Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Two Good Teacher Reads

How Children Succeed
written by Paul Tough
2012 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Mebane Public Library

My teacher wife Traci recommended this book. In this book, "Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control." I was particularly intrigued by the work of NYU psychologist Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues. In the book, Tough discusses how Oettingen found three strategies that people use to set goals and two of those do not work. Check it out on pages 92 and 93.

Second Grade Writers
written by Stephanie Parsons
2007 (Heinemann)
Source: Purchased copy

This is a terrific book that I am currently digesting in leaps and bounds. Parsons talks about the need to first build a community of writers in the classroom. The teaching is practical and ties in with Lucy Calkins's Units of Study. The student samples are helpful in providing perspective in what to look for in second grade writing. Good stuff!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Alphabet Trucks

Alphabet Trucks
written by Samantha R. Vamos; illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke
2013 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Sally's Bookshelf

Day and night,
just watch and see.
Trucks work hard
from A to Z.

Samantha R. Vamos wrote one of my favorite picture books, The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, and Ryan O'Rourke illustrated another excellent book, Eight Days Gone. Combine these two talented people with a book about trucks? I'm in. Alphabet Trucks will be a favorite read aloud at home and in school. Why? First, this book has great rhythm and young readers eat this up. Tongues will roll and heads will bob as you read these rhymes. Hands will shoot up as you ask "Which words rhyme?". Your students are engaged and you are teaching phonemic awareness. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! (If you choose not to eat meat, substitute broccoli and it works just as well.) The second reason why this book is rocking are the illustrations. Look below:

How clever are the B's? Look at the dog carrying an "a" in its mouth. I wonder how long it took Ryan O'Rourke to think of this. Probably not long because his work is very smart. As a teacher, I'm applauding the use of the letters as a way to further teach beginning readers. I think students would love to emulate this in their drawings. Finally, can you go wrong with trucks? Not when it comes to young students. My classroom faces the front of our school. If a fire truck parks in front, I can't compete. Kids love trucks, so the subject matter for this alphabet book is a home run. My favorite truck? Probably the knuckle-boom truck that has a rear crane that folds up. Did you know there are x-ray trucks? Look that up. It's actually a little scary. 

Alphabet Trucks is a superb addition to the alphabet book genre. There were several trucks that were new to me (see x-ray truck) which was one of the fun parts of reading this book. Young readers will be delighted to read this over and over again. Now if I could just find the 1985 Ford Ranger pickup truck that I sold five years ago. I miss that truck.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

New Math Resources

If you are Chester the cat, you can lounge around and lay on the floor without worry. If you are Jeff the second grade teacher, it's time to get up and start getting prepared for the 13-14 school year. That means looking for new resources that will help my instruction. I'm highlighting three new links to our math section that is located on the right side of this screen:

Tricia Stohr-Hunt's Pinterest boards will yield many treasures for you. Very helpful!

Two flash games (sorry Mac users:( ) that will engage your students who are learning to work with money:

As for Chester, he wishes you all the best for the coming school year! 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Poetry Friday: Horizon

Check out Poetry Friday with Sherry at Semicolon

I took this photograph at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in California. The park is about 37 miles south of Carmel and 12 miles south of Big Sur. This is a place with spectacular views. The picture above (and my review of Water Sings Blue below) inspired this week's attempt at writing poetry. 


Stretching left and right,

everything stops at you.

What lies beyond your barrier,

of distant ocean blue? 

Waves come crashing forward,

like soldiers at your command.

Why do you push us away,

and not offer us a hand? 

You’re a source of mystery,

a puzzle to contemplate.

The place where sky and sea meet,

as together we'll rotate. 

© Jeff Barger 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

STEM Friday: Water Sings Blue

Water Sings Blue
written by Kate Coombs; illustrated by Meilo So
2012 (Chronicle Kids)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

He circles and stares
with a broken-glass grin,
his body's a dagger,
he has lion's-tongue skin.

He slides through the water
like a rumor, like a sneer.
He's a quick twist of hunger.
He's the color of fear

As great poetry will do, Water Sings Blue takes you to the ocean and helps you remember why you love it so. It also lacks several story hotels and stores that sell $5 t-shirts, which is a bonus. You get the best of the ocean with this book. The first poem, Song of the Boat, displays some of the characteristics of Kate Coombs's writing that make this a great book for the classroom. In an eight line poem, she uses the word brown three times. When you think of the ocean, blue and green immediately come to mind, but brown is usually underrated in its presence. It's an observant eye that sees this and brings it to life. The land is nut-brown, while the pier is heavy brown. This is the kind of description and sharp eye that we want to teach our students to notice and try to emulate. I also like the multitude of tones you find in this book. Seagulls is conversational while Blue Whale is majestic and reverent. This is an excellent lesson for young and old writers to observe.

Another terrific aspect of these poems is the science that is involved. My favorite poem in the book, Sand's Story tells how mighty rocks have been reduced to mere sand. Imagine these stones as rulers and it actually connects quite nicely with Coldplay's song, Vida la Vida. Tide Pool presents many creatures that you will find there in the form of a shopping list. Sea Turtle gives information about the animal's ability to navigate currents. There is plenty of science here for lessons on ocean life. After reading this book, it would not be hard to inspire students to try their hand at writing a short poem about an ocean critter.

Water Sings Blue is a book that you need to purchase for your poetry and science collections. The illustrations by Meilo So are gorgeous and the myriad of ways you can use this book make it a must buy.

In the book is a poem titled Sea Urchin, and on my recent trip to California, I happened to see one in a tide pool. They are beautiful creatures.

Other reviews of Water Sings Blue:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pin of the Week: Writing Goals

Our grade level met this past week and decided to use these goals for our dynamic grouping of students. This poster comes from As the students progress in their writing, we'll switch them to different groups according to their needs. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Colosseum

written by Simon Rose
2013 (Weigl Publishers)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Wrapped in Foil

The structure represents both the glory and the cruelty that was once ancient Rome.

If you made a list of well-known ancient architecture, wouldn't you have to include the Colosseum? No, not the place (coliseum) where you might have watched a wrestling match, tractor pull, or REO Speedwagon concert in the 1970's. I'm talking about THE Colosseum in Rome. Started by Roman emperor Vespasian in AD 72, it was completed by his son Titus in AD 80. It was a monument built to celebrate a stoppage of a revolt in AD 70. Previous emperor Nero's palace was demolished to make way for this structure. Oval in shape, it held up to 50,000 people for events that often led to the death of the participants. A monument to cruelty so to speak. On pages 6 and 7, you get a nice timeline that explains different times of damage and repair. Reading this timeline reminded me that Italy is prone to earthquakes which might explain some of the repairs over the centuries. Today, visitors can still original sections of the building. The fact that parts of it are still standing is a tribute to Roman architecture. Author Simon Rose gives a thorough tour of the inside and outside of the Colosseum. He explains the purpose of different sections like arches and promenades. Perhaps the most surprising fact I learned was the presence of a retractable awning called a velarium. This could be pulled over the arena to protect the crowd from the rain. Who knew there were retractable roofs in the first century? Another interesting piece was the hypogeum. This was located underneath the wooden floor of the arena. Gladiators and wild animals were kept here and lifted to the arena by platform. Can you say Hunger Games? Other sections of the book explain the math and science behind the building of the Colosseum, the people responsible for building it, and similar buildings from around the world. In addition, the back matter includes an activity for ambitious readers to build their own model of the building.

This book is part of a series of media enhanced books that link to a website where you can see video and click on links that will take you to more resources about the subject. I think this is helpful although today's readers are pretty adept at finding their own information. If you teach ancient history and/or architecture, this is an excellent book about one of the most famous buildings in the world.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

STEM Friday: Fine Feathered Friends (Dr. Seuss iPad app)

Fine Feathered Friends
written by Tish Rabe
2013 (Oceanhouse Media)
Source: Copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links

Usually cats and birds don't mix, but The Cat in the Hat is no ordinary feline and he arrives as a tour guide to the world of our feathered friends. The Cat starts by pointing out similarities among most birds. I like the labels and bold print for vocabulary on the first screen. The information is fairly basic, but since this app is targeted towards very young learners, this fits quite well. There isn't a ton of nonfiction for the preschool crowd, and wouldn't you rather have them playing with an entertaining informational text app as opposed to some insipid game? Tish Rabe also manages to create rhymes for the information which is not an easy task. I think this will make the app more appealing to the target audience.

The Cat shows Dick and Sally that birds can get their names from what they do, how they look, or the song that the bird sings. I wasn't familiar with the flycatcher which would be a good bird to have on hand for a picnic. A later screen features several sounds that birds make. Young app users will enjoy touching all of the sound words, but I would have liked to have heard actual bird sounds as opposed to a human making the sounds. A small section on geese migration and other sections on exotic birds like kiwis, emperor penguins and whooping cranes will also catch the attention of app users. 

Fine Feathered Friends is an excellent gateway into the world of informational text for a preschool student. With the Read to Me option, children will be able to review the text several times independently. For the price of a paperback book, this app is a good option for parents looking to introduce informational text to their preschool child. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: What Was the Boston Tea Party?

What Was the Boston Tea Party?
written by Kathleen Krull; illustrated by Lauren Mortimer
2013 (Grosset and Dunlap)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Biblio Links

Those who took part in the Boston Tea Party weren't trying to become famous. They were ordinary people rejecting laws they saw as unjust. They were literally taking matters into their own hands, making their own voices heard (without shouting)- and shaping history.

Kathleen Krull is such a good writer. If you've read her work before, you're shaking your head and saying "Duh!" because you knew this already. Why is this book so good? First, she provides the background knowledge that is necessary to understand why the Boston Tea Party took place. Krull explains why the colonists were in such a rebellious mood. The French and Indian War nearly broke the bank for England and they needed to recoup the costs. Parliament and King George argued that they provided "protection" for the colonies and therefore needed to be paid back. Funny how the colonists didn't quite see it this way. The Stamp Act is passed and colonists rioting becomes so bad that the British governor of Massachusetts has to move off his headquarters offshore. The Stamp Act is repealed the following year. Because Krull lays out the facts, you understand how the constant poking of the colonists by Parliament would make them irritable enough to throw tons of tea into the harbor.

I also appreciate the descriptive quality of Kathleen Krull's writing. Look at the first sentence of the book: In the 1700s, Boston reeked of horse manure and garbage, unless fresh, salty air from the harbor breezed through. She had me at horse manure and garbage. Boston at this time is not a pretty place.

The most surprising thing, and who doesn't like surprises in nonfiction, about the Boston Tea Party is how quiet the participants were during the event and afterwards. A British reporter wrote "you could hear distinctly the ripping open of the chests and no other sound." The whole process was very business like and a bit gentlemanly as well. The "party crashers" were polite to the crews of the ships and even swept the decks of the boats. There were no unnecessary celebrations and after three hours, the participants went quietly to their homes and talked very little about it in the years to come.

If your class is studying early American history, you need to check out or buy this book. It would be great to read pieces of it aloud. Students will be entertained by the interesting new facts that they will learn. What Was the Boston Tea Party? should also be used as a mentor text for "show don't tell" mini lessons that focus on nonfiction. This was a very enjoyable read!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Great App Deal: Barefoot Atlas

Apple is celebrating the 5th anniversary of the opening of its app store. They are offering 5 apps and 5 games free. I downloaded Barefoot World Atlas. This is a very cool app for young children. They will enjoy visiting countries and learning facts. It does take up a fair amount of storage, but I think it is worth it. Go check it out. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pin of the Week

This would be a good poster to post at the beginning of the year. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Orangutans

written by Meish Goldish
2008 (Bearport Publishing)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Abby the Librarian

I grew up in an age without cable television or the Internet, so my only exposure to orangutans was in a series of Clint Eastwood movies featuring a sidekick orangutan named Clyde. Not exactly high learning. Fortunately, today's children have a much better variety of information. From Bearport Publishing's series titled Smart Animals, Orangutans features these brightly colored apes that live only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. As mentioned in the title of the series, the big idea for this book is to show readers that orangutans are not only brightly colored, but also very bright in terms of intelligence. Princess, a particularly precocious great ape, used a stick to pick the lock of a storeroom that held food. She was also able to learn 30 signs including signs for tickling and hair combing. Can you imagine being the stylist for an orangutan? "I think your orange hair looks better parted in the middle as opposed to the side." Research on orangutans in the wild is discussed as well. Dr. Birute Galdikas has studied the animals for over 40 years. She learned that young orangutans spend several years with their mothers as they learn how to procure food and build nests. Dr. Galdikas also learned about signals used by orangutans to attract mates and ward off predators. Later research revealed the use of sticks by orangutans to extract honey from bee nests and termites from nests. And I complain about having to go to the grocery store! Other parts of the book deal with emotional intelligence and threats to the habitat of the orangutan.

Orangutans would be a good tool for animal research for students in grades 3 and up. Younger ages could benefit from a read aloud of a particular section and a comparison to another animal like a chimpanzee. The text also lends itself to modeling for writing nonfiction. Main ideas and supporting details abound. Since orangutans are a bit exotic and little understood, having a copy of this book would be a good idea for broadening student animal knowledge.

Here is a link to more information from National Geographic Kids.

Monday, July 1, 2013

California Dreaming

I am taking a small blog break while spending time with my family. 

This is a picture I took at Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park in California. I will be back to blogging next week.