Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Free iPad app: Zap Zap Fractions

Zap Zap Fractions
by Wei Chong
2014 (Visual Math Studio)
iPad app
Price: FREE!!!!!

If you know a child that is just beginning to learn about fractions, you will want to check out Zap Zap Fractions. First of all, it's free. No harm to downloading it and giving it a try. You will want to go through the tutorial first. Important topics like numerators and denominators will be explained. One aspect of Zap Zap that I really appreciate is the use of number lines. They abound in this app. It's important that students are able to work with a number line. Once you finish with the tutorial, it's time to play the game. You are an alien in a spaceship that is facing oncoming asteroids. In order to shoot the asteroids, you have to answer questions about fractions correctly. You have to survive one minute of answering questions. Miss a question and you will need to start over again. It's fun to play and a little addictive. Try it out!

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? July 28th edition

Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts.

What I'm Reading

The Scraps Book is a behind-the-scenes look at how Lois Ehlert creates her wonderful books. There are some excellent spreads in this book that will inspire budding writers of all ages.

Lily the Unicorn is a delightful character who loves life. Her challenge comes from Roger the Penguin who is not fond of many things. This would be a terrific book to use at the beginning of the year for students who are having a hard time transitioning back to school.

Articles that everyone should read

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? - Common Core standards are not the problem!

How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash A Generation of Genuises - Article from Wired magazine about a dedicated teacher in Mexico who has found a better way of teaching.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
2014 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

If you make a list of favorite authors in K-1, Lois Ehlert will be on that list. She has provided the illustrations for classics like Color Zoo, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and Leaf Man. Lois Ehlert is primary school cool and The Scraps Book is her coolest book yet. Ehlert invites readers to learn about the life of an artist. What inspires her? How does she approach her work? These and many other questions are answered. The first section of the book focuses on her beginnings as an artist. Her parents (There's a lovely photo of them in the book.) made things and this inspired her. Lois's mom sewed and shared scissors and fabric with her daughter. Lois's dad shared his workshop and taught her how to paint, saw, and pound nails. What a terrific model for our parents today. Share with your kids the things that you are passionate about. In the following section, Ehlert drops a fantastic quote that I may post in my classroom. In talking about her early adult life as an artist, she explains that she created a lot of art but it wasn't for books. Here is the money quote: "An egg in the nest doesn't become a bird overnight." The rest of the book is used to show the writing and illustrating process. There is a two page spread where Ehlert shows how she sketched out her book Feathers For Lunch. Absolutely fabulous! You get to see how she planned out all 32 pages. Other pages feature the every-day items she uses in her illustrations. This will inspire young illustrators to create their own books.

The Scraps Book, for me, is a celebration of the work of a treasured author/illustrator. Lois Ehlert is very giving in that she shares so much information that will create light bulbs over our heads. Ideas abound, with detailed notes, in this book, yet it is a just right text for young readers. I would share this book near the beginning of the year as you roll out Writer's Workshop. It will jump start the tools that budding author/illustrators use in creating their masterpieces.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Great Teaching in Mexico

Here is another article, about great teaching, that Roberta from Growing Science recommended. Again, someone is daring to be different and trying to rise above the tide of mediocrity that we are currently swimming against. This comes from Wired Magazine and features teacher Sergio Juarez Correa and the terrific work he is doing.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Do Americans Stink at Math?: Great NYT article

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? is a terrific piece penned by Elizabeth Green. Here's a great summary of the article from a Facebook friend of mine:

Phenomenal article. Japanese math skills moving ahead of our own, due in large part to teaching methods developed in America, but which we have failed to implement. Allowing teachers to observe one another, open discussion of teaching techniques. Bringing parents up to speed along with students. Teaching the "why" instead of just how to get the answer. A great read!

Elizabeth Green has a book, Building a Better Teacher, that will be published on August 4th. The article is an excerpt from the book. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lily the Unicorn

Lily the Unicorn
written and illustrated by Dallas Clayton
2014 (Harper)
Source: Orange County Public Library

It's time for classroom teachers to start thinking about the start of the upcoming year. Part of that process is picking out books to share in the first week of class where everyone is getting to know each other and being brave in a new classroom. To allay the fears of possible wailers in the hallway (not the Wailers who played with Bob Marley, but the weepers and gnashers of teeth who aren't quite ready to come back to school yet. Teachers included.), I bring you Lily the Unicorn. Lily is the being that we all need in our lives. She is super positive and loves living a life that explores and finds joy in everything. She likes to make things with the help of her expanded imagination. Dallas Clayton does a fantastic job of showcasing this by filling two pages with several labeled items that Lily has made. The colors are a match for Lily's exuberance. She also likes making music and making a mess. But her favorite thing is making friends. She meets Roger, who is a tough nut to crack. He is a penguin who doesn't like very much. The Antarctic (Can't say polar since he's a penguin.) opposite of Lily. She plans adventures to help Roger loosen up, but he wants no part of it. Lily suggests games they could play, but Roger is not interested. So why is Roger so reticent? He is afraid. The world scares him. Roger sees problems at every turn and he is afraid of failing, especially at making friends. With a few words, Lily convinces him that everything will be okay.

Starting the school year is tough for some kids. Reassuring them that it will be okay is part of my job. Books like Lily the Unicorn help tell students that the world is a wonderful place to experience and that plenty of support will be available. Friends are all around and the great thing about starting school is the opportunity to add to your support group. If you are looking for a book to build the confidence of your new students in K-2, introduce them to a most optimistic unicorn. You might also try this sign as well.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Whoosh!: A watery world of wonderful creatures
written by Marilyn Baillie; illustrated by Susan Mitchell
2014 (Owl Kids)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more nonfiction reviews.

Whoosh! is a book that engages children to read and be active. Each two page spread compares an animal using water and something that a child enjoys doing involving water. For example, an alligator will lay on rocks next to a river to take a good snooze while a child enjoys laying on a raft in a swimming pool. On the cover, you can see an orca blowing water through its blowhole and two children enjoying a cool spray of water. In all, eleven animals are included in this book. With each spread, readers are encouraged to be active as they act out their imaginations. I appreciate a nonfiction book that combines information and imagination. In the back of the book, there is a spread that focuses on how children use water. This would be a good opportunity to post a circle map and ask students how they use water and then add to the chart after reading this section. Following this, there is more information about each individual animal in the back matter.

If you teach preschool or kindergarten, your students will enjoy Whoosh!. It would be a good addition to a unit on animals or a unit on water. You could have a shared writing experience where you post a printed picture of several of these animals (I can't draw worth a hoot.) and ask students to provide a sentence that would go with the animal. You could also ask students to stand in a circle and have them act out the animal that you show from the book. Young readers will enjoy the array of animals and the connections they make to their own actions.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's Raining!: New Gail Gibbons book

It's Raining!
written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons
2014 (Holiday House)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out more reviews at Nonfiction Monday.

One of the things you should appreciate about a Gail Gibbons book is that she is able to explain processes in simple, sparse text. When you write for elementary age students, that is important. In this book, she tackles weather and the water cycle. With detailed illustrations, Gibbons explains how water goes through evaporation and condensation stages. Next, five different types of rain clouds are described with illustrations that give a great visual of each one. A great two page spread of rainfall maps around the world follows. Readers get to see how much rain falls in all seven continents. Do you think rain is just rain? Gibbons will show you that it can take five different forms and fall from five different cloud types. There is also information about flash flooding, threats to clean water, and safety tips on what to do during a storm. By reading It's Raining!, you will be awash in information about rain.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Moon

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Check out Poetry Friday at Write Time

The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbor quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon. 

But of all the things that belong to the day,
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall rise.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Trip Into Space

A Trip Into Space
written by Lori Haskins Houran; illustrated by Francisca Marquez
2014 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Orange County Library

Check out more book reviews at STEM Friday

Many preschool and kindergarten classes have units about careers. Ever thought of featuring astronauts as a career? A Trip Into Space will teach you all about the life of an astronaut working at the International Space Station. It starts with taking a trip from Earth into space. According to the facts in the back matter, these ships travel as fast as 17,500 miles per hour. It takes less time to travel to the space station than to fly on an airplane from New York to California. When you arrive at the space station, boxes have to be unloaded with new supplies for the crew. Fresh fruits and veggies are especially prized as most food on the space station is freeze dried. Accounting for the lack of gravity is a big deal in this floating lab. Astronauts drink out of pouches and have Velcro to hold down their forks while they are eating. My favorite piece of information and accompanying illustration in this book is that astronauts zip themselves in sleeping bags so they won't float away during sleep. It's also important to be clipped while you are working outside making repairs on the station. Working two hundred miles high is definitely a trip!

With engaging pictures and an easy narrative to follow, young readers will enjoy their trip into space. I've said this plenty of times before, but I'll say it again: We underestimate how hard it is to write good nonfiction for very young readers that can be read over and over again. A Trip Into Space is the rare nonfiction work that would make a great bedtime story. What better way to send yourself off into dreams?

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

What I'm reading

Fractions In Disguise is a math mystery where George Cornelius Factor needs to find a stolen 5/9 fraction. This would be a terrific book to use for introducing how to reduce fractions.

Handle With Care features a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. Readers find out that farms don't necessarily have to produce food. When I teach our unit on life cycles, I'll be using this book. Great back matter too!

Cool non-education articles that I read

If you like to make ice cream (and I do), check out this article in the NY Times by Melissa Clark. One secret: Use egg yolks.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey
written by Loree Griffin Burns; photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
2014 (Milbrook Press)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday for more book reviews.

Handle With Care starts with a photograph of three rows of butterfly pupae. It's an eye-catching picture that makes you think about the differences between the pupae. It also made me think, "What is coming out of that?". These pupae arrive in a silver box that when opened, reveals a cross between Christmas for an entomologist and Forrest Gump. Yes, a box of bugs with each in its own little slot. Just avoid the one with nougat. The box has arrived at the Museum of Science in Boston. Where did it come from? El Bosque Nuevo, which is a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. This will blow your students' minds because they think of farms only as places that produce food. Loree Griffin Burns is extra smart and I know this because she takes this angle on page 10. That's called knowing your audience. What follows is an account of how this farm helps produce pupae that are shipped around the world. I love the details that are provided in the narrative. We learn how farmers have to provide plates of crushed bananas and cups of sugar water for the adult butterflies in the greenhouse. The photograph on page 14 looks like a Golden Corral for butterflies. On Tuesdays, larvae eat free! You also learn that it is important for farmers to keep out other animals. Some need to be kept out because they eat caterpillars and butterflies. Others are kept out because they will eat the plants in the greenhouse. Then there's the puparium which is a place containing cabinets of caterpillars that aren't far from transitioning into pupae. When the caterpillars turn into pupae, they are pinned to a board so they can have a place to hang. Some pupae are shipped to places like museums, others stay at the greenhouse to create the next generation of butterflies, and the rest are released into the nearby forest.

I like that the text in Handle With Care is not wonky which makes it much easier to share with a K-2 audience. The photographs are fantastic. It would be an interesting discussion to talk about how these pictures are important to the book. The back matter is also great as you have a page about the different types of metamorphosis and another page that talks about words used to describe the life cycles of insects.

If you teach a unit on life cycles, find this book because your students will be fascinated by the work of these farmers in Costa Rica. They have a genuine appreciation and care for the butterflies that they farm. This is the kind of attitude toward living things that we want to impart to our students. Plus, it's just a really cool book!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Poetry Friday: The Spider

Photo by Orest

Check out Poetry Friday at My Juicy Little Universe. This is a great place to find excellent poetry.

I've been thinking about patience a lot lately and this poem preaches that virtue. It would also be a great poem to use when teaching point of view in poetry. 

The Spider by Jane Taylor

"OH, look at that great ugly spider!" said Ann; 
And screaming, she brush'd it away with her fan; 

"'Tis a frightful black creature as ever can be, 

I wish that it would not come crawling on me. "

"Indeed," said her mother, "I'll venture to say,
The poor thing will try to keep out of your way; 

For after the fright, and the fall, and the pain, 
It has much more occasion than you to complain.

"But why should you dread the poor insect, my dear?
If it hurt you, there'd be some excuse for your fear; 

But its little black legs, as it hurried away,
Did but tickle your arm, as they went, I dare say.

"For them to fear us we must grant to be just,
Who in less than a moment can tread them to dust; 

But certainly we have no cause for alarm; 
For, were they to try, they could do us no harm.

"Now look! it has got to its home; do you see
What a delicate web it has spun in the tree? 

Why here, my dear Ann, is a lesson for you: 
Come learn from this spider what patience can do!

"And when at your business you're tempted to play,
Recollect what you see in this insect to-day, 

Or else, to your shame, it may seem to be true, 
That a poor little spider is wiser than you. "

Fractions In Disguise

Fractions In Disguise
written by Edward Einhorn; illustrated by David Clark
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM Friday to find more book reviews.

George Cornelius Factor lives for fractions. He collects them and places them on shelves in his home. So it's no surprise that when a 5/9 is available through an auction, George is there to bid. Others want this prize fraction as well, so the bidding is fast and furious. George makes the initial bid and is topped by Madame Geometrique and Baron von Mathematik. As the bidding reaches a peak, the room is thrown into darkness. When the lights come back on, the valued 5/9 is gone and so is the mysterious Dr. Brok, who has a shady past. George suspects the bad doctor and immediately starts thinking of a plan. Using parts of a ray gun, a calculator, paper clips, a whisk, and spare computer parts, he develops a Reducer. When pointed at a fraction, it reduces it to its lowest terms. George tries it out on a 10/15. He is able to reduce it to a 2/3. Now it is time to implement the second part of the plan. He goes to the mansion of Dr. Brok. Will he find the precious 5/9? I've given you 1/2 the plot so you can find out what happens in the other 4/8.

Fractions In Disguise is 6/6 a clever tale. Students will have fun trying to reduce fractions as they read the book. It's a great way to introduce reducing fractions, which starts in the fourth grade math curriculum. Adding this math mystery to your math read aloud collection will be one whole good idea!