Friday, February 24, 2017

This Week in Picture Books

We had a few big-time favorites this week! Our 1-year-old Book Reviewer absolutely loved No, David! and Firefighters: Speeding! Spraying! Saving! (which was such a favorite I had to renew it last week - so it's not pictured).

Here's what we read this week - in order of favorites!

Traditional Picture Books...

No, David! by David Shannon
This is a popular choice for the start of the school year. It's a great way to begin the conversation about rules and procedures in the classroom.

Squish (my one-year-old co-reviewer) particularly enjoys the number of times the book uses the word no! He loved the pictures (though Dad found them to be a little creepy). As I said, this book was a HUGE favorite and was requested very regularly! In fact, when we came back from the library, I think he was looking for it in the stack of new books... Oops!

This book tends to be a winner for children ages 1 - grade 2, obviously depending on the child. Be careful if you're reading it to little ones who haven't discovered nose-picking yet... Our realization of that possibility happened when reading a book...

Zoe's Hats by Sharon Lane Holm
Oh how I love this book! When I get back into the classroom, I will definitely be using it! I'm thinking of creating a unit around this book - crafts, patterning, Reader's Theater inspired by Caps for Sale, center activities... Did I mention my love of this book!?

At first glance, this book is incredibly simple - one hat per page, just a couple words. Skills practice (identify colors, etc) at the end (Full disclosure, we didn't read that part!). But the beauty of books is that with just a couple words, you can create something amazing and funny! So in addition to being an excellent early childhood read, it would be fantastic as a mentor text for Writing Workshop. I'd probably use it in 2nd-4th grade to focus on the value of choosing words wisely, but there are a million things you could do.

It was also a favorite read here at home. Bonus: We can now identify the color blue! (or at least the blue hat in the book!)

Sheep on a Ship by Nancy Shaw
This one has similar feel to the other sheep books. It's almost poetic, with each page rhyming and could be used for developing inference skills using the illustrations.

Neither of us were particularly enthralled by this one, though we do really enjoy reading Sheep in a Jeep several times a week.

There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Clover by Lucille Colandro
This is a cute concept, obviously playing on There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. The repetitive language would definitely be a hit with some young readers. It just wasn't suited to our particular tastes. I found it to be a bit of a stretch in terms of the rhythm of the poetry, which happens to be a personal pet peeve. If that doesn't bug you, this might be a better fit for you.

Squish was not a fan. He didn't make it through the first page and didn't want to attempt it more than twice.

Board Books...

Diggers and Dumpers
A book all about different kinds of trucks - who could ask for anything more!? We read it about 10 times, and then someone put it in a safe place while I started dinner... and it's never been seen again. Any bets where I might find it? We've looked in all the favorite book storage places: cabinets, drawers, the fridge...

In any case, this is a great read for little ones who just love trucks! I love that it's an informational text geared for this age group - that's such a rare and important literary treat!

Llama Llama Wakey-Wake
Who doesn't love Llama Llama books? This one is as wonderful as the others! It was especially fun to read at the start of the day or right after nap time. Squish requested it several times a day.

My Shapes
This was fun to read. It's simple and repetitive, with the shape on one page and a related object on the opposite page. It was fun to point out the shapes within the object, and I really liked that they included several of the shape. We like to point at things in books (especially stars!), so this was especially fun! I also liked the challenge of reading in Spanish - it's good for little ones to hear different languages, and it's good for them to see grown-ups learning. So, this was a win in many different ways!

Lucky Leprechaun
Such a cute seasonal text! You probably can't tell from the picture, but the gold is shiny! Each page has a shiny element, which I though was a really fun way to engage little ones. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way in our house. I suspect that is more an issue of personal taste than anything else.

Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors
I've been trying so hard to find Bible stories told in a toddler-friendly way. This seemed like a great option, but it was just too long. The pictures didn't have enough variety to engage little learners the way the other books did. Neither one of us made it through more than a couple pages (apparently my attention-span matched the toddler's this week!).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Boats Go

We had a blast with Boats Go by Steve Light at the library this morning!
This is a great read aloud for any age, and it was especially fun with birth through two age group.

Here's what we did at the library:

Interactive Read Aloud
I read the book, and the children and parents helped make the sound for each boat. We also did a little motion to reflect the different types of boats as we read about them.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat
With parents and children facing each other (or little ones on parents laps), we rowed boats to the beat. Repetition is essential with this age group, so we rowed front/back, side to side, swung arms in and out, and bounced up and down. We also changed the words to la, ba, doo, etc. This helps the children begin to play with words and is also beneficial for music learning.

Of course, there's so much more you can do! Here are a few ideas for other age groups:

Teach Onomatopoeia
Such an awesome example of this strategy! You could use this book as an example of onomatopoeia (I love that it's more than animal sounds, which is where I always end up going for examples!). 

Showing Details in Writing
Steve Light does an awesome job jumping right into the action, almost making it feel like each boat is talking to us!

Fine Arts
The movement in the illustrations would be a great springboard for painting, creating a musical composition, or using movement to reflect the different types of boats.

Themed Activities
I think it would be fun to use this as a kick off for a unit on transportation, community helpers, or even the letter B. You could do a boat craft, make a boat snack, have a water play sensory table with different kinds of toy boats - even try to see which will sink or float!

I hope you enjoy this one as much as we did!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Creating Towers

One of the second grade Science goals is to

And boy, do I love teaching this one, especially at the beginning of the year!  We work in teams, so we're learning how to compromise, and be good teammates, in addition to making Science discoveries.  It's always incredibly rewarding for the children to see the results of their work!

Last year, I asked student teams to build bridges and brought materials that would lend themselves well to the task.  The bridges came out great, and the children made wonderful discoveries.  However, I realized that we didn't learn as much about material selection as I had hoped.  

This year, I invited the children to choose what they would like to build and brought materials that I thought were appropriate, as well as those that were not.  This way, the children could make appropriate discoveries about the quality of their materials.  I also included an interactive notebook component, so that I could see each individual's thinking about the materials.  These changes made such an improvement in our learning!

 We discovered that materials are stronger if they have something to hold them together, rather than just stacking them.

We were disappointed to learn that balloons do not make particularly sturdy towers, regardless of how you use them.  This also gave us the opportunity to review properties of matter. :)

 We all agreed that the balloons were the most fun to include and made great decorations.

Toothpicks were shockingly sturdier than expected, but not when they were the only support system for a tower.

We also learned about the importance of distributing weight.  I have a feeling this will come in handy when we try to build these towers again, and improve upon them!
Finally, we completed our interactive notebook page.  I'm all for conserving paper, so we simply did this in our notebooks.  This was the right side.  On the left side, we wrote what we learned from testing the towers and what we would do differently when building our new towers.  Then, we created an illustrated plan of the new towers, including justification for our new materials.
I can't wait to see the next set of towers.  They will definitely help me understand whether we've grasped the material selection as I hoped we would!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Two Great Questions

At a recent professional development session, our assistant principal asked two wonderful questions:

If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty classroom?

Do you have a lesson you could sell tickets for?

I always consider what would be fun for students and what would be the most memorable way to teach a topic, but the way these questions were phrased really made me stop and think.
How often do I consider student passions above student test scores?  Am I encouraging students to look for things they love and excel at in each lesson?  Are the students having a fun-filled, memorable second grade year?

As a Title 1 teacher, it can be easy to be swept away by goal setting, data, and test scores.  These are all important things, and honestly, students feel AMAZING when they reach their goals. It is important, though, that I consider who they are as people, too.  What are their goals outside the classroom? What are their hopes and dreams?

Here are a few ways I have helped myself refocus.

Responsive Classroom
Responsive Classroom is incredible, and their Morning Meeting structure is fantastic.  It helps develop more than effective classroom management; it helps develop a true community.  We start each day with a greeting, which gives us a positive way to start our day together.  Part of the meeting is a share time.  By sharing topics of their choice, students are able to give us a peek into who they are outside the school day.  (Bonus: It helps them develop writing ideas!)

Any time we can do something creative with our learning, we do it!  There are so many ways to integrate student creativity into lessons.  Creative integration can be as simple as inviting students to choose the colors for the anchor charts or help develop the word problems.  I've noticed that truly inviting students to create as part of a lesson is a great way to ensure their engagement.  

We've crafted our favorite Truffula Tress to learn about graphing and extend literacy learning.

We've created wrist bands as part of a digital scavenger hunt for our aquarium field trip.

Recently, we borrowed the Flip Flop Facts Craftivity from Mrs. Lemmons and modified it to include some team building and creativity.  Students traced their feed and wrote their flip flop facts on each foot.  They were so excited to create their own flip flip feet, and now they really remember those facts!

Pinterest is filled with ideas for adding creativity into the classroom, and I've noticed that many of the printable or crafty items make great inspiration for my own lessons.  It's always important to consider the depth of learning and fit for my own students, so typically, I do not simply print or use "craftivities" directly from Pinterest, but I certainly let them inspire me!

Let them Lead
 I invite student leadership as often as possible.  Students run book talks, morning meeting, problem solving discussions, and more.  This way, they are in charge of our classroom activities, and they have so much fun running our daily routines.

 I always provide a framework for student-led discussions, so English Language Learners are supported as they lead and participate.

Since I am also a music and movement teacher, this one comes very naturally to me.  We move as much as we possibly can.  We've done some Brain Gym, Total Physical Response, incorporated sensory input, and simply danced it out as often as possible. 

I also create songs, chants, and dances that relate to our content areas.  It makes me laugh when students come back to visit and ask if we have done a particular song or chant yet.  These seem to be memorable!

Find Balance
Above all, I've noticed that if my personal life and work life balance are out of whack, my teaching suffers.  I am the type of person who could easily spend every waking moment in my classroom or working on school-related tasks.  However, this results in a huge drain on my creativity!  So often, great lesson ideas come from real life experiences, and our personal experiences help us better relate to our students.  So, I work hard to keep my weekends for family, friends, and personal life.  This way, when I'm modeling writing, I really do have something to write about! :)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Classroom DIY - Fence into Wall Display

When we moved into our house, the fence was falling down.  We knew it would have to be replaced and were excited to have so much wood to use for crafting!  As I sat looking at the finished product, I realized that this would also be a great classroom project.  

We are using it to hang pictures of our wonderful family and friends.  In the classroom, it would be awesome for pictures of class events to inspire student writing or as a wall of fame to celebrate student successes.

This would definitely not fit in my current classroom, as I have been blessed with walls full of cabinet space.  However, I am thinking of a few giant classrooms I've had the pleasure of working in.  There was always extra space available in my double-sized classrooms.  This would have been a great addition to our decor!

It was remarkably easy and almost free, since we happened to have almost everything on hand.  We started by picking the best fence pieces.

Then we tested all the sandpaper we could find.  We liked the look of the 100 grit (top) and were shocked at how different it looked.  About a million other ideas came to us when we saw that!

Then we sanded it, so it wouldn't hurt anyone or mess up the look of the paint.  This awesome guy is the brains behind hanging the fence on the wall.  I married a genius, I tell you!

I, of course, had a blast.  DIY project?  Home improvement project, and I can't mess it up?  YES!

I painted it with colors we had from painting various parts of the house or samples we looked at when we were trying to pick colors.  Then we hung it up.  Please forgive the horrible glare!

We used Gorilla glue to attach 3/4 inch clothespins to the center and outer edges of the fence posts.  We attached the twine to each one, then hung pictures with the rest of the clothespins.

We are really enjoying this in our living room.  If you have a giant classroom to decorate, this would be a great way to do it!

Happy DIYing!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I just love starting the year with matter.  It's a fun unit, and it helps me get to know each child in a fun way.  At the end of last year, I asked my students what they loved about second grade, and many of them mentioned the kick off to this unit!

We start by putting a Mento mint into a bottle of Coke/Diet Coke.  The resulting "explosion" is fun and memorable!  Then, we talk about the different states of matter we're observing.  This builds curiosity from the scholars and helps us start wondering what happens when we combine different things. I also love that it gives us an opportunity to talk about safety - You never know what will happen when you combine two objects, so ask first!

Next, we repeat the experiment with a student dropping the mint into the bottle.  I cover it with a balloon, so we can observe the gas being emitted from the reaction.  A word to the wise: We didn't sit far enough apart in our circle this year, and a couple students had a sweet surprise sprayed on them!  Thankfully, they though it was hilarious!

Then, we explore the various states of matter.  My young friends always seem to enjoy investigating the liquids the most.  

An interesting misconception came up this year.  Upon investigating, students decided that a distinguishing characteristic of liquids is that they are flexible.  When they arrived at the solids station, we had an awesome conversation about the flexibility of rubber bands.  Through questioning and conversation, they were able to distinguish between the two and create a more accurate definition of liquids before we used a class definition.  I think the experience was much more meaningful than it would have been if I had given the definitions first.

We'll continue this week with classifying matter in various ways.  I created classification bags (only some of the items are pictured below - more will be added in the classroom), and we'll use them to see how many different ways we can sort matter.  We'll also talk about why it's helpful to be able to classify in different ways.

We'll also practice classifying matter by relative mass using this interactive notebook page (click if you'd like a copy).  A vocabulary sort and activity are also included.  These are particularly helpful for English Language Learners.

On the left side of our notebooks, we'll draw and describe what we observe when comparing the mass of a traditional golf ball and a plastic golf ball.  We'll also classify rocks, sort solids, liquids & gasses, and classify matter using flexibility.  It's going to be a blast!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Fun-Filled Start

The first day of school can be filled with big feelings for such young people (and older ones, too)!  To start in a positive way, I give the children Ready Confetti at Meet the Teacher night.  I print it on brightly colored card stock and stick balloon confetti in baggies on the inside.  

This is a great way to build excitement for the first day of school, and it helps get the bedtime reading routine started before the first day!  When children arrive at school, it gives us something to talk about right away, and we already have a common bond from having done the same bedtime activity the night before.  It's such fun!

When the children arrive at their desks, they find Magic Balls, which I discovered at Heather's Heart.

Use the magic ball for the first day of school. I do this and the kids love it. Love the name and labels though!:

We never know what experiences and backgrounds our children are coming from, so this is a nonthreatening way to assess their skills and allow them to enjoy a sensory experience (and get some of those jitters out).  Here are some of the basic skills I assess in those first few minutes with the Magic Ball:

Motor Skills
Sensory Experiences
Reading Skills (What are we hoping will happen? What does it mean that it changed color?)
Self Expression
Following Directions

After we are all settled in for the day, and I've completed my morning responsibilities (taking attendance, breakfast/lunch count, greeting families, and helping children unpack), we use the Magic Balls for a conversation starter.  We think about the way we are feeling and use our Magic Balls to express those feelings.

It's a fun way to start the day, and it helps us get to know each other in so many ways!