Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year - Character education resolutions for students!

Happy 2017!  I have revised one of my favorite New Year´s Resolutions lesson plans that I first created way back in 2012.  It is called ¨My Best Year¨ and it gives students in grades 5 through 8 a chance to reflect upon 2016 and consider the person that they want to become in 2017.   It is available for download from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Promoting Literature in the Library with Shelf Talkers

My high school library is in a very modern and new building.  Most of our walls are made of glass.  The ones that aren't made of glass are made of exposed concrete.  It is gorgeous and also the students find it comfortable but I often have trouble figuring out ways to make the look a little less basic. I find it challenging to figure out ways to decorate that don't look out of place and actually harmonize with the space. 

This year,  I´m using these shelf talkers to give me and my students a chance to share book reviews with the students who walk around my library.  It is called TALKING SHELVES. They are easy to print out and use!  You can download them from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Salt to the Sea -- A Novel Study

Thirty-three years after the sinking of the Titanic, which claimed over 1,500 lives, came the loss of another passenger ship.  This one may have claimed over 9,000 lives.  Yet we never hear about this significant tragedy with its loss of life.

It was the Wilhelm Gustloff, which went down in the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945.  On board were German soldiers as well as civilians who were escaping from the Soviet Army as they marched across Lithuania and East Prussia.  

Ruta Sepetys has created a novel that will bring this event out of relative obscurity.  It is called Salt to the Sea.  In this novel, there are four main characters and their stories are told together in alternating short chapters.  Joana is a Lithuanian woman who has been trained as a nurse.  She has a family connection to the characters in Sepetys other historical fiction story, which is called Between Shades of Gray.  Florian is East Prussian and has been working as a apprentice to the art conservator in Konigsberg and is carrying something in his pack that he will not let out of his sight.  Emilia is a young Polish girl with a secret of her own.  And Alfred is a German youth who has been drafted very late in the war to serve as a sailor in the Kriegsmarine. He dreams of glory that is unlikely to come his way.  

This is such an important and interesting book and it deserves to be studied and enjoyed.  So I've created a novel study that might help teachers and homeschoolers to work with this book.  

Salt to the Sea - A novel study has a lot of content, including: 

-- A character tracker that invites students to reflect upon the three different types of literary conflict and potentially write an essay sharing their findings, 
-- An information skills lesson that helps students to identify an author's purpose in publishing Web information, 
-- Discussion or essay questions
-- And a comprehension quiz,

It also has a Google Earth Tour Builder lesson that brings to life the journey of these four characters.  You can access this Tour Builder for free. 

And because it is so much easier to teach something when students have a something to help them orient their learning, I have created a FREE Google Doc lesson with a location chart as well as an answer key. Feel free to view, make a copy, and use. 

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chronicling the end of World War II and a massive catastrophe that has been overlooked in history, this story follows four individuals and some of their companions as they band together in the hopes of surviving and reaching safety. Florian is a Prussian with a secret that he keeps in his pack, Joana is a Lithuanian girl who has become a nurse, Emilia is a Polish girl who is carrying secrets of her own and Alfred is a German sailor who has been drafted very late in the war.

I picked up this book after one of my students said that it made her cry and I decided that it was exactly what I needed to enjoy on a rainy day in May. It didn't disappoint. All the characters are real and you will feel for their struggles. The cover art of empty life preservers floating on a choppy sea makes you realize that many of them are likely doomed in some way or another.

In the end, it is a hopeful book that I was glad to have read.

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Memory BookThe Memory Book by Lara Avery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Senior debater and valedictorian-to-be Sammie discovers that she has a rare genetic disease called Niemann-Pick and that she is likely to develop systems of dementia, mental retardation, seizures and --eventually-- death. This is completely against Sammie's plans of college at NYU after graduation and an eventual career as a lawyer. Even as she struggles against the diagnosis, she decides to create a memory book, which she writes for her future self as a way to relate what is important. She types the memory book onto a laptop and it becomes a diary of how the disease tries to break her and how she attempts to fight back.

In her corner, she has her mom and dad, three younger siblings, a childhood best friend who she has grown apart from in high school, and a crush that has recently returned to her small town in New Hampshire from New York City. She also has a poster of feminist icons in her room who she selects to help her focus on her goal of beating this disease.

The reader gets clues from her parents, local doctor and Mayo Clinic specialist on speakerphone that Sammie is not going to beat this and that at some point she is going to have to accept this as well.

By this time, I was expecting to go through the whole emotional process of Sammie turning into a drooling vegetable, stuck in a hospital bed by the end of the book. What I didn't expect was just how much Sammie would continue and how her personality would evolve throughout the book. Very occasionally, Sammie gives control of the keyboard over to another character so you get some outside perspective on her as well.

Readers who like very real stories about rare medical situations like Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell, None of the Aboveby Gregorio and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon will like this book. This book could easily be considered a downer and I could see readers shying away from it because it seems like it would be too sad. I think that this would be a mistake. The book has some really funny points and there's definitely some good romantic moments in it as well.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

These Shallow GravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I assumed the wrong thing from the cover of this book. I thought that it would be a modern mystery thriller with a main character unearthing dead bodies in the middle of the night. I was so wrong. It's a Victorian mystery thriller with a weathly female main character who unearths dead bodies in the middle of the night and also falls in love with an unsuitable boy who is not in her high society world and visits a lot of inappropriate places in New York City without her mother knowing.

Josephine is the girl and her father has recently been found dead from a gunshot wound. The family initially believes that he committed suicide but Jo soon learns the truth from a young medical student who works at the morgue and has started to learn forensic science. That might be the best part of the whole book; when he starts to describe bodies in the morgue using forensic science techniques.

Anyway, I love murder mysteries set in Victorian times and this one was fully entertaining, if pretty predictable. I think that fans of romance and historical fiction will like this one a great deal. I appreciated the fact that it had some gritty elements to it. There's even an insane asylum called "Darkbriar" because nothing is scarier than being locked up in an insane asylum when you are still in your right mind.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Trying to make sense of video streaming for schools and libraries

My school recently went through a long process of trying to figure out whether we should continue paying for a subscription database for streamed media.  I wrote about it in my column on VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Electronic Eye August 2016.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fine Motor Skills - Dots Around the Country

My son and I are continuing to work on his handwriting skills this summer and we've created this tracing workbook that features sights from all of the 50 United States!  We are calling it "Dots Around the Country" since there are dots embedded into each one of the pictures.  We use a metallic Sharpie marker to complete each dot picture as well as the handwriting ruled title for each.  There is also a small caption at the bottom of each picture that describes it in some way.

It's a rather simple idea but my son and I have not found nearly enough tracing practice out there on the World Wide Web and very little that appeals to him as an eight-year-old getting ready for third grade.  He loves travel and helped me choose the locations!

Dots Around the Country is available on my Teachers Pay Teacher's Web store for only two dollars! That's like 4 cents a state.
Amelia Earhart: The Mystery SolvedAmelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved by Marie K. Long

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been on an Amelia Earhart kick lately ever since I read Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming. Here I thought that I had learned everything that there was to know about this brilliant flyer by reading lots of biographies of her as a child. She is definitely a person that people use with children to celebrate all kinds of different values.

But Candace Fleming and also the Longs' book paints a somewhat different picture and more complex picture of the woman. After reading both, there is little doubt in my mind that she was incredibly brave and an amazing risk taker and definitely knew how to fly a plane long distances. One of the more challenging aspects of long distance flying was figuring out how to make the fuel last and there were things that a pilot could do to "lean" the mixture and she seemed quite adept at that.

This book by Marie K. Long and Elgen Long, who was a former flyer who often had to fly over Howland Island when he was in the Navy, reveals something that I think is shocking.

She didn't know Morse code. And her navigator didn't either!

Maybe that isn't so shocking to you. After all, Earhart had a radio and did communicate with ground radio stations using her voice almost all the way around the world. But here's the problem. The Itasca, which was the Naval ship tasked with helping her to find and land on Howland Island, her two-mile wide Pacific Island refueling stop, assumed that she did and they had a plan to help her use her radio detection finder to locate it using a Morse code frequency. Even days after she disappeared, many people in the Navy still tried to communicate with her using Morse code.

In this book, Elgen and Marie Long have come up with a solution to the mystery of Amelia's disappearance that makes sense to them based on what they know about her radio, her fuel reserves, and the weather on that day and they make a very compelling scientific argument about where we can find Amelia today.

The book was published several years ago and, so far, no one seems to have taken them up on looking for her in the place where her plane might be.

The book was sometimes a bit of a slog because of the amount of technical information that has to be shared in order for the final solution to make sense but I was immersed in it, especially learning more about how challenging it was to attempt to fly in and out of all the different countries that she had to visit. There were times when she had to be concerned with outrunning a typhoon or how soggy a landing strip was. There were times when she had to be concerned with how to get a part to fix her plane before she could take off again.

Adventurous and will shine a light on the real Amelia Earhart, who might be a bit different from the Earhart that we think we know.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Fine Motor Skills Summer!

Leader Board Superb

My son is headed into the third grade but his handwriting isn't.  At the beginning of the summer, he and I agreed that we would work on his handwriting.  But it has been hard to motivate him to work on it.  I've been trying to help him by creating motivating activities for him to complete including a writing journal, cutting exercises and even tracing.  I'm making my efforts available on my Teachers Pay Teachers web store.

Here's what we've been working on so far!


I wanted to create a summer writing journal that was handwriting ruled but also had prompts that I felt would engage my son as we moved through the summer.  This 33 page collection has opportunities for him to talk about his pets, his neighborhood and his favorite movies and music of the summer.   We both agreed that personalizing the look of each journal for different users would make kids more likely to want to write in them  So we came up with four different themes:  Galaxy, Grass, Wood and DISCO!

There are additional pages in the back for both different prompts and also REVISING some entries along the way.

CUTTING WORK - Cut and Fold : Paris

From Cut and Fold : Paris 
Cut and Fold : Paris
My son's grandparents and cousins are visiting Paris this summer and he wanted to know more about the city where they were visiting.  So we created this fun way to learn more about the Parisian attractions in this activity which is mainly about cutting, a little bit about folding, and a tiny bit about how to use the key of a map.  As you can see from the picture above, I've used some photographs of tourist destinations in Paris and have added cutting lines to it.  My son has been cutting them out and then folding them so that they pop-up from the map that we've downloaded.

I had a fun time creating "Cut and Fold : Paris" because it gave me a chance to research the ten locations that I featured in his pop-up map so that we could talk about them as he was cutting.  I've added a brief explanation of why each location is so important!

I had so much fun, I might just have to complete another one on another major city.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Genre fiction for LGBT-Q young adults -- Not just reading from the Rainbow list

I'm returning to a high school library this year and one of the things that I wanted to do was to increase the number of LGBT-Q titles available for students.  So I wrote a small grant and won it and then went to my student LGBT-Q affinity group and asked for help.  I thought that we'd just wind up pulling from the ALA's Rainbow List. 

The president is a big reader and her biggest frustration was that so much of what is available is geared towards the "coming out" stories.  She's a reader of fantasy and mystery and sci-fi and just wanted to be able to read books with diverse characters in them.

So the public librarian, local bookstore buyer and I made it our mission to find more good genre fiction.  Malinda Lo, author and blogger (and many other things) was particularly useful.  Here is part 5 of her five part series on avoiding the LGBT-Q stereotypes in YA fiction. 

And here are two books (one is Lo's Cinderella variant!) that I bought and enjoyed recently!

AshAsh by Malinda Lo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Cinderella tale with a sweet and different ending. Any YA who is into fairy tale variants will love this one. Ash is our unhappy Cinderella who is not chasing after the prince but her step sister definitely is. He will choose to marry someone before the year is out and Ana is determined that it should be her.

Ash's own life is complicated by the fact that a fairy named Sidhean may have claimed her for his own. Meanwhile she finds the King's lead huntress, Kaisa, to be fascinating. In this Kingdom, the lead hunter is always a woman but that seems to be the only way in which the kingdom departs from the regular fairy tale stereotypes.

I'm going to make sure that I read more Malinda Lo. Very satisfying.

UnbecomingUnbecoming by Jenny Downham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It all begins when Katie's mum is called to the hospital to pick up a grandmother that Katie has never met. There's a reason why grandmother Mary and mother Caroline are estranged and it has a lot to do with family secrets that are starting to unravel.

But Mary is suffering from dementia and her secrets are locked away in a mind that is beginning to fail her. Mom and Katie have secrets of their own. Katie has just tried to kiss her best friend and the girl is no longer talking to her because of it. Does Katie like girls? She's not so sure.

All three storylines weave together in a complicated way. All three women are sympathetic even though they aren't always kind to one another. The secrets kept me guessing and that made the reading move fast.

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View all my reviews

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Studying for the National Board - Component 1 for Library Media - 2016 edition

I will be spending this year and next year attempting to become National Board certified as a Library Media Specialist.  I've just finished submitting Component 2 and piloting Component 4 and now it is on to studying for the Component 1.  The content test.

How does one study for a content test on being a school librarian?

The following links are my attempt to study for it.