Monday, January 30, 2012

Vision of MY Middle School

Welcome to MY Middle School, where the office staff greets you with your own iPad to help you record your thoughts from your visit today. A couple of students in the office shake your hand and welcome you to their school as you head over the the media center.

In the media center, students are browsing not only print materials and periodicals for their leisure reading, but also borrowing personal reading devices and mp3 players to read and listen to electronic books and podcasts. Groups of students work together on their projects, adding to their group wikis and creating documents that they share through Google docs.

In a math class, students are using interactive white boards to work with their classmates, using student-created presentations while a teacher provides one-on-one remediation and refocusing. Students move through student-created and teacher-created centers, using manipulatives, online math tools, watching videos of math instruction. Two students work on their online advanced math course.

In a social studies class, students are Skyping with an archaeologist in Asia who is sharing his latest findings. In another classroom, the teacher is leading a Socratic seminar with students who will then record their thoughts about seminar-style instruction and the seminar topic in their class VoiceThread project.

In a language arts class, students gather to blog about the latest young adult novel that they have read, posting their thoughts on their Edublog sites and commenting on their classmates’ posts. Students are creating digital storytelling projects, listening to one another’s ideas, modeling cooperative and collaborative learning. Students can access their electronic portfolios from anywhere on campus in order to add and delete documents, files, and presentations.

In a science class, students record their findings on a weather experiment and create a video instructing other middle schoolers how to carry out similar experiments. A group of students approaches the teacher about staying after school one day to continue their work on various experiments they have brainstormed to do. The teacher is very open to their ideas and they mutually agree to use an online tool to post their ideas and plan their project and set a time to come together to meet.

As you move through the hallways, students greet you and one another with smiles. Students appear excited about learning, moving from classroom to classroom to media center to outdoor learning spaces with confidence and enthusiasm.

Certified staff, many with advanced degrees and National Board Certification, meets in grade level and interdisciplinary teams and departments, as well as with guidance, media and instructional resource staff to plan lesson, dissagregate data, share professional resources, read journals, conduct action research, and create reports and presentations for district and state conferences and presentations.

A small group of teachers meets in their team room conferencing calling with a parent who is out of town to discuss his child’s projects posted on the teacher Blackboard site and grades posted on SPAN. Another two teachers are working together to learn reading strategies through the district’s online professional development program.

As you head through another building, you see students working with robotic technology to create their own masterpieces. You hear native speakers providing interactive lessons with students learning to speak a new language. You run into the school resource officer who welcomes you to campus and thanks you for taking the time to be a part of our school community.

You hear the sounds of an energized and active instrumental and vocal music program as you walk back across the campus. You see drama students using mini-video cameras to record their skits in an outdoor learning space.

And as you head back to the front of campus to end your visit at MY Middle School, you have a warm feeling, confirming the strong, compassionate academic and social program that is afforded to every middle schooler, teacher, and parent that graces the doors.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

100 Books in 2012: Naked Bunyip Dancing by Steven Herrick

Book 8: Naked Bunyip Dancing by Steven Herrick

Told in verse, the students in Class 6C share their year with the new teacher, Mr. Carey, a hippie, ponytailed, poetry reading, guitar playing teacher who introduces them to yoga, music, and poetry. This "finding yourself" story is another quick, cute read with the culminating concert put on by the students showing how they have grown and changed over the year.

(There are a few Australian words and references.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

100 Books in 2012: Gossip from the Girls' Room by Rose Cooper

Book 7: Gossip from the Girls' Room: A Blogtastic Novel by Rose Cooper

Okay, this was a quick, cute read. A little Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Harriet the Spy.

Sofia keeps a pre-blogging journal of all that she overhears in the girls' bathroom and then anonymously blogs about it, stirring up the gossip and concerns of her fellow middle schoolers. It's the non-popular kids verses the popular kids with the usual middle school embarrassments and pre-teen angst. A couple of twists wrap up this fast read nicely and leave Sofia wondering what boys talk about in the boys' room. Thus is born the follow-up book, Rumors from the Boys' Room.

Friday, January 27, 2012

100 Books in 2012: The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues by Ellen Raskin

Book 6: The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues by Ellen Raskin

Odd. That's the one word to describe this mystery by the author of The Westing Game.

Dickory Dock seeks out a job as an assistant to "a well-known portrait painter" whose only requirements are that the assistant be "a native New Yorker, neat, well-organized. Quiet! Observant!" The artist, Garson, is an eccentric phony, a not so good painter, in Dickory's opinion, but the pay is good.

Turns out that Garson is often visited by the chief of police to help solve crimes. Through a little role-playing (Garson as Sherlock Holmes and Dickory as Watson), the two solve some of the chief's supposedly hard to solve cases. Figure in a deaf-mute, a couple of blackmailers, a derelict and a blind man, and you have one unusual mystery book that would only be enjoyed by a more sophisticated young adult reader.

Or someone that likes just plain odd books.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

100 Books in 2012: The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

Book 5: The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

This book was just what I needed to read. A sort of coming of age for middle aged folks, a working through the mid-life crisis story.

After twenty years of marriage, Jessie Sullivan is questioning her place, her life when she is forced to return to the island where she grew up to deal with her possibly insane and religiously fervent mother who has inflicted injury upon herself. While facing the past of her father's death and contemplating the future with her husband, Jessie encounters Brother Thomas, a monk at the monastery where her mother was the cook, with whom she shares an intensive and passionate connection.

Through her artwork and reconnections with island family and friends, Jessie becomes more aware of herself, her wants and needs, her sacrifices, as she reconciles the past and the present.

A really nice read in which enduring love, beautiful love, wins out in the end.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

100 Books in 2012: Everything You Pretend to Know and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask by Lynette Padua

Book 4: Everything You Pretend to Know and Are Afraid Someone Will Ask by Lynette Padua

Every wonder about the etymology of some words and phrases or even what exactly some political, religious, historical reference really means? Well, this is the little book to give you an overview of all those cocktail conversation type topics and ideas that you might hear often but aren't really sure about.

The chapters are broad subjects like newsspeak, history, health, food, and science. But the topical questions in each chapter provided some insight into things I wasn't sure of or downright just didn't know or clarified a few ideas that I already did know.

So if you have ever asked yourself "What is saffron and why is it so expensive?" or if you have ever questioned "What is a slush pile and what is a slush fund?" or if you find yourself pondering "What is the difference between art nouveau and art deco?", then this little read might be right up your alley!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

100 Books in 2012: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Book 3: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

What a satisfying read!

Eleven year old Melody is bright, smart, funny, awesome. Eleven year old Melody is a paraplegic with cerebral palsy who cannot walk, who cannot talk. All these thoughts of words and music and colors and feelings fill her head, but she has no way to get them out, no way to speak.

Her parents just know that she is a smart child and with the help of her caregiver she learns to communicate all the brilliant things that she knows, all the things that fill her head.

This book made me think, made me laugh, made me cry, made me thankful and thoughtful. Yes, a nice satisfying read.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

100 Books in 2012: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Book 2: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

I do not usually read graphic novels. I completely avoid the Japanese manga and anime stuff, but I will at least skim through the latest in our school's graphic novel collection to make sure the titles jive with the reviews that I read before actually purchasing them.

When I saw the students (girls!) that were checking out and voraciously reading (and laughing out loud) the book, I had to see what the commotion was all about. Smile is the autobiographical graphic novel of Raina Telgemeier, who unfortunately endured a painful loss of her two front teeth when she was in the 6th grade, followed by numerous dental surgeries and braces. Thank goodness Raina "survived" to tell and wonderfully illustrate her story of learning to smile again through her lack of teeth and the painful middle school and high school taunts of her supposed friends.

The story will make you say, "Ouch!" It will make you laugh out loud. And it will definitely make you smile.

100 Books in 2012: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Book 1: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Yes, I finally read Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, the third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. That book has been staring at me from my stack on the floor next to my bedside for over a year and a half when it was released in 2010.

I just didn't want the story of Katniss to end.

But with the movie coming out March 23, 2012, and more and more of our students reading the trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay), I wanted to be able to say that yes, I had read all three of the titles.

Just like the first two books, the final installment is action packed, violent, intriguing, and complex while Katniss is a likable, resilient, empowered, and determined protagonist. While I thought Collins wrapped up the trilogy just fine (I absolutely will not spoil it for you and tell you who she ends up with, Gale or Peeta), there was one spot near the end where an editor must have taken license to pull out a scene or two. (The "next thing you know I wake up in a hospital" scenes always sit wrong with me.)

Definitely a great read, but start from the beginning of the trilogy. And remember that this trilogy is not for those readers with weak stomachs.

Monday, January 9, 2012

100 Books in 2012 Challenge

I've tried this before, but only managed to make it to 30 some books, but I'm taking on the challenge of reading 100 books in a year in 2012.

Thanks to my friend - teacher and writer - Jen McConnel, I'm challenging myself once again to read as much as possible and then post them on my blog.

So if you think you'd like to join us, pop over to Jen's blog, leave a comment, and start reading!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Declutter and Organize Calendar

A Facebook friend shared the link to this 2012 Declutter and Organize calendar. It's a daily list of small areas to declutter and/or organize throughout the year. It's sort of the old "how do you eat an elephant? one bite at a time" question and answer. My winter vacation gave me a jump start to get the laundry room, little E's room, and the kitchen started on the decluttering and organizing path.

But a little exploring on the site, My Simpler Life, and blogger and "simpler living educator" (as she call herself) Beth Dargis has some commonsense approaches to helping you live more simply. I like her weekly simplicity tips. She also offers a simple annual plan. She tauts positive and practical ideas to get yourself organized and to have peace in your life. Check it out!