Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Skype with Schools from Around the World

Now that August is right around the corner, my mind is starting to wander to what this upcoming school year might look like.  Last year, I signed up to be part of a program called "Around the School with 80 Schools." This all started in 2009 by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano. By the way she has an excellent blog!
We started with a lot trepidation as truly we had no idea what we were doing.  Luckily our first Skype was with Brian Crosby from Nevada.  He patiently guided us through the process and gave helpful hints for our next Skype.  Since then, my class Skyped with maybe 6-8 different schools throughout the world.  My intent was to teach geography through the various places that we visited over the school year but the students got so much more than "geography."  It's hard to put a grade or measure this type of learning on a standardized test, but students talking about what their life is like in their state/country, what we have in common, where we have differences, what we worry about, what we like to do in and out of school!  An awareness and a bond begins to happen very quickly and soon the students are keenly aware of areas around the globe where their new friends are located.  At the end of last year, my students all mentioned that their Skype experiences were a big highlight of sixth grade! I can hardly wait to again make new connections as I get just as excited, ok sometimes even more than the students.  We can learn so much from each other!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sixth Grade Reading

Sixth graders are not quite teenagers but are also not young children anymore.  It's always been a struggle finding good, appropriate reading material for this age group. Hence the reason for this post to hopefully put together a list of books that catch students' interest, make them think and push their comprehension strategies.  Feel free to add your favorites so we develop a comprehensive list that will help out other sixth grade teachers.

1.  One of my favorites would be:  Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
My personal opinion on this book is that it's a great book for those reluctant readers who enjoy reading about Al Capone but there is also a very touching side to this book. 

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-8--In this appealing novel set in 1935, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan and his family move from Santa Monica to Alcatraz Island where his father gets a job as an electrician at the prison and his mother hopes to send his autistic older sister to a special school in San Francisco. When Natalie is rejected by the school, Moose is unable to play baseball because he must take care of her, and her unorthodox behavior sometimes lands him in hot water. He also comes to grief when he reluctantly goes along with a moneymaking scheme dreamed up by the warden's pretty but troublesome daughter. Family dilemmas are at the center of the story, but history and setting--including plenty of references to the prison's most infamous inmate, mob boss Al Capone--play an important part, too. The Flanagan family is believable in the way each member deals with Natalie and her difficulties, and Moose makes a sympathetic main character. The story, told with humor and skill, will fascinate readers with an interest in what it was like for the children of prison guards and other workers to actually grow up on Alcatraz Island.--Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

2.  There is also a sequel called Al Capone Shines My Shoes which the students liked equally as well.

3.  City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Even though this book has been made into a movie, the students find this book fascinating and there is so much to talk about as you read this together.
Resources for this book
Jeanne DuPrau Website

Amazon.com Review

It is always night in the city of Ember. But there is no moon, no stars. The only light during the regular twelve hours of "day" comes from floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets of the city. Beyond are the pitch-black Unknown Regions, which no one has ever explored because an understanding of fire and electricity has been lost, and with it the idea of a Moveable Light. "Besides," they tell each other, "there is nowhere but here" Among the many other things the people of Ember have forgotten is their past and a direction for their future. For 250 years they have lived pleasantly, because there has been plenty of everything in the vast storerooms. But now there are more and more empty shelves--and more and more times when the lights flicker and go out, leaving them in terrifying blackness for long minutes. What will happen when the generator finally fails? Twelve-year-old Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet seem to be the only people who are worried. They have just been assigned their life jobs--Lina as a messenger, which leads her to knowledge of some unsettling secrets, and Doon as a Pipeworker, repairing the plumbing in the tunnels under the city where a river roars through the darkness. But when Lina finds a very old paper with enigmatic "Instructions for Egress," they use the advantages of their jobs to begin to puzzle out the frightening and dangerous way to the city of light of which Lina has dreamed. As they set out on their mission, the haunting setting and breathless action of this stunning first novel will have teens clamoring for a sequel. (Ages 10 to 14) --Patty Campbell

4. There is a sequel called People of Sparks which my students enjoyed but not as much as the first book.

5.   Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle  This is an old standby but has lots of substance especially for students who need enrichment.

Amazon.com Review

Everyone in town thinks Meg Murry is volatile and dull-witted, and that her younger brother, Charles Wallace, is dumb. People are also saying that their physicist father has run off and left their brilliant scientist mother. Spurred on by these rumors and an unearthly stranger, the tesseract-touting Mrs Whatsit, Meg and Charles Wallace and their new friend Calvin O'Keefe embark on a perilous quest through space to find their father. In doing so, they must travel behind the shadow of an evil power that is darkening the cosmos, one planet at a time. This is no superhero tale, nor is it science fiction, although it shares elements of both. The travelers must rely on their individual and collective strengths, delving deep within themselves to find answers. A well-loved classic and 1963 Newbery Medal winner, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is sophisticated in concept yet warm in tone, with mystery and love coursing through its pages. Meg's shattering, yet ultimately freeing, discovery that her father is not omnipotent provides a satisfying coming-of-age element. Readers will feel a sense of power as they travel with these three children, challenging concepts of time, space, and the triumph of good over evil. The companion books in the Time quartet, continuing the adventures of the Murry family, are A Wind in the Door; A Swiftly Tilting Planet, which won the American Book Award; and Many Waters. Every young reader should experience L'Engle's captivating, occasionally life-changing contributions to children's literature. (Ages 9 and older) --Emilie Coulter

6.  Thief Lord by  Cornelia Funke  Another high interest book.  You can also study Venice as many of the historical buildings are mentioned in this book.

Amazon.com Review

Imagine a Dickens story with a Venetian setting, and you'll have a good sense of Cornelia Funke's prizewinning novel The Thief Lord, first published in Germany in 2000. This suspenseful tale begins in a detective's office in Venice, as the entirely unpleasant Hartliebs request Victor Getz's services to search for two boys, Prosper and Bo, the sons of Esther Hartlieb's recently deceased sister. Twelve-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo ran away when their aunt decided she wanted to adopt Bo, but not his brother. Refusing to split up, they escaped to Venice, a city their mother had always described reverently, in great detail. Right away they hook up with a long-haired runaway named Hornet and various other ruffians who hole up in an abandoned movie theater and worship the elusive Thief Lord, a young boy named Scipio who steals jewels from fancy Venetian homes so his new friends can get the warm clothes they need. Of course, the plot thickens when the owner of the pawn shop asks if the Thief Lord will carry out a special mission for a wealthy client: to steal a broken wooden wing that is the key to completing an age-old, magical merry-go-round. This winning cast of characters--especially the softhearted detective with his two pet turtles--will win the hearts of readers young and old, and the adventures are as labyrinthine and magical as the streets of Venice itself. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson

7.  True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.  This is for the students who need enrichment, lots of description and action.

From School Library Journal

Grade 5-8. On a long, grueling journey from England to Rhode Island in 1802, a 12 year old changes from a prim and proper girl to a swashbuckling mate of a mutinous crew and is accused of murder by the captain. Awash with shipboard activity, intense feelings, and a keen sense of time and place, the story is a throwback to good old-fashioned adventure yarns on the high seas.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

First Posting Ever

I have to admit, that this is all a bit overwhelming for me. Over the past six months of so, I've enjoyed following many of you but I've never had the confidence to write or blog myself. What was I waiting for? I've learned so much and received so many tips and resources for myself as an educator and for my students. Hopefully I can now pass some of these tips onto others that are just getting their feet wet.

I love teaching and I'm always looking for new ideas to keep learning relevant and applicable to the students' and their lives. Last year I used wikis exclusively for literature groups and got so much more out of the students than I had ever had before. Especially the students who don't speak up much in a group, often times have lots to say in the comfort of their own home sitting by their computer. I could quickly analyze the responses and see who needed to work on what i.e. inferencing difficulties, theme, author's purpose... I'd like to use them again this fall but maybe there are some other ideas out there as to how I could change it up a bit. If you'd like to see an example go to: http://alcaponeshinesmyshoes.wikispaces.com/ Especially look at the discussion page. I even had a student contact Jeanne Du Prau while we were reading City of Ember this past year. He arranged for us to Skype with her so the students could ask her questions that they had while reading the book. Not only did we learn a lot about this author but everyone learned how to Skype which I'll save for a later post. Here are a few pictures/videos of this particular experience: http://skypesixthgrade.wikispaces.com/Jeanne+DuPrau