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Teaching Cooperation with Semicolons, Cupcakes, and Cucumbers

Today I am sharing how I use this picture book - Semicolons, Cupcakes, and Cucumbers by Steve Newberry - to teach not only conventions, but cooperation too!

The Book




Semicolons, Cupcakes, and Cucumbers
Written and Illustrated by Steve Newberry

Grades  1 - 4
Age Range  5 - 10
Pages  48
Publisher  The Innovation Press
Copyright  2017

If I had to pick one word to describe this humorous picture book, that word would be FUN.  Semicolons, Cupcakes, and Cucumbers follows the witty conversations of several punctuation pals - Question Mark, Exclamation Point, Comma, and Period - as they quibble over what to do.  A new friend, Semicolon, comes on the scene and brings along some great ideas about how they can combine their strengths to come up with even better adventures!

At the start of each school year, nurturing relationships with my students and creating opportunities for my students to form trusting, purposeful relationships with one another is Priority One.  I sure didn't expect a book about punctuation to turn out to be a wonderful mentor text for discussing cooperation and other team-building skills... but this one is!

Enjoy this book trailer to get a sense of the tone!



The author includes several pages of "Learning Time" at the end of the book, detailing the job that each of these punctuation pals plays out in well-written prose.  



The Freebie



I plan on creating additional resources to go along with this soon, but in the meantime I am sharing a FREEBIE that is as simple as printing, laminating, and putting in a folder for your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th graders to use with a buddy in a literacy center.  Click here to download and use!

Students work in pairs to match punctuation - period, comma, exclamation point, question mark, and semicolon - with sentences that need them to be complete.  Once they've matched all of the cards, students record their corrected sentences on the included worksheet and check with the answer key (also included).  Easy peasy, but good practice!

Rishab Jain: One Young Scientist's Journey from Idea to Invention



If you read my post back in the spring about the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, you know what a fan I am of this fabulous opportunity for students in grades 5-8 to develop, refine, and share their inventions and innovations.  (You can still read that article about 10 Ways Adults Can Support Young Scientists by clicking HERE.)

In today's post, I'd like to tell you a little bit about one amazing student, Rishab Jain.  Once you hear about his exciting experiences on his way to become the 2018 Young Scientist Challenge winner, I suspect you'll be as much of a fan as I am!


Coming Up with Ideas to Benefit Our World

Like many middle schoolers, 13-year-old Rishab Jain has an active interest in STEM.  But this young scientist, a seventh grader at Stoller Middle School in Portland, Oregon, has taken his interest to the next level.   Demonstrating perseverance and creative innovation normally seen only in more experienced researchers and medical scientists much older than himself, Rishab began to explore and develop ways that artificial intelligence might be used in the medical field to help people enjoy longer, healthier lives.

Rishab set out to discover a way to bring our society closer to the elusive goal of curing cancer.  The young scientist investigated how one particularly lethal disease, pancreatic cancer, is currently treated through IGRT (Image-Guided Radiotherapy).  As he deepened his knowledge, Rishab identified a problem inherent in the current treatment delivery model:  radiotherapy is often made less effective due to a lack of precision in locating the pancreas.  (This lack of accuracy can be caused by a variety of factors, such as any amount of movement, the simple act of breathing, or even anatomical differences from patient to patient.)

Realizing that the solution to this problem would be to devise a tool that would help medical professionals more accurately pinpoint the location of the pancreas during radiotherapy, Rishab started brainstorming possible approaches.


Developing Beneficial Innovations and Inventions

Building on his ongoing fascination with how artificial intelligence could enhance medical technology, Rishab developed a tool called PCDLS (Pancreatic Cancer Deep Learning System).  PCDLS uses automated pancreatic segmentation to more precisely locate the pancreas.

Rishab then implemented several methods to collect and analyze data, proving that use of his PCDLS resulted in 98.4 percent accuracy in locating a patient's pancreas!

You can click here to view Rishab's entry video and to hear the young scientist describe his project in greater detail:


Participating in the Challenge

One day while watching YouTube, Rishab came across videos from the prior year's Young Scientist Challenge finalists.  As he watched them, he grew increasingly excited by the possibility of entering his own invention for consideration in the competition.

The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge website features past finalists' videos, in which the middle school students tell how they developed their original ideas to solve everyday problems.   (Click HERE for the Past Participants Video Archive.)


Entries were submitted from mid December 2017 through mid April of 2018.  From all of the entries, judges selected state merit winners and ten finalists in June.  Finalists had the summer months to hone their projects, which they presented during the final event at 3M headquarters this past October.

Developing and Refining through Mentorship

One of the aspects of the Young Scientists Challenge that excited Rishab the most was the prospect of having a 3M scientist mentor him.

Each of the ten finalists was paired with a scientist, and spent the summer months fine-tuning his or her invention under the tutelage of the mentor.  This mentorship provided invaluable guidance for the young scientists just starting out in their fields.

As Rishab wrote in his entry, "I hope to win the competition, as it will allow me to share my ideas with the world, innovate the future, and get mentorship to make my invention into a real product."


Rishab was matched with 3M Scientist Mentor Dr. Döne Demirgöz, and together they spent the next several months refining PCDLS.

Their hard work paid off.  On October 16, only one of the finalists won the title of America's Top Young Scientist:  Rishab Jain!


America's Top Young Scientist

In the future, Rishab would like to pursue an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and then complete medical school to become a doctor.   But in the meantime, this young scientist who has developed a significant improvement in the treatment of cancer needs to get back to his regular routine... finishing up seventh grade!

How to Improve Writing Fluency




There's nothing quite like a blank sheet of paper (or a blank computer screen) to get all of those internal anxiety buttons blinking and whirring.  When you add a timer or deadline, along with the stress of high-stakes testing, it's a perfect storm for the dreaded writer's block!

Today I am going to share a few practices I've found to be very effective in increasing my students' writing fluency while simultaneously decreasing their anxiety.

1.  Create a classroom culture that encourages risk-taking and celebrates mistakes as part of the learning process.

We have a poster up in our room that says, "Mistakes are proof that you are trying!"  We refer to it often, and I can honestly say that having this as a credo has made a significant impact on the likelihood that students will take risks.  We've come to view mistakes as a GOOD thing instead of something to dread, and this has helped take the sting out of those inevitable failures.

When students aren't quite as afraid of failure... when they feel comfortable taking risks... that blank page does not loom quite so scarily.  In a world that is safe for taking risks, the blank page becomes an opportunity for creativity, for communication, for experimentation.  This is exactly what I hope for my young writers, so we establish on the first day of school that mistakes are OK.

2.  Equip students with an idea journal.

"I don't know what to write about!"  We've all heard that one before!  The solution is to have students come up with their own topics long before they'll ever need them.

At the beginning of the year - or really, any time of year - I provide my students with graphic organizers that prompt them to think about topics they might want to write about one day.  If you click HERE, you'll find four of these graphic organizers for FREE!


3.  Emphasize the power of planning!

In our classroom, we follow the same RACEEE procedure with any writing across all subjects.  Do you use RACE?  It's a great way for students to plan their writing, which then makes the actual writing much less stressful.

First, we Restate the question or prompt.   Next we Answer the question or prompt; this step is quite often hand-in-hand with the restatement.   We substantiate our answer by Citing Evidence; this is not limited to text.  In math, for instance, our evidence may be the solution to a problem.  The other Es in our classroom are Explain and Elaborate; we also call this "frosting the cake."

Hedgehog Reader offers tips on how to prepare students to write quickly and well, without increasing their anxiety.

Thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you've found a tip or two to be helpful, and that you enjoy the free graphic organizers!