Category Archives: Books

Cultivating Communication in the Classroom

In this recent article from Huffington Post, the writer poses the following questions to students preparing for their future careers:

  • “Are you adaptable?
  • Can you quickly learn a new skill?
  • Can you draw on different, seemingly unrelated knowledge and then connect that knowledge in a meaningful, creative and effective way?
  • Can you throw yourself into a job or career and learn quickly without needing a supervisor to hold your hand?”

In essence, employers are rarely interested in how well potential employees can memorize or fill in the right bubbles on standardized tests, but in their abilities to be flexible problem solvers who are able to leverage available resources (or create new ones) to meet unprecedented challenges.

Lisa Johnson’s new book, Cultivating Communication in the Classroom, offers teachers tools they can use to prepare secondary students so that they will thrive in the “real” world that will envelop them after high school, and be able to answer the each of the above questions with a confident, “Yes!”

Lisa Johnson is well known in the ed-tech community as TechChef4U.  As an instructional technologist, writer, presenter, and even jewelry-maker, Lisa’s creativity and massive portfolio of shared resources have already made a huge impact on innovative educational practices.  She continues to add to her legacy with her new book, a practical but fun guide to infusing curriculum with important 21st century skills.

In each of the 7 chapters in Johnson’s book, you will find great visuals, industry insights on the value of each topic, and plenty of use-it-right-now resources.  One of the unique features is the inclusion of  “Communication Catchers,” which can be printed and folded just like those fortune tellers that seem to fall in and out of fashion as often as tides ebb and flow.  The Communication Catchers, designed for student use, are great tools for reflection and review of the key topics covered in the book.

Throughout chapters on topics such as e-mail etiquette and social media involvement, Johnson is careful to remind us that educators who ignore or ban technology in the classroom will not be doing their students any favors.  Instead, we should be teaching our students how they can benefit from responsible use of unlimited information and the ability to communicate in so many ways.

Although Johnson’s book is targeted for a secondary audience of teachers and students, much of it can easily be adapted to students in higher elementary as well.  To be honest, many adults, whether or not they are educators, could benefit quite a bit from its wisdom.  I would even recommend this book to parents so they can guide their children through the complexities of our digital age.

If you want to learn more about how to prepare your students for a world that requires critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, then I highly recommend you purchase and read Cultivating Communication in the Classroom by Lisa Johnson.

Full Disclosure: I did receive a digital copy of this book to review.  However I received no compensation, and all opinions are my own.

cultivatingcommunication
Click here to purchase.

FIAT Contest/Celebration

Fish in a Tree, the awesome book by Lynda Mullaly Hunt that I reviewed here, has just come out in paperback.  The paperback includes the main character, Ally’s, complete Sketchbook of Impossible Things.  In honor of this, Hunt has launched a nationwide contest for students in 3rd-8th grades to create their own incredibly unique writing or artwork, photos of which must be received by May 12, 2017.  You can find all of the details, including the list of prizes, here.

Also, if you have time, Mrs. Hunt recently did a live webcast for School Library Journal, and I think that you can view the archive by registering here.  My 3rd graders and I watched it today, and found it very inspirational.  Mrs. Hunt talks about her own learning difficulties, the many real-life models for her characters, and how her long-term goals helped to keep her on track.  If you have spoken to your students about growth mindset and grit, then you will find her speech will really resonate with them!

Screenshot 2017-04-04 at 5.22.15 PM
New in paperback here!

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Stories of Inspirational Females

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.

gifts

For this post I am going to recommend two books.  One is fiction and the other is not.  Both have amazing illustrations.  Both champion scientific discovery.  And both feature strong females who are curious, persistent, and determined to pursue their interests despite costs and sacrifices.

I saw a comment about one of these books where the writer said, “If I had a daughter, I would give her this book.”  That’s fine – but there’s no reason a son shouldn’t receive either of these as a gift.  Yes, we need to increase the number of women in scientific fields.  But that doesn’t mean that we need to exclude males from them.  And, if our belief is that stereotypes should be eradicated, won’t this be helped even more by young men learning about inspiring females and males?

Ada Twist, Scientist
Ada Twist, Scientist

Ada Twist, Scientist is a delightful book by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts about a young girl who exasperates and amazes the adults in her life with her quests to find the right answer.  This picture book is one that I reviewed a few months ago here, and part of a series of brilliant stories about children who refuse to allow life to just happen to them.

Women in Science
Women in Science

Women in Science, written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky, has caught my eye on so many “Best Of…” lists that I finally had to order it.  It says quite a bit about my education (and my memory) that I only recognize the names of 4 of the 50 female scientists described in this book.  To be read independently, this book would be best for ages 8 and up.  As a read-aloud, however, I don’t see any reason that parents or teachers couldn’t start earlier – maybe choosing one scientist a day to study.  The graphics, colors, and font of this book separate it from the stodgy biographies that would immediately elicit yawns, and Ignotofsky has done a wonderful job of succinctly describing each scientists contributions in laymen’s terms.

With the upcoming Hidden Figures film and books like these, women in STEM careers are finally receiving real recognition.  None of this negates the amazing feats of men in these fields.  Instead, we are getting a richer picture of our history and more motivation to play significant roles in the future.

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Fish in a Tree

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.

gifts

When a new student entered our 3rd grade gifted and talented class this year a few weeks after we’d begun classes, I thought we might need to spend some time filling her in on what she had missed so far. I was wrong.  Growth mindset, the importance of stretching your brain, systems thinking – she had already covered these topics at her previous school.  One day, we were talking about how, if you don’t learn about how to deal with challenges you might begin to avoid them altogether because you don’t want people to think you aren’t smart and she said, “This reminds me of Fish in a Tree!”  She was so excited about the connection between this library book that she was reading and our discussion that I said, “I would like to read that book, too!”

“There’s extra copies in the library!” she exclaimed!

“Well, let’s all read it, then!” I said, completely caught up in her exuberance and not at all concerned that I had just committed our small class to reading a book that I hadn’t previewed yet and that the “recommender” hadn’t even finished.  We went straight to the library and checked it out.

My student was right.  Fish in a Tree is the perfect supplement to our classroom discussions.  In the story, the main character, Ally, covers up her difficulty with reading.  She eventually finds out, due to a dedicated teacher, that she has dyslexia.  Along the way, she learns that making good friends is more worthwhile than trying to fit in, and that her imagination, perseverance, and courage are truly admirable.

The other young characters in the story, especially the new friends that Ally makes, remind me of many of the students I’ve taught over the years.  Ally’s teacher exemplifies so many of the caring colleagues I have had the honor of working with during my career.

In the book, Ally’s use of figurative language – particularly similes – offers a lot of opportunities for discussion along with great mental images that make the story come to life.Fish in a Tree

If you are a parent, I encourage you to buy this book for your child, and read it together.  If you are a teacher, read it along with your class (and here are some classroom activities to go along with it).  It’s a heartwarming novel that emphasizes kindness, understanding, and individuality.

 

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.)

scream

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.”

Oh.

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