Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My First Author Visit

This past Friday, I visited Research Triangle High School. They had a special flex day where all the students of a particular class (freshman on this day) are immersed in one subject. The subject on this day was malaria prevention. The students were divided into groups such as public service announcement (PSA) production, drama, graphic design, and other projects that they chose. I worked with the creative writing group. Our task was to create a picture book about malaria and its prevention. I had a great time working with the students who came up with some terrific ideas. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Poetry Friday Anthology for Science

The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong
2014 (Pomelo Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Fabulous - Exceptionally good or unusual; marvelous; superb
This anthology is fabulous.

Excerpt from Liquids Can't Contain Themselves by Heidi Bee Roemer

Sticky honey leaks from a jar.
Oozy ketchup squirts too far.
Hot soup overfills its bowl;
Liquids dribble and ripple and roll!

Sometimes salespeople, via media or in person, will start a sentence with this phrase "If you only buy one...". I could use that pitch to teachers regarding The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science. If you only buy one book this year, this is the book you should buy. Of course, who knows a teacher that buys only one book? My point is that as a teacher, you will be hard pressed to find a book more valuable than this anthology. This is a set of 36 science related poems for each grade level. That's right, a poem a week for each grade level in K-5. Go ahead and do the math and you will learn that we're talking about 218 poems. That's serious bang for your buck, folks. But wait, there's more! Some of those poems are bilingual so you can share them in two languages. Each poem also has its own lesson plan. We're talking about 218 lesson plans! This section is called Take 5! For example, the poem above has five different lesson tips that you can use. In addition to the poems and the lesson plans, you also get a terrific set of resources in the back matter. There are several lists of top notch books that you will want to use in addition to this anthology. There is also a list of outstanding poetry websites, a roll call of fun science websites, and more websites and blogs that are geared towards teaching science in grades K-5. All of this is included in the anthology. Also available are student editions for each grade level that include 5 extra poems at each level that are not included in the teacher's edition. If you visit the publisher's website, you will also find printables and audio versions of poems.

There are so many ways you can use these poems. Shared reading on a flip chart will be a must in K-1. For students working on improving their fluency, they could practice reading a poem and perform it. Want to practice finding a main idea in poetry? I would read Joseph Bruchac's What We Eat and ask students to infer the main idea of the poem. You will find so many different uses for this anthology, so find a way to get a copy in your hands!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Go Caterpillars Go!

Thanks to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and the Orange County 4-H Club, we were given a set of caterpillars that have gone to the pupa stage. Our teacher assistant and I carefully placed them in a mesh net on Friday and hope to see butterflies in the coming week. Here's a link to a great PDF titled Butterflies in Your Backyard. This is a terrific resource. 

Friday, April 25, 2014


Check out Poetry Friday at The Opposite of Indifference

We're working on creating a poetry booklet in my second grade classroom and next week we may tackle cinquains. I did a little research (or what passes for research in the 21st century) and found information from Kenn Nesbitt and Wikipedia.

The inventor of the modern version of the cinquain was Adelaide Crapsey (see picture on the left). I could make jokes about her last name but that's too easy and sophomoric. Let's take the high road! Adelaide's poetry was similar to the Japanese haikus and tankas. Her cinquain consisted of five lines with a syllable pattern of 2-4-6-8-2. That's the pattern that I chose to follow below with an cinquain in honor of my dog Pumpkin:

Sleeping Dog
From what, you ask?
Watching for enemies
UPS man is not my friend
On guard

Here is a picture of Pumpkin as she waits to hear the sound of the menacing brown truck which will unleash her ferocious barking. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Rows and Piles of Coins

My Rows and Piles of Coins
written by Tololwa M. Mollel; illustrated by E.B. Lewis
1999 (Clarion Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Young Saruni helps his mother Yeyo sell her goods at a Tanzanian market. In return, she gives him five ten-cent coins and urges him to buy something. He is tempted by roasted peanuts, chapati (fried flat bread), rice cakes, and sambusa (pouch of dough stuffed with meat and vegetables), but what really tempts him is a row of bicycles. Saruni has been acquiring bumps and bruises while trying to learn how to ride his father Murete's bicycle and he longs to buy his own. Deciding to save his money, Saruni withholds spending his money in the hope of buying a bike one day. He continues to help his mother at the market and he makes rows and piles of his coins to count them. Soon, Saruni learns to ride his father's bike and how to carry a load on the bike. He goes back to the market with bundles holding his coins so he can buy a new bike. Unfortunately, the man selling bikes laughs at Saruni because he does not have enough money. Discouraged, he tells Yeyo what happened. What Saruni doesn't know is a big surprise is awaiting him.

We're teaching an economics unit in our second grade classroom and this book fits it perfectly. Saruni is a model of saving money to reach a goal. It's also great for teaching arrays as E.B. Lewis's illustrations show the stacks of coins. My students were counting the money when they saw the pictures. Other economic terms, such as goods and services, also come into play with this book. My Rows and Piles of Coins would be a nice addition to a multiplication unit and/or a unit on economics.

Here's a lesson plan based on the book from Social Studies Research and Practice:,%202010/Features/5.1.13.pdf

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Haiku Starter Lesson Plan

We're starting our poetry writing unit this week and I found this haiku lesson on the Read Write Think website:

You can also contribute STEM haiku at this site:

Happy Poetry Month!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Is This Panama?: A Migration Story

Is This Panama?
written by Jan Thornhill; illustrated by Soyeon Kim
2013 (Owlkids Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more reviews.

Sammy is a Wilson's Warbler that lives near the Arctic Circle. He notices frost on the leaves early one August morning. Sammy thinks to himself that it's time to migrate. He doesn't know exactly when to do this since he's never migrated before. Looking for other warblers, Sammy notices that they are all gone. (Reviewer's note: Apparently Sammy missed the morning memo about finding a migration buddy for the trip to Panama.) Having to do the Lindy and go solo, Sammy asks a caribou if he is heading the right way. The caribou concurs, but also mentions that he has no clue where Panama is located. He's simply going south to his winter forest home where he can more easily scoop off lichens with his hooves. As the book progresses, Sammy meets a succession of animals that help him find his way. Sandhill cranes give him a lift on their way to Texas. After narrowly avoiding becoming an early bird special for a garter snake (I write this blog to crack myself up. Sometimes I'm the only one who reads it. Cue Eleanor Rigby and her face in a jar.), Sammy keeps company with dragonflies. Later he meets up with a flock of warbler cousins who follow the stars and migrate at night. Other migrating animals to meet his acquaintance include monarch butterflies, a Hudsonian godwit, humpback whales, and other migrating birds. Eventually, Sammy finds himself in Panama as a happy but exhausted bird.

Is This Panama? would be a good companion piece to a nonfiction text about migration. With a K-1 audience, I would read it over two days since there is a lot of story to be told. It will be important to explicitly tell students that this is a piece of fiction so they don't confuse fictional elements with informational text. The story and illustrations are engaging so you may have better luck teaching about migration by adding this book than by solely relying on an informational text. I really liked the back matter with extra information about the migrating animals, a great piece on how animals migrate, and the map showing the migration pattern of the Wilson's Warbler. I would think about reading the "How Animals Migrate" piece before reading the fictional narrative. I write this blog to amuse myself and share info about good books. Is This Panama? certainly fits the bill (lame bird pun) of an entertaining and informative book.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Simple Coin Counting Game I Created

Photo by Elembis

I created a game on Google Docs that I don't mind sharing. It's pretty simple and targeted for second grade. Here is the link:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Family Guide Washington D.C. - Eyewitness Travel Guide

Family Guide Washington D.C. 
Eyewitness Travel
2014 (DK Publishing)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book reviews.

We used this travel guide on a trip we took last week to Washington D.C. and it was very helpful. My wife made the following points about this book:

1. It shows maps and layouts of museums and monuments.
2. There is a section for each locale called "Take Cover" which gives suggestions of nearby places to go in case weather forces you to go inside.
3. A map of downtown DC on the front inside cover and a subway map on the back inside cover were very helpful in locating areas we wanted to visit.
4. If you have younger children, there is a section, within each featured landmark visit, called "Letting Off Steam." This gives information about places where your kids can run or walk with a little more abandon and still be safe.
5. The Lowdown gives several pieces of information in one section. This includes travel distance, metro instructions, places to eat and drink, restroom locations, fees for visiting, and activities for the kids.

Washington D.C. is one of those places that you must visit. It is an amazing city and there are plenty of places that you can visit without having to pay an entrance fee.

In the classroom, you could use this guide to ask students to plan a trip to Washington. The maps and landmark distances could also be used for reading comprehension and  math practice. Since standardized tests often contain passages that are similar to a guide book, it wouldn't hurt to share a section with your class and talk about possible questions that could be generated.

Below are two photos from my recent trip.

Picture 1: From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Picture 2: In front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Photos courtesy of Jeff "Ansel" Barger.

Friday, April 4, 2014


written and illustrated by David Macauley with Sheila Keenan
2013 (Macmillan)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more links to STEM books.

This blog has gone to the toilet and that's a good thing. David Macauley's Toilet explores the workings of a toilet and what happens to waste. Appropriately, the first order of business is to learn about why we need toilets in the first place. What is waste and how does it leave our bodies? Macauley answers that question in about as tasteful a manner as you can explain it. Body parts, sans the body, are drawn to illustrate an eclair's path through the body. You see the liver, the stomach, intestines and bladder without seeing any "private" parts. Simply read the text  and follow the drawing to learn how waste leaves your body. The next stop is the toilet. If you lift the lid of the tank of your toilet, you will see what readers see in this book along with a simple explanation of the mechanics of how the chain, floats, and stoppers work. Further explanations show how waste and water exit the toilet through the siphon. Where does all of this go from there? Depends on where you live. Having experienced both, I prefer a sewer system over a septic tank. Macauley goes into detail to explain how both of those work. A great companion to this book would be The Magic School Bus Goes to the Waterworks since it also covers some of the same territory of showing what happens to water when it goes to the treatment plant. Toilet covers more of what happens to the solids (sludge) of waste water than Waterworks.

It would be easy (And I've done this!) to dismiss a child who asks what happens to waste once we flush.
Instead, sit down with a copy of Toilet and explain how all of this works. The text and illustrations are terrific so you will be able to engage a young learner and help them understand. Just know that this is an easier reader but not necessarily an easy reader. I think a third grader could probably read and comprehend the text independently, but not much further below that level. The books in this series receive stars from reviewers because they are top notch explanations of processes that are important in our lives.

Now to explain the picture below. I was visiting a science museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. You climbed down a ladder inside the toilet to visit the basement where murals explained the history of city sewer systems and why they were needed. Quite the experience and photo op!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Visual Definition of Irony

Irony: An outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

I took this picture in Washington D.C. yesterday as I was walking toward the Jefferson Memorial. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is currently in session in our nation's capital. Meanwhile, at my house this was happening:

As Alanis once sang, "Isn't it ironic, don't you think?"