Author Archives: krystalmills

Engaging Middle School Writers with Picaboo – Trust Me!

It can be difficult to engage kids in writing – that’s just a fact. Therefore, I am excited to share a site that I found called, “Picaboo Yearbooks” to publish a class book containing my students’ writing. My students have bought in and so I’m stoked! You can actually create lots of different things on the website, but I am using it to create a class book of writing to engage my kids, and so far, so good!

I had been searching for a “self-publishing” type of site and couldn’t seem to find just what I wanted, in terms of style, practicality or price. Picaboo’s books are affordable (less than $10 for a 20 page book – full color, softcover and less than $20 for a hardcover) so I’ll be able to purchase one to have in my class library – this way everyone will be a published writer this year. There are no minimums needed to buy a book, either. If I just want one book – I’m free to order just one! Also, the way that I am choosing to set things up, each student has their own page to create. All I had to do was make ONE login and they can all access our class book. They know to work on their own page and not to mess with anyone else’s page. They can also easily read and give feedback to classmates, as we create this one collaborative collection of their writing. Finally, they love that they can change the layout, and add fun pictures and backgrounds to their pages to make them even more polished. They are enjoying the fact that this book will be published and so have been putting forth commendable efforts, so far.

In terms of particulars, I was going to have students write directly into the template, and some are. For others, they rather use Word to create their draft and then they are pasting the draft into the website to get feedback from peers. There was a little bit of a learning curve, however, the site is very user friendly and the kids are having no issues with the technology side! They’re grade 7 – technology is their forte!

Oh, and I did contact Picaboo before I decided to do this project to get a sample of their books. They actually sent me a beautiful sample and I was sold on the quality! If you are thinking about doing a class yearbook or wanting to engage your kiddos by setting up your class with Picaboo so that they can all get published – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They also have tons of helpful videos, and Live Chat to help out as well, if you use the yearbooks as yearbooks, since they are more involved than what I am using the site for.

I only wish I had incorporated Picaboo earlier in the year with my kiddos – we could have made a larger collection of their work. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Picaboo Yearbooks

This is a first draft that one of my students is working on in the Picaboo Yearbooks template…

 

Elora of Stone

Enter to Win A New Middle Grades Read: “Elora of Stone”

Elora of Stone, written by Canadian author Jaime Lee Mann, is the first in her Legend of Rhyme Series. Aimed at children in the middle grades, this book is fantasy, magic and fairytale combined into one. Her descriptive language paints a picture for the reader, making it a really enjoyable read! This, together with the twists and turns of the story will have your kids hooked!

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From a teacher’s standpoint this would be a great mentor text to have in your classroom, as it is filled with descriptive language and wonderful word choice to use as models for your students. This novel would also be a great read aloud, and there are discussion questions at the back of Elora of Stone, which is a nice touch.

A bit about the book?

When four-year-old Asher Caine vanishes while playing near the woods with his twin sister Ariana, his family is convinced that he is gone forever. In the Kingdom of Falmoor, twins are cursed. Since the evil sorcerer Larque turned the good witch Elora to stone, all twins in the Kingdom are doomed to separate, either through death or mysterious disappearances.

When Ariana later learns that her brother is alive, she knows that must find him in order to save Falmoor. With their magic blood and powerful bond, the Caine twins must release Elora from her stone imprisonment. Only then will Larque be stopped from spreading darkness throughout the kingdom. Will the twins find each other in time? Can they save Falmoor from evil and remove the curse of the twins forever? You’ll have to read to find out!

elora of stone

Want to win a copy of Elora of Stone? Three lucky readers will win a signed copy of the book for their classrooms, as well as the option of having a live chat with the author for you and your students! Good luck, and also watch for installment #2 in the Legend of Rhyme series, Into Coraira, which comes out in May. elora of stone2

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An excerpt from the first novel in the Legend of Rhyme series, Elora of Stone

With one grimy green hand, Grimblerod reaches up into the thin white roots of the plants above. His other hand steadies the candle near eye level. The roots are twisted in knots, curling into each other, clinging to the dirt like tiny gnarled fists. Grimblerod pinches two long dirty fingers around a juicy grub.

Bringing his fingers to his face, Grimblerod studies the grub more closely in the candlelight. Satisfied with his prize, he pulls a leather drawstring pouch from the pocket of his tattered trousers and plops the grub inside.

Grimblerod’s stomach twists with hunger, but he has work to do. His candle is close to burning out, and beads of melted wax drip onto his hand leaving bumpy yellow trails along his skin. He has just enough light to get to the opening in the tree.

He grunts as he trudges along, piercing the deafening silence with snorts and other impolite sounds. Once he reaches the opening, Grimblerod blows out his candle and sets it down. He then shimmies his fat little body up a slender brown root into the fresh night air.

After surfacing, Grimblerod shields his eyes against the light of the full moon. Instinctively, he checks his feet, ensuring that he is still in goblin form.

The sound of crickets drowns out his rumbling stomach, and the glow of the moon guides him through the dark.

A thick, white mist creeps along, hiding him from sight. A gentle breeze rustles the leaves on the giant tree making them tremble in the night.

As he waddles along, an owl cries out in the dark. One might say it was a warning to the villagers of Rhyme of the evil acts about to occur.

It is the type of setting the best nightmares start with, and tonight, a mother’s most unspeakable dream will come true.

 

Elora of Stone

Do You Teach Your Students About Having a Fixed Vs Growth Mindset?

In one of the courses that I am taking for my Master’s of Education, I came across a topic that really struck a chord with me. I am taking two courses at the moment ( my March “Break” has been pivotal in maintaining my sanity with this 2 courses at once, business). In my Differentiated Instruction course, the idea of a “Fixed Mindset” versus a “Growth Mindset” came up. To put it simply, some people (kids included) believe that we are born with a certain amount of intelligence – it’s “fixed”. In comparison, hose with a “Growth Mindset” understand that putting in effort to learn new things expands our minds, and that effort is what makes us successful and “smarter”.

I don’t know about you, but I have certain students, who constantly question themselves and do not give their full effort! Like, ever! Oh wait, unless it’s a really simple task. It is extremely frustrating, as the teacher, to sit back and see that if s/he just TRIED they would achieve the success that they wish for. What I have learned is that people with a “fixed mindset” see effort and “having to try” as threatening to their intelligence. This exertion of effort actually makes them feel stupid because they feel like they should already know the material. They think that others just “get it” while they do not. Kids with a “fixed mindset” don’t realize that other students are actually working harder than they are (exerting effort to do well) and it is the effort of these other students that causes them to gain more academic success, not intelligence that they were born with.

I teach grade 7 and I think that junior high students could really benefit from being informed about “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Recognizing the type of mindset that they have and looking at how they can make simple changes to actually “grow their brains” and make themselves smarter? I would have to think that idea would be appealing to kids!

I found an interactive quiz to share with your kiddos if this is something that you’re interested in. Below the quiz are two videos – a Ted Talk by Carol Dweck who has researched this phenomenon, and a second video about how the brain works that would be suitable for middle school and up. I also found another quick video comparing “fixed” and “growth” mindset.

Carol Dweck’s book is titled, “Mindset” if this is a topic that interests you.

I also dug around and found “Mindsets in the Classroom” which I am adding to my Amazon wishlist. It looks fantastic and very user-friendly!

          

I think that the main thing that I got from the articles that I have read for my MSED on mindset, is that kids need to know that they have the power to “make themselves smarter”. Their effort is what matters – they haven’t been born with a certain amount of intelligence. Exerting effort to learn something new makes the neurons in their brain fire and can actually cause their brain to grow (whereby making them smarter than if they hadn’t exerted effort). Even sharing or reminding kids of that fact, and pulling the topic in when kids with “fixed mindsets” balk at challenges would be helpful with motivating and inspiring all kids to achieve.

I am excited to get back to class and share some of the things I have learned about mindset with my kiddos (the ones with clearly “fixed mindsets” especially). I would love to hear your opinions on this topic! Are you familiar with Dweck’s work? I have spoken to my kids on the topic of effort, but never in the terms of mindset and intelligence and I can’t wait to hear what they think!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

HUGE Sale at TeachersPayTeachers

Just in case you didn’t hear…

 TeachersPayTeachers is having a site wide sale AND many of us have our stores on sale, as well, for even more savings.

Happy shopping!

tpt heros

Virtual Field Trip to AfricaGraphic by: Study All Knight

Take Your Students on a Virtual Field Trip To Africa

How does a trip to Africa sound? Your school doesn’t have the budget for that? No worries! If you teach grades 3-8 – listen up!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

Nature Works Everywhere and field scientist Charles Oluchina have joined forces to provide a live virtual field trip to the deserts and grasslands of Africa! I know, right? Pretty cool!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

 

What will you experience on this amazing virtual adventure?

You and your students will visit Burkino Faso and learn how one African farmer helped bring back forest lands that were being lost to desertification. Then, you’ll head to Kenya to learn about the importance of grasslands and the effects of ecotourism. And all from the comfort of your own classroom! Technology rocks! Oh wait? Did I mention that this is all free? Yep! You just need to register and you’re set!

 

A Google Hangout  is being used for the VFT which is so smart! The VFT to Africa is streamed live on YouTube, on February 5th, at 12:00pm Eastern Time, or you can view it at your convenience. The field trip is about 40 minutes in length – which is great because that is about the length of a class period. You and your students will also get a firsthand look at a PBS LearningMedia collection of videos, digital games and educational resources from the new PBS series EARTH A New Wild.

In case you are interested but worried about dedicating the class time to such an event, here are the key terms and concepts that will be addressed during the VFT: People and Conservation, Desertification, Global Agriculture, Smart Development, Ecotourism, Habitat, Grasslands, Reforestation. Not only that, students will learn the science behind how nature works for us—and how we can help keep it running strong. 

 

Nature Works Everywhere and The Nature Conservancy have lots of other resources to check out as well.

 

Farming the Desert | EARTH A New Wild from The Nature Conservancy on Vimeo.

 

If you choose to attend the VFT, please come back and comment how it went!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

Feeling the Love

As teachers, there are times that our jobs are stressful and we get to the end of the day and wonder if we actually taught anybody anything! Or, maybe that’s just me!

Well this was the opposite of one of those weeks. This week I was feeling the love! I came back from Christmas vacation to find a little card in my school mailbox. When I opened it, I discovered that it was from a student I taught last year, and who I had for Math again this year. She moved a couple of months ago. I only wish there was a return address on the envelope! I’m going to have to track her down!

So sweet, brought a tear to my eye.

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I mean, come on! How lucky am I to receive such a special card – this one filled my bucket for at least the next few months.

And then as I was just getting ready to head home today, I noticed this on the board. Now, they’ve written this on the board before, but they usually add, “And ——– is her favorite student!” This message was anonymous, and it topped up my bucket – I’m good until the end of June, now!

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Just in case you haven’t been told recently, YOU ARE AWESOME! Enjoy your weekend – I certainly have a little extra energy for the Master’s work ahead of me!

 

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Have Yourself a Moby Little Christmas

Updated: Congratulations to Meghan L., the winner of the MobyMax tablet!

I know that everyone likes a good giveaway, and this is a pretty sweet one! Have you heard of MobyMax?  MobyMax tablets offer teachers and parents an amazing option to help their kids gain skills in Language Arts and Math. Students can work to close gaps in their learning by working through lessons on the Moby tablet, and continue to challenge themselves to move ahead. Teachers and parents can monitor their child’s results through reports that Moby offers. There are games and other “fun stuff” to motivate kids as well! 

 

MobyMax curriculum is based on the research of professor John Hattie, and it is a great way to differentiate in your classroom.

 

Although these tablets are specifically loaded with MobyMax curriculum so that you can individualize your instruction, they are still tablets and so you can load them with your favorite apps, as well. Want your own Moby? Entering is easy, and one lucky follower is going to a have a “Moby little Christmas”! 

 

Check out these specs!

moby specs

MobyMax Curriculum includes all of this? Wow!

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Contest ends December 21st, 2014! Be sure to enter!

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Age of Opportunity: Lessons From The New Science of Adolescence

age of opportunityI’m well into my second course of my MSED! As I suspected, time is going faster than ever before. Report cards are almost ready to go home and parent-teacher interviews are on Thursday and Friday of this week. It’s incredible that we’ve gotten to this point in the school year already.

I am enjoying my Master’s program even more than I expected. However, it has been a huge adjustment – I feel like I don’t have enough time to get everything done that needs to be done. Working full time, having 2 children, my MSED work, and maintaining some time for “fun” has been a balancing act. I’m trying to make it work, though.

I have been reading LOTS since I started this program in September. I am reading for my course work but I have also been reading beyond that as well. That is one thing that this Master’s program has sparked in me, already. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. Even though I don’t really have the time, I’ve been doing more professional reading over the last two months than ever in my career – by choice! I can’t help it!

One book that I am currently reading is not for my course work for my own information – Age of Opportunity, by Laurence Steinberg. It basically challenges many myths that we currently hold about adolescence and offers insight into the science behind why adolescents act the way that they do. As a grade 7 and 8 teacher, so many times I have found myself thinking, “Why did he do that? Why would she take that risk? Didn’t he consider what would happen based on that choice?” In his book, Steinberg offers new insight into the science of adolescence. But, the best part is that it doesn’t read like a boring text book! Yes, it contains information on neuroscience but in a way that is very easy to understand and digest. He includes great, real life examples, scenarios, and ancedotes making it easy to relate to, as well.

My own boys are only 4 and 7, but the teen years will be here before I know it! Steinberg offers an entire chapter for parents and how they can help their adolescents most effectively. There are tons of ideas that I have to go back to when my own kiddos hit this period in their lives. What really hit home, though, was the recommendations for educators. Steinberg definitely has some interesting suggestions such as spending less money and time on classroom based health education as it seems to glean little in the way of results. He also suggests preparing adolescents for psychological demands of college, not just the academic ones.

Working toward my Master’s has been a huge adjustment. I have less time for myself than ever before, I have huge commitments of course work – reading and writing. However, there’s also so much considering and thinking that I have been doing. If I wasn’t doing my Master’s I probably would not have been considering my teenage learners and how their brains work, and I wouldn’t have picked up Age of Opportunity. However, I am so glad that I am on this journey of life long learning. Yes, I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true! I’ve been reading lots of great books lately and this is just one of them. However, it’s also the kind of book that I know I’ll go back to in the future. If you own or teach adolescents, you should check into Age of Opportunity!

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How to Come Up with a Winning Science Fair Project Idea ~ Guest Post

So your child is in middle school and is participating in the school science fair, and you’re now trying to help come up with science fair project ideas. Irrespective of whether your child was forced to take part in the science fair or even if science is a much-disliked subject, you can turn the situation around with a winning science fair project idea. Here are six tips to share with your child to ensure (s)he enjoys working on the project, learns a lot in the process and maybe even ends up with a prize!

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Science Fair, 09” by Rich Bowen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. Begin Early

The science fair is a long way away, and you figure you have more than enough time to come up with a good science fair project idea and see it through to the end. Great! That’s no reason to put off starting on the project. You never know what complications may arise once you actually begin. Even the seemingly simple task of coming up with a good idea may take a lot more time than expected. The last thing you want is to find out that you have only one week left for the project, and an understandably limited choice of ideas to choose from. With more time in hand, you have the liberty of choosing a topic that truly interests you, spending enough time to do research and understand the topic in detail, and collecting the necessary information in a well thought-out and organized manner. And if you’ve got your eyes on the prize, each of these factors will help differentiate your project from the other good ones on display. Believe me, the judges can tell.

  1. Choose a topic that really interests you

The right way to go about finding a good science fair project idea is to begin with your interests. Don’t read through a list of ideas and see whether any of them appeal to you. Rather, take some time to think about what kind of topics get you excited. It doesn’t even have to have a direct link to science. What things make you sit up and pay attention? Sports? Cats? Building things with your own hands? Narrow your list down to a few of your favorite topics and spend some time thinking about them. Most probably you will have to do some additional reading on the topic to come up with a question that interests you. The Google Idea Springboard is a great tool to help you out in this area. You’re likely to spend a few weeks if not months working on your project, so having a topic that you love will keep you interested till the end.

  1. Come up with a good question that you can work with

A good science fair project idea begins with a good question. How do you define a good question? Firstly, it should not be a question that has already been answered by someone else. If you design a science fair project around the question ‘Which color light do plants grow best in?’, it is unlikely that you or anyone else will learn anything new from it. The experimental procedure and results for such a project can easily be found on the internet. Even if you do decide to do a project based on a science fair project idea you found online, make sure to change the question and ask something new so that you are experimenting and doing research on a slightly different area. Secondly, the question should truly interest you. Don’t adopt a question that someone else finds interesting or exciting. Use your ‘favorite topics’ list, spend time playing with different ideas in your head and only settle for a question that you would genuinely like to know the answer to. This interest will completely change the way you approach the project.

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Sanna Science Fair by terren in Virginia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

  1. Consider the experimental procedure involved

Remember, while trying to settle on your science fair project idea, you have to come up with a fool proof method for collecting data to answer your question. Consider the kind of time, energy and resources required to set up your experiment, and realistically evaluate whether it can be accomplished with what is available to you. Also check your experiment for any flaws. Is the data that you are collecting quantifiable? Is there any subjectivity involved? Have you considered and taken care of external factors that may affect your results? If you do not know the right answers to these questions, or how to design your experiment accordingly, you will need to spend some time understanding how to set up a scientific experiment.

  1. Feel free to change your question based on your background research

It is entirely possible that as you go about collecting the information you need for your project, you realize that your question isn’t a very good one, or that you think of a better and more interesting one. Feel free to change your question according to your findings. This is where point #1 becomes even more important.

  1. Make sure you understand all the concepts involved

Don’t worry about finding a topic that sounds highly complicated or scientific. In fact, the more simple your topic, the better you will be able to work with it. Nobody is expecting Ph.D. level research from you. More importantly, you will find the research and data collection far more difficult if you haven’t fully understood the topic yourself. Feel free to ask for help from an adult or the internet in order to learn more about the topic, but when it comes to the project, do all the thinking and analysis yourself. This will help you immensely when it comes to answering the judges’ questions about your project, and your in-depth understanding will show.

As long as you keep these tips in mind, you can be sure to come up with a science fair project idea that will win you over, impress your audience and maybe even tip the judges’ scales in your favor.

 

Author Bio:

Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/

 

I Found a Pen That’s ACTUALLY Erasable, No Joke!

I LOVE cool school supplies! It is one of the ways that I know I’m meant to be a teacher – no one else really appreciates colorful tabs and post-its like we do.

Well, I have discovered my new favorite pens. Have you ever used those scratchy “erasable pens” that never really erased anything, but just tore up your paper and made a mess? These pens are NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING like those sub-par pens of years ago. Pilot FriXion Gel Pens are erasable pens that ACTUALLY erase. I know, mind….blown! I was skeptical before I tried them, but they really are fantastic! There is no “eraser” as such. When the erasing tip is rubbed against the page, it creates a little heat and the friction causes the thermo sensitive ink to disappear!

I often make mistakes when I’m quickly trying to correct or add comments to students’ papers, and I detest having to scratch something out that I didn’t mean to write. It just looks unprofessional – although I know that “everyone makes mistakes”. This way, I can still mark in pen, but it’s like my mistakes never happened!

These pens write smoothly, and are also re-fillable as well, which is a bonus!

Of course they come in lots of different colors which I take advantage of when I am correcting a students’ piece of writing multiple times – I use different colors of ink, so that they know which comment is new. And now, I can go back and erase comments, if I need to, so that a more reluctant writer can incorporate my comments into the piece of writing, but still use the draft without my hen-scratches all over the page. My students enjoy using these awesome pens during free writes, especially and they have been a bit of a reward as well, since they know that they are “Mrs. Mills’ special pens”.

As if erasable pens that really erase wasn’t enough…how about erasable highlighters? Yep! I found out that Pilot has those as well and they use the same “friction technology” to make the highlighting disappear! Now, would I give the highlighter to students and give the child free reign to highlight? Probably not. However, there are lots of applications for erasable highlighters – especially in middle school. For instance, I may have students work within a small group and each identify a certain phase in a novel by highlighting it for the purposes of a mini-lesson (and later erase the highlighting). Students could highlight key terms in a text book (and erase at the end of the chapter). Let’s face it – anything that helps kids note-take is a keeper. Kids like to highlight, in general, but to have the option to erase what they highlight really opens the doors for more activities involving text books or novels that we can’t have permanently marked.

Thank you Pilot for your innovation! Erasable Gel Pens and Highlighters! Who knew cool school supplies could make a teacher so happy? jamberry nails giveaway