Reading, Teaching, Learning

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nonfiction Wednesday

I'm excited that Alyson Beecher, at Kid Lit Frenzy, is continuing her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the third year in a row.
 

 
I only read one nonfiction picture book this week, and it's not new, but it is a wonderful one!
 

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
 
 
 
 
 
I'm going to the Czech Republic this summer, so I wanted to learn more about its history. I started looking through my classroom books, and realized I had this Peter Sis memoir and had only skimmed it when I purchased it. Wow! It's an amazing history of Prague through the eyes of Sis, who has always been an artist. He chronicles what it was like being born in the beginning of the Cold War in Communist Czechoslovakia. During the most restrictive of times, he still tried to express himself through his drawings, but it was difficult. Through his beautiful art, captions, and journal entries, the reader gets a thorough picture of what it was like to grow up in such tumultuous times. I was especially amazed by how artists can be catalysts of change and freedom. I will be sharing this with my fellow travelers.
 
Another children's nonfiction book I read this week was not a picture book.  I already wrote about it Monday, but it's worth putting here, too, for those who missed my post.
 
 
 
The Boy on the Wooden Box 
 
 
 
 
This is a phenomenal audio book. I had to get the hard copy, too, so I could see the pictures. I plan on reading it again in hard copy form. Leon Leyson's story of being one of the boys on Schindler's list is horrifying, inspiring, and hopeful. Every student should read it. It will definitely be part of my 6th grade curriculum from now on. I'm planning a global awareness literacy contract for the fall, and this will be one of the nonfiction choices.
 
These two books would definitely fit beautifully together in a human rights or global awareness unit, exploring what liberty means and what happens when a government denies it.
 
 
 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Slice of Life - Ending and Beginnings

  I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.
 
     This is the time of year for endings.  The school year is wrapping is up, and my daughter, Katie, is graduating from high school.  My older daughter, Libby, moved about 3 hours away into an apartment.  The good news is, with every ending, there is a beginning.  For my sixth graders, they will soon begin jr. high.  My fifth graders will begin a new year with me as 6th graders next year.  Katie will begin her life as a college student at The Ohio State University soon.  Libby starts an exciting summer internship at Smuckers today.  We attended a wedding Saturday in which the bride and groom's single life ended, but their new lives as husband and wife began.  I'm grateful that God designed our lives to be like this.  A chapter never ends without a new one beginning.
 
Katie at 6 months old and her senior picture
 
 
End of Year Celebration Video
 

Monday, May 26, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week. I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books. 

 
It's the end of the school year, and I have a graduating senior, so reading is getting pushed aside.  I did finish two wonderful middle grade/young adult books this week, though.

The Boy on the Wooden Box 
 
 
 
 
This is a phenomenal audio book. I had to get the hard copy, too, so I could see the pictures. I plan on reading it again in hard copy form. Leon Leyson's story of being one of the boys on Schindler's list is horrifying, inspiring, and hopeful. Every student should read it. It will definitely be part of my 6th grade curriculum from now on. I'm planning a global awareness literacy contract for the fall, and this will be one of the nonfiction choices.
 
Dash - Life Between the Numbers
 
 
 
 
Greg is a recent Twitter friend, and he sent me his book to circulate around my room to gather student input. I had to read it first, of course, and I am so glad I did. This is a poignant book about thirteen-year-old Dash, a boy who loves running more than anything, and his journey with cancer. A lot is going on in this young adult story. Dash's relationship with his sister, father, grandfather, best friend, school friends, and absent mother are strained. He puts his ambitions of being the best as top priority, and it is difficult for him to see that his mother isn't the only one who has hurt people. When he finds out he has cancer, he must reconcile his competitive nature, find forgiveness, and learn to put love as his top priority instead of winning. I was amazed to see The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as a catalyst to get Dash to that place. It's one of my all-time favorite children's book, and I loved seeing it play a central role. Another connection I had was the importance of Theodore Roosevelt's speech, "The Man in the Arena." It's my husband's favorite, and we have it framed in our office. It has so many profound messages. I also thought the device of starting each chapter with a definition of dash was clever. Thank you, Greg, for writing and sharing this beautiful story.

 
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
 
The Aviator's Wife
 
CURRENTLY READING
 
The Living
 
My family loves to read, too!
 
Libby (21):
 
The Birth of Venus
 
Katie (18):
 
The Longest Ride
 
Mom:
 
The Wives of Los Alamos
 
Dad:
 
I, Tom Horn



 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Digilit Sunday - Kidblog


      I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.  
 
 
 
I have been wanting to start blogs with all my students for a while now, and I just wasn't getting to it.  I finally decided now was the time!  This past weekend I stayed up late and got them all created and linked.  I decided to splurge on the upgrade so the kids could make their own themes, and I could add all 60 students.  I'll also have 31 incoming 5th graders, so I will add them in the fall.  My current 5th graders will be coming back to me next year as 6th graders, so I thought blogs would be the perfect way to keep in touch and keep writing over the summer.  I chose Kidblog.org.  When I told them about it this week, they were THRILLED!  My first blog post challenged them to blog once a week, giving them the suggestions of doing a "It's Monday!  What Are You Reading?" post and/or a Slice of Life.  Here are some of the comments I received to my introductory blog post:
 
AbbyF AbbyF Will do! Thanks for the blog! I really appreciate it, and I accept your challenge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
Tyler Tyler Thank you so much!
I’ve always wanted to be a blogger,
and now I am!
I am so excited about having my
own blog and can’t wait to get started!
 
Payton Payton Thanks!
I’ve always wanted to have my own blog!
 
Bobby Bobby Thank you Mrs. Mueller for the blogs, it is really cool! It was very nice of you to set this up for us.
 
Mekenna Mekenna I am super exited about this and thank you for doing this for us!!!! :)
 
Sierra Sierra Dear Mrs. Mueller,
First off, I’d like to thank you again for going through all the trouble to make these blogs for us! And second, I can only hope that my blog becomes a big of a hit as yours! Thanks a bunch!
Your bookworm,
-Sierra
 
  Don't you love the excitement?!  I think they got so excited because I've been sharing my blogging journey with them since I had them in 4th grade.  We've had a classroom blog that I made on Blogger.com where I've posted classroom news.  They know all the ways blogs can be a positive and thoughtful force in the world.  I talked to them about the responsibility public writing and social media brings with it.  They were very receptive to that message and understood their blogs should never be used for negative purposes.  Lots of posts have already gone up, and I'm enjoying seeing the many topics they've chosen to explore.  We also had a talk about making sure they comment on each other's posts and start conversations.  It will be fun to help the kids develop their blog writing. Now they have a place to join in on the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge next year!
 
 
 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's Nonfiction Wednesday!

I'm excited that Alyson Beecher, at Kid Lit Frenzy, is continuing her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the third year in a row.
 
My nonfiction reading this week happened to have a weather/seasons theme.
 
Secrets of the Seasons: Orbiting the Sun in Our Backyard
 
 

I'll be showing my students this book about seasons to my class as a creative nonfiction book example. Two kids and a couple of chickens teach us everything we need to know about the seasons.
 
It's Raining!
 
 
 
I like all of Gail Gibbons's books. They are bright, lively, informative, accessible, and entertaining. There are lots of nonfiction text features that accompany text to show the water cycle, types of rain clouds, where it rains in North America and around the world, and various forms of rain and storms. There is even a list of safety tips to keep you safe during thunderstorms and floods. This would be great in a classroom or library for young children.

 
What nonfiction have YOU read this week?
 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Slice of Life - Wonderings Inspired by Books

  I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.
 
     I'm reading a book right now called Dash - Life Between the Numbers, written by Greg Armamentos, a Twitter friend of mine. I am loving it.   I'm also loving and listening to The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler's List by Leon Leyson.  You wouldn't think a book about a boy with cancer and a boy trapped in the Holocaust would have much in common, but I keep seeing parallels as I read and listen to both.  In addition, I see how they connect to my own and my students' lives.
 
     In Dash, there is a scene in which Dash is thinking about how weak and afraid he feels in the hospital.  "Somewhere right now Forrest is probably running.  Strong.  With a stupid grin on his face.  Thinking of Kelly.  She is probably with her girlfriends shopping.  Laughing. Smiling.  Everyone else is moving on.  Being normal. I'm stuck here between these walls of wiz feeling wimpy and wispy and wondering when I can get back to my own normalcy before everyone else has left me behind." In another scene, he overhears a man on the phone yelling at a cabinet company because delivery was going to be delayed, and he was throwing a birthday party. Dash can't believe the man could be so angry about such an inane problem when he, Dash, has cancer.  "He was so angry.  Over a relatively small hassle.  Stuck in his own little myopic world.  Oblivious to the pain all around him."
 
     Leon, in The Boy on the Wooden Box, also notices life going on as usual in the middle of his own personal experience.  "As I walked out of the ghetto with its tombstone-crowned walls and along the streets of Krakow, I was dumbfounded to see that life seemed just as it had been before I entered the ghetto.  It was as if I were in a time warp...or as if the ghetto were on another planet.  I stared at the clean, well-dressed people, busily moving from place to place.  They seemed so normal, so happy.  Had they not known what we had been suffering just a few blocks away?  How could they not have known?  How could they not have done something to help us?  A streetcar stopped, and passengers boarded, oblivious to our presence.  They showed absolutely no interest in who we were, where we were going, or why.  That our misery, confinement, and pain were irrelevant to their lives was simply incomprehensible." 
 
     I've had two profound experiences like Dash's and Leon's that I remember distinctly, one joyful and the other devastating.  When my daughter, Libby, was born in March of 1993, I can remember looking out my hospital room window, gazing at the spitting snow and gray skies.  How is it that the world didn't stop, just for a second, to acknowledge that a new human being had just entered the world?  Why were pedestrians around the hospital not looking up at my highrise room window and giving me a thumbs up for a job well done?  How could the world go on as usual?  It was unfathomable.  I just smiled and turned away from the window, that feeling of disbelief already passing. 
 
     In May of 2011, I experienced this moment again, but in an entirely different situation.  I was standing at the brim of my dear friend, Bobby's, grave.  His casket was already lowered into the ground.  My girls were debating on whether or not to place roses they had been given in Bobby's memory on the casket or to keep them as precious mementos.  I looked up, again wondering how the world could still be spinning.  People were walking, driving, and biking past the cemetery, oblivious to Bobby's passing out of this world.  Why were they not stopping to give him one last salute for a life well lived and hugs to us, his stunned and devastated friends?
 
     What do these moments of otherworldliness teach us?  I think they teach us to pay attention to those around us.  What if one of someone stopped what they were doing and visited Dash at the hospital?  Or at least called?  What if that man with the late cabinets took a deep breath and recognized that his problem wasn't as important as the patients hurting and dying around him?  Could some of the ordinary citizens around the ghettos of the Holocaust have stopped the systematic killings of Jews if they were willing to reach out? Some of them did, but not enough.  I don't know the answers to these questions (some may be answered as I continue both books), but they are still worth asking.  I also know I spend a lot of time in my own myopic world and not enough time paying attention to others. I know I've missed things in the lives around me.
 
      As we walk into our school buildings every day, what monumental moments are our students experiencing?  Are they wondering why no one is stopping to find out what is going on in their lives?  Could we give them a thumbs up or a salute?  Could we reach out a hand or give them a hug?  How would the world change if we all took the time to notice?
 
$slugfordisplay
 

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday! What Are You Reading?
These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week. I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books. 
  
 
PICTURE BOOKS
 
Extraordinary Jane
 
 
 
I smiled all the way through this book. Who wouldn't fall in love with Jane, the ordinary, extraordinary little dog?! The illustrations are just priceless. Poor Jane just doesn't feel like she measures up to her graceful mother, her strong father, her brave brothers, fearless sisters, or the amazing circus performers. She tries everything! It turns out she's best at just being Jane. And that is extraordinary.
 
Peggy
 
 
 
I was drawn to this book by the cover! The watercolor of a city filled with umbrella-clad pedestrians and one lone chicken is irresistible. "Peggy lived in a small house on a quiet street" and filled her days with ordinary activities until she was blown away by a blustery wind. Thus began her adventure in the big city, but there's no place like home.
 
Buddy and the Bunnies: In Don't Play with Your Food
 
 
Bob Shea has such a sense of fun and creates great read alouds for young children. Kids will love the easily duped monster and the cute, clever bunnies.
 
Goodnight Songs
 
 
 
 
This collection of Margaret Wise Brown unpublished poems were stumbled upon by Amy Gary and published in this beautiful book, illustrated by various children's literature artists. I'm amazed by Brown's ability to turn simple words, rhymes, and repetitions into pure magic. Goodnight Moon was one of my daughters' favorites were they were young. This book would make the perfect baby gift. A CD of music accompanies it.
 
Eric, The Boy Who Lost His Gravity
 
Eric gets really, really mad at his sister when she messes with all his toys and play. How is it HE is the one who gets in trouble?! He gets SO mad he actually lifts right up off the floor. After he cools off, he falls back down, and his sister is the one who gets really, really mad because she can't find Bunny, the stuffed animal. I thought the scribbled facial expressions were pretty funny.
 
 Two Speckled Eggs
 
 
 
MIDDLE GRADE
 
The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story
 
 
 
In an interview I saw, R.J. Palacio was asked why she didn't include Julian's point of view in Wonder, and she said that she didn't want him to have a voice. When we hear someone's story, we feel empathy, and she didn't want that. I wonder if she needed the distance from writing the novel to feel compelled to tell Julian's story. At the beginning of the chapter I didn't think there was going to be redemption since Julian was unlikable as ever. His parents were equally unlikable, especially his mother. It wasn't until he stayed with his French grandmother over the summer that Julian started to change. Once again, Mr. Browne was amazing and shed some light on Julian's behavior. He also validated Julian's sense of worth so that he could make the change. Palacio tried to take on an awful lot in 80 short pages, but she did tackle another big theme. I'll be curious to see what reactions my students have to this added chapter. Will they forgive Julian? Knowing my students, they will. I liked that I read Wonder aloud to my current fifth graders last year when I had them in fourth grade. They've had a year and a half distance from the book, and even though they were curious about Julian's perspective, they couldn't get it. From now on, students will have access to Julian's chapter immediately after they finish Wonder. That will be a completely different experience. "But the good thing about life, Julian," she continued, "is that we can fix our mistakes sometimes. We learn from them. We get better. I never made a mistake like the one I made with Tourteau again, not with anyone in my life. And I have had a very, very long life. You will learn from your mistake, too. You must promise yourself that you will never behave like that with anyone else again. One mistake does not define you, Julian. Do you understand me? You must simply act better next time."' - Julian's grandmother
 
YOUNG ADULT
 
The Elite (The Selection, #2)
 
 
While this series is not especially deep, it is compelling. I am reading it for the same reason I watch "The Bachelor" - the drama and romance. :-)  I have some girls in my class that are ripping through the series, too. I have to get the final book, The One, back from one of them since I let her borrow it. Now I'm ready to find out how it all ends.
 
ADULT
 
The History of Us
 
 
 
THEN: Eloise has to return to Cincinnati and live in her childhood mansion after landing a job at Harvard in order to take care of her sister's three children when Rachel,and her husband die in tragic accident. This incident is briefly described, and we don't know much about the years that Eloise raised the children except for brief flashbacks during the NOW section. NOW: The story fast forwards 20 years to when the children are young adults. Much angst gathers around family relationships, romance, the house, the city, and jobs. The family has to figure out what is important and what home and happiness means. I have to be honest - I found the characters pretty annoying and dysfunctional. It was fun, however, to have a novel set in my own nearby city, Cincinnati.
 
CURRENTLY READING
 
Dash - Life Between the Numbers
 
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
 
 
The Boy on the Wooden Box
 
My family loves to read, too!
 
Mom:
 
My Accidental Jihad
 
Dad:
 
Iron Skillet Bill: Thomas Monroe Helm

 
My husband, Ed:
 
Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp, #10)
 
My daughter, Katie (18):
 
The Longest Ride
 
My daughter, Libby (21):

Thinking, Fast and Slow
 
 
What are YOU reading this week? 
 
 
 

 

 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

DigiLit Sunday - Digital Mind Maps




      I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.  

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about giving my students a choice to create mind maps on paper or digitally to show their thinking and learning after reading their Scientists in the Field books with partners.  It was interesting to see who chose which option.  It was also fascinating to hear and watch the kids who used the digital tool (www.slatebox.com) collaborate and figure out how to incorporate all the requirements.  

A glitch came halfway through the project when the website was updated.  Oh my!  It was quite stressful - some of their work was lost, the website was slow and didn't work the same, and some couldn't get on with their original usernames and passwords.  They were so frustrated (and so was I).  To be honest, we all wanted to throw our hands up and change to paper.  Luckily, I was in touch with someone from the website.  He patiently and graciously worked with us until all the work was restored, passwords and usernames fixed, and the website worked faster and more efficiently than ever.  I thought it was neat for the kids to see that a real live person is behind these digital tools, and we can get help if needed.  I was really proud of the kids.  We made it into a learning experience about the highs and lows of using technology.  They will all probably use technology in their lives and professions in the future, so working through glitches and frustrations that inevitably come with using technology is paramount.  

 I liked Margaret's questions from my previous post:
 I wonder how the digital tool may have enhanced or diminished the final product. Why did some students feel more confident still using paper?  
We talked about these questions in my classes.  The kids were honest - some chose the digital route because they thought it "would be easier."  Ha.  It turned out that it was not easier at all.  Other kids chose it because they don't feel like they are artistic, so the digital tool took neatness and creativity out of the equation (even though they didn't realize they really could be creative with the digital tool as well).  Kids who tend to be more artistic liked the paper.

Next year we will be giving the PARCC assessments on computers, and this I know for sure: my students will be able to handle the digital tools.  It will not be a hindrance to them to have to highlight, drag and drop, read and compose on the computer, etc.  They've gotten plenty of practice with that!  Take a look at their mind maps.  Unfortunately, you can't see the writing clearly, but you can get an idea of what they looked like.  





 
Here are some of the mind maps students created on paper: