Thursday, August 18, 2016

Review: Our Chemical Hearts

Our Chemical Hearts Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**I received an ARC from NetGalley**
Book Talk:
Henry is a regular guy with *mostly* regular friends. Never really been in love, never really done anything extraordinary. Then Grace walks into his English classroom, and turns his life completely upside down. What is he to do with this strange, broken, beautiful girl?

My Thoughts:
I really liked this book for high school students. It examines the impact of death and grief on high school students,, and the process we all go through when we experience loss. There are themes here of friendship, loss, love, and strength. The characters were funny and endearing. In fact, the peripheral characters made the story (I heart Murray and La). I would definitely recommend this one to older students.

My Recommendation:
4/5 stars
Grades 9+ (language, mild adult situations)

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gut Check Part 2

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 2.58.58 PM.pngCourtesy of

A few weeks ago I listened to Cult of Pedagogy's podcast "Gut-Level Teacher Reflection" as I was walking my daily circuit around the neighborhood. I was so impacted I had to listen three times to the same podcast. I even tracked down the worksheets she mentioned because I was so excited about completing the reflection activity. I posted my response to her first gut-level question shortly after I listened to the podcast. Then life happened and I got busy with planning for the new school year. But here I am ready to continue working through the questions.

Question 2: Open up your plan book (or spreadsheet, or wherever you keep your lesson plans from the year) and just start browsing, paying attention to how you’re feeling as your eyes meet certain events. What days and weeks give you a lift when you see them, a feeling of pride or satisfaction? Which ones make you feel disappointed, irritated or embarrassed?

UGH. I have a terrible lesson planning system (something I have to work out for this upcoming year). I’ve been using Google Docs to type out my lessons, sometimes using a template, sometimes’s kind of all over the place. Filing them? Forget about it! There is no organization. So before I can even really dig into the actual gut-level question, I’m feeling frustrated because of my lack of organization. I’ll deal with this in a later post!

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 5.30.04 PM.png
Courtesy of
It's so hard for me to even judge my planning because I was so scattered in my last job. I taught so many different things for so many different grade levels (think 7th-12th grade).

Just thinking about the scope of that position makes my stomach hurt and my hands sweat. It was too much. Really. Too much. It makes me so glad for my new position that is only middle school!

If I had to pick the lesson that gives me the worst feeling thinking back over the year, it is a co-teaching experience I had with the 9th grade social studies teachers. The idea was that they would introduce a research tool (via me) with each unit, building on their knowledge and culminating in a project that required deep thought and intense research with the digital tools available from the library.

The topic was the Civil War, and for our first experience, we decided to introduce the Gale databases (Student Resources in Context, Opposing Viewpoints). All three history teachers brought their kids in at the same time for a mini-lesson on databases, followed by a scavenger hunt that had students using the databases to answer a series of questions related to a topic of their own choosing.

The Good
Collaborating with teachers is always good, and highlighting library resources is an awesome way to get kids in.

The Bad
60 kids is way too many to try and teach and then implement an activity. It was noisy, it was crowded, and I felt totally overwhelmed.

The Ugly
In theory my scavenger hunt was great. It got kids digging into the resources on a topic that interested them (abortion, legalizing marijuana, etc). In practice, the activity didn’t connect directly to their project. They couldn’t make the jump to the Civil War information when they finished the scavenger hunt. They were confused, I was frustrated, and it was just...bad.

Stunning Success
My very favorite lesson to teach is search strategies. I have a unit that I have cobbled together from Common Sense Media as well as my own thoughts and ideas. We start out with a slide presentation of search strategies, stopping at each one to try them out. I have a whole schtick I use that keeps them laughing. For example, I tell them we need to research a particular fish called a mullet. I have them do a Google Images search, and you can just imagine what pops up.
Courtesy of
I give them time to laugh and point out their favorites, and then we move on to a discussion about limiting results through AND, OR, NOT, as well as quotation marks and the - sign.

Then we move on to a research project where students have to plan a picnic for our class using a set of parameters (public park, space for games, pavilion, restrooms, etc). They use
A yearly favorite, Central Park, NYC
their Google search strategies to locate their park, taking notes on their process. Then they use Google Earth to create a walking tour of their park.

It’s a hit every year, and I am always pleased with the results. It works because the kids are working together on a project that is “real”, and they are able to be hands on the entire time.

So there’s my response to gut check question #2. What about you? What is your best lesson from this past year? Your biggest flop?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: Fear the Drowning Deep

Fear the Drowning Deep Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sea monsters, fairies (aka Little Fellas), and a horse-dolphin-boy thing all meet up in this strange romp of a fantasy/romance/mystery. Bridey is the main character, and her quiet life on the Isle of Man is turned upside down when she discovers a body on the beach. Then more girls disappear, and the entire town of Port Coire turns on the "comeover" Fynn, who washed up mysteriously on the beach. Can Bridey stop the murders and save her town?

My Thoughts:
This is a strange and unique book. I was hooked by the setting, the language, and the characters. The story line, on the other hand, felt forced to me. It was like three sets of Transformers suddenly meeting in the ocean. I don't know, it just felt fake. I also felt like the relationship between Bridey and Morag and then the romance between she and Fynn just happened too quickly to make sense. Still, it was a fast and interesting read.

My Recommendation:
3.5/5 stars
Grades 8+ (some language, mild adult situations)

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Summer Library Hours

Today I was able to participate in open library hours for my middle schoolers at my brand new job. I wasn't sure what to expect, because the last 2 attempts in June and July fell flat. But this time we sent out email reminders, and boy did that work! I wound up with 20 kids (not counting parents), and it was as zoo. A wonderful, crazy, loud, fun ZOO. I discovered that I LOVE fifth grade (a group I never worked with before), and I remembered why I took this job. I am so excited about being smack dab in the middle of middle school again.

I set up four stations:

1) Arts/crafts: adult coloring books, giant dry erase coloring page, blank bookmarks, play dough, markers, crayons, colored pencils

2) K'nex

3) Games (Scrabble, Upwords, cards, Life)

4) Puzzles

I even had some parents get in on the action!

In fact, I think this was my favorite part. I had one family of four kids and a mom, and the mom sat down with her four kiddos and worked on a puzzle from start to finish. No screen time, no technology, just family time doing something meaningful. Isn't that what we are all about, anyway?

I discovered that I really don't need anything high tech or fancy. Just some space for kids to hang out, some creative outlets, and BOOKS! Oh, and food...please don't forget the food!

What are your tips for a successful summer program?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Gut-Level Teacher Reflection Part I

I am an avid follower of The Cult of Pedagogy podcast, published by Jennifer Gonzales. It is an excellent resource for all things teaching. But a few weeks ago, she put out an episode that literally blew me away. She called it, "Gut-Level Teacher Reflection." In the podcast, she goes over 5 tough reflection questions that really tap into your emotional responses to your teaching, in an effort to dig in to what is really going on in your classroom. I actually listened to the podcast three separate times, it was so thought-provoking for me.

The reflection questions are intense, so I am going to answer them in a series of five different blog posts. I will try to be brutally honest so that I can uncover my own truths about my teaching practice. 

1. Look around your classroom (or picture it in your mind). What parts of the room make you feel tense, anxious, or exhausted? What parts make you feel calm, happy, or proud?

This is super-tough for me, because I'm leaving my classroom for a new one. So I have lots of emotional triggers when picturing the library. You can enter the library from two different hallways, one on each side of the space. That main entryway makes me feel very tense and unsettled. This is because it acts as a hallway for lots of kids after every class period. Because two schools with different schedules use the space, it meant lots of noise during my instructional time. So as I stand there in my mind, I see a worn out carpet, an overused copy machine and printer, and doorways into other people's spaces (which also brings me tension, although it's not their fault. It was an awkward "marriage" when the technology department was moved smack dab into the library, taking the two office spaces. I just never knew how to really feel about that situation).

If I move out of that entryway, I enter my new fiction reading space, and I immediately feel calm and at peace. This is a space I put together right before the end of the year, and am extremely happy with it. I have comfortable chairs, mood lighting, cute pillows, and the entire area is surrounded by books. It's somewhat closed off from the entryway, so it is almost it's own space. I have a lot of pride in this little reading nook.

Moving further back, I run into the newly created office space for our instructional coach, tables for the new study hall, and my circulation desk. This area makes me feel guilty. I didn't know when we started making those plans that I would be leaving, and so I feel like I let down my colleagues who were invested in that space. I also have some tension because the circulation desk was an area of great stress for me. Without an aide, I was constantly being "paged" back to the desk to answer phones, check out books, process new orders, etc. Even imagining it right now, I feel my blood pressure rising and my breathing getting shallower. 

If I keep moving around the room, I wind up in the middle school instructional space. This makes me feel excitement, contentment, fatigue, and purpose. This is where I would hold my bimonthly middle school library lessons, and it holds my favorite memories at this job. I can just picture laughing with my kids, painting book ends, working on research projects, and learning. There's nothing fancy about this space at all, but it's what happened IN the space that makes it truly special for me.

Looking at the center of the room, I see the bank of 40 computers. I have mixed feelings about this space. It was the area in the library most coveted by teachers (not enough technology in the buildings=making use of these 40 computers as much as possible). It meant cramming in as many classes as possible, which sometimes went well and sometimes went badly. But I also have memories of helping out kids, looking over their shoulders and offering advice. I have a lot of peace about that role of my last position. I loved hanging out with kids in those times.

So what patterns am I seeing in this reflection?

1. I need/want interaction with kids, particularly at the middle school level. This is where I have the most positive emotional response in my library, my middle school instructional space. Teaching is vital to my sense of purpose and fulfillment. 

2. I do not like chaos and unstructured time. It makes me feel lost and out of sorts. I think much of this will be alleviated in my new setting, where I will be working with one schedule and younger students.

3. Relationships are very important to me. I will do pretty much anything to protect the people around me from discomfort, even if it means hurting myself. The shared technology/library space is a prime example. It hurt me deeply that a significant move like taking office space from the library happened without letting me know. Rather than being honest with those involved, I hid my feelings and suffered with some pretty serious frustration that eventually turned into bitterness. This is key for me, and I am reading and learning about honesty, setting boundaries, and self-care.

What do you all think? Would you share your gut-level reaction to a walk-through of your classroom? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Lizzie Lovett leads a picture perfect life. She has friends, a great job, and a handsome emo boyfriend who adores her. And Hawthorn hates her for it, because she wants what Lizzie Lovett has...until Lizzie winds up missing. Hawthorn decides to investigate, and winds up on a crazy adventure where she learns that not everything is at it seems.

My Thoughts:
I am so surprised by the number of five star reviews. This was NOT that good. It was entertaining and a very fast read, but weak compared to other YA novels out there. Hawthorn is a whiny, self-centered character who I just wanted to shake and tell to grow up. Lizzie's boyfriend is also whiny and pathetic. The only characters I cared about were small ones, like best friend Emily who stands up to Hawthorn, and Rush, the brother who tries to protect his sister. Oh, and the hippies. I do like the hippies. Still, a very uneven novel.

My Recommendation:
2.5/5 stars
Grades 8+ (mild adult situations, language)

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

How to Get the Most Out of EdCamp

Image Courtesy of EdCampHershey
This week I got to attend my very first EdCamp, @EdcampHershey. What an awesome experience!  I got to hang out with old friends, meet some new peeps, and even connect with some members of my PLN that, until now, I only knew virtually.  Now that I've had a few days to really reflect on my time there, I put together some tips to help you get the most out of your next EdCamp.

1. Get outside your comfort zone and strike up conversations with anyone nearby. This is so very hard for me, because although I can be friendly, I am at heart an introvert. So I had to make a very deliberate attempt to reach out to those around me. And I am so glad I did! I met a super-cool 4th grade teacher who is doing awesome things in his classroom. I connected with a tech coach who introduced me to a brand new tech tool that I am hoping will drive my instruction next year. And I figured out some new strategies for using Twitter with my students.

2. Come prepared with charged up devices AND paper and pencil. I had a laptop with me, and used it to look up apps and programs as they were mentioned in sessions. But we didn't have access to outlets and it died on me halfway through the day. Bring a backup power source or a second device just in case. I also forgot to bring a notebook, so when my laptop died, I didn't have a way to track notes or strategies. Something else that I need to work out for myself is that I have a hard time multitasking. When I was on my laptop I was easily distracted and found myself missing info. In the future, I think a notebook will be my primary data collection tool, then I will scan those for future searching and tagging. I will keep my phone nearby for times that I want to check a link, etc., but I want more of my attention on the discussion and less on the technology.

3. Share out your learning. I have really come to rely on Twitter as my PD "go to." I am working on a separate post about Twitter for teachers, but in short, it is a very quick way to connect with like-minded educators. As you go through your EdCamp experience, Tweet out (or pin, or post on Instagram/Facebook/SnapChat/your social media poison) powerful quotes from facilitators and colleagues. Share apps that you find interesting. Post links to podcasts that you hear about in a session. Just be an active link in the chain of information-sharing.

So what did I learn at my first EdCamp? Here are some resources I want to share:

  • SeeSaw. Never heard of it until @kickkrowley shared it in a session. Will be using it next year to track student progress towards library standards, and to keep data for student learning. 
  • Twitter for students. Been sitting on this one for a long time, but I think I have a plan, thanks to @lisa_hollenbach. I will be assigning a "Tweeter of the Week" for each class, and they will be tweeting out updates from our library time.
  • National Blogging Collaborative  ( A free mentor to help me be a better blogger in the education community? Yes please.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of EdCamp? Please share!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review: Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was Here Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
"If a human being closes her eyes hard and long enough, she can remember all the times she has made a choice in her life just for her own sake. And realize, perhaps, that it has never happened. If a human being closes her eyes she can remember all the choices in her life. And realize they have all been for the sake of someone else. It's early morning in Borg, but the dawn seems to be holding off. As if it wants to give her some time to raise her hand. Make up her mind. And jump."

Britt-Marie doesn't want to start over. She is perfectly happy with her daily routine of cleaning, and cooking, and doing the laundry. Even when she discovers that the laundry she is doing smells like another woman's perfume. She doesn't really want to start over. But she is faced with an impending divorce, and Britt-Marie finds herself at the unemployment office looking for work. And the only place that is hiring someone like Britt-Marie is the dying town of Borg. Except when she gets there, she finds there's some life there, after all.

My Thoughts:
I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book. It was precious, and funny, and sad, and endearing. In the first few pages I was not sure HOW to take Britt-Marie, but by the end I loved her dearly. This is usually not my genre to choose to read, but I am so very glad I did. This will go down as one of my all-time favorites.

My Recommendation:
5/5 (or more)
Grades 8+ (language)

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: Under the Harrow

Under the Harrow Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk: Nora is excited to spend the weekend with her sister Rachel and to do the things they always do together: drinking, eating out, and hooking up with guys. Except when Nora's train pulls into the station, Rachel isn't there. Nora walks into Rachel's apartment to find that she (and her dog) have been brutally murdered. She must now unravel the mystery of her sister's death, and in so doing, uncovers secret parts of Rachel's life.

My Thoughts: One of the reviewers on the book cover compared this novel to Broadchurch. As a huge fan of the BBC show, I was immediately hooked. Unfortunately, this was a far cry from the amazingness that is Broadchurch. Yes, it happens in Great Britain. Yes, there is a murder that has to be solved. That's where the comparison ends. I just could not follow this story line, there were too many characters. And because I was reading a paper book and not on my Kindle, I couldn't stop and look up all of the British references that don't make sense to my American mind. I felt lost throughout the story, and was just really disappointed by the ending.

My Recommendation: 2.5/5 stars, Grades 10+ (brief adult situation, language)

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Saying Goodbye

Dear Incoming Librarian,

I am handing the reigns of this place over to you. As my library hero librariantiff says:

"I’m going to go ahead and apologize now — there will be things in this library that make you wonder about me. You’ll wonder WHAT I was thinking, why did I decide to do this that way, why didn’t I make such and such a bigger priority" (para. 2).

And as librariantiff says:

"Just know that everything I’ve done here, every choice I made, was driven by a desire to make this space the best possible environment for my students and teachers...I’ve always wanted it to be about the kids" (para. 2).

That's the essence of everything I did during my tenure at Etown: it was all about the kids. My driving force was creating a 21st century space that appealed to both middle and high school students, that was functional, and that worked in the constraints of one person serving two schools without assistance.

So be gentle with me as you look around the space (and especially as you work through the office, **shudder**). This place was my home for three years. It has so many lessons with middle school students, pizza parties with my newspaper kids, hanging out with my colleagues. I didn't know ANYTHING about being a librarian when I started out here in 2012. It was my first library position, and I truly had no idea what I was doing when I started. Over the years I figured out how to make it work, but my "system" will probably seem odd to a newcomer. That's ok,  you'll have to adjust it and make it work for you. 

Please humor me as I leave you with some tips for getting started:

1) Get to know the kids as fast as you can. Yes, the fact that the library is a hallway, and 200 kids will walk through it 5 times a day, is overwhelming and frustrating. You can't fix it, but you CAN use it as a time to high-five students as they walk by. Give a hug to a kid who looks like they are having a bad day. Give the "look" to the one who wears his hat EVERY DAY, no matter what you say to him. 

2) Connect to your co-workers. Fast. They are your life-line and your support. There are some nearby who will literally carry you across the finish line on those really tough days. You'll have to figure out for yourself who you can rely on. There are a few "mean girls" (and boys). Kill 'em with kindness. Let them only see you smiling, and don't get caught up in the negativity. There is SO MUCH GOOD in that place, focus on it. 

3) Make friends with the custodial staff and the tech people. They are amazing resources, and will go out of their way to make your life better. Chocolate goes a long way in making friends...

4) Set some boundaries. This is really hard for me, as I throw my heart and soul into my work. Choose a few committees to serve on that you are passionate about, and say no to the rest. Prioritize a few things a day, and work hard to accomplish them. Create your schedule, your rules and procedures, and stick to them. It is SO HARD to say no when that co-worker looks at you with those big sad eyes, but trust have to do it. If you don't, you are shortchanging other colleagues who followed the procedures and hurting relationships.

Lastly, give yourself time to adjust to a new situation. I learned the hard way that people don't like change. Don't go in with both guns blazing and expect people to be happy about it. Tread gently, trust the system, make changes slowly. I say this as much to myself as to you, as I am also going into a new situation. 

I truly wish you the very best as you start your new position in this library. It is a wonderful, magical place. I hope you love it as much as I did.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Aimee has everything she wants...a handsome husband, a job she loves, and a future that she has been dreaming about her whole life. In an instant, it is all taken away when her fiance is killed on a business trip just days before her wedding. Aimee believes her life is over as she buries the love of her life on the day she was supposed to marry him. But when a stranger approaches her at the funeral with a message, Aimee begins to hope that maybe James isn't dead after all...

My Thoughts:
This is a quick beach-read kind of book. I definitely got hooked in fast and wanted to get to the end. It was kind of a cheap thrills sort of book, but awesome for a summer holiday weekend (which is when I read it).

My Rating:
3.5/5 stars
Would not put this on HS library shelf (language, adult situations)

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am always a sucker for a book about cults. I don't know why, I can't really explain it. I'm not sure Papa's family could be considered a true "cult", but it's got the same feeling.

I was totally engrossed in this book. I loved reading about the tiny town in Alaska (McCarthy). I actually went and found YouTube videos just so I could get a picture in my head about the context (, if anyone is interested). I also found a clip of the Hales and the Buckinghams singing together (

I will warn readers that some of the content in the book is dark and very sad. If you followed the court case on television, you already know what to expect.

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Review: Not Alone

Not Alone Not Alone by Craig A. Falconer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am so disappointed in this book! I read the reviews and everyone raved about it, but most of the book was just setting up the context. There was so little action, I literally had to skim pages and pages of boring dialogue. Ugh, now I have to go find something more interesting to read!

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: The Crew

The Crew The Crew by Joseph Kessel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really interesting look at war, relationships, and friendships. I read this after finishing an account of the Mary Celeste, and was looking for another "Ghost Ship" sort of thing. This was very different, but also very good.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring

Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I decided to read this book after getting hooked on AMC's new show "Turn" (based on this book). In all honesty, I would have been pretty lost if I didn't have the show to lean on. There are SO MANY CHARACTERS in this book. I was able to keep up because of the show, but the show is just very loosely based on the book.

Fun history, but I am going to look around for something a little easier to read.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review: Every Day

Every Day Every Day by David Levithan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine waking up every day in a different body. Your mind is still yours, but that's it. No connections to others, no real family, no choice. This is A's life in a nutshell. Until A meets Rhiannon, and life turns upside down.

This is such an interesting book. I read it as part of our middle school book club, and I have to say that some of the themes are pretty heavy for middle school students. Some of the situations A faces include: self-harm, abuse, bullying, drug use, homosexuality, transgenderism, and racism.

The book lends itself to lots of rich discussion, and I found myself really questioning some basic beliefs. What makes us female or male, truly? Is it our physicality? Is it mental? Emotional? If the physical were stripped away, then what? Can you love someone's essence, or self, without considering the exterior wrapping?

Definitely a "thinking" book, one that will stay with me for a long time.

Grades 9+

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Friday, April 15, 2016

"But No One Will Ever Read This!": Importance of a Real Audience

Today I was helping out a teacher with a lesson (9th grade). My role was to provide the initial research instruction and then support as students needed assistance looking up topics online and in the reference books.

As I was walking around the room, one of the students stopped me to ask about copying and pasting a page of information from a Website into his Prezi.

"Can I just copy and paste this whole thing onto a slide?"

Well, no. I told him he can put it in his own words and cite, or do a few direct quotes and cite. But no, you cannot just copy and paste an entire page and call it a day.

"Why not? No one's gonna see this thing anyway."


How was I supposed to respond? It's not my class or my project, but I can see that there is a major disconnect. Students are not understanding the connection between the assignment and real life. They feel that their work is unimportant in the scheme of things.

"The most effective way to engage these students in learning is to create an authentic audience, giving them a sense that someone else (besides teachers and parents) cares about their work," says Steven Levy in "The Power of Audience", published in Educational Leadership.

Obviously this student knew that the only person seeing the project was the teacher. That didn't mean anything to him, other than a grade. So how would I modify this experience to make it more meaningful for these students?

1. Live Performance Have the students create a skit or play that they perform for other English classes, or possibly younger students. 

2. Video Let students use their phones or provide flip cams and let them video themselves presenting information, then post on the class Website. 

3. Virtual sharing Connect with a similar classroom via Google Hangouts and present to each other.

4. Blogging Have students blog about their research, commenting on each other's work.

These are just a few ideas that I believe would have improved the lesson. It was great in theory, but the students just didn't connect with the assignment. Adding a real audience makes the experience more meaningful, personal, and useful.

Levy, S. "The Power of Audience." Educational Leadership 66.3 (2008): 75-79. Educational Leadership:Giving Students Ownership of Learning:. ASCD. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Review: American Gods

American Gods American Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was almost as good as Neverwhere...and I probably would prefer to give it a 3.5 instead of a 4. But it kept my interest and was a quirky, dark book. I didn't like the adult nature of this one, especially since I like to recommend books to my students. This one is DEFINITELY not for my middle school students, but MAYBE my oldest high school students.

I am looking at Anansi Boys next, because I want more on some of these weird characters.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Neil Gaiman, his stuff is creepy but not scary. Very fun to read. This one is a collection of spooky short stories. I enjoyed it a lot, although I am not a huge fan of short stories. I need a good novel that really develops characters and a story line. Still, worth the read.

Grades 8+ (language)

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Review: One Year After

One Year After One Year After by William R. Forstchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in his series (following One Second After). It's a look at a post-EMP world after a year has gone by. Not much new ground covered here, but I still really enjoy a good dystopian story. I liked the characters enough in the first book to want to read about them later.

Grades 9+ (language)

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Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, I liked Gaiman before this book (thank you Coraline), but now I think I am in love. This book was AWESOME. It reminded me of Alice and The Book of Lost Things, both also excellent fairy tale-ish books. Very quirky, crazy characters, strange and twisted plotline...perfection.

Getting ready to read Anansi Boys and American Gods!

For grades 9+ (language)

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Review: Frannie and Tru

Frannie and Tru Frannie and Tru by Karen Hattrup
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. It explores lots of themes, including homosexuality, infidelity, and interracial relationships. I loved the character of Frannie, because she finds herself in the course of the book. Tru is kind of a jerk and I was glad to see him go. Overall, a good read that will appeal to YA fans, especially those who loved All the Bright Places and Paper Towns.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Review: Most Un Likely to Succeed: The Trials, Travels and Ultimate Triumphs of a Throwaway Kid

Most Un Likely to Succeed: The Trials, Travels and Ultimate Triumphs of a Throwaway Kid Most Un Likely to Succeed: The Trials, Travels and Ultimate Triumphs of a Throwaway Kid by Nelson Lauver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk: Nelson Lauver was a normal kid, growing up in a working class town in central PA. He had a great family, good friends, a close-knit community. He loved school and dreamed of becoming a lawyer or a broadcaster. That is until his classmates started outpacing him in reading and writing. Suddenly, the place that once held excitement and hope became a place of fear and dread. Nelson does everything in his power to avoid letting those around him know the truth...he is functionally illiterate.

My Thoughts: I LOVED this book. Lauver is a great storyteller, and I got wrapped up in his story within the first few pages. I loved reading about small town life in the 70s in PA, the characters who made up his daily life, the backdrop of the working class family. Much of his story is very painful to read, as well. There is heart-breaking abuse at the hands of those people he should have been able to trust most. But in the end, Lauver's spirit and character lead him to make great choices that turn his life around.

My Recommendation: 5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (some language, content may be upsetting to younger students)

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Review: Most UnLikely to Succeed

Most UnLikely to Succeed Most UnLikely to Succeed by Nelson Lauver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk: Nelson Lauver was a normal kid, growing up in a working class town in central PA. He had a great family, good friends, a close-knit community. He loved school and dreamed of becoming a lawyer or a broadcaster. That is until his classmates started outpacing him in reading and writing. Suddenly, the place that once held excitement and hope became a place of fear and dread. Nelson does everything in his power to avoid letting those around him know the truth...he is functionally illiterate.

My Thoughts: I LOVED this book. Lauver is a great storyteller, and I got wrapped up in his story within the first few pages. I loved reading about small town life in the 70s in PA, the characters who made up his daily life, the backdrop of the working class family. Much of his story is very painful to read, as well. There is heart-breaking abuse at the hands of those people he should have been able to trust most. But in the end, Lauver's spirit and character lead him to make great choices that turn his life around.

My Recommendation: 5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (some language, content may be upsetting to younger students)

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Digital Learning Day 2016 @ Etown

Today is Digital Learning Day 2016. DLD is a time for teachers to share how they are integrating technology into their curriculum. I didn't even know about it until I attended a Twitter chat the other night, and I was so excited to hear how other districts are using this day to collaborate and share successes.

So here are a few things going on in our world at Etown:

In Mr. BPs Tech and Engineering classes, students create model cars in CAD and then use the 3D printer to print their models.

In Ms. Bronson's middle school Spanish class, students use Edupuzzle to create videos.

Mrs. Newton's math classes used Google Classroom to share students a graphing assignment in which they had to use parent functions to create an image and graph it using an online graphing calculator.

Mr. Ivans' business classes used Kahoot! to review a unit.

Mr. Eurich's science classes created lab reports using  images of the lab set up taken with their iPads. The reports were completed using Google Slides along with various Apps (Snitch, BaiBoard) and submitted hrough Schoology.

Madame Crawford's class worked with a class in Paris to create and share Google Slides presentations...sort of a digital pen pal project.

So yeah, we're kind of awesome!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: Everybody Sees the Ants

Everybody Sees the Ants Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk: Lucky is pretty much anything but. He is bullied relentlessly at school. His relationship with his dad is strained at best. His mother avoids confrontation with obsessive exercise. He can't talk to girls. Everything changes when Lucky and his mom go to Arizona. Lucky learns the secret of his grandfather's disappearance in Vietnam, and gains confidence in himself.

My Thoughts: This is a thoughtful, interesting book. It was painful to read about the bullying that Lucky incurred at school, but it was also very real and thought-provoking. I was a little put off by the dream sequences in Vietnam, but I think the author brought it around nicely in the end. All in all, a powerful book.

Recommendation: 4/5 stars
Grades 9+ (language, adult situations)

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Review: Side Effects May Vary

Side Effects May Vary Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk: When 16-year old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, she feels like her world is ending. She and Harvey, her childhood best friend and on-again/off-again romantic interest, start working through her bucket list. But when her cancer goes into remission, Alice is forced to re-think the rest of her life.

My Thoughts: I really liked this one. It sort of reminded me of a "bizarro world" Fault in Our Stars. Instead of a lovable and quirky Hazel Grace, we get snarky and kind of UN-lovable Alice. She pretty much does everything we DON'T want her to do, including using her best friend in the worst possible ways. This is a pretty darn good tale about friendship, love, bullying, and sickness.

My Recommendation: 4.5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (adult situations, language)

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: Next

Next Next by Michael Crichton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book Talk: Your body belongs to you...right? Not anymore, at least according to the lawyers and researchers in Crichton's Next. Transgenic species of apes and parrots are being created that blend animals and people into strange new beings. And how will all of this new technology impact us?

My Thoughts: I generally like Michael Crichton's books. They tend to be interesting and fast reads. This was the opposite, pretty much drudgery. I really really disliked this book. There were so many characters doing way too many things, and those were just the humans. Then add in the half ape, half parrot, and half orangutan, and things get really confusing.

My Recommendation: 2/5 stars
Grades 9+ (language)

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Co-teaching in the Library: Research in US History

Over the past few days, I have been co-teaching with 4 other teachers: 3 social studies and 1 instructional coach. We also worked with several learning support teachers.

Our goal this semester is to embed a series of research skills into the US history curriculum in bite-size chunks. My role is to teach students how to access a variety of online tools, the instructional coach teaches them how to take the information and process it, and then the social studies teachers have the students combine that information into an end product.

For our first lesson, I taught students how to access our Gale database, Student Resources in Context. Here is my lesson plan. My goal was go focus on inquiry...provide some very basic scaffolding and then let them explore the resource to figure out all of the benefits and options.

I figured out about halfway through the first class that students were very overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions on my scavenger hunt. So my first tweak for the next class period was to highlight a few questions in each section.

In my planning, I thought it was a cool idea to let kids pick a "hot topic" to use to explore the database. Then they would take that knowledge and apply it to a specific search on the Civil War.
Instead, kids couldn't make the connection between the "hot topics" research and "real" research (in their minds). They were so mentally tired from the scavenger hunt that there really was nothing left for the Civil War research their teachers wanted them to conduct.

By the last class period of the day, I figured out that future iterations of this lesson need to focus solely on the Civil War. I need to keep everything very clean and specific. I still like the scavenger hunt idea, but it probably needs to be a little more focused. Give them an overview, and then let them explore.

On Day 2, I moved to World Book Encyclopedia. I used the same essential plan, but modified as described above. It went more smoothly, but I know that the next time we do this, each "chunk" needs to include ONE resource. We also have to limit the topics that are being studied. Students got so frustrated by the lack of information on their very specific topics that they gave up. I know that we have to teach persistence, and that research often leads to dead ends. But we also have to be realistic that we have a short amount of time in which to work.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review: The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Justin, Gabe, and Bobby are three best friends who share a passion for making movies. They've made plenty of short, amateur films, but now they are ready to move on to the BIG ONE, a zombie movie. No budget? No problem, they'll ask grandma for a loan. No actors? No problem, they'll use their friends from school. No zombies? No problem, they'll get their crazy, recently paroled uncle to create their costumes. But will their movie be THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER?

My Thoughts:
This is a cute and sweet look at friendship and life in early high school. The book actually has nothing to do with zombies, other than the fact that the kids are trying to make a zombie movie. The book is about friends backing each other up when things get tough, and working out problems together.

My Recommendation:
3.5/5 stars, Grades 7+

**I received this ARC from NetGalley. My review will be posted on NetGalley and on my blog at**

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Coursera for PD

So I am addicted to learning. I just can't help it. I finish one course and then I have to find something else to do.

I've known about and dabbled in Coursera for the past few years, but just seriously started considering their specialization option. If you haven't seen or heard of it, check out their options at:

Coursera offers free courses that you can take online for FREE, from prestigious universities (think Harvard, Duke, and Stanford). You won't earn college credit, but if you are just in it for the knowledge, it's a great option.

Now they have these specializations that you can take for a small fee. If you complete the course sequence and the capstone project, you will earn a "certificate" from the university. Again, this might not mean much in your field, but I think it's great for your CV/resume.

I graduated back in 2011 with a PhD in educational technology, but I am always super-aware of the fact that my research skills are...lacking. I completed a dissertation with original research, but I focused on qualitative data. There is nothing inherently wrong with qualitative data, it can yield really rich results. But I really have no idea what to do with quantitative data.

Enter Coursera. I found a really unique specialization from Wesleyan University. It's called Data Management and Visualization, and connects beautifully both with my desire to learn more about research, and my course work at San Jose State University (where I'm earning a second master's in library science).

I'm in the middle of the first course, and here are my observations:
* it's free. You can't beat free.
* it's fun. It is video-based and chunked into very manageable pieces.
* it's interactive. I have to complete discussions and peer reviews of my classmates' work.

* there is no real connection with a professor. There is officially a professor assigned to the class, but I cannot find a way to ask questions or get feedback.
* there is no real feedback. If you don't pay for the course, you won't receive any feedback. Even if you do pay for the course, I believe the feedback is pretty cursory.

For me, it's a great way to learn skills without paying for courses, and without the pressure of due dates and requirements. I do what I want, when I want to and skip what is not useful.

After I finish this specialization, I'm thinking about moving on to programming!