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!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More Great Summer Reading...

Summer is proving to be a great time to catch up on the amazing stories that I missed this past year. As I continue my "summer reading challenge", I am trying to challenge myself to read outside of my box and try stories that would not typically land on my personal reading list. The results have been surprising and fun. Here are some books I have especially enjoyed...

1. Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford (ISBN# 9780142416679, published by Penguin Group)
Love this book!! I am a softie for a good superhero (just ask my students), so this book was right up my ally. The main character is an unlikely superhero who finds himself in the right (or perhaps wrong) place at the right time. The story is filled with heart and very touching moments (I cried at the end). I think it would be loved by boys and girls alike.

2. National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society (N.E.R.D.S. Series #1) by Michael Buckley (ISBN# 9780810989856, published by Harry N. Abrahms, Inc)
This story was way outside my box of preferred reading, but it came recommended and I decided to give it a whirl. I'm glad I did. This was a fun read with some unexpected twists and turns that you would expect from a spy novel. As a teacher, I loved the underlying message of acceptance that was woven through the story. At face value, this seems like a perfect "guy read", but I feel sure anyone wouldmfindmit entertaining.

3. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (ISBN # 9780440420477 published by Random House Children's Books)
This felt like the classic summer book, probably because it was a tale of summer fun and adventure. I loved that as I read this story, I felt every possible emotion. Plus, just when I thought I might be disappointed by the ending, the story pulled through and left me feeling content. I really enjoyed this one, too!!

Not every book that I have read so far left me feeling as pleased as the books I have listed here. However, I recognize that all readers are different and you might really love these books. I certainly found endearing qualities in each of them, but they were not my favs... Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan (I had a hard time liking Ida B, but I am a mom not a kid); and My Life As A Book by Janet Tashjian (my husband read this and he said I would've enjoyed it more if I was a boy).

I'm signing out for now, but I have a few more to share in my next post. I am starting a new book today!! I hope you find a story that captures your imagination this summer. If you have any suggestions for me please leave a comment!

Friday, July 6, 2012

My Summer Reading Challenge

I have a deep and abiding love for children's literature, especially picture books. It began when I started teaching and grew with the birth of my daughters. During my brief stint as a preschool teacher, I was the person who could match a book to any lesson, theme, or alphabet letter; and, I probably had the book sitting on the shelf in my classroom or at my house. However, when I accepted a position teaching 4th grade two years ago, I came to the realization that my so called expertise was limited to grades three and below. I was not familiar with the plethora of chapter books and novels that now lined my classroom shelf, and after two years I realized I would not become well-versed in these books through osmosis. So my challenge began.

I am reading chapter books and novels in the hopes that I can better advise and direct my students to quality literature during the coming school year. I have a few conditions for myself. First, I try to steer clear of series because I want to expose myself to many different authors and genres. Next, I want to focus on stories within the reading level of my current students. Therefore, I am chosing books that range from 3rd to 6th grade readability. Finally, I try to chose titles that I do not recognize but that were recommended for readers in this age range. I use state recommendations, like Florida's Sunshine State Reading List, to help guide my selections. After a bit of searching and research, I went to the bookstore and began my challenge. This summer, my posts will focus on the books I am reading and my reflections along the way. I will start with the first book I decided to read...

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, by Grace Lin (ISBN #9780316038638; published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Usually, you save the best for last. In this case it appears I reversed it. It is the story of a young girl who leaves home in an attempt to change her family's fortune, and her many adventures along the way. This book was so well written with unexpected twists and turns on every page. I love the way the author used Chinese legends to connect the events in the story in such an engaging manner. I laughed, cried, ached, and rejoiced with the characters in this story. It is one of the best books I have read and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to readers young and old. I am signing out for now, but I will be back soon with an update on my progress. I hope you are enjoying your summer. Grab a good book and get lost for a few minutes!!