And after Aaaallll…it’s my Wonder Waaaaaal!

wonder

So if you haven’t read Wonder by R.J. Palacio yet, you need to get up on it! Appropriate for grades 4 and up, this touching story is about a boy with a facial deformity who struggles at his new school, after being home schooled for most of his life. It deals with themes such as friendship, loyalty, bullying, and kindness. I got this idea for my bulletin board from a blog called “Teaching in Room 6” http://teachinginroom6.blogspot.com/2015/05/wonder-wall-of-precepts.html. Instead of a postcard to the teacher, I had the kids write a letter to the author. Click here to download my instructions:  Wonder – Letter to the Author. Here’s a rubric:  Wonder – Letter to the Author Assessment.

First, I had the kids pick a precept (rules to live by) that really spoke to them. I had them interview 3 adults and ask them what they thought the precept meant. Then they drew a self-portrait in the style of the cover art, along with their precept below it.

After that, they wrote a 5-paragraph letter to the author, where they shared their precept and what it meant. In addition, they told the author what they thought the theme of the book was and justified it with examples from the book.

wonder board

I kept the kids’ rough drafts on a whim, and I’m glad I did! I knew the kids needed some practice on the computer, so I had them type up the letter, insert a picture of themselves, and print it out. In the new era of computerized testing, these skills are absolutely essential! I plan on sending the typed letters to the author later this month.

The kids absolutely loved this book and they enjoyed the project, too!

Here’s one of my favorites! We’d been working on idioms, and I think this young lady got “blow my top” and “knock my socks off” mixed up!  🙂

wonder board example

 

Mentor Text – The Day the Crayons Quit

crayons quit

Ever wondered what would happen if items we used everyday suddenly quit on us?  Drew Daywalt envisions such an affair, with his imaginative children’s book called The Day the Crayons Quit.  Humorously illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, this book is appropriate for any early elementary grade level.  I used it this year for the first time in my 4th grade class as a mentor text for writing, and I could see it being used in such a way on up through jr. high.

I asked the children to imagine an item they used on a regular basis, and what it would say to them if it could talk?  We first brainstormed some ideas on the overhead, then began writing.  After writing, they were to draw a picture to go along with the writing.  Click here: The Day the Crayons Quit for the instructions for this activity.  Kids are given practice in the art of a personal letter, as well as perspective.  Below are three of the more creative responses I got.  Really cute and fun!  Kids were totally into it!

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TED Talk – Tim Harford: How Messy Problems Can Inspire Creativity

One of the things I’ve tried to incorporate into my classroom this year is TED Talks. I’ve been viewing them on a regular basis to get some inspiration, as well as to supplement my lessons on character traits such as perseverance, grit, optimism, etc. It’s something new and informative for me to watch as I slog through my morning routine. At first glance, this specific TED Talk headline didn’t particularly pique my interest, but I decided to give it a listen anyway. Either way, it was better than emptying the dishwasher in silence. It turned out to be really interesting! I actually loved it because, for those that know me, I’m a big music fanatic, and I was pleasantly surprised when the speaker, Tim Harford, shared a few inspiring music-related stories about Brian Eno and Keith Jarrett to make his point about stimulating creativity. Something for my teacher friends AND my vinyl community buddies?! Sounds like a winner! Check it out!

 

Book Review: Spare Parts – Joshua Davis

spare parts bookLast year, I was fortunate enough to win the Javits-Frazier Scholarship, which got me a free trip to the 2015 National Association for Gifted Children Convention in Phoenix, AZ. There I attended countless workshops, met and talked with the leading advocates in the GATE community, and listened to several amazing keynote speeches.

One of the speakers that stood out for me was Joshua Davis, author of Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream. He tells the story of four undocumented Latino teenagers from Phoenix, Arizona who joined a high school robotics team and competed against the best student engineers in the country, including ExxonMobil-backed M.I.T., in a national underwater robotics championship.

Davis was eloquent and passionate about his subject. He held the thousands in attendance in the palm of his hand as he recounted the details of his life before the story. He brought Luis, one of the four teenagers from the book, to the Q&A part of the presentation, which was an added treat. Without a doubt, the funniest part of their story came during a crucial time, moments before the big championship. Their underwater robot “Stinky” had a leak and started taking in water. They needed something to absorb the water that had leaked into the heart of the robot. “Like a tampon?” suggested Lorenzo. Davis had the audience in stitches as he recounted the story of how shy, inexperienced Lorenzo approached the well-dressed white woman in the Ralph’s store and asked, “Could you help me buy the most absorbent tampons?”

joshua davis
Joshua Davis speaking at the 62nd annual GATE conference in Phoenix, AZ.

While this is a story about robotics and education, there is, in fact, a larger narrative that begins to unfold as you read through the story. This is a story that is particularly relevant today, especially in my home state of California, and it is the plight of undocumented immigrants and their children. Politicians go back and forth about the subject and often incite fear in their constituents regarding the “dangers” of illegal immigrants in America, yet we rarely talk about the opposite side of the issue. The young men in this book are an excellent example of the positive things immigrants have brought to the United States now and since the inception of our country. These four young men were intelligent, hard-working, upstanding students, yet it was extremely difficult for them to gain citizenship in America, even after their successes in the book. Born in Mexico, they were brought here illegally by parents who struggled to survive in their homeland, but were desperate to give their children the chance they never had.  Oscar, in particular, loved America so much; he was willing to go to incredible lengths, including fighting for our country, in order to make his dream of becoming an American citizen come true.

Spare Parts is a really entertaining and relevant book!  It’s a fabulous read for educators, mentors, STEM enthusiasts, and anyone interested in the Latino experience in America.

3…2..1…Liftoff!

My first blog entry!! After weeks and weeks of considering what my first post would be, poring over books about writing and blogging, and trying to figure out the in’s and outs of WordPress, I came to the realization that I just need to stop procrastinating, take the plunge, and WRITE. So here goes…

For the past several years, I’ve had an itch to write. It all started about 6 years ago with a weeklong training I took called The Area 3 Writing Project. The A3WP is a professional development network for California teachers and administrators. They use the “teachers teach teachers” model to share the successes of those educators who effectively teach writing at all grade levels. My goal was to become a better writing teacher, but an unforeseen side effect was a desire to write for myself! That week changed my life as a teacher and a lit a fire inside me.

I hope to share my past and present experiences in elementary teaching with a splash of wit and the occasional dose of humor! I plan on writing book reviews, sharing lessons, daily happenings in the classroom and teacher lounge, and, of course, the occasional rant. I want to share my ideas and my opinions, my successes and my failures. Hopefully, I’ll make some connections in the teaching community and get some great ideas to try in the classroom. At the very least, this will satisfy my urge to write. So, in the words of the immortal rhyme poet KRS-One, “Let us begin…”