MEET THE 2019 EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
Catherine Fernandez Martell
4th grade Advanced Academics teacher
This is my tenth year teaching in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Throughout this time, I’ve taught third grade and fifth grade general education, and now I’m teaching fourth grade advanced academics. Although the grade, curriculum, and skill levels varied throughout my years of teaching, there’s one concept I’ve been dedicated to and that is, building avid readers through engaging learning. In doing so, I’ve striven to create a diverse classroom library to keep books readily available for independent reading time. I’ve also wanted to help my struggling readers get excited about reading. Five years ago, I had a middle of the night idea to develop a focus unit on learning about the Titanic. To do this, I spent personal funds on purchasing a classroom set of Magic Tree House Fact Tracker, The Titanic. I also created curriculum that compared the different passenger classes and their living/dining/entertainment conditions. It, also, introduced key crew members and various passengers. Students used critical thinking strategies to investigate the disaster and understand the causes and effects of decisions and outcomes, and mistakes and motivations of the people involved.
Seeing how enthusiastic the students were about this unit, I was moved to mimic the same thematic concept the next year, when teaching fifth grade. I wanted to kick off the year having students excited to come back to school; so, my initial classroom theme was decked out in pirates. I purchased a classroom set of Magic Tree House Fact Tracker, Pirates, and students read it to develop background knowledge before we plundered into reading the classic, Treasure Island, written by Robert Louis Stevenson. In developing the pirate unit, I created a comprehension booklet accompanying the nonfiction Pirates book and the fiction book, Treasure Island. When I switched to teaching fourth grade advanced academics, I continued my Pirates and Titanic units, and added technology to enhance student learning. Students used Fact Tracker, The Titanic, as a research resource in creating Google mind maps and Wixie passenger trading cards.
I also integrated Magic Treehouse into our social studies curriculum by purchasing a classroom set of Fact Tracker, American Revolution. We read this as a class to deepen our background knowledge of the Revolutionary War just before going on our field trip to Yorktown, Virginia. Likewise, in Science this year, I purchased a classroom set of Fact Tracker, Space, which we read just before exploring on our field trip to the Smithsonian’s Udvar Hazy Air and Space Center. Previously, when I taught third grade, I used the Magic Treehouse Fact Tracker, China, in teaching about ancient civilizations. When comparing my students’ data from the beginning of the year assessments to that collected throughout the year, I’ve noticed a significant growth in my students’ reading. I truly believe the increased enthusiasm for reading stemmed from the lessons in which I used Magic Tree House nonfiction books and having books from the Magic Tree House fiction collection available in my classroom library.