Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cybils Nominations About to Begin...

It's that time of year again. The time when kidlit bloggers and lovers of kidlit get to nominate the books that they just absolutely adored this past year for an award -- specifically a Cybils Award. There are many categories for nominations.

The category I will be watching with great interest in the coming weeks is the Nonfiction Picture Books. So, if you have a favorite book that you think is deserving of an award, please join in the nomination fun!

For more specifics on the Nonfiction Picture Book category, I have included the following information:

"Kids love interesting non-fiction books. Kids love information books. And the sky’s the limit for kids' interests. The Nonfiction Picture Book category is looking for stunning, visual nominees that capture the curiosity and wonder of children of all ages by providing lots of great information.

From science to art, history to sports, or current events to biographies, will the book be picked up because of its fresh approach, kid appeal, fabulous illustrations, and or photography? If yes, then nominate it!

Nonfiction picture books are 48 pages or less and aimed at younger readers. Longer books (48 pages or more), denser text divided into chapters and/or a mature theme belong in the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category. The committee refers to the Library of Congress classification as a transferred referred to appropriate committees.

Previous winners in this category include The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton,Nic Bishop’s Frogs (2008), Lightship by Brian Floca (2007), and An Egg is Quiet by Diana Ashton (2006)."

--Jone MacCulloch, category organizer

So, if you have a book that sounds like the above description, please head on over to the Cybils website to make your voice heard! Nominations begin October 1st.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Using My RSS reader (or not?)

I love the ability to subscribe to blogs and news feeds and have those posts delivered right to my own computer. As I continue to do some reflection prior to Friday's first face to face meeting for our year-long PLP experience, my focus right now is on how I use my RSS reader.

Ironically, at dinner a few nights ago, two friends and I were talking and I mentioned how stockpiled my Google Reader was currently. I have many subscriptions, and some of those subscriptions are to very prolific writers, so I find myself feeling overwhelmed at times.

Most, but not all, my subscriptions are to teachers and librarians like myself, people who love children's books and love to post about the new ones they've read. I count on some of those people to help keep me current on what's available so I can in turn make those titles available to my own students. I especially rely on these people around Newbery time, as Bill and I have been trying to read the book that wins the last few years. :)

Recently , I've added several blogs to my RSS reader who spend a lot of time thinking about 21st Century Literacy. Some are colleagues and others I found via Twitter or by looking at others' blog rolls.

The subscriptions that I am very loyal about are a close group of friends. I don't always stop and leave a comment, but I try very hard to stay current with their thinking. I truly feel that their thinking helps me be a smarter and more reflective educator. And, on the days that their posts were more personal, well I just like knowing what's new in their lives.

I am the queen of scrolling through new items and only looking at titles and first sentences that really grab my attention. I used to feel like I needed to click on each new item and read it in its entirety. I use the RSS tool differently now, and the scrolling works for me. Sure, there is a chance I might miss out on a really good post, but I think the odds are in my favor that I will find more than I miss.

Since I haven't even scrolled past some of my subscriptions lately, I think I need to go and get busy -- my Google Reader has 191 posts just waiting for me. Time to get scrolling! You never know from where the next great idea or piece of thinking might come.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen and Heroes!!

I read The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future way back in the summer, and I remember roaring with laughter as I read. Unfortunately, it got buried in my pile of books to review, and it's been sitting there ever since. Truly unfortunate because I just know my class this year is really going to enjoy this book. I imagine hearing a lot of yucks around the room as they race from one funny event to the next.

I personally was hooked right at the beginning when the author (Dav Pilkey in disguise) shares that Ook and Gluk are cavemen that live in Caveland, Ohio (a tip of the hat to Cleveland!). Other reasons I think The Adventures of Ook and Gluk are a riot:
  • The characters are diverse -- Ook has string blond hair (and a missing front tooth) and Gluk has a fabulous Afro.
  • The villian's name is Big Chief Goppernopper.
  • Chief Goppernopper's henchmen can never get his name straight -- lots of funny humor in some of the names they do call him
  • One of the henchman reminds me of Sonny Bono (not sure why that amuses me, but it does).
  • Ook and Gluk have all sorts of colorful names for their enemies ("smelly crud face" and "pee-brain goof juice" just to name a few)
  • A kung-fu master that gives Ook and Gluk some of his knowledge (or rather he tries to give his knowledge)
  • Time travel devices that are pretty ridiculous.
  • Lots of great barfing as plot devices.
If you're looking for a fun book to hand to a child that loves humor in his/her books, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk : Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, should be right up their alley. I feel fairly certain that when I share this book with my class, there will be MANY people who want to be the first one to read it. I just feel bad that it took me so long to get this book in their hands. :)

Someone else who thought this book was lots of fun: Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reflections on 21st Century Learning

I have been fortunate enough to take part in a unique learning opportunity. Along with five other teachers in my building, I will be participating in a year-long learning experience with PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) facilitators. What makes this a truly unique opportunity is that the six of us will be joining with other groups of teachers from across the country to think about 21st century learning / literacy practices in our classrooms and our schools.

Our first meeting will be a face to face meeting with all the participants on October 1 at our school. As that day-long experience is approaching, I started to reflect on where I am personally with my own thinking in regard to 21st century learning / literacy, and also how I have incorporated that thinking into our regular classroom routines.

I personally use several Web 2.0 tools on a regular basis -- socializing on Facebook, following topics of interest to me on Twitter, maintaining a blog about children's books here with Bill at Literate Lives, keeping abreast of other bloggers on my Google Reader, bookmarking topics of interest on my account to refer back to at a later date, tracking my own reading (as well as the reading of others) using the Good Reads site, and using a wiki with my students as another platform for composing/revising/editing pieces.

What I've come to realize is that I personally have a difficult time balancing all those tools and all the work that goes into being a classroom teacher. One of my biggest hopes for this year is that I will learn how to integrate these tools in a way that is more efficient and meaningful. When I use those tools I mentioned one at a time, it could easily take an entire morning or afternoon, and that isn't even taking into account the fact that I will most likely get sidetracked by something else of interest while I am perusing these tools.

We've been asked to do some "pregame" activities before our first meeting next Friday. There have been many amazing videos to watch, blog posts to read, and several thoughtful articles all focused on the topic of Web 2.0 tools in the school/classroom, and whether or not we are giving our students the best tools to be successful in the world in which they live.

One of the videos I watched focused on the idea of "connectivism" -- all the connected ways in which students can learn. This video and others focus on some different roles for teachers. The ones that really spoke to me were the ideas of teachers as learning architects, teachers as modelers, and teachers as learning concierges. The point was made that we can't "do" school the way we've always done it; we need to rethink the ways we enable students to learn.

But I think the biggest concept I am taking away from what I've read and seen so far, are the 3 C's -- contribute, create, and collaborate. These words are what Web 2.0 tools allow students to do. Learning should no longer be a passive activity, but rather one in which the students actively participate. They need to create things on Web 2.0, they need to contribute to ideas that are already out on Web 2.o, and they need to collaborate with others using Web 2.0 as their toolbox.

Now, if I can just figure out that balance thing when it comes to Web 2.0 tools, that would be great! My goal will be to increase my efficiency as I use these tools, and to help my students see the power of being part of a larger community than just our classroom when it comes to learning. I am grateful to be learning alongside some very smart people as we all tackle these type of issues and are introduced by PLP to a world of new possibilities.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Magnificent 12 Author Michael Grant Visits

Sally at Cover to Cover has offered me other authors since I move into the library, but this was the first chance I had to take her up on her offer. I reviewed The Magnificent 12 over the summer from an ARC that she gave me, liked it, knew the kids would like it, but as I've said before, fantasy is just not my thing.

Author Michael Grant was starting his publicity tour for the book and on his stop in Columbus they were looking for a couple of schools for him to visit. Franki and I quickly agreed and the wheels were set in motion. First it was decided that he would only speak to fifth graders at my school because the book is really best suited for them. It would also be a special thing for them to enjoy by themselves and since we were only going to have a little over an hour with Michael a small intimate group was best.

Leading up to the visit I showed the awesome trailer at Mag 12, the official website. We sold about 30 books leading up to the event and the kids were excited to meet the author and get his autograph.

Just let me say that Michael Grant did not disappoint. I knew from reading his book that the guy had a great if somewhat warped sense of humor and the kids were laughing throughout his presentation, which, by the way, was unveiled at Bailey for the very first time. It was great for out fifth graders to have an author that was speaking only to readers at their level. It was a new experience to hear a fantasy author tell them that they didn't have to only "write what they know" as they have heard so many times from authors. His big thing was WRITE WHAT YOU WANT, JUST WRITE! What a wonderful message. As he signed the books he was engaging with the kids, a real natural and even received a jar of home made jelly from one of the kids, BONUS!

When the kids were gone I got a chance to talk to Michael not only about his books, but his wife, Katherine Applegate's books as well. All in all, it was an enjoyable morning with an interesting author who provided our kids with an experience they will remember!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thinking About Smart Boards

I was fortunate enough this year to have a Smart Board installed in my classroom. I have paid attention to the online thinking of others who already have some type of Smart Board, and how they are using it in their classroom. Like many others, I want to try to find ways to make this technological tool as interactive as possible; a tool that doesn't belong to the teacher, but rather something the entire class will use.

That being said, I thought I'd share how I've used the Smart Board in our classroom the past four weeks.
  • Attendance and lunch count - the first things my students do each day when they come into the room is check in by moving their name into the correct slot for their lunch choice. It was a simple thing to do, but it allows my students to touch the board each and every day. Not academic, but it's a start.
  • Read alouds - When we start a read aloud, I take a picture of the front cover with our document camera. Then, on that page, we mark all our pre-thinking about the book based on the front cover, back cover, and inside flaps. For our first read aloud, I also modeled note-taking so that they could start to see how to use their reader's notebooks to track their thinking about the read aloud. I used to do these same things using chart paper; it is just so much easier to go back and forth from one page of notes to the other on the Smart Board.
  • Writing workshop - I have done a lot of modeling of my own writing in the beginning of the school year using the Smart Board. In addition, students share their own writing pieces using the Elmo feature of the document camera. I have to admit that the picture is very easy for others to see. I will soon be modeling revision and editing skills -- I visualize taking a picture of a piece of writing, and then marking all over it. Once students know some of the skills, they will able to do the same.
  • Word study - Again, I used to do these things on chart paper, but now, every time we do a word observation, we do it on the Smart Board. It involves both teacher and students observing a word and recording their observations. Another powerful visual.
  • Reading workshop - I sound like a broken record, but some of the work that is up on the Smart Board for reading workshop are the charts we used to do together on chart paper. Don't get me wrong; I actually still have some anchor charts up in the classroom for reading, writing, and word study. However, there are some charts that we can access each time we come to the floor for our reading mini-lesson / those are the ones for which I used the Smart Board.
  • Math and content subjects - When I found out I would be getting the Smart Board, I had to decide whether or not to keep the white board that was in my classroom. I decided not to, so the Smart Board becomes the place we model and practice different problems. In addition, it was again a great visual when we were constructing simple food chains and connecting them to make food webs during our current life science unit.
  • Modeling - The clear visual aspect of the Smart Board is excellent for any type of modeling I have needed to do.
After only using it for four weeks, my thinking about the uses of a Smart Board are still in the developmental stages. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions about other ways I could use the Smart Board that won't just make it another presentation tool. I truly want it to be more than just a glorified overhead. Thanks for any help you can give with this thinking.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cybils 2010

It's that time of the year again -- time to start thinking about nominations for the Cybil Awards. I am in awe of how the kidlit blogging community has pulled together to present their own award to deserving books, and will be celebrating the 5th annual Cybils Awards this year -- awards giving to the most deserving of books in the following categories:
  • easy readers / short chapter books
  • fantasy and science fiction
  • fiction picture books
  • graphic novels
  • middle grade fiction
  • non-fiction picture books
  • non-fiction: middle grade and young adult
  • poetry
  • young adult fiction
If you don't know about these awards, I would encourage you to bookmark the Cybils site and follow as the nominations for these categories begin pretty soon. There are some wonderful titles in multiple categories that I find each year! Since the categories for the Cybils don't exactly align with the ALA award categories, it makes it fun to see when books win both an ALA award as well as a Cybil Award. As a 5th grade teacher, I am always checking out the nominations for the middle grade fiction category. I also have a soft spot for the non-fiction picture book category.

That being said, I'm very excited to share that I'll be serving on the Cybils non-fiction picture book panel again this year. I'm thrilled to be working with the other panelists, guided by our fearless leader, Jone. I look forward to reading close to 100 books or more, trying with my fellow panelists, to narrow it down to the seven most worthy of being a finalist in this category. A tough job, but I get an opportunity to see so many wonderful non-fiction picture books. I look forward to the nominations beginning!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Another Great Life Science Title

I'm always on the look-out for new book titles to add to my science picture book collection, especially the books I've collected that deal with life science. In my 5th grade classroom, we talk about food chains, food webs, and the interdependence of living things within an ecosystem.

Several years ago, one of my colleagues (thanks, Sarah!) introduced me to a great book called Butternut Hollow Pond. It was a wonderful way to look at a pond ecosystem and how the living things within that ecosystem interact. It has served as a wonderful "kick off" to this life science unit for the last several years.

After acquiring Butternut Hollow, I started to look for books about other ecosystems and the living things within them. Looking at this wonderful collection of picture books I have brought into our classroom library is so much better than the science textbook reading!!

So, when I stumbled upon a new title (new to me; it was published in 2009) last spring at a conference, I had to have it. Whoo Goes There by Jennifer A. Ericsson and illustrated by Bert Kitchen is a delight, and a wonderful companion book to Butternut Hollow Pond. The reader is introduced to Owl, who just wants something to eat, and is really craving a tasty mouse. Page after page shows us the different animals Owl sees in his ecosystem and why they won't work for him. More importantly, the author shares with the reader what the other animals in the ecosystem are eating. Perfect follow-up to food chains!

It is written lyrically, with repeated refrains. It is a nonfiction picture book that would appeal to many ages through elementary. I think I will read this right after we dissect our owl pellets next week, and find the skeletons and skulls of the animals the owls have eaten. What fun to wrap up that hands-on activity with such a lovely picture book.

I'm delighted to put Whoo Goes There? in my classroom library.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Kirby Larson Brings the Dear America Series Back

I was a huge fan of the Dear America Series by Scholastic. It was almost an obsession of mine to read each and every one of the diaries and to make them available to the students in my classroom. I read the Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, a Pilgrim girl on the Mayflower, to my class every year. I never told them whether it was fiction or non-fiction, but we had the discussion many times during the reading. Finally, in the end I would show them that it was historical fiction and we would talk about the historical parts of the story. That's how well written these journals are, the question is always there, fiction or non-fiction?

When they stopped producing new diaries, I was very disappointed, so imagine my excitement when I found out that Scholastic is going to re-release the Dear America Series in a new format. In addition to that there are going to be new diaries, starting with The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us: Seattle, Washington, 1941. And to add more exciting news to the already beyond exciting news, one of my favorite authors, Kirby Larson, was chosen to write it!

Piper Davis is the daughter of a Baptist minister who serves in a Japanese Baptist church in Seattle. Pastor Davis is a single dad who is doing the best he can and has high expectations for his youngest daughter Piper. The journal starts in November 1941 when the biggest things in Piper's life are boys, clothes and not being able to wear Tangee lipstick to school. It all changes when her big brother Hank enlists in the Navy and is shipped to Pearl Harbor after basic training. Everything seems swell in Piper's world until December 7 and the tragic attack at Pearl Harbor.

Between the secrecy of the Navy not publishing information about survivors, her father's strict beliefs and the changing attitudes toward the Japanese congregation, Piper's world becomes a lot more complicated. She is torn between her friends who say that all Japanese, even American born, are a threat, and her father's congregation, some of whom have been like family to her growing up. Even her father is caught up in the drama as he fights for the rights of his congregation, is threatened by locals who are afraid of the Japanese and travels to speak out for the rights of all Americans. Eventually, and in spite of Pastor Davis' efforts all Japanese are sent to military holding camps. Most of the families from the church are sent to a camp in Idaho and in the end Pastor Davis chooses to follow them. Piper's world, in her opinion, has come to an end when they pack up and move to a desolate place in the middle of no where.

It is here that Piper grows up. She learns the real meaning of friendship, sacrifice, and family. Kirby Larson, as always, does an incredible job of creating a strong female character. Piper is portrayed as a regular teen age girl who enjoys photography and being with her friends. As the story goes on she slowly becomes more complex, not just questioning her father's authority but also the opinions and attitudes of her friends at school. I really like how this growth is shown through the subjects of her photography. Over time her subjects go from friends and family choosing photos that show the emotion and hardship suffered by her Japanese friends.

This book is going to be for my more mature readers, not because of anything inappropriate, but because some of the themes and concepts of the historical events. I'm very excited that Scholastic has decided to add new diaries to the series, and they couldn't have started in a better way!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Junkyard Wonders

The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco is somewhat of a love letter to a truly special teacher, Mrs. Peterson (Mary Lee recently added her to A Year of Reading's list of "Cool Teachers in Children's Literature").

This is a story based on a real event from Polacco's life which makes it all the more effective. Young Trisha had just moved to Michigan to spend a year with her grandmother and her father, and would go to school there, as well. She had some difficulty with reading at her old school, and she was looking forward to a fresh start in Michigan where no one would know she was "dumb". However, on the first day at her new school, Trisha was sent to room 206, otherwise known as The Junkyard.

Every student in The Junkyard was different and unique in some way, and Mrs. Peterson was their amazing teacher. When the students complained about the name of their class, Mrs. Peterson took them on a trip to an actual junkyard to find the beauty in what an object could be. They salvaged some great finds that day, and took them back to their classroom where Mrs. Peterson then challenged them to look at their objects and not ask, "why?", but rather to ask "why not?"

The learning that took place as they came together as a classroom community and incorporated each of their unique gifts into a large class project was amazing. When one of the community members dies because of his unique disease, the group finds it even more important to finish the project that began with him.

The Junkyard Wonders brought to focus again how important it is that we all work together to meet the needs of ALL our students each and every day. And by all, I mean the principal, the teachers, the intervention staff, the support staff, the parents, and the students. The wonder, support, and faith that Mrs. Peterson instilled in her "junkyard wonders" is the gift we all need to give children.

One of my favorite parts of The Junkyard Wonders is the very last page. It is on this page we find out what has happened to some of the students from room 206 -- artistic director of the American Ballet Company in NYC, textile designed who was invited to Paris to work in the fashion industry, an aeronautical engineer for NASA who helped design lunar modules for the Apollo missions, and a prolific writer of wonderful picture books for children. A huge thank you to Mrs. Peterson for seeing all their potential so long ago!