Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Share Wednesday: How to Steal a Dog

We started literature circles this week and I decided to choose realistic fiction books for our first round. One of the books I chose for students is How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor.  It's a great realistic fiction book that discusses the issues that this family is dealing with as a result of their father/husband abandoning them suddenly.  They are living in their car, Mom's working two jobs and the kids are fending for themselves.  Georgina sees an ad for a reward in exchange for the return of a lost dog and she gets the idea to steal a dog to earn the money her family needs to get an apartment.

Although the book deals with some heavy and sensitive topics, the author keeps it light and focuses on the plans Georgina writes in her journal and the adventures she and her brother have, rather than bringing down the tone of the book with constant negative dwelling on the family's situation.

Readers will learn along with Georgina that bad times don't last forever and that everyone makes mistakes.  Those mistakes can have happy endings when you work to rectify them.

Amazon lists the lexile at 700L.  With the topics the book discusses, I would recommend it for 4th grade and up.  It has been a perfect read for my low fifth graders.  The storyline is engaging and they are able to access and comprehend the text.  A caution to consider student situations and emotions before using this book.  Though the author does a great job, some students may be sensitive to the family's situation.

Have a book you'd like to share?  It's the third Wednesday of the month and that means Book Share Wednesday is a link up!!  Be sure to link up your book share post sometime in the next week.  The linky will be open through next Wednesday.  Please grab the button to add to your post and link it back to this post. Don't have a post? Please share your book in the comments.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Genius Hour in Our Classroom

Last year, I looked into the concept of genius hour and really wanted to try it.  My biggest hurdle was the lack of computers access for my students.  Last December, our district gave each 3-6 grade classroom 3 Chromebook computers.  That was wonderful, and I was very grateful, but with 32 students, how does one effectively use 3 computers for anything really other than remediation for a few students?  

In the spring, my principal announced that he had some extra funds that he wanted to use to get more technology to us.  My team decided we wanted more Chromebooks, so we each received 2 more.  Then, I decided if I had 2 additional ones, I'd have enough for small group use and that would be a game changer for me.  Amazingly, thanks to the kindness of several donors, some of which were fellow bloggers, I had them both funded through DonorsChoose.  Now with seven computers in my classroom, we are able to use them to do so many things.  We also borrow from the other fifth grade classes when they are not using their computers.

One of my favorite pictures.  Totally didn't plan to capture this! 

One of the things I implemented this year is Genius Hour, which I called passion projects and passion time in my classroom.  It has been amazing!  My students can't wait for Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings to work on their projects.  My colleague suggested using the first 20 minutes of class three days a week instead of an hour block one day a week.  I thought it was a brilliant idea, so that's what I chose to do.  Instead of morning work those three days, students work on their passion projects three mornings a week.  They have from the start of the day, 9:00, until 9:18 to work on them.  Many students come in early and work on them from the moment they enter the classroom.  I have students begin arriving at 8:30.  

Some of the projects that my students have chosen to work on include: 

  • How can I create a website?
  • How should one care for chickens? 
  • How did the library get so organized?
  • How does the computer language of coding work? (A group of students interested in this are all working through the lessons together)
  • How do you play the ukulele? 
  • How do you play the mandolin? 
  • How do you plan resonator bells? 
  • Learning about birds of prey. 
  • Teaching another student karate, the other students project is to learn karate. 

And several more.  Not only has the response from students been great, but the response from parents has been positive as well.  Parents have expressed appreciation for my ability to not only find time in our day for students to learn what they want to learn, but for igniting the love for learning in their children.  

I'll continue to share with you about how it's going in our classroom.  I'll also be sharing the results of each students passion work toward the end of the semester.  For now, enjoy the pictures throughout this article of my students working on their projects this week. 

Have you tried genius hour in your classroom?  Tell us about it in the comments. 

I've linked up this blog post to

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Rocky and Bullwinkle Graphic Novel

Graphic novels are very popular in my class, and from my experience, many upper grade students.  I was so excited when I had the opportunity to preview this new graphic novel all about one of my favorite childhood cartoons, Rocky and Bullwinkle.  I found myself reading all of Bullwinkle's parts in that deep voice and Rocky's in that high pitched squirrel voice.  How fun would it be to get your students hooked to this book by showing a teaser snippet of one of the cartoons?  You can find episodes on YouTube that could be shown.  Always remember to view before you show anything to your students! You never know what's really in a video that might look innocent.

This book is comprised of several shorter stories, each as an "episode" of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  They aren't necessarily stories of the show episodes, but the characters are the same with a similar plot line as the cartoons.  The pictures are well illustrated and in vivid colors.  There is a good mix of text with pictures and illustration only pages to tell the story.

Give this Graphic Novel a try and you just might snag some of your reluctant readers.  The text in this story is not too difficult, I'd place the text readability itself around a 3rd grade level, but that's totally just my guess.  I think my 5th graders are going to love this book!

Rocky & Bullwinkle will be available on October 7, 2014.  You can pre-order a copy now by clicking any of the cover or title links in this post.  If your'e reading this after the release date, go grab your copy now!

What are some of your students' favorite graphic novels? 

Note: I was provided an e-book copy of the book in this review by the publisher in exchange for my review.  The opinions expressed in this post are my own.  Links in this post refer to my amazon affiliate and I receive a small compensation for purchases made through these links.  Your purchase helps me support my classroom and this blog. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Social Studies Unit 1: Explorers

These first two weeks of school, our Social Studies lessons focused on the early explorers.  Our fifth grade curriculum focuses on U.S. history and geography from explorers to present day.  As a fifth grade, we found around 20 explorers for our students to study.  Each class was given 8 explorers so that we could have groups of 4 students each research an explorer.  Each student group researched their assigned explorer and answered questions about him.  Students then drew and "life sized" explorer character based on paintings and likenesses they found of him.  They added the facts they had discovered around their picture and then hung them in the auditorium to create an Explorer Hall of Fame.

Each class took some time to visit the hall of fame.  Students were expected to find 4 explorers and write down the information they learned from the posters.  Students have a lot of fun learning about the explorers and seeing what all of their peers created.

Students viewing the Hall of Fame

Students pose by their masterpieces

We also learned about the many new plants and food items that the native people had that the explorers didn't know about until coming to the new land.  Students used their sense of smell to discover items like marigolds, corn, vanilla, cocoa, pineapple and many more.  I was quite amazed that students were able to guess the majority of the items just through smell.

Students smelling the New World.

We transitioned into discussion of settlements and colonies by reading this book by Jane Yolen Roanoke: The Lost Colony--An Unsolved Mystery from History

If you teach about early explorers, what are some of the ways you teach them?  We're always looking for new ideas. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Share Wednesday: The City of Ember

How did I miss this book? I hadn't heard of it until last spring with my teammate said she was reading it for her read aloud book.  I really enjoy the distopia sort of stories and this one sounded right up my ally.  I added it to one of my Amazon orders this summer when I needed a little bit more to push me to be able to include an add on item.  My mistake was starting to read it the day before the first day of school.  I couldn't put it down!  My dear husband was so sweet to let me read and to do some of the house tidying.  I got to the end of the book and ran to see if the next book was on Amazon kindle because I was left hanging so dramatically off a cliff at the end.  I pulled myself together enough to not order the book so I could at least get through the first week of school.  That gave me the time to borrow the second book from another teacher.  I'm now ready to read book three.

So, I highly recommend The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember) and the rest of the series.  It's especially well suited for upper elementary students and maybe even 7-8th grade students.  I'm definitely going to need to add the 4 book series to my classroom library.  A few of my students have read the book and it's been fun to have some book conversations with them about it.

Wait, there's more! It's a movie too!  That's right, there's a City of Ember movie.  I haven't watched it, but that's on my to do list.  It's rated PG, so likely not an option for most to show to students, but it might be fun for you to watch or recommend to students after they read the books.

Be sure to tell us what you're currently reading in the comments below and join the monthly Book Share Wednesday link up every 3rd Wednesday of the month.


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