Archive for February, 2011

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

February 28th, 2011

Today I thought I would put up a review of I Am Number Four, check out some books, and help a class with iMovie. I’ve done that, but I also read Love That Dog. I read it in under an hour and while completing those previously mentioned tasks.

Love That Dog is great. It’s a simple story about a boy writing poems in class and his teacher’s reactions. We have to infer her reactions because we’re only getting one side of the story.

The entire book is in verse, which helps make it a quick read. What I especially loved, though, is the inclusion of eight other poems from published authors. The main character makes commentary on each one. My favorite?

…who wrote about
those snowy woods
and the miles to go
before he sleeps –

I think Mr. Robert Frost
has a little
on his

So great. I sometimes see in YA fiction references to other YA works. Avi’s reference to The Outsiders in Nothing but the Truth is a prime example of this. In Love That Dog, the main character reads a poem from Walter Dean Myers. He loves it so much that he writes to Walter Dean Myers to see if he can visit their school. I think I’m just as much of a fanboy as the fictional protagonist and would love for Myers to visit our junior high. (Just like in the book, we have a clean school full of mostly nice kids.)

Love That Dog is a little bit older (it was published in 2001), but if you have it on the shelf and haven’t read it yet, it’s a definite must.

I Am Number Four by…[cough]…Pittacus Lore

February 28th, 2011

Half-way through I Am Number Four I decided to research the fictional author Pittacus Lore (the author bio said that he’s an Elder on Lorien, so the cynic in me was suspicious).

It turns out it’s James Frey teaming up with Jobie Hughes. Jobie Hughes is just starting out, with no titles out right now on his own (as of the time of this writing according to his website). James Frey is the author of the controversial A Million Little Pieces (controversial since most of the book was fabricated, including his involvement in a real train accident that killed two teens).

That knowledge did influence my reading of the book. Lore’s (I’ll go with the pseudonym) descriptions of high school are, for the most part, realistic. As John Smith, alien Number Four, navigates the hallways of a small school in Ohio. He has to try and blend in so that no one will realize he’s an alien. It’s very Clark Kent/Smallville in its concept. A distraction for me was that the football team/cheerleaders were the mini-antagonists until the bad aliens showed up. In every high school, are all football players jerks? It’s a nitpick, though, because I know it’s a common element in Young Adult fiction.

A fun author reference is when Number Four gets fake IDs. The names are James Hughes and Jobie Frey.

The Mogadorians, the real villains of the story, are an evil race (I’m sure there’s got to be one or two good Mogadorians, right?) of polluters who use nightmares as weapons. They are always one step behind the survivors of Lorien and want to kill Number Four. The cool concept of the book, though, is that a protective spell-ish thing has been set on the Loriens. They can only be killed in order and have a tattoo on their ankle to let them know where they are in line. When Number Four has three burn marks in his tattoo, he realizes he’s next to be hunted.

Henri is his Lorien mentor, fulfilling the Gandalf/Ben Kenobi role seen in other hero stories. Henri instructs him in the ways of the Force Legacies, powers that develop as John/Number Four gets older. Stories that involve this element are a great picture of stepping into the unknown as you mature from child to adult. While we’ve seen many stories use this technique, Lore does it well.

Fans looking for alien fights will have to wait until the very end or be satisfied with quick flashbacks to when the Mogadorians invaded Lorien. I found myself enjoying the high school sequences more than the final boss battle and that may be an indication of James Frey’s influence. He does drama well.

Yes, I do have some complaints, but those do not outweigh my enjoyment of the book. It’s a story we’ve seen before, although I Am Number Four proves that it’s all in how you tell the story.

High school students set to capture rare photos of Discovery

February 24th, 2011

Students from a high school in San Diego are teaming up with Quest for Stars to take potentially rare photos of the last shuttle flight. Shuttle Discovery is set to launch this afternoon. The students have used a simple weather balloon to rig up a camera to take pictures from the top down of the shuttle leaving the atmosphere. It’s supposed to go at least 80,000 feet up (somewhere in the Mesosphere) and keep going until it pops. The camera will then parachute to safety.

A previous photo from Quest for Stars

This is such a great opportunity for the students and I can’t wait to see the amazing photos. I’d be willing to bet that more than one student goes on to pursue a career in science.

This last shuttle mission (for Discovery) has an interesting payload. The astronauts are taking a robot butler to the International Space Station.

R2 (Star Wars reference?) is supposed to work side-by-side with the astronauts, but the sci-fi fan in me is instantly suspicious that Robonaut2 will become our future mechanized overlord.

Physics rollercoasters

February 18th, 2011


Ms. Foley and Ms. Kulkarni have their students demonstrate Newtonian physics through building rollercoasters. Not only must the coaster work with a dropped marble, it must be cost efficient. Each piece, including the tape, has a fictional dollar value that they must defend to a board of investors. This is another great example of our staff challenging students in rigor and relevance.

Lost Boy, Lost Girl by John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech

February 14th, 2011

Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan is a nonfiction retelling of two people’s escape from war-torn Sudan.

Civil war has been going off and on in Sudan since the 1950s. In the early 80s, though, violence intensified and millions of Sudanese people were removed from their homes (the death toll from the fighting is two million). Two kids that fled were John and Martha. Both were separated from their parents and had to rely on the kindness of others to survive.

The book alternates between those two narrators. What makes their story that much more compelling is that they don’t exaggerate their story to make it more exciting. There are no embellishments, just straight facts. In one chapter, John describes what it’s like to choose to swim in a river infested with crocodiles because men in Jeeps are shooting at the refugee children. Martha describes life on miles worth of road as she takes care of her three year-old sister. Martha was six at the time.

Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan is a necessary read. Not only is it informative, but it is challenging. As much as we hear complaints about the United States, it was encouraging to hear both refugees say, “We need to get to America” to try and start a new life. That safe-haven is a reminder of what makes the United States such a great place to live.

John Dau is now an activist for health care in Sudan and has his own foundation that set up a clinic to help the people of his hometown. You can click here to learn more.

The Limit by Kristen Landon

February 9th, 2011

When you read stories like reporter Dan Harris going undercover to buy a child slave for $150, books like The Limit stick with you.

Main character Matt lives in a family that spends money faster than they earn it. This is a very realistic problem in the United States right now, since as a nation we owe billions of dollars in credit card debt (that’s different from the national debt). In the novel’s alternate future, the government has set up work houses for children to work as slaves to pay off their family’s debt. The children fight an uphill battle as every single meal they eat, item of clothing they wear, bed they sleep on, are taxed from their paychecks. The facility is hyper-controlled to keep the kids in and working for as long as they can.

It fits that Margaret Peterson Haddix is quoted on the cover. It’s similar to the Shadow Children series in that the children must uncover a deep conspiracy in a mega-organization. Even though it’s a concept we’ve seen before, Landon does a great job with making the children believable. Adding the economic twist was what made the book a winner for me.

It’s another dystopian world, but as long as the real world has injustice we will continue to see these dark warning books that challenge how we live our lives.

Reposting: iMovie Titles

February 6th, 2011
  1. Click on the iMovie HD icon in the dock. (If it’s not there, go to the ‘Finder’ and select ‘Applications’.)
  2. Create a New Project
  3. Name it with the assignment name, your class period, and your last name. (Example: ‘portfolio-4th-guy’). Save it to the hard drive by selecting Macintosh HD->Users->Shared and then click Save
  4. Click on Editing -> Titles to add your text.
  5. Make sure that your text is big enough to read. You will probably need to split up your sentences into smaller phrases.
  6. Type single words as titles for emphasis.
  7. You can use the slide to adjust how many seconds the animation takes and how long it pauses.
  8. For pictures, drag your image from the desktop/documents onto the timeline/clip view.
  9. To change the animation, click on the photo to select it. Click on Media->Photos and then Show Photo Settings
  10. With the Ken Burns Effect on, the photo will slide in/zoom out in many different ways. Drag the top slide bar to zoom in and out. Drag the bottom one to make the animation speed up or slow down.
  11. Your Preview bar has its own animation timeline. Click on the animation timeline to select which place to zoom in.
  12. The hand lets you control the position of the photo. Click and drag to move the camera’s focus.
  13. To add sound, make sure that you are in the project’s timeline mode first. Click on the clock to switch from clip mode to timeline mode.
  14. Click on Audio to view your iTunes library, GarageBand songs, and Skywalker sound effects.
  15. Click on a song and drag it to the second line in the timeline.
  16. Click on the triangle and drag it to go to different parts of the timeline/project.
  17. To shorten a clip, click on it to highlight it, move the triangle to where you want to cut it, select from the top menu Edit->Split Clip to make the cut.
  18. Click off of the clips to deselect both, then click back on the clip that you don’t want. Press the delete key to get rid of it.
  19. Click on Editing->Transitions or Editing-> Video FX to make your presentation more professional.

Using the HJHS Databases

February 3rd, 2011

I put a handout online for how to log into the library site and access the Biography Reference Center and Student Research Center. Click here to view the instructions in PDF format.

Here are the instructions without the screenshots:

  1. Go to .
  2. Click on ‘Highland Junior High’.
  3. Log in by clicking in the top-right corner.
    Your login name is 8 characters long. Your password is 9 numbers long.
    (Add zeroes to your ID number to make it 9 numbers long.)
  4. Click on the ‘Databases’ button.
  5. Choose either ‘Biography Reference Center’ or ‘Student Research Center’, depending on what you need to look up.

Heist Society: Uncommon Criminals cover announced

February 3rd, 2011


I like it. I really appreciate a style continuity from book one to two, which is more than I can say about many YA series right now. Also- you have to notice the green gem. The next heist?

The Tricky Power of hiybbprqag

February 2nd, 2011

Microsoft is taking some criticism after a “Bing Sting” operation from Google. Google employees typed in nonsensical words like “hiybbprqag” into Google searches in Internet Explorer. The browser recorded their searches, even to which results users clicked on the most, and prioritized Bing’s results based on another company’s data.

Now, those Google results are out there for the public to see. Is it unethical to use someone else’s work and put your name on it? In some circles it’s called “plagiarism”. I know that when I post articles on this site, there are other sites who have an RSS feed set up to auto-post what I said and call it their own content. Yeah. Annoying.

So, Microsoft’s defense is that using Google results to fuel Bing is just a part of their clickstream data mining technique. Users opt-in for their actions to be recorded anonymously and used by the company to improve the computing experience. It helps us, the people doing the searches, as long as it is evaluating the frequency of hits in Google compared to other sources. But did you stop to think what opting in actually meant?

All I know is that now “hiybbprqag” brings up results about the Google vs. Microsoft conflict.