The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes– From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert

The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert

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The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert

 

Any time that parents and teachers can bring learning to life–really make it hands on and real–I think they should totally go for it.

And though years ago, the only way for students to step outside the classroom required an old yellow school bus, permission slips, and countless hours planning and organizing, things today are quite different.

Virtual field trips can happen with the click of a button.

Seriously? SO. Cool.

And this month, thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere, students can take a virtual field trip to learn how nature and water work with people.

April 8th. 12pm ET. (But if you missed it, NO WORRIES! The video is embedded below!)

You’re invited! You’re all invited.

Here’s the skinny. . .

The Nature Conservancy Virtual Field Trip and Learning Resources: Wild Biomes– From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert

For real.

Mark your calendars, share this post with your child’s teacher.

Forward this link to your school’s administration so that they can share the link with staff.

Wild Biomes–From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert is the latest in a series aimed to build students’ knowledge of and emotional connection to environmental issues that are at the heart of The Nature Conservancy’s mission.

Don’t remember what a ‘biome’ is? Don’t worry. It’s all good. A ‘biome’ is just an area of the planet that can be classified by the plants and animals that live there. Like for this virtual field trip, you’ll be looking at the rainy area of the Olympic Peninsula and the dry, desert landscape of Arizona.

Got it? Good!

Here are the details:

Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert

Who:  teachers, students, parents, anyone

What:virtual field trip!  Wild Biomes: From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert   hosted by Tyler DeWitt and featuring Kari Vigerstol, senior hydrologist on The Nature Conservancy’s Global Water team

Two wildly different ecosystems, both dependent on the same precious resource: water.  On this virtual field trip, we’ll first travel to the lush, rain-soaked splendor of the Olympic Peninsula and explore the urban watershed of Seattle.  The abundant rainfall here provides plenty of water, but keeping it clean and safe can be a challenge.  Next, we’ll head to Arizona’s dry, desert landscape and take a tour down the Verde River, one source of water that nourishes this parched land. Here, people and other living things must adapt to a limited water supply, yet sudden and violent storms can dump seven inches of rain in a single night! Tune in for our live Google hangout at 12pm ET on April 8, 2015, to find out how geography, people, and water interact in two of America’s ‘wildly’ unique biomes. (40 minutes)

Why: to show students that nature and water work with people

Where: whatever works for you

When: April 8, 2015 at 12 pm ET

How: sign up to take part in the virtual field trip herehttp://ow.ly/K9hIi

UPDATE: Below is the Wild Biomes Virtual Field Trip. Enjoy!

And more: Check out these supplementary resources to really hit the ball out of the park!

The Nature Conservancy provides tons of resources that bring learning to life.

And we can experience so many cool things thanks to Nature Works Everywhere.

 

The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert

 

I have been in awe of the work that The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere has been doing to bring learning to life.

In fact, the kids and I did a lot of exploring and watched two whole past field trips this weekend. You can find two of the past Virtual Field Trips here.

The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources:

Friends, we are so lucky.

Learning is so much different now, thanks to technology.

Learning is so much more fun now, thanks to technology.

Learning is so much cooler now, thanks to technology.

And thanks to great organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Nature Works Everywhere, we are doubly lucky because they make learning and resources hands-on, accessible, and meaningful.

Check it out!

The Nature Conservancy virtual field trip and learning resources: Wild Biomes-- From America's Rainforest to America's Desert

fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and We Are Teachers; as always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

st. patrick’s day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt

Even though our lives have changed quite a bit since I started this blog seven years ago, one thing has remained the same: we love to rock it out for holidays.

Even big kids like to rock it out for the holidays.

So this year, I decided to kick up our traditional St. Patty’s Day Scavenger Hunt just a wee bit. 

My kids are quick, and they’re smart. So our Scavenger Hunt needs to be tricky and engaging to keep them interested–or at least to stretch our hunt a bit past the usual two minutes.

And? They’ve been doing a whole lot of testing and teasing one another lately.

So I decided to really give my three little tricky, testy kids a run for their money this year with a St. Patrick’s Day Brain Teaser Scavenger Hunt.

That’s right.

We’re working their little brains and forcing them into a bit o’ collaborative work because these days, these three seem to need it.

Should be fun!

Here’s the skinny. . .

St. Patrick’s Day Brain Teaser Scavenger Hunt: 

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

This isn’t your traditional run-around-the-house-for-clues scavenger hunt. Rather, it’s a new-and-improved, use your noggin and work together scavenger hunt.

The great thing is that even if you haven’t done a lick to prepare anything for St. Patrick’s Day, you can print this out, add a bit o’ candy to the mix, and your kids will think you’re the bomb.

I printed out the cards onto white cardstock, but you don’t need to.

To prepare, all you need are the St. Patrick’s Day Brain Teaser Cards and some candy. Because really. Candy. 

I also glued the shamrock board onto a plain piece of paper for extra support. And I got a mix of gold-foiled candy– Rollos, Hershey’s Nuggets, Hershey’s Kisses with Almonds, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Mini.

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

 

 

If I would have planned better, I totally would have ordered chocolate gold coins. But, of course, I didn’t.

So.

Start by printing everything out, adding one piece of candy (for each child) to each square of the board, and then say this:

Okay, friends. Today is St. Patty’s Day, so like all little leprechauns, I know you want to do some hunting for your pot of gold. Except this year, your pot o’ gold is a little different. It’s right here. (Show them the board with candy on it.)

But in order to get each bit of ‘gold’, you have to work together. 

 

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

 

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

Start with this first card.  Put your brains to work, and when you figure out the answer–as a group–let me know. Every time you answer a riddle correctly, you earn the candy on that number.

Simple. So fun.

But the minute there’s an unkind word, snicker, or anything of the sort, the candy’s wiped away from whichever number you’re working on. 

Get it? Good.

Ready? Go!

That’s, at least, what I plan to do while the kids are enjoying Lucky Charms in green milk.

And we’ll see how it goes.

I anticipate that we’ll start it before school and it will be waiting for the kids when they return from school. 

Because I didn’t want them doing this all day long, I only made eight brain teaser cards with the idea that they’ll start working on it together and then if and when they get stuck on one, they can ‘pass’ and I’ll give them the next card–of course though they won’t collect that card’s candy.

If it takes a few days, it takes a few days. . .

st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt st. patrick's day BRAIN TEASER scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

st pattys day RIDDLE scavenger hunt

 

If you’d like to download the St. Patrick’s Day BRAIN TEASER Scavenger Hunt, here you are: st pattys day RIDDLE scavenger hunt

Please, if you choose to share this post (and we hope you do!), please share this link instead of the attachment page! Thank you!

 

The more that we can get our kids to use those brains, stretching the way they think about things and problem-solve, the better.

What are you doing for St. Patrick’s Day? Any last-minute fun things to add to our list?

 

 

How about some more fun St. Patty’s Day ideas? Check out: 

st. pattys day brain teaser scavenger hunt | teachmama.com

 

fyi: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Forever and always I recommend only products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  For more information, please see teachmama media, llc. disclosure policy

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

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Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

 

For the past two years, we’ve been invited to attend the Future City Competition here in DC.

Last year, only Maddy and I attended (It was the very same day our chicks hatched! Ahhhh, memories–), but this year, the whole family got in on the fun.

Future City is a middle school engineering competition; this year over 40,000 students from around the world competed. It’s really a super-cool event that I love attending with my kids.

And I’d love to see more families encouraging their schools to get involved because it’s easy for students of all backgrounds to participate in and the payoffs are huge.

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

We’re inspiring future engineers! Giving kids a chance to solve real-life engineering problems! Teamwork! Collaboration!

It’s all awesome.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Future City–Middle School Competition Inspires Future Engineers: 

My kids are not yet old enough to actually participate in the Future City Competiton, but that doesn’t matter.

I love bringing them to the event because they get to see first-hand what other kids, just a little bit older than they are, have worked so hard to create.

And they don’t only get to walk around passively; rather, spectators are encouraged to ask the groups questions, to interact with them, and to really learn a bit while there. I love it.

Check out a bit about Future City:

Here are some photos from our Future City adventure. Huge thanks to my three little photographers for taking such great pictures through the day!

 

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

Some Future City fun facts: 

  • More than 40,000 students from 1,350 middle schools are participating nationwide in the regional competitions.
  • Future City, a STEM program, is reaching girls and underserved students
    • 46% of participants are girls;
    • 33% of participating schools have 50% or more of their students enrolled in the reduced or free lunch program.
  • Future City is a program of DiscoverE, a consortium of professional and technical societies and major U.S. corporations.
  • Student teams, led by an educator and volunteer mentor, research and design a solution to a city-wide challenge that changes each year.

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

Each Future City team must do several things:

  1. design a virtual city using the latest SimCity software;
  2. write a 1,000 word essay outlining their solution to the given problem;
  3. create 500-word city narrative describing their city of the future;
  4. design a model of their city to scale with at least one-moving part, using mostly recycled materials and staying within a $100 budget,
  5. impress the judges in only 7 minutes by showcasing what they’ve learned and what their city is all about.

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers | teachmama.com

 

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers | teachmama.com

 

Everything you need is at your fingertips.

The Future City website has literally everything you need to start a project and a team right there.

If you’re a homeschooling family, a public school or private school family–it doesn’t matter.  If you’re a part of a nationally, regionally, or state-recognized youth-focused organization, like Boy or Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, or 4-H, you could form a team. I think it’d be a really cool focus for a group like this.

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers | teachmama.com

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers | teachmama.com

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers | teachmama.com

Future City: middle school competition inspires future engineers | teachmama.com

Guess what? This week is Engineers Week (February 22-28, 2015), so perhaps it’s a good time to explore the DiscoverE site.

And Girl Day is February 26th:

 

And if you miss these two events, no worries!

The DiscoverE site has Upcoming Events shared and updated regularly.  There’s probably something near you in the next few months.

 

Want a few at-home STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) ideas to try before you try Future City for yourself?  Check out: 

 

fyi: My friends at Blogalicious bLink and DiscoverE invited my family to attend Future City and share our experience. As always, my opinions and ideas are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime teachmama.com

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a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime  teachmama.com

 

We are so lucky now that our kids can literally have the world at their fingertips. With technology today and well-designed educational apps, kids can basically explore the world from the comfort of their own home.

Virtual travel is something that our family has enjoyed for years now–through food especially.

Recently we had a chance to do a little exploration of sorts–enjoying a meal at a nearby Belgian restaurant and then challenging ourselves to make the same recipe at home.

It was a blast.

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

And along the way, we researched and experimented and learned a ton.

Your at-home cultural adventure need not be focused on Belgian mussels; you can do whatever exploring suits your own family. But here’s how we did it.

And read on to find out how you can even win a chance at a $25,000 Trip of a Lifetime for your family.

Here’s the skinny. . .

Belgian Mussels With Kids–A Cultural Adventure at Home:

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

When we started brainstorming how we wanted to explore another culture at home, we started first by looking around us.

  • What ethnic restaurants were nearby?
  • Which cultures did we want to explore?
  • What foods did we want to try?
  • What could we do with little financial strain?
  • Which recipes could we then try at home?
  • What interested my kids most? 

We really didn’t have to look too far. With a top-rated Belgian restaurant named Mannekin-Pis within an hour’s driving distance, I knew we had a winner.

A little research into the background of the restaurant–and the reason for its name–was enough to get Maddy, Owen, and Cora more than interested.

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

I simply copied a bit of information about the real Mannekin-Pis in Brussels, Belgium, and I left it on the breakfast table.

And the minute the kids caught sight of the small boy statue, relieving himself into a fountain, they went nuts.

What the whaaaa?  Look at what that guy is doing!

He’s peeing in a fountain! Mom! Why’d you leave this here? 

Why is he in all those different costumes? Who’s dressing him up?

 

Then Maddy, Owen, and Cora read the articles, and they found some answers.

We talked a little about what they learned: who the statue was, some of the legends, where he was located, and why he was all dressed up.

I said, So we’re actually going to go to a restaurant not too far from us that is called Mannekin-Pis, and we’re going to try some new Belgian foods. How’s that sound?

They were psyched. Psyched.

At the restaurant, we explored a ton of new foods: traditional Belgian mussels, seafood stew, potato-leek soup, pork, trout, and of course, Belgian chocolates for dessert.

We were thrilled to try to replicate one of the recipes on our own, and we decided that the mussels would be the most fun to try.

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

Owen stepped up as the main chef for our mussels dinner. We searched and searched and found a recipe that most reminded us of the pot of mussels we had only a few nights before: Mussels in Saffron and White Wine Broth.

We made our shopping list, assembled our ingredients, and started cooking.

Our recipe had us trying saffron, a new-for-us spice, and preparing a food we had never previously attempted.

If you’d like to grab our recipe, you can download it here as a pdf: belgian mussels _ teachmama.com

belgian mussels with kids | teachmama.combelgian mussels _ teachmama.com

(If you choose to share the recipe–and we hope you do!–please link to this post instead of the attachment page! Thank you!)

Owen really took charge of this recipe. It was a riot.

He did everything from chopping the vegetables for the broth to cutting bread to cleaning the mussels, and he was uber proud when he finished.

 

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

The mussels were a complete success!

But even more important than making a new for us food was showing Maddy, Owen, and Cora that with a little bit of time, effort, and energy, they could bring a totally new culture to our very own home.

I love it when kids do some serious learning in the kitchen!

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

You could do just about anything like we did–experience a new food at a restaurant and then try to bring it home.

It’s a fantastic learning experience for the whole family.

And it doesn’t have to stop with food; consider learning a new culture through crafts, dances, songs, or language.

 

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

 

MWorld Educational App:

Or, if you’re not sure where to begin, know that bringing cool cultural experiences into our homes is easier than ever thanks to technology.

We’ve been playing with a new app for the past few weeks called MWorld.

mworld app

MWorld is an educational app that lets kids celebrate the world in all its glory.

The MWorld app allows users to explore, create their own worlds, and discover new and exciting adventures.

 

belgian mussels with kids: a cultural adventure at home & trip of a lifetime

mworld app collage | teachmama.com

 

Created by an incredible team of educators and developers from Monash University, this app packs an incredible amount of fun and creative learning into one platform. 

Maddy, Owen, and Cora are only just beginning to scratch the surface of all that MWorld has to offer. And they’re learning a ton and enjoying the ride.

It’s a must-see.

I have 100, 20-credit MWorld codes to give to 100 teachmama.com readers valued at over $25 each!

Here’s how:

  1. Head over to MWorld site, discoverMWorld.com, and create an account.
  2. Enter this special code: amymwjtujg
  3. Log into your account and redeem your 20 MWorld credits!

Please note:  This offer is only valid with purchase and can only be redeemed once per account. All MWorld purchases are subject to the terms and conditions available atdiscovermworld.com/terms-conditions.

Trip of a Lifetime: 

mworld trip of a lifetime | teachmama.com

Free codes for 100 teachmama.com readers? Really.

And a chance to win a Trip of a Lifetime? Yes. Really.

Do you want to go on the trip of a lifetime? To celebrate the global launch of MWorld, Monash is offering an adventurous family the opportunity to travel the world with a AUD $25,000 (over USD $20,000) travel voucher.

Head to the Trip of a Lifetime site to find out more and to share what you would do on your ‘trip of a lifetime’

Who knows? You may win your trip around the world, iPads, GoPros, and more!  If you win, let me know!!

 

 

fyi: This post is part of my work with the MWorld Trip of a Lifetime program.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my personal experience as a parent and educator–and, of course, my three little world travelers.

new years eve guess the word game

new years guess the word game teachmama.com

new years eve guess the word game

Much like our Christmas Guess the Word Game, the New Year’s Eve Guess the Word Game totally rocks.

Okay.

There you have it.

Plain and simple.

Rocks. 

The kids loved playing our holiday version on the way to see their Pennsylvania family this week, so I made another version.

Actually, I made both versions on the same day.

And actually, the kids helped brainstorm words for both.

So fun.

Here’s the skinny. .  .

  • New Year’s Eve Guess the Word Game:

The premise is the same for both games, and it’s super-simple.

One person holds up a card with a word on it and tries to guess what it is.

Easy.

new years eve guess the word game

new years eve guess the word game

Remember, though, that the card holder does not look at the word.

And everyone else gives one-word clues to help the person guess it.

We often play in a few variations:

  • the fewer words it takes to guess, the better;
  • the person who can guess the most words in row wins;
  • for a challenge: all of the clues must begin with the same letter; or
  • all of the clues must rhyme with the word on the card;
  • add a timer.

new years eve guess the word game

new years party word guess game

Want to download the cards?

The New Year’s Eve Guess the Word Game is here to download as a pdf if you’d like: new years party word guess game

The last page is blank so you can add your own!

(If you choose to share this post, super! Please just link to this post instead of the attachment page, though! Thank you!)

Keep it simple.

And have fun with it.

And if you change things up a bit, let me know!

Want a few more cool New Year’s Eve activities? 

 

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills

video game for improving decision-making skills @QuandaryGame | teachmama.com

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quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

I’m always on the hunt for worthwhile ways to sneak in some fun and learning into my kids’ days.

And though I’m super careful about screen time, I’m rather impressed with a game that I’ve recently been introduced to: Quandary.

Not surprisingly, my little game-testers were eager to try this digital game that is structured to develop ethical thinking skills.

It’s interesting. It’s different.

And it really gets kids thinking.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Quandary–Video Game for Improving Decision-Making Skills:

 I, too, was a little skeptical when it came to looking at this game.

I wondered, how on earth could a video game really deal with decision-making and critical thinking and ethical issues? 

But this one really, truly does.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

Fast facts:

  • Quandary is a game that provides learning experiences that let kids practice distinguishing the difference between facts and opinions.
  • It is a game that allows kids to explore decision-making.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

  • It’s a game that gives kids a chance to learn about a problem, hear situations from various community members’ perspective, reflect on those opinions, and then decide on the best possible solution.
  • It’s a game that aims to support not learning of new content but learning of new skills.
  • And it’s a game that provides a ton of discussion between adults and kids.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

 

Designed for players ages 8 and older, there is a lot of reading with Quandary, truth be told.

Players read the scenario first to understand the problem.  The layout is similar to a comic book or graphic novel, and many kids today are quite comfortable with this genre.

The cool thing, from a Reading Specialist’s perspective, is that when players click the text, the text is read aloud.  The combination of visual and audio reading is a huge support–even for older readers.

 

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

 

Owen, my forever gamer, was big into trying this game, so one evening he, Cora, and I sat down together to look at it.

It was a lot for Cora, who is 7 years old.  It was a lot for Owen, at 9 years old, but he was in the mood for a challenge and was really willing to read through each scenario and description and make the right decision.

The first time he played, we worked together to figure out the steps and try to earn points for organizing statements of fact, opinion, and solution. We talked about the best ways to organize characters into groups of people who would agree with our decision and those who would disagree.

 

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills | teachmama.com

 

My friends, Quandary is not a game to start at 8:30 pm on a school night. It’s a game to play when your brain is sharp and your kids are in the mood for a little brain challenge.

Overall, Owen liked that:

  • the levels were fun;
  • there were different episodes to choose from;
  • the game helped him with problem-solving skills.

Owen wishes that:

  • there were more episodes (currently there are 3);
  • that it might be a little easier–it could be hard for younger kids.

quandary: video game for improving decision-making skills

I liked that:

  • the game is free (yay! free is good!);
  • the game is totally different–a new and unique concept for kids;
  • the game is created to be used alongside kids–super starting point for discussion;
  • the game moved areas in the brain that are often dormant for kids.

The website covers a ton of FAQs for parents, and a very comprehensive FAQ section which I definitely had before exploring the platform. It’s also got a boatload of resources for teachers that would be super helpful for getting this game into the classroom. The possibilities are there, and I’d love to see this kind of discussion-based game be used more in that way.

Totally worth checking out. I’d love to hear what you think.

Think you’ll check it out? Let me know!

Have questions? Ask away! Or chat with the Quandary folks at @quandarygame on Twitter and or Quandary Facebook page.

 

fyi: This post reflects a collaboration with the Women Online and Quandary. All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three gamers.

understanding italics in fiction: text features and meaning

understanding italics in fiction: text features and meaning

post contains affiliate links

 

 

 

 

understanding italics in fiction: text features and meaning | teachmama.comI’ve always tried to make a big deal about certain text features when we see them in fiction that we’re reading, especially bold and italics.

I’m cool like that.

There’s something about bold and italics that make me feel like they give us a teeny glimpse into what the author really wants us to understand in the text.  Or maybe I just can hear the characters’ voices more clearly when I can see what they would be emphasizing during conversations.

Or maybe I just tend to use them a  lot so I’m happy when I see them on someone else’s page.

Whatever it is, Cora and I had an interesting conversation about italics last night before bed, and I thought it was worth sharing.

If we had this chat, certainly other parents are having the italics chat as well.

. .  . or maybe we’re just a strange family.

Either way, it’s worth taking a look at if you do any read-alouds with your readers at home.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Understanding Italics in Fiction–Text Features and Meaning:

Cora was reading a book to me when it all started.

It was a book from her Media Center that she picked up yesterday called The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches, by Alice Low, illustrated by Jane Manning. Very cute book geared toward readers in grades 2-4, about a little witch who is afraid of her two older, bossy and nasty sisters until she discovers her own magic one Halloween night.

understanding italics in fiction: text features and meaning

understanding italics in fiction: text features and meaning

 

Like I try to do during read-alouds, I let Cora’s first time reading through the italics and ignoring them go.

She didn’t alter the meaning of the text; she just ignored the text feature. It’s all good.

But when she finished the book and we were talking about it, I said, Man, I liked how fluently you read that story. You really do a good job of paying attention to the punctuation, especially when people are speaking. I showed her a few places where she did this, pointing out specific examples.

One thing I’d love for you to do next time you read it, though, is keep your eyes open for certain text features–like italics. I personally love italics and bold when I see it in books. Do you want to know why?

She nodded. understanding italics in fiction: text features and meaning

 

I like italics and bold because it kind of lets you know what the author wants the reader to emphasize.

Like here: (I flipped back to the beginning of the book.) I read, ‘Her oldest sister, Polly knew everything’.  See how ‘knew’ is in italics? The author wants us to say it with more emotion to make a point–that the oldest sister had a brain full of information.

Cora stopped me. She closed the book. 

Confidently, she declared: Well I don’t care about italics. The author is not the boss of me. 

 

understanding italics in fiction: text features and meaning

 

I honestly felt like I was in a bad sitcom.  I have not a clue where she ever heard that phrase, but not much surprises me from my tiniest.

Well that’s fine, I said. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to when it comes to reading. We really just want you to find good books that you enjoy and like reading. But the thing with italics and bold is–that they help ‘complete’ the story. Sure, you can read anything on the page–the words–and look at the illustrations–but if you ask me, text features like italics just take it a step further. They take the reading up a notch. Like beginners may just read the words, but experts may read it all–italics, bold, the whole thing. Because they want to get the whole picture. 

I showed her two other places in the text where the author used italics, focusing on the part when little witch Wendy was sad in her bed, hugging her broomstick. She says, ‘At least I have you. . . you give me a little witch power’.

We talked a bit about that statement and how it sounds different when a person reads it without emphasizing ‘you’ and with emphasizing ‘you’.

She wouldn’t budge. I didn’t convince her of the power of italics. . . but at least I got her thinking.  I hope.

 

Is this skill imperative for young readers’ understanding of a text? Must they be able to respond to every text feature they encounter in fiction or non-fiction texts?

Honestly, it’s not the hill I want to die on. (Notice deliberate use of italics, please.)

If kids are decoding the text in a book like this, and if they understand and appreciate the story, it’s all good. However, Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, grade 2 requires that students understand how text features are used in nonfiction (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.2.5).

And if you jump on over to the fiction side of CCSS, you’ll see that students need to acknowledge different points of view of characters which they can express by reading in a different voice for each character when reading aloud (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.6)–so this is where understanding the text features in order to best understand the characters would come into play. Or when ‘integrating knowledge and ideas’ students have to use information gained from illustrations or words in a text . . . in order to demonstrate understanding of characters, plot, or setting (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.7). So does this count as ‘information gained from words in a text’? Hmmmm. 

So there you have it. They’ve got to understand how text features like this are used, but if they choose not to read it that way, it’s their choice. Kids just have to show that they understand what’s going on. And clearly, my kiddo gets that the author isn’t the boss of her.

 

fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

brain teasers for kids

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.com

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.comWe’re longtime fans of brain teasers for kids over here, in any form, at any time.

We dig brain teasers at lunchtime, brain teasers in the kitchen, brain teasers for long road trips.

Maddy went through a riddle stage last year, when every other day she shared one of a handful of riddles, and ever since then, we’ve been hooked.

So I did a bit of poking around the ‘net this past summer in an attempt to nail down any and all freebie brain teasers for kids I could find.

I hit the jackpot in a big way.

They keep asking for more. Woot.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Brain Teasers for Kids: Really, there are about 8 million books and sites about brain teasers, but I wanted something that I could print and take places with me.

I wanted something that I could use as reading material at mealtime and entertainment on the soccer sidelines.

 

 

 

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.com

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.com

I stumbled across Squiggly’s Playhouse which has been around FORever and which is packed with tons of fun for kids.  

And I put the brain teasers on a happy little document and printed them out on fun and fancy, colorful cardstock.  Then I printed them out, cut them up, and threw them in a sandwich bag.

I take them just about anywhere and use them any time I want the kids to be unplugged. Any time I want them to use their brains.

 

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.com

I created two sets of Brain Teaser Cards:

If you use them, let me know! I’d love to hear it.

If you share them, please link to this blog post, and let me know! I’ll give you a shout out of thanks!

Both are created with thanks to Squiggly’s Playhouse.

 

I originally shared both sets via our Tabletop Surprises this summer, but (gulp!) we didn’t figure them all out.
Some are pretty tough!
Most recently, we’ve been using the brain teasers at breakfast. Though there was a time in our lives when I read the newspaper with the kids in the morning, now I’m doing the am scramble.

Before the kids wake up, I work for an hour or two in the morning or try to sneak in some exercise–so when I get them out of bed, I follow them back down stairs and make lunches. It’s fine. It’s working.

We chat, plan out the day, or, as mentioned here, work through some brain teasers.

 

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.com

brain teasers for kids | teachmama.com

 

I just talk through the news after school now, while we debrief about school and have a snack or two.

And these are a good way to get Maddy, Owen, and Cora to do some critical thinking and stretch their minds a bit. To think outside the box.

That’s it–try it for yourself and see how it goes!

Just a little, sneaky and fun, at-home learning in the every day, when we’re able. Not as easy as it once was when my loves were little, but we’re trying!

Do you have a favorite site or book for brain teasers? I’d love to hear it~

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

Dream Car of the Day: A unique Vine campaign celebrating the 90 finalists of the 8th Toyota Dream Car Art Contest

This post is brought to you by Toyota.

 

It’s no secret that most kids are highly influenced by their peers. dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

Too often, parents forget that their children’s classmates can be a totally positive ‘push’ for our kids.  Sometimes, our children aren’t even aware of what they can do until they see one of their peers do it.

My Maddy had no clue what her body could do on the diving board until she watched a teammate flip and turn, and then she was determined to do the same.

Owen was pushed harder to excel in soccer by playing a year above his age group for the last two years.

Cora never believed she could glide smoothly across the ice until she decided to do the same as her classmates in ice-skating class last year.

So when I heard about Toyota’s Dream Car of the Day, a Vine campaign celebrating the 90 finalists of the 8th Toyota Dream Car Art Campaign, I was eager to share them with my own kids.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Dream Car of the Day–A Cool Look at the Car of the Future: Really, the creativity, thought, and innovation behind some of these designs is crazy.

For the last eight years, Toyota Sales & Marketing Corporation has hosted the Toyota Dream Car Art Contest which allows children from all regions and cultures to share ideas about the future of mobility and how cars can make the world a better place.

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

Hundreds of thousands of children from across the globe have submitted original artworks depicting their “dream car”, but the coolest part of this contest, in my opinion, is what they’ve done for the 90 finalists.

This  year, Toyota is highlighting the contest online through a first-of-its-kind Vine campaign, Dream Car of the Day.

Each of the 90 children who have been selected as finalists have been spotlighted as the hero for a day, and their dreams will be made into reality for all to see through animation: 

To bring the artists’ imaginations to life, Toyota has partnered with creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon Tokyo for the Dream Car of the Day campaign to transform 2D drawings into 2D and 3D animations, capturing each dream car in action with a 6 second Vine video.


These videos, like the one above, are incredibly cool. The 90 finalists seriously must feel like superstars.

What is amazing is the work that went into animating these dream car designs so that the integrity of the masterpiece wasn’t compromised.   Honestly one of the coolest things ever. 

 

 

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

 

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

 

But it gets even more cool: the 31 best finalists have been sent on a 5 day trip to Japan for the awards ceremony, where they also receive the opportunity to tour the Toyota factory and experience Japanese culture. (How crazy is that??!)

The kids and their families are in Tokyo now and will gather to hear the winners announced this Tuesday (Wednesday in Japan). Curious to find out the winner? Check the Dream Car Twitter page for the big reveal!

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

 

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

 

Maddy, Owen, and Cora each sat mesmerized at the screen as they scrolled through the entries.

They. Are. Incredible.

Here are some of our favorites, though they are all cool:  

************************

************************
Personally, I’ll take the Multi-Tasking Fun Car, thankyouverymuch:

************************
And even though the contest is over, and they’re no longer accepting entries for this year’s contest, Maddy still felt the need to get her drawing and designing on.

She checked out dozens of cars on the Dream Car of the Day site, and then she grabbed some paper and some pencils. 

I’m pretty sure she’s counting down the days until the next Toyota Dream Car Art Contest. . .

 

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

dream car of the day: cool look at the car of the future

I have a feeling that it’s something she’ll be working on for a while. . .

. . . Japan, here we come! (We can dream, right?)

Want to stay on top of next year’s Dream Car Art Contest?  Entries open soon! Stay updated at Toyota Dream Car Art Contest.

 

I’m curious. What would your dream car have or do?

Mine? It’d have to be able to self-clean.  Man, does Vanny McVannerson get dirty quickly with three kids in and out all of the time!

 

fyi: This is a sponsored post. I was asked by Toyota to share information about the Dream Car of the Day, and I gladly did. As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator and by my three little dream-car designers.

let kids learn on their own time: tabletop surprises

let kids learn on their own time: #tabletopsurprises | teachmama.com

let kids learn on their own time tabletop surprises  teachmama.com

We just finished week number six of our ten week tabletop surprises — a simple but clever way we encourage our kids to learn on their own time.

Tabletop Surprises are just that: invitations to learn, play, create, invent, and think–on their own time. 

Little fun activities just waiting for someone to come along and try ‘em out.

Here’s what we did this week.  A little bit o’ math, a little bit of reading, a little bit of writing, and a bit of critical thinking.

Pretty fun.  But next week? Even better.

No kidding.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Let Kids Learn on Their Own Time–Tabletop Surprises:

 

monday:


magnets + pipe cleaners + paper clips + vases = FUN #tabletopsurprises #summer #familyfun #science #keepthembusy #momsofinstagram

 

 

tuesday:

my crew will love this one! ( and the parents win on Thursday night!) #kidsinthekitchen #cooking #foodiefamily #food #tabletopsurprises #summer

 

wednesday:

back by popular demand: brain teasers. want ‘em? head to the blog. click on #tabletopsurprises #summer #brainteasers #brainy #sofun #teachmama #printables #familyfun

 

thursday:

poem reading. poem writing. offline. online. #tabletopsurprises #summer #familyfun #writing #readingrocks

 

 

friday:

math challenge problemos about baseball and chocolate, thanks to @nctm #tabletopsurprises #summer #math #smart #familyfun

 

 

Check out all the fun we’re having this summer! 

Follow along on Instagram and leave YOUR user name in the comments so we can follow YOUR #tabletopsurprises adventures!

Want the skinny on #tabletopsurprises? Wonder what in the world I’m talking about?

Check it out:

tabletop surprise email promo 400 teachmama.com.png

 

fyi: #spon: I am in a partnership with Intel. Through this partnership I gain access to content, product, or other forms of value.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

Admittedly, we’re a little slow on the draw when it comes giving our kids the ‘go’ on most online activities.online virtual playground for animal and science fans cover.png

I’m over-cautious and because my living is made in the social media space, I know what’s out there. And I know there are way too many kids with way to much freedom online.

And sometimes that frightens me.

So when I find something that gives my kids a little sometimes-needed space, keeps them safe, engaged, and interested, and is fun? I’d say that ‘s a huge win for us.

I’ve recently found an online virtual playground of sorts for animal and science fans. For kids who dig the outdoors, for kids who love creating their own, customized spaces, for kids who love playing games and really love learning.

It’s called Animal Jam, and right now, my kids are loving it.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Online Virtual Playground for Animal and Science Fans:

Thanks to the great people of National Geographic for creating this online space for our kids with the goal of providing a fun, exciting, and safe environment for kids to play online.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

Really.

Apparently, it’s been around for a few years now, but we just discovered it.

It’s the only ‘online virtual playground’ I’ll let my kids hang out in, and here’s why I like it:

  • It’s fun.  It’s been the ‘go-to’ game for Owen and Cora for the last two months. They want to play because they enjoy the ever-changing platform and the challenges.
  • Kids have control. They can customize their characters, name and care for pets, complete missions, attend ‘parties’, buy things, and design anything from their hut to their outfit.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

 

  • Kids are learning.   They keep track of their adventures in their JourneyBooks, and they collect pictures for each place, a kind of chronicle of their history of the game.  When they click on a picture of an animal, plant, landform, you name it, a little bit of information comes up about that thing. It’s SO cool.
  • The Golden Rule is stressed often. Little reminders for kids about being nice and interacting kindly are prominent on the site and are shown regularly.  Nice Jammers trade, become ‘buddies’ and the idea of being a good ‘digital citizen’ is mentioned often.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

 

  • It’s safe.  I control the levels of ‘chat’ that my kids can engage in, and I have access to all account information. Safety tips are shared, just like the Golden Rule reminders.
  • There’s tons of follow-up and extension activities. I love the Animal Jam Academy, which offers free printables, experiments, activities, videos, and more.
  • It’s totally worth the money.  You can play free, but members have access to everything on the site–more than just anyone who drops in. I rarely buy these kinds of programs and platforms, but with the added bang for my buck in terms of science learning along the way, I think it’s a no-brainer.

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

online virtual playground for animal and science fans | teachmama.com

Is it perfect? Probably not. But for us, it works–and especially during the long summer months when kids start getting antsy and need something new, this can be it.

Reading, learning, planning, and thinking. Designing, questioning, and collecting. It’s cool.

Our kids are also loving using the  Acer C720P Chromebook for the game–it’s a touchscreen meets laptop, and it’s totally fab for little hands. 

 

fyi: Though I am a new member of the National Geographic Kids Insiders group, this is an unsponsored post. All opinions are my own, as always, influenced only by my experience as a parent and educator. 

fyi: I am in a partnership with Intel AIO . Through this partnership I gain access to content, product, or other forms of value. Affiliate links are used in this post.