Monarch News

Just a few links to some monarch butterfly news.  The migration is reaching farther north each week, and I am hoping to see my first monarch sometime soon!

  • The latest Journey North update has maps of the monarch sightings and milkweed growth over the past week.  You can sign up to get the weekly updates via email.
  • The New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition has just posted a guide to creating a butterfly garden in NJ school yards, as part of it’s Afterschool Care programs.  The brochure is detailed and includes some fantastic ideas.
  • Sign up for Pollinator LIVE! On May 12, 2010, you can join a live webcast from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET. Participants can drop in at any time during this full day of webcasts to learn about pollination, pollinators, participatory science projects, the latest about monarch butterflies, and how to attract pollinators to your schoolyard. Experts will answer your students’ questions.  You can also view the webcasts later on the website, which I will be doing with my classes on Thursday.  (Students have a half day Wednesday, so we can’t participate live.)

And if you are interested in getting involved with the Monarch Teacher Network (like me!), there are workshops being offered all over the country.  Check out the program’s website and the registration form here.

Workshops 2010

June Workshops

[  ] June 14-15:   Naples Botanical Garden; Naples, Florida (Collier County)

[  ] June 15-16:   Leisure Park Elementary School; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (Tulsa area)

[  ] June 21-22:   Region 14 Education Service Center; Abilene, Texas

[  ] June 23-24: Harper Park Middle School; Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC area)

[  ] June 28-29:   Parkdale High School; Maryland (Prince Georges County, DC area)

July Workshops:

[  ] July 26-27: Webster Hill School; West Hartford, Connecticut

[  ] July 29-30: The Advent School; Boston, Massachusetts

August Workshops:

[  ] Aug   2-3:      Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Sacred Heart School; West Des Moines, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Knox Agri-Center; Galesburg, Illinois (Peoria area)

[  ] Aug 11-12:    Living Classrooms; Washington DC (Stuart Hobson MS)

[  ] Aug 16-17:    William Paterson University; New Jersey (Passaic County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 17-18:    Hartshorn Arboretum (Essex County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: Peabody Museum; Yale University, Connecticut (New Haven Area)

Also, the Voices program is expanding!  There is a workshop being offered in June in Texas.  I so wish I could go.  For more information, check out the website.  You can also see my students’ Voices project on the blog a few years ago, along with the book we made.

BEA, Here I Come!

I got my approval today to attend BEA on Wednesday!  I know there is a Kidlit drink night that night, and I plan to stop by, but who else will be around during the day?  What is a “can’t miss”?  I haven’t even looked at the schedule yet…..

Workshop as Test Prep?

Today my students finished the NJASK standardized test for 6th grade.  Well, they didn’t really finish- math is tomorrow and Thursday.  But the language arts section is done now!  This afternoon I took an informal, conversational survey of my students.  They were all really happy because they felt that the test was “So easy! Much easier than last year!”.  I didn’t notice anything different from years past, so I asked them what we had done this year that they thought best prepared them for the test.  Needless to say, I was thrilled with their answers.

  • Our weekly Article of the Week.  They said that reading the articles helped them feel more confident about informational text, and the written response each week gave them more confidence.
  • The Forty Book Challenge.  Requiring them to read 40 books increased their speed and fluency.  A lot of them said it was the first year that they didn’t struggle to finish the reading selections.
  • Using boxes and bullets for the persuasive essay (a la Calkins)
  • Our read alouds.  They had a wide range of texts to draw on, and they remembered a lot of conversations while answering the multiple choice questions.  One student told me that he just imagined the questions being read in my voice, like they were a part of our read aloud conversation.
  • Letter-essays.  Again, they felt confident about writing a lot in a set amount of time.  And they told me they had a lot of strategies to draw on when they got stuck.
  • Our one week of test prep before the test.  They really liked that we focused on test writing as a genre, because they felt that they really understood the ins and outs of the test better.  Also, they loved the “hamburger method” (from Better Answers) for answering open-ended reading response questions.

But my favorite answer?  “The old ladies!”  See, I tell my classes that the written responses to the NJASK are hand-graded by old, retired teachers who are locked in a conference room for an entire weekend and do nothing but grade tests.  They get cranky, their coffee gets stale, and they don’t want to read messy or bad writing.  They don’t want to have to struggle to understand what the writer means.  I say this jokingly, asking my students how many of them have to explain technology to their grandparents in great detail when all they want is to tell a story about a Youtube video.  This always bring laughs but a lot of nods.  Turns out, you need to explain the same amount in your writing!  I remind them that the cranky old teachers only have the answer sheets in front of them, so you need to explain in DETAIL.  Not just glossing over facts or opinions!

Imagine my surprise when one student raised her hand today and told me that made all the difference in the world for her.  Suddenly, she had an audience in mind when writing.  She didn’t make assumptions that her reader was going to be a teacher who knew her well and could make assumptions about what she meant.  As she told me this, I watched the rest of my class nod in agreement.  Who knew?!  Just picturing an old, cranky teacher was enough to remind them to elevate their writing.  We talk about audience all the time, but this time it clicked.

Needless to say, I am thrilled that everything I do as a part of workshop translated to the test for my students.  I don’t do months of test prep, I don’t focus on the test as the be-all end-all of the year, but they all took it seriously.  What I saw as I was walking around thrilled me!  Of course, I won’t see results until the end of the summer, but I feel confident that they all did their best work.  :)

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors

Smells Like Dog is a romp of an adventure with treasure hunts, cartography, taxidermy, soup warehouses, museums, pirates, and a dog with no smell. With a tone slightly reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, this is a book the middle grade readers are going to love.

Homer Pudding lives a pretty boring life. He spends most of his time poring over the maps and books his uncle sends him, irritating his goat farming father to no end. But Homer longs for a life of adventure, a life off the farm, and a life of hunting treasure, like his uncle. But when his uncle dies in a horrible tortoise accident and leaves Homer his most valuable possession, Homer is a little disappointed to only receive a sad-looking basset hound. And then to learn that Dog can’t even smell? However, Dog and Homer are quickly pulled into world of treasure hunters who will do anything to find treasure.

Full of fantastic characters, exciting adventures, and lots of laughter, Smells Like Dog is bound to be a classic. This is a delightful middle grade novel perfect for boys and girls alike.

*ARC courtesy of publisher


Popular Book Fair Picks

The spring book fair was held last week at my middle school.  As the language arts teacher on my team, I escort all of our students to the fair and I love it.  I get to spend about 20 minutes with each class, browsing and making book recommendations.  They also love telling me about books that I haven’t read yet.  It’s always a lot of fun to see which books are popular, as I take over 100 students over the course of the day.  I see a lot of the same books being bought over and over.  Many times, it’s because someone in 1st period saw it, raved about it, and convinced students in later classes to buy the same book.  I love watching these social reading experiences!

Mark Teague’s The Doom Machine was very popular with a lot of my students. They were intrigued by the cover and even more excited when I listed some of Teague’s other books. Kids love reading books by familiar authors.

During my first period class, a group of girls purchased Alphas by Lisi Harrison. They decided to read it together as a book club, even going so far as to assign pages to be read each night so that they could discuss it at lunch the next day. I found myself laughing at dismissal because one of the girls read ahead and the rest were mad at her. Gotta love it!

My romance lovers were drawn to the fantastic cover of A Novel Of The Titanic – Distant Waves. I haven’t read it yet, but found myself talking about it over and over as we tried to figure out what it was about. Thanks for not putting a summary on the back, Scholastic! (Can I just say that I hate it when publishers don’t put jacket copy on the back cover of a paperback? It stops so many kids from buying the book!)

I also had a few students pick out books for their younger siblings. For baseball-loving younger brothers, one student purchased Six Innings and The Brooklyn Nine. I love both of these books and they are very popular with my students, who are now sharing the love with their siblings.

Students looking for scary stories seemed drawn to a few major titles. Most popular were Neal Shusterman’s Full Tilt and Dread Locks: Dark Fusion # 1. Mary Downing Hahn is always popular, so All the Lovely Bad Ones went home with more than a handful of students, too.

Some other popular choices were-

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

The book fair was held at our school during this past week. I love watching to see what my students buy, almost as much as I love booktalking the books at the fair. One very popular choice for my girls was Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, a fantastic new graphic novel. I hadn’t read the book yet but many of my students bought a copy. The next day, one of them rushed into homeroom and handed me her copy. “Do you want to read it, Miss M.? I finished it last night and it was really good!” I was so convinced by her enthusiasm that I put aside the book I was reading and read Smile during reading workshop.

What a wonderful graphic novel for middle grade girls! Based on Raina Telgemeier’s own experiences, this graphic novel is perfect for the tween set. Full-color illustrations really make the story pop and even though I am not a huge graphic novel fan. (I’m too verbal to really pay attention to the illustrations. They’re too spatial for me!) In the beginning of middle school Raina falls and knocks her two front teeth fall out. She’s not only in major pain, but she’s also scared. To make matters worse, her trip to the dentist doesn’t yield the greatest news- he can put the one tooth they found back in but the other is stuck up in her gums. Plus, there was bone damage. She wears the braces for a few years only to find that her teeth wind up embedded in her gums, leaving her feeling like she’s a freak.

What I really love about this book is how well Telgemeier captures tween angst. The accurately portrays many of the struggles tween girls are faced with, from fake friends to body image issues. I found myself laughing and nodding my head, reminded of my own middle school years.

On a completely unrelated note, I love the cover!  Why?  Because it doesn’t advertise that it is a graphic novel.  In many cases, my students are reluctant to pick up graphic novels because they don’t look like “real” books to many parents.  So kudos to Scholastic for giving this great novel a typical cover that doesn’t scream “comic book!” to adults!

*Copy courtesy of a student who lent it to me!

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