Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Maze/Puzzle for EVERYONE!

I am always on the lookout for games and activities that are fun and educational.  l bought this on Amazon for my kids, but I have to admit that I'm having as much fun as they are. It's a great maze/puzzle that has cards of increasing difficulty. I haven't made it past beginner/intermediate! The cards themselves are very high quality material with two wipe off pens. The metal box is very durable. I would suggest wiping the cards off with a Lysol or other wet-wipe since they do get the hazing from the wipe off pen. Dry with papertowel and they continue to look like new after several uses. 

Although everyone can find something to enjoy about these mazes, they are especially great practice for kids who struggle with executive functions (planning and organizing in particular)and for those who have difficulty with logical reasoning and visual / spatial skills. 

If you prefer to use an app instead of a table game (which is great for indoor recess or waiting at a restaurant) then you may want to check out "Flow" and "Flow: Bridges" from Big Duck Apps on iTunes

Follow this link to iTunes

Both of these apps are similar in principle to Lab Mice, and they offer different versions/levels and time constraints to add even more challenge.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bullying... or, how we can help to prevent it!

There is an increased focus on bullying these days, as there should be. Unfortunately many of our students and our own children are exposed to all sorts of behaviors that range from teasing all the way up to full-fledged bullying. Let us not forget, the bullies have parents too - even if they don't want to admit it. Not every kid is the victim, some are the perpetrators and others are the bystanders. Others are actually trying to be something different - peacemakers! Wouldn't it be great if all of our kids fell into one category? THE PEACEMAKERS!  I realize that may be a Utopian view that isn't ever going to be reality. It's likely unicorns will walk on Earth the day that happens. But still, can't we try to imagine a world where kids work proactively to get along and broker peace? Maybe the adults could try it too?

I found a new resource that helps children (and their adults) to be more peaceful, mindful, and empathetic.

This book is an amazing resource that comes with a CD of all of the worksheets that you can use with students, or even your own children. Its target audience is grades 3-6.  This text has 125 mini-lessons that can be taught within 20 minutes or less. Student activities—including games, role plays, group discussions, art projects, and language arts exercises—affirm the importance of respect, listening, and kind actions vs. bullying in schools. Kids learn skills they can use to calm down and conflict resolution techniques for situations when strong emotions threaten to disrupt the peace. With a focus on preventing teasing, name-calling, fighting, exclusion, and other hurtful actions, No Kidding About Bullying also features activities to stop bullying when mistreatment is occurring.

If you'd like to see sample pages/sheets from the book, visit the publisher's site. They have many other wonderful resources for teachers and parents. I highly recommend (and own) many of their products:


I borrowed this from my local library, but I plan to purchase it and add it to my shelf. It's that good!

I will post additional mindfulness and empathy resources in coming weeks. Stay tuned...

Monday, March 25, 2013


Do you know about this amazing site? If not, read on. As their tag-line states, "Wonders never cease". It's brought to you by the NCFL (National Center for Family Literacy) and Verizon's ThinkFinity non-profit organization. So, what is Wonderopolis you ask? It's a daily dose of thinking and time well spent with a child or a group of children.

Visit the site HERE and see what you think. It's updated each day with a new "wonder" that you can share with your class (perhaps as part of a morning meeting?) or with your own children as you settle down for the night after dinner (or maybe before, to spur conversation?). However you choose to use it, Wonderopolis is sure to be a hit with children and the adults in their lives. The best part? You can nominate a wonder of your own! Have fun, and let me know what you think!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Online "Ezines" for Kids

I try to incorporate current events and non-fiction reading into my classroom as much as possible. I also like to share the news with my own kids too. I find that the "real" news often has too much detail (causing kids' eyes to glaze over) or too much information that  they don't quite need to know at this young age. I spent a lot of time scouring the internet to find trustworthy news sites that are kid-friendly, but not watered down or condescending. Here are the ones that I think are the best-of-the-best. You can access the site for each e-zine by clicking on its title. All descriptions are taken directly from the sites. Be sure to scroll down, there's a handful of them:


Join Youngzine and Sign up your class(es) for free today!
Many educators have remarked that Youngzine is a perfect complement to academic material, and can be a great resource for teachers and their classes. Learning through current events not only makes students more aware of what's going on in the world, but also helps absorb concepts better. Here's what teachers and parents are saying about Youngzine.
Moreover, Youngzine now provides a safe "blog" environment for classrooms - a constructive, creative and controlled way for teachers to create classroom assignments and foster discussions on current events!
Youngzine provides special features just for you, if you sign up as a Teacher:
  • Each of your classes gets a unique "Classroom Code" that identifies the students in that class. For each class, you get a Blog where you can post assignments and have students respond. You can include specific articles and quizzes to include in each assignment.
  • For each of your classes, you get to see a full report of each student's activities just by going to your classroom tab: their comments, assignment responses, points and quiz results.

Here There Everywhere - News for Kids

Welcome! Here There Everywhere is a news website/blog designed for elementary school-aged children. Its purpose is to show kids how they are connected to their world and introduce them to the people and events shaping it.  It credits children with being interested in and being able to understand some of the more newsy topics (though there will be lots of the fun stuff, too!). HTE can be read with a caregiver or without.

Our Little Earth

Delivered by email every two weeks
It's free

Why Files: The Science Behind the News

Our Mission
The mission of The Why Files is to explore the science, math and technology behind the news of the day, and to present those topics in a clear, accessible and accurate manner. We are based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but The Why Files covers science at all institutions that engage in scientific exploration and discovery. We hope our work will help explain the relationship between science and daily life.
Our Content
The Why Files produces a new story each week, alternating longer features with shorter shorties. We also post a series of interactive science animations, the ever-popular “Cool Science Images,” a series of Teacher Activity Pages linked to the national science teaching standards, The Weather Guys, and Curiosities. Eager to explain the science behind the news, our home page reprises older stories that become relevant to the headlines.
Our History
The Why Files was founded in 1996 as part of the National Institute for Science Education, with funding from the National Science Foundation. We have published weekly on the web since January, 1996. Since 1998, we have been supported through the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Tween Tribune

Welcome to TeenTribune, TweenTribune,TTEspaƱol and TTJunior – the daily news sites for kids, tweens and teens – where you'll find the most compelling, relevant and interesing news for 55 million kids in K-12 and their 3.5 million teachers.
Stories are selected by professional journalists working closely with teens, tweens and teachers. Teens and tweens can post comments, with all comments moderated by their teachers before they are published
We allow teens and tweens to produce 99 percent of our content as a means of engaging them. Almost 100,000 teachers and 1 million students have registered so far.
We're encouraging kids, teens and tweens to seek out news on a daily basis because our democracy depends upon a well-informed public, so we believe it is important to foster a daily news-reading habit as soon as kids begin to read.

Washington Post: Kids Post

Kids version of the well-known newspaper.

Science News for Kids   

(This site is incredibly teacher/student friendly. It allows you to customize your printout by changing font size and even eliminating any text that you may not want to include.)

Science News for Kids (SNK) is an award-winning online publication dedicated to children 9-14, their parents, and their teachers. It was launched in 2003 by the nonprofit organization Society for Science & the Public (SSP) as a youth edition and companion to SSP’s Science News magazine.
SNK offers timely, interesting news stories and features, accompanied by suggestions for hands-on activities, books, articles, and web resources. It attracts nearly four million visitors annually. Younger and older visitors enjoy its pages.
SNK news stories are selected from articles from SSP’s award-winning flagship magazine, Science News, which enjoys paid print circulation of over 120,000 paid subscribers and millions of readers each year. Science News is written by a staff of professional science journalists and editors, and covers all areas of science. SNK content is tailored to make Science News accessible and interesting for the middle-school audience. Longer news features are commissioned from professional science writers as original articles for the site.

Wonder by RJ Polacio

We're at the near beginning of reading this amazing book for young adults in my classroom, and I'm finding it difficult to read aloud. I keep wondering if I'm using the right tone, voice, pacing, rhythm to do this story justice. I'm loving how it's keeping my students on their toes, making them question themselves and the actions of others. They are digging deep into their values and morals. I love that stuff.  One of the interesting parts of the book is the teacher, Mr. Browne's, precepts (think fortune cookie statements, inspirations, quotations) that he presents to his students. I found a blogpost by the author that explains these precepts, and how their use could play itself out in a classroom. You can find the post here:

The Nerdy Bookclub - RJ Polacio post

(If you don't already read "The Nerdy Bookclub" blog, you should. It's excellent.)

I also found a teacher page on the author's website. It lists thought-provoking questions that go along with "Wonder", and it also has a compilation of all of Mr. Browne's precepts (spoiler alert):

RJ Polacio's website

I'll write more about "Wonder" when we're through. I'd love to hear from others who have read it.

Using Animated Short Films

I have been an avid follower of this blog/website for over a year now:

 It has an extensive and amazing collection of short films, videos, and images that get children and young adults to think critically and creatively. Each of the "sheds" focuses on a particular topic or theme. Within the "shed" (links) you will find a variety of links and suggestions for using graphics, films, and images to support your teaching.

I've used these films with my fifth grade students as part of our writing curriculum, social thinking / PBIS discussions, and to promote critical thinking. As impressive as The Literacy Shed is, you may still want to supplement with other resources. A quick search of YouTube will provide you with more films than you can imagine! Here are a few that I found in just a few minutes using the search term, "animated films".

Bath Time


Day and Night (wonderful to use with a civil rights / prejudice unit)

As you know, it's important to preview all videos prior to showing them to children. Only you know what's appropriate for those students in your care. These videos are also wonderfully playful and engaging ways to work with children who struggle with social thinking and theory of mind. 

I've also used these as a launching pad for writing assignments, or to have students re-tell or sequence the events.  Many of these films do not have dialogue. You could use iPads and have students work in pairs to create the scripts. What an authentic way to introduce the concept.

I hope that you enjoy these as much as I did. Be sure to stop by The Literacy Shed too!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Teaching Elapsed Time concepts

Teaching elapsed time can be a struggle for lots of teachers, and a difficult concept for lots of students to learn, especially those who have a learning difference such as ADHD,  Non-verbal Learning disability (NLD) or Right-Hemisphere disorder (RHD). I've found a few products that help students to understand the "sweep of time". First off, it's important that there's an understanding of the fact that time is linear. Learning Resources has a wonderful "Judy Clock" with gears that actually moves incrementally as students figure out the passage of time. 

You can find it here.  Learning resources also features an Elapsed Time Set that has magnetic strips that show the passage of time. You can find those here.

Another helpful resource are the Magnetic Elapsed Time Bars sold by "Really Good Stuff". These bars show comparisons between segments of time (think fraction bars) in a very visual way. They are made of durable foam that is backed with magnetic strips - perfect for use on a white-board or refrigerator. Those who are teaching using the Singapore Method will like the way that these bars approach elapsed time problem solving. You can purchase them here.

I purchased each of these products myself. I am not affiliated with either company, and I did not receive any compensation for this post.

"The One and Only Ivan"

A few weeks ago, I finished reading this modern-day "Charlotte's Web" to my fifth graders. It is a  beautifully crafted story (based loosely on true events) that lends itself to being read aloud. My students especially enjoyed the voices that I created for the various characters! Admittedly, I also had to pause and wipe away a tear or two at certain points. 

My class and I drew many comparisons between Julia (the young girl who befriends Ivan) and Fern, Ivan and Charlotte, and Wilbur and Ruby (the young elephant taken under Ivan's wing). Even though one can make strong connections between the two stories, "The One and Only Ivan", is sure to be remembered as a classic in its own right.

I always like to make connections for my students by offering background information to help them think critically and dig deeper into the topics and issues we read about. I'll show images or videos, and I try to bring the "real-world" into our classroom conversations and learning as much as I possibly can. 

Here are some suggestions for extending beyond the book, "The One and Only Ivan".

Official book trailer:

We also visited the Atlanta Zoo website. Ivan was transferred there after living in a shopping center in Tacoma, Washington. We were able to see video and pictures of the gorilla, Ivan, on whom this story was based. 

Zoo Atlanta - Ivan pictures 

We also Googled "Ivan Gorilla paintings" and found examples of the finger painting that the "real" Ivan made.

Recently, a baby gorilla was rejected by her mother and is being cared for at the Cincinnati Zoo. We read the story here:

Link to story

 Applegate's wonderful prose, combined with sweet illustrations, make this book a gentle read. Even though the topic of animal welfare and captivity does have a dark side to it, Applegate handles the issue in a way that isn't overly scary. (Younger children may have a bit of a difficult time with a few references to animal mistreatment, but the adult reader could easily omit them without altering the integrity of the story.)

 Sadly, Ivan passed away at the Atlanta Zoo last August due to complications from surgery. 

I highly recommend this book. It's no surprise that it won the Newbery medal this year!

Author's Website - Ivan information

Friday, March 22, 2013

"The Burgess Boys"

Fans of "Olive Kitteridge" will certainly be excited to read another Strout novel. I know I was! This novel focuses on a small Maine town in transition as Somali immigrants try to assimilate and retain some of their culture, while juxtaposing this lifestyle with the bustle of urban New York.

"The Burgess Boys" focuses on the family dynamics of eldest brother Jim, his wife Helen, and Jim's younger twin siblings, Bob and Susan. Strout has a gift in her ability to develop strong characters, most of whom are not very likable. She explores interesting themes, and backs them up with realistic characters and issues that make us think about ourselves, where we stand, and what we value.

I admit I was disappointed when I first read about the conflict in the story -  Susan's son's lapse of judgment (deemed a hate crime) in a mosque. I was expecting the typical child-gone-wild story that we hear too often in the news and through other works of fiction. But, I actually enjoyed the slower paced unraveling of the story and the nuances of the relationship between the Somali immigrant community in Maine and those who had grown up and raised families in this small New England town.

"The Burgess Boys" isn't a page-turning-stay-up-all-night sort of read. It's a slow, thoughtful examination of family, parenting, culture, and humanity. If you like slice-of-life books that make you think, question yourself and the world around you, you'll enjoy "The Burgess Boys". It will be available for purchase on March 26, 2013.

I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher.


Welcome to my blog! I'm a mom to two school-aged children, and I also teach fifth grade. I love to read adult/young adult/children's books, play games and solve puzzles, infuse technology into my classroom, and watch videos that not only entertain, but also inform. I will offer ideas and suggestions for parents and teachers who are looking for new ways to connect with children and young adults.