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Summer Book Club for Teachers: Goodbye for Now

What if there was an online dating app with an algorithm so perfect that it could find your perfect match for life in one click? Would you use it? Recommend it to others? Would you think it was even a good thing at all? Sam Elling, computer genius, and main character of the book Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel, has created just such an algorithm. The internet dating company that he works for in Seattle loves it, and promptly fires him because they are losing subscription money when users find their true loves on the very first try.

Sam uses his own algorithm to find the love of his life, Meredith. When Meredith's best friend in the world, her grandmother Livvie, dies suddenly, Meredith is devastated. Sam uses his genius coding abilities to create a new algorithm, one that will simulate actual online communication with loved ones who have passed on. It works perfectly, allowing the user to email, text, message, and video call with a deceased loved one as long as a sufficient online footprint has been left. Meredith's years of communicating with her grandmother as Livvie spent every winter in Florida had created such a footprint.

Unemployed Sam's new algorithm worked so well with a virtual Livvie that Meredith and her cousin convince Sam to use the algorithm to create a new company called RePose to share this amazing online service with all who desire continued contact with their loved ones. What do you think of this science fiction concept floating just beyond our reach? Would you use it? Who would you like to keep in contact with?

Although I could quickly provide a list of those I've loved and lost, losing them all occurred way before a mutual online presence could be established. Sam's idea, however, did send me off on a series of pleasant daydreams on how that might look if it could be done.

Each week, over the past three, my podcast group and I have been discussing some amazing and diverse pleasure reads for teachers and offering fun freebies that accompany the book and speak to the topic of each book.  Before you listen to our podcasts, be sure to read the books addressed, because there are spoilers!  Laurie Frankel's book is a perfect summer read, written fairly simply and absolutely naturally, it's like listening and observing the whole thing happening with real and believable characters.  Goodbye for Now is the fourth in a summer reading series of book discussions on the podcast We Teach So Hard. You can find episode #46 here.

Click on the picture below to grab your freebie!

Click below to see all the books and hear the podcasts on We Teach So Hard!

Enjoy the last sweet days of summer because you teach so hard too!

Sliding into Summer

It's an exhilarating time of the year! Testing should be over by now (Pleeeease tell me that's true for you!), classrooms are getting packed up and summerized, and we're celebrating all the learning that has happened for our students in this important piece of their childhood. Still so much to do and so much to ponder. 

I cried at the end of all but one of my classroom years. (That one year is another loooong story. I'll save that for now.) I was sure that I would never see these precious children of my heart again once they ran out the door into the summer sunlight (or rain! We live in Michigan, where the weather is never guaranteed.). My teaching friend, Joanie, always told me not to cry because, "They're making more. And when they are ready, they'll send them!" But what about this group? What about these kids who have become a kind of family with me this year? 

The good news is that so many of them have come back as adults as our lives have crossed once more, whether in real life or on social media. Hearing them say to their own children that I was their third or fourth or fifth grade teacher fills my heart. Surprisingly, more than a few have remembered and reminded me of the "Super Summer Kit" I once sent them out the door with on that last and bittersweet day of our year or years together. (Lots of looping years!)

What was the Super Summer Kit? It was simply a large ziplock bag or white 8 1/2 x 11 envelope filled with an activity calendar, a list of books "Recommended in Rainbow City" by other students, a goodbye letter from me filled with memories of our year together, and hopes I held for them as they grew up and away, fun writing suggestions like nature observations and different ways to make fun books and journals, a list of fun local day trips and summer field trips, and a summer bucket list brainstorming activity called "I Would if I Could". Kids used these throughout the summer with no future deadlines or pressure. Some even took them to camp for some downtime suggestions to share with bunkmates. I made a colorful and personalized cover page for each one, and loved having this unique gift to greet them on the last day of school as important as the backpack bags I greeted them with on the first day!

Since I have now have evidence that so many are hugely successful adults, and since those who looped with me or returned to a classroom of a teaching friend that I could check in with came back refreshed and even smarter, I have to conclude that the Super Summer Kit was enough. The thick worksheet books that parents used to clamor for at our local Borders Book Shop every May and June seemed daunting and uninteresting to me. What kid wants an assignment to complete every day all summer long, in  the interest of "keeping skills sharp"? Kids need their vacation and down time just as much as we adults do to refresh, recharge, and renew our interest in learning. I always found that the activities that I selected for that kit (most found right here) were a "just right" approach to summer learning.

So, if you are lamenting the end of the school year, even while looking forward to your own summer plans, and want to send your babies off with a fun and leaning filled kit for their summer, I hope you'll check out these summer resources from Rainbow City Learning for a happy slide through summer and into the next school year. And don't worry, they're still making more! (Love and kisses to Joanie, now in Heaven.)

For more ideas as you slide into summer, please check out the fabulous bloggers of Teacher Talk! Want to join us? Email me and I'll tell you how to do it!

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Spring Activities

When we think of April, we usually think of Earth Day and National Poetry Month. Did you know that it is also National Garden Month? Neighbors here in Michigan are telling me that their tulips and crocuses have raised their winter weary heads. Nothing happening here yet, but I am filled with hope, just breathing in a little of that air filled with the promise of spring. That smell? You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. The scent that fills your soul with the promise of spring. Do you know what you are actually smelling though, when you smell that smell? MUD! You are smelling MUD! The earth is thawing. There has probably been some rain recently, and when you stick your nose out the door to check on the crocuses (as I just did, right this minute), you are actually smelling mud!

When you share that news with your students, and I'm 99.9% sure that you will, here's an amazing book to share along with that news! Your kids will love it! I promise! It's oozy, gloppy, and delicious! Great for word choice lessons too!

Some fun followup activities that you can try to bring the promise of this new season into your classroom:

Soil Sundaes
This one is a forever favorite of my students (the citizens of Rainbow City). Some of them, as adults, are still thanking me for this one. It's memorable. Here it is, for free, from my Stepping Into Steam resource. You're welcome.
If you love this activity, and would like to see the whole resource (including Wearing Away with Erosion and Truffle Craters, also good followups here, along with a scaffolded STEAM journal), just click on the Soil Sundaes card below. 

Of course, the sundae making activity is fun. Try adding some gummy worms! I also loved keeping soil, rock, sand, and pebble samples handy to make actual soil samples after this activity and then trying to grow flowers or beans in the soil. Kids and I brought back samples from our vacations in empty camera film containers (I know, what are those?) Any empty container will work. Glad makes teeny tiny ones, if you'd like to make them uniform. 
I also made soil, sand, pebbles, mulch, etc. available from our local garden store. Yours might be willing to donate! Offer to take pictures and have kids write about their soil investigations for them to display in their store. Grownups love that stuff!

Poetry Flowers

This one blends the observance of National Poetry Month with Spring. When the mud (or playground surface) is dry, try taking your kids outside for some splatter painting fun. Think Jackson Pollock. Or Eric Carle. I'm a big fan of planning a day in the spring to use up my leftover paints. Much preferable to storing all the odds and ends. Take some roll paper or just large sheets of paper outside, take kids dressed in clothes that can risk some paint spots, aaallllll your almost empty paint containers, and some brushes outside. This is best done at the end of a day so that the papers can dry around your classroom overnight. (Have a conversation with the custodian first about how this would work best in your school.) 
The next day, when dry, kids cut the splatter paintings into flower shapes, take a circle of colored copy paper, and write a poem on it. The display will make your room look like Spring inside!

Some of the paintings my kids made and a sample poetry flower below. To see the resource I created to make this, just click below!

Create a Fairy Garden

A fairy garden is a fun STEAM project for Spring. Use recyclables, maker space stuff, and found objects to create a special spot in the outdoor area of your building or in a corner near a classroom window. Small fairy gardens in pots also make great Mother's Day, Special Person or Grandparent's Day gifts. These can be accomplished very inexpensively with reusable stuff. 
Here's a Pinterest board to explore for ideas. Just click below!

Wishing you a muddy, fun, and happy Spring!
For more great ideas for Spring activities, be sure to visit the Teacher Talk blogs!
If you'd like to join us as a blogger, email me!

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Poetry is the Song of Our Souls

She balanced her journal on her knees, focused in earnest contemplation of a totally blank page. "Can I answer with a poem?" she asked. "Of course," I answered, as others looked on, wondering what she was getting away with. A shorter answer, for sure, but one that could speak volumes about what the true answer from her heart might be. As I set out to begin this post, the first thought in my brain was that poetry is the song of our souls. Just as you can listen in to what a person holds in their heart as they sing, poetry provides the same window into the soul of the poet.

April is the month when you can really start to see the fruits of your yearlong labors as a teacher, the month the children all seem to bloom. As those beautiful blossoms begin to open, poetry written by our students gives us a clear view into the soul of each blossoming learner. There is no meandering with poetry. It is generally short and to the point. No over-description, no extraneous words. Poetry focuses its meaning and touches the reader or listener deep inside. A journal page, free-write, interactive notebook response, or draft written in poetic form, can never be a bad thing. If a fuller essay is required, the poem becomes a distillation of the essence of that essay. If any written response is required, a poem of course fills the bill. And, as a writing form that lends itself to combination with art, music, dance, or dramatic performance, poetry rules!

Some thoughts on weaving more poetry into your practice:

Poetry Performance
Lots of teachers use the "Poem in Your Pocket" model to share poetry, based on the classic children's poem by Beatrice Schenk deReniers. Here it is, in case you haven't heard it. Click on the pocket below to download a free resource to use on Poem in Your Pocket Day in April!

This is a fun way to introduce poetry performance to your class. Pull a poem that you love out of your own pocket and perform it. My favorite poem to perform is "Honey I Love" by Eloise Greenfield. It's  so worth memorizing. I can promise your kids will be spellbound when you recite it to them with all the feeling that is right there in the poem. It will inspire many of your students to memorize a favorite poem of their own.

Poetry Sharing
When kids are ready to perform, make the performances a part of Morning Meeting, or a part of any regular time in your day or week. I have always used a campfire setting to share our poems, whether ones we wrote ourselves, or ones we just love and want to perform. It's cozy in the fall and winter, and makes us think of camping in the spring and summer. Here's a blog post I wrote about
The Poetry Campfire .

Poetry Publishing
There are so many ways to combine art with the publishing of your poetry - a class quilt, banners, Poetry Slam book, on your website, and in portfolios. Here is a blog post I wrote with directions for turning some short poems into beautiful watercolor flowers:
Watercolor Flower Poetry

Portfolio Friendly
If your portfolios are a little short of writing pieces this year for any of the reasons that our challenging profession has presented, April is the perfect month to get that collection growing. April is poetry month! Poetry is short and doesn't have a lot hard and fast rules to follow. It flows from the heart. So take out those portfolios and see where an empty spot can be filled here and there with a beautiful song of the soul. 

Here's a post you might like: A Portfolio to Remember

Find my favorite POETRY RESOURCES by clicking here!

Happy April, teachers! I hope your souls and those of your students sing throughout the Spring!

I had soooo much fun talking about poetry with my teaching friends on our podcast, We Teach So Hard, Episode 32. Hope you'll tune in soon!


The Thief of Joy

We have a pretty good local theater company here in Detroit. It's called "Broadway in Detroit" and they bring touring shows around after they leave Broadway. It's not Broadway, but is anything other than Broadway really Broadway? You'll get lots of different answers for that. If you do ever visit in my part of the world, you also really should try the tiny Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea. We've seen some amazing productions there in Jeff Daniels' hometown in the gem of a theater company that he started. But I digress.  Who's surprised? (Nah!)

We have been season subscribers to Broadway in Detroit for probably more years than you personally have walked on the earth. We love most of the productions, and really, some theater is always better than no theater IMO. This year, every seat for the season was sold out a year in advance because HAMILTON!!!!! is coming next week. Season subscribers get to keep their regular seats at the season price with no extra padding of prices. Sweet! And it's HAMILTON!!!!!

Right now, I am visualizing all the plays we've seen recently with not much advance hype that were thoroughly enjoyable, bordering on fabulous, and maybe full throttle magnificent. But were they HAMILTON!!!! ? Uh, no. We will finally see Hamilton next week, and I can't wait to see what all the hype is about.

Last week, after a lovely dinner with precious friends of ours, we settled into our seats to experience "The Lightning Thief" in musical form. I will admit to be being a little more giddy than most about the production because I love love love the Percy Jackson Series. The Lightning Thief was a favorite spring read-aloud with my fourth graders while I was still in the classroom. It was edge of your seat exciting, and what better way to introduce kids to Greek Mythology than with half-breed middle schoolers at a camp where they learn how use their special powers obtained from the god side of the family? The play was promising all that plus singing and dancing. I had a feeling that there would be a lightning bolt or two, some optional glitter, and other special effects like mylar confetti, and the theater gods did not disappoint.  So, settling in, I was pretty psyched to begin with. As one more aside, lots of kids get taken to the shows that seem appropriate, and I was looking forward to really seeing every inch of the stage, as most elementary and middle schoolers are shorter than I am! Yay! My usually craning neck was all like, "aaaaaahhhhhh...".

As the first act progressed, the storyline was familiar, I thought the singing and dancing was topnotch, and so many visualizations that my students and I had conjured in our heads were happening right before my eyes. It was more delicious than the skillet salty caramel cookie with Ray's ice cream that we had polished off for dessert just an hour earlier. It was a feast for all of our senses, and I watched it, I'm sure, the way many have watched HAMILTON!!! At the end of the first act, I was floating on the euphoria of a great theater experience. I looked across at our two couple grouping and saw two rather unimpressed peopled and one who said, "It was ok. I liked it." IF I had any self-control at all, it might have been a good time to dial down on my enthusiasm for awhile, but if we've ever met, you know....

I loved it!!!!! Followed by much description of every delicious morsel in the play. As I did that, my husband was pointing out all the grownups who had their coats with them for intermission. They were leaving? Sheesh! I guess one special feature that contributed to my joy was the amazing time I had sharing the book with my own students. I could still see their faces during most of the scenes, and remembered laughing at our discussion of whether Percy's friend Grover was half Sayter or Sauter or Saater. We had a fun debate over that. I was wrong, kids were right! Just an example. And, spoiler alert: Poseidon, as a surfer dude, was possibly the funniest thing I've ever seen.

And now, the excitement over HAMILTON!!!! is really ramping up. Everyone is talking about whether they have already seen it, will see it next week, or will travel to Chicago to see it because they couldn't get tickets here. I am, of course, expecting to love it, but my mind is kind of buzzing today with what makes one play a HAMILTON!!!, sought after, anticipated, and thoroughly enjoyed, and what makes another an intermission exit, meh experience?

As a teacher, I can't help wondering why we see some of our students as HAMILTON!!! while some are Percy before camp. Why are some of the read-alouds we choose HAMILTON!!! in quality and why do some kinda fall flat? And of course, don't we all want to be that teacher that kids see as a HAMILTON!!!! among teachers?  

I think the difference is the attitude we bring to it. My mind travels back to the first show of the season this year, "Something Rotten". In this play (also with mixed reviews , but I (are you ready?) LOVED IT!), Shakespeare is experiencing writer's block, and feels basically worthless as a writer. And yet .... wherever he goes, he is looked upon as a rock star! When a crowd gathers, he rises above the citizenry, dressed as a rock star, and you hear, "Shakespeare!" as if being sung by the greatest backup singers ever. It's all about attitude.

So teachers... It's March. Reading month, right? How do we walk into that classroom each day? It should be like the rockstar teachers that you know we are inside. Fly that cape! Hold your head high! And when it is time to introduce your next read-aloud? Are you introducing just any ol' book? Heck no! You are introducing HAMILTON!!!

Seriously, friends, that's exactly how I always did it. "You guys! You will not believe this book that I found for our next read-aloud! It's so amazing that I almost called you this weekend because I couldn't wait for you to find out about it! I can not wait to start talking with you about this!" (Attitude! HAMILTON!!!) Even if you are thinking that this is a little beyond your comfort level, try it! I think you will amaze even yourself!

If you would like to explore some reading likes and interests with your students, this set of cards will definitely get the conversation started.

For some other thoughts on March topics, be sure to visit the links below. This linkup is for members of our Teacher Talk blogging group. Like to join us? Ask me how!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

March is Reading Month

"It's always something." (Gilda Radner as Roseanne Rosannadanna) Every day that we show up at school, ready to learn, is a cause for celebration. "...and everywhere was a song and a celebration." (Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Woodstock, baby.) Seriously, teachers, we can find something to celebrate in class every single day. The biggest celebration, of course, is when the imaginary light bulbs flash with new learning, with a newly converted reader for life, budding author, artist, mathematician, researcher, or maker. As teachers, we are part of those amazing moments all year long. And yet, if we seek other celebrations to bring a learning theme to our students, the calendar is filled with them. Here's year-long resource for an author birthday focus every month.
Read Across America Day was originally conceived to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss. You might have been wearing out your "Cat in the Hat" striped chapeau for all the Marches for as long as you've been teaching. Maybe your school focuses on Dr. Seuss, or maybe you just enjoy that celebration in your classroom. Maybe your own teacher tied a red bow around her neck every March, and the memories are filled with warm fuzzies. are ready for a new idea?

Did you know that Leo Dillon's birthday is March 2 also?  With his wife, Diane, Leo Dillon was the author/illustrator of forty beloved children's books. Many of the books will bring the concepts of diversity and world peace into your classroom. What a beautiful segue from February is Black History Month! Why not kick off March is Reading Month this year with a fresh focus?

A favorite Dillon book of mine is If Kids Ran the World. My students were so fortunate to have the chance to meet this gentle and lovely couple before Leo's death in 2012, when they visited our school.  The mentoring for our future authors and illustrators was off the charts! If Kids Ran the World was the book they were working on at the time of Leo's passing.

In addition to the beautiful illustrations and words showing how the world would be a better place if we all cared  for others in the way these children do, this book effortlessly becomes a mentor text. Sign up for my newsletter (pop up when you enter this post - You may need to refresh!) before March 1, and I will send you a follower freebie showing how to use this lovely book as a model for writing. Already on my mailing list?   Check your inbox on March 2! Happy Birthday, Leo Dillon!

Some other authors whose work will make for great sharing and inspiration any time of the year: Patricia Polacco, Eve Bunting, and Jacqueline Woodson. These are a few of my favorites, and my students have enjoyed many lessons for reading and writing led off by the works of these writers. 

Try The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco to see how the author's own mother was encouraged to love reading!
Share a read-aloud of The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Alsburg to prompt a discussion of all the things we might enjoy if we give up a little screen time. 

Of course, no month-long celebration is complete without a few official school-wide or grade-wide or even class-wide activities. Some of my favorites:

Hold a Read-In
In no way should this be confused with a clean your desk, grade papers, and enter data day. Wipe that thought from your mind. It's tempting for sure, but a read-in day where you participate right along with the kids is a golden opportunity to encourage a lifelong love of reading (like yours!). Only you can be the role model for that in your classroom. Sleeping bags, blankies, jammies, and pillows optional! My kids always liked making little fort areas under the desks for uninterrupted reading bliss!

Who doesn't love a Parade?
Ask your students to bring in their Radio Flyer or Little Tykes wagons to use as float carriers for a Parade of Books! (Think Macy's Thanksgiving or Disney any day, or The Rose Bowl Parade, but with books!)  Kids work in teams to create a float display (think giant diorama!) of a book. The team members dress as some of the characters as they accompany their float in a parade for school and community!

Spotlight on Books
Create a display with a fun place to leave comments/reviews about a book that the class shared as a class novel, book club choice, or read-aloud. Place a book cover in the center of the display, and kids write comments all around. Examples of fun places to leave comments: black construction paper with colored chalks, small white boards with wipe-off markers, plexiglass with window markers, fabric with glitter pens. I know your kids can  help you think of more! 

Recommended in Rainbow City
That's what we called ours, anyway! Start a weekly or monthly newsletter or blog section where kids can review books they have read and loved. It's a great resource for your students to clip and keep on hand for when they are browsing for new books to read. 

Book Trailers
Use your technology (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, or your favorite movie creator) to have your students create exciting trailers to "advertise" their favorite books. So many resources, directions, and examples of book trailers for kids in this post. (Just click on the director below!)

I loved sharing ideas for March is Reading Month with my podcasting friends, Tracy, Deann, and Kathie. Tune in to "We Teach So Hard" Episode 28 to hear what we came up with!

Happy, happy March! Hope you get to read something you love this month, too!

Read more about it!

Bundle Up For The TpT Sale

Tick-Tock - The clock is ticking on a huge site wide sale on TpT! The best strategy when shopping the TpT sale is to stock up on bundles. Already discounted before the sale, they are discounted another 20-25% during the sale. (Don't forget the code TICKTOCK at checkout!) Save even more by leaving awesome feedback as you buy and using the credits you earn for another purchase, and another, and - well, you get it!

I have been arranging many of the resources in Rainbow City Learning to make shopping easier for you. To see ALL of my bundles, just click on the words "BUNDLE UP":

I hope you signed up for my email list when the box popped up here. (If not, refresh and do it!) I will be sending a shorter but very usable version of my newest resource on March 2 to all email subscribers as a Follower Freebie to say thanks!

Visit my Facebook page and comment on the gift card post for a chance to win a $10 TpT gift card, and your favorite Rainbow City Learning resource!

Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a $100 TpT gift card from The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Collaborative. Soooo many ways to make the most of this sale!

Happy Shopping!

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