International Dot Day

September 15ish is International Dot Day.  What is exactly is that?  It is a day set aside to honor the amazing book the Dot by Peter Reynolds.  If you haven’t read it, you can watch it here The Dot  The Dot is a story about a Vashi who feels she cannot draw.  The message is to “Make a mark and see where it takes you.”  I am a big fan of Peter Reynolds’ books.  They are all fabulous with a great message in each.  While they are picture books, the lessons in each book apply to humans of all ages. The illustrations are just as amazing. Read just one and you will love them as much as I do.

International Dot Day was the first Global Project that I participated in (5 years ago) and it hooked me in a big way.  Over a million people participate in over 169 countries.  This whole day was the brainchild of teacher Terry Shay in 2009 and has grown to a wonderful day of creativity and exploration.  We have already read and discussed the book.  We marked down some of the countries that are participating on individual maps and looked how far they are from us on a globe.

On Friday, we will also be making our own mark by decorating a dot and using an app called Quiver to make it 3D.  We will be doing science activities with water dots (drops). We will be playing math games with dots (dice). We will also be having our first Mystery Skype of the year.  Finally, we will cap off our day by watching a live stream of Dot Day with Terry Shay and Peter Reynolds.  Isn’t technology fabulous?!

I love this day.  The Dot and Ish (another gem of Peter Reynolds) are wonderful books for adding to our growth mindset work we have been doing.  I am excited and I know I will be rocking dots on Friday.  What about you? IMG_0016.PNG


Embrace the struggle

The pile of stuff in the living room lets me know that summer is almost over.  This pile belongs to my daughter Krista and needs to go into her dorm apartment. She is packed and ready for Saturday.  I have been going into school for about a week now, but the pile is what really hits home.  Kelsey leaves on Tuesday for her teaching adventure to South Africa on Tuesday (she will blog about it). Summer is just about over.

I am excited for this new school year.  For the first time in 6 years, there is no change.  No new principal, no new grade, no new school or no new room.  There is comfort in no change.  I can dig deeper into the curriculum and I know where to challenge or modify it. I have the smallest class size that I have had ever.  With all the change that I have been through, if this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up!img_0008-3

This summer, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my practice and learning.  Being old  teaching for 30 29 years does that to you!  Staying fresh and current is what keeps me loving my job.  I read over 7 professional development books this summer.  The common theme that I heard was struggle.  Students need productive struggle.  If we are going to truly produce students that are ready for the workforce, they need to learn to struggle.  I learned that during this struggle, even if the answer is wrong, their brain will grow!  Scans of cab drivers in London show that their brain grew when they were studying to be a cab driver.  They need to know a crazy amount of streets in order to pass a test to become what is known as a black cab driver.  After they retired, studies showed that their brain size decreased; and not because of age, but because they were not using it like they used to.  So cool, right?!  What this shows is that IQ is not a fixed number.  We can actually change the number of our IQ and science backs that up! I always believe that hard work and grit will produce results and now science proves it!

So this year, I am going to try to be more thoughtful in productively challenging my students.  I am especially going to work on this in math.  I tend to show students how to get the answer, but I am going embrace allowing them to struggle and get a little frustrated.  After all, there brain will grow!


Blackout Poetry

I hoard books.  I have a problem.  I know I do.  Getting rid of books is very difficult for me.  You just never know if you will have a reader who needs THAT book!  So for me, it is always a struggle.  This year, I have been very lucky.  I have  received many brand spanking new books for my classroom library. I finally felt better getting rid of some of the old, worn out books and/or the books that were never read.  I set up an area in my classroom called retired books and my students could just take as many as they wanted.  I got rid of many of my books, but there were still many left.  What should I do?

Going with my theme of trying to make the end of the year as good as the beginning, I decided to give them to the students to do Blackout Poetry.  In blackout poetry, a reader skims any page.  Students are looking for words that stick out for them.  They then try to find words that go with that word to form a poem.  The rest of the words are then blacked out.

I gave a brief explanation from and showed them a few examples on google. Then set them off!

The pictures below were created in no more than 15 minutes (all the time we had).  If students create more tomorrow, I will post another blog.

In this example, the student highlighted the words and then made a base and part of a diamond to go with his poem.



This child was not completed yet, but you can see how her poem is turning out!


Students loved this activity and actually asked to take it out to it at recess!  Success!

Mystery Skype

After three years of begging asking, I was finally granted Skype capability in my classroom.  I could finally talk to classrooms around the world. I was allowed entry into the club of teachers who have their classrooms talk to each oxSWMapTAyR_1408329962664ther.  How cool is that?!  A Skype is one thing, but a Mystery Skype takes it to a whole new level.  In a Mystery Skype, you take turns with another class asking yes/no questions as you try to figure out where they are.  There was a whole lot of preparation on our end. Students had to learn geography.  They had to understand states, oceans, time zones and regions to name a few.  Then, my students had to learn to listen, really listen.  They had to use what the other class was saying; mark their maps and think about the most logical question to ask. That took hard work on both of our parts.

Here is an example of how a Skype will go:

Us: Are you East of the Mississippi River? Yes (They, they would cross out all of the states to the west of the Mississippi)

Then it would be the next class turn.

Us: Are you in the Northeast Region of the US? No (they would then cross out all of the states in the Northeast)

Questions would continue until only a few states were left.  Then normally one of the questions was do you border ________?  That would help narrow it down even more.  Then a student would ask if they are from the state of _________.

I think you get the hang of it.  We have done over a dozen of these and we have been able to see classes all across the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska (where the internet kept cutting in and out and class size was 9).  We have also Skyped a classroom in Quebec and my daughter on her trip to Spain.  We followed a Mystery Skype by the website GoNoodle in Germany.

My students have grown in so many ways through this.  They now have a better understanding of the state of Connecticut (where we live).  They know the oceans, Mississippi River, Great Lakes, Canada, Mexico and time zones.  They are getting an understanding of what state is where.  They have learned that kids are just kids no matter where they are in the United States.  We have marveled at some classes and their questioning and listening skills.  What I am most proud of is that they are learning to listen.  Really listen.  They are able to take what they hear, record that information and ask an intelligent question to obtain the answer.  That has been just priceless.

A Boy Called Bat

I have often said that the middle grade books are amazing.  I taught third grade about 18ish years ago and I really don’t remember middle grade books being as fabulous as they are now. I even recommend middle grade books to adults.  One of my friends, a retired teacher, comes in and does book clubs because the books are THAT GOOD!

The book that captured my heart this weekend was A Boy Called Bat.  I am madly and totally in love with the main character, the adorable Bixby Alexander Taylor (Bat). While as an adult reader, I realize he is on the autism spectrum, the book never says that he is.  It talks about him having a hard time with loud noises, needing order and attending a different school. I love that! I love the way Elana Arnold crafted her words to show us about autism without labeling it. Kids don’t need to label other kids.  They just need to read books where not everyone is the same, because in the classroom everyone is different.

There is just so much to this book. I need to read it again!  Bat lives with his mom and sister.  His parents are divorced.  His mom, a veterinarian rescues a baby skunk.  Bat decides that he should be the one to raise it.  I was reading it on a car ride with my husband and I told him (a non educator) all about it.  When I saw Kelsey, I told her as well! I met someone who by chance had a son on the spectrum and I told her. This book has me still thinking about it days after I have put it down.  I couldn’t wait to tell my class about it today. It is that good!

There is exciting news as well.  A tweet from the author Elana Arnold reveal that there are two more books in the works with Bat in them.  I can totally see this book having its own bucket in my library! This book is definitely worth a read or two from you!

There is a bit of money…

I love money.  I love, love money. I have never had a lot of it, but I just love it.  Like most teachers, most of money goes right back into my classroom.  (Don’t tell my husband) My absolute favorite words to hear from any administrator is, “there is a little bit of money…”  I don’t ever even hear the last part.  I am already spending money in my head.  I don’t care how much; the money will be full..and to the last penny.

Today we were told that we could get books for our library.  Even just thinking about that makes me happy!  90% of my library is mine. I personally own it. 30 years of scrounging, book orders, book fairs, book drives, begging, stealing, Christmas gifts, end of the year gifts, more of my own money I care to admit etc. I am very proud of my library.  It is big!  It is well organized.  The students love it.  However, I will never say it is complete.  EVER.  You can never have too many books.  Each year brings a different crop of students, with different interest.  I lose books, students don’t return them, they break.  I ALWAYS need new books.  Also new books add a renewed sense of energy to the library. So to hear there is money, I have already spent it. It took less than an hour.

About two months ago, I applied for a grant for diverse books; mostly series.  Hoping that I get that grant, today, I spent money on graphic novels.  What are graphic novels you non educators want to know?  These delicious, amazing fabulous nuggets of literature turn nonreaders into readgraphicnovelers.  They settle students with attention problems and captive even the most reluctant student.  What are they?  They are the 2017 version of a comic book.  Archie and the gang.  Remember them?  I do! I remember spending my whole $2 allowance to buy them.  I would want until we had to go on a long car ride and I would buy them.  Then to my dismay, it would take me all of 20 minutes to read one.  UGH!

Today’s graphic novels are pure genius.  Complex story lines and detailed illustrations are the perfect recipe for captivating young minds. Most of my students have read every single one of the graphic
novels in my class.  I have about 2 or 3 buckets of them. Truth be told, graphic novels disappear (and don’t return) quicker than any other book category in my library.  Students follow Baby Mouse as she goes on her sassy adventures.  In Smile, they empathize
with Raina as she gets braces.  In Roller Girl, they learn about the sport of roller derby and what it means to never give up and always try your hardest.  El Deafo follows the life of a hearing impaired girl as she deals with a hearing aid.  The list goes on and on.

As a teacher, I am so thankful for the incredible authors that write graphic novels for the middle grade years.  When students hit third grade, they all feel like they should be in chapter books.  It is almost like thick books are a status symbol to them.  While they love picture books, they don’t tend to read them during independent reading time. (again, I wonder..status symbol?)  However, readers of all levels flock to the graphic novels.  While vocabulary and comprehension may be complex, the illustrations scaffold the skills to help promote understanding.  These high interest books have created many readers in my classroom.  They are the first place I will look when a student says, “Can you help me find a book?”  If you haven’t looked at a comic book graphic novel lately, I suggest you try some out.

Oh, and that money, spent..all of it.  I will turn it tomorrow so the order can be processed.  After all, I have readers waiting!