September 30, 2013

Using Bar Models for Story Problems

I mentioned earlier this school year that our district had revamped our Everyday Math curriculum to better fit with Common Core.  One change was a bigger focus on story problems involving critical thinking during our addition and subtraction unit.  Story problems are always tough for kids, but I've in the past helped them through by making those anchor charts of "clue words" that we've all seen and made a million times.  However, my district said we were NOT supposed to be stressing clue words with the Common Core--too often kids were clinging to them and not even thinking, "What is the problem asking?" 

Our revised curriculum has us using "Bar Models" aka "Strip Diagrams" or "Thinking Blocks" as a tool for solving these story problems.  I LOVE them!  I think they have been such a big help for the kids, and they have even been a great tool for me in teaching story problems!  They make things so clear, and make it easier to see if the answers the kids get make sense.  Here's an example:
We introduced them with this website, and from there have been using them in class to solve word problems this week.  The kids are getting good at drawing the blank (undivided) bar immediately and the line above representing the total.  They then analyze the information in the problem and decide what each number represents--is this the total or is this a piece?  They can clearly see that the top number (total) must be the biggest number; if they accidentally put a smaller number there, it doesn't make sense.  The kids fill in the information they have, then add a variable for the unknown info.  From there, they are able to determine the operation and solve.  Here's a sample of some student work:

I made this anchor chart to put on my math board to remind the kids the process and the way to correctly label the answers:

Bar Models are definitely my new favorite strategy for word problems, and one of the best things I've gotten out of our new curriculum.  So far we have only been using them for addition and subtraction problems, but you can definitely also use them for multiplication and division!  Love versatility :)

How do you teach story problems?

September 29, 2013

31 Bag Fundraiser Winners

I am of course late as usual posting the winners of my Autism Speaks Fundraiser giveaway.  Thank you to Karen B., Karen G., Kiley, and Megan for supporting a wonderful charity and my first shot at 26.2!  I assigned numbers to each entry based on amount donated and donation order.  Here are the two winners:
Karen B!
Karen G!
Ladies, email me at JuiceboxesandcrayolasATgmailDOTcom by Wednesday to claim your prize!  Whoever responds first will get first pick between the two prizes.  Thank you so much for entering and donating!




September 28, 2013

Swirlgear Review + Discount Code

I recently had the opportunity to become a brand ambassador for Swirlgear, a new-ish company that makes running clothes for women.  I was interested in Swirlgear for a couple of reasons.  First, the company was founded by a woman runner, and it is run by women which I love.  I also love that they're based out of Chicago--I was born in the city and have lived in the suburbs my whole life, so I love supporting a home-grown business!  Check out their current product line here.

I ordered the yellow cap sleeved shirt and pink hoodie.  Based on the sizing chart, I would be a size small.  However, I HATE tight clothes, especially running clothes, so I usually end up going with a medium any time an item is designed to be more fitted.  I emailed the company to ask their opinion on sizing, and they suggested I stick with small since the items run a little big.  When I received the tops, I was disappointed--they fit, but they were a little snug, definitely tighter than I prefer.  The good news is, I contacted the company and they made the return a SNAP for me--I had my new clothes in a couple days.  I am much happier with the mediums.  The cap sleeve shirt is pretty loose on me in the medium (I must be a small+...), but like I said, I appreciate a long, loose fit for running clothes.  If you like your clothing more fitted and are between two sizes, you will definitely be safe with the smaller size.
The Sunny Yellow Cap Sleeve was PERFECT for my 20-miler last Sunday!
As I said, these shirts are cut long--even in the smaller size, I was still happy with the length.  I cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of running in a short shirt.  A long length is not only flattering IMHO, but it just makes things easier if you're wearing a fuel belt or a SPI belt--hate when your shirt rides up around those things!  The cap sleeve is also super lightweight and breathable with flat-lock seams.  Perfect for long hot, sweaty runs.  Oh, and they're tagless--like all running clothes SHOULD be!
The hoodie fit PERFECTLY in a medium.  I bought it to wear as a second layer, so if that's your plan too, definitely don't size down.  I like the weight of the hoodie a lot--I have a few thin long sleeves and a few that are fleecy inside that I wear for winter running, but this top is a happy medium.  It has super long sleeves that are actually long enough to pull your fists inside, and it has thumbholes.  My favorite part, though, is that there is a hole in the hood for your ponytail!  My mom thought that was super weird when I told her, but anytime I want to run with a hood in cold weather, I either have to put my long hair in braids or bunch it in back of my hood.  Hate that!  (I'm beginning to think I have some serious issues with picky-ness as I sit here writing my post...hey, I know what I like!)

The downside to Swirlgear is that they don't have a ton of styles and prints--yet.  They are a new baby company, and they are working on expanding.  I wasn't in love with all of their prints, but I'm looking forward to seeing what they come out with next.  The other issue for me is cost.  While they are not higher priced than many other popular brands, their items averaged more than I normally spend on my running clothes.  The quality is definitely there, though, so if that's the most important thing to you, it would for sure justify the expense.  (I'm trying SO HARD to budget recently, so I'm looking a bit more closely at price tags these days!)

Here's the good news though!  As a brand ambassador, I can offer you guys free shipping on any Swirlgear purchase using the discount code swirlon at checkout.

What qualities make something a PERFECT running top for you?
For me, it's a long length, loose fit, and soft, wicking material.

Disclaimer: I was provided a 50% discount on these items as part of the Swirlgear Brand Ambassador program.  They were purchased with my own money, and all opinions expressed are my own.

September 27, 2013

How to Start a Classroom Yoga Routine

Awhile back I mentioned how much I love to do yoga in the classroom with my kids, and I had a couple comments asking to hear more.  I tell the kids all the time that everything we do is ON PURPOSE in the classroom--in other words, if I'm having us do something, there's a reason for it.  I have a few reasons for our afternoon yoga--first, it's a perfect reset after lunch.  We rush around all day, and even lunch time really isn't a break for the kids.  They rush to eat, rush out to the playground, rush back inside...taking 5 minutes after lunch to breathe deeply and reset is much-needed for all of us.  Second, I love the quick opportunity to embed a tiny bit of exercise into the day.  If you've read my blog at all, you know I'm an athlete now as an adult.  But honestly, I was never any sort of athlete until my twenties!  I wish I'd been introduced to more non-team, non-competitive sports as a kid.  I figure if I share yoga with the kids now, maybe a few will find a way to keep fit later in life that they didn't know about before.  Long shot, but with the health crisis in the country these days, what harm can it do??

Here's how it works:
I project this on the board during our "practice" and play quiet music

After lunch, my kids wait out in the hall with their lunch supervisor until they hear me begin to play music.  Then, they know that they can silently walk in and either find a place on the carpet for yoga or put their heads down and take a few relaxing minutes at their seat.  (We are still practicing entering quietly this year...)  We then start going through our yoga "flows."  I practice vinyasa yoga, so that's basically what I do with the kids.  I taught them a series of 2 poses at the beginning of the year, and we have added on a little bit.  By the end of last year, the kids were doing a series of about 10 poses!  They loved it.  We will build to that again this year. :)

If you aren't familiar with yoga, watch a youtube video of the Sun Salutation; that's basically what I'm doing with my kids.  Here are the poses we will "flow through":
  • Standing, hands at heart center
  • Forward fold
  • Hop back to plank
  • Lower plank to floor; push up into cobra pose
  • Push back into downward dog
  • Step forward into Warrior 1
  • Open to Warrior 2
  • Hands back to the floor for plank
  • Repeat on other side
We also end with tree pose usually--the kids' favorite.  This is also a great opportunity to talk about trying your best, and how if you fall out of the pose, just try it again.  Great life lessons from yoga!

The whole thing takes literally less than 5 minutes.  It was seamless with my class last year, and I feel like it was so beneficial.  While my new class is not quite there yet, we will get there!

September 26, 2013

Making Inferences about Trash!

I have one more fabulous lesson from Comprehension Connections to share with you today!  This one I squeezed into an extra chunk of time I had a couple weeks back when a handful of my kiddos were testing and I had several others joining me from other rooms.  It was the perfect lesson for a mixed bag like that, but I wish all my homeroom kids had gotten to be part of it!  I will have to remember to teach it to the whole class next time as part of my beginning of the year literacy activities.

I have loved all of the lessons I've taught from this book, but this one is probably my favorite (or at least tied with visualizing!).  Once again, I want to be clear that this lesson is in NO WAY my original idea--100% of the credit for the idea goes to Tanny McGregor, the author of Comprehension Connections.  It is too fun not to share with you though!  I started the lesson by telling my class about the [[ficticious]] "mysterious new neighbors" who just moved in down the hall from me.  I told them how I want to get to know them better, but they always go right in their apartment and shut the door, and they don't come out very often.  I tell them that I did something crazy...I stole their garbage!

I them produced a large white trash bag--the kids were completely floored and completely engaged.  Lots of "ewwww!"s going around.  I told them that I was going to be like a detective and that they would get to help me look for clues in the garbage to tell me more about my neighbors.  We examined the items one by one.  Here's what I threw in the bag:
  • An empty gatorade bottle
  • An IKEA catalog
  • A ticket stub from the science museum
  • An empty mascara tube
  • An empty tea bag wrapper
  • An empty box of hot chocolate mix
  • An empty box of blueberries
  • A public transit card
  • A gift bag
  • An empty bottle of allergy medicine
We went through the items and I asked the kids what they know about each.  For example, we know people drink Gatorade when they exercise or work out.  Then, we used what we know to make inferences about the people.  The kids inferred that my "neighbors" like to exercise.  They also connected the Gatorade to the blueberries--clearly they like eating fruits too, so both of these things show that they like to be healthy.  We recorded the inferences on the chart below.
It was a great opportunity to get the kids talking to each other and thinking about reasonable and logical inferences.  I shared these sentence frames with them to help guide their thinking.
After the activity, I had the kids draw their own trash bags with items that a "nosy neighbor" like me might find if they stole their trash.  They they wrote about the items and what others would be able to infer about them based on the items.  Example: 
Obv I did this lesson when I had a bad cold...
 If I taught the lesson again, I definitely would have spent more time on the writing piece and modeling how to really go the extra step with the items they chose.  Many got stuck on food items--it took some prompting to think creatively about what items might end up in their trash that would tell about them.


What fun ways do you introduce the kids to making inferences?

September 25, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Running Inspiration

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Goodreads SummaryIn 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a dozen critically acclaimed books, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and—even more important—on his writing.

Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and takes us to places ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him. Through this marvelous lens of sport emerges a panorama of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments, his passion for vintage LPs, and the experience, after fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back.

By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in running.


My thoughts:  This book was not what I expected, but I really enjoyed it.  I was expecting more of a memoir about Murakami's experiences in running through his life, but really What I talk about was more of a stream of consciousness at times.  Murakami jumped around time periods between the present tense while writing and past memories of races and training experiences.  Once I got used to the format, I really appreciated the candor, honesty, and insights.  I love how Murakami talks about the "void" you find as a long distance runner--the point after which everything calms down and your mind quiets.  I know that during a short run, my mind runs a mile a minute working out my "issues," but during a long run everything goes quiet--all I can focus on is forward motion.  I also love how Murakami's insights aren't all about running--they go beyond running and into the runner, into life.  Some of my favorite quotes:

I look up at the sky, wondering if I'll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don't. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn't be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative often self-centered nature that still doubts itself--that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I've carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. I'm not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I've carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.



People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But don't think that's the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree.



Nothing is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness. 
((^Again, love the honesty.  Because yes, runners get delusional at the end of a long run, and yes, it's beautiful.))


3.5/5 stars
(As always, cover photo and summary are borrowed from goodreads.com!)

What have you been reading this week?
What are your favorite running  books?  While I liked this one a lot, my favorites are still The Courage to Start and The Nonrunner's Guide to the Marathon for Women.  

September 24, 2013

Training Tuesday: 20. Freakin. Miles. BOOM.

*Hey guys!  Don't forget to check out my 31 bags fundraiser for Autism Speaks!   Thank you to Megan C., Karen B., Kiley M., and Karen G. for donating and entering!  I hope you will consider donating $5 to Autism Speaks, giving you a great chance of winning an awesome 31 bag! 

Well, I did it--I ran dragged myself through 20 whole miles Sunday morning, officially finishing the longest run of both my marathon training and my entire life.  It wasn't pretty, folks.  In fact, it was probably the toughest run of my entire life.  Buuuut, I did it!  And that's what matters, right? :)  Let me start at the beginning...

Sunday morning I had to be up at...wait for it...3:15am.  Yup.  Basically the middle of the night.  My running group was participating in the CARA Ready to Run 20-miler in Chicago with all of the other Chicago-land running groups.  The run was an organized training run with pace groups, aid stations, but no chip times.  Our buses left my training site at 4:30am in order to get into the city with plenty of time to spare before the 6:30am start time.  It was early, dark, cold, and we were tired.  The perfect mix of things to make sure NONE of us were super pumped up about the run...
I would NEVER have made it through the run without these ladies!!!

The course was a point to point from the north side of the city all the way downtown and through to the Museum of Science and Industry on the south side.
In other words, really freakin far.  I'm not a huge fan of point to point races; I think it just made it seem FAR.  I love running on the lakefront path in Chicago--the views are stunning, and there is always a nice cool breeze off of the lake.  

Sorry for the blur, but you get the idea.  Lovely!

We even ran past a little plan that had made an emergency landing on Lakeshore Drive in the wee hours of the morning!  Have you ever heard of such a thing?  Luckily I think everyone was okay.  (My pace group leader had to stop and take a picture!  I took a much needed stretch break...)

Like I said, the views were beautiful, but after 20 miles I was bored out of my mind.  Not to mention in pain!!!  So. much. pain.  I felt really good during my 18-miler two weeks ago up until the last few miles, but Sunday I was hurting WAY earlier in the run.  My left ITB/knee were bugging me early on; so was my right hip.  Later those loosened up but my arches and hip flexors started hurting something fierce.  By the end, every step was just agony.   We looked forward to our 1-minute walk breaks like a kid looking forward to Christmas, and moaned and groaned every time the walk breaks ended.

Finally, finally, FINALLY we made it.  I managed to kick it up the tiniest bit for a fast run to the finish line, knowing that the sooner I crossed it, the sooner I could lay down and take off my shoes.  It's the little things, right?!  I crossed the finish relieved and smiling in 4:07.

Hurting, but so happy to have set a new distance record and have conquered 20 mean miles!
(I loved running in my new Swirlgear Cap Sleeve--
check back later this week for a review and discount code!)

Immediately after the run I was more nauseous than hungry, but by the time I made it home I was STARVING.  And exhausted.  20mi + no sleep = naptime.  I curled up in bed (post-shower obv) with Jimmy Johns and New Girl--have you watched that show?  So cute.  Yesterday I got an AMAZING deep tissue massage--holy crazy, that therapist was amazing.  I didn't realize I even had some of the knots that she worked out!  But man, the pain...
A few weeks ago in my training, I thought that after the 20-miler I would feel super confident and ready for the marathon.  Now, I think I just realize how flippin' far 26.2 miles is.  (News flash: It's far.)  After the run, I found myself thinking, "I literally could not have run another single step, much less 6.2 more MILES."  I know, I know, the marathon will be different.  I will be running on rested legs on an awesome course with amazing crowd support.  I just hope it hurts a little less on race day!!  

I still can't believe I ran 20 miles.  God, I remember how proud I was after my first 5K--never in my life would I have dreamed I could have run this far!  Even though it made me more nervous than ever about the marathon distance, after Sunday I am just so excited about the marathon.  I can't wait to run through the streets of my awesome city with so many sponsorships for a cause I believe in and with my family and friends supporting me.  It's going to be the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'm going to make sure it's an absolute blast!!

Please, please, please give me some reassurance that I can get through my marathon.  Sorry to be needy, but actually I'm not sorry!! :)

September 19, 2013

Hurry, hurry, hurry!!

*Hey guys!  Don't forget to check out my 31 bags fundraiser for Autism Speaks!   Thank you to Megan C., Karen B., and Karen G. for donating and entering!  I hope you will consider donating $5 to Autism Speaks, giving you a great chance of winning an awesome 31 bag! 

Hurry, hurry, hurry.  I feel like I say these words on repeat all day long!  I am sitting here on my living room floor, all sweaty post-run, and all I can think about is how nice it is to sit down and take a breath.  I should really take a shower and I put a pot of water for pasta on the stove before I sat down, and I hope I can make it up again to actually put the noodles in.  No guarantees though.  My days feel like one big blur lately!
My socks don't match.  That's about where I'm at right now!!
 Does anyone else feel like all they do all day at school is rush, rush, rush?  We literally do not have a single minute of downtime in the day.  Not only do we teach from bell to bell, but we are CONSTANTLY transitioning this year.  I don't mean just between content areas, I mean kids are constantly transitioning from place to place nearly every 20 minutes.  That is only a TINY exaggeration.  Here's a sampling of how my day goes:

  • 8:35-8:45 Opening traditions and brief good morning with my kids.  Literally the only time of day when we are all together in the same room.  I try to squeeze in a tiny bit of community building, but really this just looks like a quick "Turn to your neighbor and say good morning!", answering questions about the schedule, and saying the pledge.  I inevitably forget to take attendance in the blur that is these 10 minutes.
  • 8:45-9:15 I rush the kids out of the room to math intervention groups.  Kids are dispersed between teachers and specialists across the grade level.  I work with a small group of 5 struggling math students, two of whom are in my class.
  • 9:15-10:15 My home room kids shuffle back and meet me outside the door.  I herd them to specials and run back upstairs so I'm not late for PLC.
  • 10:15-11:15 I pick the kids up from specials (usually running down the stairs again because my PLC has gone over) and herd them to math class like a police officer directing traffic.  I teach 4th grade math, so my third graders leave for a different teacher.  My accelerated 4th graders also leave for a different teacher.  Once again, I am not seeing many of my own students.  I frantically try to check math homework, cram in a shared math lesson, and meet with two guided math groups in the next hour.  I rush to pass out homework and check in with other kids in the last 30 seconds before lunch, while at the same time telling my kids to hurry, hurry, hurry and clean up their white boards and math maniplatives.
  • 11:15-12:00 Kids are at lunch.  I force myself to quickly check email and then get to the teacher's lounge.  It is literally the only moment I get to catch my breath in the day, and I refuse to give it up!
  • 12:00-12:30 I check in with my homeroom kids for 5 minutes before herding them off to their shared reading classes.  I teach 4th grade shared reading and send my third graders to another teacher.  We hurry to "dig deep" into the text.
    I feel like I spend the majority of my day at this table...
  • 12:30-1:00 I shuffle the kiddos out the door to their reading intervention groups.  My group consists of eight students, none of whom are in my home room.  I still have not worked with or hardly talked to any of my third grade students. (It's a miracle they know my name, to be honest!)
  • 1:00-1:55 The kids rush back into the room and we hurry, hurry, hurry to start guided reading groups.  I rush to cram in three groups with a "status of the class" in between each one.  I find myself saying to my group, "Why don't you have a pen out yet?  Where is your book?  We need to have started by now!"  I crane my neck to see the clock over my shoulder during the group to make sure I am on track for time.  This is the first time all day that I get to work with a single one of my third graders.  Oh, and many of my ELL kiddos are pulled during this time for guided reading with the ELL specialists.  
  • 1:55-2:05 Read aloud.  Breath of fresh air.  
  • 2:05-2:30 Writing workshop.  I fight a losing battle against the clock to squeeze in my mini-lesson, writing time, and sharing time.  This never works.  There's a reason they say writing workshop should be at least an hour block!!  
  • 2:30-2:50 I hurry the kids back to their desks to put their writing away and get their science or social studies books.  If I'm doing a science lab, I say a silent prayer that I can somehow get everything passed out, explained, set up, and the lab completed before we need to pack up.  It never works and labs get stretched out for two or three days.  Oh, and my ELL kids and Tier 3 kids receive resource time during this time.  I silently wave as some of them are picked up for groups.
  • 2:50-3:00 We hurry, hurry, hurry to write down homework, pack up, clean the floor.  I run around like a mad woman stamping planners.  I race against the clock to squeeze in our clip chart "Super Star Awards."  It is always a losing battle.  By this point, I have usually broken a sweat.
This day is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.  Seriously, does this many transitions make sense to anyone else???  I didn't think so.  Neither does the tiny amount I see some of my students!  I am thinking about how conferences are coming up in 3 weeks, and I barely know some of them!  Ahhh!  

Anyways, tell me--is your schedule as crazy as mine?  Do you feel like all you do all day is rush, rush, rush???

September 18, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday Linky: Powerful Youth Fiction

*Hey guys!  Don't forget to check out my 31 bags fundraiser for Autism Speaks!   Only  one  person has entered so  far, which means that you have a VERY GOOD chance of winning a 31 bag in exchange for a tiny $5 donation to Autism Speaks!!  Seriously, that's an amazing deal AND you're helping a good cause!  Win-Win!
Hey guys!  After last week's RANT about a terrible teen "book" (yes, I'm putting book in quotes because it was so bad), I'm thrilled to have an awesome read to share with you this week!

278264Wringer by Jerry Spinelli
Goodreads Summary: Sometimes he wished it would come after him, chase him, this thing he did not want to be. But the thing never moved. It merely waited. Waited for him to come to it. In Palmer LaRue's hometown of Waymer, turning ten is the biggest event of a boy's life. It marks the day when a boy is ready to take his place as a wringer at the annual Family Fest. It's an honor and a tradition.

But for Palmer, his tenth birthday is not something to look forward to, but something to dread. Because -- although he can't admit this to anyone -- Palmer does not want to be a wringer. But he can't stop himself from getting older, any more than he can stop tradition.

Then one day, a visitor appears on his windowsill, and Palmer knows that this, more than anything else, is a sign that his time is up. Somehow, he must learn how to stop being afraid and stand up for what he believes in.


My Thoughts: Wringer has been on my to-read list FOREVER, and I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it!  However, I must have never read the jacket carefully because it turns out what I THOUGHT this book was about was pretty different than its actual plot!  This happens to me ALL the time, as I just add books on goodreads without really reading the summary.  I actually went into this book thinking it was a dystopian novel, but it's actual realistic fiction.  As you can tell frmo the plot, it's definitely got some intense, dark content--shooting pigeons and then wringing their necks isn't exactly Goldilocks.

What I love about this book are the important themes it brings up.  In true Spinelli-style, Wringer gets to the root of some big issues while keeping the perspective totally through the eyes of the child protagonist.  Not only does Spinelli explore the broad concepts of right and wrong, but also the tougher issues kids face about standing up for what you know is right even when it means standing up to your friends and family.  Wringer also deals with friendship--the protagonist desperately wants to gain acceptance into a little group of neighborhood "hoodlums" as his mother refers to them, but when he is accepted, he finds out he really doesn't like them and their behavior.  He'd much rather spend time with his youger female neighbor who he's embarrassed to speak to in public.  Wringer would be an AMAZING book to launch a discussion about how hard it is to stand up for what's right in front of your friends.

I would definitely recommend this book to some of my advanced reading 4th graders, and if I still taught 5th grade, I would consider it for a read aloud.  There are just so many good themes in here that it would be perfect for stimulating class discussions and critical thinking responses.

4/5 stars
(Summary and cover image courtesy of goodreads.com!)

Link to your What I'm Reading Wednesday post below!


September 16, 2013

Teaching Kids about SCHEMA!


*Hey guys!  Don't forget to check out my 31 bags fundraiser for Autism Speaks!  No one has entered yet, which means that you have a VERY GOOD chance of winning a 31 bag in exchange for a tiny $5 donation to Autism Speaks!!  Seriously, that's an amazing deal AND you're helping a good cause!  Win-Win!

Coming to you with another great Comprehension Connections lesson today!  Last week I shared about Tanny McGregor's awesome lesson on Visualization.  I can't wait to tell you about another great lesson I borrowed from her book, this one focusing on teaching Schema.
To get the lesson started, I show a simple T-Chart.  I tell the kids that when I write the label on the 1st column, they will have 1 minute to shout out any thing they know about that topic, or thoughts that pop into their head.  I chose "Great America," our nearby Six Flags amusement park, for this because I figured most kids would have some schema about the topic from commercials even if they had not been.  I wrote down the words and phrases kids shared until the 1 minute timer went off.

Next, I wrote the name of the next column.  In the book, McGregor chose an obscure town in Florida with a unique name that she had schema about.  I chose Marseille, France, a town I was able to visit on an exchange trip in high school.  Obviously, the kids had pretty much no schema about this topic!
After the minute passed this time, I asked them why they had less to say about Marseille.  We processed for a minute, and then I wrote the word "SCHEMA" in caps down the left side, as McGregor instructed.  I explained what schema is, and explained why schema made the difference.

The thing that makes Comprehension Connections lessons really great is that they all have a concrete link--in this case a lint roller.  I showed it to the kids and told them that our brains are like this lint roller--anything we come in contact with gets stuck in our brains and becomes part of our mental filing cabinets, our schema!  I then shared the slips of paper I'd prepared--on each one I'd written someone either unique about me or that I'd experienced.  I read them to the kids and modeled dragging my lint roller over the slips.  Obviously, they stuck!
I talked with the kids about how we are all so very unique--there is no one in the world with the exact same experiences as each one of us.  That means our schema is unique too!
Just like in the Great America v. Marseille activity, when we read, it's our schema that makes a difference.  Schema allows us to make connections as we read.  Next, I revealed the connections anchor chart modeled after McGregor's that shares the different levels of connections as well as sentence frames.  I had created the bones in advance, but we added in the details in pink together.
Last, I kept the chart displayed as I read aloud from a picture book and asked the kids to share their connections with their Turn & Talk partner and the class.  A great beginning of the year literacy lesson!

September 15, 2013

Sunshiney Day!



**Hey guys!  Don't forget to check out my 31 bags fundraiser for Autism Speaks!  No one has entered yet, which means that you have a VERY GOOD chance of winning a 31 bag in exchange for a tiny $5 donation to Autism Speaks!!  Seriously, that's an amazing deal AND you're helping a good cause!  Win-Win!

Actually, it's not sunshiney at all in real life.  Today it looks like this outside:
Which is why I'm curled up inside with this:
A pot (or two) of mint tea and homemade baked pumpkin donuts.  This all after a bowl of pumpkin pie stove top oatmeal this morning.  I am always sad to see summer go, but I do love me some pumpkin.  I like to think of it as fall's apology for the cooler weather.  That and the opportunity to wear scarves.  And easier running weather.  

I digress.  Back to the sunshine.  Fabulous Alyssa at Don't Look Down has given me the Sunshine Award!  Fabulous Jennifer at Red Hair and Running Shoes gave me this award last month, too, but I completely forgot to write a post about it.  Sorry, Jennifer!  Blame it on "back to school brain" (yes, this is a thing)!
About the award:The award is circulated to those bloggers to let them know that their posts brighten your day.

The Rules:
1.  Include award logo in a post or on your blog.
2.  Link to the person who nominated you -- See above!
3.  Answer 10 questions about yourself.
4.  Nominate 10 bloggers to receive the award. Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs letting them know they’ve been nominated.

1. What is a signature dish that you make?  Signature dish?  HAH!  That's funny.  If you know me IRL (in real life), you know that I hate cooking almost as much as I hate scrubbing my bathroom.  I do almost anything to avoid it!  One dish I actually can make well is a spinach lasagna.  This is my go-to when I need to make a legit meal or provide a vegetarian dish for holidays.  I do like baking, though, and can make some great banana bread.

2. What was your favorite college class?  Omg, this is a hard one.  Hang on a minute where I geek-out about how much I loved 99% of my college classes.  I absolutely adored my el ed classes, especially one I took on Environmental Education for Youth (a May Term specific-focus class).  Outside of the ed department, I took an amazing English class on Literary Theory that was hands down the most challenging and rewarding class of college.  It was taught by a phenomenal professor who literally pushed me to think completely outside my comfort zone, and during that single class I grew more as a writer than during any other English class I took in college.  (I was an El Ed Major, Lit Minor) 
I loved college!
 3. What is the best ice cream flavor?  That's like Sohpie's Choice.  I love a good cookie's and cream, anything with peanut butter, and coffee ice cream.

4. What is your favorite race distance (5k, half-marathon, etc.)?  I am loving the half marathon distance lately, and also the 10-mile.  The 10-mile is long enough to get warmed up and really push yourself, but just short enough to avoid the pain that comes at the end of a 13.1!

5. Favorite football team? If you hate football, just say the Iowa Hawkeyes and I'll be happy.  I am going to be 100% honest and share with you that even though I went to every single home game in high school (I was in band...), I am lacking even a basic understanding of the rules of football.  Definitely not my sport!  To make my Dad happy, though, I will say the Chicago Bears.  
More of a Chicago Blackhawks fan, tho!

6. Cookies or brownies?  Again, Sophie's Choice.  I will have to say brownies, but it's a tough one!
Also, I know it wasn't a choice, but PIE.  Really, just all desserts.
(Boy am I in trouble once marathon training is over...)

7. Have you ever watched the show Dance Moms? Don't lie! I just watched the whole season on OnDemand.  
I have a penchant for crappy reality TV, so yes, of course I have watched Dance Mom's.  I will not hide it, and I am not ashamed.

8. Where and when was your last vacation?  I went to Boston, MA in early August to visit my cousin and a friend, and to run a half-marathon.
Biking in Cape Cod!
9. Favorite breakfast food?  PANCAKES!!!  But on a daily basis, oatmeal loaded with PB, fruit, and nuts.

10. What is your favorite gum brand and flavor?  Not a big gum girl.  I chomp icebreaker mints all day long, though!

Nominate 10 Bloggers for the Sunshine Award:
  1. Michelle @ Run4Life
  2. Stephanie @ Run for Fun
  3. Lauren @ Forward is a Pace
  4. Carrie @ Being Lady-Like
  5. Kayla @ Fit Life Forward
  6. Barbara @ Grade ONEderful
  7. Rae @ Mindful Rambles
  8. Sarah @ MissKinBK
  9. Jan @ Running on Fumes
  10. Christa @ Livin a Little Life
My 10 Questions:
1. Favorite guilty pleasure TV show?
2. 5 picks for Desert Island books (the 5 books you would take if you were stranded for the rest of your life on a desert island)
3. Favorite way to spend a Saturday?
4. Favorite way to stay in shape?
5. Favorite holiday tradition?  (Any holiday!)
6. What's your typical lunch during the week?  Do you go out or bring your lunch?
7. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
8. What is the best concert you have ever attended?
9. Fill in the blank: I almost never leave Target without _______.
10. What's one goal you have for this week?

Can't wait to hear your responses!

September 13, 2013

Autism Speaks Fundraiser + Awesome 31 Bag GIVEAWAY!!!

Did the word "giveaway" catch your attention?  It's probably because I shouted it at you in all caps.  Sorry for being noisy, but I am super excited.  As you are probably already sick of hearing, I am training for my very FIRST full marathon--the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13th. Yes, exactly ONE MONTH from now.  Eep! I knew when I started thinking about running a marathon that if I were going to get through 26.2 miles, it would need to be for a cause bigger than myself.  That's why I decided to sign up for Team Up!, the Autism Speaks charity team.  I am so pumped to be running for Autism Speaks, a cause near and dear to my heart.  I've worked with children on the autism spectrum for the past 8+ years as a behavioral therapist, and these unique and amazing children have completely captured my heart along the way.  Here's a picture of me and one of my kiddos:
We started working together when he was just 5 years old.  Now he's a teenager and in eighth grade!

I have worked tirelessly to put in my miles on the pavement, but I've also been working to fundraise as much as I possibly can for this charity that I believe in.  Last weekend I was able to host a Thirty-One party fundraiser!  Are you familiar with Thirty-One bags?  If you're a teacher, you should be!!  These bags are perfect for school, but they are really perfect for anyone who ever has to carry anything anywhere!  Great for moms, travel, work, shopping, anything.  



Now the fun part--the giveaway!  I will be raffling off two amazing gifts from Thirty-One's collection to wonderful readers who would like to support my fundraising efforts by making a donation to Autism Speaks.  

One lucky donor will be able to win...
The Deluxe Beauty Bag in Big Dot (valued at $60)
From the Thirty-One website: This is the perfect style to carry all of your toiletries for a family trip. Lots of pockets make it easy to store all of your items. It comes with a matching pouch and travel bottles that are airport compliant.
This bag is seriously awesome.  There weren't any pictures of the inside of the bag on the site, but I found this youtube video showing all of the compartments and how it unzips all the way open and things.

A second lucky donor will be able to win...

The Organizing Utility Tote Gift Bundle  in Sea Plaid and Brown Woodblock Floral (valued at $63)
Included are the popular Organizing Utility Tote, the Medium Thermal ZIpper Pouch, and the Perfect Bottle Thermal!  An amazing deal.  The Utility Tote has all of these pockets that are great for organizing, and the thermal pouch is the perfect size to stash a snack or something on your way to school, the gym, wherever.  I love this plaid print, too.

How it works:


  1. To enter the giveaway, first visit my personal fundraising page here.  Make a donation of whatever amount you'd like.
  2. After donating, leave a comment on my blog letting me know your first name and last initial (so I can match you to my donors roster!) and how many dollars you donated.  (Ex. Jane D, $20)
  3. For every $5 you donate, I will enter your name into a drawing to win one of these prizes.  For example, if you donate $25, that's FIVE entries!  
  4. If you donate and share this giveaway on your blog, facebook, or twitter, you can earn an additional entry as a thank you for helping me spread the word!  Just leave another comment letting me know how you shared.  (Just one, not one for each share.)  
  5. When the giveaway closes, I will choose two winners, one for each prize.  Winners will be posted on the blog and will need to contact me to provide their shipping information.  Prizes will be shipped right to you as soon as they are claimed!

To be eligible to win, all donations must be made by midnight on Friday, September 27th.  I will choose two winners and post them to my blog on Saturday, September 28th using random.org.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!  The best part is, even if you DON'T win, you can feel great about supporting a terrific cause!  And if you do win, you supported a great cause AND have a great new bag.  See, everybody wins here!! :)  

You guys, it would mean so, so much to me if you could spare just $5 to help this worthy cause.  Autism affects millions of individuals worldwide, and Autism Speaks charity does amazing work to help and support those touched by autism and their families, conduct important biomedical research, and create autism awareness in communities.  I am blessed to have the opportunity to run for a cause that means so much to me, and any donation you can make would be so, so appreciated!  Every single dollar makes a difference!  Please consider sharing this giveaway on your blog, facebook, or twitter!

Disclaimer: I was provided both of these gifts free of charge as a hostess exclusive for hosting my Thirty-One Fundraiser/Party.  

September 11, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday Linky: One Terrible YA Novel

Or, there is a reason some books are only $1.99 at the Kindle store...

**Don't forget to l ink up to your WIRW post at the bottom!**

Born by Tara Brown
Goodreads Summary"It's us and them, Em. There are no regular people anymore."
Ten years ago when the world ended she ran for her life.
Five weeks ago the world she'd hidden from came knocking on the door of her secluded cabin.
Ten days ago she found salvation hiding amongst the dead.
Yesterday she went back for the living.
Today she wonders if she will live to see tomorrow.
What do you do when the world you were born to is gone?
Where do you hide when even your own body isn't safe?

Emma ran when her daddy told her to. She hid like he said she should. He was the first person she turned her back on. The first one she let die.  Ten years has gone by and she still lives by the simple rules he taught her when she was nine years old.

"Don't help anyone. Don't go where other people are unless you have to. Trust no one. Always pull the trigger."

Until one night she hears the worst sound in the world, a knock. A simple, timid knock, on the door to her cabin.  Only the voice of the brave little girl, ready to die for her brother, persuades Emma to open the door.  As her fingers turn the lock, she has a terrible feeling she will regret her decision.
But even as regret fills her world, so do love and companionship. Things she never imagined she would ever have again.  Everything comes at a cost, you decide what you'll pay.

My Thoughts: Did you skim that summary and think this book sounded pretty great?  Me too.  I was wrong.  So. very. wrong.  Even though this book was only $1.99, I seriously wish I could call Amazon and demand my money back.  It was THAT BAD.  I honestly believe one of my fourth graders could have written it.  To begin with, it was riddled with grammatical errors--not just a few typos, but incorrect usages of homophones.  Terrible.  Another annoyance was that practically every sentence started with "I."  I did this.  I did that.  I saw this.  I felt that.  There's another thing--we teach in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL the rule, "Show, don't tell."  This author must have been sick that day in 4th grade.

Okay, okay, enough about grammar.  There were also so many issues with the plot of the book.  The entire premise was bananas--the UN releases some crazy super virus that turns people into zombies?  Then, while the goverment has collapsed, it has somehow simultaneously become some super government that has these weird birthing factories.  The herione isn't likable at all, and her actions just make no sense.  She claims to not care about anyone, but then continuously picks up "strays" throughout the book, becoming all "motherly" towards them even though she is always saying she hates children.  Her romantic relationships are even less believable.  One minute she hates a particular boy, the next they are instantly making out.  Oh, and he must have read Twilight, because he definitely knows what an abusive relationship looks like!  Awful.

You guys, I will admit I'm picky about my books.  I like good writing.  But I can also easily overlook the writing if the characters and story are awesome.  I mean I've read the Twilight books more times than I care to admit.  But this book earns a definite DO NOT READ from me.

Gosh, that felt good. :)

1/5 Stars

What have you been reading these past weeks??
(This link-up will be open for two whole weeks, so feel free to write a post and link up anytime!)


September 10, 2013

Training Tuesday: EIGHTEEN MILES! And lots of massages...

You guys.  I can't even believe this happened, but I ran eighteen freaking miles on Saturday.  A new personal distance record!  I am still in shock that I made it through!  Let me back up a little bit...Last week marked week 13 of my marathon training.  As most of my half-marathon plans topped out at 10-12 weeks, this meant I am officially in the "big leagues" aka officially crazy enough to put in more than 12 weeks of training for a distance I've never even biked.  Things had been going soo well with my training until about my 16 miler.  Then I started getting some knots and tightness in my right hip.  I stretched and stretched, but my last few runs were pretty darn painful, even the short distances!  After a ton of tightness and pain in my right hip, glute, hammy, and hip flexor during last Tuesday night's short run, I came home and immediately booked a massage.  I know how helpful they can be for tight muscles, but time and money had made me put off an appointment for this long.

Wednesday I blew off my scheduled 9 miler in favor of a one hour deep tissue massage on my legs and hips.  It felt awesome, and I immediately noticed a difference in my hip when I got off the table.  I noticed a bigger difference the next day when I woke up and could walk almost normally!  Best money ever spent.
What a Friday Night during Marathon Training looks like...jealous?

That didn't mean I wasn't incredibly nervous about Saturday's long run.  18 miles would be two more than my most recent long run, I worried about my hip, and it was supposed to be a hot day.  Sooo nervous about this one!  Out of my tiny pace group of 6, only me and one other girl could make it to the long run!  I'm so grateful she was there, though--we kept telling each other repeatedly throughout the run that we never would have made it X many miles without the other!  The miles ticked by fairly quickly in the beginning, and I was sooo relieved to feel just some minor tightness in my hip flexor that I was able to keep totally under control with some stretch breaks throughout the run.

We chatted pretty much nonstop through the first 12 or so miles, then  began to quiet down as the really work began.  The sun was up, it was hot and humid, and our legs were starting to feel it!  Around 14 miles, we picked up another woman who had fallen behind her pace group, and that added some fresh spark to our conversation.  We plugged along for another two miles...at 16 everything started to reeeeally hurt.  Feet, calves, IT bands, hips, EVERYTHING!  Those last two miles were KILLER!  At the request of the group, I went into full-on teacher mode, giving pep talks and "power wooshes" to the other two before we got ready to start each run interval.  I hope it helped them, but it helped me too to be depended on for teh positive attitude!  As a youngest child/only girl in the family, I can be a little whiney...I definitely kept my attitude positive for the sake of the group. :)
Got each other through 18 miles!!
(Why are my eyes so squinty...oh probably because they are filled with salty sweat...)
While we were completely exhausted, we managed to pull it together enough to run that last mile back to our starting location at a little bit of a faster pace, pushing deep just so we could finish.  And we did!!!  18 miles--done.
Post-Run amazing beverage: ice, chocolate milk, banana, PB blended.  YUM.

Later that afternoon, I went back for ANOTHER deep tissue/sports massage, this time a 90 minute session!  I swear, that therapist was a godsend.  She worked sooo deeply into my hips, lower back, and legs, even climbing up on the table a few times to get really deep pressure!  At the end, she stretched out my legs, and it felt amazing.  I could tell the difference COMPLETELY in how my legs felt after the massage and the next morning.  I'm still sore, but just the "good" sore; nothing feels screwed up in my legs like it had the last few weeks!  Lesson learned = massages are worth every penny if they will get you to the starting line!!!

After this weekend, I feel so. confident. about this marathon.  I am EXCITED, and I know I will be READY!!!  What a great feeling!

Tell me about your training!  Did you run this weekend?

September 9, 2013

Teaching Students to Visualize While Reading

Hi guys!  Hoping to get back into some regular posting this week--last week things got away from me!  Teachers, you know how it is.  Teachers who are also marathon training--you really understand!!  (Seriously, all of you who are both those things AND moms on top of it, I don't know how you do it!)  Anyways, to start the week off on the right foot, I thought I'd share a lesson I did during our second week of school.  I absolutely LOVED it!  

Since we weren't beginning our regular literacy series (Treasures) until the second full week, I decided to spend our literacy time during that first full week teaching reading strategies (and of course building stamina in the Daily 3!).  One lesson I taught was on visualization, one of the most important strategies IMHO.  We all know that if kids aren't visualizing, they just plain aren't comprehending!  I think talking about visualizing with kids is a great way to help them monitor whether or not they are comprehending.  I borrowed this particular lesson from Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor, an uhMAZING book that links reading strategies to concrete objects and activities.  
Check it out on Goodreads here!

I started off seating the kids in a big circle on the carpet.  Each student brought their literacy notebook and a few markers.  The kids divided their notebook page into 6 sections, numbering each one.  I then started passing around paper bags, inside each of which was a "mystery object."  Students were instructed to reach into each bag without looking, feel the object inside, and create a "mental object" of the object.  Then, they passed the bag on and drew their visualization.  The kids had an absolute blast doing this!
6 mystery bags!
Student drawings

After the bags had made it all the way around the circle, I revealed the objects.  We talked about their mental images and compared them to the actual objects.  
This led us into an awesome discussion about Schema and its role in visualization.  Students were more easily able to visualize the stone when they felt it because they were more familiar with stones than some of the other objects.  Also, most shared that they pictured a yellow tennis ball when they felt that object because they had seen yellow tennis balls before.  Blue tennis balls weren't part of their schema!

Next, I shared this anchor chart with the kids that I created based on the sample in Comprehension Connections.  We talked about the language and practiced using the sentence frames.
I then took a quick brain break before regrouping the kids back at the carpet--this lesson was too long for continuous concentration from their little brains!!  I had the kids sit facing our interactive board, again with their notebooks and markers/pencils.  I have a few different powerpoints prepared of children's books with the text only typed into slides--no pictures.  These work wonderfully for visualization!  Also, they're perfect for reading shared text, as the words are so big on the screen.  The book we read was The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting.  As we read, I stopped for the kids to take "picture pauses," aka sketch their "mental images."  I also used the sentence frames to model my thinking about my visualizations and encouraged the kids to practice sharing their thinking through Turn and Talks.  This book worked great because there were some scenes where the narrator describes preparing for a party--a perfect way to tie in the fact that our schema about parties we've experienced and seen influences the way we will visualize a party!
One student's collection of "picture pauses" for The Wednesday Surprise

I revisit visualization all the time, but one spot in my day that I make sure to touch on it is during read aloud.  Since their eyes are not on a text, I encourage my students to close their eyes and really create that "movie in your mind" that is visualization.  We'll even share what color clothes we visualized the characters in.  Sometimes when we have a few extra minutes, I'll send the kids back to their seats to "capture what they visualized in their notebooks" using pictures and descriptive sentences.  The best part is that the kids LOVE it.  

Hope you will try this lesson in your classroom!  

What are some of your favorite literacy lessons to teach early on in the year?
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