Sunday, October 2, 2016

Getting Ready for an Author Visit!

In a few weeks, middle grades author Alan Gratz will spend a week in my district, visiting five different schools.  He will be with us on Thursday, October 20, and our whole school is getting ready for him!

Most of the teachers are reading either part of one of his books or the whole thing, which is so awesome.  Prisoner B-3087 was a favorite of our sixth and seventh graders last year, so many of them are already familiar with his work.

A few of the teachers said they didn't have time (or the inclination, sigh...) to do a read-aloud, so I offered to do a "quick and dirty" author visit preparation class for their students.  I think it's gone pretty well so far--tomorrow I'll be doing it with eighth graders, who are the true test!

I start the class off by booktalking Prisoner B and Code of Honor, and briefly mentioning The Brooklyn Nine and the League of Seven series.  Then we watch a quick YouTube video that Alan posted of his office at home.  He specifically mentions that he'll be seeing the kids soon a couple of times, so it's a great intro to him.

After that, I introduce the stations I've designed for the kids to get to know him, his books, and his website.
Station 1: Prisoner B readers' theatre

Station 2: Code of Honor readers' theatre
Station 3: League of Seven interview (segment)
Station 7: I Have/Who Has question game

Stations 4-6
  • Station 1: Prisoner B-3087 readers' theatre (six characters)
  • Station 2: Code of Honor readers' theatre (four characters)
  • Station 3: League of Seven/steampunk info--author interview segment
  • Station 4: Alan Gratz biography--website scavenger hunt and number game
  • Station 5: Alan Gratz's first six books--website scavenger hunt and word search
  • Station 6: AlanGratz's newest six books--website scavenger hunt and word search
  • Station 7: Author Biography (from website)--I Have/Who Has questions
  • Station 8: Listening station--Prisoner B on (segment)
The students have free choice of which stations they'd like to do, the only restriction being that they can't do the two word searches right in a row.  The kids are dying to check out his books after each class, so I take that as a great sign that our visit will be successful! 

I hope to run my creation by Alan when he's with us, and if I get permission, I will make it available on TpT for free.  Or you can contact me here and I'm happy to share.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Checkout Desk Upgrade

Beginning my third year in the middle school, just about everything is cleaned out and organized just the way we need it, so I've turned my attention to some of the things I don't usually notice.

The school banner strung up with paperclips and a brass rod?  Still hanging, but in a better spot with a much nicer looking set up.  Did that really take me three years to even notice?!

I saw an idea on Pinterest a few months ago and put it into motion last week.  I had a full day of no classes (shhhh!!!!) so this was a great project and it has an immediate "Wow!" factor whenever someone enters the library.

Thanks to my scrapbooking tool the Silhouette Cameo, I was able to cut out the letters for all these words.  I spent a lot of time just playing with fonts, sizes, and colors.  I only wish I had a "before" picture--I always forget to do that! The before was a plain wooden checkout desk that was totally blah.  I used black bulletin board paper for the background and either cardstock or regular copy paper for the letters.

It's mostly been adults who have noticed the change, or at least commented on it.  I'd like to think that the kids notice, too; they just don't say anything (typical middle schoolers!).

Sunday, September 25, 2016

National Book Festival 2016

After the book festival moved indoors, I took a couple years off.  I just couldn't believe that it would be as good as when it was held on the National Mall.  What can I say...I was wrong! There is definitely something to be said for air conditioning, indoor bathrooms, tables and chairs, real food, and no weather worries.

Getting to the book festival, I felt like such a grown-up.  I took the train from my town to Union Station, got on the connector bus from there to the Convention Center, and took an Uber (my first!) from the Festival to a friend's house where we were having bookclub that night.

First of all, that convention center is HUGE! Somewhere there is an auditorium that holds 2,500, because that's where Stephen King spoke.  I didn't have a ticket to that event, so I didn't even look for it.  But it's there somewhere, as are lots of other rooms where authors spoke.

As usual, my focus was the author signing area, which was in the basement of the convention center.  Have I said yet how huge that place is?! There were 20+ lines for authors, and there was still plenty of room everywhere.

Here were some of my favorite moments:
My nephew poses with two books with similar titles. I met both authors!

Edwidge Danticat, author of Untwine.

Ali Benjamin, author of The Thing about Jellyfish

My nephew with Kwame Alexander.

My new favorite, Jason Reynolds.

Extreme close-up of Jason Reynolds.

me with Shannon Hale.

Raina Telgemeier, graphic novelist, signed over 1,800 books in 70 minutes!

Pam Munoz Ryan, author of Echo.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mid-summer check in

I cannot believe how quickly July is flying by.  Here we are with only a week left this month. Things have been going well--the TV has remained off during the day, and I have been taking breakfast on the patio each morning.  Well, except for one day... there was an unwelcome visitor on the back steps:
This snake, which was incredibly long--slithered himself across the back porch, down the side, and back under the stairs.  He (she?) is a black rat snake, which is the "good kind of snake to have," they tell me.  Cosmo (the dog) went outside ahead of me, and when I stepped onto the porch, he was not even a foot away from the snake, very curious about this new-to-him creature. The snake wasn't aggressive, and I lured Cosmo away with a treat.

My niece and nephew stayed with us this past week, and we had a super time.  My nephew went to soccer camp all day for five days (who wants to play soccer for 7 hours a day!?!?!), while my niece and I had a sewing camp.  I taught her how to use her machine and to follow a pattern, She made a few items and we had a fun week.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer Routines

Summer for me started two days ago, and I wanted to get off on the right foot.  My dog and I went for a nice walk first thing in the morning, then I sat down to my usual breakfast (yogurt and granola) plus a couple leftover muffins.
I decided that I will take breakfast outside every morning that I can, enjoying the flowers and birds and morning breezes.  This was a great way to begin the day.  Of course, the second day of vacation, it rained, and I had to eat breakfast inside.  But my dog and I got our walk in just before the shower came through.

My second "summer resolution" is that the TV will stay off between 9 am and 5 pm.  I don't need to know what Kelly Ripa is up to every day, and Hoda and Kathie Lee will be fine without me.  Already I am more productive.  Today I transplanted a spider plant, yesterday I made two banana breads... so this is definitely a good thing.  And it will give me more time to read, which is something I need to keep up with in the summer, as our middle school librarians' committee is busy picking books for our upcoming Cafe Book Program.  There is a ton of reading that goes into this program, so having quiet time away from the computer and TV is a must.

I made a To-Do list of things I want to accomplish this summer, and since we're not really traveling much, it's the perfect summer to accomplish stuff that I don't have time for during the school year.  I have fabric to make curtains for the basement, and an idea to make an over-the-door flag holder for our outside flags, and several other projects.  I am a list person, and I love crossing things off!

And there's also time for this in the summer--flowers! My patio containers are doing great, and the marigolds I planted rescued just in time are finally looking healthy.  On the side of the house I don't really visit a lot is this beautiful hydrangea, and I make sure I take a look at it every day in the summer--so gorgeous!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

GAFE--I'm all in

Image source:

When I first heard the acronym GAFE (Google Apps for Education), I felt a little turned off.  After all, a GAFFE is a mistake or blunder.  Why would we want something named that?!?! But now that I'm more familiar with all the wonderful educational uses of Google tools, I'm not so bothered by it. What else could we call it?

  • Teachers Discovering Google Apps (TeDiGoAp)
  • Google Simplifies Teachers' Lives (GSTL)
  • Students Love Google (SLG)
  • Google Dynasty (GoD)
  • Google Tools Take Over Education (GoToTOE) -- this one's my favorite!

None of these are any good! I guess we'll stick with GAFE.  I have to admit it--I usually have feelings of disdain when thinking of big companies taking over our lives.  Think Disney and Times Square... Monsanto and farming...  Pearson and testing... and initially I may have felt this way about Google.  But the truth is, the things that Google is designing for teachers and students have changed my life! And in a good way.  I am in, Google Dynasty (GoD), I am all in.

Anyway, none of this really answers the question posed to us for class this week.  Since this is an established blog of 13 years (!), I have a pretty good idea that I use it as an online journal.  When funny things happen (which is what most of the posts are about) or when terrible things happen (like when I left my old job for my new one), I want to remember them.  I'm pretty amazed when I look back posts from long ago and remember all the details because they've been written down.

So many times as teachers, we tell funny stories about our students and say to each other, "We should write this stuff down!" or "We should write a book!" That's what my blog is--a remembrance of those important events that have made us laugh or cry.

My next post will be about seventh graders laughing at me today because I called a MacBook a MacIntosh.  Literally--they giggled to each other and looked at me and laughed! I had to inform them that the first computer I used was a MacIntosh, and that's what they used to be called! Boy, do I sound old.  :(

Thursday, May 26, 2016


This is a new word to me.  It's a Middle School thing, I suppose.

Here's the definition from Urban Dictionary:

Genre of softcore punk music that integrates unenthusiastic melodramatic 17 year olds who don't smile, high pitched overwrought lyrics and inaudible guitar riffs with tight wool sweaters, tighter jeans, itchy scarfs (even in the summer), ripped chucks with favorite bands signature, black square rimmed glasses, and ebony greasy unwashed hair that is required to cover at least 3/5 ths of the face at an angle.

Here's a student who actually let me take her picture next to a not-so-random magazine in our library...
I tried to protect her identity by blurring out her facial features.  But really, how great are Middle Schoolers?!?!