Monday, May 31, 2010

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature
by Sarah C. Campbell
photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Boyds Mills Press, 2010

Here's another great pick for your mathematics library -- a book about Fibonacci Numbers that is easy to understand! Campbell's photos of single garden flowers whose petals follow the Fibonacci sequence, along with clearly stated text make this a book that can be shared with even very young children. (I'm thinking of Jone's Kindergartners who wrote Fibonacci poems.)

You can feel Campbell scaffolding your understanding as she moves you from flower petals to the spirals in the bracts of a pinecone, the disc flowers in a sunflower, and the sections on the outside of a pineapple. (Who knew these spirals all go both ways?? -- obviously, not me!)

This is a fascinating book that will have you looking closely at the world around you to find patterns and counting to see if you can find another example of a Fibonocci number in nature.

Sarah Campbell's blog and website.
Author interview by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (and links to other blogs on Sarah's Feb/Mar Blog Tour.)
Franki's review of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

For Good Measure by Ken Robbins

For Good Measure: The ways we say how much, how far, how heavy, how big, how old
by Ken Robbins
Roaring Brook Press, 2010

Franki already reviewed this book along with other great new nonfiction, but it deserves its own spotlight.

All I had to see was that it was by Ken Robbins, and I bought it. I LOVED his book, Food For Thought (reviewed in September 2009). For Good Measure also has stunning photography paired with the interesting facts in the text.

What I love most about For Good Measure is the way Robbins tells the history of the words we use to name our units of measure. Some (many, actually) come from Latin, such as inch (uncia), mile (mille passus), and pound (pondus means weight; libra was the real unit of measure; libra pondo meant a "libra of weight," and although we now call the unit "pound," we still abbreviate it lb. for libra). Others come from Old English (1 fathom is 6 feet, or the distance from finger tip to finger tip of a man's outstretched arms; fæthm meant "outstretched arms," and if we can't fathom why BP is not being held more accountable for the oil spill, it means we can't wrap our arms around the idea.) And still others come from the object that was used to measure them: a rod is 5.5 yd. or 16.5 ft. and "was originally a stick used to prod the oxen that were plowing a field."

I also love the big organizing ideas that Robbins uses: yes, he goes from smallest to largest units in each category of measurement, but he also points out things like "Smaller units of length are mostly based on parts of the body. Longer units of distance are mostly based on actions," and time is "the interval between one event and another -- between one winter and the next (a year), one heartbeat and the next (a second.)"

I read this book aloud to my math class last week. We were just finishing up our unit on measurement -- perfect timing! They loved it! They were engaged by the photographs and fascinated by the facts in the text. This book is a must for every nonfiction collection.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Hurdles and Sprinting and the Finish Line

There are two ways to pass a hurdle: leaping over or plowing through... There needs to be a monster truck option.
- Jeph Jacques

"Hurdlers are sprinters with a problem. They're not satisfied just to sprint. Anybody can sprint, some not as well as others of course, but anybody can sprint. Not everybody can run hurdles. There's an extra dimension involved. Hurdlers would make a good subject for a thesis in psychology - they are of a persuasion that just needs an extra dimension."
-Denny Moyer

by Rudyard Kipling

Especially this part that comes right at the end:

"...If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run...")

Just a few more days to the finish line, and we're sprinting and jumping hurdles, and trying to

"...keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs ..."

You can find the poem in print at

Tricia has the round up this week at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fun New Wordless Book

by Bill Thomson
Marshall Cavendish, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

I'm always on the lookout for new wordless books for my collection. They are great for limited English speakers and for small group work on making inferences.

This one tells the story of some children who find a gift bag full of chalk hanging from a playground dinosaur's mouth on a rainy day. The first girl draws a sun on the sidewalk, and lo and behold, the sun comes out.

The kids try out one fun possibility after another, but things get a little out of hand, until someone gets the idea to draw the rainstorm they started out with so that the chalk drawings wash away.

The kids carefully hang the bag of chalk back on the dinosaur's mouth and walk on (with a final, wary glance back -- reminiscent of JUMANJI).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cheryl Bardoe at Cover to Cover

I went to hear Cheryl Bardoe speak at Cover to Cover yesterday. I am on a mission to find more great nonfiction for kids and I picked up Cheryl's newest book MAMMOTHS AND MASTODONS: TITANS OF THE ICE AGE
a few weeks ago.

I loved it immediately and think the topic, writing and visuals will appeal to kids. As I have said before, I think it is really important that we have lots of nonfiction that kids could read cover to cover. To build stamina for nonfiction and to immerse themselves in topics they love, reading lots on a topic is important. This is one of those great books that upper elementary/middle school kids could read from cover to cover. This book is the story of a recent discovery of a fully frozen baby mammoth. Because the mammoth was so well preserved, scientists learned a great deal from the discovery. This book is the story of the work that the scientists did and the things they discovered that might help us in the future. The book is filled with photos, illustrations and diagrams and is packed with information about mammoths and their disappearance. "Lyuba' as the baby mammoth has been named, is part of a traveling exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum.

There are several articles about the baby mammoth and the traveling exhibit in Chicago:

Bardoe's first book GREGOR MENDEL: THE FRIAR WHO GREW PEAS, is another book that I love. A great biography about the worlds first geneticist. This biography explains the experiments that Mendel did with peas in a way that children can begin to understand concepts related to genes. Told in narrative, we learn a great deal about Mendel's passion for nature as well as his scientific contribution to the world.

So glad I was able to hear Cheryl Bardoe yesterday. She has a gift for writing about complex topics in a way that makes them accessible to kids. If you have not visited her website, she has great resources for teachers.

An aside: To highlight Cheryl Bardoe's books, Cover to Cover had a digital frame on the check-out counter. The books were highlighted on the frame. It caught my eye immediately and I began to think about what a great tool this would be for the library. A frame can hold so many pictures and the images are so easy to change and update. I think I will buy one to use to highlight new books, certain books by an author, etc. Just another way to highlight books for kids--this digital frame idea seems brilliant to me!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

2 New Early Chapter Books

I am always looking for good early chapter books. I think kids move from Henry and Mudge to Harry Potter too fast and often lose interest in reading because of it. I am always thrilled when I find great books that help kids build the stamina they need to get through longer books. I also like these books to recommend for teachers looking to add chapter books to their primary classroom read aloud time. Finding books that are easy enough and appropriate for young children, while also giving them real issues to talk and think about is not always easy. These two do both of those things.

LAYLA, QUEEN OF HEARTS by Glenda Millard is one that I just discovered. I like it because it has a bit of depth that you don't often find with earlier chapter books. This is the story of a friendship between Layla and Miss Amelie. Because Layla's grandmother has recently passed away, Layla has no one to take to Senior Citizens' Day at school. With the help of her neighbors, she finds a new friend, Miss Amelie. But Miss Amelie is often very confused and forgetful. Layla isn't sure that Miss Amelie will be able to make it to Senior Citizens' Day after all. The thing I like about this book is the way that it focuses on the relationship between the two characters and the kindness they show to each other. I think it is often difficult for young children to begin to understand the things that often come with aging and illness. This book puts these things into a story that children can understand. I love the characters in this book. The author focuses on the good in each character and the ways in which they support each other. They will stay with me for a while.

And, if you've ever wished your doll would come to life (and who hasn't, really?), you'll want to read THE VERY LITTLE PRINCESS by Marion Dane Bauer. I am a big fan of Bauer and this is a very different kind of book for her, I think. Marion Dane Bauer often deals with hard, real issues in her books. She does so in this one, but cushions it in a tale about a doll coming to life. I so love that. I love this book. It is a short read. About 120 pages. The basic story is like many others--a girl who finds a doll who comes to life. I love this kind of a story--any little tiny people who come to life. But this one is about more than that. It is about pain and loneliness, friendship and abandonment and about living today to its fullest. It is amazing to me that Marion Dane Bauer could pack such big issues into such a fun book. I shouldn't be surprised. She is an amazing author. Again, this would make a great read aloud or a great book for talking about.

(The title of this book is The Very Little Princess #1--could it be that there will be MORE of these coming soon?)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Encyclopedia Mythologica: GODS & HEROES

Gods and Heroes
by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda
Candlewick Press, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

Did you catch that byline? ROBERT SABUDA.

Yeah. This is a popup book. Probably the most amazing popup you've seen to date. And timely -- aren't your students nuts over Percy Jackson and Greek Mythology?!?!

I sat down with my friend Lisa who has taught her fifth graders to make popup books for many years.

The first thing she pointed to was Robert Sabuda's name and said, "Well, all you have to see is his name and you know it's going to be extraordinary."

The first double page spread is Egyptian mythology. Anubis practically jumps off the page into your lap with his jackal-head mask, his palm outstretched, and his ankh held high.

There is information on most corners, and under that text is another popup and more information. (On some corners, there are two layers of small popups! Astounding construction and design!)

On the second spread, Olympus rises from the clouds and the reader quite naturally wants to find each one of the Olympians.

Jason and the Argonauts float out of the third spread, representing the Mortal Champions of the Old World. (There is a flip book of Herakles' Labors that is like no flip book you've ever seen...)

Next, Thor the Sky God lowers his enchanted hammer as the reader learns about the Norse myths.

Pele pops out of a volcano to introduce Eastern Mythology.

Finally, Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent of the Aztec Empire writhes off the page to bring the myths within 10,000 years of the present.

More quotes from Lisa:

"Wow. Wow."
"Sabuda is not just a popup guy, he's a true paper engineer."
"This is not a book that readers will "use up" in one quick look. The popups draw you into the text and you want to keep reading and discovering."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Happiness

by Robert Frost

Oh, stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun's brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view—
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.
If my mistrust is right
It may be altogether
From one day's perfect weather,
When starting clear at dawn,
The day swept clearly on
To finish clear at eve.

(the rest of the poem is at A Writer's Almanac)

Thank goodness for those single days or single moments that give us our lasting "fair impression." If we focus solely on the stormy times, we'll go stark raving mad. Sometimes it seems as if the universe is testing our tolerance for the number of "swirling mist and cloud" days we can tolerate, and during those time we wonder what the universe knows about us that we don't yet know about ourselves. But we are always given a day without shadows, a day where happiness is high, if not long.

May you have one of those days today!

Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week. (I promise I didn't look at her post before I chose my poem!)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

WHAT IF? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

I picked up a copy of WHAT IF? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger at the Literacy Connection workshop a few weeks ago. I could tell immediately that it was a great find.

WHAT IF is almost wordless. There are only a few repeated phrases that tell the story. Most of the story is told in the pictures. The book explores the idea of friendship and feelings by helping the reader see how a story might end if people responded differently. This simple book helps us think about what it means to be inclusive vs. exclusive, how our actions impact others and more. Such a great invitation to conversations.

The way that the author tells her story is brilliant. She repeats a scene three times with 3 very different outcomes. The stories are quite similar in that if you merely skim the book and don't really take time on the illustrations, the book may not make sense. This is a story in which the pictures are almost more important than the words.

I almost never pick up a book that I don't see several possibilities for. I can see using this book to talk about life issues such as friendship, exclusivity, and decision-making. I can also see using it in a study of theme or when introducing the idea of cause and effect in a story.

To learn more about this book there is an interview of the author in May's issue of "Notes from the Hornbook"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

2 Books for Word Study

I picked up two new books that I love for talk around words. BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST by Nancy Coffelt is not a brand new one and I may even have blogged about it before. I LOVE it and seem to have loaned my copy out or something. This is a picture book that is great to use with kids of all ages. Each section consists of 3 pages with related words. For example the first three pages focus on the words small, smaller and smallest using animals to illustrate the meaning. But the book goes a bit further than that and gives readers other words that mean similar things. For example on the small page, the "smallest" page, the spider says, "I'm smallest. I'm miniature. I'm miniscule. I'm microscopic!" This almost serves as a mini-thesaurus and can also be used to start conversations about how even though the words mean similar things, you'd pick one over the other as a writer depending on the context. This book provides invitations into so many conversations about words. So simple but so packed. (For younger readers, this would be a great one to pair with THE BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST BOOK.)

GUMPTION is a new by Elise Broach that a friend told me about. Sally at Cover to Cover suggested using it in word study. She is so smart! This is the story of a boy who goes on a safari with his grandfather. His grandfather lets him know many times during the adventure that all he needs is a little "gumption". The story is a humorous one that kids will like and they will see how they can figure out the meaning of a word by reading it in the context over and over again. I read the book to a few classes this week. They had a great time saying the word gumption and it was interesting to see their understanding of the word build as the book went on. They had no idea what it meant early in the book, made several guesses early on and then changed their thinking as they heard the word again and again. A fun read aloud even without the word study piece.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I am a huge fan of Nic Bishop. His work is stunning. Nic Bishop's work is engaging and accessible to children. I was thrilled to see this new book FOREST EXPLORER: A LIFE SIZE FIELD GUIDE on the shelves at Cover to Cover.

This book is a bit different from Bishop's other books. Same size but a different look and a different format. This is truly a field guide for children.

The first pages are a great Table of Contents with photos to support young readers. Following the Table of Contents, there is a page called, "How To Use This Book". Every other 2-page spread is a giant photo (life size) of a part of the forest. Readers are encouraged to study it and notice things before turning the page. Upon turning the page, Nic Bishop has written 2 pages of "field notes" sharing information about the previous scene. Brilliant, don't you think? The field notes include some photos, bold words, labels and information about so many things in each photo. It is amazing how much information each photo holds for explorers. The photos show parts of the forest such as "In the Treetops" as well as times in the forest such as "After Dark" and "The Fall". Such a variety of things to learn about.

At the end of the book, several pages are dedicated to a section called, "Be a Forest Explorer" which gives hints and projects for readers who want to explore the woods. Nic Bishop shares info about keeping a forest journal, safety tips, and things to expect at different times of the year.

The picture index at the end of the book also serves as an invitation to readers to find various animals in photos throughout the book. This will give kids a chance to revisit the book over and over.

I worry that so many of the nonfiction books we share with children are similar in form and purpose. So many of the field guides I have seen are not really accessible to kids. This one is definitely accessible and engaging. A great addition to our nonfiction library!

Monday, May 17, 2010

SPARKY: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz

Last year, I joined Junior Library Guild for our library. I had cancelled the subscription when I started the job in the library because I didn't really understand the service they could provide. After talking to people on their staff, I began to understand how purchasing books from JLG could really help me with collection development.

Junior Library Guild reviews and selects books that would be appropriate for different age groups. But I do so much of that on my own, I didn't see the need. When I read and learned more though, I realized that I could decide which types of books JLG would provide for a discounted fee. I knew that our biographies and mysteries were outdated and those are not two areas that I keep up with myself. So I joined with those two areas, knowing that I'd receive a book each month in those categories. It has been such a great thing for us--we have great books in our library that I may never have noticed since they aren't always my favorite types.

Last month, I received one of my favorite new biographies--SPARKY: THE LIFE AND ART OF CHARLES SCHULZ by Beverly Gherman. This book is a small chapter book. Although it is about 120 pages, almost half of those pages are illustrations, photos and cartoons. This is a perfect biography for mid to upper elementary kids. It was also interesting for me to read as an adult so it is pretty much good for all ages.

The book has a fun look. Colorful with the feeling of The Peanuts Gang. No white pages with black ink that I could find. Instead, there are several colors used for fonts against a variety of backdrops. A fun read. The print is not small and very accessible for students who are just starting to read longer chapter books. Even the Table of Contents is done in a unique way to stay with the Peanuts theme. The book follows Charles Schulz (or Sparky as was his nickname) throughout his life. Photos from his childhood, stories of his family, career information and more are included. You really get to know Charles Schulz in this book. Throughout the book, the author has embedded Peanuts strips that connect in some ways to the information being shared. From the first ideas for the comic strip to the process of creating the first animated TV show of the Peanuts, this book is pretty comprehensive.

I love this book for so many reasons. I loved reading it myself. It was an interesting read about a talented person who I realized I knew very little about. As a teacher and librarian, I love the way that it is written and formatted. I think that it would make a good read aloud for people looking to add more nonfiction to their read aloud time. I also think it is a biography that is better than many chapter book length biographies I've seen. Even for kids who don't remember Peanuts the way we do, with the popularity of comics and graphic novels, the evolution of this artist will be very interesting.

Thanks to Junior Library Guild for this great addition to our Biography Section!

Betsy at Fuse #8 also reviewed this book.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mother Reader's 48 HOUR BOOK CHALLENGE and Other Summer Fun

Summer is actually right around the corner! With all the stress of the end of the year, it is pretty amazing to realize that in just a few weeks it will be summer. I am pretty busy this summer--probably more busy than I am during the school year. But, summer has always been a time for me to read, reflect and rethink things for fall.

I LOVE that Mother Reader's 5th Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge will happen on the first Saturday after our students are finished with school. Although we have never been able to dedicate the entire 48 hours to reading, and are not really competitive in this challenge, we all try to participate by starting the summer off with lots of reading during that 48 hours. We have found ways to participate in the event even though we can't totally commit. It is one of our favorite events of the year and we love Mother Reader for organizing it. One of these years, we might be able to actually compete. But for this year, we are enjoying our own version of the event.

Just as we did last year, the Central Ohio Blogger's group will be meeting for breakfast and book shopping at Cover to Cover as part of our 48 Hour Read Celebration. We imagine that on Saturday morning, Bill from Literate Lives will have granola, Julie at Raising Readers and Writers will buy too many books :-) and there will be a few tug-of-war situations when Sally shares some ARCS from Cover to Cover. We love any excuse to get together with our book-loving friends and we can't think of a better way to kick off summer. So, look for posts from all of us throughout the 48 hour read weekend.

Another things I am excited about this summer is that I think I get to meet Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Bev Gallagher, an amazing teacher, invited us both to be part of a great day at Princeton Day School called GATHERING WORDS. Our paths seem to cross once in a while but we have never been able to actually meet. As you know I am a HUGE fan of Rebecca's. Bella and Bean is one of my favorite books, and am very excited to get to meet her.

I am also looking forward to attending November Learning's BLC 10. I have never been to this conference and am looking forward to it. The keynotes look amazing and I am excited about the other speakers as well. Plus, it is in Boston and I am sure there is some good shopping!

We've also put a few dates on the calendars for our informal tech learning from each other. Last summer, a group of us from Dublin and area districts, got together at different homes to teach each other the things we had tried, to share ideas and to play with new gadgets. It was some of the best learning I've done. Put some of your favorite people together in a house with some food (Mary Lee often makes cheesecake:-) and how can it not lead to great learning and great fun?

Mary Lee and I are also doing a new workshop for Choice Literacy called "Matching Students and Books". I always learn lots when I think and plan with someone else and I always learn from the Choice Literacy participants. Looking forward to all of the Choice Literacy events.

Between all of these, our district leadership academy, and some other events, I am looking forward to a busy (in a good way) summer. When I add all that I read on twitter and blogs, I am sure my head will be filled with new thinking every day.

And people think teachers take the summer off!?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Drowning

Not Waving But Drowning
by Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Here's a poem with interesting connections to the Stevie Smith poem above:
"This is a Photograph of Me" by Margaret Atwood
(Thanks, Author Amok!)
Anyone else have poems about drowning to add to our "text set?"


Fifteen more student days.

I'm not waving, I'm drowning.

Toss me a life preserver on your way over to Jama's alphabet soup for the round up. She's got a pot of hot tea and a plate of cookies ready for you. Even her teacups are poetic!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nabeel's New Pants: An Eid Tale

Nabeel's New Pants: An Eid Tale
retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams
illustrated by Proiti Roy
Marshall Cavendish, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

I was so excited when I saw the title of this book. At my school, we have at least two boys named Nabeel. We also have Mariams and Yasmeens. We have kids whose mothers wear burqas and dupattas and who make biryani and sheerkorma, kids who celebrate Eid and who go to mosques.

In this folktale, Nabeel buys Eid gifts for his mother, his wife, and his daughter. The shopkeeper convinces him to buy a new pair of pants for himself, but the only pair that fits is too long. Each time Nabeel gives a gift, he asks if the recipient will hem his pants for him, but they are all too busy getting ready for Eid. Finally, Nabeel hems his own pants and sets off to visit the poor and sick and give them money for Eid. Each woman, thinking of how thoughtful Nabeel has been to them, takes a minute away from her work and hems his pants for him. When he gets back and dresses to go to the mosque for Eid, his pants only come to his knees! Everyone laughs, the pants are restored to a proper length, and off the family goes to the mosque.

I had our Arabic-speaking Community Liaison read this book and tell me what she thought of it. She loved that Muslims depicted in this book are not Middle Eastern. So often, she said, the stereotype is that only Middle Easterners are Muslim, when in fact, big chunks of Africa, India and Indonesia are also Muslim.

She also loved that the Muslims in this book are cheerful and laughing, which breaks another stereotype that Muslims are dour and serious.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I KNOW HERE by Laurel Croza

I am not sure how I found out about I KNOW HERE by Laurel Croza--somewhere online via Twitter or blogs or Amazon recommendations. It was a quick link and I immediately knew I had to have this book. I ordered it right away and I am so happy that I did! I think this is going to become one of those anchor books for so many things. First and foremost, this is a powerful story of moving and leaving a place that you love--finding ways to hold onto it after you are gone. If I were in the classroom, it would definitely be one I'd use early in the school year to invite kids to try different types of writing. A great writing mentor text. But it can also start conversations about setting or a sense of place in a story. And the illustrations are unique and stunning.

On the first page of the book, the little girl in the story finds out that she is moving away from the home that she knows to go to another place. But, "This is where I live. I don't know Toronto. I know here." She then goes on to describe all that she knows about the place she loves--the road, the forest, the trailers, the hill, the truck and more. She then asks, "Have people in Toronto seen what I've seen?" and she thinks about the things that she's seen--a moose standing still in water, a five seater airplane swooping low overhead and more.

Finding a way to keep this place that she loves with her when she moves is important to her and she finds a way to do it.

This book reminds a bit of Byrd Baylor's writing, even though the format is much different. The focus, language, and repetition in this book make it stand out as one worth having. So happy I have it. I absolutely love it!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Planning for Summer Reading

It is time to start thinking about summer reading. My pile is so high that I know I'll never get it finished. But I love the idea of more time to read.

This week in the library, we started to talk about summer reading. I know how important it is for kids to read all summer but I want them to love it. Our library offers a great Summer Reading Program with lots of incentives and Mr. George from the Dublin Branch came to Riverside to share some great books with us.

I want a way to encourage kids to read in authentic ways. I want them to see summer like I do--as a time with extra time for reading-a time to get to those books you haven't had a chance to get to yet.

So many readers have a way to keep track of their next-read books. Many people carry little notebooks, scraps of papers, notes on their phones, etc. I keep a list of books on my phone so that whenever I am in a bookstore
or library, I have some titles handy. I want my kids to begin to think ahead too.

As I was thinking about how to go about this this year, I came across these great little notebooks from Oriental Trading Company. I knew they were exactly what I was looking for--and such a bargain! I purchased these notebooks for each of our 2nd through 5th grade students and kids spent time this week decorating and personalizing them. This was nothing fancy--stickers, magazines, etc. But the kids had a great time and are very excited to start using them next week. Next week, I am planning on booktalking some great new books that kids might want to read over the summer. As I share, they'll have their notebooks in hand, ready to add to their list of must read books. I'll take time to have kids share great books and time for book browsing so kids can add to the notebooks.

I am hoping kids leave with an excitement about the books they want to read and I am hoping that this notebook starts a lifelong habit for many of them, a habit of recording those great books they hear about that they want to read sometime soon.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Magnus Maximus, A Marvelous Measurer

Magnus Maximus, A Marvelous Measurer
by Kathleen T. Pelley
illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

This is a fable that will ring true to anyone who needs to find a little more balance in their life.

This is a fable that will ring true to educators who are tired of measuring, measuring, measuring (testing, testing, testing) and who long to get back to the true experience of joining hands with children and learning together.

Magnus Maximus measures "wetness and dryness, nearness and farness, and everything else in between." He counts "clouds in the sky, petals on a geranium, freckles on a nose, measles on a tummy, or raisins in a bun." He becomes the town's official measurer and measures "all kinds of NESSes" (like the wobbliness of a jellyfish) and "all kinds of ESTs" (like the stinkiest socks).

Then one day, he accidentally steps on his glasses and he can't see to count or measure. He goes down to the sea, where he meets a boy named Michael who invites him to play in the waves and make a sandcastle.

The next day, when his glasses are ready, Magnus Maximus begins to measure again as usual. But at 6:00 that evening, he takes his glasses off, makes a pot of tea, and sits in the garden and enjoys the end of his day...without measuring a single thing.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching and Learning

I have had a great week of learning. Last Friday and Saturday, I attended a Literacy Connection workshop featuring speaker Samantha Bennett. On Tuesday of last week, I was able to attend Ohio's 21st Century Skills Summit. Even though the topics of the two workshops were different (one on workshop and one on 21st Century Skills), they came together in a way that is helping me think through my own work. Both really helped me get my mind back into what matters in education. It is getting harder, as teachers, in this age of testing, to remember the big picture of our work. Both of these workshops helped me to think hard about being more intentional and prioritizing.

One of the speakers I was able to hear at the Ohio Summit was Christian Long. His talk was on Learning Environments and it was amazing. I had not heard him speak before and was incredibly inspired by his talk. One of the books that he recommended was THE THIRD TEACHER, which I ordered immediately. I spent this weekend reading the book and I LOVED it. I am so happy to have discovered it. I intend to go back to it over the next few months.

I have been struggling a bit with the environment of the library. I have quickly realized that it is a different kind of challenge to create a community for an entire school population than it is to create a classroom community. Thinking about a space that supports all members of an entire school in different ways has been on my mind this year. Much of my thinking during my last several years in the classroom was about creating an intellectual community in the classroom. So much of my thinking comes from moving beyond merely a feel-good environment for kids, but one where a community can come together as thinkers, learners and doers and how to create that sense for every member. I have been trying to figure out how to use the library resources, time and space to create a similar environment for the entire school community. It is my new big question and this book is helping me begin to think differently about these issues. It is a great book if you are thinking about environment of any kind connected to kids and education. Whether you are thinking about classroom environment, school environment, etc. this book gives you lots to think about.

I have too many sticky notes in the book to begin to tell you about, but the book is filled with so many things to think about in the ways we must change the school environment by thinking about design, if we want to meet our students' needs. Many of the case studies in the book are about schools that were started from scratch or schools that were built with a vision in mind. For me, reading this book was more about thinking through making the best of space that is already there and it gave me lots to think about.

Even though I was thinking a bit about space, this book is about so much more than space. We hear from Howard Gardner in the book, who reminds us, "The actual materials, or layout of the spaces are less important than the provision of ample opportunity to use these intelligences."--The book is about being intentional about the environments we create for children based on what we believe. We hear from experts like Raffi, Ken Robinson and others who each bring a different expertise to the conversation.

Some things in the book that have helped my current thinking:
#14 Multiply Intelligences: Allow students time and space to choose what they want to do-their choices will illuminate their individual strengths."

#15 Post learning: Posting student work, both current and past, up on the walls tracks progress in visible ways.

#23 Make classrooms agile: A learning space that can be reconfigured on a dime will engage different kinds of learners and teachers.

#62 Put the fun in fundamentals: Injecting a learning space with playfulness and humor creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

The book explores so many aspects of environment including school lunches, playgrounds and the role of technology in schools today. And the design of the book itself is amazing. It is designed in a way that not only invites you in but gives you so much to think about on every page. The combination of text, quotes, photos and case studies creates a unique read.

So many things that I want to learn more about--projects and people I was introduced to in the book. I want to explore THE THIRD TEACHER site and blog a bit more and I also want to go back and find the sites for many of the schools and experts that I read about in the book.

This book has just been put on my "must recommend to everyone I know" list. (And I like it so much that I don't think I am going to be able to lend it to anyone--it is one that I want to have with me for a while!) I have read so many good things lately but this one stands out a bit for anyone who wants a way to think through the ways in which the environments we create in schools impact teaching and learning.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Eh?

photo by Ségozyme

April showers
bring separation of powers.

What's good for the goose
is the summary of the story.

A thing of beauty
is a decimal place value.

An apple a day
comes off one of the three branches of government.

Those who live in glass houses
compare and contrast the theme of another story.

A bird in the bush
is worth a three in the hundredths place.

All work and no play
makes the teacher cross-eyed when she's grading papers.

by Mary Lee Hahn, copyright 2010

Diane has the roundup this week at Random Noodling.

(Sorry about the comment moderation -- spammers are becoming annoyingly tenacious.)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

New Nonfiction

Cover to Cover sold books at The Literacy Connection workshop this weekend. I picked up quite a few books and the ones I am most excited about are some of the new nonfiction titles.

I have not had a chance to read this whole book yet but have read quite a bit of it. I intend to read it cover to cover soon. This book fascinates me. The science of the recent bee disappearance is so stunning and the way that the author makes this story accessible to kids is amazing to me. The book is a longer nonfiction book--about 65 pages. There are gorgeous photos throughout (done by Ellen Harasimowicz). And I am amazed at how much information is included in the book.

The book begins with the work of a bee keeper. Early on in the book readers learn much about the bee community in general and then quickly moves onto the 2006 event. Dave Hackenberg's story of finding hundreds of totally empty hives begins the story. The book goes on to share the dilemma faced by bee scientists in seeing something they had never seen before. Theories of what could have happened and the ways the scientists tried to discover the root of the problem is an amazing story.

Included in the book are profiles of bee scientists,the process of discovering the underlying problem of the vanishing bee colonies and the ways that the scientists solved problems together. Much bee-specific vocabulary is defined and the accompanying photos help to make things clear. Readers learn about the honey production process as well as interesting facts about honeybees. There is an extensive glossary and a great resource list at the end of the book. The resource list shares books, movies, documentaries, magazines and websites that readers can go for more information.

I love any story that shows real scientists at work solving real problems. I can see so many implications for this book in schools. I think it would make a great read aloud. Because it is a narrative, kids would enjoy hearing the amazing story, I think. I also know that so much of our science curriculum deals with ecosystems and habitats. What a great addition to readings about that for older elementary students. This is also a great model for nonfiction writing.

I think this is a good anchor book to think about when we think about our goals for our elementary readers. For me as a 5th grade teacher, this is a book that I would have wanted students to be able to read and understand by the end of their 5th grade year. Having the skills and stamina to do this can be built throughout the elementary years but this book is a great one for kids who read nonfiction for pleasure.
(A interesting article was published this week connected to the book.)

LOOKING CLOSELY AROUND THE POND by Frank Serafini is the newest in the LOOK CLOSELY series. A close-up photo begins each segment and the reader guesses what it is that he/she sees. The answer comes with the full picture as well as a few paragraphs of information about it. A great series for elementary students. For anyone who does work with outdoor labs, this series could be key. This one would also make a great read aloud and a great model for writing. Serafini's photography is stunning, as always.

FOR GOOD MEASURE: THE WAYS WE SAY HOW MUCH, HOW FAR, HOW HEAVY, HOW BIG, HOW OLD by Ken Robbins is an amazing book that focuses on the language of measurement. The book focuses on standard units of measurement of all kinds. Ken Robbins shares information about lengths and distances, area, weight, capacity and more. Within each section, Robbins shares information about the different ways we can measure each--going from smaller units of measure to larger ones. For each unit of measure, Robbins defines the unit and gives readers a great visual to help in understanding. Information about where certain vocabulary comes from and how certain units of measure came to be are included. I think this book can really hep make this work interesting for kids and help them make better sense of it. As always, Ken Robbins is brilliant in his work.

I buy everything by Steve Jenkins. This new book is another great one. Jenkins and Page explore the relationships between animals and the authors make the concept of symbiosis clear to readers. The book explores several animal partnerships that work and explain why they do. The artwork is what we have come to expect from Jenkins and Page but this book has a bit of a different look because lots is packed onto every page and the background colors are a bit darker than other recent books. The layout is almost graphic-novel like which I am sure will appeal to kids. This allows lots of information per page. I so love the way these authors organize the information in their books. Such smart models for our students as writers but also such a brilliant way to make complex concepts accessible to kids.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Samantha Bennett: Author of THAT WORKSHOP BOOK

If you ever have a chance to hear Samantha Bennett, author of THAT WORKSHOP BOOK, speak, take full advantage of it. I attended Samantha's workshop on Friday and Saturday. Both days were filled with lots of thinking and learning.

Her book THAT WORKSHOP BOOK is a powerful one. Through her work with teachers, she has discovered the power of workshop and the power of our planning and our talk with kids.

I can't begin to share all that I learned over the weekend.. Sitting by friends always helps too. So much conversation from our learning. I am sure our talk will continue based on what we learned. Instead of sharing everything I learned, I decided to share my "Top 10 Samantha Bennett Quotes." I could have shared a hundred but decided the Top 10 makes sense. These are my personal highlight quotes of the day. These were the quotes I will continue to use to push my own thinking.


"It's loud. It's messy. It's really, really fun."
Samantha said this when talking about workshop and workshop planning. She makes no claims that workshop teaching is easy or neat. She knows that a good workshop is complex and that it takes huge planning. This quote sums it up well, I think.

"It's not about liking things."
Friday's part of the workshop was spent visiting classrooms and learning from those. We visited via a live feed/camera, Katie DiCesare's 2nd grade classroom and Karen Terlecky's 5th grade classroom. During the prebrief session with Samantha, she was clear in telling us that she did not want to hear what we LIKED at the end of the session. She wanted us to begin to label practice with theory and to ask ourselves "What about this struck me?" She put this right up front and pushed our thinking before we even began. This changed the way we observed the classroom.

"If you only do something for one reason, don't do it. You should be able to label things in multiple ways."
Part of the work we did observing classrooms was labeling what we saw with research. So much of the challenge of teaching has to do with time and Samantha talked a lot about having lots of reasons for everything we do in the classroom. She believes strongly that every minute of every day for students has to be purposeful and there are so many things to accomplish, that we can't accomplish only one at a time.

"Remove the layers of crust to what matter most. You see what matters most to her. My job is to help her get more of that."
In talking about her role as a coach, Samantha shared the importance of helping teachers get to their core beliefs about education--about helping us see what it is that matters to us most when we get rid of the "crust". Then helping us think about how to get more of that. This was a huge piece of thinking for me. How do I get more of what matters into my days? A question that helps us be more purposeful in our work with kids, I think.

"You can always get better, every minute of every day."
This is the reason I am still in education after 20+ years. So much to think about and such interesting work. The fact that as teachers, we will never "get there" and that we can continue to learn and grow is what gives me energy. When I realized early on that I'd never have it all figured out, I started to enjoy the learning journey so much.

"They should not have to defend practice but we do want them to articulate it. Knowing what you are doing and why you are doing it every single minute of the day."
When we were ready to visit classrooms and Samantha was sharing the purpose, she was clear in saying that teachers in these classrooms did not need to defend their practice. We aren't there to judge it, but rather to learn from it. This philosophy would change so much about the way we talk to each other about our work. I think we, as teachers, often feel so under attack, that we get immediately defensive when asked about our practice. But being asked to articulate our practice is key to doing good work with kids. Articulating practice is something I try to get better at because it helps me as a learner. And it is good for the soul, I think. To know you are doing what you believe is right for kids.

"Stop asking what I am going to do tomorrow. Ask what students are going to do tomorrow. That should be the guiding question."
I loved this guiding question. So much of the day on Saturday was about the planning process and the need to teach for understanding. The belief that student work and learning is what we are about was a thread throughout the two days. This guiding question helps me to think a little differently when I plan. Keeping my eye on what kids will be doing is key.

"Kids knowing why they're there, every minute of every day."
Just as we have to make every minute worthwhile, it is critical that kids know the purpose of everything they are doing, everything that we are asking them to do. Kids have to own that learning so that every minute of every day piece is so important. A good measure to hold ourselves accountable to, I think.

"When kids are telling you no, listen. There is a reason they are telling you no. And you better figure it out. Take their reluctance seriously. What does this kid need that he is not getting?"
This was such a powerful thing to think about. When I think about kids who are not willing to do the work, kids who act out rather than take a risk, etc. this is something to remember. What does this kid need that he/she is not getting? Instead of blaming the child, this is about taking ownership that a child's reluctance is something we need to listen closely to.

"Unless you release kids to work, there is zero way to differentiate."
LOVED THIS! A thread through the two days was the need for teacher talk to be minimal. Kids need to be doing the work and if they aren't out there working, there is no way we can meet their diverse needs. I think sometimes we feel guilty if our minilessons are too quick, etc. but by remembering this, we know we are doing the right thing.

As you can tell, it was a great workshop. I hope to get a chance to learn from Samantha Bennett again soon. Very inspiring and powerful.

For other posts on the workshop:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Wordle of our Class Constitution

We are studying government in social studies right now. Here is a Wordle of our Class Constitution.

Here's the one I made of last year's Class Constitution.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Something Else That Happened in April

On April 18, I received this note:

Here's the link to the Independence Hall page of the Schmap Philadelphia Guide. And that picture in the top right corner of the page? I took it last November while in Philly for NCTE!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Moving Toward a 21st Century Library

I had the opportunity to talk via Elluminate to a class of students across the country last week and the week before. I have participated in many Elluminate sessions and I love them but I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about actually being the person who shared my thinking in an elluminate session. As a presenter, I tend to feed off the group's energy and I rely heavily on conversations and active participation. But it was definitely a learning experience and I continue to be amazed that we can all be sitting at home and learning with people so far away.

These visuals probably don't say much without the talk that went with them, but pulling this session together helped me reflect a bit on my vision for the elementary library--where we've been, what my goals are. Talking to others and making my work visible always helps me see the work differently. I always appreciate the opportunity to articulate my own thinking because it helps me become more clear for myself about where it is I am trying to grow and learn.

It took a little bit of work to create a presentation that I could share publicly like this, but as part of my own learning journey, I wanted to make it public. (my first slideshare:-) These slides show the space and events in terms of the bigger goals of the library--but it cannot begin to share the day to day conversations and learning that the children have. I would need a different format for that, I think.

Embedded in this slide show is the slides that I used early in the year to begin a yearlong conversation on "Who are you as a learner?" I don't know if the students would even remember that first conversation but looking back at it and reflecting on those initial thoughts, I love the way the kids are now beginning to use the library to support who they are as a learner.

April Mosaic

April began with cupcakes and ended with guacamole.

The oak flowers looked so dainty against the blue sky when they were new. Then they streaked my car yellow with pollen and now there are so many on the ground that we will rake up gobs and mounds.

In answer to your question, yes, I wrote a poem yesterday, and no, I'm not going to post it here.

I do, however, have a few final observations about my NaPoMo poems. Remember the one-word poem? Did you follow the link to David R. Slavitt's poem? Did you realize that the discussion questions were part of my parody?

And that sprouting apple seed? I found it INSIDE my apple when I cored it. As much as I liked the poem it inspired, I was far more impressed with the idea of a pre-sprouted apple seed. I have planted it in a small pot on my windowsill and I anxiously await its reappearance.

The "If-You-Were" poetry form is the one that has inspired the best writing from my students. We will continue writing a poem a day for each other this coming week -- we have four friends left whose names haven't been picked yet. In the end, we will have written close to 300 poems total.

As the school year winds down and the students get itchy for summer, it is sometimes hard to get them to be smart and thoughtful (not to mention hardworking and productive). I will keep the Xs in the sky in my heart to remind me of the creative potential that exists in every child if they have the time to look and if I take the time to listen.