Archive for March, 2012

Class books as eBooks

March 27th, 2012

Yes, there are things like Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple’s iBook creator, but School Library Journal’s Digital Shift has a great list of websites that can be used to create eBook .mobi and .epub files. We have students that create portfolios online. Imagine a collection of poems or essays in one contained file to load on an ereader.

The caution: What’s to stop an older sibling from giving the ebook to a younger system? You would need a system of checks to avoid plagiarism.

A Common Core search app for both Android and iOS

March 19th, 2012

Over Spring Break the Common Core standards came up in conversation (I do, on occasion, hang out with educators) and the people I chatted with wanted links to both the iTunes and Android App Store versions of MasteryConnect’s Common Core App. Where the app excels is in presenting the Common Core standards in an easy-to-read format at a moment’s notice.

The link to the iOS (for iPhones and iPads) is here and the link for Android users is here. If you can find a Windows Phone version, please leave a link in the comments. Also leave a comment if you have a better app. The other ones that I have found are missing one half or the other, making MasteryConnect’s the best option.

Here’s a QR code for the Android version:
QR for Android app

Here’s a QR code for the iOS version:

Here’s a QR code for this post:

Feel free to use the images or anything else from this post in a handout for teachers and your educational community.

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter

March 14th, 2012

“And I remembered ‘normal’ might never be the same again.”

That, in a sentence, is the theme of the series and the core idea woven throughout the entire plot of the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls series. Cammie Morgan is a senior in a high school for spies. She still worries about what boys think and if her friends like her, but now more than ever her bigger worry is why people are trying to kill her.

Students and adults who have talked to me about what they enjoy about the series always share one common factor: Ally Carter’s ability to expertly portray the voice of a teenaged girl. Not once does Cammie sound unauthentic. What’s really cool is that, in book five, the importance of loyalty to sisterhood is emphasized and plays an important role at key plot points. A number of students I’ve talked with have been let down/ignored/backstabbed by friends and to have a main character who remains loyal even through conflict is promising.

Cammie’s view of herself is also challenged in book five. What makes her special is her ability to blend in, earning the nickname “Cammie the Chameleon”. Within the first few pages of the most current book, her concept of herself is thrown out the window and she has to figure out anew who she is. Yes, that’s a common theme in YA novels, but there’s a reason. During junior high and high school, students are trying to figure out who they are. Ally Carter continues to explore Cammie’s perception of herself without it being redundant or too conceited.

I’m a fan of spy stories. Alex Rider was one of the first book series that got me hooked on YA. The issue with having a main character as a spy is that he or she will be put in life or death situations. Spies sometimes use guns in those situations. What I appreciated in Out of Time is that an instructor says that a spy needs to know about guns but that “…weapons make you lazy”. Keen senses are what keep you alive. Ally Carter, Batman applauds you. (And, as I’m sure you’re aware, George Clooney once played Batman.)(Even though I like to block that from my memory.)(Do I hear music?)

Just like how when people talk about Hunger Games, they talk about other stories that had arena fighting first, Out of Sight had elements found in Bourne Identity and Chuck. The key, though, is in taking those elements and remixing them to make something new in the context of the Gallagher Girls. It’s something that I realized when I read the gazillionth dystopian book or superhero story (and yet still enjoyed Legend, Divergent, and The Unwanteds). The spy stuff that happens in Out of Sight is the next logical progression, which is a good thing, and is rewarding for fans of the series.

Students like an antagonist to cheer against and we definitely have that in book five. There is a ton of information revealed about character backstories, which should make longtime fans of the series happy. There are also references to conversations and lessons from book one, which is great at unifying the series. I also appreciated the fact that the school library was integral to the plot.

Side note: readers who have family in the military will appreciate when Cammie says, “When in doubt, find a marine.” I think I may have also caught a Brennan-Black author duo reference in there.

The series needs no recommendation from me, but I give it. It’s been a fun new tradition to read the books while on Summer/Spring Break. I started it at 10 this morning and finished it a little before 10 tonight. It was an enjoyable read and has a great lead into the sixth and maybe final (Cammie is a senior, after all) book of the series. Librarians, you know what to do. Stock up.

For a history of real spies in the United States, check out The Dark Game.

Photos of the Ender’s Game cast

March 10th, 2012

Sure, everyone’s hyped right now about the Hunger Games movie, but have you seen photos of the cast of Ender’s Game?

The Dark Game by Paul B. Janeczko

March 8th, 2012

The Dark Game is a history of spying in the United States, from current FBI moles all the way back to the Culper spy ring that helped the U.S. defeat the British in the Revolutionary War.

Now, it’s not tough to make a book about spies interesting. The Dark Game is no exception. The short histories are the perfect length to give details about the person or events but not so long that they take away from the rest of the book.

Janeczko has done his research. I checked the bibliography for more books that I want to read. The details that he has included are not just the same old stories that I had read before, even though I was familiar with most of the events described. It’s the little details, like a photo of Juan Pujol‘s imaginary spy network (which is really funny…you have to read about it), that make history engaging and remind us that this stuff actually happened.

The Dark Game is definitely worth the purchase and fits well with the current push for more nonfiction in the library.

Current publisher opinions of ebooks in libraries

March 8th, 2012

I’m working with other librarians in the district to find the best way to work ebooks into our district catalogs. It’s interesting that some publishers don’t want libraries to circulate ebooks at all, some want circulations but set a limit, and some have no limit. Check out the opinions here.

The big debate revolves around the fact that ebooks don’t wear down like a physical copy does. My issue is that when I have a physical copy of a book, it’s unlikely that the publisher will come to my doorstep and pull the physical copy out of my hands if any distribution policies change. I’ve already had a digital book removed without my permission on my phone because of distribution changes and it was frustrating because I wasn’t done reading the book. I had to go into the bookseller’s site and download it differently as a PDF and now it’s ugly to try and scroll through on my phone.

KONY 2012

March 7th, 2012

“We cared, but we didn’t know what to do.”

We know about World War II. We’ve talked to veterans. We’ve heard from Holocaust survivors – but many people have only heard snippets in modern news about the Invisible Children and the name Joseph Kony is pretty unfamiliar.

Kony is the leader of a paramilitary group that has kidnapped 30,000+ children and forced them to commit horrible acts of violence. As an educator, I want to protect my students. As a father, I want to protect my own children. If what happened/is happening in Uganda happened to a child I worked with, I would want the world to know and to intervene.

That’s where Jason Russell comes in. His movie, KONY 2012, is a campaign to raise awareness and to not just be aware but to act.

This reminds me of how U.S. soldiers had only heard rumors of the concentration camps of World War II and then the shock of seeing some of the results of Nazi war crimes.

Check out the movie. Like the director says, you have to pay attention for 28 minutes, but it’s very eye-opening.


ClassRealm – A new take on classroom management

March 5th, 2012

Okay, so not really new new because I studied the gamefication of processes in my Masters degree, but it’s still refreshing to see. I’m an avid fan of video games, especially role-playing games, so Ben Bertoli’s classroom management plan, called ClassRealm, caught my attention. I thought that it was going to be something that was online, but no. It’s a structured framework for rewarding positive classroom interactions without directly giving things like behavior points that affect a student’s grade. I really like the community aspect of the alliances. (I also can relate playing music for the Random Encounters. Any of my past 8th graders will be able to tell you about the Bubble Smackdown test prep fight music.)

Here’s a glance at some of what Bertoli’s testing out in his classroom:

1. ClassRealm is completely voluntary. If you don’t want to participate you don’t have to.
2. XP is the backbone of ClassRealm. Every 10 XP you earn pushes you to the next level. Every one starts at level 1.
3. XP can be obtained by doing simple things such as:
• Answering questions
• Joining in class discussion
• Working hard on an assignment
• Helping others
• Participation in general
• Random Encounter Friday (explained below)
• Gaining achievements (explained below)
4. Achievements are gained by completing specific tasks. For example: a student can obtain the “Bookworm” achievement by reading two unassigned chapter books and explaining the plot and characters to me.
5. Each achievement has four levels – bronze, silver, gold, and master. Each level is harder to reach than the one below it.
6. Boys are pitted against girls. The gender that can acquire the most achievements by the end of the year will win extra recess and an ice cream party during lunch.
7. Each Friday will be Random Encounter Friday. Every one who wants to battle will put their name in a hat. I will draw out two names and they will battle. Students will be asked a question. I will repeat the question twice and then start battle music. The first to write the correct answer on the board and put their hands up will win XP. You can only answer once. Question subjects are chosen at random.
8. Students may join in alliances of up to six ClassRealm citizens. The alliance with the highest combined level at the end of the year wins a pizza party.
9. All info, except for the current amount of XP each student has, will be listed online and in the classroom for students and parents to see.