New Year New Challenges

So I’ve gone through on day with each of the seven 4th grade classes for library orientations and spent the last few days giving them some kind of pre-test on the computers. Protip: if you have any say or any choice, testing like that is ALWAYS better paper/pencil. Computers are amazing for so many things but testing elementary students isn’t on of them.

The time has come for me to make my first Specials lesson plans. So of course I’m procrastinating by updating the blog.

I’m going to be getting a Scholastic magazine called Storyworks for my main source but that doesn’t come out until September. In the meantime I have plenty of ideas. I’ve genre-fied the fiction section so we will be exploring that. I also want to review some tips and tricks that will help them get more use out of our online Media Catalog. Then I’ll go into the public library catalog and how to reserve the things we’re already out of (Wimpy Kid, Amulet series, Minecraft books, etc.) Last I want to get them getting a reading list together using a database our district subscribes to called NoveList. You can put in the name of a book or author you like and it’ll give you suggestions of other books kind of like that. Problem is, I don’t always have all the books it suggests, hence the public library catalog lesson before this one.

I also am going to try a new (to me) tool called Plickers which will allow me to do some fun formative assessments and ticket-out-the door activities without needing all the students to have a device or code or login or other cumbersome and time-wasting fiddly bits. With this they just hold up a card with their answer and I use my phone with the app to quickly scan and get a read on who knows what’s what. I haven’t used it yet but have enthusiastic feedback from a teacher who has and loves it.

I’m also dealing with an online troll so have, for the moment, turned the “protected tweets” option on my Twitter because muting and blocking didn’t seem to be enough for this fellow. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything too horrible. Just a constant stream of nonsense that was becoming an annoyance. Here’s to his future mental health and happiness.

But all in all it’s been a good year. Like I said, I’m about to start the Specials rotation in earnest this week, going back to the live morning show is going well, the Reader’s Rally Team is kicking off this week and we’re about to have the first Book Fair. Then Dragon Con! I’ll be crazy busy through the Labor Day weekend but after that should be getting into a routine.

How about you? Beginning of school treating you well? Hope the challenges you’re facing are keeping things interesting! Let me know in the comments.




First Day of School!

So far so good!

The cafeteria is short-staffed so I may go in when I can and help heard the lines.

Kindergarten students are currently getting tours around the building.

The counselor is cleaning up from the “Coffee & Comfort” thing she does to help ease out the new Kindergarten parents.

The morning broadcast went okay, if a bit late. It’s amazing how much you forget over the break! (And I needed to change out the battery for the clock in there.)

Still registering a few new students.

Now I’m just awaiting my first library orientation classes.

Have a great year everyone!

Getting Ready for School AND an Eclipse!

Solar-EclipseIt’s the middle of our pre-planning week here in my district. We all have a million things to do and time is running out to do them but somehow the first day always comes and goes and it’s usually a success.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea I’ll be teaching a Specials class this year. I found out yesterday it’s not in the traditional one class per day for seven days, then start over format. It’s in a three days with this class, then three days with that class and so on until you see the first group 21 or so days later for another three day session. So I’m thinking about turning it into a Media Festival workshop. We have a state Media Festival every year and it’s always hard to find the time to let kids go to town on those projects. I’m not sure if I’m up to the logistical challenge but I’m consulting some expert teachers on the subject so we’ll see where that goes.

Also, I’ve been getting questions about the 2017 solar eclipse. There is a ton of information out there but really, everything you really need to know is right here:

Where we are we’re going to get about 98% coverage instead of complete totality, but that’s the most I’ve ever seen so I’m happy. I’m going to be playing the NASA livestream for the school in case it’s cloudy or for anyone who is unable to get out there for it. Our school district has extended the school day for an hour just for this. I think that’s because “totality” is occurring right around the same time as many school’s bus dismissal time. That would be a mess.

Do you have any plans for the eclipse? Let me know in the comments. Have fun!

Back to School Time!

“We’re ready for the new school year. Are you?”

Today was the first day back for teachers. Next Monday is the first day back for our students.

Things that will be new this year: the principal, and assistant principal, the tech guy, about 10-15 teachers, doing the morning show live and now I just found out I’ll be teaching one 4th grade Specials class every day (still without a clerk).

Today I basically got to make a big long To Do list, meet some of the new people and make initial contact with 4th grade regarding the whole Specials class thing.

Oh yeah, and of COURSE I got some of those cute Mo Willems characters they were selling at Kohl’s this summer.

Have a great one!

Book Scavenger/Ferlinghetti

20170426_103537So the Ferlinghetti book was part of this month’s Guys Read book club meeting. The Book Scavenger was one I just happened to be reading for next year’s Reader’s Rally team.

Our book club has gotten into the habit of treating the April meeting as a catch all poetry read aloud session in honor of Poetry Month. Guys bring in a handful of poems which we read aloud and discuss. This year we added the Ferlinghetti collection as well.

Book Scavenger is about a girl who moves to San Francisco, makes a friend and has many adventures trying to crack an elaborate “book scavenger” puzzle that takes them on a literary tour of the city. One of the influences mentioned more than once is Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his City Lights book store which makes an appearance in the story. So that was fun. If you know a kid who likes things like The Westing Game or Gollywhopper Games, this is the book for them.

Two of the poems I found to read were both by a guy named Tony Hoagland who I’d never heard of before but quite liked. I’ll have to look for more of his stuff.



The only really stressful part of my job comes when there’s something I have to do in the broadcast room and something in there goes haywire. It happened this week and was nuts.

I had to go away for a half day meeting Tuesday afternoon and had a clerk record the next day’s morning show and do the end of the day dismissal stuff. She did everything right but when she went to play back the morning show there was no sound. She texted me but I wasn’t worried. There’s lots of little buttons it’s easy to accidentally push. I knew I’d quickly figure it out in the morning.

I couldn’t figure it out the next morning. I did every bit of troubleshooting I could. I finally had to break down and call the IT dept. and he walked me through even more troubleshooting things.  We thought we’d nailed it with five minutes to spare before showtime.

We hadn’t nailed it. I had a silent morning show. Sigh.

So the real troubleshooting began. I double checked every setting and piece of software and hardware and followed every cable in and out of that stupid soundboard until I found it. It was an unplugged gray cable that took me another forever to figure out where it should be plugged into. Grrr.

The morning before my meeting the tech guy had come in looking for some district tags on equipment for his inventory. We had to shift a few things around to find these little barcode stickers and must have inadvertently unplugged it. So now it is much better wound up and tucked into the back of this crazy mess of wires.

I miss the days when someone in the office would just do an all call announcement in the morning and afternoon and we didn’t have to deal with all this crazy stuff. I’m just sayin’!

Feel my pain!

Sapelo Island, GA

Never heard of it have you?  THAT’S WHY WE WENT THERE! See that picture of the empty beach? That’s how it was all week.

The guy fishing? That’s the dock where we unloaded all our stuff then loaded it all onto the ferry to the island. When I say all our stuff I mean everything. You need to pack all food and snacks and drinks and everything you’re going to need to make all your meals all week long. My Lovely Bride had an excellent spreadsheet and is an amazing packer so we were good.

The kid with the van? When we got to the island our instructions were to find the van, get the car keys our of the drink holder with the map and go. There was no map. It was a creepy van. The kids nicknamed it “The Murder Van.” A storm was rolling in. A woman said she knew the house and led the way. Deep into the woods, with thunder going, the van died. My buddy got it going and we made it to the rental house and got everything into the house right as the downpour hit.

The misty forest photo? That was our view. Gorgeous even in the rain.

The dead tree on the beach? The next day we went out to that area nicknamed “The Boneyard” where a bunch of trees are slowly being washed away. Then we went to the EMPTY AND GORGEOUS BEACH all day.

The crabs? We went seining and caught a bunch of crabs! We looked up on youtube how to clean them. It was pretty gross and a whole lot of crabs didn’t equal that many crab cakes but man oh man were they good.

The nature trail? We hiked a lot. Forest, estuary, dunes, coast, everything.

Yes there’s a lighthouse. No, you can’t go in. But it’s a nice area to wander around. And yes, that last picture is of a gator! We went to the gator pond more than once before we finally saw a couple like this. I hear they wander around sometimes and you can see them laying outside the water but we never got so lucky.

It was a great, fun, relaxing and adventurous vacation. Just the right mix of exploring and laying around in hammocks and chilling. None of us wanted to return to civilization.

How about you? Hope you had a nice break as well and a good last few weeks of school.

Author Visit!

One thing I am not super great at but think is important is author visits. There are authors and illustrators you’ve never heard of that can be had for free or cheap but you need to make sure they’re engaging. Ones you’ve heard of are much more expensive and whenever I have money, I also have a list of books I want to buy. Plus, if you have the money and find the right author it’s a logistical nightmare working more than one presentation around lunches and recess and Specials and field trips and whatnot.

But it IS important. It can be a real inspiration to some of the students and teachers can do so much with a good experience like that.

So even though it was a lot of work, I am very happy how our full day visit from author David Biedrzycki (Ba-DREE-key) went last week!

I booked him for four presentations and he was here last Monday. He won our state’s picture book award (voted on by students) and sent out an email last spring to many of us, offering his services. I jumped right on it because Breaking News: Bear Alert is one of the rare picture books that is a fun read aloud from K through 5. And the fun thing about a fun presenter like this is even if some kid don’t care about this particular book, they learn so much about being an author and an illustrator that it’s totally worth it.

Yes, David is super engaging. He has a very active presentation with tons of fun and funny slides. He reads Bear Alert with slides and even photoshops the librarian into one of the pages for added hilarity. He discussed books he is working on and asks for student input. Then he shows them how he illustrates, getting them to pick colors and such as he uses a tablet to draw in Photoshop. Now Photoshop is pricey, but he recommends some apps and a website called which is a free Photoshop analog budding digital artists can try. He also makes sure to draw something using basic shapes and colors do those budding artists have something they can try right away. He even showed an example of a student’s version and said the kids could send him their efforts.

It was a great day for all. I won’t be able to do it every year, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the change to try it out again.

One less expensive option is Skype visits. I did one with Barbara O’Connor last year and that was fun. But a real live, interactive author visit just can’t be beat.20170320_144243

Save Me a Seat

25311520I don’t do a ton of book reviews on here because there are SO MANY blogs reviewing books, kids books, and any certain kind of book you want to know about. These bloggers also seem to be out on the cutting edge reviewing things before they even come out. Plus there’s Goodreads so chances are, if a book is already out for you to read, you can find much more capable folks than I reviewing it.

But I do have certain types of books I read every year so heck, I might as well write up my thoughts each time. Who knows, I might even come up with something original every now and then. The list of books I read every year include the Georgia State Picturebook Award nominees (20 or so). The Gwinnett County Reader’s Rally books (15). And sometimes some of the Georgia State Book Award nominees. I also read most of my Guys Read book club books (12) and whatever else I get around to.

Save Me a Seat is co-authored by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. It alternates chapters between Joe, who is a bit lumpy and has a sensitivity disorder in which he needs to wear earplugs in places like the cafeteria and goes to a pull out teacher to help him deal with noise distractors. He also has had a good friend move away and eats alone in the cafeteria, partially because there’s a popular bully who bothers him quite a bit.

Ravi (rah-VEE) and his family have just moved here from India and while he may have been a top student in both academics and sports there, here no one can pronounce his name, can barely understand him through his accent and he is also unknowingly being led down a merry path by the same bully who has been making Joe’s life miserable.

I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say the “save me a seat” thing is a bit of a Sleepless in Seattle thing where Joe and Ravi actually don’t have much to do with each other until the final chapters. Joe sees what Ravi is walking into with the bully but Ravi misinterprets Joe, doesn’t pay attention to him and kind of needs to be taken down a peg or two anyway.

That’s one of the best parts of the book, actually. The bully is not a big, angry doofus like the one Calvin of Calivn and Hobbs had to deal with. He’s more like a Gaston type from Beauty and the Beast. He’s good looking, popular and can make a derogatory (but not offensive) nickname stick whether you like it or not. And once Ravi realized what he is he also realizes that while not as bad, he himself was not especially great to some other kids at his old school in India. So the fact that his cricket prowess and top academic status there seem to mean diddly here is a good wakeup call for him. And of course it’s satisfying when he and Joe finally click and combine their forces.

It reminds me of a couple of things. First off, I’ve learned as an ELL teacher to do everything I can to get name pronunciations right. The best way is to cover up the name and simply as the person to say it to you slowly and clearly. Then memorize that. Only then to you look at the printed name. Then the printed name, however goofily it’s spelled will just mean whatever the pronunciation is to you. Whenever I do it I get kids with names like “Saphanthong” right and the kid get wide eyed and says “You’re the only one who says it right!” It’s important folks. It’s their NAME.

The other one is a story I heard from a co-worker many years ago. He was from India and his mom was an ambassador or something and they ended up moving to California. He was pretty confident he’d be fine because not only did he already speak English he had more than a year heads up about the move so read and watched everything he could about America and going to school there. His first day at his new school was going fine until we picked up his lunch in the cafeteria. It was Taco Tuesday. He didn’t know what the hell a taco was. “This isn’t American food! How am I supposed to eat this thing?”

Cracks me up every time.

Anyway, it’s a good book and not too long so it’s a quick read with plenty to discuss. Would make a fine read aloud. Make sure you read the glossary and pronounce things correctly!


Georgia Children’s Lit. Conference 2017

The book award winner this year was Natalie Lloyd for A Snicker of Magic and the picturebook winner was David Biedrzycki (ba-Dree-key) for Breaking News: Bear Alert!

The first session was Natalie Lloyd giving a talk on “Finding Narnia: From Midnight Gulch to Middle Earth (and back again!)” She talked about giving talks at schools and being knocked out that much of the stuff she loved reading growing up is still popular. Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Dahl, Babysitters Club, Goosebumps, Oz and more. She was delightful. I love when authors are super fans. Her favorite “squee!” moment was when she found out Gilbert Ford would be doing her covers.

The first breakout session I attended was for Annette Laing, historian, historical novelist and frequent school presenter. She is super engaging and discussed how really engaging history through historical fiction is more important than ever in this time of “alternative facts.” “You can get more history into kids with fiction than any other way.” She discussed the importance of this kind of work for helping develop empathy. And she has a wonderful Scottish accent!

The next big author to speak was Kelly Bingham, “It Takes a Village.” What she means by that is that it takes a village of helpers to get books published. She had help from other authors, discouragement from a terrible editor and inspiration from a great editor. She worked for Disney as a storyboarder for many films. She said that the most valuable thing she learned was that you’ll probably end up revising out up to 90% of your original draft and that’s probably a good thing. I only knew her from her amazingly fun Moose picture books and had no idea about her YA books. She wrote a YA novel in verse about a surfer girl who gets an arm bit off by a shark. Then a real live surfer girl got her arm bit off by a shark, so she put this manuscript she’d been working on for years into a drawer. Later, another author convinced her to show it to his editor. She showed it to one other first and he was completely discouraging and unprofessional. Later, she showed it to the editor the other author mentioned and it’s been published and won a bunch of praise and awards and she has realized how terrible that first guy was. I would have invited him to every award ceremony if it had been me.

The Moose books came from reading to her little boy and loving meta-fiction like There’s a Monster at the End of this Book and him wanting a better ABC book than he was finding at the library at the time. She said it on;y too eight year for her to sell Z is for Moose and she knows it’s Paul O. Zelinsky’s illustrations that really make the book.

Duncan Tonatiuh and David Biedrzycki spoke on Saturday. I attended both of those but Duncan’s artwork is amazing and kind of speaks for itself and I’ll have much more to say about David in the next post.

Next years winners are Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio and Christian Robinson and Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar.