Archive for July, 2010

Share it Forward

As I’ve been perusing my blog reader I’ve found a couple of really cool tools that I thought I should share!

1. Answer Garden. I stumbled across this one in a new blog that I just started subscribing to called iLearn Technology.

You type in an question or a topic and your readers/students/users can type in an answer and it will appear in an “Answer Garden” Example:

Best thing about summer… at

Cool, huh? What a great way to get student or parent ideas and opinions about a topic! (and no username required! So simple.)

2. This is so fun: Learn Something Everyday is a blog project where the creators publish a random fact and an accompanying cartoon everyday. I know my kiddos would love this! Learned about this one from a fantastic blog full of book reviews and technology tools The Book Chook

Photo from Learn Something Every Day

Photo from


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Special Delivery

Yesterday I got two, count ’em TWO, packages in the mail! Wooohooo, I love packages in the mail. Package #1 was from mom and included 2 books I left at my parents’ house and my Sonicare charger AND a Lindt Dark Chocolate with chile bar. Oh, my momma knows me so well! This chocolate bar was sooo interesting, tastes just like regular Lindt  dark chocolate, and then at the end it has this zing that hits the back of your throat. Love it, it might be my new chocolate obsession! (Thanks mom!)

Package #2 was also very exciting! Remember back when I was trying to decide which Easel to buy for my Workshops? Well I ordered one from CSN School. This website had so many great options and even greater prices–better than any other classroom supply site I could find, two thumbs up!  Anyway, it was kind of funny, because I was literally checking the “Track Your Package” website to see when it was going to arrive and as I was looking at this screen:

As I read “Out for Delivery”…Knock, knock, knock! UPS delivering my order. Weird. So here she is:

There she is all set up! Hardly any assembly. My roommate and I played a little game of Hangman:

Ain’t Isn’t that the truth? Here is the coolest thing about it, the selling point for me:

It SWIVELS! And yes, there is another whiteboard on the other side:

A little Venn Diagram we made of School Vs. Summer. Oh, and there’s more:

It folds up and has that handy handle for easy transport and storage (perfect for my little bitty classroom!)

Finally, it came with this cover to keep the whiteboard nice and safe while I transport it to school. Then, I’ll probably never use the cover again because it was so tricky to maneuver the easel in there!

I can’t wait to use this with my students! I might need to head up to school to see how it fits in my classroom 🙂

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I Used to Write

Penny Kittle encouraged us as teachers to “write beside them”. In fact, when she signed my book that’s the message she gave me: “Amy: Write with your students and write for yourself”. She challenged us to write for 15 minutes each day for the rest of the summer…and I have taken that challenge. Most of that writing has been on this blog, but Penny also encouraged us to keep a writing notebook like we have our kids do. A notebook where we can write just like them, and show them our process. So I stopped by Target and picked up a lime green composition notebook (BTW: School supplies are out at Target, and I still get that thrilly feeling inside when I walk up and down the aisles of pocket folders and washable markers. School supply shopping has always been one of my favorite things!)

Confession: I’ve been very intimidated by this notebook. How do I start? What do I write about? I have nothing to say! Hmmm, I wonder if this is how my kids feel? That notebook has been staring at me for a week. But, today, I started writing. And I decided this first entry could, and should, be shared.

I Used to Write

I used to write all the time–I remember buying my first journal when I was in 6th grade. It was a dusty red color with kittens on it. I filled that journal within the year.

I remember when my 6th grade English teacher gave us a writing assignment: Write a mystery. Mine was over 20 pages long.

I remember when my mom got back from a trip, she gave my sister a beautiful hardcover sketchbook, and gave me a beautiful hardcover writing journal. I spent hours writing in that book, dreaming of becoming an author. The stories that filled those pages were mostly copycats, shadows of books I had read and characters I loved. But to me, they were my stories.

I remember pouring my heart out into my beloved diary and feeling like it was the only place where I could really be myself. Those pages wouldn’t judge me, wouldn’t laugh at me, wouldn’t expect me to be something I wasn’t. They could keep my secrets.

I remember high school–the age of note writing.  I remember I was a master note writer. I could effortlessly fill a piece of blue lined notebook paper with scribblings and nothings in sparkly gel pen. We would write them during class and pass them in the hallway, we thought our teachers didn’t know, but now I understand we weren’t that sneaky. It was so much easier for me to write than to talk, so I wrote a lot. I wrote to my friends, to myself, to the boy I liked–sometimes he got those notes, sometimes he didn’t.

What I don’t remember, is why I stopped writing. Why my life got too busy to put my pen to paper. Why my journals sit only partially filled, months and years between entries.

I remember when I used to write, when I had so much to say, and my pen danced across the page.

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A place to write

One of the interesting things about living with two roommates is finding your own space. With your family you can just say, “Go away, I was here first.” It doesn’t work that way with roommates. When we moved into our “new” (built in 1948) house, I downgraded to a much smaller bedroom and for the first time since I can’t even remember, I decided not to have a desk in my room. So for the last two months I’ve been reading, writing, and working on my bed or in our living room. It just wasn’t working! I need a place to be alone so I can work. My solution? Yesterday my roommate and I worked on rearranging things. Here is the before:

And the After:

Please excuse the MESS of cords, I'm going to pick up some zip ties today! Messy cords are like nails on a chalk board to me, they give me the shivers!

Not bad, huh? It’s not very big, but I like it. I know this doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with teaching, but I’m really trying to be an example to myself and for my kids as we embark on our writing journey this year. I have learned I need a space to sit and write and work. Some people can sprawl on the floor or bed and read and write…I cannot.

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Oh the Places You’ll Go…4th Grade Vegabonds

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
(Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss.)

Every year our staff votes on a theme for the school year. “Riding the Wave of Success”, “Be Bold, Go for the Gold” (Summer Olympics that year!), “Learning Zone: Kids Under Construction” (Our building was under construction that year). Our theme this year is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” based on the Dr. Seuss book of that title.

Each grade level is supposed to come up with a sub theme to go along with the school theme. For example we were the “4th Grade Dive Team” for the Olympic theme or “4th Grade Architects” for the construction theme. “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” is supposed to be a very broad theme: you could do a Dr. Seuss-y classroom, or pick a place “you could go”, or do a travel theme…We’ve decided to go the travel route and base our grade level around Passports. (We haven’t come up with a catchy theme slogan yet…4th Grade Globetrotters?  4th Grade Mountain Movers? (Based on the line from the book: Kid you’ll move mountains)

I looked up “Traveler” in the thesaurus: adventurer, barnstormer, bum*, commuter, displaced person, drifter, excursionist, expeditionist, explorer, floater, gadabout, globetrotter, gypsy, haj, hiker, hobo, itinerant, jet-setter, journeyer, junketer, migrant, navigator, nomad, passenger, peddler, pilgrim, rambler, roamer, rover, sailor, seafarer, sightseer, tourist, tramp, transmigrant, trekker, tripper, trouper, truant, vagabond, vagrant, voyager, wanderer, wayfarer.

Somehow “4th Grade Nomads” or “4th Grade Hobos” just don’t have quite the right ring to them 🙂

So, I’m still looking for the right theme name, but I do know that my kids will be making passports on the first day of school to decorate my theme bulletin board (which will probably stay the same all year, despite Kirsten’s head shaking and suggestions with each season). The passports will be over-sized, like maybe a full piece of paper size–and they’ll have pictures of my kiddos and information about them. Then the pages within the passports will tell about places they have been, or places they want to go. I love this theme because it is so hopeful and reflective! I can’t wait to talk to my kids about the adventures they have had and want to have in the future. I just can hardly wait to see the places we’ll go this school year!!

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Random Notes from my Penny Kittle Workshop

Here is what I usually do: I get back from a workshop very excited and on fire about whatever I learned. I stick my notes on a pile with very good intentions to review them later. A few months go by. I find the notes, and try to read them and can make absolutely NO sense of them. To break the cycle, I want to share a few notes I took from the Penny Kittle workshop I went to on Wednesday.


My friend and co-teacher, Kirsten, and I sat side by side and listened as Penny Kittle described a writing classroom we dream about. Both of us had been victims of the dreaded “Teach to the Test” teaching method when it came to writing (and reading). It was the only way we knew to get our kids ready for the standardized test that required them to write a composition over a vague topic. I can’t count the number of times we looked at each other knowingly as Penny described an ineffective writing classroom that sounded a lot like ours, or wrote notes furiously to each other as we were given hope for a better way. At lunch we talked a mile a minute about all that we want to do in our classrooms this year, and I was encouraged as I realized a very important thing:  I wouldn’t be alone as I revolutionized my Language Arts classroom.

Random Notes and Thoughts:

  • Penny started out the workshop by asking us how many pages/week high school students should be reading in order to be prepared for college. The answer? 300+pgs/week. Huh.
  • “The fingerprints of our teaching are all over the work our students produce.” Lucy Calkins
  • Conditions that Create Writers:
    • Readers
    • Illustrators/pictures
    • Mentors: Colaboration/talking
    • Sharing
    • Technology
    • Room to be creative: music, videos, non traditional publication
  • Create “Interest Notebooks” where different kids can write about a certain topic (ie: Superheroes, Religion, Sports, Favorite Books ect…)
    • She even talked about sharing these notebooks between grade levels and with the public (Told the story of a teacher who would leave theirs at a local coffee shop and community members could write in them)
  • When we’re writing everyday, kids start thinking like writers. They start seeing topics all over their lives.
  • Quick Write (QW) Three rules:
    • Write quickly
    • Write the entire time (build stamina)
    • Break the rules
  • Mentor texts: 1 writer: Several Texts. Several writers: 1 genre
  • Thoughts on Organizers:
    • Formulas create dependent Thinkers.
    • Don’t focus on product–>Focus on writers
    • Completing vs. Creating.
  • Final Thoughts:
    • Kids need to read what matters to THEM.
    • Give kids writing experiences that matter to them
    • Get kids to share their thinking as well as their writing
    • The power of ONE YEAR. One year with you as their teacher can make all the difference.

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I’m ready to write again

I’m sitting on my couch, balling my eyes out…I just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Wow, talk about a powerful piece of fiction. To be honest, for the last two weeks I have struggled with writing, fought against it, and generally just gave in to my writer’s block. That is in part because I was busy camping, spending precious time with my friends and family in Minnesota before heading back down to the land of air conditioning and sweat (Texas). Then I was overtaken by summer. By the sheer delight of getting up in the morning and reading my way through breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. But after finishing The Book Thief, suddenly I was ready again, to write. So, I didn’t hold true to my resolution to blog everyday, but I’m OK with that.

My "To Read" pile

So, what has this teacher been up to? I already shared that I’ve been reading my little heart out. I scoured my favorite reading blogs (Check them out here and here) , and made a long list of books I want to read this summer and headed to my local library. On top of that, my dad gave me a bunch of books he has read and recommends. Growing up, I never would have called my dad a reader, but wow, did we talk books this summer! He gave me Drive by Daniel H. Pink and How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, and I’m excited to read them and be able to discuss them with dad–and he showed me his “To Read” stack of books and it was bigger than mine, who would have thunk!?

My “To Read” books have three piles: We have my Fiction Pile from the library, my Recommendation Pile from Dad, and there is one more pile: my Teacher Pile. This pile includes Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle. I went to her workshop on Wednesday, and WOW, it was awesome! It was exactly what I needed as I plan my own Writer’s Workshop (More about that workshop soon!). I also finished my two books about Reading and Writing workshop and ordered three more from Amazon and borrowed a few from friends:

  • Revisiting the Writing Workshop
  • Revisiting the Reading Workshop
    • by Marybeth Alley and Barbra Orehovec
  • Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days
    • By Frank Serafini
  • The Daily 5
  • The Cafe Book
    • By Gail Boushey and Joan Moser

So this nerdy teacher will be reading, writing, running, cooking, and relaxing, because it’s SUMMER!

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