Saturday, December 28, 2013

Favorite Children's/Young Adult's Novels of 2013

Every year I try to read as many children's books as I can. Between grading papers, professional reading for school book studies, graduate school work...and wanting to have a life...I don't get to read as many books as I'd like. Here are a few of my favorites that I read this year, which I highly recommend.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I'm sure it's a huge surprise that this is one of my favorites. August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

I chose to read this book after Wonder because I heard it was similar. I loved reading Out of my Mind as well. Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom—the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow.
This book goes along with our Social Studies curriculum, and I do it as a read aloud with the class. I didn't realize I was so into Historical Fiction until after reading this book. The class LOVED it! Twelve-year-old Samuel Collier is a lowly commoner on the streets of London. So when he becomes the page of Captain John Smith and boards the Susan Constant, bound for the New World, he can’t believe his good fortune. He’s heard that gold washes ashore with every tide. But beginning with the stormy journey and his first contact with the native people, he realizes that the New World is nothing like he imagined. The lush Virginia shore where they establish the colony of James Town is both beautiful and forbidding, and it’s hard to know who’s a friend or foe. As he learns the language of the Algonquian Indians and observes Captain Smith’s wise diplomacy, Samuel begins to see that he can be whomever he wants to be in this new land.
I kept hearing great things about this book. When I finally had the chance to read it, I couldn't put it down. It's an adorable story. Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better. Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

I was not excited to read this book. This goes with our writing curriculum, and the first chapter was rough to get through, but the rest of the story was adorable.  Shirley Temple Wong sails from China to America with a heart full of dreams.Her new home is Brooklyn, New York. America is indeed a land full of wonders, but Shirley doesn't know any English, so it's hard to make friends. Then a miracle-baseball-happens. It is 1947, and Jackie Robinson, star of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is everyone's hero. Jackie Robinson is proving that a black man, the grandson of a slave, can make a difference in America and for Shirley as well, on the ball field and off, America becomes the land of opportunity.
I was having Hunger Games withdrawals this year, and I heard Divergent was really similar. Since I'm from Chicago, I figured it would be really cool to read. Fun fact -- the author of this book went to my high school! Although it's a great book, I wouldn't recommend it to my fourth graders, even the ones who can read more challenging books. How could I not read it? In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

A student recommended this book to me. Another tear jerker. I read it in one night. Features seven narrators, each with a unique story, and each with a different perspective on what makes their teacher so special. It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s . . . Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school. Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much . . . until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone.

New Year's Resolution To-Read List: 
Let me know if you have any recommendations! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

How I Inspired My Students to Become Interested in Business

The last person I ever thought would teach a business club was me.

A year ago, a boy stood up in front of the whole staff at our school's staff meeting. He wore a full suit, carried a leather portfolio holder, and in an extremely professional manner, proposed the idea of business club to our elementary school. He shared his extensive background and knowledge of business, and outlined the benefits of educating students at an elementary level. In awe of his dedication, I decided to take on the task of being the teacher who hosts business club.

The only problem was that I knew close to nothing about business. After some serious Googling, brainstorming with friends and family involved in business, vigorously searching Teachers Pay Teachers, and diving into a variety of children's business books, I managed to create our school's first ever Business Club!

Through this club, students...
  • Learn the basics of starting up a business
  • Brainstorm their own ideas for a business
  • Create a business plan
  • Analyze their business plan
  • Explore various marketing strategies
  • Create a marketing campaign 
  • Learn about investors
  • Write a sales pitch to investors
  • Participate in a mock "Shark Tank"
Here is the video I played before the mock Shark Tank.

I teach Business Club for about an hour every other week during lunch, and if I choose not to do this as a club anymore, I will find time to implement it in my classroom. Many of the activities I do are interactive and give the students a choice! Each meeting I try to allow students to talk to a business professional through Skype, FaceTime, or in person.

Prior to the meeting, outside of my classroom door, I post a brief overview of the guest speaker. I encourage students to read through it, and write down possible interview questions. I found that if the students are generating the questions, they are more engaged and get much more out of the experience.

Why is it beneficial?
  • Students practice school skills in a real-life situation. 
  • Students enjoy the simulation and the fact that it brings in pop culture.
  • Students get the chance to work on something that they are genuinely interested in and passionate about. 
  • It inspires creativity and innovation. 
  • It involves the community. 
  • It incorporates technology in an authentic way

Other ways to implement Business Club?
  • Business reading and/or writing unit
  • Project for Passion Time/Genius Time/ 20% Time 
  • Summer enrichment program

Here are some business-related children's books I recommend:

Purchase my Business Club Bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers!

Enjoy the Shark Tank commercial I played this year to encourage students to join Business Club. I blurred out the faces for privacy purposes. 

This will be my second year hosting Business Club, and now that I have more time and bigger ideas, I plan to add a Stock Market component to it. Be on the look out for my Stock Market unit! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Top 5 (Common Core) Technology Resources and Tools

Is your school pushing to incorporate technology, too? Are you searching for lessons that align with the Common Core Standards like everyone else? These are some of the websites I have found to be extremely helpful.

  1.  - LearnZillion is organized based on the Common Core Standards. You can filter the grade levels and search by the standard or the domain. After selecting the Common Core Standard, you can choose from a variety of lessons (and they seem to add more each time I go on). Each lesson has an interactive video which is a good reference for the teacher, as well as a great way to assist students. The best part about this website -- it's free! 
  2. - I use Reading A-Z every week for guided reading. This reading resource provides a plethora of leveled literature. The levels correlate with Fountas and Pinnell, Reading Recovery, DRA, and Lexile. If you do not use these assessments, there are also age and grade level correlations for each piece of text. There are leveled books, mixed ability reader's theaters, fluency assessments, and (Common Core) reading activities to go along with each! You can get a 7-day free trail to test it out, but it is well worth the >$100 per year. 
  3.  - KidBlog is a collaborative tool for students that can be incorporated across all subject areas. It doesn't have as many features as Edmodo, but students learn how to maneuver around the website instantly. There is less room for misspelled logins and passwords, and less time spent troubleshooting. I'm all about jumping right in! Teachers can modify each post and comment, and it's just easy. Another perk -- it's free! 
  4.  - Into the Book is a great way for students to independently practice the eight reading comprehension strategies (Prior Knowledge, Making Connections, Questioning, Visualizing, Inferring, Summarizing, Evaluating, and Synthesizing). There is a teacher section, which is a great reference, as well as a student practice page. Also, it's FREE! 
  5.  - The BBC "Maths" section provides math games that look like video games! These help reinforce Common Core math concepts!'s FREE! 

After trying out some of these resources, please share how you have used them! If you have any other ones that you feel are "Top Five" worthy, I'd love to hear about them! 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Wonder Woman!

I hope everyone survived Halloween! This year the staff decided our theme would be Super Heroes. I wasn't very inspired by the theme originally, but after brainstorming with some coworkers, I came up with a costume that my students got a kick out of, and I wanted to be sure to share!

I am coming across as the most Wonder-Obsessed teacher on the face of the earth, but my class loves the story, so I'm really running with it this year!

I'm posing in front of my "WONDERful" student bulletin board outside the classroom! Although it kind of looks like I have a black eye, I still think it turned out pretty well. Any chance I can sneak in how cool reading is, I take it! :) 

I loved seeing the other costumes of our staff, too! Everyone got really creative, and I especially enjoyed Super Janitor (top right). 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Preparing for a WONDERful Year!

Wonder by R. J. Palacio 

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

Over the summer I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and LOVED it. Loved might even be an understatement. I obsessed over it, and told everyone who would listen about what a great book it was. Needless to say, I decided to incorporate the story into my classroom this year. 

My crafty self started with some classroom decor (to get the students excited and thinking about the book early on).  The large middle canvas is what the book cover looks like, and the other canvases are quotes that I pulled out from the book.

 Turns out my grand plan worked! When I introduced that Wonder was going to be the first read aloud of the year, I heard shrieks around the room, "That's the book on the wall up there!" "I heard about that book!" "My sister told me to read that book!" Wow, I didn't even have to talk this book up, it already had a great reputation. Instead of giving a brief introduction to the book, I did a lesson that I had always wanted to do. 

This lesson really did make an impact on many of the students, and some of their comments and discussion gave me the chills! After the great discussion I began reading the book. A few days (and a couple chapters) later, I felt that the students were engaged in the story enough to begin the positive reinforcement plan! 

The WONDERful positive reinforcement plan is a way for students to recognize when their peers are doing something right. This has been a great addition to my class this year. Students make stronger connections to the book and are more mindful about their choices. This plan strongly encourages "Choosing Kind" and "Building Monuments." Check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store to find out more about the plan! 

I have also created a fourth grade Common Core Close Reading activity to go along with the book. I plan to introduce precepts as well. I believe these activities can be used in other grades, too. Hopefully there are more to come! These two activities go along with the quotes I incorporated in my paintings as well as my behavior plan. 

Click here to purchase this from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Click here to purchase this from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

I look forward to implementing these activities in my classroom, and I'm curious to see how they work in yours! Please comment with any questions or ideas! Have a WONDERful day! 

Monday, August 26, 2013

First Week of School

Well, the name tags are made, the mailboxes are labeled, and the piles of items to cut and laminate are slowly dwindling down. 

I survived the first week of school! After moving classrooms this year, I never thought the day would come that I'd actually get to lay in my bed and relax. I kept my classroom pretty similar to last year (work smarter, not harder, right?), but I'll post some pictures of the subtle changes I made this year.

Moving in -- early stages...

...and after about five 12-hour days, it's finally getting somewhere! 

Job & Absent Student Board

Front of the room! 

Math Posters! 

Common Core Bulletin Board!

Reading Corner!

Welcome Board...took about 1/8 of the time as my last year one.  

Birthday Pillow! When it's their birthday, they get to sit on it for the day! 

In Class/Not In Class Board

Other than the fact that I'll probably despise chevron by the end of the year, I'm pretty happy with the room overall! Look forward to my next post about classroom management and my positive reinforcement plan Wonder (R.J. Palacio) themed! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Classroom Decor

Ah the time has come.

Bust out the Cricut cartridges, dust off your stapler, and set aside some time to plant yourself in front of Pinterest in an attempt to make your classroom even cuter than the year before. At least that's what's on my agenda this week.

The past two years I've taken pictures of my classroom, so that when I go back in the following year, I know exactly how to set it up, and what exactly I need to tweak. So right about now is my time to take a look at what I used last year. Here are some pictures of my classroom last year!

My reading nook! Notice the book bins don't have labels yet. To establish a sense of community in my class, I have my students organize and label the bookshelves. 
Dumbledore quotes are the best! 

I LOVE painting! I took some classics and some popular children's books and painted them on canvases. This is one way I promote reading in my classroom!

My Left Brain, Right Brain canvas is possibly my favorite craft! It has a little bit of everything -- acrylic paint, water color, melted crayon, etc. It's also a great visual for students.
The front of my room!
Birthday Wall! 

Literary Devices Poster -- once I remember where I got them (from Teachers Pay Teachers), I'll give credit! 

Front of my room

There are white pieces of paper because that's where the student work goes, and there were no students there yet! 

Students keep their extra materials in those bins above their cubbies. 

I can't find the picture of the totally finished bulletin board, but this is the iHelp board where I post the weekly student jobs!

My Welcome Board! .....that stayed up all year! Oops! 

I bought some fabulous chevron fabric for my bulletin boards this year, and I'm working on some new book cover canvases! Once my classroom is all ready, I'll post some pictures up here, so stay tuned!