Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


#NerdyBookClub and Me

Be sure to check out my post at the Nerdy Book Club blog today.  I am so excited to have my first post up because the Nerdy Book Club is AWESOME.  Seriously, awesome.  I have been a card carrying member of the Nerdy Book Club pretty much since birth and I am ecstatic that I have a real tribe now.  Be sure to check out the blog and the hashtag on Twitter if you haven’t already done so!

Member of the Nerdy Book Club

Latasha and the Little Red Tornado

When Michael Scotto emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reading a review copy of his novel, Latasha and the Little Red Tornado, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. I try to focus on YA titles these days, because those are the books my students are reading. It takes a special middle grade book (especially if it’s on the younger end of the spectrum!) to get my attention. But Michael hooked me when he mentioned that one aspect of the plot dealt with the main character trying to train her puppy. Been there, done that! I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give the book a shot.

When the book came, I placed it on my TBR pile which was taking over my life. I was in the middle of reading for the Cybils and didn’t have a lot of time to read anything else. I finally got a chance to read Latasha and the Little Red Tornado a few weeks ago and I loved it!

Latasha is adorable. She is intelligent, well-meaning, and wants to be grown up more than anything in the world. Her best friend is her puppy, Ella Fitzgerald. But Latasha struggles to deal with her mother’s new job and the fact that her landlady is now her babysitter. Plus, Ella just won’t listen and the landlady is not a fan of disobedient dogs. So Ella decides she will train Ella to be the perfect tenant.

This book is adorable! I can’t wait to pass it on to some of my younger cousins. Latasha is easy to like and easy to relate to. The dog training aspect of the story is well-done and realistic and you can’t help but love Ella. She is just so cute! But the plot is anything but predictable- brace yourself because you won’t see the ending coming!

Highly recommended for middle grade readers, particularly in 4th/5th grade!

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Free Form Friday (or Google’s 20% Time in High School)

My colleagues and I are currently in the second year of my favorite “experiment”.  Last year, inspired by Google’s 20% time, we decided to try a variation of the project with our freshman.  I am extraordinarily lucky because my colleagues are fabulous and we teach an integrated curriculum (Biology, English, Software Applications, and World History).  This means we control the schedule for all of the freshman every morning.  We are able to divide the time up between our classes in whatever manner works best and we do cross-curricular projects as often as possible.

So we decided we wanted to try our own version of Google’s 20% Project, which encourages Google employees to spend one day per week working on a project of their own design.  While we can’t devote one day every week to our experiment, we ended up with Free Form Friday.  Free Form Friday is an experiment- last year we had no idea how it would turn out when we turned the kids loose and we were thrilled with the results.  This year we made a few adjustments and sent the kids off to work.  I’m so excited about the projects they have come up with and can’t wait to see the end results.

Introducing the project to the kids was a lot of fun.  We told them that we would be giving them the option to work on a project of their choosing for the next two marking periods.  There would be no rubric and no guidelines other than their project had to bring together Biology, English, Social Studies, and Technology.  This always got the whispers going.  As we continued, the hands would go up and the volume would rise.  Our students are not used to working without limits or rules and this project is scary for many of them.

Before we answered any of their questions, we shared out fears and what we, as teachers, were excited about.

Some of our fears:

  • that students will not use their time wisely
  • that students will choose groups before choosing topics
  • that students will ask questions we don’t have the answer to

What we are excited about:

  • that students will ask questions we don’t have the answer to
  • that students will amaze us
  • that we will learn from each student

And then we gave them a period to brainstorm individually.  This is important, because we want each student working on something that they are passionate about, so they can’t make groups until they know what they want to focus on for the duration of the project.  This is a very difficult step for many of my freshman.  They want to be with their friends, and how can they ensure that happens if they can’t talk to each other during the brainstorming period!  But we provided notebooks and computers and set them loose.  They had until the next week to post their ideas on our wiki and “pitch” to the rest of their class.  This way, students with similar ideas would have the opportunity to try to work together and other students would have the option to work alone or in pairs if they preferred that.

Watching the wiki over the next week was a lot of fun.  Lots of students pitched ideas and started talking about them in school.  I witnessed students approaching each other about what they read on the wiki the night before, trying to convince a peer that they had similar ideas and could combine them.  So much fun

As of today, all of the students have projects and are working.  We try to have a Free Form Friday every other week, devoting 140 minutes on Friday morning to the project work.  The students have access to laptops and a computer lab, along with various classrooms and our MPR.  But the best part is the work going on outside of class.  Some freshman boys approached a group of juniors who are taking a programming class and asked them to teach them the programming they need for their idea.  Other students are emailing experts in their field of study and networking with scientists/professors.  We have students designing webpages and blogs, Google surveys and data analysis.  It’s amazing!

The students are working on some amazing projects, too.  We have everything from parkour to lucid dreaming.  One pair is studying modern censorship and a scientific study that showed people who read fiction are more emphathetic than those who do not.  Last year a group of girls produced an amazing documentary and website about the culture of beauty – they even interviewed employees at various stores in a local mall about the hiring process.  Afterwards, they interviewed managers at those same stores and learned that the “party line” is not the same as reality in most cases. What an eye opener for them and their classmates!

I can not recommend 20% Time projects enough.  The students are incredibly engaged and the connections they are making across the curriculum are pretty mind-blowing.  And personally, I love that they are working without a rubric.  It’s very difficult for some of the more grade-oriented students, but it’s such a valuable experience.  They also know that at the end of the project they will be deciding how we (the teachers) will assess them.  The grading criteria will be designed by each group for their specific project.  I love this, because it means they get the chance to think critically about their own work, rather than relying on a third-party.

They are responsible for keeping us abreast of their progress after each Free Form Friday.  By the end of the 140 minutes they have to file an update that explains what they accomplished that day and what they plan to accomplish for next time. It keeps everyone accountable without inundating them with extra work. They file the reports in a class binder, according to group, which allows us to access them while also allowing the students to go back and look at the evolution of their project from start to finish.

Free Form Friday is one of the best parts of the year for me and I can’t wait to see the final projects that this year’s group comes up with!  Are some of our students confused about the project?  Of course.  But many of them are also excited.  And slowly, that excitement is spreading.  We have students talking about their projects outside of class time.  They are divvying up work and going above and beyond our “requirements”.  Some of them started planning back in September, after they got wind of the project via the sophomores.  Talk about engaged learners! And even those who are confused can see the value of the project; we have many alum who work or have worked at Google and it’s a job many of our students aspire to.

Do you do anything similar to a FedEx Day or Google’s 20% time in your class?  I’d love to hear about it!

It’s John Green Week!

Banner created by Novel Thoughts blog

I am a HUGE John Green fan, so when I heard about John Green Week on YA Bibliophile a few days before Christmas I was very excited.  My copy of John’s upcoming book (less than a week to go!) has been pre-ordered since July.  I have read and reread my sample chapters from The Fault in Our Stars.  I recommend John Green’s books to everyone I know!

John Green Week is being hosted by i.eat.words and a ton of bloggers are participating.   You can find many of them here on i.eat.words’ blog.

I was inspired by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts for this first post.  They shared some of their favorite quotes from John’s books and I decided to do the same.

“Her library filled her bookshelves and then overflowed into waist-high stacks of books everywhere, piled haphazardly against the walls. If just one of them moved, I thought, the domino effect could engulf the three of us in an asphyxiating mass of literature.”- Looking for Alaska

“Have you really read all those books in your room?”
Alaska laughing- “Oh God no. I’ve maybe read a third of ‘em. But I’m going to  read them all. I call it my Life’s Library. Every summer since I was little,  I’ve gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting.  So I always have something to read.”- Looking for Alaska   (This is me, except you can substitute Scholastic warehouse sales for garage sales.  🙂 )
“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.” – An Abundance of Katherines
“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.” – Looking for Alaska
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”-  Paper Towns
“What matters to you defines your mattering.” – An Abundance of Katherines
“Maybe tonight you’re scared of falling, and maybe there’s somebody here or somewhere else you’re thinking about, worrying over, fretting over, trying to figure out if you want to fall, or how and when you’re gonna land, and I gotta tell you, Friends, to stop thinking about the landing, because it’s all about falling.” – Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Be sure to check back later this week for more John Green posts!

Game Theory, Video Games, Failure, and the Classroom

Something that has been on my mind a lot this year is how we can harness the power of video games in our classrooms.  Game theory is something powerful and I think we need to grab it and pull it into our classrooms! Many of my students love to play video games, and I find it fascinating.  Now I’m not one of those old ladies who can’t understand why the kids love those “darn games!” (lol).  Instead, what fascinates me is how willing they are to fail in a game.  Sometimes they will “die” for hours on end, trying different routes and theories.  Failing is not only ok, but encouraged.  They work around obstacles and problems, they innovate solutions, they talk with other gamers- everything I want to see them doing in the classroom. So how can we transfer those some ideas of embracing failure?  How do we make it ok to “lose a life” so to say, in a project or writing piece?  How do we make it acceptable to try something over and over, working hard to get it right without giving up?

In video games, kids embrace difficult problems.  They fail over and over again as they work towards defeating the game.  Failure is part of the fun.  Yet many of those same kids balk at assignments in school when they require creative problem solving.  Or even worse- if the assignment involves writing (and following a process that includes *gasp* revision!), I have many students who shut down after their first draft.  I haven’t come up with any ideas yet, but this is something that has been on my mind all year.  There has to be a way to transfer the problem-solving techniques used in video games to something academic, like a writing piece.

I started thinking about game theory back in the summer when I read Carol Jago’s awesome book With Rigor for All, Second Edition: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature. Carol mentions many of the same thoughts I have and she inspired a lot of new thinking for me.  Then at the beginning of the school year one of my former students sent me the following email:


I found this TED talk amazing. I did some thinking on the AIDS discovery found on gamers and what I came up with is, “Gamers found this cure because we were motivated with this ‘game layer'”. I found this and I wondered, “well why can’t I apply this to my everyday life?”

This is how I finished my physics work without moving to tumblr or something. I figured a way to make everything I do in my life a score, or “ChampCoins”. The more efficietly I do my homework or chores, the more champcoins I win. If I reach my goal, I get video game time :DDD

This way of motivation is powerful (por ejemplo, look at the discovery gamers found). Simply adding a score pushed them to eventually find something.

Are videogames a waste of time… or the way of the future?

I was floored when I read it.  What powerful intrinsic motivation!  And the metacognitive awareness to realize that his motivation in video games can be transferred to school work makes me so proud.  The AIDs discovery he is referring to can be found here.  “Foldit is a program created by researchers at the University of Washington that ‘transforms problems of science into a competitive computer game,’ says Fox News. More than 236,000 players have registered for the game over the past three years. Players manipulate virtual molecular structures…After being challenged by researchers to help map this [retroviral] protease, several players worked together to solve this particular puzzle in a matter of days.”  I shared the article on our Facebook page at the beginning of year because it fascinated me, never imagining that any of my students would flip the scenario around to benefit them.  But now that Mike has done it, I grill him about it every few weeks.  As of the end of December, he was still following the same protocol and says his grades are definitely better than they were before he started this method of doing his school work.  How awesome is that?

I have ordered a bunch of books on game theory and it’s something I plan to explore more over the next few months.  I know that there is something important here and we just need to dig deep enough to find it.  Has anyone else spend time thinking about game theory and its place in the classroom?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  And I’m always looking for more resources to help me out!

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.