Monday, August 31, 2015

Ebola: Fears and Facts

Ebola: Fears and Facts
written by Patricia Newman
2015 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There is no room for optimism as long as you are dealing with an Ebola virus. It's not about low numbers. It's about zero. We have got to get to zero.

Dr. Bruce Aylward - World Health Organization

The word Ebola strikes fear into people and rightfully so. The virus, transmitted by bodily fluids and not airborne, kills half of the people that come into contact with it. So why read an excellent informational text about this dreaded disease?

First, gaining knowledge is necessary in dealing with a panic inducing topic. Author Patricia Newman guides readers through the beginnings of the scientific world’s awareness of the disease. You learn why the virus spread so quickly in central and western Africa, what is being done to combat it, and why it is so important to continue to monitor it. The text is just right for fourth grade and above and you don’t have to worry about graphic photographs. Second, there are several superb text features (charts, diagrams, and maps) that can be used in lessons on nonfiction reading. For example, on page 27 is a chart that compares Ebola to other viral infections (Bird flu, HIV, SARS). This chart compares the origins of the infections, target areas of the body, and five other categories. Finally, this is the story of a heroic battle to save lives. Brave doctors, nurses, and local citizens risk their health in service to others. 

Ebola: Facts and Fears is a terrific resource that can be used by students and adults to learn about a disease that has grabbed the world’s attention. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Brain Games: The Mind-Blowing Science of Your Amazing Brain

Brain Games
written by Jennifer Swanson
2015 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Your brain is the most complex supercomputer on the planet. It's a compass, a storehouse, and a time machine all rolled into one.

My youngest daughter enjoys the television show Brain Games on the National Geographic Channel. It's a reality show that uses interactive games to teach you about the brain. With the success of this show and Pixar's Inside Out, a lot of people have the brain on the brain. But do you know how the brain works? I have some basic knowledge, but not much beyond that. With this kids companion to Brain Games, I can be an expert. It is a thorough treatment of all the connections and functions that our brains have. Understanding the science of the brain is a challenging matter, but author Jennifer Swanson makes it easier by introducing sections with games that are what you would see on the television show. This gives you a connection for the hard science that follows in the section titled What Exactly is Happening. Pretty neat trick. You also get fun facts that illuminate the information presented. For example, in the section on neural pathways and how the brain makes our senses work, you learn in a sidebar how king snakes can hear sounds by feeling vibrations in their jaws. I also understand my two dogs much better now that I have read the sidebar about the importance of smell to my canine critters. Another engaging section of the book are the brain breaks. Appearing at the end of each chapter, these are mostly visual cranium contests that students will enjoy. I would put individual brain breaks on a SmartBoard and have the class try and solve them. Two more challenges are also included with the back matter.

When a student talks about their brain hurting, you can now ask "Left side or right side?" "Your hypothalamus or your frontal cortex?" If you want to be a true brainiac, pick up a copy of Brain Games.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Writing short vowel words resource

I was looking to create a center for Reader's Workshop. I wanted to focus on word study and ran across this terrific resource from Anna at The Measured Mom. Students use printed initial consonants, blends, and digraphs (onsets) to attach to a vowel and other letters that follow (rimes). Players gain the rime by rolling a die. What's especially nice about this resource is that it is FREE! In the age of TPT, this is a nice surprise. Thanks, Anna!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I'm New Here

I'm New Here
written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I say the new words again and again. 
They feel like rocks in my mouth. 
My tongue twists and stumbles on their edges.

It's not easy being the new kid in class. All eyes watch you. Your newness breaks up the humdrum of the classroom routine. Now imagine being new in a place where you don't understand the language. That is the challenge for three students in I'm New Here. Maria is from Guatemala. Recess in her old home meant free flowing conversations. Now she is overwhelmed by strange sounds. Jin has come from Korea. He loved writing stories in his native land. Writing in English is a challenge. The symbols are now letters instead of pictures. Fatimah, from Somalia, was a great fit in her old class. She has to learn different routines and ways in her new class. Loneliness and confusion are some of the feelings facing these students. The nice thing about kids is that they can make all sorts of connections. Through art, reading, and soccer, these students make new friends.

What a great book to share at the beginning of the year! I have three students who are new to our school and will be sharing it. Being aware of the difficulty of being new will help the rest of the class to make friends. I'm New Here would also be a good mentor text when talking about immigration. Pair this with the wonderful wordless book Here I Am which also focuses on the theme of being new from another country. I'm New Here is a valuable resource for building a community in your classroom.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Clothesline Clues to Sports People Play

Clothesline Clues to Sports People Play
written by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook;
illustrated by Andy Robert Davies
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Team shirt, goalie gloves.
A ball to kick away.
Long socks and shin guards.
What sport does she play?

When I was 8 years old, my favorite part of getting dressed for baseball games was putting on the stirrups. It was a unique piece of clothing and made me feel like a big league player. Of course, I didn't exactly hit like a big league player, but it didn't matter because you got a free soda after every game. I played several sports in my youth and putting on the uniform was always a big deal. In Clothesline Clues to Sports People Play, equipment and uniform are used to identify different sports. Readers use the illustrations and an accompanying couplet to identify the sport. One of the stated skills required of K-2 readers is to be able to use the illustrations and details in a text to find the key idea. This book makes it fun to practice. You will get a loud response before you turn the page to reveal the answer. Seven sports are represented which makes reading the book an opportunity to create a graph. "How many of you like this sport?" you could ask. A bar or pictograph could easily be drawn to illustrate the data. A great pre-reading activity would be to list different sports and ask readers to list equipment and/or uniform pieces that are needed to play the game. Then you can check the list after you read to see if any additions need to be made. If you have a Sports Day in your classroom, this would be a fun mentor text to read as well. Be a sport and read Clothesline Clues to Sports People Play!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Let Me Eat Cake!

"Six candle cake" by Five_candle_cake.jpg: Tournesolderivative work: Tournesol 

NC Teacher Stuff turned six years old today. Here is a link to the very first post. I'm surprised it has lasted this long. Most blogs don't.  I quit one time only to find a box of nice books on my doorstep when I returned from vacation. I felt obligated to review them so the blog came back to life. I'm blessed with the doors that blogging has opened. Thank you to everyone who has contributed and befriended me online. I cannot thank you enough. If you enjoy writing and need an outlet, I would encourage you to start a blog. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Beginning of the Year Picture Books

What picture books do you read at the beginning of the year? I have included pictures of some of the books that I am considering. I want to use these books to build a sense of community and set the tone for the new year. Feel free to add books that you use in the comments section. I appreciate new ideas!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Poetry Friday: The Dog

We adopted a second dog yesterday. Her name is Tilly. She's an under active beagle which suits me just fine. Since I have dogs on the brain, I am posting Ogden Nash's poem below:

The Dog

The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I've also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Alphabet Trains

Alphabet Trains
written by Samantha R. Vamos; illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Around the world, from land to sea,
trains work hard from A to Z.

Quick question. How many different trains can you name? Not companies, but actual trains. I know freight trains, monorails, and passenger trains. I should have named elevated train as well but I had to look in the book to be reminded. That's it. Now, after reading Alphabet Trains, my knowledge has quadrupled. I like that kind of return when reading a nonfiction book. There are so many cool trains here. One of my favorites is the Hurricane Turn. That should be located in a warm weather climate, right? Well, you will actually find it in Alaska. In the back matter (terrific information!), I read that riders have to wave a white flag to stop the train. When they want to get off the train, they tell the conductor the milepost where they need to leave. I was interested enough to research this and learn more about the Hurricane Turn. That's one of the beauties of this book. It's going to lead to extra research by young readers and their families. Did you know there was a snow plow train? I never considered how snow would be removed from a train track. They have special blades that carve the snow, sends it through a chute, and blows it to one side of the track. After reading Alphabet Trains, readers will also ask questions that will lead to further research. As a kid, I lived off of nonfiction books with bite-sized information that led me to read other books.

Other than prompting further research, you could use this book for quick shared reading sessions with a reading group. Leave off the last word in the second sentence and see if students can provide it. They can use the last word in the previous sentence and context clues (the illustration) to try and come up with the missing word. This will help build vocabulary and prompt readers to practice using the tools they have to figure out new words. I think creating an alphabet book would also be a fun nonfiction writing challenge for 2nd-4th grade writers too. Punch your ticket now and join the Alphabet Trains!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

B is for Bedtime

B is for Bedtime
written by Margaret Hamilton; illustrated by Anna Pignataro
2015 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

O is for the Owl outside in the tree, 
P for Pajamas, now shake my foot free. 

What do I want from a bedtime book? First, I'm looking for illustrations or photographs that grab my eyeballs and keep them stuck on the page. B is for Bedtime is chock full of adorable drawings of a little girl preparing for a good night's sleep. If you can throw in a cute animal, even better. The dog in this book steals the show. Second, the text needs to have a catch. I like rhyme because a nice rhythm can be soothing which you really need at bedtime. The cadence with this text is consistent and rolls off your tongue. I also appreciate that there is a familiar routine that sends you right into bedtime. This is a big deal when you are preparing a young one for sleep. Finally, I want a text and pictures where the reader can make connections. That makes it more interactive for the reader. I love, love, love that the individual parents and grandma are included in the text. Very sweet. There are teddy bears and blankets, pajamas and lullabies. All of the elements that you expect in a bedtime story are right here. Plus, it's not super long or too cloyingly sweet so that's a bonus for the adult who reads the book EVERY night.

If you want to win the baby shower, buy this book. Imagine the oohs and aahs and jealous looks that you will receive when your gift is opened. It will be passed around and fawned over as opposed to the pack of onesies or the diaper changer. You can thank me later.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Value of a Real Apology: An Article by Dr. Richard Curwin

The Value of a Real Apology
written by Dr. Richard Curwin
July 16, 2015 (Edutopia)

Public forms of discipline - including writing on boards, charts, or oral interventions- create pressure, humiliation, powerlessness, embarrassment, and unwanted attention. Even if the public attention is meant to be positive, the student doesn't always feel that way. 

Edutopia is a good place to visit anytime, but especially as you are gearing up for another school year. If you're thinking about your classroom management plan/style(If not, why not?), you should read this article. I was already thinking about some of my previous practices and how I wanted to take a different direction. Reading this article confirmed some of my thoughts, pricked my conscience, and made me want to make some changes. That's the kind of staff development I appreciate. Click the link above to read the article.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Tower of Giraffes: Animals in Groups

A Tower of Giraffes:Animals in Groups
written and illustrated by Anna Wright
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Available starting September 8th

A Drove of Pigs
Pigs like to spend time with other pigs-they are very social. Groups, called droves, are led by females, called sows. Within a drove, some pigs sleep beside the same companion for many years. 

Is that wallpaper? That was my first reaction when I saw the striking cover of A Tower of Giraffes. Then I went into full blast teacher craft mode (Can I trademark that phrase?) and thought about how cool it would be to use wallpaper samples to create animal pictures with second graders. When I opened the book and looked through the illustrations, I also saw watercolors, fabric, and feathers used to illustrate other groups of animals. My eyes feasted on these beautiful and original illustrations. After recovering from near craft hyperventilation (NCH), I began to pay attention to the text and notice all the new facts that I was learning. Look at the paragraph highlighted above. Did you know that the sows led groups of pigs? I didn't. I also wasn't aware of how social they were. That's two new pieces of information in a small paragraph. There's a lot of animal information that your students will collect from A Tower of Giraffes. Furthermore, you can use this book to teach collective nouns. Check out the vocabulary below:

How great is it to learn the word flamboyance? After reading A Tower of Giraffes, I would challenge students to research and find more collective nouns related to animals. You can create a chart in your classroom. Kids will be flying to their computers at home to add to the list. If excellent illustrations, new animal information, and fun grammar lessons weren't enough, then might I suggest main idea and supporting details? The first sentence of these paragraphs gives the name of the group and the following sentences are supporting details. This informational text is the total package! It can score, make assists and gather rebounds. A Tower of Giraffes is to informational text as LeBron James is to basketball. If you think I'm bathing in hyperbole with that analogy, check out this book and decide for yourself. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015


written by Lynn Parrish Sutton; illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
2015 (Kane Miller)
Review copy provided by the publisher

I love you slowly like a sloth.
I love you quietly like a moth.

"Here is a list of adverbs that you can use with your writing." That's a helpful act that myself and other teachers will do to assist young writers. We might also show the Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Get Your Adverbs  song from Schoolhouse Rock. But what if we had a really cute rhyming book that used animals to illustrate the use of adverbs? That would be a pretty effective tool. Voila! Let me present Animally which is just such a book. Each two page spread features a full page illustration and two half page illustrations. Each illustration is accompanied by a sentence that starts with "I love you..." followed by an adverb that connects with the featured animal. For example, "I love you slowly like a sloth" highlights the deliberate nature of this mammal. "I love you quietly like a moth" confirms the sonic quality of that insect. As a teacher, I would use two or three of these a day to have a quick five minute lesson about adverbs. This would also integrate science as you would be discussing why the author chose that particular adverb. Another idea based on the book would be to create a class book where students contribute a page that uses an animal to feature a certain adverb. You can change out love with another action word. I run speedily like a cheetah or I bellow loudly like a bear would be examples of what you could create.

Animally is a delightful book that can be used as a bedtime story for toddlers or for a grammar lesson with older students. You will love this book ferociously like a grizzly bear!