The Huckabuck Family

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

The Huckabuck Family, by Carl Sandburg

I believe this book is taken from Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories. You can read tons of the stories online here. Read more about Carl Sandburg here.

I have a special part in my heart for David Small, the illustrator of this book. Small, who also wrote the excellent books Imogene’s Antlers and That Book Woman, is pretty amazing at writing books about folks who live around the time of the Great Depression and usually spend most of their days in a rural setting. He also had a pretty insane childhood, which you can read more about in his autobiographical graphic novel Stitches.


Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!



“Deep, deep thoughts.”

Today I was catching up on our Letters to Ms. Houghton, a weekly homework assignment that I stole from Mrs. Chan where my students write to me on Tuesday and then I write back.

Letters to Ms. Houghton

One student wrote, in response to my question of what teachers could do to become better at their jobs, that we should talk with our kids about their “deep, DEEP thoughts.” Rather sage advice from a well-spoken third grader.

I am fortunate enough to have learners who are willing and eager to tackle tough conversations that include their deep, deep thoughts. When I embarked on our first themed literature unit, I hoped we’d be able to just touch the surface of issues of civil rights and standing up for yourself. I had no clue that we’d be having discussions about

  • Why so much time passed between Lincoln and MLK — my students thought that they were contemporaries.
  • Why the North didn’t “need” slavery
  • Why it took so long for black public officials to be elected
  • How Chicano-Latino Americans and Asian Americans were being treated during all of this.
  • the Emmett Till murder and trial
  • the librarian of Basra, Iraq, shuttling 75% of the city’s library to safekeeping
  • Busing — When black kids wanted to go to traditionally white schools (circa Brown vs. Board of Education), did white kids want to come to black schools? (!!! X, thank you for your insight on this one!)
  • Who judges are, and what they do
  • How people of color were able to learn and be taken care of when they were sick if they weren’t allowed into certain schools and other public places. And then how black people became teachers and doctors if they couldn’t go to traditional colleges. (!!! This one blew my mind, my kids are SO SMART)
  • The role of power, money, and religion as being at the core of most conflicts.

My kids have been incredible. They are able to apply these questions to the text we’re reading and the activities we’re doing, so it’s not like we’re spending all our time going off on birdwalks. They are interested when we watch grown-up documentaries and talking-heavy historical footage.

They know that some parts of the past were awful, but they’ve been incredibly mature in not seeking out super-gory details. I firmly believe they understand that the intent of our work together is not merely to discover shocking facts, but to learn from our history and see how we can apply its lessons today.

There are a few more books we’ve related to our theme that I didn’t initially expect we’d use:

Rosa, by Nikki Giovanni

The Librarian of Basra, by Jeannette Winter

My kids also asked that I include this one, because Dan and Amy stand up for themselves even when other family members play dirty, and even when their own aunt gave up on them:

The Maze of Bones, by Rick Riordan

Who knows what else we’ll learn in the next week before the month is over! I can say that I’m definitely ready for something a little less heavy. So our theme for next month might be something along the lines of, “Curiosity leads to discovery.” Discussing inventors and scientists and nonfiction texts…


44 Presidents

In the 3rd grade social studies curriculum, we study our communities and the 50 states. We’ve also been talking about the presidents in our study of the book So You Want to be President. What a perfect time to introduce the 44 Presidents rap I discovered. I don’t know if it’s the original version Ron Clark used, but it’s pretty awesome and kind of ridiculous.

You can watch a video of it here:

And I made a Powerpoint of the lyrics so we can have them to reference as we practice.

44 Presidents



Not a Wish List

If you’re wondering how I prioritize the physical materials I’d like to have available in my classroom, you might be interested in checking this out.

This is my budget proposal to the district powers that be:

This is the accompanying justification:



New Books for our Classroom Library

I’ll admit that I’ve neglected our classroom library as I’ve been chipping away at all the books that need to be processed for the school bookroom. But the boxes of unused books are just killing me, and so I decided I’d spend a good chunk of time this weekend knocking some of these books out.

This is usually my home base when I process books. I use Toby’s iMac instead of my laptop because I scrunch over less. Plus, I can queue for random dungeons in World of Warcraft.

Stack of books and book pockets. And WOW hidden behind GoodReads.

I try to add books to our library as soon as I receive them, but lately we’ve added a ton of new books. You can see I also enjoy eating pizza and drinking fizzy water while I work.

Books from Wildwood, Mrs. Burn, and Ms. Willard

This doesn’t even really put a dent in all the books I need to go through. My parents are still sending me old books from my childhood.

OMG BOOKS!!! (and my math frameworks binders... I TOLD you I didn't lose them, Ms. Stock!)

After I’ve entered the books into LibraryThing, figured out their AR levels, and made sure they have book pockets and book cards, I set them out in the hallway to be whisked away to school.

Sound book to send back to the science center, books with no AR level, books that need AR tape.

I’m looking to go into Wildwood tomorrow to spruce up our classroom and get these books into book boxes so students can check them out first thing Tuesday morning.

Remember that tomorrow is really supposed to be a day “ON,” rather than a day off, so consider participating in a local service project. I’ll be serving in a public elementary school classroom, and you should totally join me! 🙂 Oh, speaking of public schools, did you notice the Glee folks thanked public school teachers in their acceptance speech?


So, You Want to Start a Math Team: Planning Ahead

Read other entries in this series here:

Part 1: Thinking it Through
Part 2: Planning Ahead

After much soul-searching and schedule-finagling, you’ve decided that a math team is in your future. Huzzah! Before you start bringing in the students, you’ll want to make sure you’re fast friends with your school’s office manager, who is usually in charge of updating the school’s event calendar. This will save you a ton of time because the front office will be able to field many parent questions without needing to contact you personally. I’ve laid out a plan of attack aligned with the school year so you don’t feel like everything needs to be done at once.

When should I start my math team?

You can start your team at any time during the year, but it helps if you start it after a schoolwide event like a concert or an open house. That way, you can have a math team sign up table where you can answer family questions and promote your awesome program!

School Year Guide to Math Team
This plan assumes you will start your math team meetings in mid-September. It can be modified to suit your needs. This plan also assumes your school is in Western Washington, and includes local and regional math competitions.

July / August

  • Reserve the classroom space for your team. Fill out necessary site paperwork.
  • Print up and fill out activity permission forms. You might want to add additional information to the standard permission slip — we add teacher’s name, grade, and e-mail address. When we had bus transportation available, we asked if students were bussers.
  • Ask your school’s webmaster to post a blurb about your school’s math team on the school website.
  • Give your school’s office manager a tentative calendar for math team meetings and events. If you don’t know the specific date of a competition, for example, make sure the event says “tentative weekend for Snowball Math Jam” or something similar.
  • Extra credit: Contact the school district’s public relations representative to see how you can get in touch with them if your students are doing something exciting or noteworthy.


  • Find out when your school’s open house or orientation nights are. Make a sweet Math Team sign (you might want to invest in a long-lasting vinyl one — these can be useful in helping parents find their students at a crowded math team competition), and have a table with information, permission slips, and a calendar of events.
  • Decide if you want to have a separate Math Team parent night to provide additional information. Ours wasn’t terribly well-attended, but it was helpful because then families couldn’t make excuses like, “Oh, I didn’t realize I needed to pick up my student…”
  • Speaking of which, talk with administration about what your school’s policy is when students’ rides don’t pick them up on time. If more than one person is in charge of your team, figure out a system for who will stay late with students.
  • Have your first Math Team meeting! Your first meeting will probably focus on expectations and include a math-y ice breaker.
  • If you’re a Title One school, contact the Title One coordinator to see if you can have snacks provided for your after school program.
  • Extra credit: Contact Blue Highway Games and plan a school game night. Talk with your PTA to see if part of the proceeds can go directly to math team.


  • Congratulate yourself on starting a math team!
  • Make sure you have all students’ information organized, probably in a binder.
  • Decide if you want to have an Excel document with students’ information. This can be helpful when it comes time to send home flyers, to see who’s been coming most often, and to figure out how many bus riders you have.
  • Extra credit: Design a sweet T-shirt. If you’re a uniform school, see if you can get the shirts approved as uniform.


  • Decide if you’re going to go to any winter competitions. If so, print up permission forms and field trip request forms. School administrators usually need to approve events 20 days prior.
  • Print up sample tests and other materials if you choose to compete this winter.
  • If your team is using merit badges, have a merit badge ceremony and consider displaying the badges publicly so other students might ask to get involved.


  • The Thomas Jefferson Winter Middle School math competition is usually the first or second week in December.
  • In 2010, Green Gables Elementary School had its first Snowball Math Jam for elementary schools in Federal Way. Keep your fingers crossed that it will happen again next year!
  • Consider an end-of-the-year celebration.
  • Have the principal read an announcement highlighting all the fun that’s been going on at math team, and encourage new students to sign up to join after winter break.


  • Organize any new student information.
  • Review expectations and possibly have another ice breaker at your first meeting of the year.
  • Print materials for Math is Cool competition. The old tests from Math is Cool are good preparation for pretty much any math competition.
  • The Mt. Rainier Math Invitational is usually the last week of the month.


  • Make sure you’re balancing out competition preparation with fun activities to keep students excited about math team!
  • Consider joining the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics. Their Teaching Children Mathematics publication has great activity ideas for math team.
  • If your school has 6th graders, the Math is Cool 6th Grade Championships are held in the middle of the month.
  • Extra credit: Find out when your school’s track team is planning on having practice. Some of your students may want to do both track and math team. How will you accommodate for that?


  • The Math is Cool 5th Grade Championships are held in the middle of the month.
  • Track teams often start practices this month.


  • If you’re in Federal Way, sign up for Wildwood’s spring math competition!
  • Join us the last Friday in April for our competition.
  • The Math is Cool 4th Grade Championships are held in the middle of this month. Decide if you want to send 3rd graders to this competition as well.
  • Several competitions are at the beginning of May, so you will probably want to print out permission slips for the May competitions this month.


  • Find out if your school has an end-of-the-year awards ceremony. Ask if math team can be included. If the office staff is in charge of making awards, make sure all members’ names are spelled correctly and that you’ve made your requests as clear as possible. Provide a sample award, if possible.
  • The Seahurst Elementary Math Bonanza is held in early May after school at Seahurst Elementary School in Burien.
  • The Middle School Math Olympiad is held in early May at Marvista Elementary School in Normandy Park.


  • Celebrate your students’ hard work! We’ve started a S’Mores party tradition, and we hand out paper plate awards for students who’ve been with us all year.
  • Make sure all your math team information is organized so you won’t need to hunt for materials in the fall.
  • Extra credit: Take a few minutes to reflect on what worked well this year and what you need to tweak for next year.

Hopefully this list is helpful rather than overwhelming. Many thanks to Tom Clymer, who has a bunch of great information on his Math Club’s page. Month icons from Trixinity.


Up North at the Cabin

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Up North at the Cabin, by Marsha Wilson Chall

This book is a featured text in Strategies that Work by Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey. There are several copies available for checkout in room 301 if you’d like to see detailed lesson plans around this book. If I’m feeling particularly energetic, I’ll see if I can copy the passage from Strategies that Work and add it to the book bag.

You can find a copy of this mentor text in the red “realistic fiction” bucket in the bookroom.

If you’re introducing your students to Caldecott winners, a good companion for this book might be Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, which is about a child’s summer in Maine. (read the New York Times’ obituary of McCloskey here)

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:


  • Make a picture or mental image. There’s a lesson plan on visualization included in the book bag. Please return it, as this is the master copy.
  • Compare and contrast within and between text. This would be a good time to introduce Time of Wonder, mentioned above. For contrast, you might want to try The Snowy Day, which takes place in an urban setting during the opposite season, and is perhaps a familiar text for students already.

Behaviors that Support Reading

  • Increase stamina. This book works fine when broken into chunks, so it would be a nice fit for a lesson at the beginning of the year (or right after a break!) when you need to shorten your whole group lessons.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!


Jalapeno Bagels

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Jalapeno Bagels. By Natasha Wing

You can find a copy of this book in the red Multicultural Fiction bucket in the bookroom.

No lesson plans are included with the book, but if you visit this site and click “Lesson Overview,” Kathryn Felten shares her ideas.

Learn more about the author at her Web site. You can even set up a Skype conversation with her!

If you’d like to see some vocabulary and comprehension PowerPoint presentations related to Jalapeno Bagels, check out this site.

If you’d like to study the vocabulary in this book, a virtual stack of flashcards is available here.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:


  • Use prior knowledge to connect with the text. I have decidedly mixed feelings about this book. I like that it highlights a multiracial family based on an actual family in California. But I don’t know how I feel about some pieces that could be seen as caricatures or stereotypes (Does the Dad really need to wear owlish glasses and have full facial hair?). Wildwood has a pretty significant Hispanic population. I think it’d be interesting to see how our students feel about the portrayal of the Mom. Are they pumped because a Mexican-American family is featured? Or do they find the depth of the characters lacking? What are their experiences?
  • Summarize text, include sequence of main events. This book is short and simple enough that it would be a good resource for a lesson explaining the differences between retelling and summarizing.

Expand Vocabulary

  • Use dictionaries, thesauruses and glossaries as tools. Jalapeno Bagels has a multilingual glossary in the back. Talk with students about the fact that fiction books that contain multicultural or international components often contain supplemental material in the back. This could be particularly useful for intermediate students who have gotten out of the habit of doing picture walks before reading.

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


Tomorrow’s Alphabet

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom, along with lesson plan suggestions.

Tomorrow’s Alphabet. By George Shannon, illustrated by Donald Crews

I yesterday e-mailed a list of environmentally-related texts in our bookroom, and I thought this mentor text would also fit into a theme of thinking about how today’s actions affect us tomorrow and in the future.

In Tomorrow’s Alphabet, A stands for Seed, B is for Eggs, and C is for Milk. What? Well, tomorrow, the seed will be an Apple, the eggs will be Birds, and the milk will be Cheese! How smart — you could use this text in so many ways! There are no lesson plans included with this mentor text, but there is a CAFE menu included in the bag, and it’s highlighted as follows.


  • Predict what will happen, use text to confirm. You can use a piece of paper to cover the righthand pages (I’d attach the paper with a paperclip or binder clip otherwise I think it’d be too much to juggle in a read aloud situation), or you could project the lefthand pages on the document camera. Students can guess what tomorrow’s word will be.
  • Determine and analyze author’s purpose and support with text.
  • Recognize and explain cause and effect relationships. I’ve been trying to figure out an uncomplicated way to explain cause and effect, and I think this just might do the trick!


  • Use the pictures… Do the words and pictures match?

Expand Vocabulary

  • Use prior knowledge and context to predict and confirm meaning. I’m thinking this will be particularly important on words like “embers” and “bud.” Speaking of “bud,” this might also be a good book to explain that challenging words aren’t necessarily the long ones.

If you’re following the units of study for the writer’s workshop, your students may have already been introduced to Crews’ work. Lucy Caulkins loves Donald Crews. I hadn’t heard of him prior to that, and my appreciation has grown rather slowly. It’s more of Toby’s style. His art is bright, bold, and accompanied by the Helvetica text that Mr. McKes adores.

If you’re interested in using more Donald Crews in your classroom, our bookroom has a big book copy of Freight Train. We also have three student copies of Freight Train, and three student copies of Truck. Both of those texts can be found in the blue bucket marked GR LB (where we keep wordless books and low-level books).

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!

P. S. We also have a book set by Donald Crews’ daughter, Nina. We have seven copies of Snowball, and they should be in the small office next to the bookroom. See me if you’d like the set.

P. P. S. I lost a little bit of respect for George Shannon when I discovered his entire Web site uses Comic Sans. Barf.


So, You Want to Start a Math Team?

Part 1: Thinking it Through

Congratulations! Thanks for being a teacher, family member, administrator, or volunteer who loves and values math! Copious amounts of research verify that our kids (and teachers!) need to change their attitudes toward math, particularly as they get older, and particularly if they’re female. An elementary school math team is a terrific venue for improving those perceptions, and they also foster teamwork and school pride.

Math Teams are fantastic for a billion reasons. Wildwood Elementary started its 3rd – 5th grade math team in the fall of 2008, and the amount the kids (and we adults!) have learned in three years is remarkable. In this series, I’ll detail some of the ideas and resources we found to be the most useful.

Before you get overwhelmed or get ahead of yourself (or both), ponder these logistical questions:

Who’s going to run this thing? If it’s you, sweet! You don’t need to have calculus under your belt in order to be an effective math team coach. If you want to help but you think you need someone else to take the lead, contact existing math teams at your district’s middle and high school levels. Often, coaches will have suggestions for you, or they might even volunteer to help you get started! Of course, your elementary school principal, math facilitator, or other interested teachers are great resources too. Personally, e-mail is the best way for a family member to reach out to me. If you’re more of a phone person, calling after school is best. Before school, my brain is filled with the day ahead of me.

Where can we meet? How often? If you haven’t already contacted an administrator or classroom teacher, talk with your school’s office manager about securing a space and a time. Wildwood meets on Tuesday afternoons for an hour after school. During competition season, we also have an optional Thursday practice. We started our practices in the library, but it wasn’t always available. Now, we meet in my classroom, but my students always grab a few extra chairs before the end of the day so everyone will have a seat for Math Team.

What paperwork do we need to fill out? For our math team, we needed to send out the district’s blanket Activity Permission Form. (we had to explain to a lot of families that it was just a generic form, as it included statements relinquishing liability for “bodily harm.” “Is this a contact sport?” one parent asked us) We had to fill out a facility use request for our meetings. We also needed to file field trip requests and collect permission slips for every competition, even if students were responsible for their transportation.

How many people do we anticipate? How many can we handle? We had a TON more people our first year than we anticipated. Part of that was because many parents believed Math Team was a tutoring assistance program rather than a challenging enrichment experience. Clarity in your initial conversations with interested families will help your program run smoothly regardless of the number of students. Our first year, we were able to handle 50 students with two teachers. We enlisted the help of high school math team members, and meetings this year seem significantly less draining.

What does transportation look like? When Wildwood had an after school program, we spoke with transportation, and on Tuesdays our Math Team kids were able to hop on the after school bus. Now that that program has been scaled back, we give our kids a carpool form at the beginning of the year to link kids who aren’t able to secure a ride with nearby teammates.

How will we reach all our eligible students? We translated our math team flyer into several languages and we had an information table open at Open House and at conferences. We talked with teachers about personally encouraging their exceptional students to join. I talked up math team in my daily class meetings.

How will we communicate with students and families? We send home flyers in students’ weekly Thursday folders. We use the district’s automated call-out system for reminder messages. Next year, we’re going to request families’ e-mails on our beginning-of-the-year permission slip.

Come back and visit us on Tuesday, and we’ll help you plan the year ahead of you. Be there or be the rectangle with the largest area!