Saturday, August 1, 2015

Light a Fire with a Good Book - and a HUGE Giveaway!

It's that time again... the bitter-sweet back to school time. You're going to miss your summer terribly but you secretly get excited by the rainbow of school supplies now in the aisles!  What better way to smooth that transition than with some ideas and goodies?

Several of us bloggers have come together to give you some awesome ideas for Back to School Books! These books can be used to set up your classroom community, begin a good lesson, or just as a fun read-aloud.

The book I'd like to share with you is Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley.  I know this isn't your normal first week of school read aloud but it is definitely a novel I love to start my year off with!

In book one of this bestselling series, sisters Sabrina and Saphne are sent to live with their mysterious grandmother, Relda Grimm.  The sisters learn they are descendants of the Brothers Grimm, whose famous book of fairy tales is actually a collection of case files.  The girls are the latest in a long line of fairy-tale detectives, and their new hometown is filled with Everafters (as magical folks like to be called) - some good and some very, very bad.  When a mysterious Everafter setes a giant loose on the town, it's up to the Sisters Grimm to save the day.


Here are just some of the reasons it's one of my favorites!

  1. It's about a town of fairy tale characters that we all know and love but they are not who they seem!  The villains might be bad guys, the good guys might be wicked, but you never know what anyone is up to in Ferry Port Landing (and that keeps my kids on their toes!).  The kids know most of these characters but I have found as the years go on, they don't necessarily know their stories - unless it was made into a Disney movie, lol.  So you might want to do some referencing or pre-reading :o)
  2. It's a mystery... my favorite! Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are on hot on the trail to find out who stepped on Mr. Applebee's farm and the even bigger mystery... What happened to their parents?
  3. It's a series!  There are 9 books total and a companion guide.  I read this my first year at my new school and our media specialist had to buy the rest of the series because so many kids came to ask if she had it! LOL So get book two ready to go!
  4. There are TONS of reading skills that can be taught using this book and with all the wondrous foods that their Granny Relda makes, you could easily have yourself an end of book celebration with those funky treats!

One of the very first skills I ever teach, and use with this book, is Point of View.  The reason for this is because it is an ongoing skill.  For every book we read after this, we can use our notes and skills from the Sisters Grimm to figure out the POV of our newest read aloud. Usually one of the harder skills for students to grasp, I have made it easier with a student friendly power-point, four different ways for them to take notes and a Point of View Road Map that will help them figure out what POV any story is written in!

And have you heard? Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site-wide Back to School Sale August 3rd and 4th, so you will be able to get my Point of View PPT and Notes Pack (along with the POV Poster Pack) 28% off using the promo code BTS15!

We know what else really "lights a fire" in you, and that is fabulous technology! We are giving away a brand new Kindle Fire HD6 to one lucky winner! 

Enter the rafflecopter below by hopping through each of our blogs and entering the secret word that can be found on the tablet in each of our posts. Also make sure to follow our TPT stores because the winner will be announced through a message in your TPT inbox! 

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We are also giving away a $25 gift certificate to Creative Teaching Press!

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Good luck! We hope you have a successful start to your school year! 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

An Interactive Open House

Even though my Open House for back to school isn't for a few weeks, I'm trying really hard to get as much done now as possible!  I usually don't mind the late nights to get stuff done during pre-plan but with a 5 month old...  I'm thinking I might be getting too old for that (at least this time around, lol)!

This year I am doing something different!  Our Open House usually starts out with the entire fourth grade in the cafeteria and all the teachers talk about what they can expect from 4th grade this year: curriculum, field trip dates, etc.  Then they are let loose up to our rooms for exploration time!  It never fails that parents are busy filling out paperwork or talking to me.  The kids, for the most part, are shy and trying to scope out the room from the safety of their parents side, LOL.  Well I want all that to change...

I introduce to you my interactive welcome sign!

This bad boy will be up on my white board and I will have the remote pen ready to go so my new kiddos can just walk up and start clicking away.  Even though the families just heard a few things to expect for the upcoming year, they definitely didn't get all the good details or what our specific classroom will get into.

I created this by uploading my own picture to ThingLink and made it interactive from there!  If you have never heard of ThingLink (don't feel bad, neither did I!), it is a program that essentially can make any photo or video interactive!  Think of all the possibilities!!!  There is a free version but I caved and paid for the year subscription because it has SO many cool features that I want to try with my kiddos this year.  I think it would also be an incredible tool to use if you happened to be doing a Flipped Classroom!

I thank Kim at iTeach STEM who, a couple of days ago, posted in one of our Facebook groups her newest "All About Me" page on her blog (click here to check it out) for introducing me to this awesomeness!  Well let me tell you, it was an instant game changer when I saw it.  Instead of a bunch of writing, she has a picture of herself using ThingLink and I instantly knew four different ways I wanted to use the program in my classroom!

How would you use it in the classroom?  Leave your ideas in the comments section!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sunshine State Book Review: Athlete vs. Mathlete

Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack is probably my favorite book so far!  I love the characters, the main and the secondary!  They are real children.  They have mood swings, they're loyal, they worry, they have fun, they make mistakes.  I think it's very important for kids (especially my student's age) to see that you're not the only one going through these feelings but it is important how you handle them and that some mistakes cannot be undone with a sorry.  I also liked how the books shows the positives to both cliques: the "jocks" and the "nerds."  There is a great life lesson in here as well; life isn't always fair but how you deal with it is what matters.

Summary from Scholastic:
Owen Evans lights up the scoreboards.  His brother, Russell, rocks the school boards.  These twin brothers couldn't be more different.  They've long kept the peace by going their separate ways, but all that is about to change.  The new basketball coach recruits Russell for the seventh grade team and a jealous Owen has to fight to stay in the game.  When someone tries to steal Russell's spot as captain of the mathlete team, will the two be able to put aside their differences in order to save his position?  Or will they be sidelined?

This is a cute little book trailer that might help interest your boys!

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Lexile: 610
Grade Level: Grades 3-5 (3.4)
Pages: 208
Skill: Point of View (the chapter jumps between Owen and Russ' point of view)
Food: Doughnuts (it's the best seller in the Mathlete's bake sale, even if the "enemy" brought them)

Athlete vs. Mathlete is definitely one of those books that will appeal to boys!  We all know how hard it is to get them to read and this will do the trick, even if he's not an athlete or a mathlete ;o)  One of my absolute favorite things about this book is that it's a series!  I hate it when my kids fall in love with a book and want to keep the adventure going, only to find out that it's a stand alone book.  Athlete vs. Mathlete has two other books in it's series: Double Dribble and Time-Out!  Click on any of the photos to find out more info!


If you would like a copy of the award for reading this book click here to grab your free copy!  There are three different versions: SRC test, AR test and just reading the book.

Next up on our Sunshine State Review is Alien in My Pocket: Blast Off!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building Minds, One Bag at a Time

Every year I come up with new goals for myself or my classroom for the next year.  This years goals are:
  1. Student-led Classroom
  2. Incorporate more literature and technology
  3. Have more family involvement
I'm already working on goal number one with Learn Like a Pirate and I've got some new ideas and activities up my sleeve for goal number two (thanks to some of my BBBs!).  Goal number three was a big one and I wasn't sure how I wanted to go about it but knew that I needed the help of Donor's Choose (LOVE THEM!).  They are a wonderful organization that allows teachers to post projects that will benefit their students and people all around the world can donate to those projects!

I know people are busy and have lives/multiple jobs and if that is the case, I want to capitalize on their time at home then!  I have lots of parents who want to help their kids but aren't really sure where to start or what to do and sending home a review packets isn't really helping anyone (especially if that student wasn't getting in class that day either).

My solution?  Family Learning Bags!  Think Literacy Bags (mixed with other subjects and activities) meets Family Game Night meets The 7 Habits.  That's a lot to think about, I know!  Let's have a picture, shall we?

Oooohhhh!  Ahhhhhhh!

We are a Leader in Me school and Habit 7 is Sharpen the Saw!  In a nut shell that means taking time for you.  Do what you love to relax your mind, heart, body and soul.  These bags will have activities to do all of those things with your family: books, games (educational - some more obvious than others), recipes, activities/crafts, and more!  With these bags I'm hoping to help students reinforce skills, bring families closer together, introduce everyone to new activities or topics they wouldn't normally be exposed to, and chances to sharpen your saw!  Now that I have my own little family, I want to spend all my time with them and I definitely don't want to be grading papers while I'm doing it.  I can only assume my student's families feel the same way about homework during family time.  Who wouldn't rather be playing a game than doing math problems on a worksheet?!  Click here for more information on the project!

Usually I send a letter home to kids and get the donation ball rolling but since we're not in school, and I would love to have these ready to go the first week of school, I'm coming to y'all for help.  I believe in these bags so much that I wanted to do a giveaway to help promote them!  If you donate even a dollar to this project for my kiddos, you can enter in the drawing to win your choice of any MINI sign from Tallahassee Sunday!  You can also use the match code SPARK to double your donation!  

This is the one I have!  Let me tell you that this was not an easy decision!  I couldn't decide if I wanted the apple (red or green), the pencil (SO many options there - polka dots, chevron, glitter, etc.), the puzzle piece (my heart will always be with my ASD kids), or make a custom one!  They also have signs for other special area teachers!  Even a cute band-aid if you work in the clinic :o)

Thank you so much for any help you can give my kiddos!  I know they will be very appreciative, along with their families!  Don't forget to use the match code SPARK to double your donation!  This giveaway will end on Sunday, June 28, 2015, so enter while you have a chance!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sunshine State Book Review: PIE

The second book in my Sunshine State Book Review is the one I was most excited for: PIE by Sarah Weeks. I just LOVE pie!  Mmmm... pie!  I even had a pie bar at my wedding since I don't really like cake all that much.  Look at all the deliciousness!!!

See, I even had Mmm... pie written on my ice cream spoons ;o)

Back to the book!

Summary from Scholastic:
While Alice's Aunt Polly, the Pie Queen of Ipswitch, passes away, she takes with her the secret to her world-famous pie-crust recipe.  Or does she? In her will, Polly leaves the recipe to her extraordinary fat, remarkably disagreeable cat, Lardo... and then leaves Lardo in the care of Alice.

Suddenly, the whole town is wondering how you leave a recipe to a cat.  Everyone want to be the next big pie-contest winner, and it's making them pie-crazy.  It's up to Alice and her friend Charlie to put the pieces together and discover the not-so-secret recipe for happiness: Friendship.  Family.  And the pleasure of doing something for the right reason.

This was a very cute story set in 1955 about a little girl trying to find her place in her family now that the only person who really loved her for her is gone.  It's a great story that shows how all your "special little quirks" that make you you, isn't something to be embarrassed or ashamed of, but embrace it and see what amazing things can happen!  There is also a little mystery, Nancy Drew style, thrown in there with a GREAT twist at the end!  You might have to explain a few things since it is set in the 1950's but not much.  It definitely won't deter their reading or understanding if they read this on their own.

There are TONS of great characters in this story, all with their own quirks.  I think this would be a perfect book to discuss character traits and why you think characters are making the decisions they are making (motive).  There are also some good sections early on in the book that lend itself to foreshadowing.  My friend Joanne over at Head Over Heels for Teaching has this fabulous product to promote higher level character analysis!  The best part is you can leave it up all year long and add to it as you read more books.  It's something I am definitely implementing next year!  Click on the image if you would like more info or a set for your own classroom!

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction (not a lot of history though)/Mystery
Lexile: 930
Grade Interest Level: Grade 3-7
Pages: 192
Skill: Character Traits, Foreshadowing
Food: Pie (there are all sorts of recipes in the book!)

If you would like a copy of the award for reading this book click here to grab your free copy!  There are three different versions: SRC test, AR test and just reading the book.

Next up for review is Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate: Peer Collaboration

Now we're getting into the nitty gritty of what PIRATE really means!  In this section we find that the P stands for "Peer Collaboration."  Again, this is one of those things that I kind of prided myself on.  You could walk into my classroom and see students collaborating together.  At least I thought you could.  From reading this I'm starting to think that sometimes they weren't necessarily collaborating so much as just working together; which is fine and dandy sometimes, but not what I want.

We as teachers have to set the stage for a collaborative community.  A place where we are hands off (No more micro-managing!  This will probably be the toughest of them all, lol.), give lots of support and feedback and set our goals and expectations high.  The second I read this I instantly thought of the company GOOGLE.

This video reiterates how the employees come up with ideas talking with people from other departments, how the bosses are very hands off and trust their employees, how they are a family, etc.  Everything this book talks about!  Fair warning, the end of the video does talk about how Google promotes women in the work place, so that might not necessarily be as relevant to your students if you decide to show them this video.

Just a few changes in your day to day occurrences can end up having a big impact!

1. Encourage Leadership with Give Me Five:  This gives students to power to interrupt at any given time.  Now, the southern girl with matching manners in me instantly broke out in hives. BUT he makes a valid point.  A lot of the times the kids will interrupt what you are doing to ask you something, tell you something or share something and that interruption could cause the student you are working with to lose focus.  Of course now all I can think about is Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter,  "OOH, OOH, OOH!" You know we've all got one...

By giving students the power to interrupt you are letting them become leaders.  Telling them it is okay to share what they have found so no one else runs into that problem.  It is okay to ask different students for help.  It is okay to clarify something we are learning about or ask questions.  Even when they interrupt and it is inappropriate, that's a teaching moment!  Show them how to do this correctly, it will take some time.  When you allow this to happen you will see a significant change in how much they rely on you to tell them what to do and how they become problem solvers and leaders themselves.

2. Space that Encourages Learning:  Let them roam free and pick a spot in the room they want to work in.  This is something I do A LOT and it works out fabulously!  If another group is too loud my kids make the executive decision to get up and move themselves, no hinting from me or anything.  I mean, look back at that GOOGLE video.  Who wouldn't want to work in tent!?  You don't even need fancy settings like that, trust me, your kids will love to just get out of their desk and lay on their tummies.  But if you do feel the need to have a cool space, you can always add an igloo!  Get it, cool space??? Punny, I know ;o)

3. Responsibility Partners: And I shall call you Accountability Partners (because it's part of our 7 Habits lingo - Sorry Paul!).  A lot of you probably do something for this already: clock partners, phone partners, Popsicle sticks, etc.

This will not always be a normal partner scenario though, in fact sometimes you're not even working with them!  They are there to make sure you are on track, bounce ideas off of, or even ask for help.  "How are you doing?  Do you need a water break?  What do you think of this?" and back to their assignment they go.  They are responsible for each other which gives them an interest in one another's success!  Paul suggests you keep responsibility partners for a while so they get to know one another and feel comfortable in their pairing.  This partnership really helps keep your students on track and in charge of each other (leaders anyone???).  Loving it!

4. Classroom Meetings: This is something we will be starting this upcoming year and I am very excited about it!  Paul suggest that this is where you talk about class issues and solve them together.  This is also the place and time you will really talk about how people are different, what they can bring to the table and empathy for one another.  When kids understand differences they are more accepting of others.  This is not something they are necessarily born with, some yes but not all, and we need to teach them this concept.  In the book he has a lot of ideas and topics for this category but one thing he recommends is a WONDERful (man I am on a roll!) book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, to help you show and teach your kids these skills.  Click on the image to learn more about this amazing book!

5. Competition: Don't make the focus of your classroom the end result, the grade, completing the task.  Make it about the process, the learning.  As I was reading this section and he was talking about how he could see competition having a negative effect on his classroom, I thought "my kids handle it well, so no worries there" but it's not a matter of how they handle the winning or losing, its how they get there.  When I assigned problems it never failed that my kids would always split them or one person would find the answer.  No matter how many times I tried to explain that that wasn't the purpose or that's not how I wanted it done.  I realize now I was not starting off with a good foundation and I was making the end result more important than the learning.  This was a HUGE eye opener of a section for me and it's really probably the smallest section, lol.

Needless to say, big changes are coming my way and I'm excited to implement them and I think the kids will really be excited by these shifts as well!  Again, if you have not gone out and grabbed this book, you must!  Click on the image below and you can have it at your door in two days time ;o)  Got to love Amazon Prime!

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts along the way!  Next up is the I in PIRATE...  What do you think it stands for?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Learn Like a Pirate: Student-Led Classrooms and Concerns

Ahoy mateys!  Every summer I read at least one professional development book for school.  This summer I was very excited to see that there was another book in the Teach Like a Pirate family: Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz.  I absolutely adored Teach Like a Pirate, so how could I not love this one?!  As I read this I realize it is PERFECT for the Leader in Me model at our school!  Paul in fact even mentions it a few times in the book ;o)

I'll be joining some other amazing teachers for this book study thanks to The Primary Gal!  Click on the images below to see what everyone else thought about these sections! I am going to try my best to condense these as much as I can since I combined them into one post.

What is a student-led classroom?
"A student-led classroom is one in which students make decisions and choices throughout the day without consulting the teacher."  Everyone in the classroom appears to have equal power and equal say in what happens, although they understand that you, as the teacher, have the final word.

For the most part, I thought I had a good chunk of my day as "student-led."  Even reading through some of the concerns, I didn't feel like a lot applied to me so I thought I had this in the bag!  I. Was. Wrong.  I'm on the right track for the most part but it is not as amazing as it could be and that is my goal for next year!  Paul gives you some really great tips, ideas, words to calm your nerves (lol) and videos to help you through this process.

Is my classroom a student-led classroom? Eh.

Yes, my students make decisions but they aren't always the best choices (GASP!) and they don't always think about how their actions will effect themselves, their peers, or even me.  Reading through this book has shown me by taking control they are really starting to see things in a new light.  They are actually taking control of the class (interruptions and all - this makes me a smidge nervous as there is a fine line between teaching moment and bad manners, but Paul says it works so I'm going with it!), teaching each other, helping each other and learning from one another!  I've got a lot of work to do but I'm very excited for the journey and I think my kids will be too!

Don't worry, it's not a free for all!  You still have teacher led time (mini-lessons) and there is also collaborative work time and time to reflect or synthesize.  This is a scary endeavor to embrace wholeheartedly though, let's be honest.  We're teachers.  We're perfectionist and micro-managers by nature usually.

Here are some of the main concerns (not all mind you):

  • "I'm worried about giving up control to my students." (Let's be honest... WHO ISN'T?!)
  • "I can't do this.  I'm definitely going to make a lot of mistakes and fail." (Yep!  We sure are!  But that's okay because we can use them as teaching experiences and if your kids see that it's okay to fail and try again, they won't be as hesitant to embrace this experience with you.)
  • "There's just too much at stake.  I can't risk this not working." (If you fail at a student-led classroom, you end up with a teacher-led classroom! At least you tried!)
  • "This will be too much work.  I can't take on another thing right now!" (Hopefully your kiddos will take on most of it after a while.  That's the whole point.  Consider this the epitome of the "work smarter, not harder" saying.)
  • "I'm overwhelmed.  I don't know where to begin." (Begin by getting this book! It's amazing!)
  • "But won't my room get loud?" (I have a love/hate relationship with my loud room.  Love that they talk and collaborate and really, they are a little family because of it.  That being said... they talk and collaborate about things that are not necessarily academic or even what were working on sometimes.  You probably don't have kids like this in your room, lol.  I need to find my happy medium.  All in all, I'd prefer talking to no talking.)

There are many other concerns and Paul addresses them all beautifully in the book.  By the end of the chapter you have this wonderful self-confidence that you can do this... and you can!

This won't necessarily be easy.  It will take LOTS of practice for your kiddos to be comfortable making decisions without you.  They are used to "perfect classrooms."  Where the goal was to make the perfect choice, the perfect grade, etc.  Here, you want them to make good choices and do well, but you want to see improvement, growth, thinking, taking risks all while being comfortable enough to make those decision and feeling safe with their choices.  Make sure to show praise for making an effort, even if it didn't go as planned.  For this to work, your students need to feel safe with you (and not in a "I got your back in a fire drill" kind of way).  They need to know you care about them as people: how their soccer game went, what their hobbies are, working one on one with them throughout the week, etc.  If they know you care about them, they will strive to make this work.

Every day you'll want to provide learning opportunities and show them what a student-led classroom looks like.  Because as new as it is to you, it's definitely new to them too!  Some things, like the interrupting, you are going to have to show them when and what is appropriate to interrupt for and what isn't.  And this will take you more than one day.  More than one week even, but you can do it!  You will have some push back from your students, co-workers, maybe even admin.  It's going to take work but by the second semester, you'll see a student-led class in action (Paul says so, so I'm taking his word and keeping my fingers crossed)!

All in all I'm very excited for this journey and I hope you continue along with me and the other fabulous teachers over at The Primary Gal's blog.