Free Choice RR(L)

I was prepared to feel disillusioned during the month of January (the graph warned me!), but I didn’t realize my students would be in a slump too. Things just feel different in January. The exciting “new year of school” feeling has been long gone and all of the fun holidays have passed. All we are left with is below freezing temperatures and days that get dark way too early. But good news is…February is finally here, bringing us happy Valentine’s Day colors and one month closer to the end of winter!

Okay, back to my point! One week deep in the slump of January, I just couldn’t bring myself to assign an RRL. I knew that if I didn’t feel like reading them, students certainly didn’t feel like writing them (Okay, I’m not delusional. I know students most likely never feel like writing reading response letters, but this week was different). So, I created the Free Choice RR(L) on a whim, and I am so happy with the results! With Free Choice RR(L) students are allowed to create (almost) whatever they want in relation to their book. I gave them a long list of ideas and a few guidelines to follow, and what they created was amazing! I have been noticing more and more how important it is to give students choice; they really respond to it. I will definitely be doing many more of these throughout the year!

The Free Choice RR(L) directions, along with the “classic” RRL directions, can be found on my Teachers Pay Teachers site!

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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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Characterization with Instagram

Happy weekend! I have been eager to share a project with you that I recently created for the novel, Bridge to Terabithia. The project involves creating an instagram profile for a character in the book, and (more exciting news!) can be found on my very new Teacher’s Pay Teachers site! Here is a quick run down of how it went:

At around chapter 11, when the class and I had a good idea of who the characters were, I had the students create an instinstagram1agram for a character of their choosing (Jesse, Leslie, or Janice). I used Jesse’s little sister, May Belle, as an example for the class when introducing the project, so she wasn’t an option. Not only was the project fun, but it also got students thinking deeply about who the characters really were. I gave them each a template, which I created, that included spots for three photos, a profile picture, amount of followers, and an introduction. The project prompted them to think about what the character would want everyone to see. For instance, when talking about May Belle, a six-year-old girl who looks up to her big brother, the students and I agreed that she would likely post a picture of her and Jesse together. As another example, we talked about how Jesse wouldn’t likely post a picture of Bridge to Terabithia, because it was important to him that it was kept secret. However, some students got very creative (or sneaky?) and gave Jesse only 1 follower (Leslie), made their accoinstagram2unt “private”, and then “posted” pictures of Terabithia. Along with the colorful instagram profile, students had to write a paper in which they explained why they created the profile the way that they did using evidence from the story. While the paper earned a big ughhh!”, the students really enjoyed creating the profiles and showing them off when they were finished. We had a “museum walk” at the end of the project and there were a lot of (quiet) giggles around the room as the students looked at all the different characters.

You can download the template + rubric here:unnamed

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Three Things I Love This Week

I can’t believe how long it’s been! Work is keeping me very busy! I have several lessons in my drafts that I am anxious to share with you, but since they’re lengthy I still have to make a few adjustments. So as a quick, but worthy update, here are three things I love this week:

Insurgent. I read Divergent back in January and loved it, but for someInsurgent_212 reason I never had an interest in pursuing the rest of the trilogy. Something caused me to pick up the second book this past week, and I couldn’t put it down. I just finished it today, but I wish I hadn’t…it’s that good! I love the multiple layers of the story and the plot is so filled with so many twists and turns that you are constantly kept guessing. I can’t wait to read Allegiant!

This site that I stumbled upon on pinterest. Ah, buzzfeed. It can always be counted on for good, but sometimes overwhelming, lists. This list is definitely overwhelming…but in a “Wow I can’t wait to look at all of these. When will I find the time?” kind of way. So far I really like Trover – which is a lot like instagram, but geared towards travel and discovering new places. It even has an option to save pictures to a list of dream destinations!

peter_pan_livePeter Pan Live! Peter Pan is my absolute favorite character. (Staying young forever, flying, and fighting pirates? Yes please.) When I was younger I would watch Peter Pan every time I was upset, so when I saw that they were making a live version, I couldn’t wait! The whole production was so well put together and I really felt as if I was at a live production. But this might have been even better, because I was actually home in my pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate. The set had a very fairy tale feel and the actors were amazing– it was especially cool to see Allison Williams in such a different setting!

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