3 Ways NOT to FAIL When Introducing Book Clubs

Participating in a book club CAN and SHOULD be an amazing experience for ALL kids. I have read all about it, watched videos, and consulted with colleagues, BUT they were never successful in my classroom. I struggled with how to get students involved in their book without ME. I couldn't figure out how to get students to dive into their "roles" and take ownership of their club. I am ELATED that after spending YEARS of failing, or we can call it "experimenting," I finally have book clubs that have turned into collaborative groups where ALL students are engaged, on task, and EAGER to share their thinking!!! Here are three tips I've learned along the way that helped me NOT FAIL when introducing book clubs.

#1 COLLABORATION!! What I think made a HUGE difference was having students work through
their understanding of working collaboratively together. Let's be serious, a book club is a collaborative group, so it's really important for students to know and understand what one is. I put students in their clubs and on easel paper I wrote out the following 5 questions (each group had their own):

  • What does the word “collaborate”mean? 
  • What makes a discussion collaborative?
  • What does it mean to “build on others’ ideas”? 
  • What words or phrases can you use to link your ideas to your classmates’ ideas in collaborative discussion? 
  • What are some positive way to contribute to a meaningful discussion? 

Once each group completed the questions, they spent time sharing their ideas. We discussed each question in depth and came to the realization... Building on others' ideas helps create collaborative groups. We watched a video of a collaborative group (I found one online) and we discussed and charted how each member was contributing to the collaborative group. This was important for students to see what it actually looked like too.

# 2 ROLES! ROLES! ROLES! Students LOVE to have a role. I created a bunch of different book club roles and then let each student pick their own role. Some of the roles were: Word Whiz, (this person kept track of words that they or others may find confusing) Summarizer, (this person summarizes the most important part of the chapter) Character Reporter, (this person reports on the character, anything knew they noticed, character traits, character change, etc.) and many more. I simply checked out Pinterest and created a bunch that would fit my classroom. I also picked ONE student from each group to be the teacher. I picked someone who I knew would be serious and help the group to remain I task. I also let my class know that the teacher can change, but you have to earn it. This was HUGE! Each student begged to be the teacher and therefore I noticed how many of my students who are usually off task, started to become engaged and participating in their group! WOOHOOO!!

#3 MODEL! MODEL! MODEL! Once my students were ready to dive into their book club, I made a
point to model as much as possible. I would share my thinking and how I was able to keep the conversation going by building on others' ideas (when I would pop in and out of different groups)! I was not only the model, but I let other groups model as well. I also videotaped each group, I simply grabbed my I-phone and while they were submerged in their groups, I videotaped their collaborative conversations. This was eye-opening to my students. When they were able to see themselves and critique one another, they were able to see how productive or unproductive their group was! This was a game changer!! After viewing themselves against other groups, they really uped their game and implemented things they noticed other groups were doing successfully! I felt like a ROCK STAR seeing how each student strived to be an active participant in their collaborative group!

Getting Book Clubs started is the hardest part. I went very VERY slow because I wanted to make sure they had the fundamentals. If I didn't ease into the clubs slowly, it would have been a disaster because students wouldn't truly understand the collaboration aspect and their expectations. I used to rush into clubs and then become frustrated because they weren't working collaboratively and were off task. I realized that SLOW and steady wins the RACE! Going slow made the world of difference! I'm honestly in awe when I sit back and simply listen to the discussions going on during club time.

#teachersuccess :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Manageable Flexible Seating Options That Work!

I am very blessed because my classroom has awesome seating options. No, they weren't cheap, but some I made and purchased myself and others I wrote and received grants for this year. I have three rotating classes of 24 students each, so these seats get used by 72 students a day. Plus, my teacher friends and I love them during meetings in my classroom.

My classroom is not the only room that has moved to flexible seating, in fact two awesome teachers at my school just received a grant to give each classroom a few more hokki stools, so now all classrooms will have options.

I am always being asking about what is in my classroom, so I thought I'd list the items below. I can't tell you what my students like the best because each student finds what works best for them. During the week, options rotate so it is fair for everyone, but I am finding more and more students know what they need (as far as seating) to produce their best work.

Today I snapped some pictures in the classroom and it made me laugh at all the different options kids had and used. I loved that some of them are even just standing to get work done. I have two rugs in my classroom, yet some students still like the cold, hard tile floor. lol

I find flexible seating options are actually manageable as long as you set your expectations and norms in the classroom. I've seen a huge decrease in stress, negative behavior, and anxiety due to flexible seating options as well.

I hope this post has inspired you to try out some flexible seating options. If you are already trying out flexible seating in your classroom, I'd love to hear about it. What works for you? What is your favorite? Personally, I sit on a Gaiam Balance Ball Chair when I am at my desk and LOVE it. Let me know what you use in the comments below!

Joe Boxer College Foam Filled Chairs
2 Crate Benches
Wobble Cushions
Hokki Stools
Gaiam Balance Ball Chairs