Slice of Life: Pirate’s Treasure 6/30

If you would like to participate in Slice of Life, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog each Tuesday.

      A few summers ago, I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I was blown away with the level of enthusiasm this educator has for teaching and learning. I loved his ideas and was inspired to make a few changes in the way I thought about my classroom and the way I planned and taught. I put the book on my shelf and determined to continue to come back to the book. Then, life happened. I really didn’t get back to the book again even though I knew there were excellent, not to be missed, ideas there that could help me transform my teaching.

     Then, in January, I saw a flyer that immediately caught my eye. Right here in Milwaukee there was going to be a conference that they were calling an “innovation symposium.” There were all kinds of great people who were going to present about ideas like genius hour, global connections, gamification, flipping the classroom, etc. Already, I was quite interested. Then I saw that Dave Burgess, the pirate himself, was the keynote speaker. I knew immediately that I HAD to get there. Even though attending this conference would mean missing record day and giving up the precious time in my classroom to clean and pack things up, I just had to get there.

    Summer Spark at University School of Milwaukee (#usmspark)was every bit as cool as it sounded. It was like an edCamp on steroids. There were so many forward thinking people there! We all were pirates in the making.  The best part of the conference, of course, was hearing Dave Burgess speak. What a way to start the summer! His presentation was dynamic and filled with nuggets of wisdom. He gave us ways for “unlocking” engagement. The truth is that “an engaged student is rarely a behavior problem.” I was reminded of the amazing ideas that this teacher has for bringing his classroom to life for students. The reality is that we teachers do need to make sure we are bringing presentations to students that will bring them in. He reminded us of the mistake a lot of us make of transitioning instead of delivering content at that peak moment of engagement. I love the idea of having “engaging presentations with handles on them for students to pick up.” One of the best parts of his presentation was when he talked about asking questions and analyzing results. Three nuggets of wisdom made it into my notebook during this part of the talk:

  • “It’s not supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be worth it.” 
  • “Safe lessons are a recipe for mediocrity”
  • Failure = Feedback for Teachers
     What an honest reflection of the kind of work risk-taking teachers do. It is such a reminder for me of what I want for my students. I need to be working hard to engage them and I need to be able to take risks to do so. The work that I do needs to be worth the time that I spend doing it. Making my lessons engaging is worth that time. I love the level of detail involved in asking the questions to make good ideas for lessons into awesome experiences for students. 
     “Students will forget lessons, but they will never forget experiences.” Another piece of wisdom from Dave Burgess is that teachers should work to provide an uncommon experience for students. Since students are bombarded with things that compete for their attention, we need to make our lessons remarkable in order to gain their engagement. 
     Listening to this educator speak about lessons and engagement made me realize that I have become somewhat complacent. I have not taken the time to create amazing experiences for my students. Although I have spent hours writing plans, I have not taken the time to ask the questions that will bring out the creative ideas. I have not been working to engage my students to the full extent of what is possible. I want to change that. 
Here are the two big questions that every teacher should ask himself according to Dave Burgess:
  • If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?
  • Do you have any lessons that you could sell tickets for? 
Both of these questions make me cringe a little. I don’t think I have good answers for either one. I think that I have worked to create relationships with my students and they might want to come to school if they missed me, but I don’t necessarily think they would be there for the learning. At least, not the last group of students. I want to change that. Next year at this time I want to be able to give resounding and positive answers to those two questions. I want to be confident that my students would come even if they were not required to be there. I want to have lessons that are so amazing people would pay money to be there. 
This summer as I work on outlining my units, I will get out Teach Like a Pirate and I will think creatively. I will brainstorm hooks and think about how to provide experiences for my students in all content areas. Most of all, I will remember that in order to improve, I need to keep trying. I will fall flat on my face at least once and probably several times trying out some new ideas. If I expect my students to have grit and to persevere through failures and challenges, I need to be willing to do so myself.  
So there you have it, I am raising the pirate flag and setting sail. Time to find some buried treasure, mateys!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/29

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? –From Picture Books to YA is a weekly meme started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This is a chance for bloggers to recap their week of reading and share their plans for the next reading adventures they will take. Visit the host blogs for a list of great blogs participating in this meme and a whole bunch of titles to add to your to-read lists.

Books I Finished This Week:
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume tells the story of a small town that is rocked by tragedy. The novel is based on true events that happened in Judy Blume’s hometown when she was younger. I really liked the narrative voice in this book and was fascinated by a story of ridiculous circumstances. The story is about a series of plane crashes that occur in the town, which is located near Newark airport. I live a couple miles from the airport in Milwaukee and one of my biggest nightmares is that something like this would occur near me. Maybe that is why I found this book so gripping. Most likely it is because Judy Blume is a master storyteller. I highly recommend this one for adult readers. 
Drowning is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley will be coming out in September. I received this copy from NetGalley. This book is outstanding. The story was intriguing and pulled me in right from the start. When Olivia was just a newborn, her mother walked into the river and never returned. She has spent her whole life trying to understand her mother’s decision.  Her best friend, Jamie, lives in a war zone with a drunk father who beats his mother. The two of them rely on each other to stay sane in a crazy world. Then, one night, a fight with Jamie’s father ends badly and the two of them call on their friends Max and Maggie for help. The four teens end up on the run as fugitives from the law. I would recommend this title for mature teens and adults. 
The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney is told from the class hamster’s point of view. As the story unfolds, Humphrey is able to help a bunch of the students in the class and even the teacher. I love the way each chapter ends with a fact about hamsters. It is a really cute book and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I would absolutely recommend this one to grades 3 and up. 
What Was The March on Washington is another in this series that I read. I really like the way the series brings these big concepts down to understandable language and information for younger students. 
I finished listening to The Ring and The Crown by Melissa DeLaCruz. I think this audiobook is really well done. The narrator did a great job and made the story more interesting for me. I will definitely seek out the next book in this series. I would recommend this one to grades 8 and up. 
I read Pure Genius almost in one sitting. A lot of the book wasn’t what I thought it would be. The first few chapters definitely gave me some great ideas for Genius Hour and it was nice to read about examples at elementary, middle, and high school levels. The rest of the book had a good message about social media and teaching ourselves and students to use it in a positive way. This is a quick read and would be a good one for any teacher who is interested in creating an innovation time or genius hour in their classroom. 
Books I am Currently Reading:
I am reading Reawakened by Colleen Houck. I loved her Tiger’s Curse books, so I was excited to stumble across this one on NetGalley. I also started A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. 
What’s Next? 
I have a LOT of professional reading that I want to do. I will definitely be diving into some of that this week. I will also continue to plug away at the books from my classroom library. On Friday, I am flying out to California to visit my sister and my nieces. I hope to do a bunch of picture book reading while I am out there.  
What are you reading this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Slice of Life: Where Did The Confidence Go? 6/23

Every Tuesday, a group of bloggers share a Slice of Life. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information. 

     When I was younger, I think I was much more adventurous. It may be just my imagination, but I remember being able to let go of thinking about how I looked or sounded and being able to just be me. This was especially true in classes. I was the student who always had her hand in the air. I love learning and I had an insatiable drive for learning more and discussing that learning with my classmates.

     I still have that innate drive to learn more. I still love to attend conferences and professional development opportunities. I still sit relatively close to the front. I still raise my hand and participate in discussions. However, it seems to cost me more now. It takes an extraordinary amount of self-talk to convince myself to get to the session in the first place. I get anxious about it before I am even dressed for the event. I feel this ridiculous amount of pressure (from myself) to not appear pushy or like a know-it-all. I sometimes refrain from introducing myself to people because I am afraid that they won’t know who I am or that they will think me annoying. This isn’t at all about the other people in the room. I am pretty sure that the other people at the conferences won’t actually find me annoying and might actually like some of my ideas. However, I seem to be almost cripplingly unsure of myself. My confidence seems to have vanished.

     I wonder why that has happened. I don’t think there have been any ridiculously awful experiences that I have had with other people reacting to me in a weird way. I do not experience this lack of confidence when working with my students. In fact, I think they would be shocked that I even know what it is like to be doubting oneself. How can I have such confidence in the classroom and so little confidence when faced with a social situation?

     The introvert in me cringes at the mention of a new experience with a new set of people. That is why I am proud of myself for attending not only one, but two new conferences last week. At both conferences, there were people who I “knew” online from blogging communities and from Twitter, but it was nerve-wracking to go into these new experiences. I found some people to learn with and enjoyed meeting some of my online friends. However, I never got up the guts to approach some of the other people who I “know” but have never met face to face. Maybe next year I will ditch the self-doubt and branch out to meeting new people.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/22

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? –From Picture Books to YA is a weekly meme started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This is a chance for bloggers to recap their week of reading and share their plans for the next reading adventures they will take. Visit the host blogs for a list of great blogs participating in this meme and a whole bunch of titles to add to your to-read lists.

This week was so full of great learning and end of the school year work! I started the week with a two-day conference in Milwaukee. Then, I went back to my classroom on Wednesday morning to finish packing and cleaning for the summer. I left Milwaukee midday to drive down to Indiana for All Write. I spent a full and amazing two days attending great sessions and then drove back to Milwaukee on Friday afternoon. My reading time was obviously taken up with amazing learning time, but I did manage to get some reading in this week.

Books I Finished This Week:

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith will be released in July. I got this copy from NetGalley. The book tells the story of two boys who are both reeling from personal tragedies. Zavion and his father lose everything in Hurricane Katrina. Henry has just lost his best friend Wayne in a terrible accident. The story weaves back and forth until their paths cross and amazing things happen. I highly recommend this book. It pulls on the heartstrings in a big way and highlights how devastating natural disasters can be for the people affected. I would recommend the book for grades 4 and up. There are some pretty heavy issues and some scary situations so it is one to read before giving it to students.

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko will be coming out in the beginning of August. I got this title from NetGalley. This is another stunning historical fiction novel from the author of Al Capone Does My Shirts. The author does an amazing job of portraying the sentiments of the people living in San Francisco in the early 1900s. The book tells the story of an outbreak of the plague that happened in those years and a quarantine of Chinatown. The authorities at the time did not want to believe that there was actually an outbreak of the plague, so they worked to cover up the deaths. This is a fascinating part of history and Gennifer Choldenko does a great job of telling the story with witty and fun characters. I also really loved the fact that the protagonist in this book is a strong female character with her own ideas about the world. This one would be a great read aloud that would lead to many discussions about racism and equal rights for women as well as discussions about what people will do when they are afraid. I would recommend it for grades 4 and up.

Who Was Roald Dahl was very interesting to read. I did not know a lot of biographical information about this author. I can understand why this series is so interesting for so many students. I will be reading through all of the titles in my collection this summer. I am looking forward to learning more about these important people and places.

What I am Currently Reading:

I am listening to The Ring and The Crown by Melissa De La Cruz. I am so glad for the Sync audiobook free titles each summer! I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It was a great companion for my road trip. I am also reading In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume and I have started diving into a few professional texts as well.

What’s Next?

There is an entire bag full of books that came home with me from my class library. I will be selecting from those books for my book-a-day challenge. I will continue to read the professional books I purchased this week, including Celebrating Writers by Ruth Ayres, among other great titles. I have two more NetGalley titles that I would like to get to soon as well.

What are you reading this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/15

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? –From Picture Books to YA is a weekly meme started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This is a chance for bloggers to recap their week of reading and share their plans for the next reading adventures they will take. Visit the host blogs for a list of great blogs participating in this meme and a whole bunch of titles to add to your to-read lists.

I have two weeks worth of books to share today. I am hoping to get back on track with posting every Monday over the summer. 
Books I Finished This Week:

Shadows by Ilsa Bick is the second book in her Ashes series. It is a disturbing post-apocalyptic book about a world in which an electromagnetic pulse stopped the world and killed many people. The pulse also somehow caused all kids to turn into cannibalistic creatures. The books are quite graphic, but full of thought-provoking ideas. Ilsa Bick has a background in psychology and it really shines through in her books. Recommended for high school and up.

The Black Tower by Betsy Byars is a mystery in the Herculeah Jones series. It was a fun middle grade read. I will definitely be looking for more from this series soon. I think it could give some students the love of mysteries. I recommend it for grades 3 and up.

I love, love, love Kate Messner. I think this time-traveling dog is so fun. It would be a great book for middle grades to learn some more about history. The adventure on the Oregon Trail is a great story for the first one in the series. I am looking forward to more from Ranger.

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale is really a fun book! I love the strong female character and I know that girls will love her too. I would recommend this for grades 2 and up.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (the author of The Paris Wife) will be out this summer. I got this book from NetGalley and really enjoyed it. This is a captivating story, rich with descriptions of a beautiful and wild African countryside. I was riveted to the story and could not believe the twists and turns that Beryl’s life took. It is always great to read about a strong female character. It is even better that this remarkable woman was a real person who lived such an incredible life. I loved the way Paula McLain brought Beryl’s experience to life.

I devoured this lovely book in one sitting, with tears streaming down my face almost the whole time. How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby weaves the stories together of a dolphin in need and a young autistic boy. In the book the narrator Lily is trying to keep moving forward and to help her step-father to care for her brother. There are many sweet moments of grief that Lily has from her mother’s death. The book is full of emotions and brings up many issues that I think kids would be able to connect with. I definitely will consider this book for a read aloud this coming school year (if I think I can get through it without crying through the whole thing).

I learned so much about The Great Wall of China and China’s history in this book. After reading this one, I went back to my classroom to grab all the titles I have in this series. It is a great reading level for middle grades and I am excited to learn more about all the topics. I highly recommend this one for grades 3 and up.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is going to be coming out in August. I got this one from NetGalley. It is another great book from this author! I really enjoyed the book and will definitely be ordering a copy for my class library. I recommend this one for grades 4 and up.

What’s Next?

I will be rereading Teach Like a Pirate.  I am very pumped up after hearing Dave Burgess speak today at Summer Spark. I also just got a bunch of titles from NetGalley, so I will be reading my way through those. I am trying to improve my percentage for giving feedback there.

What are you reading? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

Celebrate 6/13

It’s Saturday and that means it is time to reflect on the week and celebrate things both big and small. Join our community and celebrate this week by linking up or just stopping by the host Ruth Ayres’ blog to read others’ celebrations.
This week I celebrate the end of the school year…

A number of students who, when given choice time during our last week of school, asked “can we do another research poster?”

A student who has come out of her shell in a big way during the last few weeks. She is painfully shy (to the point of having her friends come ask me things instead of asking for herself). During the last three weeks, I have heard her voice loud and clear more often than during the entire rest of the school year. She has been coming to me, without her friends, to ask for things. Also, this young lady actually asked to present a second research poster in front of the whole class. I was so surprised and so excited to see her progress!

A trip to the bowling alley and the exuberant fun had by all.

A set of report cards finished and a classroom that is halfway to the cleaned up state it needs to be in for summer.

A lot of laughs and silly moments enjoying some free time during the last few days.

An insightful student. On a reflection survey I asked students to tell what my strengths were. One student wrote “calming down.” I was really surprised by this, but he is absolutely right. I can be really angry and losing it one minute and then I take a few deep breaths and calm myself and continue on in a balanced and patient way. (I hope to work on a blog post this week to talk more about the reflection survey)

A very busy calendar for the next week which includes two conferences that I am super excited about! I wish I had a time-turner like Hermione has in Harry Potter so that I could get to all the sessions I want to attend! I am so very excited for All-Write and the all-star power line-up there. Summer Spark is also going to be amazing. I will learn to Teach Like a Pirate, gamify my classroom, and do all sorts of innovative things. I need to find a special notebook for all the amazing ideas I know I will get.

Celebrate 6/6

It’s Saturday and that means it is time to reflect on the week and celebrate things both big and small. Join our community and celebrate this week by linking up or just stopping by the host Ruth Ayres’ blog to read others’ celebrations.

Every week is full of celebrations if you just look for them. Here are my celebrations from this week:
  • A new responsibility at school of keeping up our web presence. I have wanted to take this over for a long time, but did not want to step on the toes of the person who was responsible. So, when he asked for someone to take over the job, I jumped at the opportunity. It is overwhelming to think of the work involved in getting the website updated, but I am really excited about the opportunity to be able to share great resources with our families. 
  • My DonorsChoose project was funded in less than a week. I am excited to receive some great STEM materials next fall to beef up my Science instruction. I also will have some great tools for exploration and a small Makerspace in my classroom. Yeah for people who are generous in donating to classrooms! 
  • Some good things happening for my husband…can’t elaborate yet.
  • Measurements being done for a possible kitchen renovation. Still in the planning stages, but I can see the possibilities! 
  • Given time to choose what they would like to work on, a number of my students chose to do another research poster. I love seeing the drive that some of them have. 
  • The harmonious nature of our board game time on Fridays. It took all year to get to the point where students don’t abuse this time, but the last month of Fridays have been glorious. I love having fun with my students. 
What do you have to celebrate this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/1

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? –From Picture Books to YA is a weekly meme started by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This is a chance for bloggers to recap their week of reading and share their plans for the next reading adventures they will take. Visit the host blogs for a list of great blogs participating in this meme and a whole bunch of titles to add to your to-read lists.

I cannot believe that it is already June! At times this year, I was pretty sure the school year was never going to end. Now, we are just two weeks away from the last day of school and summer! I am looking forward to a few conferences right away after school gets out. At Summer Spark, I am looking forward to hearing Dave Burgess speak and learning about innovative ideas for the classroom. Click on the image to find out more information about this really cool symposium in Milwaukee on June 15-16. 
I also am going to be attending the All Write Summer Institute. I am excited to attend that two days filled with all-stars! Seriously, I am geeking out about going. I also can’t wait to meet many, many of the people that I connect with through this blog and through Twitter. 
Now, on to the actual purpose of this blog post–sharing my reading. I haven’t done a Monday post since the end of April. I don’t know how May slipped by so quickly. I will try to be short and sweet about sharing some of the books I have read since the last post. 
Adult Novels I have read:
Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio was an interesting read. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I can see how many people have enjoyed this book. I did definitely like the fact that it made me think about what it would be like to have Tourette’s syndrome without really knowing anything about the condition. I am so glad that we have more knowledge of disorders in this day and age. 
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is a beast of a book, with 896 pages. This is the first book that I tried Whispersync with. I listened to most of the book, but also read some of it on my Kindle. It was really slick to do it this way. I really enjoyed the narration and I think I liked the character more because of the narrator’s interpretation. I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys romance books. 
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a book I got from NetGalley. It will be out on June 23rd. I enjoyed the premise of the book. The protagonist is a man who owns a “book apothecary.” He sells books to people like prescriptions for whatever is ailing them at the moment. He also has a particularly tragic story of a lover that died and his many years of pining for her and not moving on from this sad event. It is a novel that really focuses on how people make mistakes, but also how we must move forward and live our life that we have now. This is another one that wasn’t quite up my alley, but I did enjoy the literary twists in the book. 
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is a fascinating glimpse of Ernest Hemingway’s life with his first wife. This historical fiction book captured me from the first page and I had a hard time putting it down. If you are like me and are a literature nerd, you need to read this book. 
Young Adult Books:
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is one that really stood up to the hype. I had heard multiple really great reviews of this one. I am so glad I picked it up to read it. It is a really cute teenage love story and I really enjoyed it. I highly recommend this one for high school and up. 
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen is a retelling of the story of Robin Hood, with a little bit of love mixed in. I found myself laughing out loud at many points during this book. The protagonist is quite witty. I loved this one and highly recommend it for high school and up. 
Middle Grade Books:
The Orphan Army by Jonathan Maberry is a science fiction adventure book. You may know this author from his Rot and Ruin series. This new series is a lot more geared for younger students, but still brings in a post-apocalyptic world full of aliens who are taking over the world. We were lucky enough to have this author come for a school visit this month. What fun it is to be able to provide fabulous experiences with rockstar authors! I highly recommend this series for grades 4 and up. 
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor is a heartwarming, but also heartbreaking story about a girl who is homeless. She knows her mother needs money and when she sees a reward poster for a missing dog, she comes up with a plan to steal a dog and return the dog for a reward. As you can imagine, things don’t quite go as planned. This is a great book for helping kids to build some empathy and I think it would make a great read aloud. I highly, highly recommend this one for grades 3 and up. 
Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells is a fun detective story about a boy who has a photographic memory. When he is called into the police station to describe a suspect in a crime he witnessed, he is not satisfied with the police sketch. He asks to sketch the person himself. He does such a great job with the sketch that the police enlist his help in the case they are working on. I am a sucker for mysteries, so this book was right up my alley. I am sure many kids would really enjoy this book as well. I recommend it for grades 4 and up. 
The Brixen Witch by Stacy DeKeyser is a retelling of the Pied Piper story that looks into who the piper is and why the village finds themselves in the position of needing someone to remove the rats. It is a fun book and I recommend it for grades 3 and up. 
Books I am Currently Reading:
I am reading Shadows by Ilsa Bick right now. It is the second book in the Ashes trilogy. 
What’s Next? 
I just ordered some professional books for summer reading, so I will probably get started with one of those. I also want to read the NetGalley copy that I have of Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. I will also probably pick up a couple middle grade titles. With report cards and end of the year records to do, I may not get in much reading. I guess we shall see. 
What are you reading this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments! Have a great reading week!