Monday, January 16, 2017

Groundhog Day - Interview with a Groundhog -- Just how accurate are their predictions? Get the scoop!

A chat with one of  America’s best known rodents!

February 2nd is rolling around again and the Groundhog is getting ready to wake up and give us his yearly prediction on how much longer winter will last!   But why do Americans look to a Groundhog for such a special message? We went to the best source to find out -- a groundhog!


Forecast: To estimate something that will happen in the future.

Hibernate: When an animal spends the winter in a sleeping state so that they can conserve their energy.

Meteorologist: A scientist who studies the weather.

Predict: To estimate something that will happen in the future.

Prognosticate: To predict or forecast that an event will happen in the future.

Rodent: A group of mammals that are known for chewing and have big incisors. The rodent group includes rats, mice, squirrels and hamsters.

Q: Hello Mr. Groundhog! May I call you Mr. Groundhog?

A: Of course!  Although we do answer to many other names including woodchuck, groundpig, monax, Canada marmot and even whistlepig.  We are called whistle pigs because we sometimes make a whistling sound to warn other groundhogs of danger.

Q:So, how did you get the job of yearly weather predictor? You have to admit that most of our other weather forecasters are humans, not groundhogs.

A: This is true, but groundhogs like myself have been predicting when spring will arrive for hundreds of years.  In fact, groundhogs first started predicting the weather in Europe.
Germans who immigrated to the United States brought their tradition of watching groundhog behavior with them.

And England has a poem that says that if the sun comes out on February 2nd, there will be six more weeks of winter.   

Q: Just how do you predict whether we are going to get six more weeks of winter or an early spring?

A: It is quite simple!  I just walk outside of my burrow!  If it is a really sunny day, I will see my shadow and I will run back inside to hide.  That means we will all have six more weeks of winter.  If it is a cloudy day, I won’t see my shadow and I will stay outside.  This means that we will have an early spring!

Q: Why is Groundhog Day on February 2nd?

A: February 2nd is a perfect day to predict the change of seasons because it is the halfway point between the day winter starts on December 21st and the day that spring begins on March 20th.   
In fact, farmers from New England had a saying: “Groundhog day, half your hay!” meaning that you had better still have over half of your hay in the barn or you won’t have anything to feed your animals during the winter.

Q: You mentioned that there are other groundhogs like you that also predict when winter will come to an end?
A: I have many groundhog cousins around the country who predict the weather.  Our most famous cousin is a groundhog named
“Punxsutawney Phil” who predicts the weather in a small town in Pennsylvania.  The people of his town really celebrate Groundhog Day!  He even has an “Inner Circle” of humans who take care of him and dress up with top hats on  February 2nd.

Some of my other cousins are: Chattanooga Chuck in Tennessee, Jimmy the Groundhog in Wisconsin, Staten Island Charlotte (or sometimes Chuck) in New York and Nibbles in North Carolina.  

Q: If you don’t mind us asking, how often are your predictions correct?

A: It depends on who you ask.  I believe that I’m right 100% of the time!  The meteorologists with the United States government have a different way of figuring out whether the groundhog weather predictors get it right.  They compare our yearly forecast with whether the average temperatures for the months of February and March are above average or below average.   
Here’s a chart of what they thought of Punxsutawney Phil’s record for the last five years when they compare his forecast with the United States average temperatures.

Feb. Temp.
Mar. Temp
Mixed result
Mixed result

Q: And what is it that you do on the other 364 days of the year? Is it true that you hibernate in the winter?

A: Why yes, we are known for taking a long sleep during the winter.  Some of my cousins who live in northern areas with colder winters are known for sleeping in their burrows from October to March.  My cousins who live in southern areas with warmer winters may hibernate for less than three months.   

Q: Can you tell us more about your burrow?

A: We woodchucks are excellent diggers!  We create a tunnels in the dirt where we can stay warm.  We often line these tunnels with dried leaves.  We also definitely make certain that there are at least two ways out of our burrows.  We don’t want to be caught without a way to escape from a predator!

Q: And what’s a typical meal like for you?

A: In the summer, I love to eat green grasses and plants.  As you can see, I love eating clover as well as dandelions.  I also have been known to eat nuts and even insects.  

Q: Thanks for talking to us and good luck on February 2nd!

A: You’re welcome!  And for further information, check out these Web sources!

“Groundhog Day History” (
from  This site is the official one for Punxsutawney Phil’s fans.

Groundhog Day” ( from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).  

NOTE: I wrote this because my third grade son kept on asking me questions that I couldn't answer!  And there isn't really that much that is readable about Groundhog's Day on the Web.  The above links are the best two that I could find.  If you are a teacher or a parent who is homeschooling their family, I have a three-page activity worksheet that goes along with this groundhog interview.  It includes a cultural tie-in and even some science.  Take a look at it on my Teachers Pay Teachers Web store -- Interview with a Groundhog - Student Activity Worksheet

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year - Character education resolutions for students!

Happy 2017!  I have revised one of my favorite New Year´s Resolutions lesson plans that I first created way back in 2012.  It is called ¨My Best Year¨ and it gives students in grades 5 through 8 a chance to reflect upon 2016 and consider the person that they want to become in 2017.   It is available for download from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Promoting Literature in the Library with Shelf Talkers

My high school library is in a very modern and new building.  Most of our walls are made of glass.  The ones that aren't made of glass are made of exposed concrete.  It is gorgeous and also the students find it comfortable but I often have trouble figuring out ways to make the look a little less basic. I find it challenging to figure out ways to decorate that don't look out of place and actually harmonize with the space. 

This year,  I´m using these shelf talkers to give me and my students a chance to share book reviews with the students who walk around my library.  It is called TALKING SHELVES. They are easy to print out and use!  You can download them from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Salt to the Sea -- A Novel Study

Thirty-three years after the sinking of the Titanic, which claimed over 1,500 lives, came the loss of another passenger ship.  This one may have claimed over 9,000 lives.  Yet we never hear about this significant tragedy with its loss of life.

It was the Wilhelm Gustloff, which went down in the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945.  On board were German soldiers as well as civilians who were escaping from the Soviet Army as they marched across Lithuania and East Prussia.  

Ruta Sepetys has created a novel that will bring this event out of relative obscurity.  It is called Salt to the Sea.  In this novel, there are four main characters and their stories are told together in alternating short chapters.  Joana is a Lithuanian woman who has been trained as a nurse.  She has a family connection to the characters in Sepetys other historical fiction story, which is called Between Shades of Gray.  Florian is East Prussian and has been working as a apprentice to the art conservator in Konigsberg and is carrying something in his pack that he will not let out of his sight.  Emilia is a young Polish girl with a secret of her own.  And Alfred is a German youth who has been drafted very late in the war to serve as a sailor in the Kriegsmarine. He dreams of glory that is unlikely to come his way.  

This is such an important and interesting book and it deserves to be studied and enjoyed.  So I've created a novel study that might help teachers and homeschoolers to work with this book.  

Salt to the Sea - A novel study has a lot of content, including: 

-- A character tracker that invites students to reflect upon the three different types of literary conflict and potentially write an essay sharing their findings, 
-- An information skills lesson that helps students to identify an author's purpose in publishing Web information, 
-- Discussion or essay questions
-- And a comprehension quiz,

It also has a Google Earth Tour Builder lesson that brings to life the journey of these four characters.  You can access this Tour Builder for free. 

And because it is so much easier to teach something when students have a something to help them orient their learning, I have created a FREE Google Doc lesson with a location chart as well as an answer key. Feel free to view, make a copy, and use. 

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chronicling the end of World War II and a massive catastrophe that has been overlooked in history, this story follows four individuals and some of their companions as they band together in the hopes of surviving and reaching safety. Florian is a Prussian with a secret that he keeps in his pack, Joana is a Lithuanian girl who has become a nurse, Emilia is a Polish girl who is carrying secrets of her own and Alfred is a German sailor who has been drafted very late in the war.

I picked up this book after one of my students said that it made her cry and I decided that it was exactly what I needed to enjoy on a rainy day in May. It didn't disappoint. All the characters are real and you will feel for their struggles. The cover art of empty life preservers floating on a choppy sea makes you realize that many of them are likely doomed in some way or another.

In the end, it is a hopeful book that I was glad to have read.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Memory BookThe Memory Book by Lara Avery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Senior debater and valedictorian-to-be Sammie discovers that she has a rare genetic disease called Niemann-Pick and that she is likely to develop systems of dementia, mental retardation, seizures and --eventually-- death. This is completely against Sammie's plans of college at NYU after graduation and an eventual career as a lawyer. Even as she struggles against the diagnosis, she decides to create a memory book, which she writes for her future self as a way to relate what is important. She types the memory book onto a laptop and it becomes a diary of how the disease tries to break her and how she attempts to fight back.

In her corner, she has her mom and dad, three younger siblings, a childhood best friend who she has grown apart from in high school, and a crush that has recently returned to her small town in New Hampshire from New York City. She also has a poster of feminist icons in her room who she selects to help her focus on her goal of beating this disease.

The reader gets clues from her parents, local doctor and Mayo Clinic specialist on speakerphone that Sammie is not going to beat this and that at some point she is going to have to accept this as well.

By this time, I was expecting to go through the whole emotional process of Sammie turning into a drooling vegetable, stuck in a hospital bed by the end of the book. What I didn't expect was just how much Sammie would continue and how her personality would evolve throughout the book. Very occasionally, Sammie gives control of the keyboard over to another character so you get some outside perspective on her as well.

Readers who like very real stories about rare medical situations like Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell, None of the Aboveby Gregorio and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon will like this book. This book could easily be considered a downer and I could see readers shying away from it because it seems like it would be too sad. I think that this would be a mistake. The book has some really funny points and there's definitely some good romantic moments in it as well.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

These Shallow GravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I assumed the wrong thing from the cover of this book. I thought that it would be a modern mystery thriller with a main character unearthing dead bodies in the middle of the night. I was so wrong. It's a Victorian mystery thriller with a weathly female main character who unearths dead bodies in the middle of the night and also falls in love with an unsuitable boy who is not in her high society world and visits a lot of inappropriate places in New York City without her mother knowing.

Josephine is the girl and her father has recently been found dead from a gunshot wound. The family initially believes that he committed suicide but Jo soon learns the truth from a young medical student who works at the morgue and has started to learn forensic science. That might be the best part of the whole book; when he starts to describe bodies in the morgue using forensic science techniques.

Anyway, I love murder mysteries set in Victorian times and this one was fully entertaining, if pretty predictable. I think that fans of romance and historical fiction will like this one a great deal. I appreciated the fact that it had some gritty elements to it. There's even an insane asylum called "Darkbriar" because nothing is scarier than being locked up in an insane asylum when you are still in your right mind.

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