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!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

MLA Lesson Reflection

Today I taught a lesson that I have presented for several years in a row on MLA citations. The lesson was for a team of 7th grade ELA students. Out of the five classes I taught today, three were on-level, one was co-taught, and one was enriched.

You can find my lesson plan here. A quick overview: I used Kahoot! to review last week's lesson on primary and secondary sources. Interestingly, my co-taught performed much better on this one than the on-level, and even the enriched classes. I am wondering if it is because I moved much more slowly through the original lesson? Or because  purposefully orally reviewed the information before starting the quiz?

Anyway, after the Kahoot! quiz, I worked through an MLA slideshow, which includes a pretty hysterical YouTube video about plagiarism:

I don't care how tough they acted, those 7th graders were tapping their toes and wiggling to the beat!

We stopped a few slides in and completed a sample MLA citation of a book using a worksheet I posted in Google Classroom. We then moved on to Websites, and did the same thing.

Interesting Observations:
* I had the on-level and enriched kiddos work through the citations on their own, with some guidance from me and their teacher.
* I went step-by-step with the co-taught class so were were always at the same point on the worksheet.
* MLA is HARD to make interesting. Once I moved past the multimedia portion of the lesson, I lost the kids.

Lingering Questions:
* I am still doing most of the work in my classroom. I just don't understand how to make them responsible for their own learning. How do I get 7th grade students to learn about MLA without me standing in the front teaching from a slideshow? What does that LOOK like? 

Review: Eleanor

Eleanor Eleanor by Jason Gurley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Eleanor and Esmerelda are twin sisters who are ripped apart by an accident. Eleanor is left to pick up the pieces of her family's life: an alcoholic and abusive mother and an absentee father. Then strange things start to happen to her when she walks through doorways...right into her family's past.

My Thoughts:

I love this book. It is a very sad, strange tale of family struggle with grief and depression. It reminded me a little of Stephen King's "The Talisman" in terms of the character jumping through time and completing a journey, but sci fi isn't quite the right placement for this one. It is such a wonderful hodge podge of realistic fiction, suspense, and magic!

5/5 stars
Grades 8+ (some language)

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: The Outliers

The Outliers The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk: Outliers. People that don't fall into the range of "normal." Wylie has always felt like she didn't fit in, with her crippling anxiety and inability to make friends. But then she finds out that she really IS abnormal, with a special gift to read the emotions of others, her life takes a dangerous turn.

My Thoughts: I liked this book, at least the first 3/4. I wanted to figure out what happened between Cassie and Wylie...and what was up with the creepy couple at the gas station? Definitely an interesting and quick read, although it starts to lag at the end as it moves into the realm of unbelievable.

My Recommendation: 3.5 stars
Grades 9+ for language

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

CAR: It's been awhile...

In light of last week's post about focusing on differentiating outcomes, I've decided to do a little classroom action research. It's been awhile since I participated in true research, so it's going to

Actually, I'm pretty excited to see where this goes. I am starting out with my research question and brief literature review.

Here is my first stab:

How do differentiated products impact student learning in a middle school learning support class?

I printed out some articles on differentiation, but most of it focuses on instruction rather than product.  If anyone has leads, let me know!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Review: Away We Go

Away We Go Away We Go by Emil Ostrovski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Not only has most of the nation's teenagers been struck by a deadly, contagious disease and relegated to hospices, there is a meteor on a collision course with Earth. Noah Falls must figure out what to do with the short time left to him (whether he dies by disease or comet).

My Thoughts:
What a strange book. The premise intrigued me from the start (I am a glutton for dystopia), but it really failed to deliver. There was too much movement in perspective for me to follow along. I couldn't connect with any of the characters, as there was so little development. And the relationships (same sex or other) just seemed forced.

My Rating:
2.5 stars

Gr. 10+ for language, adult situations

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Review: The Hurricane

The Hurricane The Hurricane by Hugh Howey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
What would you do if a category 5 hurricane veers off the predicted course and heads straight for your town? This is the situation faced by Daniel and his family, who wait out the dangerous winds and rain in their small bathroom. And in the aftermath, they must adjust to life without modern-day phones, no running water, no electricity. How will Daniel and his family get through?

My Thoughts:
I really loved Howey's Wool series, and had high expectations of this one. Unfortunately, it fell flat. REALLY flat. There could have been so much more to this story (I'm thinking here along the lines of Terri Blackstock's Last Light, or One Second After). Instead, there is a lot of work up to the actual hurricane, and then...nothing. I just didn't care about this story.

My Rating:
2.5 out of 5 stars

Grades 9+ for language and adult situations

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Differentiating by student (versus group)

I had my follow-up meeting post-observation today, and my supervisor and I were working through the Danielson rubric.

Domain 1c is an area that I really want to focus on for the rest of the year. Here is the specific area of struggle:
All outcomes represent high-level learning in the discipline. They are clear, are written in the form of student
learning, and permit viable methods of assessment.
Outcomes reflect several different types of learning and, where appropriate, represent both coordination
and integration. Outcomes are differentiated, in whatever way is needed, for individual students.

How do I differentiate OUTCOMES, rather than instruction? I have an objective that I want my students to meet, and every student essentially has the same objectives (as dictated by my district's library curriculum). So what do different outcomes look like?

I found an interesting article about differentiation, but I'm particularly interested in the part about differentiating products. I think I like the word "product" better than "outcome", as it makes more sense to me. 

David Chung's literature circle activities are an interesting visual representation of differentiating products. 

Even more specifically, I found the following slides:

So in the context of my learning support lesson that I was evaluated on this week, it might look something like this:

"All must access CultureGrams and locate the country they selected."
"Most should answer the top row of questions on the bingo card without assistance."
"Some should stretch to use the additional features of CultureGrams to listen to interviews and answer the bottom two rows of the bingo card."

Thoughts? How do you differentiate your outcomes?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


My "to do" list this week:

I am noticing that each day I am bumping some of the same items to the next day because there just WASN'T ENOUGH TIME. It feels like my daily experience. I have so much to do with so little time, and it's just me here in the IMC.

As I sit here and ponder my "to do", I have to ask myself what is the priority? How do I know what to attack first?

There are lots of books and Websites out there about time management and setting priorities. The priority matrix is an example that I see time and time again. There is also GTD, which I actually use to a small degree.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it really comes down to one thing...which of my "to dos" is most important for STUDENT LEARNING and STUDENT SUCCESS? Which ones will  impact my students' love of reading? Because isn't that the point?

When I examine my list through the lens of student success, I can look at my list and eliminate some options (or relegate them to the "someday" list) right off the bat. I can then focus on the items that align most closely with my goals.

That being said, I obviously have to take care of administrative tasks that would cause problems for students and teachers, even if they don't directly impact learning. I have to keep up with inventory, late notices, and scheduling. I have to respond to emails and deal with paperwork. But the bulk of my time really should be focused on what is best for my students. Because after all, they ARE the priority.

Review: Seven Ways We Lie

Seven Ways We Lie Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Seven Ways We Lie is a look at high school life from the perspective of seven different teenagers. Each character has a persona that is very different from the life that they live when no one is watching. There is the popular soccer player who is struggling with his sexuality, the self-proclaimed loner who really wants to belong, the all-round good guy-turned-drug dealer, and the cheerleader who is leading a double life.

My Thoughts:
It is an entertaining read, but very predictable. There is some language (including liberal use of the f-word). Several scenes involve sexual interactions between students, although not graphic. Also, there is a student/teacher relationship that made me very uncomfortable.

My Rating:
Still, 4 stars.

Recommended for:
Gr 9+

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Review: All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is 5:45 am, and I just now finished this book. I am such an emotional wreck. It took me awhile to get caught up in this story, but I fell in love with Finch. He just seemed so...REAL. A kid with problems, but believable, and not whiny. And Violet...I hated her so much at the beginning, and then she became real to me, too. And even though I pretty much knew the ending by about 1/4 of the way in, it still hit me right in the gut. And I still cried big, ugly tears.

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