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2009 Educator of the Year – Paula Cirillo

Peach Hill Academy in Moorpark, California

A Forest of Magic Tree Houses

A carton of milk. A Quaker Oats container. Popsicle sticks. Youthful enthusiasm. A touch of inspiration. These building blocks came together as a point of departure into a classroom filled with Magic Tree Houses.

My goal for my students was to instill a desire for independent reading, increase their reading comprehension, and improve their writing skills. The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne would be at the core of all the cross-curricular lesson plans and activities focusing on California State Standards in reading and writing. My philosophy is that if students can recognize and make connections to good writing in what they read, then they are more likely to become better writers themselves.

Second graders love miniatures; thus the idea for the classroom collection of miniature tree houses. After reading Dinosaurs Before Dark, the students chose a book to read independently or with their parents. They designed and built their tree house around the theme of their particular book. My classroom exploded with pipe cleaner tree branches, construction paper greenery and a diverse Jack and Annie “clothing line.”

A sense of ownership and pride swelled as each student read their individual books and progressed through the hands-on reading and writing activities as they built their tree houses. For example, each tree house ladder displayed important vocabulary the student found in the book. Students placed various items, relevant to the story, in the tree trunk. After reading each book, the students completed a Magic Tree House Passport with information about each book.

The students had baskets to go with their book which held activities found on the Magic Tree House website. These baskets were also “treasure chests” of connections. For example, students brought in family photographs (text to self), Scholastic newspapers (text to world), and books from other authors (text to text). Magic had truly entered the classroom as students were making connections with their own life, world events, and other pieces of literature. They found a springboard to comprehension.

When the tree houses were finished my students became specialists of their Magic Tree House book in their own right. Entire classes were now visiting, being entertained and sharing in the connections my students made.

After reading Civil War on Sunday, we took a field trip to a Civil War Encampment which featured battle reenactments that thrilled the students. Another exciting day was a “Jack and Annie Day” where students dressed like Jack or Annie from their Magic Tree House. This was celebrated with our own Peach Hill librarian, who dressed as Morgan le Fay and presented each student with a Master Librarian card just like Jack and Annie received in Polar Bears Past Bedtime.

The Magic Tree House books have helped my students learn many interesting historical facts and have stimulated an insatiable appetite for reading. This is a year they will never forget ’ the year they traveled through our forest of Magic Tree Houses in Room 14 at Peach Hill Academy!