January 2015 archive

Review: Samsung Chromebook

Six months ago my Macbook kicked the bucket; the keyboard stopped working correctly and everything became frustratingly slow. When an Apple technician told me it would be about $700 to fix the keyboard alone, I knew it was goodbye. So, I began my hunt for a new laptop, but I was iffy about PCs (due to past experiences) and I knew I didn’t want to hand over close to 1,000 image3dollars for another Apple product. Sadly, those days are over (trying to make grown-up decisions here). As a result of my uncertainty about each system, I discovered the Chromebook. I was wary of the Chromebook’s “internet only access”, but after a lot of research I came to find that there were more pros than cons. I finally took the plunge (aka clicked “add to cart”) when I found the Samsung Chromebook on sale for $199 at Staples….with a 14 day return policy! I figured why not give it a try? The price was right and I had the option of returning it as a safety net.

The 14 days came and went and my Chromebook is still here; I LOVE it. Before purchasing the Chromebook I used Chrome for web browsing and I stored my pictures and videos on Google Photo, so it was an easy transition to the “internet only” laptop. Here’s a quick rundown of the Samsung Chromebook:

Pros: 

  • Extremely lightweight (comparable to the Macbook Air)
  • Sleek look (again, comparable to image1Macbook Air)
  • Everything is in the cloud, so you don’t have to worry about the hard drive crashing (Still not sure how the cloud works. Will we ever know?)
  • Quick start-up
  • Customizable browser and desktop
  • Quality speakers*
  • Long battery life (big plus!)
  • Doesn’t get hot when you use it for long periods of time
  • No risk of viruses (even bigger plus!)image2
  • Menu bar makes everything accessible with a single click (mail, apps, videos, files, calendar, etc.)
  • Small amount of memory on the laptop (16GB), in case you do need to save something.

Cons: 

  • I’ve sometimes found that it has trouble running multiple tabs at once, depending on what I have open. For some reason Tumblr always seems to slow it down just a bit.
  • You can’t use Microsoft Word. Google Docs is an alternative, but definitely not the best (however, I have a feeling they’ll be improving it as Chromebooks become more popular).
  • *The speakers are good quality, but they aren’t super loud.This isn’t a problem for me, because I don’t usually listen to anything loudly, but if you’re big into music you might want to give the speakers a test run before buying.

Bottom Line: If you use the computer lightly (web browsing, email, watching movies, creating simple documents), and you are looking for something that won’t cost you too much money, the Chromebook is a good option for you.

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Mystery and Nonfiction

What a busy first week back at school! I feel like it flew by! The students and I started the new year by jumping into the nonfiction unit (okay, so they sort of walked….no, crawled.) For my own sanity, I decided to break things up by focusing on a different standard each week. This past week it was standard RI.6.1. “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.” At the beginning of the year the students and I spent so much time on making inferences about characters and events in a fictional story, but the kids have a hard time translating that skill to nonfiction (understandably so). Which is why I was so happy when I came upon the site kids.mysterynet.com, it is filled with mysteries to solve. The site has mini mysteries (quick solves) and longer mysteries (solve it’s). The stories focus on Nina Chase and Max Decker, two kids who like to solve neighborhood mysteries: Who stepped in the wet cement? Who broke into the local snack shack?. The stories are easy to follow, but definitely require quiet a bit of thinking.

Okay, so how does this all relate to nonfiction? Everyday, after each mystery, we worked on using evidence based terms in relation to nonfiction texts. Here’s how it went:

Monday:

I introduced the unit and a list of “evidence based terms” (you can find anchor charts on pinterest!). As a class, we read an article on germs (hello, flu season!) in National Explorer Magazine.

Tuesday:

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.22.07 PMMystery – The students solved one of the mini mysteries as a warm up.

Nonfiction – We looked more closely at Monday’s article by examining strategies the author used and backing up those strategies with evidence. For instance, “The author connects with readers by using relatable examples”. I provided the strategies and students worked with a partner to find evidence.

Wednesday:

Mystery- Students did another quick solve, but this time they had to put to use their evidence based terms and write out who they think did it and why.

Nonfiction – Looking at a new article (from Newsela.com), I provided students with a list of inferences I made and they had to find strong, specific evidence. They worked independently on this and I collected it to grade and provide feedback (They did so well!).

Thursday:

Mystery – Students had to solve one of the longer (and harder) mysteries. It was amazing to see how engaged they were as they contemplatedScreen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.33.34 PM who stole the “For Sale” signs; the room was completely quiet! For this mystery, I gave them five minutes on their own, then two minutes with a partner. There were so many ideas bouncing around the room – everyone was sure they were right! Again, students wrote out who they thought the thief was and explained why using evidence from the text.

This time I collected their sentences and graded them – not on whether they arrived at the right answer, but on how well they constructed their sentences. I have to say, I’m so glad I did this! They are using the terms correctly and referring back to the evidence, but they are having trouble connecting back to the question. For example, a student might say, “I believe Freddy stole the signs because in the text it says he built a tree house made of wood.” However, it should continue: “….. The ‘For Sale’ signs are made of wood, therefore Freddy likely used the signs to build his tree house.” See what I mean? They are almost there! So, next week I am going to return to this case and we will rewrite sentences as a class.

Nonfiction – Students worked in groups and had a choice of three different articles (again, all from Newsela.com). This time, they had to make their own inferences (or Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.28.54 PMcomment on the authors strategy or the text structure) and back it up with evidence from the text. This worked really well – especially allowing them a choice of article! On Monday of next week I will have them meet with another group that did the same article and discuss what they found.

*At one point during this last activity a student was feeling very frustrated because she was having trouble making inferences based on the nonfiction article. I said, “It’s just like solving a mystery, pick a part the sentences.” To this she replied, “Ohhhhh!“, then hurried to jot something down. My favorite part of teaching – the light bulb moment!

Happy Friday!

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Three Things I Love This Week

1. The Secret Powers of Time. I stumbled upon this today and I couldn’t help but share. The idea of time being such a big divider- in terms of worldviews, money, and choices- is so interesting; and Professor Philp Zimbardo explains it very well. I especially enjoyed when he touched upon the current education model. Pointing out that because technology has changed the way young people think, school should change as well.

2. First Position“. This documentary, which can be found on Netflix, follows several ballerinas on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix. The intense competition means getting noticed and possibly earning life changing scholarships. I have always been intrigued by ballet, but this documentary made me appreciate it so much more. The dancers are so disciplined and passionate about what they do; it is very admirable.

3. “Taking Flight”. Following suit with my #2 favorite this week, my #3 is Michaela DePrince’s bootaking-flightk, Taking Flight. Michaela, a ballerina featured in the “First Position” documentary, has a very unique story. Michaela was born in Sierra Leone during the 12 year war. After losing both of her parents, she is sent to an orphanage where she feels hopelessly unwanted. When she finds an old magazine with a ballerina on the cover, she clings to it with a dream of someday becoming that girl with the pretty pink shoes.

In the book we follow Michaela from Sierra Leone to the United States – where she strives to become a ballerina despite the negativity surrounding African Americans and ballet. What Michaela went through as a young child is unfathomable and heartbreaking, but her unwillingness to give up and the love of her adoptive mother is truly inspiring. Whether you love ballet, or hate it, this is a must read!

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3 Gluten Free Snacks I (Still) Love

About a year ago, I decided to cut gluten out of my diet after reading the book, “Wheat Belly” by William Davis (I’m very impressionable when it comes to food). I lasted two months – which is saying a lot when bagels, croissants, and pasta top the list of your favorite foods. It was tough, but an experience; and it pushed me to try new foods – not to mention eat a lot more vegetables! By the end of the two months, I ended up switching back to my old diet, because not only was I tired of constantly saying “no” to the chocolate chip cookies in the teacher’s lounge, but because I didn’t feel any better – as so many people said I would. That being said, I still try to choose something other than pasta when I’m out to eat (keyword: try) and there are a few(some healthy…some not so healthy) snacks that stuck with me!

  1. 5100aHV+ZtL._SY300_Garden Lites Veggie Muffins. The whole idea sounds gross, but these are amazing. You can find them in the freezer aisle – let them defrost or put them in the microwave for 35 seconds for a delicious, warm (and healthy!) muffin.
  2. Domino’s Gluten Free Pizza. I never, ever used to order from Dominoes (I mean, I live in New Jersey), so this was a real surprise for me. My boyfriend and I saw it advertised during my gluten-free stint and decided to give it a try. We were both a little nervous, but we ended up loving it. The crust is thin, but it’s not too hard as most gluten-free products tend to be. In my opinion it’s even better than a normal pie at Domino’s. The only downfall is that it’s only available as a small pie and it’s a bit pricy for its size at $10.99.
  3. Enjoy Life Crunchy Cookies. Cookies were the one thing I really missed when I was gluten-free, so I tried a lot of different brands. Enjoy Life turned out to be the winner!
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