Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Suggestions for Saving the Environment

I tell my students all the time-they will need to be the ones to come up with innovative ways to save the earth. Whether it's fighting pollution or new ways to create energy-we are in trouble if these future generations don't step up and fight for us. Luckily, my students do show a lot of empathy toward nature and after a little bit of modeling I do think we have a few future treehuggers!

I wanted to share some books that would work for not only your Earth Day unit but could be included year round to emphasize caring for our environment.

Famous naturalists and the difference they made in the world:

All about trees and how we should take care of them.

Saving our precious resources like water:

And my all-time favorites-to show even kids can make a small difference in saving the Earth!

Monday, June 26, 2017

My Favorite Books to Encourage Risk-Takers

One of the first lessons I do in my class at the beginning of a new school year is about taking risks. I explain very clearly that I am encouraging risk-taking like skateboarding off the roof of your house into a pool or anything, but risks like raising your hand even if you are not sure of the answer or getting up in front of people to speak. I was not much of a risk-taker growing up, if I'm being honest. I wish I had more of that in me when I was young. I always sat in the back of the class, never had the confidence to raise my hand or speak up. I envied people who had those traits. I think my fear of failing overtook my innovative thoughts.

 I would like to think that I am helping to empower my students to stand up in this world that encourages you to just go with the crowd.

These are my favorite books to echo those lessons:

This is a story of some chickens who are scared of EVERYTHING but they keep going on and in the end realize maybe they were braver than they thought.

This book is my all-time favorite book published in recent years. The penguin wants to fly and even though everyone tells him it just isn't in the stars, he makes it happen anyway.

I love the message of this book! Woolbur is who he is regardless of how much it makes his parents worry and everyone else look at him strangely. Sometimes just being an original is taking a risk.

A true story of a little girl in Cuba who wanted to play drums when only men were allowed to do that. She persisted and became a huge influence in music there.

Oddrey is a little, well, odd. Instead of changing herself to be more like the others (even if it would please her teacher) she ends up saving the day.

The boy stutters often, unless he is talking to animals. Another true story of someone taking a risk to do what they really believe in.

Ada has an innate curiosity which often gets her in trouble, but that she never gives up!

I had never heard this story before. Katherine Sessions was the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a science degree. She loved growing things and put that talent to use. When she moved to San Diego it made her sad that there was such a lack of vegetation-so she fixed that! Her work still makes the city beautiful.

I love this story about boys playing soccer with their new ball. Some bullies come to steal it away, but they use their minds and trick them so they get to keep the ball. Sometimes we have to take risks where we really feel scared.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Reading

I am thoroughly enjoying my summer break so far! I substituted for summer school this year which meant I got  to choose which days and where I wanted to work. It was kind of interesting to see how different schools do things.

I have been to several PD's and spent time working on putting together leveled readers and recording stories for my listening centers. I've also caught up on some episodes by binge-watching some Netflix. One of my big goals was decluttering my house and getting more organized before someone submits my name to Hoarders. I have definitely made some progress on that front as well.

Reading is something that I try to catch up on during summer break. I have read several books but am kind of in a slump right now. I have a huge stack from the library I just need to get motivated to read them.

Here are some that I read so far this summer:

I love when an author can write about flawed characters but still make you care about them. This is the story of a boy who was abandoned by his mother when he was little and his journey to find his identity. At the same time there is a parallel story about what happened to his mother.

This was an incredibly well-written book! There was a sentence on each page that I found profound or clever. It is a long book-I didn't know how long when I put it on hold at the library. It's over 500 pages, so it took me a while to read it. It's the story of a boy and his mother, love and grief. People just trying to get through the day to day.

I read a list of suspenseful books and was reminded of this story. Now I never saw the movie, but I knew the story. This book was written in the late 50's and I think it was very salacious for a book written in that time. Yes, there's the story of a child with psychopathic tendencies and her mother debating whether to help her (she is a mother after all) or stop her. But there is also the story of the mother herself remembering a past that she believes may be the cause of the daughter's affliction. Much better than I thought it would be.

I had read great things about this book and I have to admit I thought the premise was very creative. It's the story of a woman who marries the former husband of a woman who was convicted of murdering his children. For me though this book missed the mark. It bounced back and forth between character's perspectives and time to a point where I'd have to say who is this now? I also am one of those readers who likes the mysteries solved, who likes everything tied up in a bow by the end and this ending was not that for me. Wouldn't recommend this one.

I do like mystery stories and this one was a very cliched mystery. A girl tracing her past to see what really happened to her mother and her grandmother. I was intrigued enough to finish it and see what happens but really just mediocre.

I had read great reviews of this book in several different places. I feel like it's a hipster effort at artistic vision. These characters where truly flawed but in this story I didn't really care about them very much. It was hard to get through.

Are you reading anything exciting this summer?

Sunday, June 18, 2017


I know moms are often the parent we deal with most often when it comes to our students. But I think it's important to consciously include our dads in classroom activities. Even though we are not in school for Father's Day, we do a Dad's Rock Celebration where the students read either a biography they wrote about their father or a poem. I tried to get my colleagues to participate in this as well but they said their dads won't come. I had 24 out of 25 families represented this year. Sometimes it was a grandparent stepping in, but that student was represented. You don't know until you invite them! And even if 2 dads show up-that's 2 dads that can share in their child's classroom experiences.

We also take a field trip to a local baseball park-they have tours where you can sit in the dugout, press box, VIP area-we usually get several dads who want to chaperone that trip. :) 

Some of my favorite books about Dads:

Shopping trip with dad turns into a bit of an adventure.

 If I were you and you were me.....Dad and his little girl ruminate about what it would be like to be in each other's shoes. This is on Tumblebooks if you have an account with your public library you can access it with you library card.

A classic and a pretty easy read for your beginning readers.

Is there anything Dads can't do? :) This is a really cute story.

LOVE this beautiful book by Eric Carle about a little girl who asks her dad for the moon and he gets it for her.

Based on the song-Just the Two of Us building castles in the sky.

And if you need a chapter book:

Dad takes a little too long when he goes out to get milk so he weaves an unbelievable tale of why he took so long.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Beaded Number Lines

I know I don't post math ideas very often. I guess I just feel like most of us probably do a lot of the same things already in math. It's also never been my strongest subject area. Especially with the little ones-half the year our objectives are counting and number recognition-I run out of ideas for creative ways to teach those things.

Anyway, I try to knock out professional development hours over the summer-no sub plans necessary. :) And I learned about this idea that I had an opportunity to try with my summer school kiddos; it worked really well! It's a beaded number line. I ordered all the supplies from Amazon for a little over $20 total. I got one bag each of 1,000 red and 1,000 white beads. I also ordered shoelaces that I ended up cutting in half. You tie the end without the aglet, put on 20 beads alternating 5 at a time in different colors. It looks like this:

(I know one has the colors backwards-I need to fix that one).

So how do you use it. I had the students make a circle in whole group so I could assess everyone's work by looking around. With my Kinders I asked them to just count out a number and they moved the beads to the opposite side. We went around the circle and each student chose a number for the class to make 1-20. Even the week I had this group there were students who were catching on to the fact they could use 5 at a time instead of counting individually-that's a big skill with the littles.

With older students you could have them put it on a piece of paper and label one number say 11 and then ask them to show where 17 would be. Or they could draw the representation of numbers with the red and white.

An easy tool that I can't wait to use regularly in my math talks with my class next year.

Now on to making Rekenreks with my leftover beads! :)


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Words Matter

I try not to get up on my soapbox too often. :) But today is going to be one of those days.

I read a book several years ago-I wish I could remember which one it was, I think maybe Todd Whitaker. But the author was talking about how our choice of words can convey either a positive or negative outlook. And especially in schools, we are going for the positive outlook. Last year I worked in a school with a very toxic climate. On Monday morning when I would ask anyone--from the cafeteria staff to the principal herself "how was your weekend?" the answer would ALWAYS be "not long enough". On Fridays when you ask someone "how are you?" the response ALWAYS was "at least it's Friday and I don't have to come to school tomorrow". This made for a very negative environment. I was always very conscious of how I would answer even those casual, small talk questions. I wanted to stay positive in my responses.

I am subbing this summer I've been subbing for summer school at different campuses and I am just so shocked at how some of these teachers and aides talk in front of the children. At dismissal one day there were a handful of students left and one of the aides asked a boy how he was doing in summer school. Then she and the other teachers starting saying things like "it's not like he's going to pass anyway", "he never listens", "I think he needs medication, his brother took it". Oh my goodness! Not only in front of the child, but in front of other students as well! This is happening at so many different campuses.

Especially working with little ones, they are so cognizant of how you respond to problem students. If I show any type of dislike for a student, they will echo those actions in their interactions with them. I have had very challenging students in my class over the years. One year I had a student ask me "Miss Trayers, do you like Johnny (one of the class boogerbears)?" I answered, "of course I like him!" Johnny was watching that whole time. Can you imagine if I had made a negative comment, what that would have done to his self-esteem?

I worked with a colleague years ago who had a difficult student. He was gifted and awkward. His tapping the pencil and lack of social skills she took as a personal affront and would always talk about how disrespectful he was. She told me one day that she let the kids tell him "I hate you" and "shut up" because she wished she could say those things to him. One day he was acting up for a sub and they put him in my class. I told my class before he came that we were going to treat him as part of our community. We were doing a group activity and he suggested a solution to the problem and a student turned to him and said "you are so smart!". The look on his face! He was so proud. They moved him to my class and whenever we would go anywhere some staff member would inevitably say "oh you have him now, I'm so sorry for you." I would always respond "why, we love having him as part of our class!"

Words matter. I still remember a college professor (this was 20 years ago) in a statistics class who asked me the answer to the problem. I gave the correct answer and she said "well, I know if YOU got it"-meaning I was not good in that class and if I understood then everyone understood and she could move on. I think sometimes we forget how much our students look up to us and mirror our interactions. If everyone on a campus tries to say only positive things-imagine how great that school culture would be! Not only would teachers be more excited to come to work-the students would be more excited to come to school!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Unique Unit Themes

I am a bit of a rebel in the classroom. I don't like to do things just because it's the way we've always done it or because it's what everyone else is doing. I like teaching with theme units because it helps me guide my read-alouds and songs/poems we use to practice fluency. Many Kindergarten teachers do units on apples in the fall and plants in the spring. And there is nothing wrong with using units like that. Many students have done those units in pre-k and I want to give them exposure to different experiences.

So I wanted to share some of the units I do that I think are a little more off-the-beaten path.

Wordless Books

1) Write from the perspective of a wordless book--"If I were a wordless book, I would...."-does it feel different to have no words, etc.?
2) Why do authors write wordless books?
3) Make an argument that wordless books are just as good as regular books.
4) Write your own wordless book
5) Create math problems to go along with the illustrations.

The Moon-I was looking for a specific moon-related book on my library site a few years ago and was blown away by how many moon books there are out there!

1) Comparing the perspective of the moon and the sun.
2) Science-phases of the moon
3) Writing a letter to the moon from one of the stars.
4) Is it right or wrong that we can't see the moon during the day.
5) Rules for being the moon-what is always true about ti.


1. Making pancakes of course! You can put the instructions out with pictures to follow directions on how to mix their own pancake and cook them on a plug-in griddle. There is such pride in their faces as they are eating the pancake they made themselves!

2. Inventing a new way to make pancakes or a new flavor of pancakes.

3. I like to ask them to write a recipe for pancakes before we make them-they come out pretty funny!

4. Language of the disciplines-how does a chef look at a pancake compared to an artist.

5. Explore trends in pancakes over the years.


(I found this book at my library last year. I read the reviews on Amazon and because this is about an immigrant crossing the border there were people who were offended by the plot. I personally, think it's an issue that many of my students are familiar with because they have family members in the same situation. Plus, it's a timely subject in politics today-I see nothing wrong with sharing the journey of people who have come to our country that way).

1. What will the shoes of the future look like? Invent a new kind of shoe.
2. Why do we wear different kinds of shoes for different things. Why do girls wear high heels? Why not wear comfortable shoes all the time?
3. Empathy-walking in other people's shoes to feel how they feel. You can actually demonstrate this with shoes of different jobs.
4. Language of the disciplines-matching shoes to the job.
5. How would our lives be different if we didn't wear shoes?