Sunday, August 17, 2014

Am I A Blogging Dinosaur?

Well folks, I officially head back to work tomorrow. Goodbye dear summer. Goodbye sleeping in. Goodbye waking up slowly while sipping a fresh cup of coffee. Goodbye midday gym classes. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. It's been grand, but it's time to join the land of working adults again.

I have enjoyed my summer SO much this year. I completely took a break from school. I read some books sure, but ultimately I did...basically...nothing. And it was fabulous! Sometimes, you just need a break, ya know? I even had all these big plans to blog and you know what?!?  I didn't really do it.


But, you know what I've noticed? Blogging has really changed over the past three years. I don't know if I'm the only one who sees it this way but... When I first started blogging it was a true community of educators.  It seemed like people really connected with other teachers around the nation to share ideas, experiences, and inspiration. I would leave comments on blogs and those teachers would email me back often extending the conversation and generating full on email correspondence. I learned so much from so many people!

Now, it seems comments are few and far between. It makes you anyone reading the post or just stopping by through pinterest to grab a freebie?  And if I don't have a freebie, is it worth reading to others?  Do people just skim?  Hmmm.... I don't know.

I know I read blog posts. I enjoy hearing about how things are used in the classroom and if I read your post, I almost always make it point to comment because I think comments are important. It's feedback. Just like with our students, we all need feedback and responses to know our work is being heard and valued. So, right here, right now... I would like to thank all those conscientious readers out there who read, respond, open a dialogue, and are part of the blogging community. I truly appreciate you!

Just a thought, but ...maybe blogging is slowly dying out?? Just like ICQ or Napster, it had it's 15 minutes of techy fame and now the world has transitioned to pinterest, instagram, twitter, and a more snapshot style of getting information.  And I don't even have a Facebook page for my blog. LOL! You legitimately have to come to my blog and read it or at least follow through some sort of online reader. Ha! I'm SO old school! I'm like a blogging dinosaur.

We live in a fast paced world where reading long posts and frankly writing long posts is time consuming and who's got the time?? I get it, but it makes me sad. I miss the days where blogging wasn't about advertising your newest bundle on TPT (although, seriously congrats to all those teachers making BANK! out there) or promoting a product, or running a giveaway. I miss the days of conversation and connecting with other amazing educators around the country and the world. 

I've even started cleaning out my blog reader and deleting blogs that only post about products. I know that's terrible, because those products are probably great and those bloggers are great, but when I sit down to read blogs I'm looking for content, substance, and community...not more advertising. I feel inundated with special offers, sale signs, and buy me, buy me, buy me. So, I am sadly unfollowing people and cleaning out my blog feed because I also can NOT legitimately read 499+ blog posts every time I log in. Ha, it's just not possible. With our busy lives in this busy world, I suppose it's time to pick and choose.

With that being said, if you read my blog, THANK YOU! I hope you have gotten some ideas you can use, tweak, or develop upon and use in your classroom. I'll continue to post what I can, when I can, and share my journey along the way.

Happy teaching!!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anchor Charts: Math Samples and Tips

Earlier this month, I posted samples of some of my multiplication & division anchor charts from last year. (Click here to read that post if you missed it.) I consider myself somewhat of an anchor chart aficionado, not because my charts are the most beautiful, but because I create them with the kids, refer back to them constantly, and train my kids to really use them.

With the explosion of Pinterest I think our anchor chart expectations have morphed from simple (think back to your sample charts in Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell) to creating great works of art with the students and I don't think you need to do that to be effective, which is good news for me because I am not what one would call a creative genius, lol.  I appreciate all those glorious charts on Pinterest, I really do. They clearly took time and artistic talent to create and color, but in the the moment... I just go with it and get it done. 

Here are a few samples of other math charts I created last year:
 I created this with my students after we discovered all the ways to make a dollar using like coins. This was  the product of our discussion and findings. I used the giant money die cuts to save myself some time (and make it look cool).

TIP: Use die cuts to add color and dimension to your chart. They tape right on and peel right off.

 This is a good example of a poster I made AFTER a class discussion. The kids had so many good ideas I wanted to get it ALL on the poster. It was very busy with too many colors and too much info. My kids didn't use it. It was like information overload. So then, I simplified...

Guess which one my students preferred?  :)

TIP: Keep your colors easy to read and your information direct and kid friendly.

 Excuse the crinkles in this one. It got a little beat up during the classroom clean out. I often have students draw this same chart in their math journals while I am working on the poster.  We come back and add vocabulary and models throughout the unit as needed. 

TIP: If created with the students, you can even get "permission" to use short-cuts like just saying dimes and pennies. They know. You know. It's like secret code. That obviously makes it cooler.

 This was actually a 3rd grade poster I saved.  I did have the "brownies" pre-cut and ready to glue on the top during the lesson. I also had the table already created and we just filled it in during the lesson/discussion.

TIP: Set up titles and any organization for the chart ahead of time. Then you can just fill it in.

 Eek! This one will change next year, because I just attended a whole day of professional development on fractions and the presenter suggested defining fractions as numbers between whole numbers, not simply saying they are part of a whole. Oops! So... go with this for an example of a math unit poster. Basically, it starts with defining the operation/math skill in the most simple terms, then identifying key vocabulary and models for the unit. 

TIP: Using a similar set up for anchors helps students know how to read them and how to use them. They know where to look for the information they need.

Truly there is NOTHING special about this poster. It is simply vocabulary, but I wanted to explain why I only use 2 colors. I use two colors to make it easier to review and learn the vocabulary. It helps kids narrow down the choices while they are still learning and practicing these unknown words.  For example I might say, "I'm thinking of a purple word that means two lines crossing." Students would be able to eliminated the red words immediately and look for the correct word to match my definition. More colors would narrow the choices too much.  It's like the Goldilocks of color choices...two is just right.  

TIP: Use 2 colors when listing vocabulary words.

So... those are my charts. They are not beautiful. They are not great works of art. They are definitely real and created in the moment. They are student friendly and easy to use which is my ultimate goal. 

Several readers on my last post gave some great tips for anchor charts too. 

Kaitlyn from Smiles and Sunshine says:
  • I also try to block out sections that I know I will draw or do something special-and then work around it! When making a list, I try to do the bullet points a quick little picture-like a heart or star, so it looks interesting but doesn't take up a lot of time to do. 
  • A fun font always works for the title-the kids love it when I do titles, because they like it when I hand draw the letters wonky! 
  • I also post new charts directly above old ones-so by the end of the year, we have a nice stack! This way, my kids can look back at previous charts if they need help remembering something.

  • I've taken photos for students to add to their reflection journals.

Brilliant, right?! I think adding pictures of your anchors to journals would be very beneficial! Plus, once you take the pictures you could post to your classroom blog or email the pictures to parents to keep them in the loop. Wonky titles are also a fun way to add pizzazz to the chart while keeping the information clear and easy to read. Thank ladies for sharing your great ideas. Make sure to click the above links to go check out their awesome blogs.

I'd love to hear more. How do you keep your charts pretty and student friendly? Any tips for creating the "perfect" chart?  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fiction Friday: Chapter 5

Happy Friday and welcome back to the next installment of Fiction Friday. Today's post will be quick. I'm leaving for Seattle today and I have not even pulled out my suitcase. Oops!

This week I read..

Dead City
by James Ponti

Molly Bigelow has always been a wee bit strange. She attends a school for gifted children, took Jeet Kune Do classes instead of ballet, and was a New York City Audubon Society Junior Birder. Not to mention, she enjoys hanging out at city morgue with dead people. Like I said, Molly's not your normal teenager. However, all these out of the box activities and unusual hobbies were really part of her training to become an Omega, a New York City zombie hunter, just like her late mother. It turns out Molly has just the skills she needs to set her apart, make life-long friends, and follow in her mother's footsteps to become a zombie hunter legend. 

I'll be honest, when this book arrived on my doorstop courtesy of Amazon, I openly mocked it. I thought are you kidding me?  Zombie fiction for fourth graders, yuck! Where has all the good literature gone? I was ready to hate it. I put off reading it. I judged the book by the cover. And then...I read the prologue. Five pages entitled "Your Probably Wondering Why There's a Dead Body in the Bathroom" and I was HOOKED. The story is told from Molly's perspective and I loved her! Molly is witty, sarcastic, and a character worth rooting for from the beginning. Here's a little sneak peak into the writing style and the beginning that kept me begging for more.

"I hate zombies. I know that sounds prejudiced. I'm sure some zombies are really nice to kittens and love their parents. But it's been my experience that most are not the kind of people you want sending you friend requests. Consider my current situation...I'm trapped in a locker-room toilet stall. With a dead body. (Ponti, 5)

Dead City was excellent. Great voice, very funny, and non-stop action throughout the book. It is appropriate for grades 4 and up and would be a fun read aloud. In many ways it reminds me of The Lightning Thief series by Rick Riordan. I couldn't put those books down because I loved Percy and his band of friends out there fighting the good fight. This is similar, expect instead of gods and goddess, they are fighting the undead. I was pleasantly surprised by this book and I am already looking at picking up the sequel. 

43 Old Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You
by Kate Klise

Ignatious B. Grumply, a once famous children's book author, moves into a Victorian mansion on 43 Old Cemetery Road to try and cure his writer's block. Hoping for some peace and quiet so he can work, Ignatious B. Grumply finds more than he expects.  He is not alone. There is an 11 year old boy living on the 3rd floor and a ghost named Olive living in the cupola. Hmmm... Can all three of them live and possibly work together or is it time for someone to go?

I pulled this book out of my classroom collection, because so many of my students had enjoyed it last year and I was curious to know what all the fuss was about. Told entirely through letters and newspaper articles, the book is so different to read I can see why so many kids gravitated towards it. I give huge credit to Kate Klise who developed such memorable, flawed, but very likable characters using only letters.

The guided reading level on this book is a U, but I think it is more readable than that. I would recommend it for grades 3-5. As I said, my fourth graders loved it, so you already know it is kid approved!  It's unique story, word play (I. B. Grumply and Anita Sale for example), pictures, and format make it a delicious read. I devoured it in one sitting and closed the book with a smile on my face. The sign of good read.

That's it for me. More books to come next week. Has anyone read these two novels?  What did you think?

Don't forget to add your own book reviews by linking up to Fiction Friday anytime. I'm off to pack.

Happy reading!!