Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2014

I have been sitting here reading blogs for the past two hours with a purring Boston Terrier on my lap (yes, my crazy dog makes this weird vibration when she sleeps that feels just like a purring cat!)  I love getting great ideas from other teachers--even if the grade level is completely different there is usually something that I can take and adjust to fit in my classroom.  Jivey's Top 5 Blog Posts link up has already given me a few things that I am going to try in the New Year.  Hopefully a few of you out there will get an idea or two from my top five (and if you would like to follow me, that would be awesome!)

Theme is something that I always struggled with understanding when I was in school, and I really wanted to figure out a way to give the kids actual strategies for figuring it out....as opposed to my method of choice as a student which was usually just a fingers crossed guess.  I don't know why this was so hard for me--but I remember the tears and frustration. This post explains how I taught the skill of determining theme this year.

Number 4 is a post about the magic of reading.....a trip to a bookstore in Los Angeles...and ways to try to motivate reluctant readers.

Error analysis was the theme of my 3rd most popular blog post.  Why is it that kids can figure out the mistakes of others, but don't see their own?!?

Number 2 is all about talking!  

And the number 1 blog post was about Wacky Buttons!  My kiddos love collecting these as rewards....I love them because they are unique and rather inexpensive.  

Saturday, December 27, 2014


This is what we saw as we got off the bus!
What a December!  The month just flew by for us--but the highlight was Outdoor Science School!  We spent the week before vacation up in the mountains learning about the environment, the planet, and teamwork.  For the majority of our kiddos, camp is the highlight of their sixth grade year. The camp we go to, Camp High Trails, provides a phenomenal experience year after year.  The instructors are full of energy, enthusiasm, and a passion for the outdoors that they share with our students.   The kids get to participate in a variety of activities including archery, dancing, hiking, and rock climbing.  They can hold snakes, work together in team building activities, and perform skits on campfire night.   And this year we had snow! There had been a huge snowstorm the week before we arrived and another storm was predicted.

Many of my students don't have rich and varied life experiences.  Growing up, I remember my mom taking me to museums and plays, to the beach and to the mountains, to historical sites and special events.  I didn't realize it then, but she was building background for me, broadening my knowledge base, and helping me see the bigger picture.  And while technology helps bring the world closer to them, nothing beats an actual experience.

The scene outside the
dining hall window.
We were packed in like sardines on the bus ride up--thanks to a transportation problem--but the kids were really good.  They were so excited when they first saw the snow--that is what they were looking to the most (little did they know that for our sunny Southern California mindsets snow is just fun to visit for a few hours, not to spend a few days tramping around in it.)  Weather was predicted for our ride up, so we had a lot of nervous parents--however, it held off until we arrived.  Just as we were tumbling out of the bus, it started to snow.  It was magical.  
The snow continued to fall for the rest of that day and part of the next one.  For the first time in my fifteen years of attending camp, I had a lot of kids asking me when the bus was coming on Friday--it was so cold!  Now, I know for a lot of you out there, this kind of snow is a regular occurrence--but around here, we shiver and whine when it drops below 55 degrees.  To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, "We can't handle the cold."

However, it was a great week.  We made it home with no problems (usually the bus ride down is really hard on their tummies--if you know what I mean.)  And we sent them off on their winter break.

Even though it is a lot of extra work to get them up there--paperwork, fundraising, countless phone calls & emails, two parent meetings, record keeping, etc--it is so worth it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Last Bookstore

I had a great Saturday....my husband and I went into Downtown LA and I found parking near The Last Bookstore which has been on my list to visit.  When I went to school in Santa Cruz, there was a fabulous bookstore there called Bookshop Santa Cruz--it had a great used book section.  I remember
when it was torn down after the big earthquake of '89 that devastated downtown Santa Cruz.  The new location and building is beautiful--but that old book musty smell was gone.  I was immediately transported back to that today when I walked through the doors of The Last Bookstore.

Not only is it crammed head to toe with tons of books--it is also a place of beauty.  There are many nooks and crannies just waiting to be discovered, chairs scattered throughout the store, and some amazing book displays/constructions.  I could have spent hours and hours there (but the husband--who was a model of patience since I promised him lunch at the Grand Central Market-- wouldn't have been able to make it.) I spent most of my time in the children's section, happily finding great bargains, and promised the upstairs "$1 labyrinth" that I would return another day.  For $31, I purchased 6 hardcover books and 1 paperback--which I considered to be quite a steal. If any of you live near LA or find yourself visiting, I highly recommend you check this place out.

I spent hours reading as a child--my mother would take us to the library regularly, buy us books from the book orders and bookstores, and would introduce me to her childhood favorites. My father was constantly reading and was willing to listen to me prattle on about whatever story I was reading.  Books were an essential part of our lives.  I wish I could say that my students feel the same way--but most of them don't.  The majority of my class read when asked--but rarely more than that.  We just finished the novel Al Capone Does My Shirts and quite a few of them remarked that it had been more than a year since they had read an ENTIRE book.   I congratulated them and cried a bit on the inside.  How is it possible to convince kids that reading is magical when they come from environments where reading is a chore?  I've struggled with this for years and, unfortunately, I have never found a magic potion that works for all students.  However, I have found that a few things I have tried have motivated some--so I thought I would share those with you all today--and link up with Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching.

Like most of you, I spend hours finding a wide variety of books for my classroom library.  I try to make sure to buy the book coupons that Scholastic offers to get books at a greatly reduced price throughout the school year.  When one of my kiddos tells me that there is nothing to read, I ask her what she is interested in--and hopefully I have a book to match that interest in my library.  I have a special section for new books--and most get snatched out of my hands before they even make it there.  

I discovered the Six Flags Read to Succeed program last year and a free ticket is a big incentive for my kiddos.  If you are located near a Six Flags park that is participating, I encourage you to check it out--it is simple to sign up for and the teacher materials make it easy to implement.  (The participating parks are:  Six Flags Magic Mountain, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags St. Louis, Six Flags Great America Chicago, Six Flags Over Georgia, Six Flags America, Six Flags Great Adventure, Great Escape, and Six Flags New England.)  The students earn a free ticket by completing 6 hours of reading for pleasure--and the deadline to complete the reading is in the beginning of March.

There are lots of great reading challenges on TPT.  My sixth graders really enjoyed this one by More Than a Worksheet--best part was that it was free!  I am considering trying this one by the Thinker Builder next year....I am just not sure if there is the necessary home support.  I am trying to figure out if I can modify it and find a space for it in my classroom.  

Currently I have a "bookcase" in my room and when a student reads a book, he has an option of filling out a "book spine" and adding it to the book case.  After reading six books, he gets to pick a book up to $5.00 from Scholastic BookClub (thank you book coupons and bonus points.)  Last year, one of my students earned 12 books--he was a voracious reader and couldn't afford to buy books himself.  Interestingly, two of my readers never participated in this--they read constantly but never wanted to fill out a book spine--which requires the title of the book, a sentence about it, and a name--not exactly a tough requirement.  (Maybe it was because their parents would regularly purchase books for them from the book order.)  I have about 12 kids participating regularly this year--better than last year, but still room for improvement. 

Monday, December 1, 2014


I love a good sale and have found so many interesting products with the TPT 2 + 1 Cyber Sale Linky.  I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and link up with it as well.  

My first most wishlisted product in my store is a Decimal Operations Scavenger Hunt with a panda theme. The scavenger hunt is a fun way for students to independently practice their skills with immediate feedback---if they can't find the answer, then they know they made a mistake.  The scavenger hunt allows me to pull a small group for intervention while my other students are happily engaged in practicing the skill we are working on.

My next most wishlisted product is called "Determining Theme."  I always had difficulty with this concept as a child, so I worked at breaking it down step-by-step for my kiddos.  I used it for the first time this year and had great success with it.  It is more functional than cute--but it gets the job done.  The best part is seeing the kids refer back to it in their Language Arts journals.

And now the fun part...I already went shopping the moment the sale went live yesterday (talk about a lack of deferred gratification!) But when I was blog hopping this morning I came across Runde Room's Stick-it Together Reading Response product.  I really to have my kiddos talk about their reading in a structured way and to all be focused on the same question/response.  And my 6th graders love sticky notes!  So it is a perfect product for me.  

 And don't forget the promo code:  TPTCYBER  :)