Friday, April 30, 2010

360 Degrees Longitude: One Family's Journey Around the World by John Higham

This is the true story of John & September Higham packing up their lives, their jobs, their responsibilities, and setting off for an around the world adventure with their two kids for an entire year.

Not only was this book entertaining, but it reinforced the importance of travel to learn tolerance and understanding. It forces you to set aside your preconceived notions of culture and actually learn the truth beyond the propaganda.

It was crazy to read about the family's experiences in Thailand one day, and then, on their whim, just decide to up and go to Cambodia. To have that kind of freedom must be so completely different from the normal daily grind of American suburban life.

This book helps you realize a couple things about travel:
1) The media has a way of making you view the world through a specific lens - one of fear and propaganda. If you take away your frequent use of the media to get your information and force yourself to experience the world beyond the propaganda, and you actually find that people and cultures around the world are worth giving the benefit of the doubt.

2) The American dream is not everyone's dream. Americans have this mistaken notion that everyone around the world aspires to be like us. That is so not the case. Break down the arrogance and celebrate that others around the world love their culture and lifestyle just as much as we do.

I certainly could never do what the Highams did, but their story just helped reinforce why travel has become such an important part of my life.

Not only was this book a joy to read, but it adds an interactive experience to the mix: you can download a Google Earth file and travel along with the family as you read! This is a very cool feature that actually got me to explore Google Earth for the first time. I'm ashamed to admit I had never explored this application prior to this occasion. Now I think it's one of the coolest pieces of software ever!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Celebrate Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!
Go hug a tree! Go eat some granola! Put on your tie-dyed shirts!
Then go do something useful: Change your light bulbs. Recycle Reduce Reuse. Ride your bike. Make more conscious, sustainable food choices.
a tree-hugging hippie. ;o)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Libarary Gets Rid of Books. What's Next? Using Them as Kindling?

This morning I was sitting at my desk taking attendance, doing my morning paperwork while my class watched Channel One, when all of a sudden, a story came on that immediately caught my attention. Have any of you heard about the high school in Massachusetts that's getting rid of all the books in their library?

I am completely and utterly appalled. Now, I don't want you to think that I am not for promoting new technologies, because I am one of the teachers at my school who embraces technology and am always finding new ways to use it in my classroom. But the idea of getting rid of books because the students don't use them, is not only misguided, it's STUPIDITY!

The headmaster's logic for getting rid of the books is that the students don't use them and, in their stead, are finding unreliable sources on Google. By giving them e-readers and access to peer-review journal databases, he seems to think that students will use more reliable sources in their research.

My contention with this idea is that he assumes that students aren't looking at books because they're "outdated" and "archaic" when, in reality, if you have a knowledgeable teacher who requires the use of book sources, and who is willing to help students find books, and gives them time in class to look, then THEY WILL USE THEM!!!!!

I have done several projects in my English and social studies classes this year and make sure I take my students through the steps of how to find reliable books, review how to use the Dewey decimal system, and then model for them how to find information from that book. Because I have done this prep-work, I find students continually carrying books around that relate to their projects.

Saying that students aren't using books is a cop out. Teachers aren't modeling for their students HOW TO USE THEM. Giving students e-readers takes away the joy of perusing through a stack of books, and also reduces your ability to find free books to borrow.

I can't think of a more misguided use of new technology than to get rid of the books in a library. Books are still relevant. And given the fact that there is not an abundance of e-books to "check-out", this seems like a very expensive endeavor. Even without the expense, whatever happened to the joy of holding a book between your hands and experiencing the new worlds between those pages? I pray with all my might that other schools don't follow this trend.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

This is by far THE best book I've read that makes a case to educators as to why we need to be giving our kids choice in the books they read.

There is a disturbing trend in our country that when students hit junior high, they stop reading for pleasure. There have been many studies to find out the answer to this conundrum, but even without the studies, I've known the answer all along and so does Donalyn Miller: Once kids hit junior high, they're force-fed books that they don't want to read, that they find either too challenging or too easy, and then they're required to dissect the book to death by answering questions on mindless worksheets or writing painful essays in literary criticism. If that doesn't take the joy out of reading, I don't know what does.

What I love so much about this book is that Miller openly addresses how to deal with the "difficult" students and doesn't try to make herself out to be the savior to every troubled child that shows up in her classroom by instantaneously turning them into a voracious reader. Instead, she shows us how to celebrate the small victories of those students rather than lamenting over the fact that they don't meet every requirement set forth by the teacher.

If it were up to me, every each and every language arts teacher, administrator, and educational policy maker would be required to read this book!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Top 100 Children's Books

A Fuse #8 Production has been working on a "Top 100 Children's Books" list and now that it's complete, TeacherNinja turned the list into a meme. Use this list for your own blog and bold the ones you've read (I also italicized the ones I attempted and abandoned).

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson's Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver - Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)

Total read: 39
Total abandoned: 4

Less than half???? Wow! I need to get reading!


I am so excited to read the book Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon. Every year during National Poetry Month I have my students create Found Poems and Headline Poems so I love that Austin Kleon is giving this idea literary merit.

Check out this book trailer on Kleon's work:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Travel Taught Me

I was looking through some of my scrapbooks this evening, and I came across this list on the last page of my Europe albums. When my husband and I lived in Germany, we traveled somewhere in Europe at least once a month and that experience taught me so much about the world and about myself.

These are the things that travel taught me...

  • you will never be satisfied until you’ve seen the whole world – and even then you’ll want to go back and do it again.

  • you learn more traveling than you do in school.

  • no matter how homesick you get, you’ll never believe how much you miss it once you get home.

  • that memories are more important than souvenirs.

  • sometimes getting lost is half the fun.

  • not everyone who offers to help you is a potential shady character – sometimes they just want to be nice.

  • staying in small family-run hotels and B&Bs adds much more to the experience than staying in chain hotels.

  • not to look for home in the places you visit, but instead seek out the things that make it unique and different from your own culture.

  • not to eat chain food – you can do that at home! Seek out little family-run places that allow for new and different culinary experiences.

  • you often remember more of the good times than the bad ones, and when you think of the bad times, you can usually laugh about them now that they’re in the past.

  • getting up early to be the only ones walking around St. Peter’s Square is worth way more than sleeping in.

  • that deep down inside, I just might actually be a city-girl

  • sometimes taking the road less traveled makes all the difference and sometimes it doesn't

  • that “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

A Couple Cookbook Reviews

I have always utilized my library in just about every capacity: books, audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, you name it. But I am just now starting to realize the wonder it beholds in the cookbook section. It has almost an entire wall of shelving dedicated to cookery, and I think that it's high time I start taking advantage of that. I recently checked out The Kind Diet and Giada's Kitchen which I am going to review here.

Let's start with the good first: Giada's Kitchen

Prior to this occasion, I have never felt the compulsion to buy any of Giada de Laurentiis' cookbooks because I watch her show on Food Network so faithfully that it never occurred to me that her cookbooks would have different recipes in them. Well guess what? They do! And this book had my mouth watering the ENTIRE time. I promptly made one of the dishes from the book last night (spicy parmesan green beans and kale) and will be purchasing my own copy in the near future. There is just something so simple and sumptuous about the food she makes. I just love watching her cook - even if she's making a dish that I would never consider making in a thousand years, she still manages to make it look and sound delicious.

Now onto something less enticing: The Kind Diet

Alicia Silverstone makes a convincing case for why you SHOULD go vegan. But it honestly started to feel like propaganda after a while: meat is known to cause cancer, dairy is known to cause cancer, processed foods are known to cause cancer, milk actually causes osteoporosis.

OK, we get it. Everything but plants is bad for you. But here's the deal: aren't we going to all die of SOMETHING? I'm not going to spend my entire life seeking out nothing but plants and deny myself some of the very things that make life so enjoyable just because it might eventually kill me.

In the past couple of years I have worked really hard to try to eliminate as many processed foods as I can and to eat more fruits and veggies. But I could NEVER give up dairy. I could give up meat a lot easier than I could give up dairy. And yes, maybe eating an all-plant diet will make you feel and look better, but there are some things in life that you just have to say, "I live a good life, and try hard to eat well, but this is something I'm just not willing to give up."

And I will give Alicia credit: she recognizes that. Which is why she has different stages of the kind diet, the first one being "flirting" with the idea of going vegan. But here's the deal: had this book included easy, delicious-sounding recipes, I might have considered eating vegan more often. But given the obscurity of so many of these ingredients, there's no way I'll be using any of these recipes.

Examples of obscure ingredients that most people in suburban America would have a hard time finding:
  • lotus root
  • shoyu
  • vegenaise
  • seitan
  • vegan chorizo
  • umeboshi vinegar
  • brown rice syrup

There are many more examples, but I will just leave you with those.

For those people with the willpower and desire to drastically change their ways, perhaps this book will speak to them, but for me, I thought it was a bit too alarmist, and didn't include any recipes that made my mouth say, "Mmmmm... that sounds good!"

Friday, April 2, 2010

Great Video from the Whole Foods Blog

I follow the Whole Foods blog, called Whole Story as I am trying to make more conscious food choices and put less processed crap into my body. I thought this was a great video they put together:

Poetry Friday - Happy National Poetry Month!!!

National Poetry Month is my FAVORITE month of the year to be an English teacher. I see so much growth of students in this month and it is so rewarding to see so many kids have their minds, not just changed, but expanded about what this genre really can do for people.

I started poetry month a week early because of Easter Break, so my students have been learning a little bit about poetry already. On Wednesday I had them make a concept map all about their thoughts on poetry. I had them decorate it and make it colorful and I was so impressed with the thoughts they wrote. Most of their concept maps were WAY better and more insightful than mine.

Here's what some of them had to say...

Some poems aren't your type, some poems speak to you. - Margaret B.

April showers bring poetry flowers. - Elizabeth R.

Poetry can be confusing, but at other times it just speaks to you. - Elizabeth R.

Poetry paints the earth in color. - Erin G.

What is up with the red wheelbarrow poem? - Charlie J.

Why can't April be "Uggh Poetry" Month? - Charlie J.

Poetry is the whisper on the breeze. It's always calling. - Saydi A.

Poetry takes a lot of thought to understand. - Jon T.

I didn't like poetry until Mrs. S. introduced it to me. - Jon T. :o)

Verbal painting - Ray C.

Poetry is performance on paper. - Ashley B.

Life on paper - Claire Y.

Poetry is a box of crayons - different colors come with different feelings. - Natasha B.

Poetry is rain in the spring - Pelton S.

Words forged into art. - Sorin K.

Poetry is a voice that calls you to write. - Patrick S.

Poetry is a garden of words. - Julia F.

The lines and how they are spaced interests me. - Eryn V.

Your thinking outside the box, inside the box - Elysse K.

Poetry can make even the ugliest topics pretty. - Ronan P.

A joyride of imagination - Louis W.

Something you can get tangled in - Louis W.

Poetry is like riding a bike: in the beginning it's hard, but when you practice you get better. - Branden E.

I'm still confused a bit about poetry. Does the poet write about what they are feeling or thinking? Is it just something random? I'm confused! - Jackie D.

Want to write a squirrel poem. - Catherine G.

Some of these make me laugh, some of them make me think, and others are just so insightful that you wonder how the mind of a 12-year old came up with it. Don't anyone ever tell me that learning about poetry is a pointless exercise. You want to talk about a pointless exercise, let's get into a debate about 5-paragraph essays* and how pointless THOSE things are compared to the abstract, complex thought that poetry involves. A 6th grader would never come up with the brilliant and insightful thoughts above if I asked them to write a 5-paragraph essay instead of learn about poetry. And I want you to know that not every kid on here is an honor student. These thoughts come from all different ability-levels, not just the straight-A students.

*For the record, I have nothing against essays in general and do teach them. I just hate the cookie-cutter, thoughtless drivel that the 5-paragraph essay structure forces kids to compose. It is nearly impossible to write with any sort of voice when using the 5-paragraph essay model.