Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August 10 for 10: Picture Book "Must Haves"

This post is part of the August 10 for 10: Picture Book "Must Haves" being hosted by Mandy of Enjoy and Embrace Learning and Cathy of Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community.  

My name is Mary and I am a picture book addict. I am not kidding about this.  When I recently had to bring my own children's book collection home for a year and store it in our basement I was teased that I had enough books to open my own children's book store or library.  So when I had to narrow down all the wonderful children's books out there in the world down to 10 I had a little trouble.  I tried very hard to represent lots of different styles of writing and purposes for using these texts in my first grade classroom.  Here we go.....and in no particular order.....

The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

Helping young readers be able to develop the ability to create mental images while reading is a wonderful way to assist them in comprehending what they are reading.  I use this book when helping students learn this strategy.  I cover the outside of this book before reading it so they can't see the big tennis ball in the picture on the cover.  While listening to the story students are asked to draw what they think is happening in the story.  Not once in the text is it revealed to the students that the big fuzz is a tennis ball.  In the story the tennis ball is thrown down into the prairie dogs' burrow and "fuzzy foolishness" ensues.  It is always interesting to see what the students draw to show what they believe the fuzz to be.  Later in the day I reread the story and show the students the pictures and they are amazed to find out the fuzz was a tennis ball.    

The Deep Blue Sea Story by Audrey Wood  Illustrations by Bruce Wood

The colorful illustrations with this story pop off the page with vibrant colors and really support the text on the page.  Audrey and her son, Bruce, have done a superb job of creating a cumulative text story that builds starting with the deep blue sea.  Young students love that the color words appear in the color they are. They also love that the text builds upon itself and it helps them with their stamina of reading longer passages with familiar words.   Also, the purple parrot drawing is a riot to look at!  

A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech

I read this book aloud sometime during the first week of the school to help start the conversation of what students define as a "fine, fine school".  In the story the principal becomes overzealous in what he expects of his students and staff because of his pride in the school.  School on weekends, holidays and all summer long is what he would like.  The main character Tillie takes it upon herself to remind him there is more to learn in life than just school, for example how to climb trees.  I love this book because it reminds me that my students are children and need to learn more than just academics.  They need to learn how to solve puzzles, how to create things with their imagination and how to live in the world with one another. 

Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola

Strega Nona has been a favorite picture book of mine since I was a little girl.  As a reader I find it to be a fascinating tale full of magic and mischief.  My students love to listen to the tale as I stumble through the few italian words and use different voices for the characters of Strega Nona and Big Anthony.  They love to join in the short, repetitive song that gets the pot to boil pasta and the one to stop the pasta.  They are astonished when Big Anthony gets the magic pot to boil pasta but can't get it to stop and it fills the town until Strega Nona comes to the rescue.  Secretly the reason I love it so much - the never ending pasta pot.  I am a lover of spaghetti and was always jealous of Strega's ability to make pasta in such a cool way. 

Too Loud Lily by Sofie Laguna

Lily is a hippo with a loud mouth problem she can't help.  Everyone around her keeps reminding her that she is too loud.  One day a new teacher comes to town, Miss Loopiola, who recognizes Lily's unique gift. My students love this story for how over the top Lily is as a character. I love it because it reminds me (and the students) that each person in this world has a unique quality to offer.  

How I Became A Pirate by Melinda Long

September 19th is National Talk Like a Pirate Day and for some silly reason I love it!  My students make pirate hats when they get to school and we wear them all day and try to write and talk like pirates.  To get us in the mood I read aloud this tale of a small boy who gets roped into helping some pirates bury their treasure.  At first he loves the pirate life, but then he slowly realizes what he misses at home and leads the pirates to his backyard to bury their treasure.  

Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco
      The link will take you to the author's site where you can watch and listen to her read the first part of the story. 

Any book by Patricia Polacco could have made it on this list but I had to choose only one so I picked my favorite of all...Welcome Comfort.  This is a story of a little boy, Welcome Comfort, who didn't have much to believe in or look forward to and the friendship he develops with the school custodian, Quintin Hamp.  Through the years their friendship deepens and Welcome follows in Quintin's footsteps.  This story is full of all the wonder and magic that comes with the holiday season and of course the kids eat it up.  You have to read it to find out the special surprise! 

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester

When it comes to hysterical characters that can get kids giggling Tacky the Penguin is one of the best out there!  Tacky seems to always be trying his best but his is just odd enough that he is a little off of what he should be doing.  Nevertheless, Tacky always comes through and saves the day for the other penguins with his comic relief. 

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff

Students seem to really enjoy the collections of books by Laura Numeroff that follow a writing theme of giving an animal a treat which leads them down a path of requesting various items and then circles back to the original item.  These are great mentor texts for students use when writing.  A few years ago a class of mine decided to write a class version where each child was responsible for contributing a page.  The result was a hilarious book of "If You Take Miss Suchy To Hawaii".  I was the lead character and wish the story was based on fact! 

Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
  The link will take you to the author's website and you can hear her read this story aloud.  Highly recommend it! 

The wonderful Mem Fox put together a fabulous tale for young readers to be able to read with strong picture support, repetitive text and lots of sight words.  The students love to jump in on the repetitive text of "But where is the green sheep?".  At the end of course you find the green sheep, but when reading this text aloud it demands you to be dramatic in changing the volume of your voice for the grand finale.

There you have it everyone!  My 10 picture books I couldn't live without on August 10th.  

Feel free to post in the comment section a few of you "can't live without" picture books so then I have an excuse to go book shopping!   

Monday, July 12, 2010

Classroom Space Design

Last year I had a wonderful opportunity to depart from classroom teaching and become a Technology Support Teacher for my district.  The job was to assist teachers in technology professional development, assist teachers in infusing technology into the classroom, come into classrooms and lead or co-teach instruction using technology and to do some minor "troubleshooting".  I had a great year, but I missed the daily interaction with the kids tremendously so I am heading back into the classroom!

So this summer I have spent a great deal of time pondering the set up of my classroom.  I have actually gone into my new classroom and just sat on a chair in the middle of the room thinking.  Admittedly, I have also snuck into other teacher's classrooms whom I admire for some inspiration.   I am really struggling with what I want the layout of the space to be.

There are certain spaces I want in my classroom.  For example, I have 4 student computers so there will be a space for those to be grouped together.  I will have a SmartBoard next year so a space will need to be carved out for interaction with it.  The rocking chair my mother rocked me in as a baby will need a space to.

I want my classroom to flow seamlessly and to have a logical, practical layout.  I want it to be "user friendly" with student items down low so they can reach them (they are only in first grade so they are small!).  I want my students to feel as if they have space and are not crowded on top of each other.

There is a book I have been wanting to read titled The Third Teacher which addresses the link between school environment and student learning.  I do feel strongly that there is a correlation between the two.  A few teachers have read this and have talked to me about how it is impacting the way they are designing the layout of their classroom for the upcoming school year.

How is your classroom designed?  Are there certain spaces you have in your classroom that you would recommend?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Teaching and Learning at Tech Camp

Schools out for Summer!  Well, for most people in our district it was on Tuesday, but for about 70 teachers they were just embarking on an amazing 2 day journey through Tech Camp.

Our district offered for the 1st time a 2 day free Tech Camp to teachers in the district that were interested in learning more about how to infuse technology into their classrooms.  Day One was centered around teachers being able to attend 4 different sessions of their choice.  We are a Mac district and sessions ranged from learning software (like Keynote and iMovie) to web-based options (like Moodle and Wikis/Blogs).  During the sessions teachers were shown lots of examples of how to use technology with their students and then quick tutorials in how to get started.  Day Two was an opportunity for teachers to collaborate with one another and start using the tools they learned the day before with "live" support right there from the previous day's instructors if they needed it.

It was a simply amazing experience to be a part of it as an instructor, and as a learner!  To see teachers get inspired and to hear them start thinking of the endless possibilities for integrating technology into their students' learning was wonderful.  Teachers were already starting to develop lessons and projects for the students next year using what they had learned during the Tech Camp.  You could tell that the participants were embracing the idea of using technology during the learning process and not just as an end of unit project.  You could also tell that the participants were becoming more comfortable with using a variety of technology options and were branching out beyond their comfort level.

Teachers were also shown a district wiki that was created titled "Technopedia".  This wiki consists of ideas for integrating technology into the classroom and tutorials for teachers to use to learn technology tools.  It's like an online "Tech Camp" that's available when they are available to learn more! All staff members have the ability to view the wiki content and add to the content to help populate this wiki with more resources.  I think this is going to be a wonderful, powerful resource for our staff as we continue to learn and grow in educational technology!  

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Letting Students Shine

Tomorrow is the first gathering of our new stop motion video club which has now been named Scotty Dog Productions.  I must say I am full of excitement and nerves as I have never actually made one myself but have seen plenty of examples, read blogs about and discussed them with others.  Word surfaced at school of a 5th grader who has developed a passion for stop motion videos and it was suggested to approach him as a support person for this journey. Tony (over at Learn Me Sumthin') and I agreed we would approach him with the idea of being a mentor to kids in the group.

The art teacher had shown me one of the movies this student had created and I was very impressed by it.  He had created a scene that could have taken place during an Indiana Jones movies.  He used a toy car, an Indiana Jones figure and then a "bad guy" figure.  The gist of the scene is that the "bad guy" is in the car and Indiana Jones throws him out and takes over the car.

I called this student's mother to run the idea by her and I could tell in her voice that the idea of her child taking on a mentoring role would mean a lot to this student.  He hasn't had much of a chance to come forward as a leader and this would be a wonderful opportunity to highlight one of his strengths.  When I pulled him out of class and asked him if he would be willing to share his videos with the group and help us guide them through the process of creating videos of their own you could actually see the excitement start radiating from him.  I feel like we have given this student a chance to shine in a leadership role that might not have occurred without this group being formed.  

Here's to hoping tomorrow's first gathering of Scotty Dog Productions goes well!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

If You Give A Teacher Technology

Have you ever had the chance to read books written by Laura Numeroff?  One of her bestsellers is If You Give A Mouse A Cookie and it follows a wonderful pattern.  If you give the mouse a cookie they are going to want milk.  If you give them the milk they are going to want a straw and so on.  Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the teachers in my building and showing her our district's Wiki/Blog.  Our conversation reminded me of the pattern of this book!

We started off the conversation with clarifying the difference between the two web tools.  Wikis being a collaborative space for multiple users to have input and Blogs typically being an individual's work where others can comment.  As I showed her some examples of how these tools were being utilized in other classrooms I could see the wheels turning and her thoughts running wild.

So I had her back up and tell me what she was thinking about doing before we had started chatting and exploring and she had shared that she was going to have kids post a sentence or two about what they had learned that day.  But she shared that with seeing all the possibilities of what other students had produced using these tools, and through our discussion, she felt like there were so many different directions she could go and she needed to rethink how to use Wikis and Blogs.

So we are scheduled to sit down again on Friday and continue our conversation.  I am so excited to see how her thinking has evolved and where she is going to take her students (and me!) on this journey in using Web 2.0 tools!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Growing and Learning (Slice of Life Day Thirty-One)

Whoo Hoo!  I made it!  31 Slice of Life posts in 31 days!

I am sitting here in my dining room with the sun streaming in the open windows with a breeze gently flowing in while I reflect on this writing challenge and how it has helped me grow and learn.

There is a wonderful picture book by Edith Pattou titled Mrs. Spritzer's Garden.  In the book a teacher plants and cares for a group of seeds (symbolizing students) over the year by caring for them and giving them what they need to succeed.  I feel that at the beginning of this experience I was a bit like a new seed - tossed into the ground without really knowing how the journey was going to go.  With a bit of watering and tending from my writing community's words of encouragement, I stretched my writing skills and grew out of my seed casing into a wee flower.  Thinking back to my posts some days I grew rapidly by really focusing in on one slice of my day and carefully crafting my writing with choice words.  Other days I didn't grow as much through hastily thrown together posts or distracted writing.  At the conclusion of this daily writing challenge I feel like an early spring flower - just sprouting out of the ground with the hope of someday growing into a blossoming, colorful flower.  

Thank you to the "master gardeners" Stacey and Ruth for inspiring us to write about slices of our lives!   Thank you to all the "gardeners" of the Slice of Life challenge!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bring On The Grocery Shopping (Slice of Life Day Thirty)

Today was one of those days where a trip to the grocery store was necessary due to the complete lack of food in our home.  I prepared for the trip like a Girl Scout troop preparing for a camping trip.  I took stock of what was in the pantry and refrigerator.  A game plan for upcoming meals was mapped out.  The coupon organizer was poured through and assisted in the creation of the seemingly never-ending list that was developing.  After a quick check in with my husband to make sure I had what he needed written on the list, I grabbed my keys, reusable bags, the bag of coupons and the checklist and headed out the door.

I love going grocery shopping in the middle of a weekday because there is less people to try and maneuver around in the aisles.  I try my best to organize my list in order of how the store is mapped out so I don't forget anything, but in evidently I always have to double back for something I missed.  With the quickness and concentration of a Jedi I moved through the aisles plucking items off shelves and tossing them into the cart.  With a sense of accomplishment I crossed things off the list with gusto.  At last I approached the checkout lane and proceeded to load up the conveyor belt with all my purchases.

Now comes the best moment - how much did I save in coupons?  Each time I grocery shop like this I feel like it is a challenge to myself to save as much as possible with coupons from the Sunday paper.  With great satisfaction today's total savings just from coupons was $14!