Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pop bottle people!!!

I found this great idea on, of all places, Pinterest!!! Since my students will be completing a project on important people this January, I thought this would be a great addition!
If you click on the picture, it will take you to the original picture/s on Flickr.

Biography Bottles @ The Millbrae Library

Biography Bottles @ The Millbrae Library

Friday, December 30, 2011


I have spent the last few days planning my unit in LA on the Hunger Games. I bought two units from Teacherspayteachers but neither unit completely filled my needs. One unit from Secondary Solutions is very assessment focused while the other unit by Tracee Orman is more discussion and project focused. Tracee's unit is also somewhat correlated to the Common Core standards which we are now supposed to be using instead of the former state standards. I am a little disappointed that neither unit focuses much on writing. The Secondary Solutions unit has some focus on grammar, but the common core focus and my former sixth grade focus is on pronouns. So I have been spending time looking for some in-depth material to help teach pronouns. It seems odd to me that we focus on one part of speech because I can tell you that no class I have ever had can identify many of the parts of speech in a sentence. I still have students saying nouns are verbs and vice versa. Plus, lets face it, grammar is boring!!! After about 5 minutes, my students eyes glaze over and I know I am just talking in the wind! There has got to be better way!!!

Anyway, after spending about 9 hours yesterday gathering different materials I am ready to start planning the unit. At least the first 9 chapters. I don't plan on starting this unit until the 9th of January as we have some science fair writing and social studies writing that needs to be completed. Since our first week back is only a 4 day week, I will spend those days focusing on writing rather than reading. Of course, I will assign new independent novels so the students will still be reading!!!

Now the time I have spent thus far is only for preparing LA. I still have all the other subjects to prepare. That is why I have petitioned my principal to PLEASE let me move from being self-contained to joining my junior high and departmentalize!!! There is no way I will do the other subjects justice because there just isn't enough time to plan for everything in depth!!!!

I have also done a little blog surfing and am so excited by all the new reading challenges that are popping up out there. I like to read all the lists of the books that are recommended so I can get new ideas for my classes. At present, I am reading 3 different books. My "just for enjoyment" book is I'll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark. I just love these kind of mystery books. It is about a young woman whose three year old son goes missing and there is a picture of her taking the child but she really didn't do it. I am only half-way through it so I don't know how they are going to figure this out!
I am also reading Beyond Religion by the Dalai Lama. I was in the bookstore and noticed it on the new releases table and I couldn't resist. I am only on page 35, but I have to say that I am quite impressed by what this man has to say. It isn't a book about religion at all. He is outlining a series of ethics for the whole world that trancends religions.
My teacher book that I am reading is Caught'ya!, Grammar with a Giggle by Jane Bell Kiester. I am hoping to get some ideas from this book to make teaching grammar a bit more interesting to my students!

My class always does a Martin Luther King presentation for the school in January so I am preparing for that too. I found this great choral reading but I can't remember where. I will look back to see which blog I found the link for it on. We will have to begin practicing that as soon as we return to school!!
Now I just need to find some time to plan my other lessons!!!!!!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Ok, so I'm not very good at keeping this updated but that is going to be my New Year's resolution. (not that I bother to keep any of those mind you!)

Here is a recap to the end of my school year before Christmas break. Like all students at this time of the year, mine were not all that motivated to learn. However, I kept pushing them up to the very last day. (OK, not the last day as that was a half day and we watched a movie to go with our Egypt unit and then they had a party.)
I gave a Social Studies, Science, Spelling and Vocabulary test the last week. We worked diligently on completing our writing portion for the science fair and for those who had completed that, work continued on their Egypt projects that will be displayed for our Open House at the end of January.
I sent students off on break with instructions on how to complete their science fair boards (which are required back to me by Friday, January 6!) I have been receiving some emails from students with questions on the boards so that is a good sign that they are working on them!!

After break I plan on starting the novel, Hunger Games with my students. I absolutely love this book and the other 2 in the series and I think it will be a book that all my students will enjoy. If you haven't read it, I strongly encourage you to read it. It is set sometime in the future in what mimics the former United States. Each year, from each district, a boy and girl are chosen to go and fight at the Hunger Games to pay back the central govt. the cost of food. This is a fight to the death tournament. Something changes though, when two people are left standing at the end of the tournament. That's all I'm going to say! I believe this will be a great book to base some of our argumentative writing on. I have a slow and unmotivated group of children this year, so I hope I won't be disappointed in their response.
This is the first group that actually wants a basal reading each week rather than a novel because they think it is easier. It is all about easy for them. I am hoping that this novel will kick some of them out of that easy mode.
With the new Common Core standards being pushed, I have no choice but to try to raise the level instruction whether they like it or not.

I have had some discussions with the junior high teachers and our principal and have voiced the concern that with the new standards and the new inquiry approach to teaching science and social studies, that one teacher cannot adequately prepare all the subjects to the level of depth they need to be prepared and taught. So, in essence, I am lobbying for teaching only one subject area. None of the other teachers really like language arts and it is my favorite, so it looks like I will get to keep a sixth grade homeroom next year but only teach language arts. I will be sad to give up Social Studies, as I love teaching ancient history, but I just can't do it all anymore. Not to the level I need to be teaching the material. We are one of the last holdouts that keep sixth grade self-contained. Most of the schools in our area have sixth grade departmentalized so that the teachers can teach their specialty. Since I am endorsed in both language arts and social studies, I could go either way, but the teacher who presently teaches the seventh and eighth grade social studies really doesn't like language arts and it is not her endorsed area, so it only makes sense that I would take that. I wish it could start NOW as I feel like I am fighting a losing battle with my present class. I just don't know how to get them motivated. Tell me, how does a child get 33 missing assignments and the parents don't care???? Yes, that is what I am dealing with. But enough of that.

I spent this last week on vacation in St. Maarten. My husband decided that I needed to get away so off we went. It was GRAND!!! The weather was gorgeous and I really did not look forward to returning to Chicago with 35 degree weather and cold winds. It was a great week of sun and relaxation and reading. I finished 5 books during the week. Two books were read on the flight to and from the island. (it is about a 6 hour flight and I really don't enjoy the movies) I read three books that I think middle school students would really enjoy.
The first book was The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. This book was about a civilization that rated their individuals as Wanted, Necessary and Unwanted. If, at age 13, you were labeled Unwanted, you were sent to your death. The civilization didn't allow for any creativity or independent thought at all. Simply drawing a picture in the mud with a stick could land you on the Unwanted list. This is a MUST READ for anyone who loves futuristic novels.
The next book I read was Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri. This was a quick read about a boy who had gotten in with the wrong crowd while living in Detroit with his mom. She decides she can't handle him anymore and takes him to Philly to live with a dad he has never met. The boy has to adjust to being seemingly abandoned by his mom, and to living with a man that he doesn't know and who has horses in the middle of a ghetto. It is really a novel about helping others. Don't you think any middle school student could benefit from reading about helping others instead of being so self-absorbed???
The third book was given to me by one of my students. (one of the few who is an avid reader and just LOVES, LOVES, LOVES, books) This book is titled Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer. It is written in journal form. The young girl who is the main character records how her life changes after a catastropic event changes the earth's climate. It is really a battle of life and death. Her entries show how a family must pull together in a time of crisis. It raises a number of questions about our lives and what is really necessary to survive. The main character fights to keep hope alive when it looks as if their is no reason to keep on living. A definite must read!!
The other two books I read were thriller whodunit novels definitely NOT for middle school students.

Since today is Christmas, I will spend the day getting caught up on laundry and enjoying the football games on TV. In between I will actually cook a delicious gluten free dinner!!! I hope everyone else is enjoying a break from school and will be doing things that make them happy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Make Reading a Joy

I found this on the Reading Sage, great blog to give insights about reading and how some kids really struggle. These are some great ideas to help instill the love of reading in your students. I already do most of these but there are some I really need to try.

TOP 10 Reading Strategies

-Read out-loud and have deep conversations about the readings
-Ask lots of questions to populate your minds curiosity
-Seek wise teachers that share the truth ( many teachers dumb things down for kids)
-Use a giant old encyclopedic dictionary to look up words
-Take notes and write words that your brain can chew on
-Reread everything and find new ideas and meaning every-time
-Read like actors reading for a play with passion and enthusiasm
-Find books that create a passion for learning
-Go to poetry readings
-Learn to sing new lyrics and songs
-Play strategy games that engage deep concentration
-Create time in your life to create serenity, bliss and wisdom from beautiful prose and poetry