Archive for August, 2011

e4 really is as popular as they say it is.

August 29th, 2011

I’ve used some of the resources on before, but have you seen this graph?

It shows the probability of one side or the other winning based soley on which piece white moves first.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

August 27th, 2011

I just finished The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann and really liked it. Well, there you go. Do you need more of a review?

If I were you, I definitely would want more details after Kirkus (and others) makes a bold statement like, “Hunger Games meets Harry Potter“. Is it realistic to namedrop two of the three biggest titles of the decade? (It would be the YA trifecta if the Death Farm was run by a sparkly vampire.)

I think the world of Unwanteds is split into part dystopia and part fantasy. The book starts out as main character Alex is about to be Purged, sent to to his death for showing artistic ability. The advance copy that I read has a letter in it from McMann explaining the inspiration for the story. Since I’m an educator in Arizona, I’ve seen the budget cuts to the arts. My brother’s a music teacher and one of my closest friends used to be a drama teacher until cuts were made. I get the Purge.

There’s quite an allegory that can be drawn from the story, but the narrative does not suffer. It would have been very tempting for McMann to get preachy or throw in some obvious jabs at current politicians and she refrains, unlike some authors (I’m looking at you, Dante Alighieri).

Unwanteds reminds me so much of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, which makes sense, since McMann says she drew inspiration from similar greats like Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Despite the dangers, it’s a world you kinda want to live in. Each student has their own talent, a specialized artistic ability, they use to make the world a better place. Teachers help the students hone their craft into powerful weapons.

There’s an ensemble cast, so even though the main character, Alex, is talented in visual arts, there are other characters for students to identify with. The teacher that speaks in iambic pentameter is a particular favorite of mine, although it’s tough not to side with a painting instructor that is part crocodile/part octopus (don’t get me started on the squirrelicorn warrior).

The story does have elements of the monomyth, but hey, that story’s entertained for a couple of centuries. What McMann does with the archetypes is great. The old mentor that runs the school could have easily been another Dumbledore, yet I felt like Mr. Today (whose name has significance) stands on his own. In one part, he asks the ruler of the dystopia to name any secret Mr. Today is hiding. Throughout the book, Mr. Today emphasizes the need for transparency and how fear is not the way to get things done. That’s a lesson that I hope many readers hold onto after finishing the book.

Unwanteds is its own book and doesn’t need the comparison to Hunger Games and Harry Potter to succeed, but if it draws students to this great book, then I’m all for it. Librarians, get this book. It’s already starting to gain popularity and I agree that it deserves it (and I’m not just saying that because Lisa McMann’s going to be on our campus this Wednesday).

Is Netflix trying to psych us out?

August 26th, 2011

edited 8/26/11 4:40pm: Clear your cookies for Netflix. Cookies store passwords and other information for websites. If you don’t want to clear all your cookies, you can check your browsing history and right-click (in Firefox) on the site in the list and ‘Forget this site’. It will look different on other browsers, but the idea is the same.

As September 1, and the new Netflix pricing, approaches, many people I’ve talked to are ditching the DVD portion of their Netflix subscription.

I find it interesting that since last night I’ve seen this on Netflix’s homepage:

Are they trying to prove that streaming is not reliable? It’s just on the website; my 360 is still streaming fine. Will the website have improvements? Is Netflix going to surprise us with a Watch Instantly library that includes more than low-budget movies from the early 90s? Is this another attack from Anonymous?

Whatever the cause for the outage, have you seen For any website, you can visit this site instead of hitting refresh over and over again (if you’re like me). downrightnow can help you diagnose if the site is really down or if it’s simply on your end of things.

Yeah. I don’t work at that school.

August 18th, 2011

The positive? Someone quoted me with regards to P.J. Haarsma’s author visit to our school years ago.

The negative? I don’t work at Desert Arroyo Middle School. I would have to Google it to find where it is.

I’m going to try and edit the Wikipedia page where it’s mentioned.

Oh, Wikipedia. Facepalm.

Notice how there’s a citation, even. It links to a fan site that isn’t even online anymore.

The quote is from my website article here.

Open Yale courses

August 16th, 2011

Back in 2008, I mentioned iTunes U. The selection of great, free academic content has continued to grow.

Yale partners with iTunes, but also has its own site that is easy to navigate. You can download straight from the site if you’re not a fan of iTunes.

With my phone, I had to go to the downloads page for the course to get the file. The other ways required Flash or QuickTime.

Alternatives to YouTube

August 10th, 2011

In our school, and many others, I’m guessing, YouTube is blocked. This has some pros and cons. Pro? There is some nasty stuff on YouTube. Con? Teachers can’t show clips that supplement their instruction.

That being said, here are some sites that you might be able to find clips to use:

Khan Academy – Even though YouTube’s blocked, Khan Academy videos are still viewable. These are amazing videos that demonstrate in simple language pretty complex math and science concepts. – has 5-minute videos (thus the name) that explain concepts in a quick but thorough manner. I easily found a video about the Homestead Act and then discovered a video from the Khan Academy about why (not just how) borrowing works in subtraction problems.

MovieWeb – Do you want to show 30 seconds worth of a film instead of the whole thing? Try

and then you have the classics TeacherTube and SchoolTube if you want to share videos (and find ones shared by other educators…I prefer SchoolTube over TeacherTube because it loads faster).

Hopefully that helps!

How likely is it for a spirit bear to be born?

August 4th, 2011

Picture from National Geographic

At our junior high, some of the teachers read the novel Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen with their students. In it, one of the major forces is a giant white bear.

So, how likely is it for a spirit bear to be born?

National Geographic has a great article about the Kermodism genetics that causes the white fur. The really cool part is the Punnett square visualizing how the recessive trait is passed on.

This is an excellent opportunity for science and English teachers to team up for a cross-curricular lesson.

The Four Questions for Teachers

August 2nd, 2011

As I’m reading about improving our schools, these four questions keep coming up:

1. What do we want all kids to know?
2. How do we know if they have learned?
3. How will we respond if they haven’t learned?
4. How will we respond if they have learned?

Those are pretty straight to the point and seem like common sense. The issue is that we get caught up in what Dennis Shirley calls “the distraction of presentism”. We get caught up in the needs of the moment, a survival instinct, and lose sight of where we’re going and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

My challenge this is year is to continue bringing these four questions up. I hope others do, too.