Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Evolution of My Math Workshop

I love the workshop style of teaching.  I love that it provides choice for students and instantly helps me differentiate my lessons to meet the needs of individual students.  I have used reading and writing workshop for many years now, and have been trying to use the same ideas during math instruction.  Here's how my math instruction has evolved over time:

When I first began teaching, I taught whole group lessons each day.  After the lesson students would work independently on the textbook assignment.  I would run around trying to make sure students were "doing it right", answering questions, checking work, and the most annoying part - reteaching the lesson over and over.  As I scanned the classroom, all I saw were hands up in the air.

Fortunately, my teacher preparation courses included an introduction to Marilyn Burns.  Her book,  About Teaching Mathematics, was  required reading.  I used her ideas for cooperative problem solving and began using them in my 4th grade class.  Soon, I began to dread the "textbook lesson" days and began looking for more ways to include hands-on lessons and problem solving.  There was so many parts of the math textbook that I didn't like - so I gave myself permission to use it as a resource.  As long as I was using my state's teaching and learning standards to guide my instruction I would be okay.  I started including lots of games in my math instruction.  Some of them were to practice skills and some of them included critical thinking.  While some days were "game days" I found myself using these Math Menus for those early finishers or for when I wanted to work with a group of struggling math students, the rest of the class played math games.  I could meet with those struggling students over and over and they still would be struggling!  I knew my struggling students would benefit from these math games and activities so I began searching for ways to create a math workshop.

When I began teaching second grade I tried creating Math Centers and even designed a rotation schedule.  This did not last long!  I found myself continually designing new centers and activities that often were just busy work.  Students were often off task and needed constant redirection.  (Probably because the activities were just busy work or designed poorly.)

My New and Improved Math Workshop

My new Math Workshop that I am trying out this year is inspired by the 2 Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, creators of The Daily 5 and Math Daily 5 and also the book, Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind.  I can't say enough about this book.  It was exactly what I was looking for and I gobbled up the book in one day!  (And of course have reread sections over and over.)  Kassia's idea of a small group math lesson, or Math Exchange, is very different than what I have done in the past.  Most of Kassia's small group lessons are problem based and the groups are not necessarily formed by ability.  She chooses who will be the group carefully.  Perhaps one student is using a strategy that she would like other students to see and learn.  The word "exchange" is used to describe them because she wants students to share their thinking with each other.  I have always done this in whole group, and hoped that other students would catch on to new ideas.  Wow!  Doing this in a small group sounded amazing.  With 5-6 students I could really facilitate some great math thinking.  But what would the rest of the class be doing? Yikes!  The same problem as before.  So after a weekend of thinking and reading about how other teachers create a Math Workshop this is what I have come up with.

Math by Yourself - Usually this is where students will complete a math assignment from their textbook.  I also have those Enrichment Worksheets available if necessary.

Math with a Partner - Students select a partner and play a math game.  I have a list of games they can choose from that pertain to the concept or skills we are working on.

Computer Math - They use the Netbooks that I am currently borrowing from a local teacher center.  We have a class website that lists math games they can play.

Math with the Teacher - Students work in a group with me!

I manage Math Workshop very much like the Daily 5.  Each round is about 20 minutes.  We may have 2 or 3 rounds depending on the schedule.  I usually start out with a short lesson or whole group activity.  Then I ask students to sign up for each round.  I announce the names of the students who will be doing Math With the Teacher, and which round, so they can plan accordingly.  We don't do Math Workshop every day because sometimes I need the whole math time for other lessons or activities.

How's it going so far?
Students love having choice and are more responsible and motivated to succeed.  They also love doing Math with the Teacher.  I introduced Math Workshop to my class at the end of November, so we have had about a month of experience.  My small group work, or math exchanges, are going well.  There are many bumps in the road, but that is to be expected.  For instance, trying to get the focus on their conversation and ideas instead of just my talking.  Reminding myself to talk less!  It's the quality of my talk, not the quantity.  When a student has great thinking that I want others to hear, I make a big deal about it.  "Wow!  Karen has something really interesting here.  Let's all listen."  I am also really getting to know my students math abilities in a more deeper level, which allows me to guide my instruction and learning better.  Most of all, my struggling mathematicians are moving along and not stuck anymore.

How do you use Math Workshop or Daily 5 Math?
Have you read Math Exchanges?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gratitude: Mostly Rosy Style

Well, here it is the day after Christmas and I can't believe that I haven't written a post since October!  (Actually...I can - it has been a wild and crazy and a bit of a stressful fall.)  But, since my blog is titled "A Mostly Rosy Outlook", I will try to focus on the "rosy" part of my life and teaching!
  • Thank you to my Twitter PLN for keeping me entertained, informed and connected.  Even though I have mostly lurked this fall you continue to amaze, impress and motivate!
  • Thank you to old colleagues for keeping in touch and maintaining our friendships even though you were moved to a different school due to budget cuts.
  • Thank you to my new grade level colleagues for making me laugh and helping to create a supportive grade level team.
  • Thank you to my husband and family for always listening and supporting me while I complain, cry and rejoice about my teaching life.
  • Thank you to my students for helping me to stay focused on the joyful moments. 

Find joy in each day.  Keep'n it "Mostly Rosy".  Enjoy this video.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Work on Writing with Blogging

Mrs. Rosenquist's Classroom Blog
Last year I jumped into blogging with my class and they LOVED it!  It was so meaningful and authentic.  Each student was motivated to write more and write well.  At first I started with Kidblog and each student had their own blog.  As the year progressed I decided to also use Edublog to create a classroom blog.  I purchased a year's subscription.  I decided to do this because I like all the added features Edublog had, including uploading media and use of widgets.  So, let me tell you how I began.

I have 3 desktop computers, with 1 connected to the Smartboard.  There is no computer lab at our school or laptops on carts either.  I know of teachers out there in my PLN that have more and some that have less - so I will not complain (at this time).  I had heard that a local teacher center had Netbooks that you could check out - so I visited the center and checked out 11 Netbooks.  I got to use them for the whole year because nobody else asked for them!  But, now the problem.  There was no wireless available near my classroom - it was only available in the library.  So, because I don't give up I contacted my superintendent and told him of my dilemma.  Hurray! A wireless port was installed near my room!

Introducing blogging
First I introduced my class to blogging.  I explained what a blog was, we looked at the different parts of a blog, and talked about the purpose of blogging at school and outside of school.  Throughout the year I also discussed being safe on the Internet.  This is a great way to discuss the concept of strangers.

How to write a quality comment?
This was the first thing I taught my students how to do.  My plan, once we got started was to write a post on Kidblog, and then have then make a comment.  Mrs. Yollis' Classroom Blog and Mrs. Kathleen Morris and her second grade blog were the biggest help and inspiration for me.  It was important that I find quality blogs with quality comments for my students to use as models for their own comments!  In addition Mrs. Yollis' class has the best video to teach students what to include in a quality comment!  As my class watched the video, I asked my students to remember at least 3 things they learned about writing a quality comment.  Eventually, we wrote our own tips for writing a comment in our classroom.

Problems Encountered with Typing on the Computer
The first problem we encountered was how L-O-N-G it took my students to type and how difficult it was for them to compose anything of quality as they typed.  So, I now have my students plan and write their comments in a notebook first.  That way they can compose their comment over several days if necessary and proofread their writing more easily.  I can also look it over as well.  As for the typing speed, I would have to live with that.  We just don't have the time or technology for keyboarding skills.  I often let students write comments with a partner too and this was very successful.  The other problem, related to typing speed was that once they were on the computer typing they had to finish typing during our work session or their comment would not get posted.  You can't save a comment as a draft like you can a post.  One way to get around this is if you are moderating your comments - have the student post the unfinished comment, and as the moderator you can open up the comment for them to revise at a later date.  Just don't approve the comment until they are finished.  This got a bit confusing last year because I couldn't keep track of who had finished!  This year I plan on keeping a sign up list to keep track.  Now, eventually your students will want to comment on other class blogs and then they must finish their comment during that work session.

Daily 5 - Work on Writing - Launching Blogging this year
This year on Day 5 of school I began doing the pre-teaching necessary before launching our Work on Writing daily.  Here's what that included:

  • What is a blog?  What are the parts of a blog?
  • What is the difference between a blog and a post?
  • Watching Mrs. Yollis' video about writing quality comments.
  • Reading comments on other blogs to notice how many of the qualities they included.
  • Shared writing of comments on other blogs and Wonderopolis.
  • Shared writing of a post for our blog.
  • Constant discussions of Internet Safety interspersed throughout.
On Friday I partnered my students and asked them to write a comment to a post I had written on our blog about Wonderopolis.  They were so excited and eager.  I was so eager and excited that I nearly forgot to discuss our Work on Writing "rules" that would become the basis for our Anchor chart I plan on doing this upcoming week.  They stayed on task for about 10 minutes!  Volume control will probably be the biggest challenge.

NOTE: It is now the 21st day of school, as I finish writing this post.  I have been out of the classroom 4 days already for training and testing - this of course disrupts teaching and getting routines established.  The wireless port got removed over the summer, so I have hit a little bump in the road.  But "the computer guy" tells me he can install a wireless port if I remove one desktop computer.  I have decided to do that so I can use my little netbooks that I borrowed again this year.  But blogging does continue - we are writing posts together as a shared writing experience.  With 25 students I just haven't found a way to manage them on the desktop computers.

I would love to hear from teachers who blog with their class, teachers who want to or have just begun!  How's it going for you?  Any helpful hints for me?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Launching Read to Self

Meeting area and new bean bag chairs (compliments of my mom).
Book Baskets all organized and ready to go!

So, I got through the first week of school!  Exciting, exhausting, humid and hot!

As I said in a previous post I am dedicated to fully implementing the Daily 5 this year and incorporating CAFE strategies as well.  So, on Tuesday, the first day of school we launched Read to Self and created our first anchor chart!  It felt all official and I was a bit nervous about doing it "right", which is so silly because I have always used independent, self-selected reading as the center of my previous reading workshop.  It's not all that different.  It went pretty well I think.  Most of the students were so excited to get their book boxes and settle into Read to Self.  Only one minor problem occurred during my "reading is so fabulous - I love to read - books are wonderful - aren't we so excited to become better readers" speech! One student kept mumbling his commentary on reading - things like, "I hate to read." or "No! Books aren't cool."  I ignored it for awhile, but I could see his goal was to disrupt the lesson and gain everyones attention.  So, I said it was okay if he didn't like books and reading, but I did.  And his comments were hurting my feelings and making me sad. He stopped with the comments.  More on this student later.  (Hmm...think he might be the barometer student?)

I used Mo Willems' Piggie and Elephant: There Is A Bird On Your Head to model 2 ways to read the first day. (read the pictures and read the words) Then on Day 2 I taught them 2 more ways to read the book.  You heard me might.  Two more ways - retell the story and reread the story.  I teach 4 ways to read a book.  Second graders come to me with the idea that fast is better - and getting done with lots of books fast is even better! I value rereading for so many reasons and I want my students to value it also.  Rereading seems to also help them see what they missed, slow down and think while they are reading.  Coming from first grade they often think reading is just reading the words.  (When I explained I was going to show them 2 ways to read a book I asked, "Does anyone know one way I could read this book?" Insert the sound of crickets here.  Finally, one teacher-pleasing little hand went up and said, "You sound it out?")

My Barometer Student Students

On the first day, my barometer student was a sweet, but easily distracted boy that after 1 minute was more interested in telling other children what to do than focusing on his own reading.  On day 2, I modeled inappropriate behavior myself - doing exactly what he did the previous day.  I asked for a volunteer to model appropriate behavior - and my little friend volunteered.  Awesome!  He did much better the rest of the week, but is definitely a key student to watch.  Now, back to my friend I mentioned above - the interrupter.  He did fine the first 2 days, but by day 3 he had decided he was going to either just sit and suck on his water bottle or build towers with his school supplies and water bottle.  So, another model of appropriate behavior was necessary by the start of Day 4.  I asked for volunteers, and yes, he volunteered.  Awesome!  He got lots of compliments and did fine that day.  I squeezed in another Read to Self practice at the end of the day Friday and he did well then.  It was my little distracted friend that acted as my barometer then.

We reached only 5 minutes of Read to Self.  Gotta work on that stamina!

I will write about how I introduced CAFE strategies on another post.

Next week I will teach them how to select good-fit, or just-right books.  I also hope to introduce Work on Writing too.

How do you I think I did?  Be honest!

How are you doing with the Daily 5?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Daily 5 and CAFE - A New Adventure Begins!

So last year I started to use the Daily 5.  Well, it was more like:  experiment and dabble with the concept.  I had read the book a few years back and was very intrigued, but filed the book on my shelf and decided the reading workshop method I was using worked fine.

Want to know what happened to make me change my mind and take the book off my shelf?

It's a little complicated, but here goes.  Over the last several years I have pulled away from doing so many guided reading groups and have begun conferring much more.  But with growing class sizes and only 1 reading workshop period available for conferring it would sometimes take me 2 weeks to meet with all my second graders.  And don't even talk to me about the pull outs for AIS and Speech and ESL and OT.  This was so frustrating.  The Daily 5 schedule would give me more time for conferring since I would have the whole literacy block to schedule conferences.  I also thought it might minimize the impact pull outs had on my very needy students.  Hmm.... this was sounding interesting.  I started to key into any twitter conversation about The Daily 5 and I started lurking around during the weekly #d5chat.

The next thing that happened to push me towards The Daily 5 was blogging.  Not me blogging, but the class blogging!  Lack of a computer lab and only a few computers in the class meant we couldn't blog as a whole class.  So, this is when my experiment began!

My Daily 5 3 Experiment

My students had 3 choices - Independent Reading, Blogging, and Word Study.  I stuck with the terms that I had used for years and had also introduced at the beginning of the year.  We only checked-in once, at our first meeting of the day.  Some days we only had 2 rounds, or sessions as my students called them.  I will just say - MY STUDENTS LOVED IT! And so did I!  It wasn't difficult to add the choices because my workshop was already up and running - my students worked independently and were building their stamina.  I realized these were things I had always done in my class!

What Next?

The beginning of a new school year is a week away!  I have decided to begin the year with The Daily 5... and call it The Daily 5. (I really never called it anything last year.)  I am worried about the Listen to Reading because of the lack of computers and because we use them for blogging...but I am just going to figure it out as we go!  My Work on Writing will primarily be blogging.  I am a bit hesitant about using the term Read to Self because for so many years I used the term Independent Reading.  I know it is weird, but I liked that my second graders understood the word and used the term regularly.  I also used this term because it was different than Free Choice reading in my class.  Free Choice was read anything you want, with anyone you want.  Independent reading was just-right or good fit books by yourself.  I have also done Partner Reading in the past - with assigned partners.  Last year I gave Read to Someone a try and my students liked it and did well - we just never incorporated it into the choices.


I bought The Cafe Book last week and read it from cover to cover.  What was I waiting for???!!! Fabulous book, even if you don't use The Daily 5 or CAFE.  I was already posting the strategies I taught (or trying), and I had been using Beanie Baby reading strategies that I had found posted online years ago.  So, using CAFE is a natural progression for me.  The added bonus is I will have lots of support from my PLN on twitter and I have purchased a years subscription to

So, I am excited to begin the Daily 5 and CAFE officially.  The Bulletin Board is ready to go.  And my conferring notebook is undergoing a makeover this evening!

Do you use the Daily 5 or CAFE in your classroom?  Are you considering reading the books or using The Daily 5 or CAFE?  Do you have any suggestions or questions?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Goals for the New School Year

A couple of weeks ago Louise (@frugalteacher) tweeted about her New School Year Resolutions and announced a Link up party at her website, The Frugal Teacher.  I always look back on the last school year and set goals for myself for the upcoming new year.  But I like the idea of sharing it publicly, so here goes!

1. Blogging - Last year I started blogging - both in and out of the classroom.  Here at A Mostly Rosy Outlook my goal is to post more frequently.  Last year I started Mrs. Rosenquist's Classroom Blog and it was a learn as you go type of situation.  I would like to increase our blog traffic and the amount of comments we get too.  And of course continue to find authentic and meaningful ways to incorporate our blog into our daily class routines and curriculum.  I also need to write some posts about my blogging experiences!!!

2. Daily 5 - I read the book several years ago, and last year I finally started to experiment with using the Daily 5.  When I say experiment, it was more like dabbling - but I liked it and so did my students.  I need to learn more and work it better.  I don't know anyone in my district that uses the Daily 5 or has heard of it - so I need to connect more with other educators in my PLN.  I subscribe to The Sisters website (the free part), but I am considering purchasing a subscription.  I need to buy the CAFE book!!!  I need to write some posts about how I am doing the Daily 5 too!

3. Skype - It was a goal last year, but all I did was sign up for skype - hope I remember my password.  I have to figure this out and do it!  Do I hook up the webcam to my smartboard or use a desktop computer?  This is a must-do this year!!!!

4. Remember to take care of myself and enjoy what I do - Yes, I needed to make this a goal!  Taking care of myself means regular exercise and eating well.  Sometimes I am too tired after school to go to Zumba - but I always feel better once I go!  When I exercise regularly I can handle the stresses of teaching and life -which helps me to be a kinder friend, wife, mother, teacher, and colleague.  And I need to remember that I love teaching - it is an honor and privilege to work with my students and their families - I need to remember this and not let the current climate regarding teachers and public education get me down!

So there's my goals for the upcoming 2012-13 school year!  What do you think of them?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Picture Book 10 for 10 Event

It's time for my TOP TEN PICTURE BOOKS post!  Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning along with Cathy at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community are sponsoring August 10 for 10 Picture Books Event (#pb10for10).  This is the second year that I am participating and I am very excited because this year I have my own blog to post my picks on - last year I used google docs.

Some of these books are newer and others have been around awhile.  I am sure that given this task next week or next month my list would definitely change!  Either way, these ten books will definitely be read and reread in my second grade classroom during the upcoming school year.

Pete the Cat, Rocking in My School Shoes written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean.

I just LOVE books that I can sing!  In this book Pete the Cat visits different areas of his school - all while "rocking in his school shoes".  I read sang this book to my students at the beginning of the school year.  It never stayed on the shelf for the first 2 months of school.  You could always find a group of students sitting or laying on the carpet reading singing the story.  I can't wait to get a copy of Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons!

Enemy Pie written by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King

Want to know the perfect ingredient for getting rid of your number one enemy?  Then read Enemy Pie.  A great story about making friends, told with humor and even some suspense.  My students love guessing all the possible gross and horrible ingredients that might be in the pie.  My students love this book.  There is even a Reading Rainbow episode that features the book narrated by Ed Harris.
Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse

So what is a reversible poem?  First, you read it forward.  Then you read it backwards and it's a new poem!  Awesome and clever!  These reverso poems are all related to familiar fairy tales which my second graders love.  When I first introduced the book, I chose 2 or 3 poems to read because I thought the rest of the poems might be too advanced.  Was I wrong!  This books was constantly off the shelf during partner or free choice reading and students often asked to read some of the poems aloud to the class.

Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Kevin Henkes is an author that I use constantly in my classroom.  His books are well written and I use them as mentor texts in both reading and writing workshop.  But most of all my students love his characters and can relate to their problems.  I chose Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse because of the theme of forgiveness.  Lilly loves her teacher and when she gets in trouble for playing with her purse at school she gets so angry at her teacher she writes a mean note.  I think it is a great book to help talk about doing something that you regret and the act of forgiveness.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Another author I just love!!  It was so hard to choose one of her books, but The Keeping Quilt has a special place in my heart because I was fortunate enough to hear Ms. Polacco tell the story herself (without the book) while holding the quilt.  By the end of the story I was crying.  She is a great storyteller - in person or through her books.  And her illustrations are so full of emotions.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Mr. Bear is looking for his hat.  Who took his hat?  How does he get it back?  What a fabulously funny, and delightful book.  The illustrations are very clever and definitely help tell the story.

Never Smile At A Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember by Steve Jenkins

Steve Jenkins illustrations are stunning - he uses cut and torn paper collage.  He has a collection of wonderful non-fiction books that I highly recommend.  This book describes a variety of animals and their unique way of protecting themselves or catching prey- which may be dangerous to humans.  Great way to introduce adaptation.

The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

What happens when a fuzzy tennis ball bounces down a prairie dog hole?  A great big fuzz frenzy!  This story is so hilarious and the little prairie dogs are so endearing. There is lots of clever dialogue and I love doing different voices as I read the story.  The best part is when my students start laughing so much they make me start laughing too.  A perfect read aloud full of descriptive language.  A great little story with a big message of sharing, teamwork and community.

Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Annabelle finds a box of yarn that appears to be magical.  She knits herself a sweater and then goes on to knit for her little town - the people, animals, buildings, etc.  But then an evil and greedy archduke steals the yarn for himself, only to find out the magic yarn doesn't work for him!  I haven't read this book to my students yet - I look forward to sharing it with them.

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival written by Kirby Larson & Mary Nethery and illustrated by Jean Cassels

This is the true story of Bobbi the dog and Bob Cat - 2 pets that were abandoned during the Hurricane Katrina evacuation.  When the animals are finally rescued after roaming the streets of New Orleans rescuers soon realize that the dog is blind and has been relying on Bob Cat to survive.  Very touching story.  Great non-fiction read aloud - reads like a story.

So that's my top ten for this year.  I look forward to reading all the other blog post and their top tens!

Have you read these books?  How do you use them in your classroom?

What are your favorite picture books?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Let's Talk Biography - NFPB Challenge

Yikes! I can't believe it's been over a month since my last post and my promise to participate in the Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge.  I have been reading non-fiction picture books, but I have neglected my blog.  So, without any further excuses.... let's talk biography!

Children's biographies have come a long way over the last several years.  Traditionally, biographies are written in chronological order, with each section or chapter describing an important event in the person's life.  The book usually reads like a timeline and begins at birth or childhood, and ends in adulthood.  I have a basket of these books in my class library.  They are great for second graders because the text structure is so predictable. The only problem is that my students rarely select books from this basket, even after I talk up the titles.  These newer biographies are written like a fiction story.  You might call them literary biographies!  They have proven to be great read alouds in my class.  They entertain with exciting characters who happen to be real people.  They also allow for me to introduce important historical concepts to my younger students.  And I notice students are looking in the Biography basket more often!

The Camping Trip That Changed America written by Barbara Rosenstock and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

This book tells the story of how our national parks began.  I am considering it a biography because it introduces two very important historical figures.  

The book describes the camping trip in Yosemite that naturalist John Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt on during the spring of 1903.  This small moment in history is responsible for the creation of our national park system.

I really love how the author begins the book comparing Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir.  They have many differences, but one thing in common.  They both love the outdoors and nature.

The story is told as a simple narrative as the two travel and camp through the Yosemite Valley.  The illustrations and narrative work together to describe the natural setting - from the giant Sequoia, to El Capitan and Half Dome.  The author uses John and Teddy's conversations to weave factual information into the story naturally.  Teddy, as avid outdoors man enjoys his time in the Yosemite Valley and listens to Muir as he describes how the valley was formed and how old the trees are that they sleep under.  Muir shares his concerns about saving this great wilderness for future generations.

As they arrive in the Mariposa Grove, the reader needs to turn the book sideways to show how tall the the mighty sequoia trees were! My favorite part is where the illustrator used 2 pages to paint the giant sequoias.  Teddy and Muir appear as tiny silhouettes on horseback riding through the great trees.

This book does a wonderful job of telling an important, but probably little known story of how our national parks began. but gives the story a personal touch because we get to go on the camping trip with Teddy and John!  

Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

I absolutely love this book!  It tells the story of Lincoln's growing up in the Midwest, his failures and successes.  It explains how he was self-educated and was always reading.  We learn about Lincoln's first experience with slavery while he is visiting New Orleans.  The painting of slaves chained together is so moving, it brings tears to your eyes.  

The story gives us a sense of how long and sad the Civil War was, and how dedicated Lincoln was to keeping our country together.  What this book does best is show us how human Lincoln was.  He didn't just "free the slaves", as most elementary students can tell you. The book helps the reader get a sense of Lincoln's thinking and beliefs. 

This book was a great conversation starter for my students.  As we read the book, we paused to talk about why Lincoln didn't go to school, why there was slavery, the Civil War, and the emancipation proclamation.  The illustrations captured my students attention.  These were real people and the illustrations brought them to life. The illustrations not only compliment and work with the text - they are a story on their own.  They show such emotion.

Don't wait until next President's Day to read this book to your students!

Words Set Me Free - The Story of Young Frederick Douglas written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated James E. Ransome

This is such an inspirational and moving story of Frederick Douglas's childhood and growing up, before he became a leader of the anti-slavery movement.

The story is told by little Frederick, which allows the reader to see the world of slavery from his perspective.  This immediately gets my students' attention because a story about a child is more real to them.  My students were riveted as they learned about the horrible hardships of slavery.  As a child of only 6 years old Frederick worked from sun up to sun down.  The illustration of a group of slave children eating from a trough was shocking and helped my second graders understand the inhumanity of slavery. 

But little Frederick is strong, smart and very brave.  He learns to read and write which is very dangerous for a slave.  Throughout the book Frederick reflects on his knowledge of what happens to slaves that learn to read.  At a young age, Frederick realizes that his freedom is connected to his ability to read and write and he secretly meets with other slaves to teach them to read and write as well.  

The author provides a note at the end describing how Frederick eventually becomes free, and tells about important events in his adult life.  

Here Come the Girl Scouts! written by Shana Corey and illustrated by Hadley Hooper

This book tells about the life of Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low and how she founded the Girl Scouts.  

The Victorian Era and life for little girls and grown up women was very different than life today.  Daisy was very unusual for her time, and this book does a very nice job of showing that.  The book tells how "proper" young ladies are suppose to behave, but Daisy had her own ideas.

The book tells how Daisy got the idea for Girl Scouts and how she started meetings.  You learn about the first uniforms and badges too.  Throughout the book there are quotes from Daisy about Girl Scouts, service and community.  The illustrations are simple and sort of remind me of 50's style drawings.

There is a separate section at the end that tells more about Girl Scouts and their founder, Juliette Gordon Low.

If you were ever a Girl Scout or you know a Girl Scout you must read this book!  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge

Last week I read Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca to my class.  Before I began the story I asked my students if they had ever heard of the Apollo moon missions.  Only 1 student had any prior knowledge of this historic event!  I was shocked and saddened!  How could this be?  The Apollo missions were and are a most sacred memory for me.  My dad would wake me early in the morning so I could watch the rockets launch on television. As a child growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry and Adler Planetarium many times, but remember being so excited for a special exhibition that had a real moon rock!  I was 9 years old when Neil Armstrong spoke those historic words, "This is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."  A couple of years ago I finally got to visit the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.  When I got to the Apollo display it was so emotional for me that I had tears in my eyes!

Watch a book trailer for Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.

What does this story have to do with the Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge?  This experience and other's like it have got me thinking about why readers choose non-fiction and how they choose it.

I chose to read this book to my class because the basket with all the planet books is very popular with my students.  My students love reading about planets and are especially knowledgeable about Pluto and its recent demotion from "planet status" to "dwarf planet".  But mostly I think I chose this book because I love the topic and this book.  I wanted to share this with my students.  So after I got over myself, I realized that my students background knowledge was different than mine because they had different experiences than I, and that was okay.  Imagine, they weren't even born yet on 9/11.  And their parents probably weren't alive for the Apollo missions either!  I needed to get some perspective!  But I also realized that it is important as a classroom teacher and reading role model that I continue sharing books about topics I love.  After all, I do the same thing with my fiction books.  I get all excited when I share a favorite author or book.  My students know I love Patricia Polacco and that sometimes her stories make me cry.  

It is often difficult to get my students to read non-fiction that doesn't involve animals or planets.  Mostly, I think this is because they have limited background knowledge about many subjects and like many readers they prefer to read about subjects that interest them.  So I know I have to find more ways to get them to read other topics in non-fiction.  One way to do that is to read more non-fiction to them!  I don't read nearly enough non-fiction and when I do I realize it is usually tied into the content areas.  In recent years the amount of non-fiction picture books that are well written and beautifully illustrated seems to have exploded.  So, there are no excuses.  Non-fiction books can provide us a sense of who we are and how we are connected to the world. Non-fiction can connect us to the past and help us understand the present.  I need to read more non-fiction simply because it is enjoyable and can open up my students' eyes to the world around them.  Hopefully this will build their background knowledge and introduce them to new topics that they will fall in love with too.

To help me meet my goal of reading more non-fiction to my students I have decided to participate in the 2012 Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge that  Kid Lit Frenzy and Non-Fiction Book Detectives blogs are hosting this year. I follow both of these blogs and get tons of book ideas for my classroom from these sites. 

Here are my goals for the challenge;

1. I will read at least 4 new non-fiction books each month.  These books might be newly published or just books that are new to me.

2. I will post my reviews on this blog.

Want to learn more about the Apollo Missions, the moon and our universe?

The AAAS Science Netlinks has Lunar Cycle lesson plans that includes a hands-on activity modeling the phases of the moon with a light.  There are directions for observing the moon and background information for teachers.  There are nice interactive activities with printable calendars and worksheets.  My class observes the moon for a month.  I give each student a calendar with the moonrise and moonset times because on some nights the moon rises after their bedtime and they observe it in the morning!  I assign table teams different nights for moon observations and they give a report the following morning.

The AAAS Science Netlinks also has a lesson, called The Moon, which is centered around Frank Asch books.  What I really like about this lesson is that it has a link to Birthday Moons, where students identify and graph the moon phase of their birthdays.  There is also a link to Virtual Moon Phases, if you can't observe the moon directly.

Astronomy Picture of the Day: Each day a photograph or image of our universe is posted by NASA with a brief explanation written by an astronomer.  Share the wonders of our universe with your students!  Don't be intimidated by the science!  Be excited and curious!

The Space Place is a wonderful sight filled with interactive games, videos and other activities about the solar system.

NASA has whole section dedicated to the Apollo Missions including photos, audio and video.