8.13.2014

Save the Date - All the Calendars You Need to Write Your Long Term Plan

 At the beginning of the school year, it's time to write your long term plan.  This document is an ultra brief summary of what you plan to teach and do throughout the entire school year.  Before you can map out a curricular plan based on the required objectives or units for your class, it's important to know which days you will actually be at school and when major events, including national holidays and local celebrations, will take place.  In some cases, these events will cause interruptions in your normal schedule.  Other times, you will be able to use observances, celebrations, and seasons as a theme for your lessons.  For example, rather than trying to convince students to stop thinking about the Super Bowl, you can just use their interest in football to build investment in your lessons by letting them practice formulas like speed or investigate geography of past events, history of the sport, biographies of football players and so on.  Here are all the calendars you'll need to plan events and thematic lessons in the school year ahead.

District Calendar + Previous Year's Plan
Start by penciling in school holidays, early dismissal days, class parties, and other local events that will affect your planning.  If you are a veteran educator, also get out the previous year's long term plan (you had one, right?), so that you can remember when you did things last school year. 

Anti-Defamation League Calendar of Observances
The Anti-Defamation League provides dates for international observances and holidays for major world religions.  Use these calendars to become aware of religious events that may be important to the students in your community and to introduce students to different culture's traditions.

Days of the Year
This quirky calendar lists major as well as lesser-known observances throughout the year.  If you enjoy planning lessons thematically, this is a great resource to find out about odd celebrations such as Bad Poetry Day and Thank a Mailman Day.

Perma-Bound Author Illustrator Birthday Calendar
This interactive calendar lists birthdays for tons of famous authors and illustrators and provides links to books created by each person.  Every month also includes a mini biography & photo of a featured artist or writer.  These resources can be used for author studies or to create an easy and informative bulletin board featuring different authors each month.

American Library Association Celebration Weeks and Promotional Events
This page lists literacy-centered events including Banned Books Week, Picture Book Month, and Choose Privacy Week.  These celebrations can be the perfect basis for social studies lessons and reading promotions.

Library of Congress Today in History
This site features historical events for every date on the calendar.  Each date offers an article about a significant past event and includes primary documents related to whatever took place on the day.  This resource is one you can come back to throughout the year, even daily, to support social studies lessons.  LOC also provides a searchable archive of the articles which you can access by date or keyword.

Which resources do you use when creating your long term plan?

8.12.2014

Flora & Ulysses

"His brain felt larger, roomier. It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn't even known existed) had suddenly been flung wide. Everything was shot through with meaning, purpose, light. However, the squirrel was still a squirrel." - Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo & K.G. Campbell

Kate DiCamillo received her second Newbery Award this year for the amazing novel, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, a story about a young comic book fan who is navigating her parents' recent divorce and the general awkwardness of growing up when she witnesses the transformation of a squirrel into a poetry-writing superhero.  (DiCamillo's first award was earned a decade ago for The Tale of Despereaux). As a self-proclaimed cynic, Flora is initially skeptical but becomes cautiously hopeful about the squirrel's hidden abilities. As Flora starts to accept and appreciate the squirrel's unique talents, she also begins to view herself and her life through a less cynical lens.

In addition to offering an adorably quirky and heartwarming story, Flora and Ulysses features an innovative format that appeals to readers of all ages. Most of the book is presented through traditional blocks of text, however, line drawings and strips of comic action by K.G. Campbell are included to illuminate the written story.

This book is wonderful as an independent or small group read, but it also makes a great read-aloud, especially if you are able to show the illustrations using a document camera and projector. If you are sharing this novel with students, check out these resources for further exploring the book and the talents of its creators.

Kate DiCamillo, author
Visit Kate DiCamillo's site to learn more about her, her books, and her role as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Read a Q&A between DiCamillo and publisher Candlewick to learn more about her inspiration for Flora and Ulysses. Then watch an interview of DiCamillo in which she discusses the novel.

K.G. Campbell, illustrator
K.G. Campbell is responsible for the illuminated qualities of this fantastic book as well as many other popular novels and stories. Visit Campbell's site to discover the beautiful illustrations he has contributed to Flora and Ulysses and his other projects including a lovably quirky picture book Campbell wrote and illustrated called Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, which is an enjoyable read-aloud for all ages.

Beyond the Book
Before beginning to read, build anticipation by sharing a Flora & Ulysses book trailer with students. As you delve into the novel, lead students to reflect on the story using the discussion guide provided by Candlewick.  Extend students' learning beyond the book with lesson ideas from The Classroom Bookshelf.  Then let students reenact the novel's opening scene using a reader's theater script from the Texas Bluebonnet Award committee. (Flora and Ulysses and Lester's Dreadful Sweaters are both contenders for this kids' choice award.)  Then, have some squirrel-centered fun in honor of Ulysses with these squirrel stories and crafts.  Finally, allow students to explore their own poetic creativity using the Squirrel Poet Magnetic Poetry Kit.

7.28.2014

Before School Morning Routine

With summer vacation winding down, it's time to begin easing into school-year routines.  We know children need to start going to bed and waking earlier so that the back-to-school transition won't be abrupt and unpleasant for them (or their parents and teachers).  These final weeks before school begins are likewise the perfect time for adults to develop meaningful morning routines.

Rise Early
During my career, I have gone back and forth in my feelings about the early start of my work day and the related early bedtime, sometimes enjoying the routine and other times feeling like I am squeezing my adult life into a child's schedule.  Nevertheless, experience tells me I should embrace the routine that fits my job.

To get your day started on the right foot, begin by waking early.  Yes, I know that teachers already start early, even if you do hit the snooze button until the last possible moment before jumping into whatever clothes are close and then applying makeup and eating breakfast drinking coffee at red lights on the way to work.  I have definitely employed this approach with moderate success.  But, often, this harried routine has left me to get through the workday lunch-less, simply reacting to each problem as it arises.  By waking earlier (about an hour earlier than it takes me to get dressed), I can begin my day prepared, confident, purposeful, and with a feeling that I have cared for myself before beginning to serve others. 

Stretch
Once your eyes are open and the alarm is turned off, it's time to wake up your body and prepare it for the rigors of the day.  You should customize this part of your routine based on what your body will be put through during the school day.  Since I have struggled with foot and heel pain caused by taking a zillion steps a day on hard tile floors, I begin flexing and pointing my toes while I'm still in bed, in order to stretch my calves and feet before they take their first steps of the morning.  Then, I focus on stretching the rest of my body.  I like to follow an extremely basic yoga routine called sun salutation.  Visit Women's Health Magazine for a written and visual guide to this series of basic stretches, or check out Portal Yogi for a slightly extended version of the stretch sequence.

Meditate
Now that your body is awake and alert, it's time to prepare your brain for the day.  As humans, we have some self-destructive mental tendencies.  In an article about mindfulness meditation, Psychology Today explains, "First, we cause ourselves suffering by trying to get away from pain and attempting to hang on to pleasure...Second, we cause suffering when we try to prop up a false identity usually known as ego."  Meditation can help our brains form better, more productive habits.  Once you get into this routine, you can customize this part of the morning to fit your goals, but to get started, consider following one of the short, guided meditations provided by UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center.

After this mindfulness practice, I shift my thoughts briefly toward gratitude.  Instead of letting your brain fill with worries first thing in the morning, spend a moment being aware of the people and circumstances that provide you with beauty, pleasure, comfort, and happiness.  We can all think of something to be thankful for, even on the groggiest, greyest morning.  This process will help you start the day with joy instead of stress.  Finally, I move my thoughts to my intentions for the day.  This is not time to make a huge to-do list.  Instead, focus on one or two things that will make you feel proud at the end of the day.  These goals can vary widely from tasks, such as getting to the gym after work, to intentions like treating others with a generous spirit or avoiding vocalizing mundane complaints throughout the day.  This entire brain-preparation routine will only take 7-10 minutes, but it can make an enormous difference in the remainder of the day.

Dress
Now it is time to complete the tasks that were formerly the entire "getting ready" routine.  Treat yourself well by using non-toxic cosmetics (check out the safety of your products using the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database) and dressing in comfortable, well-fitting clothes.  A tight waistband or lack of pockets can lead you to feel annoyed all day long as you sit uncomfortably or lose your keys repeatedly.  Why deal with that frustration?  Dress yourself in a way that is practical and that makes you feel confident.  For me, comfortable shoes are absolutely non-negotiable, due to the aforementioned foot pain.  (Read more about my thoughts on teacher shoes.)  This process is much simpler if you have pre-selected your clothes the night before.  More on this later in a discussion of evening routines.  Also, finish getting dressed now instead of planning to apply makeup or file your nails (or whatever) on the way to work or just after arriving for the sake of your safety and sanity.

Eat
A teacher's job is not for the faint of heart (or soul or body).  If you want to perform well, your body is going to need fuel.  During my first days working as a teacher, I developed a morning habit of feasting on a Nutrigrain bar and a ginormous diet soda.  Although this wasn't even a tasty breakfast, it seemed like the right menu.  After all, I didn't feel hungry at sun's-not-even-up-o'clock, and I just wanted to wake myself up.  Having learned more about the weirdo chemicals in factory-produced "food," I tried slightly healthier variations of this meal, such as a granola bar and a homemade latte.  However, I'm here to tell you, stuffing random food-like substances + caffeine down the hatch is not the most productive approach to your morning meal.  Build a habit of eating a nutritious breakfast, even if it's quick and small.  Some of my favorites are a bowl of real oatmeal (not the packet full of artificial colors and flavors) or a smoothie.  Both of these are great ways to sneak extra servings of fruits and vegetables and even dietary supplements into your day.  For example, a spoonful of ground flax seed, which is jam-packed with Omega-3s and other essential and often under-consumed vitamins, is basically unnoticeable once it's stirred into either of these breakfasts.

Also, drink water.  It's good for your everything.  You know this.  Just do it.  Consider having your first glass of water just after you get out of bed.  I keep a water bottle on my nightstand and finish whatever I didn't drink during the night as soon as I wake up.  Have another glass with breakfast.  With two down, you just have six more glasses to go during your bathroom-break-less work day.

Pack Up
You're almost ready to leave for work, and just look at what all you've accomplished!  Before you walk out the door, though, be sure you have everything you will need.  Yes, you are going to feel like a pack-mule as you walk to the car, but it is so worthwhile compared to feeling unprepared all day.  Check your teacher bag for your school ID and keys, so you don't have to beg a custodian to let you into your room over and over all day.

Fill up your water bottle - the big one.  Yes, I know you don't get to go to the restroom.  Just bring the water and drink it anyway.  Someone will watch your students for the 30 seconds it takes to run to the bathroom as long as you are willing to return the favor.  You're going to be doing a lot of talking and moving, and anyway, water's good for your everything, remember?

Get your lunch ready.  The food that is available for you to purchase at work is not good enough.  (It's not good enough for the kid's either, but that's a topic for another day.)  You are an individual with specific dietary needs and preferences, and a double side of soggy cafeteria fries or an overpriced candy bar is simply not enough - not enough calories, not enough nutrition, not enough enjoyment.  Get out your lunchbox, and fill it with enough nutritious, delicious items to feed yourself a meal and two snacks.  I always include nuts and dried fruits for my morning and afternoon snacks, and I usually pack leftovers and fresh fruit for my midday meal.  Trying to lose weight?  Pack even more fruits, so that you aren't tempted by the box of stale doughnuts in the teachers' lounge.

Morning can easily become a rushed and stressful part of the day if you don't pre-plan a routine and then loyally carry it out.  Trying to accomplish all the things on this list without a plan would be mentally exhausting.  By establishing a routine ahead of time, you can use your morning to care for yourself and prepare for your day instead of getting bogged down with decision fatigue or simply sleeping through this opportunity.

What are your best morning routine tips?

7.04.2014

Fourth of July - Learn & Celebrate


 Happy Independence Day!  Before you don your patriotic mohawk and head out for parades and fireworks, find out a little about the history of this day and the traditions with which we celebrate it.
Visit the National Museum of American History's blog to find out 7 Things You Didn't Know About the Star-Spangled Banner (the specific 42' x 30' flag that inspired our national anthem).

Then read some primary documents that demonstrate various perspectives on our national holiday throughout history.

1.31.2014

Ringworm and Lice

January has been the fastest and slowest month ever.  I feel like I should make an excuse for taking such a long break from writing, so I wrote a haiku:


Got ringworm and lice.
The teacher’s life isn’t all
apples and kids books.

Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year!  Today's celebration creates a perfect opportunity for a multidisciplinary story time.  Since many children are only familiar with the Western / Gregorian calendar, begin by introducing the lunar calendar, which is based on moon cycles rather than Earth's movement around the sun.

Then read aloud a story to introduce symbols and traditions of the holiday.  Students will love the alphabet-book presentation and detailed illustrations in D Is for Dragon Dance by Ying Compestine.  Get more ideas for using this book and celebrating the new year from this earlier article.  After the story, students can listen to a clip of Compestine discussing New Year traditions on NPR's Morning Edition episode from this morning.

Students also enjoy the brief introduction to the holiday presented in Grace Lin's Bringing in the New Year.
Older students will finish this short picture book ready to dive into Lin's longer fiction like The Year of the Dog and the rest of the Pacy Lin series or Lin's Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

After the stories, encourage students to make text-to-self connections regarding the traditions mentioned in the books.  Students will discover that many cultures share similar traditions.  Then demonstrate how students can count backward to their birth year and learn about the Chinese zodiac. The zodiac chart is printed in the back of D Is for Dragon Dance, for the letter Z, and you can download and print a beautiful version created and shared by Jan Brett.  I've written about this printable before, but kids seriously love it and will practice patterns and arithmetic with this image for as long as you will let them.

Finally, let students practice creating similes by comparing the upcoming year to a horse, since 2014 is the year of the horse.  Kids can browse non-fiction books about horses to get ideas for adjectives to use in their similes.

11.26.2013

Ancient Egypt Storytime

We just wrapped up our Reading Oasis book fair.  This Ancient Egyptian theme immediately excited the former science and social studies teacher in me because of the opportunities to incorporate so many subject areas into one brief unit.

Perhaps because of the current zombie crazy, my students were fixated on Egyptian mummies, so we dove right in.  With younger students, I shared Judy Schachner's book, Skippyjon Jones in Mummy Trouble, in which Skippyjon imagines that he is mummified during a treasure-hunting adventure in an Egyptian pyramid.
After the story, students imagined what it would be like to go on a trip to ancient Egypt with Skippyjon.  Then they illustrated themselves in mummy trouble.

Older students learned about the mummification process by reading portions of DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Egypt.
The book's full color images grabbed everyone's attention immediately.  Students can continue exploring this ancient burial custom with Discovery Kids' Mummy Maker game

Students can create their own pharaoh headdresses just like the ones Pete and our other library cats wore for our book fair.
Visit First Palette to get the printable headdress template.  Then kids just color, cut, and assemble three pieces into the completed headdress.

For science and writing, we looked up the definitions of the word oasis.  Many students were surprised to discover that deserts contain wet, fertile areas.  Next we discussed why oasis can also refer to a refuge or pleasant place.  Finally, students brainstormed about their own ideas of a reading oasis and then wrote about and illustrated their perfect places.
Students' creative ideas included a cozy chair, a tree house, a football field, and a gold mine.

For more independent learning and fun, kids can check out Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles webpage. The Kane Chronicles series is based on Egyptian mythology, and the site includes information about Egyptian mythology and Egyptian magic as well as links to online games about Egypt.