Monday, April 8, 2013

Teaching Tolerance

Do you know about this incredible organization? I first learned about them a few years ago and have been reading their magazine and newsletter ever since. I recently ordered some of their free (yes, FREE!) film kit resources. The materials are most relevant to those residing in the US and Canada. TT is a project of the Southern Law Poverty Center, and as so aptly stated on their website they are: "A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools." 

What does that mean for educators? One stop "shopping" for amazing resources to teach students K-12. I just received two wonderfully packaged DVD sets from them today. I'm excited to preview them, and hopefully show them to my students.  

One of the DVD's titled "A Time for Justice" is suggested for use with grades 6-8

 It ties nicely with our recent Civil Rights literature circles in which we broke into small leveled groups and read the books "Glory Be", "One Crazy Summer", and "The Watsons Go to Birmingham". 

The other video titled "One Survivor Remembers" explores Gerda Weissman Klein's survival story and ties in with our recent reading of "Number the Stars".

Given the grades 6-8 ratings, I may have to select excerpts of these videos to ensure that the content is developmentally appropriate. Within the DVD sleeves, each kit also contains CD's with lesson plans and prints of primary sources that relate to the issue and period in history.

Teaching Tolerance's educational kits and subscriptions to its magazine are FREE to classroom teachers, librarians, school counselors, school administrators, professors of education, youth directors at houses of worship and employees of youth-serving nonprofit organizations.

I highly recommend subscribing to the magazine (in print or digital format) as they are extremely well written and contain a variety of articles on themes both contemporary and historical.

If you are an educator looking for high quality resources to supplement your reading, social studies, or history curriculum you should check out the Teaching Tolerance Website

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"One Step Too Far" - adult fiction/mystery

I'm finding that I'm really enjoying UK imports these days, from BBC America television to new novel releases. I just finished reading an advance copy of "One Step Too Far", the page-turning debut novel from UK writer, Tina Seskis.  

Excerpted from the author's GoodReads page: Tina never intended writing a novel. She wrote One Step Too Far over a two month period in summer 2010 and then gave up writing entirely for well over a year, before writing her second novel A Serpentine Affair in autumn 2011. Her third book (working title Collision) is due for completion in 2013, and is the coming together of a key character from each of the first two novels, if Tina can make the plot work. 

You can buy it when it's released, this Monday, April 15th (after you file your taxes, of course!).

This book will likely be the talk of summer beach read circles (although it's writing surpasses what we typically expect from that genre) as it has all of the right ingredients that appeal to its target audience: suspense, drama, and plot twists extraordinaire. 

As the story opens, we meet Cat, a young mother who's in the process of running away from her family. The novel unfolds with a carefully restrained plot that allows us slowly into her secrets and motivations. Seskis deftly weaves characters and their perspectives throughout, allowing us bits and pieces of important clues as the story unfolds.

I enjoyed reading "One Step Too Far", although I did find the conclusion a bit too satisfying. In Seskis' defense, authors can't win in this regard as reviewers either praise them for a solid ending or pan them for leaving us hanging. That said, I thought many times that I'd figured out the twists, but I continued to be proven wrong. That alone made it a fun book to read. 

"One Step Too Far" is definitely worth  reading. You don't need to wait until summer, either! You won't be disappointed and will likely find yourself unable to put it down as you try to find out what could possibly motivate Em/Cat to leave her family.

I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher. My opinions are not influenced in any way by having received the complimentary copy.

"Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change" a REALLY great book for upper elementary/middle grades

I found this book (another great resource from Free Spirit Press) and knew that I just had to introduce it to my students. We'll be spending a couple of our reading blocks this week digging into these short biographic profiles of some amazing kids from around the world.

The readability of these profiles is approximately a 5th grade level. It's a very approachable text as the font is large enough not to be daunting (but not so large it feels "elementary"), while there are just enough graphics and maps interspersed to keep it interesting. 

Each of the profiles are categorized into chapters that cover themes such as: Kids Saving the Environment, Kids Standing Up for Themselves, Kids Helping Others, Kids Overcoming Challenges, and Kids Using Talents and Creativity. There's parity between genders, with both strong boy and girl figures represented from around the globe.

The applications for this book are really endless. We'll be examining and reading closely (yes, my new buzzword) to look for similarities and differences between the kids, their skill sets, curiousities, and their causes. We'll also explore the causes themselves and look at the effects of each young adult's efforts.

I am predicting that my reluctant readers will be particularly drawn to these mini biographies for a number of reasons. I would imagine that parents of reluctant readers would want to try this book with their own children. It offers a global perspective, using real-life examples, and delivers text in short, easy to digest snippets. It could easily satisfy independent reading requirements and kids may be sparked to become change agents themselves!

I borrowed a copy from our local library, but it's well worth purchasing for $9 on Amazon.

If you read it with your children or students, please leave a comment and let me know if they enjoyed it!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Notice and Note" an amazing book for teachers and parents

With the advent of the Common Core Curriculum Standards teachers are being asked to present their students with texts that are more rigorous. In addition, we are being encouraged to engage students in close reading. No, that's not hold the book closer and read! It's strategic reading of text excerpts multiple times with a focus on various aspects of theme, conflict, characterization, and author's purpose. This isn't necessarily anything new for most teachers, but it does present an opportunity for us to dig a bit deeper and reflect on our instructional practices.

I stumbled across an amazing book that does just that! Not only can teachers benefit from its content, parents who are interested in working with their children to enhance comprehension can use this too.
The premise of the book is that all  of the commonly read literature in grades 2-12 contains "signposts" or signals that good readers attend to while reading. Here's a summary list that the authors created after analyzing numerous fiction texts:

1. Memory Moment - when a character stops and remembers something that happened earlier. This is a great time to stop as a reader and ask yourself why this event is important to the character or the plot.

2. Words of the Wiser - sometimes a character receives significant advice from another character (usually an older/wiser person). Often times this leads us to the themes and lessons in the book.

3. Again and Again - when a reader sees situations, phrases, or statements being repeated over and over, he or she should stop and reflect on the importance. Maybe you'll learn something about the theme, or it could be a foreshadow.

4. Aha Moment - sometimes characters figure something out or realize something that they should have seen all along. Again this leads us to themes, conflicts, and possible understanding of character development.

5. Contrasts and contradictions - characters and situations sometimes aren't as they appeared previously. Pause when this happens and consider why this is significant and what it means to the character and to the plot.

6. Tough Questions - when a character stops and asks him or herself a tough question you often find clues to the themes and conflicts in the story if you pause and wonder about its importance or significance.

If you would like to read more about how to use these signposts in your instruction, find questions that scaffold reader thinking, and see sample lessons, you must buy the book! It's well worth the $20.00 on Amazon.

I used these signposts with my class as a summative assessment for the book "Number the Stars" over the past two days, and I was very impressed with the critical thinking and analysis that I saw as I observed students working collaboratively to find text evidence of these signposts. Even my reluctant readers were enjoying finding and describing the significance of their evidence.

Parents can use these signposts while reading aloud to their children, or as activators to get kids thinking while they do their independent reading. For example, challenge your child to find at least one signpost during their reading time and stop to tell you about it's significance.

Teachers should really consider buying this book and collaborating with grade level colleagues to introduce it to your students. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Blue Orange Games

I have purchased many games from this company and have not been disappointed yet. Our most recent find is "Golden Gate".

It's a relatively quick game, played in 5 rounds. The tin box is sturdy and the cards and chips are high quality. It's for 2-4 players and rated ages 7 to adult. I must say that I enjoyed playing it and so did my kids. The object of the game is to be the first to play all the cards in your hand and earn the most chips in the process.  Players need to sequence cards either by going up (0,1,2,3...) or down (7,6,5,4...) while keeping in mind that green cards are neutral and red cards left in your hand will penalize you at the end of the game. Gold cards earn chips, but a player needs to be strategic in when he or she plays them. The longer you can hold onto and play a gold, the higher score chip you'll earn. Since it's a five round event, you have a chance to make up for a poorly played round. Like many games of this genre, there's a bit of luck and a bit of strategy, which is perfect for those children who maybe aren't ready for "full-on" strategy games. The educational value isn't huge, but children do need to think about whether to count up or down based on their hands, and the count "resets" at 0. That means that a count down from 0 goes to 10, 9, 8 and so on. A count up from 10 goes to 0, 1, 2, 3. Also, at the end, chip tallies need to be added (the values are 10, 20, 30, 40) and that makes for a perfect opportunity to practice mental math. At appx. $12.00 this game is well worth its value. 

Another wonderful and fun Blue Orange Game is Spot It! We have the basic version:

Since purchasing this last fall, the company has come out with a number of themed versions of the game based on sports teams, holidays, and basic shape/number recognition. The idea is amazingly simple, yet so much fun to play. Basically, you're looking for matches on cards (and each card has a match with another no matter what). The images that you are trying to match will likely be different sizes and it takes careful examination to find the right combination. It really levels the playing field between adults and kids.

The beauty of the game is that it has high replay value. There are many variations in the directions and the game is never the same regardless of which way you choose to play. It's quick and easy and lends itself to playing at the beach, a restaurant, or even on a plane. Although this game is fun for all, it's particularly useful if you have a child at home or school who needs help and practice with visual discrimination.

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...