Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Making a Family

You don't get much closer than this book to the story of my three daughters and the bizarre circumstances that made us a family.

About the book: Abela is a nine-year-old girl in Tanzania who loses her dad, her mum, and finally her baby sister to the sickness that shall not be named, which continues to ravage the continent. There are scenes of Abela at her mum's side, during mum's death, and they are sad, sad, sad. But despite the horrible tragedy of her family, Abela wants to live and grow. She, in fact, chooses to live.

Meanwhile, Rosa, a thirteen year-old English girl, cannot understand why her mom is considering adopting another kid. Isn't she enough? Haven't she and her mom always been splendidly close?

These two stories don't come together until the end of the book, but come together they do. I wish I'd known, before reading the book, that the beginning of this new family wouldn't occur until the end of the book. It was inevitable that they would come together and I was very anxious to see how things would work out.

I've been reimagining this blog as of late. Goodreads has come to serve the main purposes for which I originally intended this blog space. I catalog, review, and record every book I read over there. I'm not really sure yet how this blog will evolve. Maybe it will become a focused place for both teacherly and motherly reflections?? We shall see. We shall see.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two Favorite Math Activities

The first one is a game. You need coins: pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Plastic or paper coins both work fine. And you also need a partner and one six sided die. The game is super easy to learn, and pretty easy for most kids to play.
  • Put all the coins in the middle, this is the "bank"
  • Take turns rolling the die
  • Whatever number you roll, that's how many pennies you get from the bank
  • Whenever you can, trade your coins in for higher valued coins. You have to say the words, "I can trade (number) _______s for (number) ________. For example: "I can trade two nickels for one dime."
  • The first player that can trade in for a quarter is the WINNER.
There's lots of wiggle room in this game for different levels of math thinking. If I have seven cents and roll a 3, I can just give the bank my seven cents and take out a dime. But if I'm not ready to see why that would work, I can take three pennies, and then make the trade. I especially like the required talking in this game, which is helpful for kids still learning coin values, and is also good for reinforcing the mathematical thinking that's happening as kids become more sophisticated at quickly trading up their coins.

Variations: roll two dice and/or declare the winner as the first person to reach 1 dollar.

Another one of my all time favorite math activities is skip counting around a circle or down a line and finding shortcuts to figure out what number we'll end on. When you skip count by 25 you can put everyone in the circle into groups of 4 and quickly figure out what number we'll end on by counting the groups of 4 as worth 100 each, just like counting quarters. Counting by big numbers like 500 or 5000 helps expand students' understanding of place value and scale. And counting by 1/2 or 1/3 helps with both adding and eventually multiplying fractions. Every skip counting exercise can be connected to a multiplication and division problem. To manage this activity I let the kids know who will be first and what we'll be counting by. I always say "Zero" and then the first kid says whatever number we're counting by. If somebody says the wrong number, we start over. If anybody is side-talking, we start over. The repetition helps the kids find and remember patterns, and they have to pay attention so they know what number to say on their turn.

Our district just adopted a new math text book. At first I was pretty upset, cuz I've loved the Investigations materials I've used for the last six years. I've always supplemented the Investigations program, of course, but the activities in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade materials were perfect for getting kids to develop a solid framework of mathematical concepts and relationships which leads to strong number sense and problem solving abilities. I'm not upset these days, though, cuz I've come to see every new textbook as just another "resource" and I'm still the artist that puts it altogether.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cool Resource

Teachers can register for free and then access and download lots and lots of videos and other resources at this very cool site:

There are video clips on all kinds of science and social studies topics. And did I mention it's all free? I've got a bunch of those "YOU TRY IT" clips from the PBS program ZOOM already to go for next fall.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

48 Hour Wrap and Summer Plans Meme

First. I'm throwing in the towel an hour and a half early. It's 5:20 on Sunday evening, here in Salt Lake City, and I just finished the last book I'm going to read for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge. Here's my summary.

Books finished:
  • Game, by Walter Dean Myers
  • Greetings from Nowhere, by Barbar O'Connor
  • Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy
  • Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency, by Fountas & Pinnell
  • No Good Deed, by Laura Lippman
  • more Horowitz HORROR, by Anthony Horowitz
  • An Inmate's Daughter, by Jan Walker
  • Smiles to Go, by Jerry Spinelli
  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, by John Elder Robison
So that's 9 books. About 1,278 pages, when you don't count the pages I'd read in a few of these well before my 48 Hour start time, and I totaled about 10 hours of reading.

The best of these nine books, that I'm very happy to have read this weekend: Yellow Star, Smiles to Go, and Horowitz Horror. The Laura Lippman mystery was also a great, adult indulgence.

Second. Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading have officially started the Summer Goals meme. Ironic, that they noticed my ramblings in the last post and decided to go ahead and get this meme going. I'm on record as being officially against most kinds of goal setting, (eternally lazy manatee taoist that I strive so hard to be). but... well.... The grandest joy of summer, for me, is traipsing around in the wilderness of new ideas and growing a vision for next year's teaching. A little bit of direction in this summer splashing gives me a boost of energy and some useful plans and blueprints come September.

So, this summer I plan to:
  • fill one writer's notebook with seeds from both the Lucy Calkins Units of Writing books and from the Nancie Atwell book for middle schoolers called Lessons That Change Writers
  • gather 120 poems to share with my class next year, from a very wide variety of sources.
  • select 12 powerful short stories to use as texts for guided reading groups
  • organize my classroom library, and try to scrounge up a nice new bookshelf or two
  • sift through the amazing array of resources recently posted by Tricia at Open Wide, Look Inside
  • outline units for: Microbes, Ancient Egypt, Space, and Ancient Greece
  • write two more DonorsChoose project grants
  • plan (not necessarily write) 20 new booktalks
  • browse around leisurely and find out what new resources are available at Read, Write, Think and through our new math textbook publisher
  • Reread Lifetime Guarantees, and Radical Reflections
That's more than enough to keep me satisfied and productive. I'm also flying to Fresno in August for a poolside read-a-thon with my sister and her girlfriend and some other new friends who I only currently know via Twitter. We will all be reading the best book that has ever been written, which I'll be reading for about my eighth time: The Brothers K, by David James Duncan.

I tag Sarah, at The Reading Zone, for this one, (when your school year is finished).

Yes---Summer is so very, very sweet.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

48 Hr. Update

I've slept a lot, and read a lot.

Books finished:

Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency, by Fountas & Pinnell
Smiles to Go, by Jerry Spinelli
More Horowitz Horror, by Anthony Horrowitz
An Inmate's Daughter, by Jan Walker
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's

There are blurbs on all of these over at goodreads. I'm almost at my halfway mark. I won't be sleeping as much in the next 24 hours of this endeavor. But I don't think I'll be setting any reading records, either.

I am feeling ready for the "whatcha gonna learn and think about this summer" meme to start making the rounds. Especially the Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency book made me want to start a list of summer goals. I know, I know. Breathe. Take a break. But summer dreaming and learning is one of my most favorite parts of the yearly teaching cycle.

Friday, June 06, 2008

48 Hour Read-A-Thon, GO

I am still recovering from an "all-nighter" this week. I spent almost all of Tuesday night creating and burning 30 copies of the 2008 Washington 6th Grade Video. I love iMovie, but making a movie is a very intense process. Our "Sixth Grade Promotion" was Wednesday morning and it was quite beautiful. Lots and lots of tears. They were such a great bunch and I will really, really miss them.

I am relieved that it's finally summer, though. I'm teaching 16 fourth and fifth graders for four weeks of summer school starting Monday, but the whole set up and curriculum and everything is very low key. It's some extra money and a nice way to get my own 10-year-old daughter some solid, structured summer learning time.

This weekend is MotherReader's 48 Hour Read-A-Thon. I am probably still going to be catching up on some sleep and reveling in the official start of summer, so I'm not aiming too high on the contest side of this event. But I am still participating and I'm starting my official clock now. 7:02 p.m. Utah Time.