### Connecting Children With Nature: Learning About Trees

Our playground is surrounded by an abundance of beautiful trees, which always seem to captivate my very curious kindergartners. Who would have guessed that a group of five- and six-year-olds would find trees more intriguing than slides and swings? Read on as I share the lessons I created to capitalize on my students' natural enthusiasm for trees.

### October Read-Alouds: Literacy Fun With Pumpkins, Leaves, and Bats

Depending on where you live, you may have recently noticed a chill in the air, and the leaves may be turning from green to brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. While many of your students may be focusing on how much candy they will receive trick-or-treating at the end of month, here are three of my favorite read-aloud books with accompanying activities that won’t require a trip to the dentist.

### Beware of Bias -- Graphing With a Critical Eye

My students studied graphing during our first math unit this year. Graphing lends itself to get-to-know-you activities — students can survey each other to collect data — and it provides an entry point for students of all math abilities.

Once my students understood how graphs work and how to create accurate graphs, I started to wonder how I could up the ante. How could I promote critical thinking with this relatively straightforward math unit?

One of my students handed me the answer when he brought in a graph that he had clipped from the newspaper to add to our graph collection. As I looked over his graph, I thought, "Hey, wait a sec! This graph is downright misleading." As I pointed out the graph’s flaws to my students, their eyes widened at the idea that a newspaper might seek to mislead with a graph.

### The Challenge Based Classroom: Using Curriculum to Serve the Community

Last year I came to a crossroads in my teaching. During my annual review, I found myself agonizing over my goals for this upcoming school year. I was completely stuck. I browsed through our district's professional development opportunities with a sense of “been there, done that.” It surprised me that so early in my career I would feel this way. My classroom certainly kept me on my toes, but I was missing that spark that ignited my planning each year. An offer to explore curriculum development made me even more confused. Was I really ready to leave the classroom? I needed a teaching makeover!

As if on cue, two amazing things happened that would transform my teaching: the opportunity to be a teacher advisor here and the discovery of Apple’s Challenge Based Learning. The journey outside of my comfort zone had begun.

### Going Paperless in the Classroom

I am reluctant to guess how much paper waste we create in my classroom alone, but I know it's substantial. So I've set a goal of going paperless in my English class within two years. Read on to learn about why this is important — and why it will benefit my students — and how I intend to do it.

### Helping Students Develop a Lifelong Love of Reading

We all know that reading is one of the most important skills you can teach a child. It lays the foundation for a child’s success in school and in everyday life. For this reason, one of the most precious gifts we can give our students is a book. Books stir the senses, inspire imagination, and spark a love of reading that will last a lifetime. But how can a book compete in this new age of instant entertainment — with such things as television and video games? Read on as I share ideas to help your students develop a lifelong love of reading despite these distractions.

### Art and Poetry Through the Year: Notebooks and Keepsakes for Your Students

Students in 1st grade need to have many experiences in language arts to become independent readers and writers. Shared reading is a great way for students to “play” with language to become fluent readers. Fluency is further developed when children have ample opportunities to read text that is familiar and easy for them. In my class, we love to use poetry to build our fluency. Read on to find out more about our poetry notebooks and our yearlong poetry keepsake project.

### My Reflections on the Education Nation Teacher Town Hall

Every year just before our December vacation, my school’s entire faculty takes a celebratory “field trip” to Rockefeller Center. We skate around the iconic rink and then feast at a nearby restaurant. Over dinner, we discuss our successes and challenges from the first semester and our goals for the second semester. I always leave with a deep appreciation for my creative, dedicated colleagues and a renewed enthusiasm for our profession.

This past Sunday, I visited the Rockefeller Center skating rink for another gathering of passionate educators, this time foregoing ice skates and a winter coat. Instead, I joined several hundred teachers in a tent for NBC’s Teacher Town Hall, the kickoff event for their weeklong Education Nation initiative. So many interesting ideas were explored during the two-hour freewheeling conversation, and I left just as inspired as I am after my school's December outing. Read on for my thoughts on just a few of the ideas we covered.

### Motivating the Unmotivated: Tough Kid Tools That Really Work

At some point in your teaching career you will have a "tough kid" in your classroom. You may even have several at the same time. These students send you home exhausted, often in tears, and raise doubts about your career choice. The tough kid changes the dynamic and mood of the room in an instant, and you may find yourself wondering what to expect from minute to minute. The tough kid may come to you with a prior history, with warnings from your colleagues, and with a cornucopia of labels such as "at-risk," "difficult," "attention deficit disorded," or even "lazy." How do you deal with tough kids, and what can you do to restore order to your classroom? Read on for the top five ways to motivate the seemingly unmotivated.

### Five Tips for Creating the Problem-Free Group Project

Assigning group work can be very frustrating. Reflecting back on my first year, I'm amazed at how out-of-control and unorganized my group projects were. I'm sure when the principal walked by my room, my class looked very chaotic. My students didn't understand my directions, the target was not clear, my expectations were off, and I wasn't sure how to grade them. But I took good notes on what worked and what didn't, and I did better the next year.

Though issues will arise with group projects, I continue to do them because the benefits are so great. Group work provides another form of assessment and takes students to a higher level of thinking. Students also learn to work on a team, an ability they will need in today's world. I've learned so much about myself and my students since I began group work. In this post, I'll share some of these things, along with five tips for creating a problem-free group project.