Category Archives: Books

Girls Garage

I remember when we moved into our first house together, and my husband casually mentioned something about checking the pilot light on our heater.  For some reason, it had gone out, and I was scared to death he didn’t know what he was doing when he brought an open flame near the decrepit appliance sitting in our garage.  Fortunately, we didn’t blow up.  Sadly for him, that was not the end of my ignorance when it comes to home maintenance.

I’ve tried to make up for what I didn’t learn during my childhood – back when anything to do with tools was considered “the man’s job.”  Now it seems like I’m taking apart appliances, drilling something, or sawing almost every week and I play the ignorance card only when it’s a task that seems a bit gross (like changing out a toilet) or potentially life threatening (like fixing the roof).   In the last few years, I’ve attempted to get my daughter involved in these projects, but it hit me early this summer that she hasn’t learned nearly enough before she leaves for college.  I started hyperventilating as I began a mental list of all of the things she needs to has to know before August.

And then the Girls Garage book came out.

Girls Garage is a nonprofit organization that runs a physical space in California where girls learn to build.  Many of their projects are available here to download.  The new hardcover book includes twelve projects that range from building your own toolbox to erecting a stud-framed doghouse.

Also included in the book are simple descriptions of tools, as well as how-to lessons on measurement and handy life skills – like relighting a pilot light.  This would have been a super book for me to receive as a gift when I graduated, or even two years ago when I began to work in a maker space that was carpentry heaven.

To be honest, I’m kind of torn on whether or not I’m going to give this book to my daughter or just keep it for myself.  A family friend gave her a tool set for Christmas, so it does seem like a good gift to add to her pile of  Destination Dorm items.  I’m sure I can muddle along like I always have.  I mean, I already know most of the contents, like how to patch a hole in the wall (p. 226).

Just use toothpaste, right?

Girl with Hammer
Image by Виктория Бородинова from Pixabay

 

Dear Data

This is another example of one of the great internet wormholes that I fall into when I read Twitter.  I was fascinated by a Tweet from Nick Sousanis (@nsousanis), which led me to an amazing book so I could interpret his Tweet, which led me back to the work of his students and a bazillion ways remote learners around the world could have fun with his assignment or other permutations of it.

Let’s start with the book.  Dear Data began as a pen pal project between two information designers on different continents.  As they explain on their website, “Each week, and for a year, we collected and measured a particular type of data about our lives, used this data to make a drawing on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and then dropped the postcard in an English ‘postbox’ (Stefanie) or an American ‘mailbox’ (Giorgia)!”

Each postcard consists of their data and the explanation of its depiction.  The women chose all sorts of topics to record, such as a week of laughter or a week of complaints.  Though they would be collecting data for the same topic during that particular week, their pictograms would be dramatically different.

They learned a lot from this year-long project, which resulted in a book, a postcard kit, and a journal.  As Giorgia and Stefanie explain in this video, “We learned to pay attention, to live in the present much more, to be more aware of our surroundings, and empower behaviors with new lenses.

So, back to Nick Sousanis, who Tweeted that his visual communications students had come up with their own “Dear Data” projects, and gave examples of some of the results in his Tweet.  I asked Nick if I could share these on this blog and he graciously agreed. (You can click on each picture to enlarge.)

I see all kinds of potential for this with students.  For example, one of the Depth and Complexity icons is “Trends,” and it would be interesting to ask students to analyze one of these postcards, and determine what trends they see.  Using, “See, Think, Wonder” would be a great start. In addition, as Nick found with his class, assigning students to develop their own data sets can invite self-reflection and creativity.

During these unique times, when data has become a fixation for much of the world, students can also examine its importance and reliability.  As the women who completed this ambitious project say in their video, “Finally we both realize that data is the beginning of the story, not the end, and should be seen as a starting point for questioning and understanding the world around us instead of seeing it as the definitive answer to all of our questions.”

(For some other fun ideas for looking at data, check out my posts on Slow Reveal Graphs and What’s Going On in This Graph?)

Makey Makey Book Tasting

So I’m not saying that I decided to follow Barb Seaton (@barb_seaton) because she has a bulldog in her profile picture – but it is definitely evidence that we are kindred spirits.

Since I know there are many librarians who follow this blog, I wanted to share Barb’s recent tweet about a Makey Makey Book Tasting project that she did.

The link to Barb’s Instructables post gives great directions on how you can use Scratch, pressure switches, and a Makey Makey to create an interactive display of book choices for students.

There are many potential students-centered uses for this idea, such as using student-created book blurbs or designing containers for the pressure switches and wires.  Scratch has made it extremely easy in the last couple of years to program for use with Makey Makey, and Barb has a link to a video to help you out in her Instructables post.

Here are some of my other posts on Makey Makey in case you are not familiar with this tool.  And here is a list of my posts on using Scratch and Scratch Jr.  Also, if you don’t follow her already, @gravescolleen is the Queen of Makey Makey projects.  She wrote 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius, and works for Makey Makey creating content.

 

Gifts for the Gifted – Creative Struggle

 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.

This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week.  This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start!  For this year’s suggestions so far, click here.

I adore the work of Gavin Aung Than.  His Zen Pencils site features illustrations of inspiring quotes, and he has published several books.  This year, he added Creative Struggle: Illustrated Advice from Masters of Creativity to his long list of accomplishments.  I enjoyed seeing lesser know quotes in the collection, and felt particularly moved by the “Creative Pep Talk #1” entry.  It illustrates the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and supports my philosophy that we should focus more on the process than the product in education.  “Our present education is rotten because it teaches us to love success and not what we are doing.  The result has become more important than the action.”  He criticizes our desire for fame and lauds anyone who “is a creative human being living anonymously.”

This book would be appropriate for teens and up, or for teachers to use in the classroom with any age.  As I try to convince my students to venture outside of their comfort zones and get frustrated with my own creative attempts and failures, the words of Brene Brown, so well depicted in Than’s book, keep me going:

“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

creative struggle.jpg
Creative Struggle by Zen Pencils Cartoonist, Gavin Aung Than

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

First of all, this is the best book title I’ve ever seen.  It is intriguing when you see the cover, and totally makes sense on a variety of levels once you read the book.  Even the author’s name, Dusti Bowling, seems perfect for a story set in a theme park in Arizona.

I think I first learned that Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus existed from @TechNinjaTodd on Twitter months ago.  Before I even had a chance to read the book, I followed @Dusti_Bowling on Twitter and she almost immediately followed me – which I took as a sign that I am a Very Important Person.  After reading her tweets for a few month, I realized that Dusti Bowling is just a down-to-earth author who responds quickly to her readers.  She also supports her fellow authors by recommending other great books, and Skypes with students on a regular basis.  So, it turns out that, to Dusti Bowling, everyone is an important person – a theme she models in this book.

I finally got some time to read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus a few days ago, and I was not disappointed.  The main character, Aven, is a young girl who was born without arms.  Her adopted parents have raised her to be a confident problem-solver instead of a helpless complainer.  She can do pretty much anything with her feet, and the friends she has grown up with don’t even notice her unconventional methods anymore.  However, Aven becomes much more self-conscious about her uniqueness when the family moves from Kansas to Arizona.  Starting a new school with students who have never seen a person eat with her feet, Aven realizes the one problem she can’t solve is that some people fear those who are different.  Just when she seems to have reached her lowest point, Aven meets a few friends who have also been mistreated due to their differences.  Throw in some tarantulas, a tantalizing mystery, and the declining Wild West theme park her parents manage, and Aven must summon up all of her will-power to ensure the family’s move to Arizona doesn’t end up as a disaster.

This is a great book to use for teaching empathy, perseverance, and the power of a growth mindset. (For another great story that has those themes, I also recommend Fish in a Tree.) I could see using it as a class read-aloud in grades 3 and up.  To learn more about the inside story of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can visit the StoryMamas website for an interview with the author.  If your class wants to ask the author more questions, be sure to fill out the form on Dusti Bowling’s home page to request a Skype with her.

cactus.jpg
Find out where you can buy this book!

This is How We Do It

My gifted and talented first graders study geography and choose different countries to research.  @storymamas recently tweeted about a book called, This is How We Do It, by Matt Lamothe, and I thought it would be a good resource to use with this class.  Children like to see the differences and similarities of places around the world.  A few years ago, I sent out a Twitter plea for people from other countries to add pictures of their playgrounds to this slide show, and my students enjoy comparing the sites to our own and finding the locations on a map.

Lamothe went much further than collecting images on a slideshow for his book.  You can read about his writing process for This is How We Do It here.  He created all of the illustrations in his book based on photographs shared with him by families in seven different countries.  My students were fascinated with everything from how the featured children got to school to how they slept.  They were surprised by uncanny resemblances to our own culture (they have a Smarboard in their classroom, too!) as well as unimaginable contrasts (an entire family sleeping in one bed!)

You can download a free activity kit to accompany the book here.