Monday, April 28, 2014

My Weekend Read-a-Thon

I'm linking up with Teaching Maddeness for Must Read Monday.

So I have three boxes full of books for my classroom, which I either bought at Half Price Books or ordered from Scholastic.  For several reasons, I am trying to read all the books first before I actually take them in to my classroom.  I want to be able to recommend the books to certain students based on who I think will like the books after I read them.  I need to check to make sure some of the books are appropriate.  And, let's be honest, I just love reading children's literature and want to read them myself before they get lost in my classroom library students' backpacks and houses.

I'm trying to get through as many books as possible as quickly as possible because there are only 6 weeks left of school!  So I had myself a little read-a-thon this weekend!  Here's what I thought of each book.

This book has a pretty overused idea (the same day repeating itself), but the author does have a couple creative twists to the story.  The writing isn't the best, but it is still a story that my 4th grade kids would get into.  When I introduced it to the class, everyone was interested in reading it, so I pulled a random card and gave the boy who won a week to finish it so we can pass it on to someone else.  
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This isn't going to become a classic piece of literature, but it will reel in some of your reluctant readers with an interesting storyline.

This book is a fun-filled introduction to Greek Mythology.  It gives an overview of all the gods and goddesses, as well as information about the monsters, muses, and other figures in Greek Mythology.  I love how it gives Pop Culture facts about where we see influences from Greek Mythology today.  The illustrations are bright and eye-catching.  I know my students are extremely interested in learning about mythology, so I might consider reading parts of this as a reward throughout the day when my students are behaving.  

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This book is a great nonfiction choice for students to have fun while learning something new.  

This is a great book to integrate Math into your read aloud time.  The boys in the book become "numbed" by a robot, which means they forget how to do all math.  In order to gain their math skills back, they have to complete a series of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems.  Then they have to solve some stumper word problems.  Kids will enjoy trying to figure out the math in the book before the characters do.  The writing isn't that great, but the math conversations will be abundant.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I rate this book highly based on how excited I am to find a book that tells an interesting story and also incorporates a ton of opportunities for rich math discussions.  

Oh my goodness, this book has so much potential.  It is like a mixture between Aesop's Fables and the Wayside School books.  Each little chapter is based on one of Aesop's Fables, but it is adapted to be about the kids and teachers of Aesop Elementary School.  They are really humorous stories, and each chapter even ends with a moral.  The book takes you through one school year, from the first to the last day.  I could see myself using this book as a read aloud and also reading aloud the corresponding fable. We could discuss similarities and differences between the two.  In Writing, students could write their own spin-offs of fables.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This book is so clever and kids will definitely appreciate the humor the author weaves throughout every little story.  It has the potential to really turn kids on to reading!

Have you read any of these books before?  Do you agree with my ratings?  I can't wait to have another read-a-thon soon.  So many books, so little time!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Peek at My Week - Fun Stuff!

Woo Hoo!  I am so excited for everything I have planned for this week, now that our state testing is over.  We still have 4 days of national-normed testing coming up at some point, but I don't plan on doing much (if any) test prep for that.  It's actually the kind of test where good teaching should lead to good scores.  (Unlike our state test, which asks questions where the kids don't even understand what half the words in the questions mean)!  Enough about testing.  Let's get on to my plans for the week!  I'm linking up with Mrs. Laffin's Laughings.


Last week, we had bubblegum day, which I posted about {here}.  One of the activities was for the kids to write about getting trapped inside a gumball machine.  On Friday, I told them that not only would we be publishing our stories on the hallway bulletin board, we would also be publishing them in a REAL, HARDBOUND BOOK!  They got super excited.  I told them our deadline to get our work to our publisher is this coming Friday.  So this project is our top priority this week.  I'm using Student Treasures.  The whole class will get one free copy of our book, and parents can order their own copy for $19.95.  I'm curious to see how many parents order a copy.   Click the picture to go to their website.


Awhile ago, I purchased Laura Candler's Classroom Book Clubs product.  It is the perfect starter kit for doing book clubs.  And I will finally have the time to do our book clubs starting this week!  Here are the books that I am going to let my students choose from:

Monday, I'll introduce the books and let students browse through them and rate their choices.  I'll look over their ratings Monday night and we will get started reading on Tuesday.  If a book is above a child's reading level, I'm going to have them buddy read with someone on a higher level in their group. I'm hoping that the kids are going to really enjoy this new format for Reading Workshop as we wrap up the year.  


No more test prep Math!  Those are such beautiful words to say!  This week, we are going to be working on a fun, challenging problem via The Teacher Studio's Open Ended Math Challenges.  

According to the product, one problem can take 2-3 days to solve.  My students can always use more problem-solving skills, and it will be nice to be able to let them loose on a problem without a strict time limit.  If students finish the problem while others are still working, I plan on having them practice their 2 digit multiplication, as well as their long division.  I will even start challenging them with 5th grade multiplication and division.


We are going to start learning about animal adaptations.  I plan on showing a few videos this week, starting with this one:

It is all about camouflage, which should be an interesting introduction into adaptations.  After a short video and discussion each day, I plan on having my students do adaptation rotations from The Science Penguin.

My kids LOVE Science, and I plan on fitting it in every single day to make up for losing Science time during test prep.  

Social Studies

In Texas, 4th graders learn all about our state history.  At the end of May, we're going on a field trip to San Antonio to see the San Jose Mission and, of course, The Alamo!  I definitely have some catching up to do before that field trip.  So far, we've learned about TX Native Americans and European exploration.  This week, we will be reading in our Social Studies books about how the TX Revolution got started, which will lead us up to the Alamo.  I also plan on using some read alouds like these:

Genius Hour

As if all that weren't enough, I just can't resist the chance to try out some Genius Hour this year.  I know that my kids would love the chance to research any topic they're interested in.  Some things we've talked about this year, but haven't gotten into much, are rainforests, World War II, the 4th dimension, endangered animals, and so much more.  I really want to ignite their passion for learning by letting them explore any topic they want to.  We won't be doing much this week - I will just be introducing the idea to them and having them brainstorm topics.  I want them to have their topics chosen by Friday so we can get started next week.  I'm using some planning pages from this pack:

Looking forward to this week!  Thanks for looking at my plans.  What fun things are YOU doing to keep your students motivated the last weeks of school?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Five for Friday - Testing and Bubblegum Day!

I'm linking up with Doodle Bugs Teaching to share 5 random things from my week.


We had our state STAAR testing this week on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it already seems like forever ago! This is what my room looked like for those days.  We had to cover all bookshelves, remove everything from under our desks, and take everything off the walls.  All the stress has just melted away, and all that's left behind is the torture of waiting about 3 weeks for the scores to come in.  I feel strangely calm about it this year because I could just feel a different energy from my kids during the testing days.  They seemed more motivated than any class I've had before, and they kept the test at least 3 hours each day.  Some of my students who had extra time accommodations kept working until 3 o'clock dismissal both days!  

The day after testing, I wanted to give my students a fun-filled day.  I was so excited to read about Bubblegum Day over on Ideas by Jivey.  I went straight to her store and bought her Bubblegum Day product.  

My kids absolutely loved it.  I bought two types of gum - watermelon and tropical island - and let them chew one piece during the morning while they did the math activities.  Then I let them chew the second piece later in the morning during their reading and writing activities.  It was the perfect way to get 2 days of testing out of our systems!

I was so surprised to get this sweet present from one of my boys today!  It's a candle, and it smells delicious.  I love candles, so can't wait to find a spot for it at home and enjoy the scent.  

My students had their Pep Award Ceremony in the gym today.  We were the first class there, and one of my students asked if they could read.  I said sure, and next thing I knew, my whole class got their books out and started reading.  Even when the other classes noisily walked in, my class kept reading.  This was such a proud teacher moment for me, I had to snap a picture!

I finished both of these books this week, and they are two of my new favorite books.  Each one had a big WOW moment for me.  I really want to share both as read alouds with my class, but I don't think there will be time left this year.   So I am going to have my students vote next week as soon as we finish our current read aloud, Harriet the Spy.

There you have it!  My 5 random things from this week.  I'm off to have a movie and pizza night with my boyfriend.  Enjoy your Friday evening!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Five For Friday

Even though this was the week before our big state test (STAAR) for my 4th graders, it has really been one of my favorite weeks of the year!  I'll link up some of my reasons why for this week's Five For Friday linky over at Doodle Bugs.


For one thing, getting dressed for work this week was really fun.  We had a "testing tips" dress code.  My favorite days were Monday and Tuesday.  On Monday, we wore our PJ's to represent getting a good night's sleep before testing days.  The kids loved these slippers I wore around all day with my pajama set.

Tuesday we wore bright fruity colors to represent eating a healthy breakfast.  I loved getting to wear extremely bright colors all together at the same time and not caring if they matched or not because it was for a fun reason!


I feel like the biggest part of making sure kids work their hardest next week is the MOTIVATION piece.  I still did whole group and small group review every day this week, but I also made sure to include some inspiration every day.  One day, we watched Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco on  We discussed how we could use Patricia's story of starting off as a struggling reader to growing into one of the most famous children's authors as inspiration for working our hardest on the test.  

Another day, I used an article about bristlecone pine trees from this book:

The article describes how this type of tree has been alive for 5,000 years, even though it struggles in harsh conditions, such as strong winds and little rain.  It grows slowly, which helps make it dense and strong.  We applied this to testing, making connections like that we need to work slowly on the test in order to make our final scores stronger.

Today, I used an idea from this test prep pack:

I showed the kids an online video version of "The Tortoise and the Hare."  We decided that we want to be like the tortoise when we take the test: stay focused on our goal, work slow and steady, and believe in ourselves.  

I told the kids that they have 3 role models to keep in mind during testing next week, especially if they find their energy levels or motivation dropping.  They can think of Patricia Polacco, the bristlecone pine tree, and the tortoise!


We had the most amazing STAAR pep rally at my school today.  I've taught at this school for 6 years, and we have never done anything like this before.  It was the highlight of my week.  Grades K-2 made huge signs and held them up while the upper grades entered the gym.  All the younger kids were cheering for us, and there was lively music playing.  Our Dance teacher taught some of the 2nd grade girls some STAAR cheers that they performed on stage.  The teachers were called out to go do the Cupid Shuffle in front of everyone.  Student volunteers were chosen to have fun dancing to The Wobble.  There was even a relay race to see who could bubble in these 2 huge bubbles the quickest (to represent bubbling in our answer documents completely haha!)  The principal gave a speech about thinking about the people who love us and care about us instead of feeling scared or nervous.  

Best part of my day - his speech brought 2 of my sweet boys to tears.  At first, I thought they were feeling scared for the test.  Turned out, they were just overwhelmed by the principal's words.  They were full of joy and inspiration.  Cutest thing ever!  I was there to pat them on the back and tell them my emotions get the best of me all the time too!


Besides cheering for us at the pep rally, our reading buddies also made us the sweetest little STAAR care packages.  They wrote their buddies encouraging notes with the cutest pictures, and they gave each of my students a blow pop (You're going to blow this test out of the water), some cookies (You're one smart cookie), and some Smarties (You're a smarty pants).  These care packages really brightened up my students' day and they felt so supported.


Finally, something un-test related.  My boyfriend's birthday was this week.  I made him my BBQ chicken pizza that he absolutely can never get enough of.  The recipe is inspired by California Pizza Kitchen's version.

I buy a store-bought pizza crust.  For the toppings, I crisp up some bacon and chicken.  I mix BBQ sauce in with the chicken. Then I put BBQ sauce on the crust, top it with chopped red onion and jalapeno, as well as the bacon and chicken. Last, I pile on smoked gouda cheese.  Pop it in the oven according to the directions on the pizza crust, and there you go.  I promised him I'll make it again soon...he wanted 2 whole pizzas this time and they only lasted him about a day and a half!  It's a real treat for him when I make this pizza because I'm vegan and really don't care for handling meat. So that makes him appreciate it even more.

I also got him tickets off of Living Social for 2 private dance lessons.  Can't wait to go to them!

Whew, that was a long post!  Now to start my relaxing weekend and rest myself up for 2 full days of testing next week.  I hope my students feel as calm and confident as I do!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Peek at My Week - Last Week Before Testing

The last week before STAAR testing is finally here.  That means the last week of staying later than usual for after school tutorials - yay!  That's a definite positive, although a negative of this week is that we were supposed to have Friday off.  But Houston actually had 2 ice days this winter, and we have to make them both up.  Oh well, that means one extra day to review before testing, right? :)

For this week, I am actually really excited about a product I found on TPT to help review for the reading test.

It's made by Teacher Trap, and it is one of my favorite things I've ever bought on TPT.  It is really going to help kids analyze the structure of the Reading test and its questions.  I also love the last couple activities that will be like a last minute "pep talk" for my kids.  As you can tell from the cover, one of the activities involves using the story of "The Tortoise and the Hare" and comparing it to being a good test taker.  Such a simple idea, but something I had never thought of before - genius!

Along with activities from this unit, I also plan on continuing to review some of the skills that show up on the test the most - summarizing, context clues, and making inferences.  One new product I found for context clues is this one by Logical Lex:

I already blogged about some of the other products I'm using to review the other skills {here}.

I've also already written a lot about how we're reviewing for the Math STAAR using a math scrimmage game.  You can read more about that {here}.  It is hands down the most motivational math test review I've ever done with a class.  They absolutely love it!  

And what I'm most excited for this week is the fun testing dress code our school is implementing based on information I found at Connections Academy Blog.  Tomorrow is PJ day to remind students to get a good night's sleep the nights before testing.  I found these cute and comfy PJ's from Target this weekend that I'll be lounging around in during test prep tomorrow!

I'm linking this post up with Mrs. Laffin's Laughings for A Peek at my Week.

I'm off to make my salad lunches for the week (I make all 5 salads on Sunday) and watch the MTV Movie Awards.  Love a lazy Sunday!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Positive Thinking Thursday - Fun Dress for the Week Before Testing!

I have a VERY positive thought for today to link up over at Mrs. Laffin's Laughings Positive Thinking Thursday!

My positive thought is about...standardized testing!  Wait, what?  Yes it's true!  While searching around on the internet for ways to motivate my students and lessen the stress of testing, I came across the Connections Academy Blog.  They have this amazing, super creative idea for a fun dress code that ALSO reinforces testing tips for every day of the week before your school's tests.  For example, "Wear pajamas on Monday" reinforces the testing tip of getting a good night's rest the day before any test. 

I didn't want to break any copyright laws by posting all of the days of the week right here, but if you click the picture below it will take you right over to their page.  

I found this idea last night, got approval from my Dean of Instruction (in fact, he wants to share it with all the other testing grades in my school), and typed up a quick flyer this morning.  And just like that, my positive thought for today is that next week I know my kids will be excited about the idea of "testing" because it now involves a really fun week's worth of clothing!  Yay!  

I am still on the lookout for other fun ways to motivate my class next week, so let me know if you have any other ideas you use with your class.  Can't wait to see more positive thoughts over at the linky!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Mastering Multiplication Facts

I am linking up with Sugar and Spice's Wordless Wednesday linky.  This is the perfect linky for today because my boyfriend and I had a movie night, and now there is not much time left before bed starts calling my name! :)  Click the picture below to see what pictures others have linked up.

Here is my blurry shot from today...(my hands were a little shaky because it was lunchtime and I was hungry, but I wanted to remember to take this picture before I forgot)!

Have all your students learned all their multiplication facts yet?  How do you motivate them?

And I know this is supposed to be "wordless,"  but I have to give credit to the amazing Laura Candler and her Mastering Math Facts program for the train tracker idea and templates in the pic!

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - Pinocula

I'm excited to have found a linky I haven't seen before.  It's called, "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?"  Can't wait to read some of the other posts and discover some new books!

This school year, I decided to try to read EVERY book that I get for my classroom from Scholastic.  If I read the books first, then I can recommend them to particular students AND when I ask them what the book is about, I can make sure they are comprehending it.  This goal of mine has led me to read some books that I normally would have just passed along to students.  The one I'm reading now is one that never would have interested me at first glance.  It is called Pinocula by Obert Skye.  

This book came free in a 10-pack of books from Scholastic because my class had spent so much money.  This book would definitely not be on my top list of books to read at first glance.  However, I'm glad that my goal of reading every book before I take it to my classroom is exposing me to new types of books I wouldn't normally try.   This book is actually very funny and clever.  I figured out pretty quickly that it's actually the second book in a series.  I've learned so far that the main character has a closet with leftover lab supplies and books inside it.  When characters from the books get mixed together, creatures are formed!  In this book, Pinocula is formed from Pinocchio and Dracula.  

The author mixes drawings with text, and his drawings are full of humorous details that you might miss if you don't pay close attention.  I'm almost halfway through the book now, and I would say that I will be recommending it to some of my higher readers.  I have some Big Nate fans in my class, and I think this book will be right up their alley.  I teach 4th grade, and I think this book would actually be perfect for 5th and 6th graders.  But a few of my kids will definitely be interested in the funny title and concept of the book.

I'm going to get back to finishing this book now so I can hopefully take it in to my class tomorrow and recommend it to someone - I have the perfect student in mind for this one!  Then, I'm on to the next book in my huge pile of children's literature that I need to get through :)