Sunday, February 28, 2016

When Twitter Knocks on Your Classroom Door: Let It In!

For the past few weeks, our class has been reading The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn. I'll be honest, I'd never read the book before. It was chosen by the faculty of my school last year, so when I accepted my new position, books were ordered and the class was set. As I read the dystopian/sci-fi, I was intrigued by the themes -- in a new futuristic world of 2025, barcodes were embedded into people's arms as a way of interacting - as payment, tracking, identification, classification, etc. When it became required by law -- the question is will people be able to resist and survive, or will they be swallowed by Global-1?

In an effort to move beyond the "guide questions" model of whole-class novels resulting in immense boredom by every party involved, we've been integrating blogs, collaborative thematic analysis and creative endeavors to dissect the dystopian vision. Therefore, one of the assignments I designed was to create an advertisement or meme for both sides of the debate in the novel: the Global-1 dominating force (the new corporation in place of the government), or the small, but vital circle around the protagonist of "resistors" to the movement, urging people to decode and not get the barcode.

We used google drawings (as I told my class, step 1 to learning how to photoshop), and I modeled making an ad on both sides of the spectrum. I was incredibly impressed and decided instead of just letting the display live on our class websites and our bulletin board, to tweet the author! I'd been honored to get some replies from authors in recent months about just my reactions to books so I figured, why not?

Here is the exchange: 

February Reading Round Up

There is always so much to love about February -- the possibility of snow days (in reality... ice days...), the rush of candy at Valentine's, and the hope of warmer weather right around the corner. In the meanwhile, any chance to curl up with tea and a good book by the fireplace, I'll take. So here's my favorites since the last time I got to share mid-month.

 Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys 

Absolutely brilliant piece of historical fiction! The first I've read of Sepetys, and clearly now will need to read some of her past ones. Won me over from the first page with the Primo Levi quote and kept me glued to the end. Story of four teens from very different paths all trying to escape Soviet advance in WWII, trying to flee by ship. Over 25,000 people died in just 1945 in Baltic Sea. Very new point of view to read from, evacuation ships being torpedoed. Astoundingly well researched, as a history major in my undergraduate, very impressed! I now want to go read all her suggested titles for further research.

For teachers: there is allusion to a sexual assault leading to pregnancy and the "taking" of women by Soviet soldiers -- fine line here. Otherwise no objectionable material. I'd say definitely 8th & up, 7th with caution depending on circumstances.

Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman 

This book would be a welcome addition to any MS/HS classroom! Great piece of non-fiction exploring environmental work and digging deeper into the issues. Index, Glossary, Citations, recommendations for further research - excellent read!

Fleischman really challenges you to think about what we consume in the world, and what our responsibility is as we are continually avoiding the more challenging questions in favor of "well, we'll take care of it later." 

One mention of condoms in a metaphor, but otherwise clean! 

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban 

This book is the very sad, soulful story of ten-year-old Manami, who after the attack on Pearl Harbor, is forced into an internment camp. Yujin, their family dog, is lost in the process and sent home. Yearning for him, and Bainbridge Island, WA, their true home, she loses her voice metaphorically and physically as her family enters and struggles to adjust to life in the camps. Solid, harrowing historical fiction. Great debut novel! Would be a good addition to any WWII Study or Historical Human Rights Studies, Upper Elementary or Middle School! 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Four Winter Reads: All American Boys, Inside Out & Back Again, Teaching with Heart & Pax.

These books!! Some old, some new, all of them so important! 

All American Boys
Required reading for 21st century America. A brilliant, timely read for not just young adults, but all adults grasping with police brutality, race, action, anger and frustration. One of those books that reminds you of the power of fictional stories to get to the heart of, and help grapple with, real-life tragedy. Among the best I've seen. Braided narrrative between Rashad and Quinn, one who is the victim of police brutality, and the other who sees, and says nothing, and has to grapple with that choice. Cannot wait to be out in paperback, definite addition to the syllabus for 2016-17 school year. I read aloud pieces with my students this year, and it's quick to be passed around! Highly recommend for Middle & High School!

Inside Out & Back Again
So glad I finally got to this one! Charmingly sweet story of a young girl who escapes the Vietnam War and resettles in Alabama. What most inspired me was the author's quote at the end, as she explains her similar background: "Aside from remembering facts, I worked hard to capture Ha's emotional life. What was it like to live where bombs explored every night yet where sweet snacks popped up at every corner? What was it like to sit on a ship heading toward hope? What was it like to go from knowing you're smart to feeling dumb all the time" (261). The wisdom of this feisty young girl who "touches the floor first" will speak to many hearts and minds, and truly reach out to young readers. As the mother says, "Oh, my daughter, at times you have to fight, but preferably not with your fists" (216).

Teaching with Heart

An absolutely stunning collection of poetry by and for educators. Each poem in the collection is paired with what the poem means to the educator who submitted the poem. I'm honestly not quite sure what I enjoyed more, all the voices of educators from around the world, or the poems themselves! This collection offers an incredible look at the life of teaching from another perspective. I so enjoyed seeing some favorite poems and getting introduced to new favorites in this anthology. On a more personal note, as a Middlebury alumna, it was very exciting to see a fellow Middlebury alum among the submissions, hoping I get to cross paths with her in the future!

This sweet piece tells the story of a young boy Peter and his pet fox, Pax. They've been seperated because Peter's dad, before he left to fight in the war (leaving Peter to live with his grandfather), made Peter set Pax free into the wild. Unable to live without Pax, Peter runs away to find him. As they learn to survive without each other, he and Pax (story in both voices), both learn much about themsleves and their friendship as they grow closer together, and farther apart. I was originally skeptical of the plot line and how invested I'd be in these characters, but Pennypacker makes it so genuine, any age could truly love it. I'd recommend for Upper ES/MS.