2015 Book Award Nominations

27 Mar

It’s one of my favorite times of the year – the book award lists are out!  This is when I spend about 20 minutes updating my GoodReads bookshelves, adding all of the nominees, gushing over the ones I’ve already read and getting excited for my summer reading list.


The 2015 Monarch Award Master ListMonarch-Logo is something that’s new for me to be checking out.  Having several little ones at home to read to and now having teaching responsibilities that span Kindergarten through 5th grade, I should be looking closer at picture books.

I’m very excited to read Me…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonald.  This book was already on my To Read GoodReads bookshelf from a previous Kirkus Review book review.  I expect Mo Willems’, That is Not a Good Idea, to keep kids entertained and Nic Bishop’s, Snakes, to wow them with new learning.


BluestemLogoThis past year was the first year I started reading all of the Bluestem books.  The Rebecca Caudill books were sometimes at too high of a reading level, so I would provide a hybrid list of Bluestem and Caudill’s to help students meet their goal of reading 20 nominated books.   The 2015 Bluestem Book Award List has a mix of newer published books and some classics!

So far, I have read Frindle, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio, Gregor the Overlander, WonderstruckShiloh and Night of the Twisters (anyone remember heartthrob Devon Sawa in the movie version….anyone?).  I have a pretty good start on this list and I can’t wait to read Katherine Applegate’s, The One and Only Ivan (that’s been a popular check out in the LRC this year).


caudill_logoThe 2015 Rebecca Caudill Master List has some gems that have me eager to read.  I have, surprisingly, not read any of these books, but I have heard great things about a lot of them.  The One and Only Ivan is also on the Bluestem list.  I really enjoyed Will Hobbs’ Crossing the Wire (RC nominee in 2010), so his new book Never Say Die will be one of the first that I read.  Jennifer Nielsen’s, The False Prince, is the first installment of the Ascendance trilogy.  You’ve gotta love a good trilogy.  A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is based on a true story of two children living in Sudan during two different decades and how their lives intertwine in the future.  Park has been a contributing writer for the 39 Clues series and also wrote Project Mulberry (a 2009 Rebecca Caudill nominee).

Well, that’s my quick run-down of this year’s nominated books.  We’re still waiting for the Caldecott and Newbery award lists, so expect another quick post on those books, too!  Happy reading!

National Novel Writing Month

22 Oct


November is National Novel Writing Month.  I’m so excited to use this site with some of my students.  We (and I do mean “we”) will work through the fabulous workbook they provide as we plan and cultivate our novel.  I have a lot of budding writers in my classroom and in the 5th grade in general and I’m so thrilled there is a good program to encourage students to take their writing to the next level.

I’ve never considered myself a good writer – I haven’t really had the time to sit down and write, so this will, hopefully, give me the confidence to really take the crazy ideas I have in my head and put them down on paper!

Albert Bandura

5 Aug

I’m writing a wiki about Albert Bandura for one of my grad classes.  I’d like to take a road trip to Stanford to meet this guy.  I like him – I like his thoughts on learning.  Here’s the gist – he’s a social learning theorist that has done a lot of research on self-efficacy and learning.  Let me say, this is the guy that started the research on self-efficacy.  We all know that if you think you can do something, you’re more likely to get the job done – this guy proved it.

Here are some quotes from him that I REALLY like:

“Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure”

“A theory that denies that thoughts can regulate actions does not lend itself readily to the explanation of complex human behavior”

“People not only gain understanding through reflection, they evaluate and alter their own thinking”

“Once established, reputations do not easily change” (sorry Lindsay Lohan – there is still hope)

“By sticking it out through tough times, people emerge from adversity with a stronger sense of efficacy”

“People who hold a low view of themselves will credit their achievements to external factors rather than to their own capabilities” (come on people – give yourself some credit! (humbleness is good, too, though))

“If self-efficacy is lacking, people tend to behave ineffectually, even though they know what to do”

“People who regard themselves as highly efficacious act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it”


Educators need to convey that they really believe their students can achieve. -me. :)


The Global Achievement Gap

17 Jul

The superintendent of our district offered to purchase copies of Tony Wagner‘s The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need – And What We Can Do About It. (That’s a mouthful)  The deal was, he would provide the book for us with the expectation that we would participate in face-to-face books talks and contribute to a group created on Edmodo.  I have just finished the book and wanted to take this time to give my thoughts about this book.

In summary, Wagner writes that in the “new world of work,” there are Seven Survival Skills that must be taught to our students because they matter for work, learning and citizenship.  More and more jobs are being outsourced, not because they’re necessarily cheaper, but because, many times, the employees are better prepared.

The Seven Survival Skills that Wagner presents are: (here is his TEDxNYED talk about these skills, too)

1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence

3. Agility and Adaptability

4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

5. Effective Oral and Written Communication

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information

7. Curiosity and Imagination

When I first read these skills, I thought to myself, “duh.”  We, as educators, recognize that these are skills that are vital for our students to learn.  Wagner unpacked each of these in relation to what is the current “norm” in classrooms across the country.  I realize that this list of skills is not an epiphany, but we have to think about why classrooms are not effective in teaching these skills….enter, standardized testing.  Wagner claims that with the pressures of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress, (yes, I’m using Wikipedia as a source – that’s for another blog topic) teachers are stressed and spend more time “teaching to the test.”  This doesn’t leave time, resources, and energy to engaging students in the survival skills.

Wagner does a good job of not putting sole blame on teachers.  I think we’ve had enough of that. However, there is blame to be had….even towards educators.  If anything, this book has encouraged me to ditch the weeks of ISAT prep.  I need to embed the skills and knowledge they need for this yearly test into my everyday curriculum.  What should I focus on? Writing and Research.  These two topics were cited in the book as the skills that freshman in college wished they had more of in high school.

I teach elementary school.  The book focuses on high schools; however, there’s a clear trickle down effect going on.  Elementary school is where the foundational skills are taught and practiced.  Maybe, the foundational skills need to be revised a bit?  Obviously, reading, writing and math are the focus of elementary classrooms, but, the specifics about each should probably be revised.  We should be adding more research and oral presentations.  Students need to be able to speak in front of their peers and adults in a clear and concise way.  These are things I can be working on in my classroom.

Overall, I gave the book a 4/5 stars on Goodreads.  The writing was a bit dry in places.  Chapter 6 focused on schools that were doing it right and I gleaned a lot of ideas and encouragement from this chapter.  I think educators, parents and administrators should read this book.  Educators that want a change in how students are schooled in the U.S. will be encouraged; parents will see how they can help their students at home, and administrators can also be encouraged to take risks and really prove themselves to be student-centered.


My Toughest Job

19 May



‘Nough said, right?!

I know the majority of you can relate to this.  I love these two kids – they bring me most joy – they also give me much worry.  Being in a classroom all day long creates this worry in me for these two cuties.  For one, I’m exhausted when I come home to them.  My brain has shut down and my body craves sleep.  I feel like I’m depriving them of the best of me.  I have big plans for the summer to make things up to them.

For Seth – enrollment in the Mkrtschjan Academy. :)  I did a little research while I was at school today (yes, it’s Saturday.  I was there copying our school’s literary magazine, so I was able to do a little web browsing while the copier was busy).  I’ve been nervous about “teaching” him – do I really know what’s developmentally appropriate for a 3 year old?  I worry when he skips numbers or can’t pronounce his “l’s” or “th’s”.  I’m sure this is all normal, but I really don’t know – I focused on middle school kids in undergrad. There is so much on the Internet for ideas and tips and activities to help foster thinking skills for youngsters.  Here are a few I found:

Toddler Busy Bag Swap – TONS of easy activities for you to put together

All For the Boys – I was very impressed with her parenting outlook

Busy Bag Exchange – it sounds like I need to set one of these up for the neighborhood parents!

Palm Pipes – These are AWESOME.  Seth LOVES the harmonica and I bet he’d love these pipes, too.   Break out the tools. (Update: Jay (the hubs) just said PVC is pretty toxic so maybe I’d find another medium to do this since Eleanor finds every one of Seth’s toys and chews on them)

For Eleanor – I really want to make her a quiet book.  I had never heard of a quiet book until the last year.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a soft activity book.  Typically it’s made of felt and the objective is to provide quiet activities for your child to do when they need to be quiet (the doctor’s office, church, you’re in a meeting, you’re on the phone, etc.)  There are SO many ideas for this, too.  For Eleanor, since she’s only 9 months, I’d stick with textures and crinkles (as I call them).  Here are some things I’ve found over the past several months.

Serving Pink Lemonade – I LOVE the name of this blog

So, I obviously have some GRAND plans for the summer.  I guess this is probably something I will be thinking about ALL of the time until they are both like 30 or something like that, but it helps to have some sort of plan.

We may just spend the whole summer at the pool, though :)  Let’s be realistic.

An Elementary Science Lab: Making Student Scientists (Part 3 of 3)

19 Feb

Our New Science Lab

We have a space available that is about double the size of our 1st-5th classrooms. Logistically, it’s about an 80′ x 70′ room.  The goal is that two classrooms could conceivably be in there at once.  This would add to the collaboration between students and teachers.  We are fortunate that our scheduled science times don’t overlap very much with other grade levels, so we’d be “competing” within our grade level for time in the lab – this really isn’t an issue, though.

Here’s the itemized list for the new science lab

150k classroom budget

We have all stressed how important Professional Development is when introducing new technology.  To start, part of the budget includes one full-day release day for teachers to work with the technology, plan their units, sign up for the lab, and even do a bit of interior decorating.  A half-day release time is also budgeted so that after the first unit is completed, teams can get together to reflect and revise.

Science_Lab_Release_Time_Agenda (this is for the full-day release, the half-day release agenda would be determined by the team)

<< previous series post



An Elementary Science Lab: Our Science Curriculum (Part 2 of 3)

19 Feb

Our District’s Current Science Curriculum

Purpose: To help students become scientifically literate and able to use science in their lives by engaging their natural curiosity and developing attitudes that are characteristic of scientists.

The district’s science curriculum uses an inquiry-centered approach to science learning. Students participate in rich hands-on experiences in order to develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and processes.

Grade Level

Life Science

Physical Science

Earth Science

Kindergarten Eggs to Chicks I’m Sensible Caretakers of the Earth
First Grade AnimalsSeeds to Plants Forces Around Us Forces Around Us
Second Grade Mission NutritionButterflies Matter Matters Weather Watchers
Third Grade Mighty Mealworms Anchors Aweigh Rocky Roads
Fourth Grade Natural Systems in Balance Energy, Sound, and LightMystery Powders Natural Systems in Balance
Fifth Grade Crayfish Connection Electricity and Electromagnetism Earthbound, but Sky Wise

A more detailed look at our curriculum
 – including learner outcomes

Our district’s curriculum is rich in scientific inquiry; however, as alluded to in the previous post, our teachers find it difficult to give our students the richest experiences because of the lack of resources, time and equipment.

Creating a science lab in our school will let us house our materials and supplies in one location.  It will allow our teachers to have enough space in one area to let the students explore and experiment and, most importantly, will give our students the chance to feel like scientists and cultivate a love for scientific inquiry.

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