40 Book Challenge Revisited

It’s been a while since the excitement of the 4o Book Challenge began.  And I HATE to say that that excitement may have weaned a little bit.  Remember back when I told my class about it, and everyone was really energized by it?  Ready to do it and not at all worried?  And remember how my friend Brittany asked if I would do it, too, and I begrudgingly gladly accepted?  Yes?  Well let me update you on how it’s going.

First of all, I feel like I should share with you what my kiddos are saying about it.  Of course, as with any important thing in our class, it becomes a topic on our blog.  I’m excited to say that the topic has come up multiple times in the “What I liked…” section of their notes for student-led conferences (yes, that is a topic I’m going to add here soon!), and that many have WAY over half of their challenge done already!

As a reminder, the challenge looked like this:

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Requirements for the 40 Book Challenge, which is inspired by Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.

Not surprisingly (at least to me), most kiddos started with what they know and what they love: fiction.  Many of them knocked out Realistic Fiction first, then did their chapter book choice, and then tried mystery before they got a little annoyed by my list.  Still, they trudged on, heading towards informational and poetry.  I was noticing, though, that there has been very little traditional literature or biography/autobiography/memoir showing up in the hands of my readers lately (more on that later).

What?  You want to know how I’m doing with the 40 Book Challenge?  Me?  Well….

I’m gonna be really honest with you that I have not been doing my part to keep up with the 40 Book Challenge like I’d hoped and like I’d expected.  I think I am probably at 5 or 6.  I know, right???  YUCK!  I have had very good intentions, and I truly believe in the importance of showing my reading life to my students, but like I mentioned earlier, I’m having a hard time finding  prioritizing time to make it happen.  There always seems to be something else to do, you know?!  But I WANT to make it happen (I really feel like I’m letting my friends down!), and since I don’t make resolutions, I guess it’s time to make a goal and a plan to achieve it.  And I’d love your help!

How do you make time to read inside your busy life?  What do you leave out so that you have that time (there are, after all, only 24 hours in a day!)?  What suggestions do you have for me to achieve my challenge goal by the end of the school year?  Come on, I KNOW a lot of you are readers, and I want to be one, too! 🙂

You CAN Take it With You!

I love learning.  I am pretty sure that I always have.  There is something really exciting to me about digging in deep to a new topic and learning something new.  Besides being able to chew on new things (and talk about them with other nerds like me!), I love being able to apply that knowledge to things in my classroom the next day.  And the next and the next.  I don’t learn something new and just use it for the next five minutes and then forget it.  I take that learning with me to new places and challenges.

So that takes me to the title of this post.  We’ve been talking a lot (focused in writing for right now) about suitcases.  Yep, you heard me: suitcases.  A couple of weeks ago, during our informational writing unit, we made this chart:

Look at all the things we've learned that we CAN TAKE WITH US to new learning situations in the future!

Look at all the things we’ve learned that we CAN TAKE WITH US to new learning situations in the future!

I’m pretty sure I have even shared this picture before, but it’s so great because it keeps coming up.  Over and over and over again.  Which is kind of the point, right?  You should continually be filling your suitcase so you can take all that fabulous learning with you wherever you go.  Today we talked, too, about how your suitcase can look like whatever you want it to–whether that be Harry Potter’s trunk, Mary Poppins’ carpetbag or Hermione Granger’s magic bag (that she can pull a huge tent out of!  WOW!).  That last visual was really powerful to my friends.

The thing I’m really aiming for, though, is when my friends start using this language for themselves.  That’s really when the evidence is there that they’ve internalized it, right?  When you’ve learned something really well, and understand it deeply, you start to use it in your conversations, applying it and then teaching it to others.  And so that’s what we’re working towards.  Helping our friends both learn to pick up their own suitcases and take them along their journey, as well as encourage their friends (wizards and muggles alike!) to do the same.

Have you talked about filling suitcases with your students?  What about your own kiddos?  Parents–have your kiddos told you about our conversations about taking learning along the journey?  What kind of suitcase would you choose for yourself? 🙂

Are You Smarter Than a 2nd Grader?

I know, you expected to see a different grade up there.  But in this case, it’s the 2nd grade that my 5th graders can learn from.


I’ve been meaning to share this picture for a couple of months now, because it’s such a great reminder of how to use punctuation correctly.


This poster hangs outside Mrs. Driscoll’s second grade class. I know Mrs. Dix has a similar one that’s called “No More Weird Capitals!”

We walk by this everyday on our way back from our specials and lunch, and I keep thinking we need one in our classroom, too.  I know that kiddos learn these things early on, but have such a hard time remembering to show that in their writing!!

So maybe I need to ask my 5th graders that question when they are editing, did you show that you’re smarter than a 2nd grader? 🙂

Knowing the Standards

It’s probably a pretty obvious statement, but knowing what’s expected of you helps you make sure you do that expected thing, right?  Sure, of course.  So why don’t I spend more time chewing on rubrics with my students?  Why do they sometimes feel like the expectation for the end of the unit is a surprise to them? Well, the simple answer is that we should spend more time looking at rubrics.  Together.  Often.  Before, during and after learning happens.  And it’s my goal (but not my resolution!) to make that happen more this semester.

So fast forward to last week and the beginning of our focus on summarizing and main idea in Readers’ Workshop.  We started by checking out the rubric together.  I gave kiddos a copy of the rubric to chew on in pairs.  Along with the expectations, I also asked some questions, and had them look for certain things in the standards that would help them make sure they were doing what was expected.  Together we read, discussed and highlighted.  Our board (and their papers) looked like this when we were finished:

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I think it was important work that happened here.  I kept asking the what and why questions as we chatted.  I had them repeat the verbs.  We talked about the fact that these are understandings they need to demonstrate more than once.  And we focused on the reason behind why you need to know how to do this: to help you better comprehend your text, not because your teacher says you should.

Now we talk about this almost every day.  Before we begin anything reading, we review the words in this rubric.  We use the words.  We reflect on whether we’re identifying, distinguishing, supporting, referring and demonstrating.  And this image will hang in our room to help us remember what to do–and for a visual person like me, that’s an important step.  So many times things are out of sight, out of mind.  This way they will not be.

And so after this work in reading, we did the same thing in math with the beginning of our decimal unit.  And during that conversation I had another (saddening) aha moment.  As I handed each kiddo at my table the rubric book that is usually reserved for parents and teachers, I wondered why I didn’t give one to each STUDENT to have.  To read.  To digest. To reference and keep at the front of their minds (and binders!).  Why had it never occurred to me–in all of these years of teaching–that my STUDENTS are probably the ones that most need that book??  They are the ones, after all, that are responsible for making those things happen, right?  Man.  Humbling thought right there.

Moving forward I pledge to do more to make my students aware of their learning.  Don’t get me wrong–we talk about these things and I believe I am making them aware of our goals, but there is much I can do to make it more visible for them, so that they can take more of an initiative in their own learning.  Nothing here should be a mystery, and the outcome should not be a surprise.  And I’m vowing to take steps to unveil some of these things for my kiddos.  I only wish I would have done it a long time ago…

What do you do in your classroom to make your students aware of standards and expectations?  How do you involve them in the process?  What “aha”s have you had regarding these things? I’d love to hear from you!

Why I Don’t Make New Years’ Resolutions

Happy New Year!  Ok, well, yeah, I know–we’re three weeks into the new year already, but I’m just now getting time to sit down and write this post, thanks to another (unexpected!) snow day off from school.  Hope your 2014 is off to a bang!  I know mine has been great–although busy–so far!

As you probably expected from the title, I am not a fan of all of the resolutions that pop up around the end of December and beginning of January.  Not because I don’t think it’s a great thing to make decisions, or to vow to change things, but because I’m pretty sure that most people (man, I wish I had a statistic here–maybe I should look one up…) don’t keep those resolutions they make much past this third or fourth week of the year.  I guess there have to be some people who are really dedicated and last all the way into March or April, but there probably aren’t very many.

And so for those reasons I decided last year to NOT make a New Years’ resolution.  Instead, I make plans.  And yes, it’s probably just semantics, but since I’m a writer–and therefore a lover of just the rights words–I have chosen to do that instead.  I will make plans, take challenges and set goals.  I strive to change things so that I will be able to keep having my desired outcomes farther into the year than March.  Hopefully for more than just the year ahead–for many years to come.

This year my challenge comes in the form of running.  If you’ve been around this blog for a while, then you know that sometimes I can be labeled as a runner.  I know, it sounds funny, but I go in spurts.  Like I’ll be really gung-ho for 6 months (usually because I have a weight loss goal or race to drive me), and then I won’t lace up my shoes for the following 6 months at all.  Until another race or a few extra pounds motivates me again.

So that brings me to my challenge for this year: to run 500 miles in 2014!  I have many friends on Twitter and Facebook who are teachers, and the more I am there I am finding that many teachers are also runners–and  hard core runners at that.  I mean running-more-than-one-marathon-a-year runners.  Running-outside-in-a-blizzard runners.  Nothing-at-all-like-me runners.  But alas, I have taken the challenge to join this group of dedicated ladies and gents and give my all.  And my all is all I can expect, right?  I am probably not going to run a marathon this year (or maybe not ever), but I have taken a challenge, set a goal AND have a plan to make it work.  For me, it’s that last part that’s the most important.

Here’s the whole challenge:

2014 Run Teacher Run Challenge
*Run or work out at least 14 times a month in 2014.
*Post at least 14 times on run teacher run.
*Run at least 4 “real” or virtual races in 2014. (Or create your own with friends!)
*Run at least 400 miles in 2014. (Or create your own workout equivalent to miles.) (I guess somewhere along the way I changed this number.  Or someone else did, too.  No worries.  I’m in for 500!)

Sounds like a tall order since I haven’t run since before Thanksgiving (would you believe it was because I had a race coming up??).  But then my fabulous cyberfriend Shannon sent me a spreadsheet to use to log my miles and time and it was just what I needed.  So here’s how I’m doing so far:

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It’s not glamorous.  It’s not fast (just don’t do the math on how fast I run a mile, ok?), but it’s getting done!  And that makes me more motivated to keep getting it done.  I have to laugh actually, because today was supposed to be an “off” day because I have plans tonight, but then when we ended up with a snow day I got really excited because it means I can make time for a run today!  More miles for me!  And since there is accountability here (albeit “virtual” accountability via my Facebook group), I am pushed to make sure I do what I say I’m going to do.

So, yeah, it’s probably semantics, but hey, words have meanings for a reason, right?  And that’s what synonyms are for–making sure you have just the right word.  So join me in making plans and setting goals instead of making resolutions this year.

What have you planned to do in 2014?  How will you make that happen?  I would love to hear about your goals and dreams!  Believe, I’ll join your cheering section as you begin your journey!


Happy Monday my friends!

Today is the day you have been waiting for . . . SCIENCE!

We are going to begin discussing science today.

Please answer the following questions in complete sentences. As we have practiced, be sure to include the question in your response, so it is clear to your reader what question was asked of you.

You may want to have two tabs open so you can toggle back and forth if you need to.  Click here to get to your blog.  Happy writing!

1) What makes someone a scientist?  Give an example of someone you know that is a scientist.

2) List three character traits of a scientist and explain why each one is important.

3) Are you a scientist?  Why or why not?

4) How are forces and motion a part of your everyday life?  Give three examples please.

5) What do you already know about force and motion and simple machines.  What are you wondering about?

Thanks for sharing your science thinking!

(Thanks Ms. Turken for sharing these fabulous questions with me!  I owe you one. 🙂 )

United Nations on My Blog

I know, I know–you get those really great reports at the end of the year with all your blog stats just like I do.   I know you all celebrated your page views and comments just like I did.  And I know you marveled at the really pretty map that showed you were all your views came from, just like I did.

It’s been a while since I looked at my origins map (mostly because I just figured out today that I turned it off on my dashboard! Oops!), and so it was all the more amazing to me when I saw this map.  Now it’s from the time period between February 2012 and now, so it’s not just last year, but it was SO STINKING COOL I had to share it:

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 10.49.09 PM I wish I could copy the list of the names of all of those places –it’s CRAZY!  Qatar?  Singapore? St. Kitts? Bosnia and Herzegovina? Egypt? Seriously?  I could go on and on about how unbelievable it is to me that the words I write in Missouri can reach so far around the world.  What a fabulous picture of the connectedness and “flatness” (as many have come to call it) of the world today!  I can’t wait to show my friends in my class this graphic, and inspire them to impact the world with their words.  We often talk about how you never know who your audience is when you’re blogging, and this is proof that that audience is probably even bigger than you can imagine!

THANK YOU to all of you from these fabulous places for taking time to read what I write!  I am humbled and thankful for you. 🙂

What did your end of year graph look like?  What country was the most amazing or surprising to you?  Tell me about it! I’d love to celebrate with you. 🙂


So just when you thought you’d come back to school after a 2 WEEK long Winter Break, it snows a foot and there are -25 degree wind chills.  SURPRISE! We’re starting the new year with a snow day.  And while I’m really anxious to see my friends again–it seems like it’s been FOREVER since we were together–I can’t say I’m sad that I’m home with my family again today.  Or that I’m glad I didn’t have to venture out into the freezer yet.  We can save that for later. 🙂

Yesterday counted as a “snow” day, too, I guess since that’s when it actually snowed.  It was BEAUTIFUL to watch–but again, mostly because I was safe and warm inside looking at it from next to my fireplace. 🙂  We hunkered down and did fun stuff inside together.  You probably know, but “fun” for me meant being creative: I worked on finishing up some details from Allie’s big girl room that I’ve been working on (ribbon on a plain lamp shade and creating artwork together for her walls), blogging (you saw the post about the end of 2nd quarter, right?), playing games and wasting some time on Facebook, doing laundry (at some point there are things I HAVE To do), and doing a little bit of school work.

Today I started by baking some oatmeal breakfast “cupcakes” and sewing some placemats for our table with the new serger I got for Christmas.  I have more school work to do today (report cards!), but will also take some time to read a little, hang up the artwork we made yesterday, and take down our Christmas tree (come on–you know yours is still up, too!).

So what are you doing today?  Whether you’re a kid, a parent or a teacher–and whether I know you or not–I’m interested in knowing what you’re doing on your snow day.  Or even better than that–if you are somewhere and the weather is 80 degrees and sunny–I want to hear from you, too!

Happy New Year to you all, and enjoy your Monday not matter what kind of weather Mother Nature brought you today!

First Semester in Review

I take pictures of EVERYTHING, with the intent of blogging about it once we’re finished.  But then life happens and I end up with a computer full of pictures, lots of stories to be told, but feeling a tug to move on because it’s been so long since the activities happened.

So when that happens (like it did for most of what we did in our classroom in December), I usually just move on and blog about the next big thing, sad that you missed out on the awesomeness that is Rm. 202.  But not this time!  I figure I am going to give you at least a quick glance at the fabulous things my kiddos did during 2nd quarter.  So let’s commence with the show-and-tell. 🙂

Halloween (Man–see, I told you I’m behind!)

We had a great time in our costumes, but it rained and so our school-wide parade went around our building instead of through our neighborhood.  Our class parties were done with the whole grade level together, and probably the hit of the day was the photo booth.

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Veterans’ Day

We wrote letters to veterans at Aberdeen Heights.   Our whole-school Veterans’ Day celebration was pretty fabulous, too, and we were able to share a great song we’d learned called “The Heart of America” with the rest of the school.  Some boys from our class, who are a part of a group called iLead, got to be ambassadors and lead our guests to their seats.  Honor choir, which also had many members from our class, started off the whole thing with the national anthem.  What a great day!

Honor choir

Honor choir

Mia, Haleigh and Hanna sang the solo at the beginning of our song.

Mia, Haleigh and Hanna sang the solo at the beginning of our song.

5th grade shared "The Heart of America" with the audience and it was FABULOUS!

5th grade shared “The Heart of America” with the audience and it was FABULOUS!

Informational Text Writing Celebration

I shared the work that we did with our informational text writing unit, but I didn’t share with you the way we celebrated our hard work!  After each kiddo had spent time on their poster, we were ready to share our hard work with each other.  Differently than in past units, we decided to have a whole-5th-Grade celebration, so we could see everyone’s amazing writing.  As we visited each classroom’s writing samples, kiddos (and teachers!) gave compliments to each writer on a sheet that each kiddo then got to keep.   Great job, 5th grade!

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Door Decorating Contest

To celebrate the last week before Winter Break, our school had a door decorating contest.  There were some rules that we had to follow, but other than those, the theme was fair game.  IMG_1983

While we had a week to work on our door, there really wasn’t alot of time to create during school hours (we did still have things to learn, after all!).  We worked at recesses and after school one day to get our ideas together.  The plan looked like this:


  In case you can’t tell, there was a theme of a night sky, where I would be featured in the moon and kiddos would be showcased on stars.  Lots of glitter was to be included, too.  Sounded like a great idea, and so we got to work.

Now…I wish I could tell you that we ended up with a great door decoration, and that we won first prize–but actually what happened is we ran out of time and didn’t even end up getting all the stars on the door, or the letters, or the Milky Way…instead they ended up with a sign and a bowl of M&Ms to entice the judges to give our door high marks.  Bribery?  Maybe.  Creative either way.

Beginning Another Informational Writing Unit (this time with research!)

If you haven’t had a chance to read about the AMAZING work that we did with our last on-demand writing sample, you must check it out!  It was the beginning of this second informational unit, and after it we were ready to get to work with the next steps.  Those steps involved starting an essay about a common topic, one that all of us had some background knowledge about–Westward Expansion.  But even before we could start talking about what we’d do with that topic, we had a conversation about what we already know as writers of nonfiction.  We used an analogy floating around our school (I’m sure many people use it, but I most remember my friend Mrs. Harris talking about it with her 4th graders last year) about a suitcase that you fill with learning every year.  The idea is to get kids to understand that they are expected to be learning things “always and forever” (not just for that moment), packing it in their suitcase, and then carrying that knowledge or skill with them wherever they go in the future.  So with this image in our heads, we created one on our chart:


We then began by jotting down as many ideas as we could think of related to Westward Expansion, putting one idea on a different post-it.  We organized our post-its by topic (i.e. some were related to Lewis and Clark, some to the Gold Rush, some to the Pony Express, etc.), and put each topic on a different sheet in a booklet we had made together.

Since we were all working on the same topic, and since this is just the beginning of the unit where we’re learning how this whole thing works, we made sure to steal share ideas to make sure we all had enough subtopics for each category (the idea was to have 5 topics, each with at least 3 subtopics underneath).  We talked together, got ideas from other writers and added to our own work.

Then, when it was time to draft, we again went to our laptops and iPads.  At first when I mentioned that they would flash-draft all 7 paragraphs in one class setting (the 5 topics in their booklet plus an introduction and conclusion), some kiddos were a little freaked out.  Once we talked about the benefits of doing the draft this way, and how easy it would become to add, revise and edit their piece along the way, they were ok.  This is as far as we got before we left for Winter Break, and we’ll pick up at this point when we return in a few days.  What great thinking we started here!

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Winter Sing-a-Long

For one of the last hurrahs before we left for Winter Break, we gathered in the gym as a school for a sing-a-long.  The kiddos knew that we would sing Winter Wonderland and a few other favorites (because they’d been practicing them in Music with Mrs. Kesler), but they didn’t know that we had prepared a surprise song to perform for THEM!  It was The Twelve Days of Winter Break, and each grade level group had prepared a line of the song.  The verses were like this:

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 3.52.32 PMCan you guess which one we were responsible for writing?  One hint: it’s technology related…

Here are some pics of the fun, including Mrs. Sisul as a Roadrunner, and 4 teachers playing 2 pianos simultaneously.  That’s talent, people!!

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Gotta love a principal who will do crazy things like this for her kiddos! WE LOVE YOU, MRS. SISUL!

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Mrs. Bell, Mrs. Kesler, Mrs. Dix and Mrs. Hong tickled the ivories together to accompany our sing-a-long.

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Probably the best part was on the last verse–12 inches of snow–when “snow” was tossed on the crowd. Messy, but fun!

So that’s that.  I was way behind, but I was able to fill you in on a teeny, weeny bit of the fun we had in 2nd quarter.  I will do better in the upcoming months.  Maybe.  I’ll just promise to do my best, ok?  Trust that even if it’s not on the blog, it’s happening in our room anyway!

Thanks for reading, and here’s to a super new year!

(And thanks for staying for such a LONG POST!  Just noticed that as I finished it…)