Category Archives: Books

The Ace That I Could Keep

To continue this week’s theme of Random Things That Remind Me of Education, I would like to share a book that I read over the break. I subscribe to The Next Big Idea Club, and receive a few new books every quarter. One of them is The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. As you might guess from the title, this non-fiction book is about poker – specifically Konnikova’s self-assigned project to learn how to play Texas Hold ‘Em and win against some of the best players in the world.

I began reading the book because I imagined that I, too, would become a champion gambler. I have a tarnished history with anything where I rely on chance, beginning with the time that my friends and I decided to sing the Kenny Rogers song for a talent show in 5th grade and I procrastinated learning my solo part, relying on my brain to recall the words from the radio without any practice, and subsequently embarrassing myself in front of the entire school when Luck did not even pretend to reward my faith in it. Luck has been similarly disloyal in my attempts to play pool, betting on horses, and pretty much any card game, including Uno.

About 20 pages into the book that was certain to change my fortune, I got up to rummage through a drawer for a highlighter, not because I wanted to note how to perceive “tells” from other players or remember the odds for certain card combinations, but because Konnikova’s observations are so applicable to teaching, learning, and living.

Maria Konnikova is a scientist with a PhD in psychology from Columbia University. So she approached her new endeavor with the mindset of someone who studies human behavior. She, herself, recognizes how closely poker mirrors life with its combination of luck and skill, and states that, despite luck’s constant interference, “Skill shines through over the longer time horizon.”

In her chapter, “The Art of Losing,” Konnikova demonstrates with her own personal story how important it is to learn from our mistakes, a philosophy that was apparent in my classroom every day. Her mentor, Erik Seidel, says, “When things go wrong, other people see it as unfairness that’s always surrounding them. They take it personally. They don’t know how to lose, how to learn from losing. They look for someone, or something, to blame.”

Does that remind you of anyone?

Erik also tells Maria about another famous player who would ask audiences he spoke to, “What is the object of poker?” After people would shout answers like, “Winning money,” he would respond, “The object of poker is making good decisions.”

As I read that, I thought about all of the times that I reflected on teaching days that didn’t go well, berating myself for being a terrible teacher. What if I had looked more specifically at my decisions, instead of the things out of my control? What if I looked at my life that way?

Two more of the many, many things that I highlighted in this book that I think are specifically applicable to teaching:

  • “You can’t just plow ahead with one strategy because if worked in the past or you’ve seen someone else employ it successfully.”
  • “You don’t have to have studied the description-experience gap to understand, if you’re truly expert at something, that you need experience to balance out the description. Otherwise, you’re left with the illusion of knowledge – knowledge without substance.”

Though there are hundreds of other pearls of wisdom in this book, I will leave you with the advice given by Jared Tendler to Maria Konnikova, advice I would have given my 10 year-old self the night before I was supposed to belt out The Gambler from the floor of our Catholic school auditorium. (Hmm, speaking of decisions, which nun gave us permission to sing that particular song?)

“You need to think in terms of preparation. Don’t worry about hoping. Just do.”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing is a picture book, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James. The beautiful words and accompanying breathtaking images represent the ultimate Black Boy Joy, as the young child narrates his delight in life and ideas for the future. In a Q&A about his book, Barnes said that he wants, in part, for people to take from the book that, “No matter where Black boys come from, I along with the people that love them want them to win in life. They are not living breathing stereotypes that fit like jigsaw pieces into your biases, only useful for your entertainment, and to justify your ridiculous fears. They are human beings capable of extraordinary feats.”

This book, with its fantastic metaphors, reminds me of the “I Am” poetry my own young students would author – celebrations of uniqueness and life. But, of course, there is another dimension to this work as we not only see a child seeking to be accepted for his remarkable traits, but one who some unjustifiably view as threatening merely because of the color of his skin. James, who used his own son as the model for the oil painting on the cover of the book, says in this NPR story that he wanted to portray his child “looking like how I feel he sees himself and how we see him as his family.”

I Am Every Good Thing is a book for boys, girls, and families of every color. It is also for every age. Many educators can tell you the value of picture books grows in secondary classrooms, where new experiences and understanding can help teenagers see reading as both an enjoyable pastime and an invitation to think deeply. For discussion ideas and other reading suggestions, use this Learning Guide created by Tiffany Jewell (author of This Book is Anti-Racist) along with the book. Whether using the book in a history class as you discuss civil rights, or a language class where your students are learning about writing devices (see this mashup of Song of Myself and I am Every Good Thing shared on Twitter by @PaulWHankins) this book will be a gift to everyone who reads it.

This post is part of a weekly series of anti-racist articles. For previous posts in this series, please visit this link.

Gifts for the Gifted – Girls Garage

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Before I get into today’s recommendation, I do want to let you know that I will be making one more recommendation next Thursday, Christmas Eve. It will be a digital subscription, so you won’t have to worry about receiving it in time. The price varies, based on the features you want, but the company is also offering a 15% discount code. In addition, I will be giving information on a free class I will be teaching involving this surprise. So, be sure to tune in next week for the final edition for the 2020 Gifts for the Gifted series!

Now, let’s talk about this week’s great gift! I actually wrote about this book in June of this year. The full title is, Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See (Teenage Trailblazers, STEM Building Projects for Girls). The book is written by Emily PilIoton, who founded Girls Garage in California in 2013 with the mission to empower young women from ages 9-18 to design and build. Girls Garage is full of practical advice for using tools and regular maintenance activities that most of us encounter as we live our lives, in addition to instructions for fun building projects.

As with most of my recommendations, this is the kind of gift you should use with the recipient. If you just present the book with no follow-through it will likely sit on a shelf collecting dust. In fact, I think it would be a great idea to put it in a basket with the supplies for one of the projects that you could do together. And if you don’t know a lot about using hand or power tools, that’s even better. Kids love to learn with adults, and it’s a wonderful way to model how to handle problem-solving and mistakes.

Some of you may be asking whether or not this book is suited for boys, given the title. In my opinion, the content is great for anyone who is not used to working with tools. There may be similar books out there that don’t address a specific gender. Yes, I would give it to my own son if I had one – along with his first power drill. However, you will ultimately have to be the judge about whether or not the person would appreciate this gift.

Amazon has made enough money this year, so if you can purchase Girls Garage from Bookshop or directly from your local independent bookstore, please do what you can to help them out!

Gifts for the Gifted – Sleuth and Solve

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

If you know children who love riddles, like the ones on TED Ed, and are about 8 years and up, you might want to consider getting them one of the Sleuth and Solve books (there are two) by Anna Gallo and Victor Escandell. Each book has more than 20 short riddles with fun illustrations and the answer behind a card you can fold down. I have only previewed the one with the black cover (not the History one), so I can’t describe both, but I imagine their format is similar.

The riddles use icons to communicate to the reader whether or not they can be solved using logic or imagination, and there are stars to indicate their difficulty levels (six stars being the most difficult). Some of the riddles are familiar, such as “Crossing the River,” while others are definitely new to me. One feature that I really like is that the book describes how it can be played as a game, encouraging families (or groups in class) to keep track of the cases they solve and how many points they earn for each solution based on the difficulty level. As I mentioned in last week’s gift post, you can really maximize the impact of any gift if you, the giver, play along with the recipient. And, don’t assume you will have to “play dumb.” Some of these riddles are quite diabolical.

I am giving you a link to these books from one of our new local bookstores, Nowhere Bookshop. The store is owned by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Lawson, also known as “The Bloggess.” Unfortunately, their grand opening coincided with the pandemic, so they have only been able to operate virtually. I’d love for you to support them so they will be able to survive and one day open their doors. If you prefer to support another independent bookstore, you can find some on Bookshop.org.

For those who love mysteries and riddles, here is a link to a past recommendation from this series, Invisible Ink books.

Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices

As some of you know, I have committed to publishing one post a week dedicated to anti-racism. I want to thank my friend, Callan, for bringing my attention to this week’s resource when she shared it on Facebook. Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices is produced by Netflix. The series of short videos (most of them less than 10 minutes) features Black celebrities reading children’s books by Black authors. According to the site, the twelve books “featured in the series were chosen using a social justice education framework that focused on concepts of Identity, Respect, Justice, and Action.”

Marley Dias, a 15 year old young woman who founded #1000BlackGirlBooks, introduces each segment’s guest reader, and has her own episode reading We March by Shane Evans. Marley is an author, herself, having penned the book, Marley Dias Gets It Done, and So Can You, when she was just 13 years old.

As I watched Anti-Racist Baby being read aloud by Kendrick Sampson and The Day You Begin narrated by Jacqueline Woodson (who is also the author of the book), I felt a sense of peace and inspiration. Instead of the anger I have been feeling about recent injustices, I felt motivated to find more ways to make change through kindness and understanding. At the end of her narration, Woodson asks, “What makes you so fabulously different from everyone else you meet?” and it was as though she had gently wrapped a warm blanket around my heart.

Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

Along with the videos on the site, you can find book recommendations for different age groups, as well as suggestions for activities and other resources.

Here are my previous anti-racism posts in case you have missed them:

Also, for more amazing anti-racism resources, check out the Live Binder curated by Joy Kirr.

Stamped Digital Reader’s Notebook

UPDATE 7/23/20 – Here is a link to a guide for Stamped.  Also, find out more about author Jason Reynolds in this blog post.

For this week’s post dedicated to sharing anti-racist resources, I am giving you the link to a digital Reader’s Notebook that was tweeted out by Pernille Ripp (@PernilleRipp) today.  This is a Google Slides template created by Jennifer LeBrun to accompany the book, Stamped, co-authored by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Stamped is based on Kendi’s book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which Reynolds and Kendi “re-mixed” to create a book with the same information for younger audiences.  If you haven’t had a chance to read Stamped, yet, you may want to try purchasing it from one of these independent, black-owned, bookstores. It is extremely readable, and offers pretty much all of the information about racism that history textbooks completely ignore or wrongly represent to intentionally mislead readers.  The Google Slides template is extremely thorough, and the book along with this notebook and some well-orchestrated discussions would make a fine addition to any middle to high school curriculum.

stamped

 

This post is part of a weekly Black Lives Matter series that I have vowed to include on this blog.  Here are the previous posts:

Also, for more amazing anti-racism resources, check out the Live Binder curated by Joy Kirr.