Saturday, July 30, 2011


Immersing myself, submerging myself in art recharges me like almost nothing else. My son and I have been in New York City this week on what we've dubbed "the museum tour," so I thought I'd blog museum resources and ideas I'm going to take back to my classroom when school starts.

     “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.” - Picasso

How can we, in lean budget times especially, help students "see" into the minds of artists? Resources online abound. Instead of going to the museum ourselves, we can visit virtually or visit vicariously by connecting with a class that goes. To layer virtual visits, I've annotated a few tools below.

Check iTunes for podcasts from the Museum of Modern Art like MoMA Audio: Kids or MoMA Audio: Teens, available in iTunes U or as podcasts these idea-rich broadcasts are created by and for teens.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also publishes podcasts about special exhibitions. I'm thinking that episode 78, Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharoah would bean excellent pairing for A read aloud from Hatshepsut by Galford or from Curse of the Pharoahs by Hawass. In addition to the audio we'd visit the museums online.
A great feature on The Whitney Museum of America Art's site is the start your collection feature (bottom right on homepage). Imagine having students creating a character's art collection and justifying their choices. Ah, art always gives me ideas.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Copying iTunes Library

A few weeks ago I had to get a new hard drive put into my laptop. Fortunately, I keep ,most of my files on a portable hard drive which is stuck to the back of the lap top screen with Velcro. Unfortunately, I hadn't backed up my iTunes library. Lucky for me I had Florida Digital Educators training last week and there were plenty of people in the room who could help me figure out work-arounds for computer issues. Po, one of our facilitators, did some at-the-elbow-coaching and showed me how to easily copy the library files.

My former lap top screen bulb burnt out, so it's retired, but I knew I had my iTunes library, if not synced at least semi-populated. So I connected the retired laptop to a desktop monitor and went to my music folder. Then I opened the iTunes folder and copied all of the files. I dropped the files from the retired machine into the My Music folder on my current lap top and voila, my iTunes library is restored.

After restoring all, I updated all of the iTunes on the home machines and turned on home sharing. Home sharing with iTunes 10.3 allows you to share music across 5 computers if all of the computers use the same iTunes account. Find it under the Advanced tab in iTunes. Once you turn it on, everyone in the family can share music over our wireless network. Love it!

Monday, July 11, 2011

OTIS Training

OTIS training day 1
A county Technology Guru opened our 4-day OTIS institute by saying, "Your brains will explode over the next 4 days!" Can you imagine? Learning heaven. Take a peek at day 1 in the screen shot to the right.OTIS stands for Orange Technology Integration Specialist,  positions being created at many district schools in order to facilitate technology integration and meet the goal of delivery 50% digital content (a new state law) by 2015. Actually, it's not 50% digital content, it's 50% of the budget for purchasing content will be earmarked for digital content. So think about that. This summer elementary school textbooks (just 1 series, I imagine) cost the district more than $80K--the money is moving. Who's going to follow it? OTIS is grant funded and the actual instructional positions at the schools aren't necessarily paid. While we won't be paid additional monies for agreeing to train teachers, or attend training, we are paid in trade: ideas, tools and tech swag. My expectations are high. Let the learning begin.

Fossil Fuels and the End of the World

I couldn't find Florida Teen Reads titles in the local branch of my library this week, so I picked a few titles by author's I've enjoyed. It wasn't until I'd left the library that I realized I had a short set of end of the world fiction. The environment, fossil fuels, conservation, technology, all play a role in our future. These authors take the argument to a terminal degree.

EmptyEmpty by Suzanne Weyn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gas. Petroleum. Fuel. Energy. Do we have enough or are we running on empty? In the world Suzanne Weyn's creates, fossil fuels are only available on the black-market and Gwen, independent and fierce, has a brother who sells it. Gas is more than $40 a gallon. Heating oil, nonexistent for Niki's family once her father looses his job. When Gwen's house is destroyed in a fire, Tom must choose between the two girls. Will he rescue Gwen or Niki?

Girls will enjoy the budding romance, but plumb the depths of their thinking with debatable topics Weyn introduces: renewable energy, oil greed, conservation and more.

View all my reviews

This World We Live In (Last Survivors, #3)This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is romance the second stage of the end of the world? In Pfeffer's sequel (as well as several other end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it books I've read this week it sure seems so. Fans of Life As We Knew It will be pleased to find the Evans family still surviving after the meteor's encounter with the moon. Electricity is an occasional luxury and though government stepped-in with food, it seems as if supplies are dwindling. Storms loom. Will the house survive? Can the Evans weather the storm or is it time to leave?

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Ashes, AshesAshes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the map of New York City at the start of the book. Maybe I'm like one of those kids Tom Angleberger talked about mapping things for at ALAN 2011. The map delighted me because we are going to NYC soon and I found myself imagining the places we'd go in terms of the brave new world Treggiari has created. Even after cataclysmic disasters, life, long and the world goes on. Good story. Strong girl. What's not to like?

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Matrix meets Asher's 13 Reasons Why who dates Nancy Werlin's Double Helix or Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox . Imagine a world of the future where cassette tapes are a technology of the past (we'll we're there, right?). Meet Kyle. Friend of Lilly, Simon and Danny. Enjoying a seemingly ho-hum summer when the talent show changes everything. Kyle tells readers what happened in his voice, recorded and preserved on the tapes. We hear the story from Kyle with historical footnotes added by an anonymous figure looking back at the tapes from the future. Instructing plot structure, the real twist comes when Danny hypnotizes 4 members of the audience as part of his talent show spot. Those 4 are the only remaining analog humans in the town and possibly on the planet. What would you do if the human race automatically updated and you were left behind? 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Florida Teen Reads Titles round 1

Each year FAME (Florida Association for Media in Education) names 15 young adult titles to the Florida Teen Reads list. Titles are chosen by a committee of 13 media specialists and voted on at year's end by teens throughout the state. At my school, our reading coach, Dr. Beth Scanlon, plans grant-funded literacy events around the titles each year. Grant funds purchase sets of the titles for English teachers that request them and enable us to build a reading culture through monthly "Chat and Chew" lunch book clubs and after school celebrations (Family Literacy Night and the Florida Teen Reads Round Table Awards). My favorite is the final round table awards ceremony--imagine a media center nearly filled to capacity, students and teachers buzzing and book talking books. It's amazing. Teachers from all content areas, deans and even administrators "champion" a title from the Florida Teen Reads list and a round-robin session of book talking begins. Students move through 3 rounds of book chat at tables manned by book champions. We have Italian ice, vote on the best teen titles and give students tickets for participating that are drawn for door prizes provided by the wonderful Mary Ramsey, community relations manager extraordinaire from our local Barnes and Noble. This year even the principal championed a book! More than a thousand students participated in literacy events at school last year. Can you feel the excitement?

With a new school-year fast approaching, I need to read through this year's titles so that I can pick the book I want to champion. For the first time in many years the list came out with 15 titles I'd never read. I've finished four and am looking forward to reading the remaining 11 before July's end. Here are reviews to my  first four Teen Reads 2011 titles:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Born from the dark depths of what you can imagine as a futuristic, elevator shade, Thomas arrives in "the Glade" knowing only his name. Surround by boys of various ages this reader first thought he'd be instantly attacked. But no. The boys are not savage (think Golding's Lord of the Flies crew meets the order of Bachortz's Candor). Instead they have organized a nearly self-sufficient and orderly civilization in the Glade, a place they've lived (without memories and under control of the Creators) for two years. Fans of dystopian novels, action and survival books will enjoy The Maze Runner.

For teachers, I can imagine using the opening chapter to teach a vocabulary strategy lesson. Before reading, I might have students predict the meaning of words in Gill's future-speak (shank, glade, griever, greenie, etc)and then revisit the text to examine/discuss context clues or how background knowledge affects our understanding of words to wrap up the mini-lesson.

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My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Who knew that the devil demands collateral on wish fulfilled, sold-soul purchases? At times, Gill's novel--a 2011 Florida Teen Reads pick--seemed like a fantastical game of "Would You Rather." Would you rather live with a "bruja" (witch) or be evicted? Run from the devil or face his minion in a basketball game? Bug Smoot's grandfather sold his soul for his dream car, a classic Cadillac, and used Bug as collateral. Paranormals, demons, seances, psychics and more will delight supernatural fans. Bug's grit and determination will keep girls cheering her on as she battles for her soul and perhaps love in the process.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A vintage pink convertible with leather seats and a glove box full of cash? Who wouldn't go for a ride? Destiny does and her journey becomes her "one fair day"-- a day full of coincidence and joy.

Despite a secret she must confront, Destiny and 3 friends experience crystalline moments where the sun shines, the blue sky brightens and all goes their way. "Small, in-between moments, where there is magic and purpose and design and they are so perfectly beautiful they ache"(252). If only my students lives were as filled with whimsy.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Imagine a world--living, watching, listening, shifting--around you. Such is Incarceron, a living prison created to be paradise. Finn, a starseer, believes outside exists and is driven to find it with the help of his friends. Will the crystal key take him to his dreams of another world?

Action packed, description-rich, Incarceron tests your ability to imagine an alternative world. If you like dystopian fiction or even the artwork of M.C. Escher, you'll delight in Incareron.