Category Archives: Books

Make Your Classroom the Etsy of Education

You’ve seen schools compared to factory assembly lines, systems designed to produce a uniform product that can safely pass inspection before being released to the market.  It turns out that some people (many, actually) don’t feel that is a great way to educate.  We’ve realized that expecting everyone to conform to one set of standards is probably not in the best interest of our children – or their futures.  But, just as you can’t shut down a factory and immediately expect the employees to start producing their own individual creations, you can’t put the brakes on an educational system that has thrown all of its resources toward one goal for decades and expect teachers to suddenly shape our students into innovators.

In his book, Originals, Adam Grant, an University of Pennsylvania professor, offers ideas for developing a culture of non-conformity.  In this interview that he did with Elissa Nadworny, Grant specifically addresses ways that we can help children to grow to be individuals with unique personalities and strong values.  He gives advice on rules, group work, and deadlines.  He also describes an interesting project he assigned his students that required them to challenge assumptions.

Many times we champion conformity without even realizing it. Certainly there are situations when it is helpful to us as individuals and even beneficial to society.  But innovation needs to be encouraged and celebrated as well, and Grant has some suggestions for how to do just that.  As a teacher, I have sadly observed students who have surrendered their uniqueness in order to fit into the system.  Sometimes, it is difficult to retrieve those uncommon qualities that make people stand out, but I think it’s our responsibility to help our children to embrace them and view them as strengths.  If we want each child in future generations to be one-of-a-kind, we need to change the system designed to expect the same from everyone.

Originals, by Adam Grant
Originals, by Adam Grant

The Scream

We all have things that scare us, of course.  In the book that my 5th grade gifted students are reading, The Giver, the main character is “apprehensive” about an upcoming event.  To help the students connect to the text, I asked them to list some of the things that worry or scare them.  Using our green screen and the Green Screen app by DoInk, I had the students superimpose themselves on the image of Edvard Munch’s, The Scream.  The students then used the WordFoto app to add their specific fears to the picture.  Here is one result. (You can click on it to see a larger view.)


When I looked closely at this student’s final product, I noticed the word, “division.”  I was a little upset because I had told the students not to put silly things just to get a laugh.  In my mind, division and multiplication would fall into that category, especially since this particular student has never had any problems achieving well in math.

“Why did you put this word when I told you not to put something silly?” I asked him as I pointed at his picture.

He looked at me solemnly.  “I meant the division of people.  You know, how war and other things divide us.”


It’s good I asked…


Ada Twist, Scientist

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have outdone themselves with their latest book, Ada Twist, Scientist.  Beaty (author) and Roberts (illustrator) made their mark in children’s literature with their two previous books, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Demonstrating the sometimes exasperating, but always creative, personalities of inquisitive and innovative children, these books have become favorites for those who champion maker education and S.T.E.M.  They are also great examples of growth mindset and passion based learning.

Ada Twist, Scientist tells the story of an adorable young girl whose curiosity knows absolutely no bounds.  Her parents fondly support Ada’s intellectual investigations until she decides to throw the family cat into the washing machine in an attempt to find the origin of a terrible smell, at which point Ada is exiled to the “Thinking Chair.”

You will have to read the book yourself to find out how Ada handles her isolation and whether or not she solves her stinky mystery. Suffice it to say that the book has a happy ending and will inspire parents and children to see questions as exciting learning opportunities rather than as time-wasting obstacles.

For a teaching guide and links to other related activities, visit the Ada Twist website.

You can’t resist Ada Twist, Scientist!

image from Ada Twist, Scientist
image from Ada Twist, Scientist

This One’s for the Books

I decided to go with a book theme for this week’s Phun Phriday post, as I noticed this seemed to be a trend in the articles I was saving to my Flipboard magazine lately.  Here are some clever literary creations I’ve collected:

  • In Jane Mount’s Etsy shop, you will find hand-made enamel book pins of classic books like Anne of Green Gables and posters of ideal bookshelf collections, such as “Narnia.”
  • If it’s on your bucket list to read the top 100 most essential novels, then you will probably love this scratch-off poster to keep track of your progress.
  • Cassia Beck offers a multitude of “old book” patterned items on Society 6 – including leggings, a duvet cover, and a rug.

I don’t know about you, but I will definitely be curled up with a book at least once during our 3-day weekend in the States.  Happy Friday!

Bookworm Rug by Cassia Beck on Society 6
Bookworm Rug by Cassia Beck on Society 6

Making – A Book and a Movie

I am very excited about the upcoming book from John Spencer and A.J. Juliani called, Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student.  To get a preview of the deep understanding these men have about their topic, you should read Juliani’s blog post, “The Beginner’s Guide to Design Thinking in the Classroom.”  Anyone considering adding a maker space or incorporating Design Thinking into the curriculum should read this post.

Speaking of considering a maker space, Laura Fleming (author of Worlds of Making, and one of the pioneers of school maker spaces) tweeted out a link to this video today, which is an awesome overview of the maker space revolution.   Laura’s excellent suggestion is to share it with teachers and school leaders for PD.

For more ideas on “making,” check out my MakerSpace Essentials page, as well as my “Make” Pinterest Board.

Click here to learn more about Launch!
Click here to learn more about Launch!


Thing Explainer

Randall Munroe was first brought to my attention when a parent directed to me to his fun website,  One of my favorite Randall Munroe comics is “Up Goer Five,” a diagram of the Saturn V explained in simple language.  The best part, in my opinion, is at the bottom where it says, “This end should point toward the ground if you want to go to space.  If it starts pointing toward space, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.”  I feel like this is the perfect metaphor for some of my lessons😉

To my delight, I noticed on one of my “Lists That Can’t Be Missed,” that the author of The Kid Should See This, has recommended Munroe’s new book, Thing Explainer, as a great gift.  I’m one of those geeky teachers who asks for things for her classroom as gifts, and my husband kindly indulged me by putting it under the tree.

The book’s Table of Contents is called, “Things in this Book by Page.” Munroe is kind enough to put the more formal names of each explained thing underneath the titles, which you may find more necessary in some cases than others.  For example, “Boat that goes under the sea,” is a submarine.

Of course.  What do you think “The pieces everything is made of,” refers to?

Periodic table.  Maybe you got that one, but I have a feeling that, “Shape checker” won’t come so easily to you.

You’ll have to buy the book to find the answer to that one😉

I see a lot of uses for this book in the classroom.  Have students pick a page and do research to find the actual names for each part on the diagram, for example.  Or, don’t show them a picture at first, and have them try to guess what it is as you read the descriptions. Another idea is to, once the students see some examples, have them create their own “Thing Explainer” diagram for something that is not in the book.  (Challenge them to use only the words on Munroe’s list of the “Ten Hundred Words People Use the Most.”  They can check sentences with his simplewriter tool online.)

Included in the book is a nice poster of a “Sky Toucher” which I intend to laminate for my classroom.  If you’re interested in other xkcd merchandise, here is a link to the store (which includes a poster of the Up Goer Five).

Buy Thing Explainer here!

4 More Ways to Survive 4 More Days

Just in case you didn’t properly ration your Teachers’ December Survival Kit,  and you are finding yourself desperate for ways to make it through this final week before the break, here are some more activities that I’ve found from some of my favorite bloggers:

Candy Cane S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

Ugly Sweater Challenge (I love the Ugly Sweater fractions!)

Toys Go Out (scroll to the end of this post for a great book idea and a link to lesson plans!)

Quiver and Holiday Writing – augmented reality fun for the holidays