Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Teachers Pay Teachers

Have you heard of Teachers Pay Teachers?  It's a pretty awesome site with great resources.  It's based on the philosophy that the best teacher materials come from other teachers. Most items require a few dollar charge to download, but any I have paid for have been outstanding and very comprehensive.  Plus there are 40,000+ FREE items. 

Teachers Pay Teachers

Files can range from lesson plans, to classroom signs, to fun and exciting projects (ATP and I used this end of the year celebration last year) and had a blast with it.

I am so excited to have sold my first product on TpT just this week.  I am still VERY, VERY new at adding products (one of the summer goals I didn't quite get to), but it seems like a great way to make a few extra dollars off of items I have already worked on creating.  Check out my file "Incorporating the Arts into Writing" here.

Let me know if you find other good stuff I should look into.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dull Pencils are Pointless!

(pun intended)

So last week was not only exciting because it was the first week of school, but it was also the christening of my brand new pencil sharpener.  You may wonder why I am so excited over a pencil sharpener... but actually, if you do, you may not be a teacher.

I have actually written letters to my pencil sharpener (PS) during journaling time (closer to hate mail really) about how it was totally distracting a whole community of writers from the task at hand.  Old PS was loud, always broken, and would completely eat a brand new pencil down to almost nothing before doing its job.

New PS is a complete redesign from Classroom Friendly Supplies.  Troy and the good people at CFS have retooled the old sharpener in a way that is quiet, effective, easy, and fun for students to use.  (Watch the video here to see it in action.)

Check out that point!  And it stays for a really long time.

This is the clip the sharpener comes with to hold it in place.  We're having moderate success getting it to stay.  I wrote an email to Troy at CFS and he personally responded (talk about customer service!) with the recommendation to use hot glue to more permanently affix my new friend.
It's positioned only a few inches from old PS who hangs on the wall.  No one seems to visit him at all this year and pencil sharpening disractions have been almost nonexistent this year. 
It's a little messy after a few days in action, but the students love it.  One students came up to me today and suggested adding a little piece of tape to hold the clear shavings tray in place and I think we'll try that to minimize a little of the mess.
I asked my students to rate our new pencil sharpener and they all gave it two thumbs up!

*End of the year update: our new PS was a hit! Students would actually walk across the hall to use it because it is so much more efficient than the other ones on our walls.  And it held up beautifully allllll year! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Happy First Day of School!

Blog, how I've missed you!  This has been an action-packed week gearing up for the first day of school.

I have so much to share with you, but for now, I am going to send you to another blog (is that cheating?!).  The lovely Donalyn Miller of Book Whisperer fame (read it if you haven't yet!) keeps a blog of the same name. 

This week she wrote about read-aloud books to establish community.  I love her list, including developing communities of readers & writers, communities who value one another, communities who have fun, and communities who care about the world.

BookSpeak!: Poems about Books by Laura Purdie Salas is TOTALLY on my wish list.  Does it get any better than a book of poems about books?

Wishing you a happy first day of school as well (whenever it is/was).  I hope someone told you how much they appreciate what you do to make a difference in the lives of children.  If not, know that I am affirming you!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Down to only a few days of summer left!  It's been chock-full of good learning and teaching and now I'm (mostly) excited to meet my newest bunch on Wednesday!

In the midst of all these meetings and final preparation, I have a resource to share today...

Readworks.org is a FREE (you do have to sign up for an account but it's really easy), wonderful resource that is going to be one of my "go to" resources next year.

I am most obsessed with their collection of nonfiction pieces.  It's searchable by grade, topic, reading skill, etc.  In a PD with my department on Friday we worked on developing reading workshop mini-lessons/ assessments around a specific text.  We were able to find a great piece from Readworks on the Civil Rights movement ("A Lesson in Courage") that really helped pull together the lesson.  Check it out and let me know how you use it!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Talent vs Skill

Today I attended a data retreat for all the department heads, curriculum leaders, etc. in my district.  (Had to sit at the superintendent's table!)  It was a morning of lots of specific data and goal-setting for the year, but there was also a discussion on the concept of a growth vs. a fixed mindset. 

Basically a student (or adult) with a fixed mindset believes that the intelligence he is born with is all that he has to work with.  A student with a growth mindset believes that he can grow significantly in intelligence through work.  This may seem fairly obvious, but one take-away I had was how this applies in the way we validate student work.  The emphasis should be less on the final product or on the student's ability to complete a task quickly because this implies a fixed mindset and may lead to some students giving up with they cannot get a task done quickly or on the first attempt.  Rather, we should praise students for endurance throughout a task, for making good choices in completing his or her work, and even for making errors that show the student is trying.  This shows the emphasis is on growth.

We also watched this video that ATP and I showed our students last year.  It's a good one, even if you just use the first chunk with students.  Will Smith shares his beliefs on the value of hard work:

Lay those bricks!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

1812 Top Ten

As I reflect on this week learning about the War of 1812, there aren't a million take-aways that will impact my class teaching.  So I've tried to distill the main nuggets of learning I am going to use somehow next year.  (drumroll please) Here are the Top Ten War of 1812 Facts for Kids:

1.  There were lots of complicated motivations to the war of 1812 and most of it depended on where you lived as to how you would answer that question.  Depending on your region and/or nationality the war was about economic protection, maritime rights, showing America's independence, the lure of Canadian territory, and the removal of Native Americans.

2. The war doesn't impact most Americans because it doesn't fit too cleanly into our greater American war narrative, including wars like the Revolution, Civil War, and WWII, which all were fought to 'expand liberty.'  This war also didn't produce a lot of successes.

3. The real loser of the War of 1812 was the native peoples.  They went from being a major force in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys before the war to a greatly weakened (or removed) force.

4.  Many popular battles from this period are a part of our national identity, such as the Battle of Tippecanoe, the Battle at Ft. McHenry (for producing the Star Spangled Banner), the Battle of New Orleans (for Jackson's establishment as a national figure), the burning of the Capital and the Battle of Lake Erie. 

5. One way to think about the War of 1812 is a continuation of the revolution.  Other historians consider it the start of the expansion movement.  Other historians think of it as the second of three civil wars (the first being the revolution, since the people we were fighting look and sound like us).

6. The area around the Great Lakes was some of the land best in the world.  It's flat, fertile land with lots of water trade routes.  This meant lots of people were willing to fight for control of it.

7. After the war, the territories and states around the Great Lakes and Mississippi River had drastic population growth.  Ohio's population grew about 150% between 1810 and 1820.  Alabama grew 1300%!

8. "Remember the Raisin" was a popular war cry after the defeat and massacre of the Kentucky militia in Frenchtown (now Monroe), Michigan.  It parallels the emotions the bombing of Pearl Harbor evoked during WWII. 

9. The fur trade brought many French settlers to North America.  The resources of North America such as beaver, raccoon, fish, and lumber made this area very valuable, especially due to the scarcity of resources in Europe.  That meant that there were lots of groups in Great Lakes area and that shipping routes for the fur were really important.

10. It's amazing how much history you can learn about right in your own backyard.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fort Meigs

Day four of our class was at Fort Meigs, in Perrysburg. They did a great tour, firing demo, and immersion experience.

We learned first hand how hard it is to march in a wheel (Personally the maneuver reminded me of the Rockettes!)

Certainly a highlight of our historical experience!

"The Fight for Canada"

So I came across this little gem in my 1812 class.  It's a commercial from Candian Government that is being aired during the Olympics to bolster patriotism.  Give it a watch:

It's a great source to show students how different perspectives highlight different points in a historical narrative.  And kind of crazy, right?!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Perry's Monument & Peace Memorial

The site of day three of my 1812 class was lovely Put-in-Bay, Ohio. This is the location of one of the biggest victories of the war of 1812, the Battle of Lake Erie.  The monument honors Oliver Hazard Perry's victory as well as our peace with Canada since.

What fun exploring the environs of South Bass Island with colleagues and a bonus guest, mom.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

War of 1812

Today is the first day of my last class of the summer (yee ha!).  This one, on the War of 1812, is a little off the wall for my teaching content, but it's a chance to stay with mom and dad for the week while getting credits.

Last night I was stressing over my assigned reading (well over a thousand pages) and my general lack of 1812 knowledge.  Hopefully this week changes that.  In the meantime here's a great parody to recap.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Library Leveling

During this past week's professional development, the subject of our classroom libraries came up several times. These libraries are an essential aspect of the reading workshop classroom.

I take a great deal of pride in my own library. I often tell my students that my book are like my children, and I expect them to treat my books with appropriate care. They usually take this charge quite seriously.

My library is voluminous and fairly quality in terms of books students want to read, but of course, it can always get better. For one, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I am working on incorporating more nonfiction.

Friday I started tackling the task of leveling my books. This does not, as one of my friends asked, mean that I stood there with a carpenter level to perfectly align my texts. Rather, through lots of googling, I'm attempting to research and assign a Fountas and Pinnell guided reading level to each of my books. I chose F & P over Lexile and DRA because frankly it's the one that makes the most sense to me. (Click here for a basic equivalency chart).

Wow, is this a big project!  I'm estimating I got through a third to half of my books in a little over four hours.  I really couldn't find any source of a comprehensive database, so for each book I ended up googling the title and "guided reading level."  Is there a better way to do this that someone can share?!

I'm pretty satisfied with the start I have so far.  I may just leave it at that percentage and see if I can have a former student help me with doing more at some point. 

One point that our trainer explained was that students should be able to access your library in multiple ways.  Meaning that the whole thing shouldn't be sorted by author, genre, or level.  I like that this de-emphasizes levels.  I don't ever want my students to think that they are a letter or number, rather than a real reader.  We do a lot of talk about finding "just right books," and level or Lexile is not always the best way to decide.  A motivated reader may be able to read beyond his or her skill if it's a particularly engaging text and vis versa.  This is just one more way for my kiddos to access great books and maybe try one they may not have before.  I'll let you know how it goes!
The middle and top section are sorted by author. (I love these green bins...thank you, Deals!) See the little colored dot in the upper right hand corner of the books?  That's where I'm adding the guided reading level.

These still need pretty labels, but this is the beginning of the books organized by guided reading level.  You can also see the pink bins. These are two of the most popular among students.  One is "Liked the movie?  You'll love the book!"  and one is "Miss S recommends" (I rotate books into that bin often).

Some favorite authors!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New (to me) Nonfiction

In this week's PD we have discussed a few times the need for giving students more exposure and access to nonfiction.  Inspired, I set out to my fav Half Price Books.  Here's what I picked up:

1. Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton: about a girl who is in a traumatic shark attack but learns to overcome with the help of family and faith.

2. The Wright Brothers and Lewis & Clark both by George Sullivan from the "In Their Words" series.  Both great historical figures with connections to our Social Studies curriculum.

3. True Stories of D-Day by Henry Brook.  Maybe I was inspired by my history class from last week, but I also could think specifically of a few former students who would have eaten this book up and I'm sure there will be more just like them in the future.

4. Taylor Swift (Get the Scoop) by Ronny Bloom.  I picked this one up and put it back down a few times.  It seemed a little too trendy, but it was only $3 and I think Swift may have some legitimate staying power and she's certainly proven a good role model for young girls so far.  And she's a writer!

5. A bonus historical fiction book Titanic: Unsinkable by Gordan Korman.  I couldn't resist and had a particular student from this past year in mind.  It's always a popular topic and this may be a great entry into nonfiction for those who are uncertain of the genre as Korman weaves facts into his exciting narrative.

What are your favorite nonfiction reads for students?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

"Phelps Does not Medal..."

Were you as shocked as many around the country to see this look on Phelps' face after his first Olympic event?

I was too after hearing he did not medal, but it struck me as the perfect metaphor for students.   When I heard Michael's post race interview, he basically sited his lack of preparation for this longer event.  Phelps had counted a little too much on his natural ability and drive and hadn't put the hours into getting ready for this event that he had in the past.

I have had students in the past who have had the attitude they they didn't need to practice a skill because they already are a good reader, writer, etc.  They don't see why I am asking them to continue to practice and grow when they feel their abilities are "good enough."

Below is ESPN analyst George Smith's report that I plan to share with my students when these attitudes surface.  My favorite quote from the video is from Phelps' coach Bob Bowman, "He didn't get by on talent in that one."  What a powerful lesson!