Monday, September 20, 2010

Recommended Reading

I compiled a list of books I've recently read and feel would appeal to middle and high school students. Each of the books includes themes conducive to classroom discussions.

Except when marked with an asterisk, all titles are available in audio format from the Las Vegas Clark County Public Library District (see LVCCLD link when applicable). To access these materials, you must have a current public library card and know your PIN. For more information about procuring a library card, click here. To use eAudio books from the public library, you will need to download OverDrive Media Console (a free software package) to your computer. Instructions and more information about accessing eMedia are available here.

Except for Candy Shop War and Leepike Ridge, all remaining books with asterisks are available at Audible. Note that there is a charge to purchase audiobooks from Audible. Different from the public library, however, the purchaser becomes the book's owner.

Recommended Book Options

Young Adult Science Fiction
  • Adoration of Jenna Fox (Pearson, Mary E.): Jenna Fox awakens after a coma having forgotten her life before her accident. She explores her past life through video, but is often met with reluctance to talk about her operation with others. This science fiction mystery explores issues related to bioethics. [LVCCLD CD]
  • Elsewhere (Zevin, Gabrielle): Elsewhere is the story of a girl who died. Upon doing so, she arrived at a place called “Elsewhere” where all the people had lived lives on Earth and were now dead. Most of the people were a lot older than her (she died in her teens). A unique feature of Elsewhere is that you grow older instead of younger while there. [LVCCLD CD]
  • Hunger Games (Collins, Suzanne): The Hunger Games is the first of a trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The premise underlying the plot is that a corrupt “Capitol” controls 12 districts. To keep the districts under control, the Capitol sponsors The Hunger Games each year. Two children from each district are selected to participate, and only one participant from the 24 survives the Games. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • Little Brother (Doctorow, Cory): Cory Doctorow truly practices what he preaches! In a book about high-tech, high-action stunts in the midst of terrorist activity in the U.S., Doctorow discusses the importance of freedom of information. Likewise, he made his book available for free online using a Creative Commons license. [Warning: This book includes mature themes likely to be inappropriate for use in school environments.] [LVCCLD eAudio]
  • Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (Patterson, James): This is the first book of a series by the acclaimed James Patterson. The main character is Maximum Ride, a headstrong teenage girl who grew up in a science lab. She and her “flock of bird kids” were all genetically manipulated pre-birth, resulting in the presence of wings. As such, all the children are able to fly. The book follows Maximum Ride and her flock as they escape from the lab and learn to live on their own. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • Maze Runner (Dashner, James): This is an action-packed thriller! Every month for several years, one boy has been delivered into the “Glade.” All the boys remember their names, but none remember anything else about their past. In a strange turn of events, the day after Thomas (the main character) arrives, a girl arrives. Thomas tries to learn about the society the boys created before his arrival and learns of the maze, their possible escape route, that encompasses their community. [LVCCLD CD]
  • Neptune's Children (Dobkin, Bonnie): Dobkin’s book, Neptune’s Children, begins with a bioterrorist attack on all adults around the world. All individuals over age 13 die instantly, leaving all children behind to fend for themselves. Those children left behind in a theme park (similar to Disneyland), create a working society while facing potential and real threats. [LVCCLD CD]
  • Twilight (Meyer, Stephenie): This epic series takes place in Washington state. The main character, Bella, meets a young man, Edward, who intrigues her and ultimately becomes the object of her affection. Bella learns that Edward is a vampire and struggles with love and longevity. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • *Uglies (Westerfield, Scott): This series (including Pretties, Specials, and Extras) by Scott Westerfield begins with Uglies, a book about a utopian society that spawned from modern America. All children are called “uglies” until their 16th birthdays on which they receive an operation that makes them pretty. Once pretty, they move to a location where they can play and party all the time. Some uglies, though, question if being pretty is all there is to life. [Audible]
  • *Unwind (Shusterman, Neal): Imagine if parents could choose to have their teenagers “unwound,” have their body parts separated and given to save the lives of others. It’s the perfect solution for harvesting human organs… isn’t it? [Audible]
Young Adult Fantasy
  • *The Candy Shop War (Mull, Brandon):Imagine a world where eating candy could give you special powers. Mull masterfully juxtaposes good and evil amidst a fantasy of vivid characters. The book may sound like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Harry Potter, but it truly is a story of its own.
  • Eragon (Paolini, Christopher):16-year-old Christopher Paolini wrote this epic tale (Eragon is the first book in a series) just after graduating from high school. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • Fablehaven (Mull, Brandon): When a boy and girl go to spend time with their grandfather, they learn there is more to his mysterious life than originally imagined. The area surrounding his home is a haven for fabulous creatures of all kinds—some good, and some bad. [LVCCLD CD]
  • Inkheart (Funke, Cornelia): In this three-book tale, Funke creates a world where books are reality become intertwined. Some of her characters have the unique ability to “read” characters and items “out” of books. In one unfortunate time, the father in the story accidentally read his wife into a book; he’s also read some antagonistic characters out of the book. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
Young Adult Non-Fiction
  • Fallen Angels (Meyers, Walter Dean): Fallen Angels is realistic historical fiction about serving in the Vietnam War. The main character is African-American, adding to the issues of race conflict occurring during the war. [Warning: Telling the story of men and women serving on the front lines, the book does not “candy-coat” the violence, language, and other everyday happenings of the U.S. soldiers.] [LVCCLD CD]
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Beah, Ishmael): A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is the true autobiographical of Ishmael Beah, a boy who served as a soldier in Sierra Leone. After his hometown was attacked by rebels, he spent months searching for his family before being recruited into guerrilla warfare. He is later reformed when living in a UNICEF refugee camp. [Warning: This book contains graphic violence.] [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • *Three Cups of Tea: Young Reader’s Edition (Mortensen, Greg): Mortensen is described as a man who is single-handedly creating peaceful relationships between those in the Middle East and in the United States. This book tells his story—from mountain climbing failure to sacrificial living. After returning from a failed attempt to ascend K2, he commits to build a school for the girls in one of Pakistan’s outermost regions. He kept his promise, and continues to change the world with his relentless efforts. [Audible]
Young Adult Historical Fiction
  • Elijah of Buxton (Curtis, Christopher Paul): This book tells the story of a small town in Canada. Buxton is where escaped slaves from the United States find refuge. They welcome those former slaves who have made the long, painful journey from the South. The story takes a turn when Elijah, just a boy, heads back to the United States to complete a chore. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
Young Adult Realistic Fiction
  • Hatchet (Paulsen, Gary): This Newberry-award winner tells of a boy who becomes an inhabitant of the wilderness when the plane in which he is flying goes down and the pilot dies in the crash. The main character must learn to survive in the Canadian wild. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • *Leepike Ridge (Wilson, N.D.): This action-filled story of realistic fiction is a fun read. When the main character finds himself in a hidden cave under Leepike Ridge, he learns about life outside the mainstream.
  • Smiles to Go (Spinelli, Jerry): This is a coming-of-age story for boys who question who they are, where they fit in the universe, and their relationships with girls. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (Grisham, John): This is John Grisham’s first children’s book. Theodore Boone lives with his parents, both of whom are lawyers. He loves the law and spends all his free time in the courthouse. As such, he is the resident expert on the law at his school, and he regularly advises his classmates on legal matters. He eve becomes entwined in a case of his own! This is a great book to learn about the U.S. legal system. [LVCCLD CD]
Adult Historical Fiction
  • Sarah's Key (de Rosnay, Tatiana): de Rosnay juxtaposes the past and present when her protagonist, a journalist, accepts the opportunity to write a story about French involvement in the Nazi round-up of Jewish families in Paris in 1942. While the journalist’s story unfolds, Sarah’s story unfolds. Sarah’s story is about cruelty and loss at the hand of the French police as they did the bidding of the Nazi’s. It is also about human compassion and remembrance. [LVCCLD eAudio]
Adult Realistic Fiction
  • The Life of Pi (Martel, Yann): Martel tells the tale of a boy from India. His family owns a zoo, but is selling their animals to a U.S. zoo due to financial hardships. During their sea voyage, there is an accident and the boy, Pi, ends up aboard a small rescue boat along with a tiger and several other animals. He tells of their mutual survival tactics and leaves the reader questioning reality. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
Adult Non-Fiction
  • *The Horse Boy (Isaacson, Rupert): Isaacson wrote this biography about his son, a boy afflicted with autism. In an attempt to help their son, Isaacson and his wife trekked through Mongolia with the intent to meet shamans who could assist their child. Their journey took them to the outer-most parts of Mongolia, even to the “Reindeer People.” This is a heartwarming tale the of the efforts parents will make to assist their children and ways that seeing the world differently can help us all see better. [Audible]
  • Strength in What Remains (Kidder, Tracy): A medical student in Africa finds himself constantly trying to escape war and war-torn environments as he traverses through his home country of Burundi and into and out of Rwanda. He eventually makes his way to the United States where he faces trials of a homeless immigrant in a foreign land. [LVCCLD eAudio]
  • Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Krakauer, Jon): Pat Tillman, former NFL player, lost his life during the U.S. Gulf War. Krakauer describes the events leading to his NFL and military careers and the circumstances surrounding his death in combat. [LVCCLD eAudio/CD]
  • *The Last American Man (Gilbert, Elizabeth): Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, writes the biography of Eustice Conway, a true man of the American Wilderness. Born in the 1960s, Eustice took his homemade teepee and left home as a teenager to live off the land. Gilbert tells of his trek along the Appalachian Trail, his record-setting horse-journey across America, and his lifelong passion to bring Americans to a greater appreciation and respect of nature. [Audible]

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tech-Based PBL for the Young Learner? Yes!

Tech-Based PBL for the Young Learner? Yes!
Presented by
Christy Keeler and Heather Rampton

Presentation Slides
Downloadable Presentation Slides

Recommended Links

Elementary-Level PBL

There are incredible project-based learning examples online, but few are from elementary level and even fewer are from primary grades. To make a very small impact on this lack of examples, I am sharing a collection of projects my sons, Ryan and Spencer, have completed for their classes during their elementary years. For information on more PBL options appealing to elementary-level students, please visit Tech-Based PBL for the Young Learner? Yes!
  • Scorpion Movie: When in first grade, Spencer made this video by using iTunes to record his narration and iPhoto to make a slideshow with Internet-selected pictures. He combined the two within iPhoto.
  • Spencer Toy's Commercial: Spencer and his friend, Spencer, created this commercial for their fourth grade entrepreneurship project. They wrote the script, practiced, and were recorded using a camera with video capabilities.
  • Mixed-Up Book Report and Safety Notebook: Ryan created a book report on the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and a safety brochure for his Cub Scout project while in fourth grade. He used Microsoft Word tri-fold brochure templates for each.
  • Hatchet Report: Using ComicLife, Ryan prepared this fourth grade book report on the book Hatchet.
  • Caravel Mini-Book: In fifth grade, Ryan prepared a mini-book report on caravel ships (those used by Columbus). He used "Make a Booklet" software to enable proper folding, and he created a cover using tea-stained paper sent through a Laserjet printer.
  • Audio Interviews: When in fourth grade, Ryan had to do a book report for a fantasy/science fiction book. He chose The Riddle of the Gnome: A Further Tales Adventure by P.W. Catanese. For the project, he had to write and answer ten interview questions for the main character. Ryan chose to deliver his project in audio format (Listen here). He used Audacity and its voice modification feature to make it sound like there were two individuals in the interview room. Spencer had to replicate this activity when he was in fourth grade. He used the book Flyte by Angie Sage (Listen here).
  • Iroquois Virtual Museum: For his fifth grade project on Native Americans, Ryan chose to study the Iroquois by reading ...If You Lived With The Iroquois. He used PowerPoint templates and techniques from Educational Virtual Museums.
  • Spencers' Toys Marketing Display: Spencer Keeler and Spencer Coombs created this poster during an entrepreneur project in fourth grade. They manufactured and sold cars, trucks, and planes. The display board included a section where they projected a commercial they made using a digital camera.

ISTE 2010: Fisher, "Gadgets! Gadgets! Gadgets!"

Return of the Gadgets!
Presented by Leslie Fisher Allows you to invite people to attend events and will allow you to set an event attendee maximum. It will keep track of the attendees, put others on a waiting list, and move them up as seats come available. You can also use it for pay events and it will take $1 for each attendee. It will automatically create certificates, sign-in sheets, nametags, etc. for your attendees. You forward your confirmation emails to create a virtual itinerary for you. T provides driving directions for your. It’s even available for the Droid.

You can create a Twitter feed on your website., Choose “Widgits,” “Profile Widgit,” and choose your preferences and username, and then “Finish and Grab Code.” This is a great way to post messages to several websites (e.g., 4th period, cheerleading, Boy Scouts).

Type With Me: Allows multiple people (15) to type at the same time in the same place (like with Google Docs). You can by-pass the 15 person limit through Google.

Zamzar: It allows you to convert files into other file types. So, for instance, you can get a YouTube video as a Quicktime file. It takes about 20 minutes, but allows you to access video even when sites are blocked. Creates an immediate videoconference. It can work like a nanny-cam.

Orbicule: This sends out your iSight video and starts taking videos of the person who is using it.

Hulu: Watch television shows for free online.

Boxee: Allows you to watch the Internet on your TV.

Swype: It will type for you as you swipe your figures around the Droid keyboard.

ISTE 2010: Davidson, "Mash Media: New Web, Old Media, and Your Own Stuff"

Wall Wishers: A creative way to share information on a single virtual wall.

Tagul: Like Wordle, but it allows you to make links to individual words in the resulting image.

Jing: Creates websites from screen captures created online. CamStudio is a good free alternative for regional screen captures on the PC.

Gizmoz: Allows you to create avatars.

Email to get a full license code for Google Pro for educators.

Web 2.0 owners almost universally allow educators to take and use screenshots from their sites. Just email the site manager to make sure it's okay to post your screen captures.

Permission to use Discovery videos in Google Lit Trips.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ISTE 2010: Other Good Sites

EasyBib: An easy-to-use online alternative for EndNote. Useful for young writers learning to cite their sources.

Kerpoof: This is an online drawing and movie-making program. This is a one-stop-fits-all website connecting children to a multitude of children's games.

Games about Money
  • Meet Us at the Mall: Helps students learn about business competition and smart consumerism.
  • Stagecoach Island: Compliments of Wells Fargo, this game offers a virtual world where students can learn to manage their money.
  • H.I.P. Pocket Change: This site is maintained from the U.S. Mint.

ISTE 2010: November, "Digital Learning Farm: Students as Contributors"

Digital Learning Farm: Students as Contributors
Presented by Alan November

We need to trust children to teach teachers.

Tutorial Design Team: Includes videos of math concepts. Some teachers allow their students to either do homework, or they can create screenshot tutorials. An important element is to NOT give students grades for their creative works; otherwise, motivation will decrease over time.

WolframAlpha: An online tool that will solve algebraic and other similar math problems. If you type "Solution" along with the problem, you can find the steps to the solution.

Dan Pink, Drive: In Pink's book, he states that if you do not have purpose, your motivation will decline. November, then, states that we need to focus on giving children purpose. One such purpose is to have them create products that can benefit others.

Screencasting is a critically important tool that teachers seldom use.

Production Designer:
A key to enhanced educational opportunities is to release control to the students. An example of this is Bob Sprankle's student vodcast. In his elementary-level classroom, they do a weekly podcast on what the class learned throughout the week. A student designs the production for the week. After creating these podcasts, students individually came to Mr. Sprankle and asked him if they could create their own shows. One student created a writing show and another created a math show.

Using Google Docs, have three different students keep notes during a single teaching period. Have each of the three students focus on a different aspect of the presentation. Also, inform each of these scribes that they should add additional information as they feel it would be helpful, and they can add information to their notes at any later time.

School culture has conditioned children to create a dependency on the teacher to answer their questions. They are not encouraged to explore on their own; they are rewarded when interacting with the teacher and asking questions of the teacher. A job students may have in the class is to to be the researcher. When a student asks a question, one student is required to find the answer online.

Global Communicator:
One student's job should be to find email addresses of people that could act as experts when the class has questions they are unable to answer.

Kiva: A website designed to facilitate loans to small businesses around the world. For $25, students can choose a business to support and follow the success of the business. When the money is returned, you can re-invest it.

"Don't forget the kids." In fact, perhaps we should spend more time empowering kids to improve learning and less time on professional development. Perhaps a school could put together a team of students who will identify a list of ways they can use cell phones for learning within the school environment.

ISTE 2010: Schrock, "A Dose of Twitter for Every Day of the Year"

Ways to integrate Twitter into the Classroom:
  • Choose a historical figure and tweet as if you're that individual.
  • Provide a summary of a chapter or lesson.
  • Share a link relating to the topic of the week.
  • Do collaborative writing.
  • Post a question each night.
  • Have students follow a breaking news story.

30 Interesting Ways to use Twitter in the Classroom (Tom Barrett offers suggestions for using Twitter in public schools. These are available at

The Twitter Song by Ben Walker

Monday, June 28, 2010

ISTE 2010: Dodge, "What is Engagement, Really, and Where Can I Get Some?"

News Dots: Ask students what story interests you the least and why?

360 Cities: Allows you to look at cities from a photographic 360 degree perspective.
  • Compare/contrast cities
  • Have students find examples of high-density and low-density populations, high and low GDP
  • Where would you rather live?
  • Place novels in context
  • Prepare for an annual Washington, D.C. trip
  • Consider geometric shapes in architecture
  • Create a 360 City of your community and describe its history
Have an observer randomly choose 4 four students and observe them for three-minute intervals while you teach. Ask them to determine the level of engagement for each of the students. Are they engaging with each other? The teacher? Materials? The content?

Engagement is about looking closely at what everyone in your classroom is doing.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Nevada Curricular Standards: A List

Because I have had to reference Nevada Curricular Standards for several of my consulting contracts, I found it helpful to create a single list of cross-curricular, cross-grade standards. All Nevada Standards appear on the Nevada Department of Education website, but they are separated by subject area and grade, and each subject area has adopted its own design and display format. Though I have not had need for all standards, I created a single document compiling standards for those subject areas (social studies, English/language arts, mathematics, science, health, art, music, theater, physical education) and grade bands (3, 4, 5, 6-8, 9-12) I use most frequently.

Click here for the compiled list of Nevada Curricular Standards.*

*Note: This is not an official list and should not be used in lieu of the actual state standards.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Google Searches by Jennifer Ritz

See the related website at

Begin by doing a simple Google search, click on "Show Options" (right to the left of the results), and choose the type of search you want to do. When you click on one of the options, it will give you more options. Click the option you wish to search, click "Search" in the search bar, and then choose "Web" on the left-hand side.
  • Google Related Searches: Identifies similar searches that might help students specify what they wish to learn.
  • Google Wonder Wheel: Similar to a visual thesaurus, but for Google searches.
  • Google Timeline: "Timeline" will separate sites into time periods (e.g., tsunamis, search by years and the choose those from the 1700s).
Google Squared: This site allows you to search general information for a collection of similar items (e.g., presidents, math history, and Native American tribes. You can save and export the resulting square into Google spreadsheets which will keep the information clickable or into CSV which creates links).

Custom Search Engines: This allows you to modify a search and then save and manage it. It is a way to allow students to search for keywords within only the sites you specify.

Google Earth/Google Lit Trips (CUE-SN Presentation)—3/13/10

Click here for the slideshow from the Google Earth/Google Lit Trips session.

Please visit the useful sites below:

  • Google Earth: This allows you to download Google Earth and access resources to assist in using the tool(s).
  • Google Lit Trips: Created by Jerome Burg, this is the location for accessing and downloading approved Google Lit Trips.
  • Formatting Place Marker Descriptions: This includes the HTML codes for basic placemark coding.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Steve Dembo and Lindsay Hopins: "Top 10 Web 2.0 Tools"

Web 2.0: Entirely web based, interactive, plays well with others

Crappy Graphs
: This allows quick and easy basic graphs. You can download or embed these graphs.
Wall Wisher: Allows you to put sticky notes on things. This works well for quick, collaborative note taking. You can drag notes around to use like a concept map.
Delicious: Social bookmarking.
Let Me Google That For You: Shows people how to Google. It shows a screencast of typing in terms and pulling up the search terms.
ipadio: Allows quick easy mobile podcasts. You must register to use the site, but there is no charge. The resulting audios have embed codes and automatically makes an iTunes podcast.
Blabberize: Allows you to use any photo and "Blabberize" (make the person/animal) speak. This would work well for having famous people tell autobiographies. The result is an embed code.
Animoto: This is free for one year for educators. It allows you to make music videos using your own videos. You can upload yur own images, rearrange them, add text, highlight images (so they'll stay up longer). You can use your own audio or use the audio they've provided for free. It adds in all the transitions and visual effects so allows students to quickly make the videos. This would work well for a photo collage for a year-end festival.
Wordle: Allows you to create word clouds. If you want to take it to the next level, use Word Sift. In Word Sift, you paste in text. It creates a word cloud that is not as visually appealing as Wordle, but it allows you to interact with the words (e.g., highlight language arts words or social studies). You can choose a single word to bring up a visual thesaurus and the application will also bring in related images from Google images.
Glogster: There are two versions: public and educational. Glogster allows you to create visual e-boards with embedded media (inc., sounds, videos, and pictures).

Notes on this session are available here.