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My students are all published authors – thank you Picaboo :)

2015-06-23 18.17.35I mentioned a while back that my students were working on memoirs and that my students were each going to put their memoir in to a class book. Well, we completed our book and even added some of their art work, in addition to their memoirs. The books arrived just last week and the quality is awesome (and they took less than 2 weeks turn around time from when we submitted the final proof). The kids did a super job and the site that we used, Picaboo (which is actually a yearbook site) was fantastic to work with. We used the site to self-publish, essentially. However, they also sent me a copy of their actual yearbooks to get an idea of quality – and both hard and soft covers are really well-made.

Not all of my students could afford a yearbook this year, but the Picaboo yearbooks were only $10 a piece – that’s pretty affordable. There are no minimums for orders and so the teacher could order one book for the class library, or each student could purchase their own copy. Picaboo also offers free ebooks, so students could still share their work with parents etc.- just online. 2015-06-23 18.14.52

The day the books arrived, I allowed my students time to mingle and check out each others’ published work and even write “yearbook” type comments – since every student did get a copy of our class book of writing, “From the Minds of 7B ~ A book of Memoirs”. They thought it was great, because again, they hadn’t all gotten yearbooks and this way they did get to sign messages to each other and it was almost MORE special since it was something that only our class was a part of.


Even my reluctant writers were pretty proud of their work and I think using a site, like Picaboo, to self publish is a must to give purpose for writing. This site is affordable, easy to use, and has tons of extra options for anyone who wants to “get fancy” with their class writing project. And again, at the end of the day – the site is a Yearbook making site – and I would recommend looking into them if you’re getting started with yearbooks in your school or classroom. Their customer service was wonderful!

Really, it’s pretty cool (in my opinion) to create a class book of writing, include artwork, class photos, cool backgrounds and borders – and all for $10 a book. I’m proud of the work that we did this year in writing and I’m happy that each of my students has become a published author before the end of the school year.


Elora of Stone

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!

science fair 1

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.

science fair 2

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


Surviving the Chaos Blog Hop

Keeping students engaged (especially middle school students) can be a challenge to say the least. Here’s a no prep idea that you can try in that last month, or on those last few days of school to tame the chaos!

Have your students write a letter to themselves in the future – for their “high school graduation”. What would they say to themselves? What advice would they give themselves? What do they imagine themselves doing? What are the next steps that they are about to take in their lives? What challenges could they remind themselves of (things they’ve already persevered through) or fun times that they’ve had, but may not have thought about in years? What inspirational words would they share?

As an extension, students could also create a collage or piece of artwork of what they hope for themselves in the future.

If you’re in a situation where it would be possible to actually give these letters back to students on their grade 12 graduation night, how cool would that be? 

letter to grad


Thanks for stopping by! Have fun with the rest of the hop!


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A Middle School Blog Hop Just For You!

This post has TWO very important purposes.

 #1 Thank you to everyone who entered (and contributed to) my Back to School Giveaway. The winners have been contacted (and they’re very excited). Check your email/junk mail – I still have one winner who hasn’t gotten back to me yet – maybe it’s you!

#2 Kristy from 2 Peas And A Dog has generously volunteered to organize a Back to School Blog Hop for Middle Years – complete with freebies and a giveaway! I know, another giveaway SPECIFICALLY for Middle Years. How often does THAT happen? You’re welcome!

Alright. Kristy asked us to share a great tip for Back to School survival in our blog hop posts. My best tip would be to take those first few days to really get to know your kids. I know that you’re behind, almost before you start with the curriculum that you’re expected to cover. However, it’s in those first few days that the middle school students before you will decide what sort of a teacher you are, which will in turn impact the kind of year that you’ll have. That whole “Don’t smile until Christmas” advice from eons ago is simply garbage. Smile. Enjoy yourself. Get to know the dynamic, intelligent and funny people in front of you. Tell them about yourself and your family. I don’t mean take five minutes to introduce yourselves – but really talk to them. Don’t pass out the text books first, please. It can wait. What is more important, a promptly distributed text book or learning a bit about the students you’ll be teaching this year? I do realize that we have to pass out the books as well, I’m just saying don’t start with that. 

So, other than starting the first day with a big coffee and always having a stash of Advil in your desk (let’s face it – you’re going to need it) to survive and thrive this year, I’d say make sure to take QUALITY time to get to know your middle school students. They can be a fickle bunch and being treated with respect is huge for them. Rather than simply talking about respect – might as well start showing it to them right off the bat by having a conversation – asking them questions and really listening to their answers.

One way that I like to get to know my kids quickly, is through student surveys. Enjoy the rest of the hop! Oh, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway below!


Want More Back to School Goodies?

Enter our AMAZING back to school giveaway!

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Oh yes – there’s just one more thing. TeachersPayTeachers has announced that their Back to School sale will be this Sunday and Monday – August 18th-19th. My entire store will be on sale! Now’s the time to stock up for those first few months!
Back to School Giveaway 
bullying video

Do your students blog?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m lucky enough to be a contributing teacher-blogger to Global Teacher Connect – an awesome teacher-blog with contributors from all over the world! Head on over and check out my latest post on GTC about my plans for getting my students started with blogging this week. Give us a follow while you’re there!


bullying video


Why do you act the way you do?

If I’ve thought it once,

I’ve thought it a million times,

Each year, a new kid,

The same,

But different.

I’ve thought,

Why do you act the way you do?


I spend so much of my time,

Trying to really figure out who you are,

Do you not see that I care?

I really, honestly care?

I want you to do well,

To succeed,

And to have every opportunity that you deserve.

If you do see that I give a shit,

Then, I ask again,

Why do you act the way that you do?


What are you so angry about?

Why are you so unfocused?

Why, when people try to help you,

Do you put your back up and then walk away?


Why do you act this way?


I’ll never know the life you live,

I have a feeling that if I did,

It would truly break my heart,

I can try to understand you,

I will always try,

But at the end of the day,

I do have enough sense to know,

That I’ll never fully get it,

There’s no way that I possibly can,

We’re just too different, you and I.


I do know,

That I’ll keep trying,

I’ll keep turning the other cheek, and then turn I’ll turn it again,

Because I know that tolerance, acceptance and kindness is what you need,

I know deep down that there are a million and one reasons,

Why you act the way you do,

I guess I just wish,

That I could help you to act the way I know YOU want to.



How do you get through to your most challenging students? What about when they don’t want to let you in?

bullying video





On with the book club: What makes a person admirable?

Continuing on with our book club in Language Arts today, we discussed what personality traits make someone admirable. Again, the theme of our book club is “This is who I am” and all of the novels have main characters who display “admirable traits” and strength of character in some way.

I had students write what they thought were admirable traits on the board and here is what they had to say:Book club continued: What makes a person admirable? star photo


-Really cute

-Good singer

-High self esteem


-Make sacrifices for others

-Good personality



-An awesome actor

-Helps me with my basketball playing



-Sets a goal and works toward it



-Patient… and a few others…

We had an excellent discussion on the traits that they came up with, and then worked on trying to narrow our list down to 5 main traits.

Can someone be admirable and also be a horrible singer? Yes, of course – so we took “good singer” off of the board. Can you be admirable without a good sense of humor? Yep! So that “funny” was gone.

We worked our way through the list and finally decided on a few key characteristics that would make someone admirable:

They are kind, set a goal and work toward it, and make sacrifices for others.

The best part is that the class basically hit the nail on the head! The traits that they decided on are ones that the main characters in the novels display. Score! I love it when that happens – everything coming together the way it’s supposed to. They are already making connections all over the place and we’re only two days in. They’re connecting our read aloud, Firegirl, to the anticipation guide that we did on Friday and to the main character that we read about in our last read aloud, Shot at Dawn: World War I. Love it! Super pumped for when they actually get into their book club groups with their own independent novels which will be Session 5… and we’re entering Session 3 tomorrow.

Wish me luck! We’re on to a shared reading piece tomorrow about Myers-Briggs and personality inventories – should be interesting!

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Using Picture Books to Teach Literary Elements in Middle School – A Great Find and CCSS Aligned

I’m super excited about the book that I just got Using Picture Books to Teach 8 Essential Literary Elements: An Annotated Bibliography of More Than 100 Books With Model Lessons to Deepen Students’ Comprehension. What a mouthful!

The book covers:


~Point of view






~Figurative language

 It’s for grades 4-8 and contains 2 lessons for each of the 8  literary elements above, using suggested titles. Each lesson is based on a model text – a picture book! The title, author and brief plot summary are included for each model text. Each lesson begins with a critical question based on the literary element and the materials required for the lesson are listed. A step by step explanation follows, as well as black line masters if applicable, and a wrap-up. Beyond the 16 lessons, there are  “More Books for Teaching…” each of the 8 literary elements. Along with the additional title suggestions, are teaching ideas and interdisciplinary connections for each.  Over 100 titles are included in all and this book is aligned to the Common Core – which is a bonus! There is a two page spread at the beginning of the book listing which standards are addressed.

One of the lessons that I can’t wait to use is a Point of View Improv activity. The group that I have this year will love it! Most of them love an audience and thrive on acting silly! There are 10 cut-apart scenarios that willing students will draw from a basket, each putting them into a unique situation by giving them a specific point of view to speak from. For example, “You are a cheeseburger. You see a big mouth coming towards you. What do you call out?” I mean, come on!  What a unique idea! There are only 10 cards included, but it would be easy to come up with some others. Students could also create their own “point of view improv” card and the cards could be added to a class set.

I just love when I buy a book that I can see so many uses for! I already own 5 titles that are included in this book and I’ll be looking at gathering more!

Picture books are so powerful and I think that sometimes we forget that in the middle and upper grade levels – I know I do. However, so many picture books are extremely versatile and could address multiple teaching points. I don’t mean for you to run out and purchase this book – although I do think it’s a good buy! What I’m suggesting is to have a look at your library, or the class libraries of teachers of other grade levels. Most picture books will offer opportunities for teaching literary elements – it’s just to find the time to read through some good ones and to make those connections. That’s what I love about this particular book – all the connections and titles are there for me! 

Do you have any titles of picture books that you use to teach particular literary elements?

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How do you differentiate instruction in your classroom?

I know that we all do it when we can – offering different options for assignments, differential seating plans, the opportunity to work alone or within a group, the choice of reading this novel or that novel: Differentiation! We do it all of the time – probably without much thought.

I’m just starting a new chapter in Social Studies and I’m taking a different approach. I asked the students ahead of time, what they’d rather do: Create a collage, write a letter, draw a map, perform a role play, draw to represent something, make a game…and so on. I also asked them if they’d rather work alone, with a partner or a group. The information that I got back was SO helpful!

What I did, was go through my current Social Studies chapter. I broke the chapter down into tiny pieces. There were 3 students who wanted to make a map and three significant maps in this chapter: BOOM! Group 1. Three others wanted to do a collage – there is a section on the “Metis” that totally lends itself to a collage: BOOM! Group 2. There is a section on Louis Riel which is quite appropriate for a role play…and so on.

Each group, pair or individual has a small section of the text that they are responsible for. Modified students are in groups and so have had help with reading the text. They also are completing a small part of a larger task and so it builds in success for them.

Students will all present their small pieces, in order, thus “teaching” us the chapter. There are 2 groups creating games for the chapter and so when we play these – they’ll also be built-in opportunities to assess. I’ll be using a rubric to assess the groups’ basic understanding and knowledge of their section as well as what they are presenting – role play, drawing etc. Based on their piece and their oral explanation, I’ll be able to assign a mark. Reading strategies are at play here as well, as we’ve been working on summarizing in LA most recently. I feel like I’m killing two birds with one stone!

I’ll also be requiring students to assess themselves on how they worked in their group and how their group members worked. Finally, the students will all have to write a reflection based on what they learned in the chapter – not only from their “section” but from the other students’ presentations.

Differentiated Instruction, Lessons From The Middle

We all enjoy having some choice!

I hope to post updates and pictures as they’re available on this little project. The kids are fairly excited about it (we just started it today) and they can be a difficult group to impress. I think giving them so much choice in what they’d be doing, as well as assigning just a small chunk of material were both smart choices on my part. The assessment is the part that is giving me the most grief because of the wide range of “products” that students are working on. However, I plan to focus on their oral presentation/explanation of the piece as well as the piece itself. The reflection will also tell me a lot about how deeply they understand the information.

What have I been doing, you may ask, while they’ve been busily “teaching themselves”? I’ve been circulating, facilitating, working with individual students who need clarification and listening to my students talk about the material. Today was great! We’ll see how “on task” everyone is tomorrow!

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I’ve got a BIG announcement!

Okay, so I am like a bad child. I’ve got a BIG secret to tell you! Big! Huge! But I’m not supposed to say anything…yet….Oh but it’s so sweet! I really want to tell you! But I can’t…

Lessons From The Middle, canadian teacher blog,

Deep breath….

I’m super excited because of this gigantic announcement, although I really can’t let you in on the secret until tomorrow. I just had to give you a heads-up!

You’ve GOT to come back tomorrow so that I can fill you in on the big news. Unless you guess what the big news is! Hmm… what could it be?

So…Predictions??? Guesses?

Make sure that you check back tomorrow so that I can fill you in on this HUGE announcement that’s sure to make all of you wonderful teachers happy. You really don’t want to miss out! I promise!

Lessons from the middle, canadian teacher blog, middle school lessons