5 Great Books to Read (September)

I am so glad you are here to check out some books I read recently! It's my monthly book review post where I tell the truth about some books!
Books have a way of making you homesick for somewhere you have never been. Book reviews on this blog post!
Throughout the post, for your convenience, you’ll find Amazon Affiliate links, which means Amazon compensates me if you purchase something through that link, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep this little blog running and helps fund give-aways!

This was a good month of books! I can recommend all these listed below! That's something! I usually have a stinker during the month!

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
This book is about a wealthy family that has several homes on a private island. Each home was built for a different sister of the family. In the summer the entire family converges on the island and they just have a great time--- or do they? It turns out that each part of the family has its own personal story and not all of them are happy.

This book is about a wealthy family that has several homes on a private island. Each home was built for a different sister of the family. In the summer the entire family converges on the island and they just have a great time--- or do they?
It turns out that each part of the family has its own personal story and not all of them are happy. 
The main character (if there is one) is Cadence, called Cady. Early in the book (like on page 5) you find out that her father decides to leave her mother and here's the passage that really was powerful: Dad is getting in the car to leave and the book says, "Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out...."
Well.
You can bet that got my attention, but it seems that the author of this book uses passages like that often. So, just know that you will encounter some sentences that are astounding only to discover it is an overuse of imagery.
Okay, back to the story... While on the island, age 15, Cady goes off swimming alone, in the ocean, and has an accident. She ends up with a brain injury that creates headaches and loss of memory, including how she was injured in the first place. The story develops as she returns a few summers later and encounters her cousins and a boy she apparently loves.... and I will leave with that. 
So, should you try this book? It is a powerful little book. The writing is interesting. Lots of imagery, weird time jumps, and odd use of story telling in the background. In the end it is quite startling because you might not see it coming. Yes, you should try it!

Before the Fall  by Noah Hawley
This book opens with the loading of a private jet with a wealthy family of four, two more married adults, and Scott Burroughs. Scott is a local artist that was invited to just hop a ride on the board rather than take the ferry. (They are on Martha's Vineyard and headed to New York.) Scott boards the plane late and within minutes the plane has crashed into the Atlantic. Scott survives and then discovers that 4 year old JJ is also still alive. So, what does he do?



This book opens with the loading of a private jet with a wealthy family of four, two more married adults, and Scott Burroughs. Scott is a local artist that was invited to just hop a ride on board rather than take the ferry. (They are on Martha's Vineyard and headed to New York.) Scott boards the plane late and within minutes the plane has crashed into the Atlantic. Scott survives and then discovers that 4 year old JJ is also still alive. So, what does he do? He takes the boy and swims to shore- maybe 10 miles. Following this horrific event the book delves into the back story of each of the characters. The FBI gets involved, Scott is blamed for the accident, the US Treasury is involved, the back stories of each character seem to be intertwined. But, are they? Was Scott involved? In the middle of this you discover that a TV personality with a talk show (think Nancy Grace) wants to exploit every part of the story and does so with little thought for the actual truth. The NTSB is trying to recover the plane and the black box to find out exactly what happened. In the end the truth of the crash will be a surprise.
There are some passages that are a little distracting and the back story about the kinds of pictures that Scott paints seems a little unnecessary. I also found the writing style concerning conversations was extremely disjointed. No one, NO ONE, could ever finish a sentence. I think in real life plenty of people are more well spoken than the people in this book. But this a page-turner- very compelling! 


Finders Keepers by Stephen King
The story begins with a famous author, John Rothstein, being attacked in his home. Money and manuscripts are stolen, and then years later the money and notebooks of new books are found by a teenager named Pete. Pete, at age 13, knows his family is in financial trouble and he uses the money to help out. Then, of course, the man who hid the money and notebooks comes back to look for his buried treasure! A page-turner!

Don't you just love Stephen King? I am guessing I have read just about all his books (except for that period of time right after his accident when his books were off course just a tad). About three months ago I read Mr. Mercedes  and in that book the character of an ex-cop named Bill Hodges was introduced. This book continues with that story. In fact, one of the main characters was injured in the car attack of the other book. In that car attack you also meet Brady, the man that was responsible for the attack and he reappears in this story.
The story begins with a famous author, John Rothstein, being attacked in his home. Money and manuscripts are stolen, and then years later the money and notebooks of new books are found by a teenager named Pete. Pete, at age 13, knows his family is in financial trouble and he uses the money to help out. A few years later he decides the manuscripts from the deceased author can also be used to make some money.
And then we have the murderer of that author, who is now nearly 60 and has spent all these years in prison for another crime. He is paroled and you know what happens next, right? He comes back to find the money and notebooks that he hid.
Bill Hodges and his helpers, Holly and Jerome, get involved. Full of action and a typical Stephen King page-turner! You are going to want to read this one- but read Mr. Mercedes first! And, remember, Brady, the man responsible for the car attack in the first place?? Well, just know this book has a typical SK cliffhanger at the end!

The Bartender's Tale by Ivan Doig
It's 1960 when you meet 6 year old Rusty who has been living with his aunt and cousins in Arizona until Dad arrives to take him home to Montana. Back in Montana Rusty learns about his dad's business. He's the bartender/owner of the Medicine Lodge, a tavern. The backroom of the lodge becomes Rusty's second home as he discovers it is full of amazing items that bar patrons sometimes offer as payment for their drinks. This is a fabulous book with rich details and a slow pace.

This book begins as Mr. Doig's books do, by diving right into the story with rich and vivid details. It's 1960 when you meet 6 year old Rusty who has been living with his aunt and cousins in Arizona until Dad arrives to take him home to Montana. Back in Montana Rusty learns about his dad's business. He's the bartender/owner of the Medicine Lodge, a tavern. The backroom of the lodge becomes Rusty's second home as he discovers it is full of amazing items that bar patrons sometimes offer as payment for their drinks. Periodically, Rusty's dad takes a load of the items over the border to Canada to sell and make extra money. In the meantime, Rusty meets Zoe and they become great friends who like to build airplane models, mimic and eavesdrop on the bar customers, and then get a taste of acting with a local woman. Everything is going along smoothly until trouble comes. That trouble comes in the form of Proxy Duff, a taxi dancer that knew Rusty's dad many years before and, in fact, shows up to tell him that her daughter, Francine, is actually his daughter. (By the way a taxi dancer is a woman that was paid by tavern patrons to dance with them.) Anyway, at this point the book takes a turn and gets very interesting- stick with it through the slow parts! There's an unexpected twist at the end about Francine and her mom. 

I love this author. I love his books. But, you need to know the writing is different. This book is not an action packed page-turner. Whole chapters can be devoted to going fishing using chicken guts as bait and learning to bait a hook. One little section told the hilarious story of Rusty and his dad and the half-sister stripping a friend naked in the tub in order to pick ticks off him! Doig's style is slow and detailed, but the writing is rich. The books are worth the time!

Freedom by Jaycee Dugard
This is Jaycee's second book telling about being held captive for 18 years. This book tells more about her recovery and doing things for the first time. Beautiful!

This author is one that resonates with me in so many ways. Many years ago my husband and I were on a trip to Lake Tahoe and drove through the town where Jaycee was held captive for 18 years. About a year later she was found and I still remember thinking that we were so close to where she had been hidden away and we never knew it, nor did her neighbors. Her first book was one I read in one sitting and I ached with the horror of her writing. I have watched her story on television through interviews with Diane Sawyer. Jaycee is a resilient, beautiful, kind woman and I admire her courage so much. This book picks up with her life after her rescue as she encounters the first time she gets to do things. Being held from age 11 to age 30 left her without the ability to do things we take for granted- like driving a car, going to high school, going to the mall, learning about cell phones, and so much more. Read both her books. It will forever leave an imprint on you!

There you have it- five books I can recommend. Come back in a month for more!
Right now, go visit Doodlebugs Teaching for more blog posts!



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5 Great Pumpkin Things!

So, I started a seasonal series of STEM challenges a few months back and we are having such a fun time! We've made snowflakes, Valentine ziplines, wind powered boats, seed dispersal models, Ferris wheels, and so much more.
It seemed only natural to leap into October with some pumpkin challenges!

STEM: Check this blog post for more about Pumpkin Launchers, Haunted House Mazes, and Pumpkin Elevators!

So, here we go with five things about pumpkins!


STEM Challenge: Build a Pumpkin Launcher! The idea with this one is to build a lunching device using some pretty wonky materials and then, of course, send a pumpkin soaring. Check this blog post for more!
The first of the pumpkin series is called Pumpkin Launchers!
The idea with this one is to build a lunching device using some pretty wonky materials and then, of course, send a pumpkin soaring. I found the little candy pumpkins (finally) at a dollar store and they were perfect. They weigh just enough to make this task a little challenging and besides, who wouldn't want to throw candy around the classroom?

STEM Challenge: Build a Pumpkin Launcher! A lot of groups made a catapult device to toss the candy and these were great. There were some groups that tried a sling shot type mechanism. Check this blog post for more!
A lot of groups made a catapult device to toss the candy and these were great. There were some groups that tried a sling shot type mechanism. However, holding the device in their hands became a no-no. Kids were throwing the pumpkins instead of having the launcher do the work. So, I made a new rule. The launcher had to sit on the floor!
We ended the class session by having every launcher brought to our launching pad and we sailed those pumpkins through the air to knock down some targets! The kids loved this one! 
You can see more detail about the Pumpkin Launchers {HERE}.


STEM Challenge: The second Pumpkin or Halloween challenge is to build a Haunted House maze. The photo is showing one that is about half finished. Check this blog post for more info!
The second Pumpkin or Halloween challenge is to build a Haunted House maze. The photo is showing one that is about half finished. This challenge is taking longer than we thought it would because we had to let our mazes dry before we could decorate them. I will devote a blog post to these when we get them finished. Let's just say the kids are loving these- mostly because of all the creepy crawly plastic bugs and spiders and skeletons we are decorating with! (I mean, really, look at that plastic roach- he looks real!)
You can see more details about Haunted House Mazes {HERE}.

Okay, here's just some information for you about pumpkins.
For the third challenge in this Pumpkin series I needed some little bitty real pumpkins. You know the kind that people usually decorate with- well, guess what? You cannot buy those in Alabama yet! So, I resorted to a dollar store sippy cup pumpkin, which actually worked out really well! I filled that little thing with sand to make it heavy and - BAM - I had the pumpkins we needed for the challenge. 

UPDATE: I found the little bitty pumpkins! 
For size reference I took the photo with an apple. They are tiny, but so cute! Five little pumpkins was about $3. So, we tried the elevators with the plastic ones and the real ones! Super fun! Keep reading!


STEM Challenge: Build an elevator to lift a pumpkin! Check the blog post for more  information!
Seriously, are you kidding? That is the cutest thing ever. It's a pumpkin elevator. My test class made these very quickly and I equally as quickly changed the task rules to make it more challenging. The elevator has to be lifted by some kid of cranking device with a handle!  These are also not quite finished so I will devote another blog post one day soon to show the finished and decorated models! Kids loved these, too!

So, that's it for Pumpkin stuff!
Except for this:
My favorite flavoring ever in the history of the world. Every time I go to Wal Mart I buy three or four containers. I have enough to last until next summer.......just sayin'!

Go visit Doodlebugs Teaching and see what everyone else is writing about this week!
Come back next week for my monthly Book Review Post!


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First Grade STEM- It's About Towers!

Welcome back STEM Friends!
It's STEM time in first grade and I decided to try a tower event!
My big kids love building towers, so I thought this might also work with the littles!


I learned very quickly that the materials were going to need to be easy to manipulate. The test class had masking tape, but they couldn't tear it and trying to cut with scissors was a disaster. So, I opened the cabinets and searched for something different. We came up with colored tiles and cardboard tubes!


I tried to match the tubes and make sure everyone had three that were the same length, but this didn't always work! The little kids found that the tubes were hard to stack. So, they resorted to many other things to make tall towers.

One idea was to just fill the tubes up with tiles! This didn't make them taller at all, but it did seem to make them less easy to knock over. I was told by one little smartie that "this is what a bricklayer does!"

I also saw a lot of roads being built to connect the tower parts. Very, very quickly this little tower adventure turned into a story telling adventure. Every group had a story to tell about what their tower was for and what all the parts of it would do. They were quite imaginative!
By the third class I made the story part of the challenge. Build the tower, name it, and tell us all about it!
Some teams also discovered that piling the tiles and then stacking the tubes would make a really tall tower and they loved making those piles!

Some things I definitely discovered:
First graders really loved their towers.
First graders approached this task with imagination. Every road or tile or tube had a function and a story about it.
They were NOT competitive at all! It didn't matter to them that their towers were little. My big kids compete endlessly to have the tallest, biggest, best, but the first graders never thought about it!

So, that's our first tower event. Each team had three cardboard tubes and a bin of tiles. They were told to build a tower! Easy prep, easy directions, lots of fun!
Coming soon:
Mazes with Pom-Poms
Cup Towers
Toothpick Geometric Shapes
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A Few Secrets About TpT You Need to Know

Welcome STEM Friends and Science Friends and TpT Friends!

Some of you know that I have a little Teachers Pay Teachers store and let me just tell you- it's quite an adventure. I started my store in 2013 and I have learned so much! Hopefully today I can let you in on a few secrets about TpT and help you with your shopping!
If you are a Teachers Pay Teachers shopper this blog post has some secrets to share!
Now, let me also tell you that I don't know everything about TpT and you may be able to add to this conversation with your own experiences. Want to hear the biggest boo-boo  I ever made as a buyer?

When I made my first purchase I waited patiently for my file to arrive.

I waited for 30 minutes and still didn't have my stuff. I decided the whole site must be a scam... so I went back to the store and did some checking and discovered:
YOU HAVE TO DOWNLOAD THE FILE.

I was waiting on an email......

Anyway here are some secrets....


Teachers Pay Teachers shoppers- did you know this? Sellers cannot access your contact info! Check this blog post for more secrets!
This comes as a surprise to some folks. Sellers are not privy to your personal contact information. So, just know that when you leave a feedback or a question and ask sellers to email you.....We can't! I recently was asked to email a file to a buyer and she didn't know I could not do this and I realized that probably a lot of buyers don't know. 

So, what do you do, as a buyer, when you need to be contacted?
  • First, check the file you purchased. A lot of sellers put contact information on their Terms of Use page. 
  • If that cannot be located, then leave a question on the seller's homepage or the product page.
  • However, remember that the seller will need your email address in order to contact you! I usually just leave my email and ask the buyer to send me a message!


Ask a Question Before Leaving Feedback!

Teachers Pay Teachers shoppers- before you leave feedback try the Question asking feature. Check this blog post for more!
The graded paper above is rather startling, isn't it? Wow. Anyway, what do you do if you find a mistake in a product that you have purchased? 

Let me tell you what sellers would love to see:
Email us at the address in the product. Or leave a question on our main store page. Just let us know you found a typo or incorrect information and where it might be in the file.  If I get a message like that I fix it as soon as possible and re-upload the file.

Teachers pay Teacher shoppers- did you know you can use the "Ask a Question" feature to find out more about a product, request something specific, or alert the seller to a problem? Check this blog post for more!
Look at my example and you can see the 'Ask a Question' tab on my store's main page. When I am asked a question I answer quickly and take care of the concern that is brought to my attention. After I have responded, the buyer that posted the question will receive an email from TpT, not me, saying the question has been answered. Return to the page and check it out!


Do You Know You are Rewarded for Leaving Feedback?

Teachers Pay Teachers shoppers! Be sure you grab those credits after you make a purchase! Check this blog post for more secrets!
You probably already know this! But, just in case you don't....

Whenever you leave feedback you earn points based on the cost of the product. When you accumulate enough points these can be used to discount new items you are purchasing!

If you need to do this right now, just go to your account and click on the drop-down menu at the top listed as 'My TpT'. Then scroll to 'My Purchases'. At that page, you will find all the items you have purchased and you can arrange them according to which ones need feedback.

But, before you do read my next secret!

Helpful Feedback is Soooooo Appreciated!

Teachers pay Teachers shoppers- Meaningful feedback is helpful to the seller and to future buyers! Check this blog post for more!
Feedback can be a very helpful thing for sellers. If I receive detailed feedback that tells me the best parts of a product and how it was used or includes notes to future buyers, this lets me know I am on the right track. 
Even when the feedback is not so great (like the last one on the above image) I can still determine what I need to do! For that last one, I immediately went to that file and added an answer key and re-uploaded it quickly. That buyer was right and I was grateful to her.

Here's one more tiny secret.....
when feedback looks like this:
.
:)
!
I really don't have a clue what this means. Was it okay? good? great? Details inform not only the seller but also future buyers. 

Check Those Previews!

Teachers Pay Teachers shoppers: Be sure your read those product descriptions and check the previews! This gives you a chance to make great buying decisions! Check this blog post for more!

A lot of sellers work really hard to make product descriptions and previews that will let you know exactly what you are buying. If a product doesn't have these, then be wary of the purchase. I mean, think about it, if you buy a new car you look at it first, right?

So, look at your potential purchase the same way! Use the product description and read about the product first. Then try the preview. If you still don't understand what you are getting, ask a question before you purchase it! 

So, there you are- a few secrets about TpT that may help you as a buyer. Happy shopping!




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The Best Ever STEM Challenge Plan for Collaboration

Are you ready for this? It's STEM.
It's Group Work.
It's the most spectacular event we have ever completed.
Seriously!

And here is why: it is rich with collaborative opportunities!
STEM Challenges: Two teams, each has the same materials. Each builds something different. In the end, the two structures must be joined! It's the ultimate in collaboration!
I had this little brain pop and thought about having students all have the same materials, but each group would build something different. Then I just couldn't work around how that would be possible without being very confusing and hard to set up. Mostly I think they would not be logical in their structures since there would not be defined rules. So, I knew the constraints had to be a little more complex. Then I had another brain pop. What if two groups had the same materials, each group build something different, but then somehow they have to join those two structures together!

Seriously.
Best idea ever!
Each grade level did something different.


THIRD GRADE


The task for my third graders was one group making a bridge and the second group making the tower to place on the bridge.
STEM Challenge: The task for my third graders was one group making a bridge and the second group making the tower to place on the bridge. Super collaboration!
Very quickly the kids discovered if the bridge group did not follow the task rules then the tower would not fit. And the tower group found they would need to consider how heavy their tower was if the bridge was flimsy.

STEM Challenge: The task for my third graders was one group making a bridge and the second group making the tower to place on the bridge. Super collaboration!

It was the ultimate in team work. Each team had to work with the partner group, test their part of the structure, and make changes as needed. 
Read on!

FOURTH GRADE

The task for my middle kids was to build a launching device and the target to aim at and hopefully hit. Well, you know they loved the whole scenario of this because we had a great talk about a certain game that involves knocking down structures with some very mad birds. However, the target building group had the task of building a target that could NOT be knocked down. That made it a little harder.
Take a look:
STEM Challenge: Two groups, same materials, different structures that must be joined! The task was to build a launching device and the target to aim at and hopefully hit.

This one was great fun and became very competitive. We hit a lot of targets and did not knock down any. We also learned that a launching device is hard to make and aim!

STEM Challenge: Two groups, same materials, different structures that must be joined! The task was to build a launching device and the target to aim at and hopefully hit.
 The two groups had to work together to make the target the right height for the way the shooter was working. That was the biggest problem. Lots of targets had to be remade when the launcher would fly the pom pom over the top.
There's more!

FIFTH GRADE

I'd have to say this was my favorite because of the genius ideas the kids came up with. Probably because they are fifth graders, but anyway I loved the results!
Take a look:
STEM Challenge: Two grups, same materials, different structures that must be joined! Their task was to design a rescue device and a rescue container. The rule for the rescue device was that it had to mounted on the side of a "cliff" and able to be operated by someone standing on the cliff.
Their task was to design a rescue device and a rescue container. The rule for the rescue device was that it had to mounted on the side of a "cliff" and able to be operated by someone standing on the cliff.

STEM Challenge: Two grups, same materials, different structures that must be joined! Their task was to design a rescue device and a rescue container. The rule for the rescue device was that it had to mounted on the side of a "cliff" and able to be operated by someone standing on the cliff.
 Do you see those genius cranking systems the kids made? These two groups had to work together to be able to attach the rescue containers to the cranking system and not make it too heavy. Awesomeness, indeed!

STEM Challenge: Two grups, same materials, different structures that must be joined! Their task was to design a rescue device and a rescue container. The rule for the rescue device was that it had to mounted on the side of a "cliff" and able to be operated by someone standing on the cliff.
Watching them test and redesign and test again was so interesting.

Well, there you have it! STEM is already filled with conversation and collaboration, but the plan with joining these two tasks together made the best-ever set of challenges! Kids loved them and you will too!


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The Ultimate Guide to Pencils (and It's Not What You Think)

Are you ready for this? Brace yourselves! What would you do with ten tons of pencils you don't need?

We built stuff.

It's the great Pencil Challenge extravaganza!
STEM Challenges: PROBLEM: I have ten tons of unsharpened, brand new pencils. SO, I had to invent things to build with them. Check this post for three STEM challenges that use pencils!

Okay, full disclosure here! I am a teacher.

Why wouldn't I need pencils?
So, let me explain (and I know I begin a lot of posts with those same words). But here's the scoop anyway: I have a LOT of students- like 350+ and we go through pencils like nobody's business. I sharpen them endlessly. They break. They have no erasers, and it is purely not fun.

So, this year I stood at the school supplies and stared at packages of pens. Yep, ink pens. For less than $5 I had enough pens to last the whole year. They don't break. You can't take them apart. I don't have to sharpen them.

PROBLEM: I have ten tons of unsharpened, brand new pencils.
So, I had to invent things to build with them.


Here's the first challenge:

STEM Challenge: Build a pencil box that follows several constraints and then test it! Take a look at this blog post for more!

One of the rules for this one was that the box had to fasten closed. Look closely at that top photo. Can you see the hook closure that team made? Genius- they told me it works like a purse. The bottom one used tape.

STEM Challenge: Build a pencil box that follows several constraints and then test it! Take a look at this blog post for more!

The boxes were all shapes and sizes. They had to hold at least six new pencils and needed a carrying handle. We also had to talk about why you would need to build your own pencil box. Most kids said you might need a new one of yours broke and you were afraid to ask for a new one because mom had already spent so much money on school stuff. Kids are great!

Challenge 2 was Drawbridges!

STEM Challenge: The main materials will include unsharpened pencils! Can you build a drawbridge that works? Check this blog post!

This is going to be one of my personal favorite challenges. The bridge had to cross a gap and open like a drawbridge. This turned out to be more challenging than the kids expected. They had lots of problems to solve- including the bridge sagging in the middle!

PROBLEM SOLVING with Bridges

STEM Challenge: The main materials will include unsharpened pencils! Can you build a drawbridge that works? Check this blog post!

This has its own section because I saw so many brilliant ways kids solved problems with this bridge.
In the top photo kids used pipe cleaners to hold the middle of their bridge together. When they pulled to open it the pipe cleaners somehow spread apart. In the bottom photo kids used the bendy part of the straw to make the opening span of the bridge hinge! Genius!

EVEN MORE about the Bridges

You have to watch this video! 


Challenge #3: Pencil Towers

STEM Challenge: Build a tower, but it has to have a part that twirls! Take a look at this blog post for more about the great pencil challenges!

In this one kids had to build a tower that had a part that twirled. The creative part of this one was to invent the reason for the twirling part!

Two things in the above photos. The top photo is a close up of how the kids solved the problem of not twirling. They had attached the twirling device and it wouldn't move so they altered the top of the tower by making a hole. It twirled perfectly after that.

The bottom photo is just the best ever! It's a windmill at a mini-golf course. The windmill twirls to keep the golf ball out. The team made the gold club from a craft stick and Q-tip stick. The golf ball is the fluff from the end of the Q-tip!

STEM Challenge: Build a tower, but it has to have a part that twirls! Take a look at this blog post for more about the great pencil challenges!

Pencils were used in so many ways in all of these challenges! They turned out to be a perfect building tool! Try it!

MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE CHALLENGES- Click below:


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