When Egypt comes to your classroom..

I am very lucky to be part of an incredibly supportive network of worldwide educators called the #bfc530.  We meet every day on Twitter at 5:30 AM and chat about one question for 15 minutes.  While I have never met these fine people, I am proud to call them my friends.

One such connection is Michelle Finn.  We are both a part of this group and chat every morning.  Last spring, we decided to try a Mystery Skype. Since she is in Maine and I was in Connecticut, it was fun to Skype someone so close.

Then, this summer, she reached out again to me on social media, I believe Instagram this time and said she was going to Egypt on vacation and would I like her to Skype with my class?!  WHAT?!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  Skype from Egypt?! How cool is that? Yes!

Now, back to the classroom.  I knew that in order to make this Skype meaningful, we needed to do some preliminary work. We had just started learning about the world and understanding our place on Earth. The kids all have Global Notebooks. In these notebooks we track on maps places we have made connections with.  That was a start.  We found Egypt and noticed basic things; such as continent and the Red Sea.  Then using Reading A to Z, I found and printed for each child a book on Egypt.  That gave us a basic understanding of the country.

Then, we used Epic.  Epic is an online library of books free for teachers.  Students spent some time researching Egypt and taking notes in their Writers Notebook.  As we developed an understanding of this amazing country, we began to wonder and question. I began to push their thinking and printed off another book from Reading A to Z; this one  about Ancient Egypt.

Then the big day came.  My students were nervous and excited.  Michelle could not have been more welcoming.  Right when she called, my Smartboard was filled her big huge smile.  She introduced herself and had every single child stand up and say their name.  She was outside of her hotel room right near the Red Sea. She took us on a little tour of the area and pointed out landmarks. Then she taught my students. And she answered questions.  She Skyped with us for about 40 minutes. It was incredible.  We learned about the Red Sea, and tombs, and crumbling pyramids.  Students learned about coral reefs turning white (which lead to another discussion later) and scuba diving.  We learned about the climate and how they one time didn’t have rain for 5 years!

When she was done, students took out their Writers Notebook and they wrote and wrote and wrote. They wrote whatever it was they wanted to write about this Skype.  You could hear a pin drop they were so busy.

When Reading Workshop came, many still could not leave Egypt and now coral reefs behind.  They needed to learn more.   So, many went on Epic and armed with their Writers Notebooks continued their learning.  At the end of the day as we were processing this once in a life time experience, students told me that they had gone home and were studying Egypt on their own!

Michelle, there is no way I could possibly thank you for all you have given my students.  You introduced them to the amazing country of Egypt.  But it was so much more..you taught them to wonder, to be curious.  You taught them that learning is amazing. You gave them spark.

Then this morning, I woke up to this picture!





Limitless Mind by Jo Boaler

I have a little, okay, I have a lot, of anxiety about posting about this book. I am afraid that my words could never do it justice. That I will misrepresent or fall flat on the brilliance that is this book. But I am going to try. I need to continue to process.

Limitless Mind is a book for everyone. Every.single.person. I am going to recommend it to the parents of the students in my class. I have already recommended it to colleagues and have posted several quotes on my instagram account and tweet about it. A lot. It is that good.

I first discovered Dr. Jo Boaler about 4 or so years ago. She is a professor of education at Stanford University. I devoured her book Mathematical Mindset and took her online class. She developed her mathematical norms by working with brain scientists. She has also developed an incredible website called Youcubed.org that has videos and activities for students that support these math norms. This website and her findings have become the crux of my math class. I have had a front row seat to see how these norms change children and how they feel about themselves, math, and more importantly their learning. The amount children grow as individuals by using these math norms is astonishing.

Limitless Mind is her latest book. It came out early September. I had preordered it and have worked on my self control, as I wanted to devour the book yet take it slow and relish every page.

In this book, Dr. Boaler presents the six keys of learning and the new science surrounding them. She feels by unlocking these keys, our brains can function differently. Each chapter is devoted to addressing one key. She gives us the research behind each of them and real life examples.

I would never want to break copyright by giving you the six keys. Also, I could never do it justice, so I am not even going to try. If you believe in brain growth, that learning is process, mistakes are important..then this book is for you.

There are a lot of education books out there, more than ever before. This book comes before all of those books.

Summer Book Reflections

It has been a while since I have written. I had full intentions to write this summer, but I didn’t. Instead, after school got out, I spent three days on the couch. Not reading, barely watching tv; just recovering. I then taught summer school, which I absolutely loved. Then, I started reading and reading and reading. I have always loved reading since a kid, but in the past several years, it has become something I must do or I feel off balance.

My goal this summer was to balance picture books, middle grade books, professional development books and adult novels. Here is my breakdown for the summer 2019. I am so thankful for Goodreads to keep it all straight for me.

Below are some highlights:

Picture books:

King of Kindergarten..adorable story of a boy attending kindergarten for the first day. My third graders loved it when I read it to them.

Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: Ona Judge was a little known slave that escaped.

Juniper Kai, Super Spy: We do a big mystery unit and this picture book will be put into the hands of kids who enjoy picture books and/or are not ready for chapter books.

Middle Grade Novels:

As stated above, we do a big mystery unit. This summer, my goal was to read mystery books with diverse characters. To that end, I read, Zoey and Sassafras, The Pack-n-Go Girls’ Adventure, The Great Cake Mystery, and the Clubhouse Mysteries. All will be added to my shelf.

The middle grade genre is amazing. Authors are pushing the limits like never before. The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia is a sweet story of a girl and her grandmother. LuLu remembers everything while her grandmother is beginning to forget things.

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee is an important book. Every middle school classroom should read it, especially in light of the me movement.

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner is the adventures of the main character in a wheelchair. This story reminded me of Out Of My Mind but had a different twist. I am looking forward to this book coming out in paperback.

Ban This Book was on many summer reading lists. It was, for me, a fun read to see which books I have read that made the cut.

Pixie Pushes On by Tamara Bundy was a historical fiction book that sort of reminded me of Little House on the Prairie but was definitely its own story.

The Other Half Of Happy by Rebecca Balcarel is about Quijana who is struggling with her Spanish identity however the author brilliant weave in several other problems that would make for excellent discussion in a middle grade class.

Both middle grade and picture book authors continue to impress me with the way they are not afraid to take on hard topics and present them in a way that allows students to begin to get a basis of understanding of topics that may be new to them or to find books that they see themselves in.

Professional Development

White Fragility was an eye opening for me. I just happened upon it at the library one day, however, I wish I had bought a copy of it to be able to refer back to it.

I am currently reading Limitless Mind by Jo Boaler and it is pure gold. So much on brain science and learning.

Adult novels

My two favorite novels were Lilac Girls and Cilka’s Journey. I feel a little late to the game with Lilac Girls, but it was a very difficult read as was Cilka’s Journey (due out October 1st) with both books after I read them I had to take a moment. Cilka’s Journey was a spin off of the Tatooist.

These are the highlights from my summer reading. What were some of the best books you read?

Feel free to follow me on instagram @mrsiwanicki or we have Facebook page for book lovers of kidlit called Books, Books and More books.

Summer Break

In less than a week, I will be sitting in the audience for our 2019-2020 school year convocation. A few days after that, my room will be filled with little humans as they return to school. And just like that, I’ll be teaching my second year of students.

A few weeks ago, if you had asked me if I was ready to go back, I would have given you a soft smile, a nervous laugh, and a small shake of the head. But after going into my classroom all of last week, that sense of nervousness has transformed into a positive feeling of anticipation.

I wrote about the end of the school year basically as soon as I had locked up my room for the year. And then I took some much needed time off. I know myself well enough to know that I needed a break (just like many other teachers). I needed to remove myself from school, from education, from my Littles for a few weeks. When you pour your heart and soul into these humans and your career and your passion, it is rewarding but it is also incredibly exhausting. I needed time to take a second away from being a teacher.

Although I was taking time off from being a teacher and an educator, I almost immediately threw myself into my second job as a coach and youth director. By the end of June, I had already coached and/or managed four tournaments and was up to coaching at least four to five times a week. The shift was welcome, as being a coach allows kids to see me in a different light and to have a different presence than the one I normally have in the classroom. July was no different, as I continued coaching almost every day and traveling on the weekends to tournaments.  Finally now, in the second week of August, are my coaching commitments dwindling down.

I also went to my parents’ house a lot. Being in my apartment for long stretches of time got lonely pretty quickly. My mom and I got into a routine of going to the gym in the middle of the day, followed by lunch, and iced coffees while floating on the pool. We had lots of time to talk and when we discussed education, it was fun stuff, like reorganizing our rooms.

Now, here we are in August. Although I have a lot more things to do on my list, I am feeling incredibly proud of my classroom. Last year, I sat on a lot of stuff that was gifted to me by the previous teacher, not knowing if I was going to use it or not. This year, I passed it along to the new teacher in first grade. My room feels less cluttered, simpler, and most importantly, more like me. I was able to recruit my mom’s help and we spent our morning reorganizing and decluttering my library. It’s like a breath of fresh air.

Lastly, I found out that my roster for the beginning of the year is sixteen. Last year, I was at twenty-two, which quickly climbed up to twenty-five by October. My room is set for 18 and still feels spacious enough. I am also the “senior” team member for my grade. My grade level partner of last year decided to move up to third. All of her help and advice from last year will help as I begin this new year of collaborating with two new grade level partners, both of whom are new to first grade. I am incredibly excited as we navigate first grade, new curriculum, and our new students together.

Essentially, this summer break was exactly what I needed it to be, a break. I rested and put as much time and energy into education as I could and wanted to. And now, with a week to go, I am feeling that excitement and anticipation that last year was mostly nerves. I am excited for what this year will bring me, the new problems to solve, the things I’ve already learned and the new things I will learn, and of course, the fifteen new Littles that will be walking through my door in a week and four days.


A Second-Year Teacher Eight Days Away From Starting Her Year 🙂

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes

I was blessed to receive an ARC (advanced reader copy) of this terrific book. The main character in this story is entering kindergarten. His mom tells him that he is the King of Kindergarten. Everything that he does getting ready for school speaks to his royalty, including the big yellow carriage that will deliver him to the grand fortress.

His day is filled with lots of activities. He demonstrates bravery, meets friends and saves the kingdom.

This book was absolutely delightful! Every time I read it, it makes me smile. This book is a must for anyone who is entering kindergarten or any kindergarten teacher. I just loved it!

Third Annual Iwanicki Book Awards

Three years ago I listened to a podcast where Dave Burgess was talking about ending the year strong. I remember thinking then that there was absolutely nothing left inside of me. How could I finish stronger than I normally do? How do I have any energy left for one more thing. Without knowing, his podcast kind of gave me the kick in the butt I needed and the Iwanicki Book Awards was born. You can read about former winners here and here. This year, I read over 70 books aloud. Honestly, I would have no idea if I didn’t have a couple of girls keep track for me on a bulletin board display. This is a picture of it at the beginning of May.The top row are all the chapter books that I have read. The rest are picture books. Once again, I summoned up energy I didn’t know I had and we created categories. My favorite category this year was favorite villain. Using google forms, students voted for the first round; which narrowed it down to less than 5. We then voted again, using Google forms to come up with the winners. Students created based on the the nominated books.

During the actually presentation, students for the first year ever, brought in food. Some dressed up. They worked on the word searches. I played gentle music. Then, when we were ready for the announcements, I found an Oscar playlist on youtube. The students would stop what they were doing and look at my paraprofessional who controlled the envelopes. The students started really getting into it and began to introduce him, “Heeeeeerrrrrrrrreeee’sssssss Mmmmmmmiisttttttter Carrrrrrroll.” He would then, in his best announcer voice say the category and all of the nominees. With great flourish, he would hand the envelope off to me where I would announce the runner up and the winner.

Lots of screams, shouts and dancing ensued. Then they went immediately back to working on the word search.

There are some titles that made the Iwanicki Book Awards for all three years. There are new titles. This year’s class LOVED monsters, funny, imaginary stories. Because I read so many books, great stories that they loved, like Wild Robot got completely overlooked. Bob was the book that I credit this year for turning my students into great listeners. Grump was the read aloud I was reading when we filled out our forms, so you will see it several times. We were also in the middle of our social issue book club, so you will see that as well. I have to remember that these are 8 and 9 year olds and they live in the moment.

Here are the winners:

Confessions from a Second-Year Teacher

Tuesday was my last day of school. The 180th day I had spent with my Littles, some of who were not so little. I meant to write a post that day, or yesterday, but as fate would have it, I caught the stomach bug. To be completely frank, this was a total surprise for me. I have a horrible immune system – I missed seventeen days of first grade because I got so sick, spent many summers with tears in my eyes because of ear infections, missed a week of high school because of sinusitis, got mono senior year of college and missed my twenty-first birthday, BUT I hadn’t missed any days this year due to illness. So as I told my mom what had happened, she replied with one word: “exhaustion.” My body had withheld all the illnesses, battled viruses and colds to make sure I could get through the year and then, twenty-four hours after I said goodbye to my babies, it let its defenses down.

But this post isn’t about my illness (I am feeling much more like a human today just as an update). It’s about those one-hundred eighty days that have made me a completely different teacher than I was back in August. There are so many things I want to say and I’m just not sure if I can fully express my feelings through words, but I’m going to try.

First, reflecting on nearly a year ago, I was down in the dumps going through the job search process. Here’s a blog post about it. I had gone through numerous interviews, second round interviews, demo lessons and nothing had stuck. Then, within a week, got offered three jobs. And the one that I wanted the most wanted me back. And I can honestly say, I never looked back.

Then, came the honeymoon period of August and September, quickly followed by an October that pushed me close to my breaking point. October is really hard. It’s a lot of adjusting and readjusting and evaluating and analyzing and reflecting and trying to get better. It was calling my mom at 5:30 in the morning saying “I don’t think I can do this” and her telling me gently but firmly “You have to. Do it for them.” It was twenty-five kids by myself with a variety pack of behavior and academics. It was meeting with my principal and coaches and grade level partner and swallowing my pride and saying “how can I get better?” It was redesigning my lesson plans, becoming more structured, having more authentic and honest communication with families, being open to critiques and comments from my colleagues.

After October came November, December, and January and a breath of fresh air. I got a para. There was winter break. And the most amazing thing? There was growth! My babies started to grow. We were growing together into a huge family. We supported each other. I made positive phone calls home, in the middle of the day, to cheers and hollers from the rest of the class. We had lunch together. We played at recess. I started to become more confident in the changes I made over the fall. And they made growth academically, too. They started to emerge as readers and mathematicians and scientists and learners.

In the spring, time started to fly and move very slowly. February brought me a new 1:1 para for one of my Littles and her and I hit it off immediately. Due to unforeseen circumstances she was relocated and I had to reevaluate (again). Then, March. March is an incredibly long month which honestly looking back on now, feels like a blur. Next, in April, I felt like we started to move backwards. After a brainstorming phone call with my confidant (my mom) we planned a relaunch to take me until the end of the year, returning to behavioral scaffolds that had been removed in the mid year. We talked about acceptable vs. non-acceptable choices and our class rules and we practiced our skills and centers.

Then, we came to the end of the year. In May, end of year testing. My data was not where I wanted it to be, a problem that first grade had been faced with for many years now. In my end of year conference, I spoke to how I had done some professional development on that topic and would spend my summer on it as well. But I also told my principal how the data is not reflective of how my students became readers. How a student who at the beginning of the year would spend read to self time glancing around the room, shyly asked if he could take Splat the Cat home. How my girls created a book club around Owl Diaries because they loved it. How excited my students were for read aloud. How students begged me to be the class read aloud for the day.

And here we are, in June. The last few days raced past with field trips and picnics and movies and science experiments. As my Littles walked out that door on Tuesday, I made sure to give them each a hug. I told them all that I loved them and always will. It’s hard to put into words what kind of affect those children had on me. They pushed me to become the best teacher I could for them. We all made mistakes but we rallied around one another to become a classroom family. Everyday I learned something new from them, something new about them. It was so hard, but it was so worth it. I’m so incredibly fortunate to be in the school that I am, working with the people that I do, and to have that first class that I did. And it’s only confirmed to me that this is what I’m meant to do. Year Two, I’m coming for you!

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