Camp Reads-A-Lot

A few weeks ago was our Read Across America spirit week. At our school, each day was a new day to dress-up and read some great books. I read a variety of silly and new books to keep my kids entertained and show how reading for pleasure, in my opinion, is the best reading of all.

A few months ago I had signed up for a freebie from Angie at Lucky Learners, the creator of Toothie Math. Since then, I’ve gotten periodic emails about things she does in her classroom, and when I got the email blast about Camp Reads-a-Lot, I knew I needed to do it in my classroom. She used it as a culmination of Read Across America week and I was thrilled to do the same.

I brainstormed and collaborated with my two classroom paras about how we could make this day a day to remember for the kids. And I think it was.

Before they got there, I turned and rotated and reorganized the desks to have seven different campgrounds. My paras made a paper towel roll fire and I put my flexible seating options around the campfire. The door was closed and a sign was outside the door saying, “Welcome to Camp Reads-A-Lot! Kids enter with camp counselor.”

When the bell rang, the Littles walked in. I saw one drop her bag to her sides and go “oh. my. goodness!” Priceless.

We started our day with a morning campfire as students designed their camp names and read the different sites they could go to. After reviewing the camp rules, we got to work. I put up a fire on the board so they could work as it crackled. Then, it was time for our first surprise.

We hadn’t had gym for approximately four weeks due to snow days, winter vacation, and teacher work days so I arranged for us to go to the gym when no one else would be there. We did relay races and yoga until it was time for a second surprise.

My dad! Super cool because not only a) was my dad here but b) he was reading the same book he’s read in my mom’s classroom for the past twenty-some-odd years. Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. My kids were super engaged and listening (even though 99% of them had no idea what a steam shovel was). We even had enough time to read another book and then show my dad We’re Going On A Bear Hunt!

Then! Surprise number 3! Our assistant superintendent came and read another book to the whole first grade. After lunch, recess, and technology surprise number 4!! Our fifth grade buddies came into our classroom (usually we go to theirs) and spent a full half hour reading to them. Although a touch crowded, it was so nice to see the fifth graders helping out my little ones with tough words and enjoying the Camp. We even got them to do a GoNoodle video with them (of course, my favorite, Milkshake!!).

I felt like I blinked and the end of the day came! To round out our camp experience, my phenomenal paras made “s’mores”! They warmed up chocolate in the microwave and made little cups of hot chocolate as my students sat around the campfire and watched some books on Epic.

The best part of it all was seeing their faces after we got them with surprise after surprise. One of my Littles, at the very end of the day, asked if we could go around and say our favorite part. He went first and began with, “first, I’d just like to thank the teachers for everything you did today.” And cue heart melting. That single sentence is why we put all of those shenanigans on. The kids being so appreciative and having such a fun time makes me want to do it again even though I got my workout done before they even got there from rearranging the room.

I couldn’t have done it without the help of my paras. It was quite the team effort, and I am so so happy we did it. And I think the Littles were too. Because they deserve it.

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Country research – then and now

About 20 years ago, I taught third grade for the very first time.  When I got there, part of the curriculum was to research a country.  Every child would bring in their own books that they got from the town library.  Some would bring in encyclopedias.  Students would take notes on specific categories.  I recall, we used a large piece of construction paper that we divided into 8 squares, each square with its own category.  Once the notes were done, students would create a poster. On the poster, they would have a flag, a map, a paper doll and a report that most of them hand wrote.  We would have a huge International Celebration where parents would bring in food from that country and every would enjoy the projects and some good food.  We did some form of that project for the 6 years I was in grade three.  Here is an example of the project. You can see that it was mostly done by hand.


I spent the next 14 years in grade 2 and 4.  When I came back to grade three, countries was once again in the curriculum.  It is so true that everything comes back around.  The International Celebration was gone, but the basic curriculum was still there. However, now, we had a game changer! We had computer access.  This year, even better, we had 1 to 1 computer access. Every child in my classroom had access to a computer at any time during the day.  How amazing is that?!

So, children were once again asked to bring in books.  Many did.  Some did not.  However, the impact of that did not matter because now we had access to information all the time.  My students have been using Epic, which is a free for teachers, library of books, since the beginning of the year.  They knew how to search and find their country.  We had the district paid for sites of Culturegrams and Scholastic Go.  I created a Symbaloo page (Symbaloo is an online bookmarking site) of many other sites the students could go to.

I also need to say that we are a Teacher’s College Reading and Writing School. In grade three, before this unit, we do a big nonfiction unit, so the students were very familiar with nonfiction features.CE60624F-2FEC-4C58-AF4F-F1C6EF3E18F3

I created a booklet of information that they needed to find.  The categories they had to research met the curriculum standards.  This was a nod to the construction paper used back in the 90s.  Students researched using real books, books on the computer and websites.  They learned how to flush all of this information together.

When the notes were done, instead of a poster, I gave options.  They could put this information together how every they wanted. They all chose to make a Google slide show.  If you are unfamiliar with slides, it is a Google app used for presentation.  The students did one slide for each of the categories.  Each slide had at least 3 sentences on the given category. Once that was done, they then changed the background and added pictures.  We use a site called ClassPhotos for free, classroom appropriate pictures.

Then, I had a student from grade 4, one of my formers, and a computer whiz, come back during his recess to teach the razzle, dazzle.  He taught the interested kids how to do fun things to their slides, like different transitions between each slide, making flags wave, have the words spin on the page etc.  This part of the project was more about learning computer skills. They loved it! Once one student learned, they would then teach other students.

Finally, I had one problem that I wanted to really work out.  For students that were shy 4B9DC38A-B920-4FE8-B16B-AA0A0F0A440Aor didn’t want to read in front of the group.  What could I do?  There is no audio component to Google Slides.  We have Chrome books.  I could get laptop, download their presentation to Microsoft.  I searched for an audio that I could add, but my system blocked it.  So, I decided to try video.  But what video would work?  I tried several different ways, but landed on this. I would take a separate video for each page. I would then upload each separate video to Youtube (where I have a private class account).  Then I would place each of the videos into their presentation.  Time consuming? Yes. Worth it? More than yes.  That allowed the children who wanted, the option of either reading their slides during the presentation or pressing play.  It gave a level of comfort to whoever wanted it.

During the week, the students presented to each other.  They all had passports that they wrote down facts from each country.  Between each presentation, we got on “airplanes” and flew to the next country.

In addition to their country projects, students also read a folktale from their country and did a reaction to that folktale.  We also created paper dolls in traditional dress.  We also participated in many global projects such as the Global Read Aloud and have notebooks that contain information from all of our Skype and connections.


Finally, the big day was here.  We set up the room by countries.  Children turned on the Chrome books and parents came!  It was a joyous time.  Students stayed by their computers as parents walked around and asked questions.  Parents were so kind and interested.  My students felt proud, as they should. It really was a beautiful site to see all the hard work come to fruition.

As is typical with curriculum, it circles around.  This may be the last time that I do this project, as our curriculum is changing yet again.  However, it was wonderful for me to see the change!



The past 3 years or so, I have been studying the work of Jo Boaler.  She is a math educator out of Stanford who works with brain scientists.  Her work is really life changing.  She created this website called Youcubed.  It is an amazing portal of math ideas.  It is all free. I began using it a couple years ago.

On the website, there is a group of lessons called Inspirational Math.  Each lesson has a short video on math norms, brain science etc.  The videos are all child friendly and fabulous.  There are four weeks of Inspirational Math.  I start off the year with week one and do it in completion.  Then, on most Fridays, I do a lesson from another week. When I finish all 4 weeks, I will return to week one.  At this point, the children have grown in their math thinking and will be able to attack the problems in a different way.

I am nearing the end of week 4.  Yesterday we did week 4 day 4. After watching a quick video on how speed is not the same as math intelligence, I put the students in groups of 3 to tackle this problem. (See below).

At first, the problem appeared “easy”. The students started with white boards.  Some began to get out the color tiles.  Some groups used teddy bears while others used unified cubes. Then, they realized that maybe hundred charts would be more appropriate.  I went over to one group and listened.  They had the hundreds chart out.  They circled all the multiples of 7.  (I didn’t even realize that the word multiple had become part of their math speak).  Then, they started erasing all of the even numbers and then all of the multiples of 5.  At one point they were left with 3 numbers.  They asked for a calculator.

Getting the right answer was not really the goal for me.  This problem was hard.  Really hard. Could the groups adapt and adjust their thinking?  Could they follow all the steps.  Remembering that these are third graders. 8 and 9 year olds. Would they give up?

This is the time of year when third graders really make amazing growth.  Not one group gave up or got frustrated.  Many tried different ways to solve the problem.  At the end, all groups were very close to finding the answer.  It was really something to watch how their brains worked.

Thank you to Jo Boaler for creating such an amazing website for students and teachers.  Thank you for keeping it free!

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There is nothing better than a good read aloud

One of the greatest joys for me in my classroom is reading aloud.  I love it.  I love everything about it.  For me, it is the most important thing I do each day.  During this time, we come together as a class.  We do so much more than enjoy the time together.  We discuss the content of the books, we learn about issues such as bullying, learning differences, immigration, family problems and so much more.  We learn about perspective, points of view and author’s craft.  We discuss real world problems through imaginary characters.Through our read aloud, we learn all the good reading strategies we need to become avid readers.  We learn that reading is wonderful, powerful and should be done every single day.

The books I read aloud bond us together.  They unite us as a team.  They give us a history of common experiences that we draw on throughout the year.

I love third grade because the growth in students in so amazing.  They are beginning to discover really amazing middle grade books.  Books that hold their attention and make them beg for more.  Being able to read a book that does that to kids is such a pleasure for me.

Yesterday, I was reading the Wild Robot to my students. We are about halfway in.  This is a story about a robot Roz who adopts a bird Brightbill as her son.  This story has so many layers to it.  We have had lots of great discussions!  Anyways, yesterday I was reading and something big was going to happen.  The kids were all looking at me.  I had their complete attention.  They were nervous, eyes wide, mouths open. One girl was even hiding her face because she was so nervous.  If you are ever lucky enough to read to a group of children, you know that this part is magic.  You feel it. The story had become part of the classroom. It is beautiful.

So, I am reading along..the students cannot wait to find out what happens next.  They are literally on the edge of their seats.  What do I do? I read right up to the part..not going any further and I shut the book and say time for lunch.

The screaming and yelling that followed was music to my ears.  To have children that engrossed in the book, to have them so excited to find out what happens next.  Just magic.

Moments like these make me realize how 31 years teaching has gone by so quickly.  These are the moments.

I am also eternally grateful for such fine middle grade writing.  It has come a long way since I was a middle grade student.

As for the part in the story, I only had a couple paragraphs left.  I laughed so hard that water was pouring out of my eyes.  I told the kids I needed to have fun because I hang around 8 and 9 years all day. They agreed.  We all agreed that I was naughty, but also that it was funny.  Once we all regained composure, I finished the chapter and they went to lunch.



The Second Job

When I transferred from Salve Regina to UConn, I thought long and hard about what I was going to do differently. The one thing I decided on keeping the same was playing sports. Being an athlete had been a part of my identity all throughout high school and I wasn’t ready to let it go yet. I hemmed and hawed between staying with field hockey or starting lacrosse up again (because I went home during my freshman spring semester, I took a season off). I chose field hockey because its season started sooner and gave me an earlier opportunity to meet people.

That decision has ultimately impacted the trajectory of my life.

Sophomore year I was the left back starter, which very quickly got changed to the center back. My coach pushed me every single day to become better and although it challenged me mentally and physically, I became a better field hockey player and athlete because of it.

Junior year, I was secretary. Senior year, co-captain and co-president with my best friend.

My last tournament of senior year in Virginia Beach, Club Field Hockey Nationals. I was sitting with my parents (who very graciously drove down to both Maryland and Virginia to watch me play that year thanks Mom and Dad you’re the real MVPs) when my former coach from sophomore year approached me. He asked about my post-graduate plans and then offered me the position of being the Youth Director for his premiere field hockey league.

Now, let me remind you that I never played for this premiere league, and I only played NCAA hockey for one season. Some, including myself and my parents, would say I was severely underqualified.

However, a month after I came back from South Africa, the ball started rolling. I became the Administrative Assistant, then official Secretary of a non-profit organization run by that same coach to bring field hockey to the youngest of players. I started coaching regularly, Wednesday nights, at a site half an hour from my house for the actual field hockey organization he originally asked about.

Then summer and fall and winter happened. The once a week coaching deal turned into three or four times. I organized my own mini-travel team of U12s and we went to three tournaments over the summer. We set up two summer and four fall clinics for youth programs and I coached at those many times. I organized meetings for the board of the organization; I worked my butt off during weekend-long tournaments coaching two teams, helping with set up and break down, and playing; I coached the youth league and high schoolers; I traveled across the state; I went to my first National Indoor Tournament as an assistant coach for the U14s; and I realized how much field hockey and this league means to me.

I’ve also met some really cool, like-minded people. People that are motivated, passionate, and goal-driven. People that push me to achieve more and see my potential in a field that I never thought I would end up in so quickly. People that have become some of my closest friends. Because when you are working over twelve hours for two days straight with limited amount of sleep, when you are travelling four hours each way for a three day tournament, when you are balancing all of the other craziness of life like college and a full-time job and (sometimes) a personal life, coworkers become friends. I’m very fortunate with how quickly and fully they’ve accepted me into this crazy world and how they continue to give me support when I feel like I’m underqualified or stressed or don’t have a single clue how to run a youth program. They’re also some of the greatest coaches I know, so getting to work alongside them with our high performance teams has been eye-opening to the level I can get myself to and the level they are already at.

So in all, becoming a youth director and a secretary of two field hockey-related organizations while also full-time teaching and attempting to transition into my adult life was never part of the plan. But now that it is, it has become such a big part of my life that I can’t envision it any other way. And to see how much I’ve grown from last February to now makes me excited for the growth and for all the future field hockey Littles I get to coach.

March Book Madness – 2019

March Book Madness    is a global program that involves 16 different books in three different categories.  The books are then placed in brackets and children from around the world vote.  This is my fourth year doing this amazing program.  You can read about past years here and here.

Once I find out all of the books in the fall, I begin buying and reading them.  I carefully read all of the middle grade books and don’t necessarily put them all out.  Grade three is a tricky grade and can be a little too young for some of the content.  Last year, I read Orphan Island (one of the middle grade contenders) and actually left out a part that did not change the story.  This year, I read aloud two of the middle grade contenders, Out of My Mind and Restart.

When students come back in January, all of the books are place out for them to read.  It is my expectation that each student will read all of the picture books.  Each student has a folder where they keep track of the picture books they read.  The theme this year is captivating characters, so students are to pay attention to them.  (It also fits very nicely with our Reading Workshop unit on characters).

I also incorporate technology.  When students are done with a picture book, they write a quick sentence or two on a Padlet.  A Padlet is an online bulletin board (see below for an example).  This year, I found that the reading level of some of the books was very high, so I was able to find a video read aloud for each of the books if the students wanted to access the book in that way.  They could just listen and watch as is was read aloud and then do the Padlet. Finally, students used Kidblog to write about their favorite character. Before posting on Kidblog, some students use their google drive to type their responses and some use the speech to text app to get their ideas down.  Their writing is then copied and pasted into Kidblog.

Students end this project by creating a poster to vote for their favorite character.

This is one of my favorite things to do in my classroom.  The first voting is March 6th! Most students have read all of the books and the buzz is being created over how they are going to vote. I cannot wait to watch my students as they take this journey.

Here is an example of the Padlet.  The book they are responding to is The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson.


What follows next are their responses to my Kidblog post, “What was your favorite book and who was your favorite character.” I love their responses!



The 100th (or 101st) Day

Yesterday was the 100th day of school. (We think – there was some disagreement if it was Friday or Monday.)

I seriously cannot believe I’ve made it to another benchmark in my first year of teaching. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been doing this for 180 days. In others, I feel like it’s still my first day.

I knew I wanted to write about this day and reflect on how far I’ve come with my Littles and my teaching practice. I toyed with the idea of listing 100 things we’ve done so far and realized it would take a really long time to write/read/brainstorm. So instead, I’ll do 10 highlights.

  1. Personally, this is the longest I’ve ever done anything. I’ve learned to take a breath, take a step back, and think about what I’m doing. It’s a constant reminder that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Although 100 days is super exciting and we’re over halfway done with the school year and we’ve accomplished so much, 80 days is still a long way to go and we’ve still go a lot of stuff to do. Last week, a paraprofessional in our school approached me to say how much she enjoys my classroom and how I run it. To get those words of recognition from someone who’s only been in for approximately forty-five minutes meant the world to me.
  2. My kiddos have also come so far. At the beginning of the year we couldn’t log on to the computer by ourselves, the majority of us needed help to read, we couldn’t tie our shoes (some are still working on this), we were barely independent. And now? We are like a well-oiled machine (I’d like to think). Sometimes we need some WD-40 (or a sweet combination of reminders & Dojo points) but today during reading and math centers, I felt focused with my small group and looked around to see almost all of the other students focused on their task. Now that, quietly managing 22 students without them knowing because they’re working so hard on their task, is one of the best feelings of achievement I’ve had.
  3. Professionally, I am making strides. I have completed two of three TEAM modules and have started my third. I’ve joined Twitter & obviously continue to blog. I’ve also made progress in my evaluations, successfully completing three out of six (with another coming up next Tuesday!). I also have improved every time, going from solid twos to a solids threes sprinkled with two fours. I’ve participated in a few webinars that have sparked my interest, continued my professional reading (thanks Jennifer Serravallo), and am attending my first conference later this month (can’t wait Kristine Mraz!).
  4. We read! And slowly but surely, I’m turning my class into a group of avid readers. I’ve brought in bin after bin of books, organized (and am currently reorganizing) my library, printed off Reading A-Z books, used guided readers & leveled readers & decodables, done chapter book & picture book & big book read alouds, and have always gotten excited about reading in front of my kids. (Which in my case, isn’t hard to do.) For some kids, it’s a matter of actually decoding and recognizing the letters in front of them to make words. For others, it’s finding that ah-ha! moment of wait, this book is pretty good & wait, I can read this! & wait, I like reading! And we’re getting there.
  5. We add and subtract and know our numbers! Our very first unit of the year was numbers one-ten. And although we are working on numbers eleven-twenty now, I am pushing them to develop number sense twenty through one-hundred and twenty. And when back in October we couldn’t do one-digit addition (yet!), we’re starting to tackle two-digit subtraction. But most of all, my students would tell you, that when we make a mistake our brains grow (@Jo Boaler). And that’s definitely, definitely, what’s most important to me as their teacher.
  6. We are polite! If you read my other post, you know that was the comment that stuck out to me the most from my informal evaluation. I have worked hard to get my students to practice manners and asking questions (rather than the “I need this…” we’re working on “May I please have…?”). We’re working on apologies and thank yous and being respectful listeners and being good friends and sharing. We’re working on saying good morning and helping each other out and encouraging one another and saying good afternoon and goodbye. Of course we’re still working on it, but I am super proud of how my Littles have come together. Just today, someone commented on what a lovely bunch we have. I couldn’t agree more.
  7. Our family has changed. We have had three friends move away, two more join us, a new paraprofessional come in November, and another one joining us last week. I’ve seen many, many friendships emerge. I’ve noticed new best-friendships being created. And just today at recess, I happened to look over at wall ball and nearly half of my class playing together nicely. And when one kiddo got upset, others rushed over to make sure he was okay.
  8. We’ve celebrated! We’ve celebrated six and seven-year-old birthdays, holiday break (and all of the holidays in December), 100th day, Dot Day (my personal favorite), Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day, Halloween, the first snowfall (really was more like a snow-mist), a construction truck driving by our window, the third snowfall (and the fourth and the fifth), the visit from the fire department, any visit from any administrator (because truthfully they have been so well-behaved and on point when we have a special visitor the last few visits), the 90th day, delayed openings, early releases, lunch in the classroom, Gingerbread Day, 5 second silent dance party, getting a projector, positive phone calls home, our monster leveling up in GoNoodle, when our video choice wins for Mystery Science, getting time to watch Mystery Science with Doug, guest readers, and so much more that I can’t name. Because every day in first grade there is something to celebrate.
  9. Most importantly, we’ve learned. Bigger than reading or writing or doing math or social studies or science or social-emotional learning, we’ve learned about it all. Our brains have gotten bigger every day. Every day we’ve learned at least one new thing. We’ve learned about ourselves and each other. I’ve learned how to care for twenty-two souls other than my own just as much as my own. I truly and deeply want the best for each of these kiddos. Every day, and I’ve gotten one hundred chances to, I’ve learned a little bit more about them. What makes them tick. What they like. What they don’t like. What they have learned. What they still need to learn. And of course, I’ve learned about them as the little, tiny, (but really not-so-tiny, my Littles have gotten to be Bigs in these 100 days), humans that enter my room everyday.
  10. We have loved. We have loved hard. We love hard. When I student taught, I didn’t think my heart could get any bigger. I had fallen in love twenty-two times. But now, 100 days in with some of the best six and seven-year-olds on the planet, I have fallen in love all over again. They keep me honest. They keep me patient. They keep me sane and insane. They keep me on my toes. They keep me expecting the unexpected. They keep me humble and organized and wacky and energetic and fun and dancey and loving. When all else is going wrong in the world, I know I’ve got twenty-two Littles who love me just as hard back. The fact that I’ve only got seventy-eight or seventy-seven days with them doesn’t seem like enough.

So congrats Littles, we did it. 100 (or 101) days down, 80 (or 79) to go!