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

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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!

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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?