Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Starr grew up in the hood. She is surrounded by gang violence, and watches her best friend get killed in a drive-by at 10 years old. But that all pales in comparison to the night she gets a ride home from a party with her childhood friend Khalil. The blue lights go on behind them and Starr's life changes forever.

My Thoughts
I think there is a lot to think about and discuss in this book. I believe in the importance of diverse books that address tough topics, but I had trouble connecting with the characters. I have no experience or perspective to match it, but I am glad I read the book because it caused me to think deeply about my own biases and perceptions. It also made me think about how the media portrays things and how much I take as truth that probably should be more fully examined.

That being said, I felt the dialogue was heavy handed and overplayed. It just felt too contrived, like I knew exactly where the story was going from the first chapter. I also felt like there were things in the story that were glamorized that didn't need to be (gang violence is one example, the rioting another).

My Recommendation
3.5/5 stars
Grades 9+ (language, violence, drugs)

View all my reviews

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: Orphan Train Girl

Orphan Train Girl Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Talk:
Molly lives in a foster home...her 3rd actually, in as many years. She just can't seem to fit in or find a forever family. Then she meets Vivian, a very unlikely ally. The 92-year old hires Molly to help her clean out her attic, and to share her life's story. A story that is very similar to Molly's.

My Thoughts
Beautiful story. The books weaves the stories of Molly and Vivian perfectly, and I just fell in love with both characters. Perfection.

My Recommendation
5/5 stars
Grades 5+

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
It's 1890, and Josephine (Jo) Montfort is living the life of a rich New York socialite. That is, until her father mysteriously commits suicide and her life is turned upside down. As she digs deeper into the strange circumstances surrounding her father's death, Jo finds herself in the middle of dangerous secrets that don't want to stay hidden.

My Thoughts
This was a fun read. I really enjoyed the mystery as well as the historical fiction piece of this story. I really liked the main character Jo, and her desire to break the mold and find herself.

My Recommendation
4.5/5 stars
Grades 7 and up (there are a few adult-ish situations, but very mild; some mild language)

View all my reviews

The Perfect Planner

Every year I go through the same struggle...paper or digital? Online lesson planner or Google Docs? Outlook or Calendar?

I don't know that I will ever arrive at the perfect solution, but I do have a few thoughts that guided my decision for this year (to be revealed at the end of this list).

  • I can't have more than 1 platform going at once. My district provides access to both Microsoft and Google products, as well as Adobe Cloud. This year I had some appointments on Outlook, a few on paper, and some in Google calendar. Needless to say, I missed some meetings.
  • It is easy for me to miss things on my digital calendars because I'm not always at my computer and I don't always remember to check all of the calendars listed above.
  • I need something I can change up pretty easily if I make a mistake or change my mind.

To make things even trickier, a fabulous co-worker made me a homemade bullet journal this year and got me totally hooked on the process of daily to-do lists. So while I was considering my options this summer, I wanted to find something that would allow me to combine planning and bullet journaling.
I don't want separate systems this year. I'm too scattered to keep track of multiple things. This is key for me, and part of my effort to simplify my life and adopt some minimalist practices. 

Enter... the ARC PLANNER

Ok, I don't work for Staples and I am not getting anything from them for sharing my new planner with you. Just want to make that clear. I believe there is another company that does something similar called The Happy Planner. I happened to be at Staples anyway and saw ARC, and was able to physically see each and every piece, so I went with it.

Basically my ARC planner is customizable and the pages can be removed and put back in without punching or tearing anything. So it's easy to re-arrange (much better than a spiral or a 3-ring binder).

This is the cover and rings I chose. There were lots of options, but I just really liked this one!

I purchased the calendar inserts. Here you can see the monthly spread. My plan is to keep appointments in here, as well as weekly department and faculty meetings.

This is the weekly view. I am going to use it for lesson plans. I know this probably wouldn't work for everyone, but as the librarian I don't have to follow a specific format. I only see kids for 20 minutes at a time. I plan to sketch in the theme for each week, the read-alouds I have planned, and the booktalk titles I want to focus on. 

The ARC system has dividers you can add, so my next section is my bullet journal. You can see my index page and my first set of bullets in these photos.

Finally, I added some accessories, like top-loading page protectors (for handouts, cards, etc) and zip pockets (pens, highlighters)

So that's my setup for my planner. Obviously it's not really PERFECT, but I think you have to find what works for you. I'll keep you updated as the year progresses on the status of my ARC planner! What are you all using for the upcoming school year?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

PD Review: Blogging for Educators: Writing for Professional Learning

Sackstein, S. (2015). Blogging for educators: Writing for professional learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Book Talk

It seems funny to write a review...on my blog...about blogging. But as a new-ish blogger, I wanted to get better at my practice and sought out books dealing with blogging for teachers. This was trickier than I expected, as much of the literature is for teachers who want to blog with their students. That's awesome, and I hope to do this as well, but I'm really looking at how to be a better blogger.

Sackstein's book is part of the Corwin Connected Educators Series. If you've read any of these books, you know that they are quick reads, to the point, and strategies-based. This book is right on target.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers

No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers No More Reading for Junk: Best Practices for Motivating Readers by Barbara A Marinak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever really thought about why you do the things you do in the classroom in terms of reading instruction? How many of us have created reading incentive programs, or jumped on the Book It train? In Marinak and Gambrell's book, they (gently) eviscerate the token economy approach to literacy.

In Part 1 (Not This), Marinak takes us through her evolution as a reading teacher, focusing on the many mistakes she, and others, have made. She talks about dressing up and quacking like a duck, and principals shaving their heads, as well as commonly used bribes like candy, toys, and food. I really appreciate Marinak's transparency in part 1, because although she is correcting mistakes that I have made many times in my teaching career, she does it with humor and by pointing out her own mistakes.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: The Thousandth Floor

The Thousandth Floor The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Talk
Imagine what it would be like to live on the 1000th floor of a 2-mile high tower in the middle of New York City. Avery and Atlas Fuller don't have to imagine it, they live it. They and their friends live a magical life, full of money, friends, shopping, and drugs. Everything they could possibly want. But the more you have, the more you have to lose...

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book for myself. It has enough mystery and glamour that it kept me turning pages. It is supposed to be futuristic, but I didn't feel like that overwhelmed the book at all. There were hints of future life, such as the drugs the kids took and the contact lenses they wore that doubled as mobile devices. But that really didn't dictate the story. This one is really about relationships and status. It looks at the way money can impact friendships, and that having everything you could possibly want doesn't mean you are happy.

My Recommendation
4/5 stars
Grades 10+ (sexual situations, drugs, language)
*as much as I enjoyed this book for myself, it won't be going on my MS library shelf.*

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Recap: 2017 PA Forward Information Literacy Summit 
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the
PA Forward Information LIteracy Summit at Penn State University in State College, PA. The focus of yesterday's conference, according to their website, was:

"libraries and maker culture, and will be relevant to any librarians interested or involved in teaching and learning, including academic, public, school, and special librarians, and other educators."

As a new Maker Librarian, this really appealed to me. I have a great space, but I don't feel like I have the curriculum or data to really back up what I am doing. So I went into the conference hoping for some specific tips and strategies for making my Makerspace more curriculum-ready.

The keynote speaker was Heather Moorefield, professor of LIS at USC. She focused on what other libraries are doing with Makerspaces, especially in the realm of mobile makers. Here are some examples of what she shared:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Slice of Life

Most of my blogging is professional in focus, or at least it tries to be. But thanks to Two Writing Teachers, today I'm going to focus on a slice of my life.

This is beach week for my family. For the past 21 years we have spent a week as an extended family at a tiny military recreation area in North Carolina.

Beach week is really big for my family for a couple of reasons.

1. We slow things down.
I have two teenage boys, a military husband, and a puppy. Life can be a little crazy. Beach week lets us step away from the crazy and breathe.
Reading by the dock. Catching up on Launch by John Spencer

2. We spend time together.
Now please don't get me wrong. Norman Rockwell we ain't . There is still arguing and nit-picking. But last night we all got in kayaks and floated down the Cape Fear river and watched the sun go down. I walked in from a walk yesterday to find my boys playing a card game...and trust me, that is NOT a daily occurrence in this house.

3. We try new things.
Yesterday my husband and I decided to try something new. We rented bikes and headed down the beach to the ferry. In all the years we've been coming here, we have never taken the ferry. Didn't even know where it went. So we paid our $4 and hopped on. The scenery on the ferry was worth every penny. The 45 minute ride was filled with sea gulls, flying fish, and solitude. We rode off the ferry and headed to the nearest town. We ended up in Southport, NC which I truly believe might have some magic in it. It was stunningly beautiful. With no real plan in mind, we leisurely biked through the downtown area, got ice cream at Spike' s Dairy Shack (much better than it sounds), and ended up at the public library.
Whenever we travel, I always find the library and take a picture. The local library says so much about a community, and you can see from the picture I took in Southport, it says a lot about this charming town.

4. We rest.
I nap every day on vacation. Every. Day. We sleep in. We stay up late watching Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the 112th time. We move slowly. We take it easy. Although summer vacation as a whole is a time of rest for me and the boys, beach week is a whole new level of relaxation.

And one story...
Time to keep it real. In case you have the mistaken impression that this is a perfect, idyllic vacation, I must share a true "slice" of my life. A few days ago we headed to the beach. J (my 13-year old) was boogie boarding happily. I was sitting in my chair reading on my Kindle. Dear hubby was walking down the beach. Next thing I know J is shrieking at the top of his lungs. I look up and he is running around in circles, WITHOUT ANY PANTS. Totally naked. He was yelling "MOM, MOM SOMETHING BIT MY BUTT!" I'm totally frozen, trying to decide whether to help my naked child or act like he belongs to someone else. I did the right thing, grabbed a towel and created a curtain around him as he graphically described to me how a jellyfish swam up his swim trunks and stung his rear.

Photo courtesy of

I am quite certain the jellyfish was unfairly blamed and that he merely suffered from a rash from the sand. But the only thing that would calm him down was a promise to head straight to the store to buy vinegar to pour on his rear.

So hopefully that makes my life a little clearer. But despite the drama, I wouldn't change a thing. Beach week is a tradition that draws my family a little closer each year.
And that's my slice of life...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Summer Planning

It seems like I've been waiting for summer break since Christmas. It's finally here, and what am I doing? Spending countless hours perusing my favorite teacher blogs, reading posts in my Facebook groups, and scrolling through Twitter.

It's the teacher's plight. We just can't help it. I love the approach  Two Writing Teachers takes to the summer planning frenzy. Embrace it, know it's coming, and try to plan in some time away from it all. As in all things in my life, I need a plan if I'm going to get it done. So I am borrowing liberally from the Two Writing Teachers idea for summer planning. Here's what I'm going to do with the rest of my summer:


To Read
To Do
  • Beach Time!
  • Yearly plans for all grades (5-8), just map out the topics
  • Sketch out yearly plan for Makerspace units/lessons, upload to Schoology


To Read
To Do
  • attend Google Expeditions training
  • Makerspace set up and ready to go
  • displays for beginning of school year