Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back to school

Our kids started back to school this week.  The teachers started back the week before so it's been a pretty busy couple of weeks.  A lot of people don't really understand why teachers are so exhausted the first few weeks (months) of school so let me try to illuminate you.

Imagine that you've just spent the last two months do whatever you like.  For many teachers, this involves another job (like working summer camp, tutoring, or painting houses).  Then you come back to your real job and for the last two months, people have been thinking about ways to make your job more efficient.  In the first week of school, they spend time explaining to you how to do that.  Then you have to completely unpack and re-arrange all of your work materials because in the two months you've been gone, they've come in and cleaned the floors (you may also have had to move your things from one room to another room, possibly on the other side of the campus).  There may also be new materials that you need to review and learn to use in the next week.

Then there are the kids, who, in all honesty, are what makes this job really good.  But there are new ones.  If like me, you see all the kids in the school, there are a few new ones (in my case, a few is 40-50).  In most classrooms, all the kids are new to the teacher.  That means there needs to be a time to learn about your student (and for the student to learn about the teacher) so there need to be assessments and discussions of rules and expectations and reminders that even though you've spent the last two months doing what you want, there are 20 something of us in this room now and things are going to look different then when you are home.

It's fun coming back to school.  I love the anticipation of the new things that are going to happen.  I even like being back on schedule (although I wouldn't complain if the day started a little later).  I like seeing all the teachers and the kids.  School is awesome but I'd be lying if I said I didn't come home the first day and need a nap.

I did get to read some new books this week.  Every year we participate in the Sunshine State Young Reader award.  This is an award put out by the Florida Association for Media Education (FAME).  They put out a list of books and the kids who read them get to vote on which one they think is the best.  Our kids have been very excited about the books each year so I was a little annoyed that I didn't get the books on the list until this week.  I like to read them so I can recommend them to the kids.  So this week I read two.  The first one was called The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz.  This story is about a little pig named Flora, who really wants to go on an adventure.  She escapes her pen one day and finds that the dogs she's been hearing bark are sled dogs in training.  She REALLY wants to go with them, so one day, when men with a truck come to take the dogs away, and they come for a pig, she puts herself out there to go to.  She's very excited about all the new adventure and all the animals she meets along the way, but it's not really as glamorous as she thought.  She's down in a dark, smelly hold.  Rats eat her food.  She's by herself.  And the cook keeps calling her names like "my little pork chop".  She ends up making friends with the cat and helping the cat kill rats and then there is a shipwreck.  It's pretty exciting and has tons of great themes to talk about like how helping your friends can help you in ways you never thought possible and setting goals for yourself, even if they seem impossible.  I loved this one.  It would be great to compare this one to books like Charlotte's Web by E. B White or Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo which also have pretty heroic pigs.

The other one I read is called Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee.  It's about a boy named Benji, who was born prematurely and has many health issues but not too many friends.  He faints during stressful situations and one day instead of fainting, he has a seizure.  That means he's either going to need to wear a helmet or get a therapy dog.  His mom says no to a therapy dog so he gets the helmet and is immediately involved in what appears to be a bullying situation.  So they get the dog.  Except that the dog they get is a mistake.  The dog that comes is supposed to be the president's dog.  He's been highly trained and is super smart and he can talk.  Over the next few days,  the dog (who Benji calls Elvis) helps Benji make friends and go on some pretty exciting adventures.  I thought this one was ok.  Some of the fantasy elements were a bit much for me.   But I do think it would be great to compare this one to a story like Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo... the themes of friends and dogs would be good together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Starting off right!

Today was my first day back to school.  I always forget how much stamina it takes to get through a day at school, so this afternoon, I was totally ready for a nap.  Thank goodness my friend, Pam called and teased me into going to the beach.  It was far more refreshing than a nap and I'll probably sleep a lot better!

I've been reading a LOT this summer (and when I count how many books I've read, I'm really surprised!  72!  Holy cow!  Did I do anything else?).  I found a couple that I think will be awesome for the start of the year.

For the littlest kids, I just read one called "F is for Feelings" by Goldie Millar.  It's an ABC book about a variety of feelings, both positive and negative.  What's really great about this one, is that the sentences are short and both name the feeling and give a situation or describe the feeling.  On top of that, there is beautiful artwork that shows not only the facial expression, but the body language and for most of the pictures, it shows the situation where this feeling might occur.  I see this being a great book for vocabulary, for problem solving, for writing.  I ordered two copies from Amazon yesterday because I'm pretty sure my teachers need this one RIGHT AWAY.

The second one is for the middle kids at my school.  This one is a short chapter book called Ava and Pip by Carol Weston.  It's about two sisters, Ava and Pip who's parents are Anna and Bob.  Notice anything about their names?  They are palindromes.  And this is a family that LOVES words.  They play word games and they use their words in lots of amazing ways.  Ava is the younger sister but Pip has trouble with being shy so Ava is very protective.  When Pip's birthday party gets usurped by a new girl, Ava tries to solve the problem  by writing a fable based on the incident.  The fable gets entered into a contest and although it's not THE winner, it gets read pretty widely and the new girl's feelings are hurt.  However, the new girl, Bea, is not one to stand by and watch things happen so she confronts Ava.  Ava apologizes and then she and Bea become friends and together come up with a plan to help Pip with her shyness.  This is an awesome book on so many levels.  First of all, you could read this one and completely ignore all the wonderful vocabulary and writing ideas that pop up in the book and just focus on the social skills and character traits in this one and have a lot of teaching points, but using it as a mentor text for writing is going to get a lot people remembering how much fun language can be.  Don't miss this one.  

For my biggest kids, I can't wait to get Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone by Rebecca Johnson.  This is a non-fiction book about the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986, how the government handled the aftermath of the explosion and what's happened since then.  I found this completely fascinating.  I remember when the plant exploded and although it appears in the news every once in awhile, I wondered what had happened.  It turns out that because of the radiation it's not safe for people to live there so the government (in Ukraine) has cordoned off about a 30 kilometer circle around the plant and it's really surprising what's happened with the animals there. This would be a great conversation starter about different kinds of energy (it references the Fukushima nuclear accident too) and the safety and cost of them, as well as the adaptability of animals and nature.  It was fascinating.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

New books!

I've been trying to figure out how to get to advanced readers copies so I can read the latest and greatest books so I can then recommend them to my students.  Through a group I follow on Goodreads, an completely awesome book recommending site, I found Netgalley.  Netgalley provides advanced readers copies online (like through a Kindle) so you can read books ahead of time.  Some of them are REALLY badly formatted, but in the case of this last book I read, the formatting didn't distract from the complete awesomeness of the book!

This one was called "Ava and Pip" by Carol Weston.  Ava and Pip are sisters and they are word nerds.  Their names and their parents names are palindromes, they like to play a homonym game, and Ava would like to be a writer.  Pip has some un-named issue that makes her smaller and shyer than Ava so Ava tries to help.  When a new girl decides to have a party the same time as Pip's thirteenth birthday party, Pip is very hurt.  So Ava decides to write a thinly veiled fable about stealing people's friends.  When the story wins a prize at the local contest, the girl figures out the story is about her and confronts Ava.  Ava apologizes profusely and the two become friends and both of them try to help Pip be more outgoing.  There are a ton of writing lessons that you could teach from this book (generating ideas, figurative language, palindromes, homonyms, adjectives, journal writing) but you could also use it to talk about problem solving and making friends.  The characters are super likable and it's a quick read.  I can't wait to show this to my students.

Here is a book trailer about it...

I also read "Spic and Span: Lillian Gilbreth's wonder kitchen" by Monica Kulling.  This is a story about Lillian Gilbreth who was born in 1878 to a wealthy family.  She wanted a life of adventure so she went to university and married Frank Gilbreth.  They both became "efficiency experts" and used video (ok, motion picture cameras) to help them analyze work situations so that workers could be safer and more efficient.  They had 11 kids together and then Frank died unexpectedly.  So as a mom of 11 kids with no job (nobody thought women could do work like this!) she had to figure things out. Her first new client was Macy's and she also started looking around her house at things that would make things better there.  She invented the trash can that you can open with a foot pedal and the first electric stand mixer.  On top of that, the art work that goes with the book is lovely, soft water colors that show the energy of the topic.  I really liked this one.