Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nonfiction Wednesday

Thanks to Kid Lit Frenzy, I made a goal to read more children's nonfiction this year which I will be featuring on my blog every Wednesday.
I took a Choice Literacy course recently, taught by Franki Sibberson, and she recommended the Scientists in the Field series when looking for books to bump up our nonfiction teaching with Common Core.  I have several of them already in my classroom library.  Here are the ones I've read and reviewed on Goodreads:
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot
I think people who devote their lives researching, studying, rescuing, and just loving animals are fascinating. This book is about a team of people who are devoted to saving the critically endangered Kakapo Parrots who live on the remote Codfish Island off the southern coast of New Zealand. Only 91 parrots remain. The photographs are beautiful, and although there are plenty of nonfiction merits to the text, Sy Montgomery also captures the emotion and drama of the ups and downs of animal rescue. 
             The Elephant Scientist
This book contains a wealth of information about elephants. I like the fact that it was written because of a problem Caitlin O'Connell was hired to solve. It's a great text to have in the gifted classroom because O'Connell is a terrific role model for girls with curious, scientific minds. Amazing photographs!
The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe
This great book was full of information about bees and their mysterious disappearance in 2006. It was fascinating to learn about bees, beekeeping, and the scientists who are trying to figure out why so many bees died off. Lots of interesting text features and high-interest photographs! Kids will love it! 
The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity
This is in my library, but I haven't read it yet.  Several of my students enjoyed it, though!
After Franki's reminder, I purchased a couple more:
 Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes (Scientists in the Field Series)
The Tarantula Scientist
Stay tuned for future reviews on these books!  All these books share similar characteristics:  stunning photographs, problem-solving techniques, high interest nonfiction text features, and role models in the field of science.  Make sure you check out the resources on the website.  I also came across this You Tube video of the series' enhanced e-books.
What nonfiction are YOU reading this week?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Slice of Life - Choice Literacy Retreat

It was so fun to participate in the Slice of Life writing meme started by Two Writing Teachers for the first time last week.  I was welcomed warmly by other slicers, and I realized this week that I have SO many ideas for slices, I couldn't decide which one to write about this week.  I just got back from a wonderful long weekend trip I make annually with my high school and college best friends, and it will definitely become a slice, but I want to ruminate on it for a while.  This week, I'm going to write about the Choice Literacy Writing Retreat I attended with my friend, Megan, last week.
     Those who know me or read my blog regularly know that my dream is to write a professional teaching book with my friend and colleague, Megan Ginther.  This dream started when we job- shared a 5th grade language arts and social studies position in the same district.  Even though we're now at different districts, we've continued to meet a couple times a month to share teaching ideas, talk about our lives, and write.  Our favorite place to meet is at the Bronte Bistro at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.  We book shop, sometimes attend author events, and enjoy dinner before flipping open the laptop and iPad.  A couple glasses of wine might be involved, too! 
     We've collaborated on this project for months now, and it's exciting to see how this goal is opening the doors to meeting new people and providing ways to integrate writing into our personal and teaching lives.  This summer, Megan enjoyed attending the Ohio Writing Project, and I loved attending nErDcamp Battle Creek, both of them energizing and inspiring us.  Then I got a surprise e-mail from Brenda Power after I inquired about writing for Choice Literacy, and she invited us to one of the writing retreats she holds across the country for her contributors.  We were so excited!  We are both big fans of Choice Literacy.  If you don't know about the website, it is an amazing collection of multimedia resources for literacy teachers and leaders.  I HIGHLY recommend that you join it!  If you need an extra incentive, Franki Sibberson is the lead contributor! 
     We didn't know quite what to expect, but we got up in the wee hours of the morning with our bags packed full of writing pieces and writing materials and hit the road a little before 6 a.m. We were very proud that we didn't get lost once on our way to the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls in Logan, Ohio.  It was a BEAUTIFUL day, and we loved the rustic, peaceful setting of the location.  We met with Brenda before the contributors came because we wanted to share our writing and ideas with her.  Truthfully, we were nervous and slightly star-struck that we were going to be meeting with Brenda.  We so admire the website and all the writing contributors that we felt completely humbled and privileged to be invited.  She put us at ease immediately because she is so genuine and warm.  She gave us some great feedback, and then we started meeting some of the other guests.  I was so excited to see some friends I met at nErDcamp so soon!  Everyone was so welcoming and friendly.  We felt we were instantly a part of a very special community.  We had a lovely spread of fruit, danishes, and coffee, and Brenda got started with the first mini workshop. 
     This year's theme is habits.  She gave us each a book called The Power of Habit.  We talked about how we can create new pathways in our brain for habits we want to establish.  We want to create pathways that lead to daily writing!  Or at least, more writing.  Then she encouraged us all to go write!  The grounds of the writing retreat were gorgeous.  Oh, where to write when you have so many amazing choices?!

We finally settled on the side porch.  This is Megan looking over our writing:

     When we came back in for lunch, Brenda had spread all these inspiring quotes about writing around the room.  We were encouraged to choose two or three that we could make our affirmations.


     Lunch was delicious and we had a great time talking with the women at our table, again feeling completely comfortable and at home with our new friends!
     We wrote for a couple more hours after lunch, walked to see the cabins with Brenda, and then conferred in small groups in the late afternoon.  I loved my group with Gretchen Taylor and Stella Villalba, both incredibly talented teachers and writers.  They're also a LOT of fun!  We enjoyed another delicious meal, laughing and talking, and were SO sad we had to leave after dinner and couldn't stay for the next day.  I was getting up the next morning to go on a girls' trip (which I mentioned early in this post).  We wistfully watched as our new friends took their stuff up to their rooms, preparing for spending the evening hours on the porch.  What a wonderful slice of life we lived that day.  THANK YOU, Brenda, for your generosity and kindness, and thank you to everyone else who made us feel so welcome!!  I would love to make a habit out of meeting, getting to know, and writing with people like you!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Slice of Life - Windmills

This is my first Slice of Life post!  I've been hearing a lot about this Tuesday writing challenge and have read quite a few slices, so I thought it was time to join all the slicers out there!  I hope I capture the essence of what it is supposed to be - let me know if I'm on the right track!  If you'd like to participate, too, head on over to Two Writing Teachers!

     About ten days ago, I participated in NerdcampBC, an amazing gathering of book nerds who flocked to Battle Creek, Michigan to be part of an Edcamp - like experience.  And what an experience it was!  Head on over to Katherine Sokolowski's blog to read everyone's recap.  On the way home, I took a picture of windmills because they were just so stunningly beautiful, and they're not something I see every day. 

I mentioned in my nErDcamp blog post that I started to think about those windmills as metaphors for the friendships and learning that happened there.  I also just finished up an online tech literacy course with Choice Literacy, led by Franki Sibberson that continued some of my thinking about websites and apps to use in my classroom that started at nErDcamp.  Last night, I participated in part of a Twitter #virtualbookclub discussing Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, and I thought about the windmills again.  How do windmill turbines work and how do they relate to these learning communities?  I started to explore online.  I found this YouTube video:

 Wonderopolis (a website we talked about in the Choice Literacy course) has a tour of a windmill turbine and a Wonder of the Day dedicated to wind farms. Click on a "Still Wondering" link and National Geographic has an interesting article on windmills called "Wild Winds." I learned a lot!  Windmills are fascinating.

The learning/teaching communities found on Twitter, Goodreads, Nerdy Book Club, various blogs, and our schools work like these modern wonders.  These communities are like the air, taking the form of wind.  Wind particles move.  This motion means kinetic energy and can be captured. The wind pushes on the rotor blades, transferring some of its own energy of motion to the blade. Turbine blades are like learners, capturing new ideas from other teachers.  When those learners capture the kinetic energy, they pass that learning on to others, much like the turbine blades spin a shaft that leads from the hub of the rotor to a generator.  The generator turns that rotational energy into electricity.  We turn our learning and thinking into ENERGY in the classroom and beyond.  Did you know that wind power all starts with the sun?  The sun is knowledge!  I love the idea that all this energy is renewable and extensive.  It just needs to keep moving and be captured.  We discussed student experts in the Choice Literacy Class and how they can teach others.  This teaching and learning can become seamless, all part of an impressive machine.  Our students can be part of this energy.  We are not the sun in our classrooms - everything doesn't have to come from us.  We are just fluid air.  Keep it heated up (keep learning), and we become the wind.  Can you see all of us and our students on that wind farm?  It's beautiful!

Monday, July 22, 2013

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.

This is a fun book playing with wordles, which are groups of words that sound exactly the same but mean different things. Example:  Me, cloud. with a picture of a smiling cloud, becomes Meek. Loud. with a picture of a shy boy peeking behind a boisterous boy playing the drums. Kids will get a kick out of the funny illustrations and trying to guess the wordle that comes next. They may even try writing some of their own.
Bear and Bee
This is a cute story about a bear who's hungry and happens upon a bee offering him some honey. However, Bear has heard terrible things about bees and is afraid of them even though he's never seen one. He describes them as being big with large teeth and sharp claws. Bee gently points out that HE is big with large teeth and sharp claws. After a funny scene with Bear thinking he is actually a bee, Bee reassures him and introduces himself. A friendship results. There's a sweet silhouette at the end of Bear and Bee sitting side by side eating honey. This would be a good book to talk about stereotypes and misunderstandings about people.
The Longest Night: A Passover Story
This is a wonderful story told in verse and from a young slave girl's point of view about the Passover. The illustrations and power of Snyder's words weave together beautifully to depict what it must have been like to be part of the Exodus from Egypt. I loved the repetition of the line "Till the sea was ripped in two" and the joyful ending.


This is a special book. Vawter has created an unforgettable character in lonely, 11-year-old Victor (a.k.a. "Little Man"). He is a boy who stutters and tells us in the beginning that he is typing up this story because talking is so hard for him. He calls his best friend, Art, "Rat," because he couldn't make the "A" sound when he first met him. Victor lives in Memphis in 1959. He loves his family's housekeeper, Mam, who always has time to talk to him and teach him about God. In July, he takes over Rat's paper route, and that's when his life starts to change. Through colorful characters like Mr. Spiro, TVBoy, and Mrs. Worthington, all customers he meets on his route, he learns a lot about himself and life. He also learns that he has a lot more strength than he realizes when has to intervene to save Mam's life. One of the first things my Mock Newbery Club kids noticed when they were describing this book was that it has no quotation marks for dialogue. We know from Victor that he doesn't like commas because he's got enough pauses in his life. This book will make a great addition to civil rights movement units and to your classroom library in general. I wish The King's Speech wasn't rated R because it would be the perfect movie to recommend to my 5th/6th graders after they read this book.
Real Revision: Authors' Strategies to Share with Student Writers
Kate Messner has written a fantastic practical book on teaching kids to revise their writing. She cautions that many of us are only teaching kids to edit instead of the big stuff - theme, organization, and content. Start with those revisions first, and then narrow it down to things like word choice and mechanics. I love the number of middle grade authors she's included - Linda Urban, Rebecca Stead, Tom Angleberger, Jennifer and Matthew Holm, to name a few - telling anecdotes about their own writing processes and challenges. There are ready-to-use ideas throughout with an appendix at the end, full of wonderful activities. I love Kate's conversational, accessible tone. Everyone who teaches writing needs this book!
2012-book, professional-book
I love Franki Sibberson's writing style - it's friendly and thought-provoking. She shares her planning processes and gives us great ideas for minilesson cycles. I like the practical ways she designs her cycles and how she incorporates short texts to help teach the learning goals. I'm always inspired by the amount of thinking she puts into her teaching. 
The Inn at Rose Harbor (Rose Harbor #1)
Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
The Wig in the Window
Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading
I've been sharing what my family is reading and readers seem to enjoy this new feature, so I will keep it up!
My 17-year-old is still reading her AP Government summer assignment (she's not reading her required reading quite as fast as her YA romance novels she enjoyed in June):
Hardball: How Politics is Played-Told by One Who Knows the Game
My 20-year-old has one more week in Ecuador.  She's been reading:
The Source
My husband isn't reading a book right now - still reading internet news and magazines.
My mom:
The Engagements
My dad:
Call Me Francis Tucket (The Tucket Adventures, #2)
What are YOU reading this week?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

2nd Summertime Mock Newbery 2014 Club

On Friday, in the aftermath of a terrific storm, our Mock Newbery 2014 Club met for the second time this summer.  The turnout for this one was small but mighty.  A lot of kids were on vacation or involved in activities.  Several families were also deterred by the weather.   I have two students involved in the Ohio Writing Project Youth Summer Camp and couldn't come because they were sharing their writing.  I can't wait to hear more about what they learned!  Anyway, the small group that came did some BIG talking about books, so it was still great to get together.  Three of them couldn't make it to the first meeting, so it was wonderful to see them!
Even though the club concentrates on 2013 books, I make sure my students know they can talk about ANY book.  Here are the books we discussed, shared, and traded.
2013 Books
(Some of these we discussed last time, but we'll talk about them again!)
 The Water Castle
One Came Home
Navigating Early
The Wig in the Window
Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill
Prisoner B-3087 
(One of my students read this - it is definitely YA - I wouldn't recommend it to 5th/6th graders, but he loves history and got his hands on it.  He was shocked at how terrible the Holocaust was!)
Older Books
We talked about non-2013 books, too!  I want my students to be reading what they want this summer - not just books for the Newbery Club!
 Savvy (Savvy, #1)
Dewey the Library Cat: A True Story
The Candymakers 
A Dog Purpose
I had fun loaning all my 2013 books out that I had bought.  They grabbed them right up!  We'll try to meet one more time before school starts.