Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oreo Cookies and Time / Order Sequence

If you are looking for an exciting way to get kids excited about the text structure time / order sequence, look no further than your neighborhood grocery store. Each year, we use Oreo cookies to teach this skill. That is because everyone has a special way to eat Oreo cookies. We write about the process, listing the steps we take in devouring a favorite treat. Of course, we practice first with the real thing!! My class loves the Double Stuff cookies!!

Happy Learning!!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Summer Learning Adventure

Last year, I challenged myself to create and carry out a learning adventure that would help me improve personally and professionally. I decided to do this by reading as many YA novels as I could in about 1 1/2 months. At the end of summer, I completed about 20 novels-- not bad for someone who doesn't LOVE to read (that's a whole other blog post).

This year, I started the summer convinced that I was going to repeat my previous summer reading challenge, until I discovered this little distraction known as Netflix. Quickly, my reading time was taken up by the television series, "Switched at Birth" from ABC Family. It's the story of two teenage girls who discover that they were accidentally switched as babies and must adjust to their new reality. The series includes several prominent characters who are deaf, and the deaf community is featured in the show. Watching the show gave me the inspiration I needed to begin my summer learning adventure! I was going to learn to sign.

In all fairness, I went into this adventure with a comfortable grasp of the sign alphabet, which is an important first step to mastering sign language. For the next 3 1/2 to 4 weeks, I used an internet website to complete several lessons as I worked to learn this new language. Through this journey, I came to some very important realizations about students who are second language learners...

1. Internal motivation is key: I was inspired to learn sign language after watching a T.V. show. I am motivated to learn this language because I want to be able to communicate with my in-laws, who are deaf and hard of hearing. Learning to sign is a choice I made, but if I stopped tomorrow, I would still be able to communicate readily with the people around me. For most ESOL students, acquiring a second language is a necessity. They are learning English to assimilate to a new country and a culture that is very much based on a new language. I am able to learn sign without the stress that most ESOL students feel. Understanding this difference helps me to better understand the frustration my students may be feeling during the process of language acquisition.

2. Practice makes perfect: I decided to use a free, online website ( to learn to sign. The lessons included a set of vocabulary (usually about 20 words), video of each vocabulary as a sign (with written instruction), practice quizzes, and a 30-40 minute video of the professor (Dr. Bill Vicars at CSUS) reviewing the lesson in a classroom situation. As I worked through these lessons, I would spend at least 2 hours each day practicing, viewing and reviewing the signs and lesson videos. I realized quickly that practicing the signs made them feel more automatic. At the beginning of my journey, this was easy. Now, I'm about 24 lessons into my studies. I have so many signs floating around in my head, that I am starting to forget which words I actually know. Unfortunately, I do not have a signing buddy to practice with each day. As a result, I find that I am forgetting signs from my early lessons-- especially signs that I might not use in daily conversation. What a great lesson for me as a teacher! Practice really does make perfect in language acquisition. If there is no one to practice with at home or outside of the classroom, language learners can quickly become overwhelmed as they strive to learn a new language.

3. Showing others your new language can be scary: When I became a teacher about 17 years ago, I took ESOL strategy classes, and I remember the instructor discussing this concept. It was not until I tried to learn a new language on my own that I truly understood this concept. I'm excited to learn sign language, but I'm a little nervous about showing others what I know. In large part, this is because I only practice with my online videos and myself. I'm not secure enough in my language acquisition to feel comfortable showing others what I know. In addition, I am very slow at signing and I am not very good at signing and talking together (it's a syntax thing). I have a whole new appreciation for students going through the same issues as they learn English.

As I continue to learn this beautiful new language, I reflect on how this experience will improve my teaching. I certainly believe that embarking on this adventure helped me to feel more empathy for students who are forced to learn a new language, and expected to master it quickly.

Summer will be ending soon, and you can be sure that sign language will make its way into my classroom in a variety of ways. This summer learning adventure certainly opened my eyes to a wonderful new language and helped me understand the challenges that students face when they attempt new language acquisition.

Have a wonderful year!!

P.S. If you want to learn sign language and start your own learning adventure, I strongly recommend starting with

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bringing Learning to Life

Worm Habitat
Teachers are always searching for great ways to bring learning to life for our students. This week, our class studied the importance of rot in our environment and its role in the circle of life. My teammate and I have used this week to create worm habitats in our classes that students can use to observe worm tunnels and how these tiny decomposers contribute to the environment. The students are fascinated by these tiny creatures. They love getting to touch the worms and place them into their temporary home.

Activities and experiences such as this, as simple as they may be, truly enrich the learning environment for our students. Yet, as teachers, we often fail to embrace these opportunities because we feel beholden to the demands of a rigorous curriculum and our desire to keep pace with the lessons in our text books.

Just this week, I had a class meeting in which we discussed the need to slow down and give our best effort. I explained to my class that we were not running a race in which the winner was the first place finisher. Instead, the winner was the competitor who gave the best effort. Of course,the same lesson is true for me as a teacher. My goal must not be finishing the race the fastest. Instead, I must embrace the opportunities that bring the curriculum alive for my students--even if that means that we slow the pace so we can take advantage of the moments that really matter.

To create a worm habitat, you need..

  • A clear two liter bottle with the top cut off,
  • Potting soil--enough to fill the 2/3 of the bottle,
  • Coffee grinds, shredded newspaper
  • Container of worms (can be found at a bait shop)
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Pantyhose (cut off the leg to cover the top of the bottle)
  • Black construction paper (wrap around the bottle)
To view the tunnels, lift the paper on and off the bottle. Use the water bottle to provide moisture to the soil each day. Be careful not to over water. Return the worms to the earth after 2-3 weeks.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

App-y Day

Education Apps on my iPad
Technology is an important focus for many educators and schools this year, and our class is no different. At the start of our summer break, our administrators surprised the teachers with iPads. It was a happy day indeed, as we were charged with the mission of finding ways we could use these amazing tools to enhance instruction in our classroom. Needless to say, I spent many hours on my couch this past summer searching for apps, blogs and websites that would help me become a better teacher. Along the way, I found some incredible apps that I knew my students would love using to extend their learning, practice skills, and explore new concepts. Here are some I would suggest for kids and families...

1. Motion Math: Zoom I love finding an app that challenges kids in a way that is meaningful and fun, and this app does that for kids in grades 3-5. Players classify fractions, decimals and percentages in this fast paced game. There are several other games available from Motion Math that you might also want to check out.

2. Simple Physics: This is the perfect app for that kid (or adult) who loves to build and who loves a good challenge. Players must complete building challenges from creating a treehouse to a bridge to a skyscraper. Each structure must withstand a weight test and come in under budget in order to complete the level. This one takes thinking outside the box and it is so much fun!!

3. A+ Spelling Test: I love this app because it helps review for weekly spelling assessments. You type and record the words from your current list, and then you can practice the words, play games, and quiz yourself. Best of all, it is super easy to use.

4. Puppet Pals: My amazing teaching partner, Tina Ruston, turned me onto this app. My daughters "field tested" it for me, and it has provided hours of giggles and creativity in our house. This app allows the user to utilize a variety of characters and settings to create and record an animated puppet show. In addition, players can use photos from the camera roll to personalize the characters and put themselves and their favorite toys into the puppet show! It is a phenomenal app.

5. The Opposites: This wonderful game builds vocabulary by challenging the player to match opposites. As the game advances, the vocabulary becomes more complex and the action more fast-paced. It's a great way to learn without even realizing it!!

These are five of my favorite learning apps for kids in grades 3-5. Do you have some favorites that you would be willing to share with me? Leave a comment and I will try to check them out!!

Until then, happy learning!!


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reading Challenge comes to an end...or does it??

With the start of a new school year, my summer reading challenge draws to an end. Before I bid farewell to my summer reading, I want to share the final selection of my challenge.

WONDER by R.J. Palacio (Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN# 978-0-375-86902)
I learned about this book after participating in an online chat with 4th grade teachers from around the country. We were sharing our favorite books, and this title appeared repeatedly among the recommendations. I resisted reading it for much of the summer, in part because it is only available in hardback and I was too cheap to purchase it. However, by the end of the summer, I could resist the temptation no longer and I bought it during an after dinner trip to the book store-- a favorite outing for our family. By 11:00 a.m. the next morning, I had finished the book. I devoured every page and loved every moment. In fact, after reading "Wonder", I was not able to pick up another book for the remainder of the summer. Even now, weeks after completing the story, my heart smiles to think about this lovely story. It is the fictitious tale of a young boy, August, who is born with a severe facial abnormality. Much of his life has been spent in the loving protection of his family, but that changes when his parents decide it is time for him to attend a private school in his neighborhood. Now August must navigate the unforgiving world of middle school, and learn to make friends along the way. The author tells this incredible story from various perspectives, but August is the true touchstone of this story. It is a lesson in tolerance, acceptance, and discovering wonder in the most unlikely places. I certainly saved the best for last this summer. If you and your family only chose one book to read from my summer suggestions, I hope this will be your choice.

I am excited to share my new treasures with my 4th grade class this year. I hope my challenge will motivate my students to embrace literature and find joy in reading.
I have enjoyed this personal challenge more than I ever imagined possible. This challenge has renewed my passion for reading, and made me realize that it is just as important for teachers to make time read for pleasure as it is for my students to make time to read for pleasure. After all, I am their role model.

Until next time...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

August 10 for 10 Book Event

I am excited to participate in my first "cross blogging" event with the August 10 For 10 Book Event!! This event is the brain child of two teachers who love children's literature and want to share that love with teachers, parents, and students everywhere. The way it works is bloggers around the globe list their TOP 10 picture books -- books you just can't live without!! They will compile and share the list on their blogs on August 10. I love children's literature, and knew this was my kind of blogging event. So without further ado, my Top 10 favorites are as follows:

1. THE GIFT OF NOTHING, by Patrick McDonnell (a heartwarming story of the simple gift of friendship)

2. STAND TALL, MOLLY LOU MELON by Patty Lovell (a great lesson about believing in yourself and embarrassing your uniqueness)

3. OUR TREE NAMED STEVE, by Alan Zweibel (a story of unconditional love)

4. MY LITTLE SISTER ATE ONE HARE, by Bill Grossman (the grossest, coolest counting book ever)

5. DON'T LET THE PIGEON STAY UP LATE, by Mo Willems (honestly, I could creat a top 10 list of Willems's books--he is such a great children's author. I chose this because it was the first one I read with my girls)

6. ENEMY PIE, by Derek Munson (great book to read if you are trying to get rid of your worst enemy)

7. EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK, by Byrd Baylor (one of those books that speaks to me; great guide for choosing the perfect rock)

8. KNOTS ON A COUNTING ROPE, by Bill Martin, Jr (the first book to make me cry in front of my class-- books can move you and evoke so many emotions)

9. NO DAVID, by David Shannon (this was always my Day 1 read aloud when teaching 1st grade. After I read it to my class, every student believed they could read, too. It was magic)

10. HOORAY FOR DIFFENDOOFER DAY, by Dr. Seuss (with help from Lane Smith and Jack Prelutzky) (a story that remind us that creating bright, independent thinkers should be a top priority at every school)

This is my least it is today!! What a challenge it is to think of a top 10 when there are so many amazing books. I am excited to read the final list that is compiled from tomorrow's entries!! Until then, happy reading to all!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Challenge Continues...

My personal summer reading challenge is proving to be one of the best endeavors I have ever undertaken. About a month ago, I decided to read as many children's novels / chapter books as I could in an attempt to familiarize myself with literature that my students and my children might find interesting. As of today, I have finished my 13th book, and I still have a month remaining in my summer vacation. This journey has allowed me to meet some wonderful new characters and experience daring adventures in a world that only books can create. Here are some that I have recently completed...

1. Fish by Gregory Mone (ISBN# 9780545116329)Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!! This was a tale of daring, courage, and true adventure. It follows the life of a young boy named Fish who unwittingly becomes part of the crew of a pirate ship. Along the way, he discovers that friendship and loyalty are important qualities, even among a bunch of scallywags.

2. Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kate Umansky (ISBN# 9780312660932, published by Square Fish). This book was recommended to me by my daughter, who chose it as part of her summer reading. It was truly a magical journey with some unexpected characters. I enjoyed reading this story immensely, and my daughter loved it, too. She is currently reading the sequel and gives us nightly recaps of Clover's adventures. I also love the resourcefulness and quick thinking of the title character. It is great that my girls can read about strong characters who are easy to relate to, like Clover!! We all loved it!!

3. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo (ISBN#9780763643676, published by Candlewick Press) This is that rare book that surprised me from the beginning. The journey I expected was completely different from the journey described in the story because I expected to love Edward from the get go. That was not the case at all. It wasn't until Edward's journey progressed that I began to feel compassion for him. At first, I was disappointed by this, but after reflection I realize that it was part of the genius of DiCamillo's story. Fair warning.. The story is sad in spots and involves the death of a beloved character. It was an emotionally wrought read, but well worth the tears.

4. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (ISBN #9780316058490, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) I am in love with Jeremy Fink and his quirky personality, and his search for the meaning of life is a quest you will love taking with him. The surprise twists at the end of the story were so clever, and illustrated the lengths parents will go through to help their children. The writing was vivid and the characters were truly remarkable. This might not be my first choice for a 4th grade read, especially because the subject of discovering life's meaning and origin may require a more mature perspective to fully appreciate. However, middle school students will love it. Fair warning.. The untimely death of Jeremy's father is central to the story, so be aware of this in case your young reader is extra sensitive to this content.

5. The Magic Half by Annie Barrows (ISBN #9781599903583, Published by Bloomsbury USA)
A great story about two girls who share a bedroom but live many years apart. With the help of some magical glasses, they travel through time and forge an unbreakable friendship and sisterhood. It is a story of courage and determination that is a great example for girls everywhere.

You might also want to check out these titles, too. Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff (fair warning-- this book dealt with a family coming to grips with the loss of a child/sibling--very sad in places). The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies is a story of sibling rivalry (and misunderstandings) in a war of lemonade stands.

I hope that my challenge inspires you to find a good book and read this summer! There is something out there for every reader!! Happy Reading!!