Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Judy Moody in the Classroom

Judy Moody (Book #1)Judy Moody Gets Famous (Book #2)Judy Moody Saves the World! (Book #3)

Summer film releases can be a great indicator of popular series for children.  For instance, on June 10th, a character named Judy Moody is making her way to the big screen to share the stories that have entertained young readers for years.

The books are embraced the same way that young readers, a generation ago, followed the exploits of Ramona Quimby.  Megan McDonald began the books in 2000 and has created an impressive list of books about the third grade girl who has been everything from a girl detective to a doctor.  Perhaps if the film is successful, there will be more films about Judy Moody.

Besides a lovable character as the focal point of the series, Judy Moody novels also have nice illustrations.    They are great books for young elementary students.

Not only can you recommend the books and the film (if it turns out to be any good) to your students, but you can also use the books in classroom activities:

  • Candlewick Press has a teacher's guide with everything from creative writing suggestions, history and science lesson ideas, an author study, etc.
  • They also have a guide for math activities based on the books.  This would be a great way to integrate literature with your math lesson!
  • One magazine recommends turning the "No-Talk Rocky vs. Judy Snooty" scene from Judy Moody: Around the World in 8 1/2 Days (Book #7) into a reader's theater script for students to perform for the class.  Are there other chapters that can be given the reader's theater treatment?  Ask your class about their favorite scenes in the books.

What's more, for a limited time, you can enter The Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer Sweepstakes.  Teachers and librarians may enter to win free tickets to see the film, Judy Moody books, and much more.  The deadline is June 20.  Good luck!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Concerning Excellence:

This quote stresses why we should nurture the value of excellence within students.  It calls to mind some of the things I've been reading about rigor and high standards in the classroom:

"Excellence requires hard work, disciplined application, but above all an attitudinal disposition that implies one will put forth sufficient effort to do any work at the highest level possible of which one is capable at a given time.

Frequently there is a misconception about what promotes excellence in an endeavor. Excellence is often perceived as achieving technical mastery in some area, where there is evidence that high level skills have become automatic. Yet excellence implies pushing the envelope of technical mastery to another level, of finding ways to improve on past performance as opposed to merely replicating it. The child, who gets a perfect paper and equates that with excellence, even though the work was very easy, has a misplaced conception of excellence… To be concerned with excellence means a willingness to strive for the highest levels of achievement for all students. Thus, maximum, not minimum, competence becomes the performance goal."

-- Joyce VanTassel Baska
Roeper Review

Monday, May 23, 2011

Activities and Resources for Learning Outdoors

I've compiled a list of activities that you can do with your class on great weather days.  Inspired by the sunny, cloudless skies and idyllic temperatures I've been experiencing lately, I thought it would be a good idea to think of some ways to take learning outside the classroom.

These activities take advantage of great weather in any season, but are especially useful for end-of-year lessons.  After exams are taken and students begin to get restless, it may be just what you need to get outside in the sun and do some of that active learning that's beneficial for the brain.

Try these on for size:


This is a really awesome activity shown in detail on Mr. Salsich's classroom blog.  He has two videos describing the kite-making activity.  You can really see all the time and effort placed into this project, which encouraged kids to use their math skills to design, test and perfect their kites.

In the first video, you can see them working together on the kites.  In the second, you can see all their hard work pay off in their fun kite-flying session.  They had a ball and applied their math skills.  Love it!


This cool craft activity can be done inside, but playing with bubbles and paint could be a great opportunity to take kids outdoors.  The video shows how simple the process is, and recommends using the finished products for things like book designs.  The colorful prints would make nice book covers for some of the students' creative writing, which could also be done outside.


This is an activity I found on Scholastic's Classroom Solutions Blog.  Stacey's class used pizza boxes to construct solar ovens and cook s'mores.  A lesson on solar energy and a tasty treat!  Her blog contains some information about her activity, as well as links she used.

Another Scholastic link gives Beth Newingham's ideas for going green at school and references a similar activity with solar ovens.  She used a great resource at FamilyFun for Solar S'mores.


Speaking of the sun, Scholastic also has a great list of activities to do outside using the sun's energy.  They suggest taking a "solar stroll," complete with a reproducible, making a shadow play, using solar kilns, and more.


Ms. Jessica White's classroom blog has a great video that shows her class embarking on a journey around campus during a math lesson.  Check out some of the places where they found parallel and perpendicular lines, plus a lot more! 

Have the class walk around outside to collect some of nature to add to an Alphabet Collage.  This blogger added beans, couscous and a few other items to her kids' leaves, pebbles, flowers and other findings so that they could create letters of the alphabet.  You can also turn this artistic activity into poetry practice by making the letters smaller so that students can make acrostic poems.

This idea comes from Victoria's Scholastic Blog.  She came up with a camping-themed event at her school where students could go outside and participate in several math and science activities.  Check out her blog and see pics and explanations of the event, where kids did fun things that helped them practice measurement.

Another great idea from Scholastic classroom blogs:  Angela Bunyi wanted her class to demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary words by creating costumes representations.  Next, they went outside and held a parade to show off their cool creations.  Visit her blog to see pictures of the event.  She planned this parade in lieu of a Halloween activity, but dressing up for vocabulary would be a neat activity any time of year.

Angela adapted this activity from Debra Frasier's books and ideas.  Visit her site for more ideas on how to plan a vocabulary parade.

Keep it simple and take your students outside to read, write prose or poetry, or observe nature and the action outside.

Here is a activity that gives students a chance to explore the relationship between the sun and shadows.  Try this as a guide to the activity.

In fact, using sidewalk chalk and concrete is a good basis for many outdoors activities.  You can design a lot of review games based around hopscotch or drawing with sidewalk chalk.

Creating a sun dial may also be a good way to examine the sun and shadows.

That's just what Mitch Squires' class did on a nice day for a science lesson.  They went outside and used their play dough and plastic bottle creations to simulate volcanic eruptions.   Watch the video and go to his blog for details.

These activities are listed on Scholastic and even include printables.  Students will love coming up with their own outdoor games and creating all the rules, or going on a treasure hunt as a fun challenge.

I hope you're enjoying the glorious weather!  Use it as an opportunity to teach and enjoy learning!

images:  microsoft

Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Alphabet Guessing Game

Q Is for Duck: An Alphabet Guessing Game

This is a book I read to a first grade class this week.  It was an alphabet book that helped students practice their letters, but the format is what intrigued me.  

You see, as the title of the book suggests, "Q is for Duck."  Whereas most ABC products would inform us that "D is for Duck," this book actually challenges students to make an association between a letter and a seemingly unrelated word.

An example may be "P is for Flamingo."  The student has to think a little more deeply and connect their knowledge of flamingos ("flamingos are pink") with the letter provided ("pink begins with 'p'").

This was a really enjoyable read because, in between each page, the students were eagerly providing guesses as to what the associating word would be.  They were very excited when they were right!  There were even a few pages that they guessed incorrectly, even though their words began with the correct letter.  It was good practice for them and we got a chance to discuss other ideas for each word.

I'd recommend this book for elementary teachers looking for a different type of challenge with the alphabet.  Perhaps after reading, the class can make their own flipbook where they make their own word associations with the alphabet.

Cool Math Game: Conceptual Bingo

With summer approaching, I’ve decided to post about some of the coolest things I’ve encountered in classrooms this year.  As I mentioned when I began the blog, I actually keep an "idea notebook" and jot down any interesting books, resources, games, ideas, etc that I see at work (the Class-Build-a-Story came from this same notebook).  I started doing it long before I blogged because I wanted to keep these things in mind for my own classroom.  But I think they’re useful recommendations for all of you, too!  So, I’ll start posting some since I have barely touched on them so far.

This cool resource made my list just in the last couple of weeks.  It’s called Conceptual Bingo.  I’ve already made known my love for all things Bingo in classrooms, but I usually see Bingo used with words (like characters or social studies facts) or very simple arithmetic that helps young students.

Recently, however, I subbed in a classroom where I got a chance to experience Conceptual Bingo.  It’s a nice game that gave kids a chance to practice fractions (simplifying, finding equivalence, etc) and still enjoy a rousing game of Bingo.  The kids enjoyed it and actually had to have sheets of paper out to find their answers. They actually have to LISTEN in order to play.  This is the first time I’ve seen a Bingo game used for more advanced skills in math.  I really like the fraction one because you can use several calling cards for the same answer, and they got to practice simplifying, using mixed numbers and improper fractions, etc.

I’d recommend Conceptual Bingo for elementary and middle school students, depending on the skill being practiced.  I looked online and they have different skills for each game: whole numbers, money, time for basic skills; fractions and decimals for more advanced students; and even polynomials and rational numbers for introductory algebra skills.  This is a classic classroom game that kids love and could help them practice various math concepts.  If you have students with various abilities, using different games would help differentiation.  

If you’ve played Conceptual Bingo, how does your class like it?  

image:  microsoft Office

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cooperative Learning: Numbered Heads Together

If you are looking for a way to have students work in small groups, have accountability for participation during a class discussion, and generate oral responses after being given time to think, perhaps you'll be interested in a cooperative learning strategy known as "numbered heads together."

I won't take the time to explain the process because it is done so well in these two videos.  The first video describes exactly what the activity is.  The second video puts it into practice during an elementary class discussion.

I like this strategy because cooperative learning is important for students, and having a few moments to think of the answers to their questions is certainly helpful, as opposed to expecting an immediate answer and faltering when students cannot provide one.  There are times in group discussions when some quiet or reluctant students allow others to take control of the activity, but numbered heads together is a good way to ensure that you get responses from all students.  I also like that the first video stresses the importance of active listening during the activity, as students who are waiting to respond must hear and think about another student's answer before deciding to clarify, add to or contradict that response.

Discussion, thinking, listening and participation are all integral parts of this cooperative learning strategy.  It could also be used in several subjects and for various grade levels.

If you try it out, let me know how you like it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Using Babymouse in the Classroom

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World!

Next on our list of Popular Series in the Classroom, I turn your attention to another graphic novel title. If Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series has a female counterpart, I can think of no better candidate than Babymouse. As often as I see Captain Underpants in the hands of boys, I see the ubiquitous pink and black Babymouse covers in the hands of girls (of course, many girls read Pilkey's books and many boys read Babymouse).

Both series have done wonders for the popularity of graphic novels for children. Graphic novels work well to motivate readers, including struggling readers, because of their clever dialogue and interesting illustrations. Babymouse is a small heroine who has some big adventures, becoming everything from a cupcake tycoon to a rock star.

Again, like most books in this blog series, most of your students are likely already familiar with Babymouse. You won't have to do much to sell them on the idea of reading the series (although, if your students happen to NOT know Babymouse, feel free to introduce them!). But you may be looking for a way to use their love of the books in classroom activities. Luckily, we have a few resources for that very purpose:

  • Have your Babymouse fans try their hand at writing dialogue in these printable graphic novel pictures. Challenge them to come up with their very own stories and illustrations based on the series.
  • Here is the official educator's guide to the series, which has useful discussion questions, vocabulary words and other ideas.
  • Check out this video interview with the authors, brother and sister team Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Also, visit the official site to let students design their own posters and cartoons.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Sherlock Holmes Gets a Makeover

After last week's spotlight on a character from a popular mystery series, it seems fitting that today's subject is a name that defines the entire genre:  Sherlock Holmes.  Readers who, just a few years ago, would find Cam Jansen entertaining can now apply their sleuth skills to a new series for more advanced readers.  The famous detective now has books that describe his emergence as a teen detective.

Check out this video for the series.  It really showcases what I love about book trailers (or book commercials).  Done well, they possess a cinematic feel that rival some of the enticing film and TV promos that students encounter.

Many young mystery fans will be so intrigued by Young Sherlock Holmes trailer that they will want to get their hands on this book and start uncovering clues.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Online Game: Science and Extreme Sports

Demonstrate the application of scientific principles with TryScience's Extreme Challenge, which combines students' interest in extreme sports with science.  By exploring the site, they can learn why traveling on a snowboard in a crouched position is more aerodynamic for faster movement, or how fiber typing different muscles is important for athletes.  Students then apply their science knowledge to compete in the online games!  Try the Quick Play to practice the challenges without registering.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cam Jansen in the Classroom


Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds #1

Cam Jansen, the girl detective who possesses a photographic memory, has long stood as one of the best introductions to the mystery genre.  Young sleuths have embraced the series for decades.  The short chapter book format and illustrations make it a good series for readers who will soon be devouring Nancy Drew and Boxer Children mysteries.

Chances are you often see students reading these books (you may even recall reading them yourself!).  The stated goal of this popular books in the classroom series is to you use what kids already love as a springboard for deeper learning.  Cam Jansen provides just that:

  • Use this printable worksheet that helps students formulate and adjust predictions as they read.
  • This thematic calendar is a great tool to find Cam Jansen recommendations throughout the year.  For instance, since May is National Fitness and Sports month, it helpfully lists several sports-themed Cam Jansen books that you may want students to read.  It also suggests discussion questions and activities.
  • This teacher’s guide has great printables for any Cam Jansen title.  You can explore the elements of story, have students create a book jacket, look for details within the mysteries, etc.  There are also crossword and word search activities.
Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the U.F.O. #2Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones (Cam Jansen)Cam Jansen: Cam Jansen and the Summer Camp Mysteries: A Super SpecialCam Jansen and the Mystery of the Babe Ruth Baseball


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ivy + Bean in the Classroom

Ivy & Bean (Book 1) (Bk. 1)

I was going to describe all the ways that Ivy + Bean, the series by Annie Barrows, is useful in the classroom, but the video posted below explains it all for me.  Real teachers describe the series and attest to the books' ability to captivate young readers:

This is a popular series I often see in girls' hands during independent reading time, and the teacher in the video shows that it is also good for read-alouds to the whole class.

Having perused the books myself, I would say they are good transitional chapter books for students who have graduated from Junie B. Jones, but who aren't quite ready yet for the tween/teen female protagonists in children's literature. I think Ivy & Bean is ideal for 2nd-4th graders. There are many illustrations in the book , which may encourage struggling readers. Some of the major themes of the series involve friendship, as the two main characters build a strong bond despite their many differences.

Ivy + Bean also has potential for several extension activities in the classroom. Here are a few highlights from the teacher's guides provided by Chronicle Books:

  • What's the Big Idea? would be apropos of any units on nature, science, or the environment because the characters decide to take on global warming.
  • The activity guide for this particular book has tons of suggestions for quick science lessons and projects. These will have students thinking about natural resources and ways to produce clean energy.
  • Here are several discussion questions for the first three books in the series, including journal prompts. Students can practice finding meaning through context, problem and solution as well as other skills. Perfect for a small group activity!
  • Teachers have made printable worksheets based on the series, including this one which asks students to design a bedroom based on one they read in the book, as well as this math worksheet that helps students learn to budget.
  • There's even a reader's theater play based on the series.
There are lots of other ideas on the site, too. If you like the series, how do you use it in the classroom?
Whether you're searching for read-aloud material, a new addition to your classroom library, or something that offers extension activities, Ivy + Bean may be exactly what you need.