Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Last Holiday Concert, by Andrew Clements! Great Book for the Classroom, Now at a Great Price!

An entertaining and thought-provoking book to use during the holiday time in the classroom is The Last Holiday Concert, by Andrew Clements!

From the Back Cover: 
For Hart Evans, being the most popular kid in sixth grade has its advantages. Kids look up to him, and all the teachers let him get away with anything -- all the teachers except the chorus director, Mr. Meinert. When Hart's errant rubber band hits Mr. Meinert on the neck during chorus practice, it's the last straw for the chorus director, who's just learned he's about to lose his job due to budget cuts. So he tells the class they can produce the big holiday concert on their own. Or not. It's all up to them. And who gets elected to run the show? The popular Mr. Hart Evans. 

Hart soon discovers there's a big difference between popularity and leadership, and to his surprise, discovers something else as well -- it's really important to him that this be the best holiday concert ever, and even more important, that it not be the last.

The Last Holiday Concert is a great book to help students develop great empathy for their teachers and the challenges they face. It also helps students see that things aren't always as easy as they seem and problems may not always have simple solutions.

Right now the December, 5th grade Scholastic Book Order is offering The Last Holiday Concert for only $1! This is a fantastic time to stock up for your classroom library or build up a classroom set for a novel unit study or literature circles!

Head to Scholastic and save today! Work this fantastic, classic children's novel into your classroom this year. You, and your students, will not be sorry!

Please check out my Common Core aligned The Last Holiday Concert Novel Unit Study available in my store.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why I'm Thankful for TpT

One of my favorite people that I've met through TpT is Miss Giraffe. I really enjoy "talking" with her in the seller forums, or as I call it, my online teachers'  lounge! It was a great pleasure to meet her in person at the conference in Las Vegas last summer! Miss Giraffe has written a wonderful, touching blog post over on her blog, Miss Giraffe's Class, talking about her devotion to her father and how TpT has helped her help him. She has opened it up to all of us as well as the "Why I'm Thankful for TpT Linky Party". Make sure you head over and check out all the stories!

Why I'm Thankful for TpT!

One of my favorite things to do as a teacher was to create and teach novel units. I loved to spark that interest in real, whole books in my students, many reluctant readers who didn't have much access to chapter books. After the birth of my second child, way back in 2003, I came up with the idea of attempting to sell my novel units on Ebay. My goal was to make enough to pay the preschool tuition for my oldest son ($75 month). I was shocked and so pleased that people actually started to buy them. With that interest, The Teaching Bank, was born. Over the years I was able to grow and expand to a couple different websites. With my preschool tuition covered my goals grew, save for a family trip, save for Lasik surgery, be able to provide money for extra curricular costs for my kids, etc. These things were all a blessing and I am so grateful for the small success I had.

In June 2010, all that changed when I found I discovered the site at the (website for planning for Disney trips and just to talk with others who love Disney) of all places. Someone mentioned TpT as being a great place for retired teachers to sell their no longer needed classroom materials. I checked it out and my life changed! TpT gave me a platform to sell my units in a downloadable format. I uploaded my work and the buyers followed. My goals of paying for a Disney trip now changed to being able to pay off car loans and helping to support my family in a real monetary way. Up to this point my earnings were fun money, now I was an equal contributor to the household!

Of course I am thankful to TpT for the monetary contributions to my family, but another, even more wonderful thing has come out of it, pride and a feeling of worth, that I thought was gone for me forever. I was not able to return to teaching after having my children due to a rare hearing loss that had progressed. I truly enjoyed teaching and even though I loved to be home with my kids, I missed the feeling of productivity and contribution that a professional life brings. TpT came into my life at the same time my kids were in school full-time so I was able to devote much more time and in return I have been given such a sense of purpose and pride that even though I am no longer in the classroom on a day to day basis, I am still touching the lives of students all over the world with materials that I created. I have been able to work in the education field creating products that I have a passion for despite my hearing loss, and that is thanks to TpT!

How are you thankful for TpT? Grab Miss Giraffe's graphic above, write your blog post, and join us for the Linky Party over at Miss Giraffe's Class!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Stone Fox! A Great Book to use in the Classroom at Great Savings!

An exciting and heartwarming book to use in the classroom is
Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner!

From the Back Cover: 
A Race Against Time! 
Little Willy's Grandfather is sick, and it's up to Willy to save their farm from the tax collectors. Their only hope is the prize money from the National Dogsled Race. But a lot of other people want to win the race, including Stone Fox, who has never lost a race in his life. 

Do Willy and his dog, Searchlight stand a chance against the toughest racers around? Can they win the race to save the farm-and Grandfather- before it's too late?

I used this book every year in my 4th grade class. My students have always enjoyed the book with it's heartfelt story, action,  adventure, and lessons on courage and perseverance. It is a great book to draw in reluctant readers.

Right now the November, 4th grade Scholastic Book Order is offering Stone Fox for only $1! This is a fantastic time to stock up for your classroom library or build up a classroom set for a novel unit study or literature circles!

Head to Scholastic and save today! Work this fantastic, classic children's novel into your classroom this year. You, and your students, will not be sorry!

Please check out my Common Core aligned Stone Fox Novel Unit Study available in my store.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing! A Great Book to use in the Classroom at Great Savings!

One of my favorite novels to use in the classroom is the classic,
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume!

Every 4th grade school year I started out with this book as our first novel unit. It is such a humorous book, yet still opens itself to many discussions and activities that can be tied to the curriculum and standards. Children can so relate with the main character, Peter Hatcher, and his struggles to get through the everyday life of a typical 4th grader. Throw in the antics of younger brother, Fudge, and you are in for a treat! I have never had a child tell me they didn't enjoy this book. Most all are fighting over who gets to read the sequel, Superfudge, as soon as we finish the unit!

My youngest son, is now in the 4th grade and I was able to enjoy this book, and Superfudge, with him over the summer. We so enjoyed laughing together as we discussed the story. His older brother and sister, also remembering this book fondly, enjoyed chiming in many times to let Sam know just how much like Fudge he could be!

Great news came across my desk this week when my son brought home the September 2014 Scholastic Fourth Grade Book Order. On the cover Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, was highlighted as the bargain of the month, offered for only $1! Yes, that's right, only $1 per book! This is a fantastic time to stock up for your classroom library or build up a classroom set for a novel unit study or literature circles! 

Head to scholastic and save today! Work this fantastic, classic children's novel into your classroom this year. You, and your students, will not be sorry!

Please check out my Common Core aligned Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing Novel Unit available in my store.

See August 2011 blog post for more details!

Star frame and glitter frame
graphics provided by:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peek into Brain Shows How Kids Learn Math

Peek into Brain Shows How Kids Learn Math

I came across this article last week that I found very interesting. It discusses how children's brains go through different transitions as they age in the ways that they interpret and figure out math. Some excerpts that I found interesting from the article are below:

Students start off at the foundation of counting fingers or objects to figure early problems. "Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what's called fact retrieval when they're 8 years old to 9 years old, when they're still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement."

"Stanford University researchers first peeked into the brains of 28 children as they solved a series of simple addition problems inside a brain-scanning MRI machine. The children were tested twice, roughly a year apart. As the kids got older, their answers relied more on memory and became faster and more accurate, and it showed in the brain. There was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal regions associated with counting and more in the brain's memory center, the hippocampus. The stronger the connections, the greater each individual's ability to retrieve facts from memory," said Dr. Vinod Menon, a psychiatry professor at Stanford and the study's senior author."

"Next, Menon's team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults don't use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said."

"If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math. " The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development," she said. "So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps."

"Stanford's Menon said the next step is to study what goes wrong with this system in children with math learning disabilities, so that scientists might try new strategies to help them learn."

The quote: "If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math. " really stuck out to me. I have always felt that math instruction needed to combine both the rote memory of basic facts and give students a good foundation in number sense and higher order math skills. Unfortunately many of the different math curriculums out there today don't emphasize both. It always seems like it is basic facts vs. high order thinking. Problem is good math students have BOTH of these skills in their repertoire and good math curriculum should contain both as well! I have blogged about the frustrations I have held with the math curriculum being taught in my children's school in the past (Basic Math Facts Made Easy!)

What are your thoughts regarding helping students become fluent in the basic facts? What are your tricks and tips?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Year Flashback

Laurah Jurca, over at the ESOL Odyssey Blog, has invited teachers to share in their first year teaching memories through a fun linky party. I did have to dig deep in my memory to flashback to my first year of teaching during the 1995-96 school year. It was nice to revisit those times though, and I appreciate the opportunity from Laurah!

What age group and subject were you teaching?
I was accepted into a graduate program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha called the CADRE Project. In this program you are placed in a classroom as a full-time teacher at one of the surrounding public school districts while simultaneously completing a Master's Degree program. Part of the program included a "Master Teacher Mentor" that would check in on my classroom periodically to give pointers and advice to make the first year go smoother. I was placed in the Omaha Public Schools as a 4th grade teacher.

What was your first classroom like?
My classroom was in a building that was built in 1912, and hadn't had many renovations so it was very "antique". Wood floors, high ceiling, tall windows, old radiator for heat, and no air conditioning! The school itself, a K-4 building, actually had more classrooms outside in portables than we had in the actual building. I was lucky to be in the main building. Outside my classroom door was the "office" which consisted of a large counter in the hallway for the secretary to work from with a small office to the back for the principal. The security guard sat right outside my classroom as well at a small little table.

Were you given supplies or materials?
I was given very minimal supplies to start off since my class was added on. I had a set of math and reading textbooks, and a set of old metal desks in the room. I had access to large rolls of colored paper, writing paper, and pencils in a school-wide storage room. If I needed anything else I had to put in a supply order, but this was only for the basic office supplies like pens, staples, etc. It took several months just to get a working pencil sharpener in that room that first year!

These conditions are where I started creating my own materials since I had no other choice! Ended up well for me though as it led to a love of curriculum development and gave me skills to use for my post-teaching career!

What was the hardest part of your first year of teaching?
The biggest challenge I had that first year was learning how to work with such a diverse population, both racial and socio-economical. There was nothing taught in teacher training to prepare me for that. I originally came from Sioux Falls, SD, where my graduating class of over 500 had less than 1% non-white students and all basically came from a middle class economic status.

My students were about 50% black coming from a very low income neighborhood directly around the school. The other 50% were mainly white students that were bussed in from an even lower income area that included a homeless shelter. Due to the homeless shelter we had a lot of movement in and out of the school. In a given year I would have on average 18 students in my room, but at the end of the year I would have a list of 40-50 kids that had actually been in my class at some point during the year.

About the same time that school started my first year there was a police officer, Jimmy Wilson Jr shot and killed by gang members while still sitting seat belted in his patrol car.  This caused quite a bit of unrest and tension in the city, especially the area where my school was located. One of the first Friday afternoons after starting school it was too hot to be sitting in the classroom (no air conditioning) so I took the class out to the front yard under a big tree to do our read aloud time there. Instead of reading, a discussion about the shooting started amongst them. My eyes were really opened during the discussion to just how different the families in the area viewed the shooting than I had as a white woman from the middle class area of town. I was also really tuned in to just how much innocence was lost in these young 9-10 year olds, on the mature nature of the things they'd seen and experienced at such a young age. I had student taught 4th grade in Ames, IA, those kids were so much less mature and innocent than the students I had sitting with me under that tree. It was a very eye opening and educational experience for me. I think that discussion really helped me see into the lives of these children and gave me a better empathetic attitude towards what I had ahead of me in being their teacher.

What was the best part of your first year of teaching?
The biggest challenge was also the best part. I learned to be so much more open minded and learned to work with a diverse population. I also felt that I really made a difference for those children. I was a person they could depend on every day to be there for them to provide structure, empathy, and kindness. 

There was one student in particular who I feel I touched more than any other student I've ever had. I was, and still am, very proud of how I helped him build his confidence that year and helped others in the district, who had dismissed him and written him off as a goof-off who didn't have much potential, see that he was very worthy of another look. I proved them wrong and opened their eyes to the incredible potential he did hold.

What do you know now that you wish you knew that first year?

Every year you add a little more to your knowledge base. You learn the importance of organization, the importance of seeing each child through a clear set of eyes (don't read past files before meeting them), and realize that your classroom doesn't have to look "perfect" and that money can be better spent on instructional materials rather than cutesy bulletin boards!

I have also learned that you can't solve every problem, you can only do your best to try. Make sure to protect yourself as well, don't let all the problems of your students and classroom dominate your life. Take some time out for your personal mental health so you don't get burned out too fast!

I wish good luck and happy days ahead for all teachers reading this, but especially all of you first year teachers! Take a deep breath, it will work out in the end and you will do fantastic! There is nothing more exciting than a first year teacher's enthusiasm!

Please head over to Laurah's ESOL Odyssey Blog to read other first year teaching memories!

Friday, August 15, 2014

What Makes a Great Teacher?

The July 31, 2014, edition of Parade had an article that I found very interesting: How to Build a Better Teacher, by Elizabeth Green.

The article talks about the myths and perceptions of what makes a great teacher. Are they natural born? Can it be learned?

The article gives five examples, taken from educational research that shows what sets apart a great teacher from a mediocre or bad one. 

1.  They can right a wrong: "The best teachers put themselves in their students’ shoes—and grapple  with how they arrived at the wrong answer in order to set them right."

2.  They never say Shhh!": "The best teachers eradicate ambiguity and respond to misbehavior with specificity, describing the desired behavior rather than the problem. “We’re following along in our books,” the teacher might say, gently reminding the distracted students to get back to work."

3.  They encourage deeper thinking: You will hear a lot of "why" or "explain how" type questions in these classrooms.

4.  They "cold call" - with purpose: "The goal is to ­extract the maximum possible mileage from each question. By ­introducing the possibility that anyone can be asked to speak at any time, teacher ­decrease the chances their students will tune out."

5.  They show more than they tell: "The teacher needs to be specific, showing students what detailed thinking looks like by illuminating the invisible mental steps that go into it."

As I read I couldn't help but compare myself and see my successes and shortcomings. This is a great article to think about as you start off a new school year. How do you measure up? What are you doing right? What can you improve to make this your most successful year yet?