Monday, July 28, 2008

Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It by Sundee T. Frazier

Brendan, according to his gram is "chocolate milk"---chocolate from his dad and milk from his mom. He's a good kid with a good stable family. One day when he's walking around the mall with his gram he sees this old man at a table full of rocks. He strikes up a conversation but when his gram happens up on them she goes bezerk. Turns out the old man is his grandfather, his mom's father, who he's never met. His other grandpa recently passed away and so Bren is determined to learn more about his grandpa and to find out why they've never met.

Strong writing. Nice amount of allusions to things like the internet and video games---makes the setting and story more real, but not over the top. Just part of the story.

The only thing I didn't love was the ending. A little bit too After School Special-ish for my tastes, but those feel-good-endings were my tastes as an 11 year old, so there ya go.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


A wide u D I wood E N c E ?

I found this very cool letter/picture tool via Sarah, via Two Writing Teachers. What a fun app.

Spell with flickr.

About audience....

I read Seedfolks a few days ago. It was published during this window from about 1990-2001 when I wasn't such a huge reader of kit lit. I know, I know. I missed a lot of great books during those eleven years. But I read a lot of good adult books during that time and, among other pursuits, I also finished high school and college.

At first I was set to buy 8 copies because it seemed like really rich material, perfect for literature groups next year (which i'm determined to have more often). But...there was a tug of doubt in the back of my mind, a tug full of constantly percolating questions, like, how many kid readers do I know who will actually like this? find it painfully boring? hate it? I never bat 100 when answering these kinds of questions, but just asking them means I don't believe Seedfolks has nearly enough kid appeal. Not only is the plot boring (i believe, for 12-year-olds) and lack any real, dramatic conflict, there also isn't enough sustained character development, and the book is painfully didactic. I liked the feel good "we-can-overcome-stereotypes-and-form-communities" message, but there are lots of other books with similar themes, many of which don't hit you over the head with it AND have enough "kid appeal" to keep my student readers enthusiastic about their reading assignments.

It's such a balancing act: teaching books with content worth investing classroom time and also finding books with the illusive ingredient: kid appeal. But my barometer for finding such books is at least somewhat reliable. Earlier this summer I read more Horrowitz Horror, and I knew these scary stories were oozing kid appeal. So I ordered the original Horrowitz Horror, and the sequel. This afternoon I was eavesdropping on my high-schooler as she very dramatically retold one of these deliciously dark tales to a friend on the phone.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

finished with Egypt, for now

I'm just learning another reason it's good to be a Site Teacher Educator for the University or Utah. (That means I am a teacher who hosts student teachers. ) I am motivated to get tedious but critical work done early, so that I will be prepared to teach the budding teacher. Today I finished my "backward design" unit for Ancient Egypt and it's very good. It not only looks nice, but it also has clear objectives, interesting essential questions, and engaging activities. You see, I've gotta make sure my new student teacher will have a model of what I want him to help me do for our next two social studies units, one on Ancient Greece and one on The Silk Road. And I want to be very clear about what I expect for the units he'll be planning by himself for the three months he's going to be in charge.

Science and social studies are my least favorite subjects to teach, but being well planned does wonders for *my* engagement.

And I really love the backward design curriculum planning model. It helps me think about process and content and "big ideas" all at once. I made a one-page unit planning template that I'm going to use (or have my student teacher use) for most of the science and social studies units for the year.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Radio West Summer Reading

Doug Fabrizio hosts a "summer book show" on my favorite local radio program.

The consensus from our local bookselllers: high gas prices and a sluggish economy are good for book sales.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My New Hero

Kate Braestrup is a UU minister for the search and rescue troopers and game wardens in Maine. I heard her interviewed by Krista Tippets last week on Speaking of Faith and now I simply can't get enough of her amazing theology. She articulates a way of being a faith filled person that is entirely centered on love between humans. I'm excited to read her book, Here If You Need Me.

Sharing with you this particular video of Kate talking about her husband Drew, the stern state trooper and gay rights advocate, is my feeble response to the involvement of the LDS church in the California ballot initiative. I still claim a tenuous affiliation with mormonism, and I have been so disappointed and sad since learning of the church's formal involvement in California. I don't believe it's wrong for them to take political stands or get involved in the political process. In fact, I think they have a responsibility to do so. But they are definitely on the wrong side here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Summer Fun

Our last day of summer school was today. Maybe next year I'm going to look for something else, besides teaching, to do during the weekdays all summer. I go a bit batty just staying home, but I was so ready to not be teaching after two weeks of summer school. Which means that for half of summer school, those students of mine didn't have a very enthusiastic, happy teacher. It's also hard to bond with kids you're only with for sixteen days. Oh well.

I'm not going back to my classroom until August 12th. I've already finished gathering 120 poems. More than half are from the Nancie Atwell book Naming the World. The rest I scavenged up from books, anthologies, and Poetry Friday blog posts. I am so much fussier about the poems I share with students than I am about books. If a poem is at all obtuse or coy or flaunts its diction, I won't teach it. I am so determined not to squelch the playful, joyful deliciousness of good poetry, that I won't risk teaching poems that I don't love. The format that Nancie uses in Naming the World to teach the poems is also quite powerful. I feel excited and ready to teach poetry next year.