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!