Project 2013: How I Plan To Let 171 Books Lead Me On A Journey Into Unknown Worlds

One of my two office closets is crammed with boxes of school supplies, letters from former student, lesson plans, and at least 171 young adult literature books (with a smattering of kid lit in the mix). All reminders of a career put on hiatus, if not permanently cancelled.
It’s the 171 books that I’m going to focus on in 2013. When I was actively teaching, I collected books for my classroom library like some people collect 1980s-era Smurf glasses: Obsessively. It was always my goal to read each book and write a short summary. But, between teaching responsibilities, reading for professional development, and devouring the latest YA lit releases, I never found the time.
This is the year I make the time. My plan is to (at the very least) list and link the books I read on my new YA Lit page on this blog, with a recommendation to read or not to read. My more ambitious plan is to write brief summaries. I reserve the right to ditch the books I can’t get into after 100 pages. It took me many, many years to develop the discipline to discard books I don’t like. I’m not going back now.  
I’m not naïve enough to believe I will stick only to these YA books. I have an extensive list of kid, adult, professional development, and non-fiction tomes I want to read in the new year. Again, my plan is to list and link to those on new blog pages as well.
I hope you’ll follow me - even join me – on my literacy journey.
Thanks for reading! It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

The Plaza in Kansas City!
Photo credit: davedehetre via photopin cc 

I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for joining me on this new blogging endeavor. I'm excited about what the new year will hold!

Take care, and peace, health and happiness be with you and yours.


Harry Potter: Growing Brains One Kid At A Time

Photo credit: megadem via photopin cc
I have this quirk. (Actually, I'm told I have a lot of quirks, but that's another blog post or two). The quirk I want to share is this: When the entire universe is reading a book, I refuse to read it. I have it set in my mind that if everybody and their brother is reading it, then it must not be too good. I have no idea how I came to this way of thinking, but it almost caused me to miss out on a series that engaged adults and children in reading en masses and altered the global literary culture.

I'm talking about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Yes, I almost poo-pooed Harry Potter. I begrudingly began reading the series several years after everyone else on the planet. Mostly, I cracked the spine of Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone because I was bored. And by the end of the first page, I wasn't bored. I devoured every single volume. Whether you like it or not, the series has solidified a spot on the world's bookshelf. In effect, it is part of our world cultural.

About a month ago, Groupon ran on offer for the full set of Harry Potter DVDs for a ridiculously low price. Although I wasn't a big fan of the movies (I stopped watching them at Order of the Phoenix), I thought my daughters might enjoy them at some point. You see, together with their dad they play this old school fantasy computer game called NetHack. The girls love it because they get to create characters, make decision, and interact with all kinds of fantasy creatures, including Mindflayers and the Floating Eye. Strangely enough, it's enhanced their reading skills and critical thinking skills. It also feeds their amazing imaginative brains.

Enter the Harry Potter movies. The special effects, fantastical beasts, and variety of characters blow their six-year-old brains and propel them to levels of creativity that blow mine. We have great discussions about themes, our favorite parts and what motivates each character. Audrey's running commentary of the convoluted plot lines is astounding, and Ruthie's freehand drawings of Harry and his friends are detailed and fun.

I showed them my set of Harry Potter books. They held each one, thumbed through the pages, and wanted to sleep with them. I know they will love reading these tomes as they grow older and more capable of handling print text.

I do have to say that we have only watched the first four movies in the series. We started the fifth one, but that one hasn't captured the girls' attention like the first quartet. And, I'm well aware at how dark the movies become as the series progresses. So, we will likely take a break for a bit. Maybe hit the books from the beginning.

Perhaps Joe Q. Public knows good lit after all.

Thanks for reading. It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

10 Reasons Why & How We Should Immerse Our Students In Digital Literacy

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /
Digital literacy has been a hot topic on this blog in recent weeks. (Read related posts here and here.) The opinion piece, Teach U.S. Kids to Write Computer Code by Douglas Rushkoff gets to the heart of why increasing our students' digital literacy skills is vital to propelling our country forward when it comes to technology. I wish him all the best as he brings his case to Congress later this week.

Actually, Rushkoff's 10-minute meeting with Congress is my first point of concern. The fact that he must address Congress and educate its members on the value of digital literacy says quite a bit about our reticence to embrace the Digital Age, even though we live in (and have been living in) this age for quite some time. Why do we have such a sluggish mindset about technological innovation when it is so crystal clear that this the path the world is blazing?

As Rushkoff writes, "Although we live in a highly digital age, digital literacy is not a priority among us. And as a result, computer science is not a priority in our schools."  My husband, who has worked in software development for decades, laments this fact often. While he tries to hire American coders, he finds that too often their skills, their knowledge, their drive for doing the work, lags behind potential candidates from other countries. In fact, Rushkoff sarcastically (?) states, "But I'm hoping we can get motivated enough to catch up with, say, Estonia (where they teach code to kids) ...."
In his article, Rushkoff shares with readers the 10 points he plans to present to Congress. Two really stood out for me. The first is the impact that our lack of digital literacy skills will have on our cybermilitary efforts. Think about it. We don't just need soldiers to use the technology that protects us; we need to soldiers to create the technology that protects us. Second, he spotlights that computer science isn't just about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but liberal arts as well. It requires highly-developed critical thinking skills. (Did someone say Teaching Reading In The Content Areas?)

Be sure to check out this article and chime in with your thoughts.

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

I Cannot Tell a Lie: Are Historical & Cultural Literacy Things of the Past?

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

Please welcome guest blogger, Val Thompson!. Val is a witty and brilliant middle school geography teacher at Daniel Boone Middle School in Douglassville, PA. We taught together for three years and spent many lunch periods lamenting our students' lack of background knowledge. In addition to educating students about our world, she also sneaks in reading strategies. And you all know I'm a huge proponent of teaching reading in the content areas. Enjoy!

For added fun, see how many obscure and "lost" cultural references you recognize.  No Googling... that's just not fair!

I cannot tell a lie:  historic and cultural literacy are things of the past.  I am a geography teacher in a middle school, and I understand all about reading and math scores and the pressure to pass tests.  I get that we have students with more needs and problems and less of a budget to work with.  But for the love of Jesus (Jesus who?… for real, I got that last year), we need to make sure our kids know some stuff about history, culture and geography.  I have a dream that in 20 years, when I say “I have a dream,” people will get that cultural reference.  I am not optimistic.

I have a degree in history, so I “get it” that many things I know are off the charts in obscurity.  But even as a child I knew things that kids today do not know, and they are connected to basic cultural literacy.  Bullfights are in Spain, lions come from the African plains.  The guy in the beret  near the café is a FRENCH artist, but if I fall in love with him, he might be my Romeo. It seems I to me that I knew these things as a child; got these cultural references from educational television such as Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry.  Even television and movie references have gone by the wayside, and frankly, I give a damn.  Because we are one generation or so removed from kids not understanding anything we say, and it makes me mad as a hatter.  Ah well, tomorrow is another day.
If cartoon and movie references are lost, history is worse.  No one has heard of Alexander the Great.  I don’t mean they can’t place him in a century or list his accomplishments… they never heard of him.  Or that Cleopatra was an Egyptian.  Or even that pyramids were Egyptian.Joan of Arc was not Noah’s wife (Noah who?). And when it rains cats and dogs, you can’t say, “We’re going to have to build an ark” because they don’t understand. I hate to even publicly admit this, but one of my colleagues asked me if Gandhi was black, because I was teaching about CivilRights. Et tu, Brute?

So, if you love your children, tell them that the Taj Mahal is more than a casino, and that TRex was not a contemporary of Baby Jesus, who apparently chased down a lot of old guys from the Bible (yes, another war story from history class). I’d bet you the Brooklyn Bridge that many don’t know the difference between Washington (the wig guy) and Lincoln (the hat guy).  And speaking of New York (which is where Brooklyn is), make sure they know who The Babe is. And they should know the difference between Yogi Bear and Yogi Berra. It would also help to know that Opera is a kind of singing and Oprah is a talk-show host. Oh, and there are 50 states. Watch movies, talk to your kids, and read, read, read, read, read. We have a chance to preserve our cultural literacy.  It’s not over ‘till it’s over, folks.

How I Learned I Was Not Totally Tech-Stupid, And What I Plan To Do To Raise My Bar

Image courtesy of suphakit73 /

In keeping with the theme of the importance of being technologically literate, I wanted to share the article, The 50 Free Apps We're Most Thankful For from  When I came across this piece and clicked on the headline, I fully expected to feel like an idiot for not knowing about or having even heard of most the apps.  I can be rather technologically illiterate, especially with new media.

To my surprise, I already use several of these apps on a regular basis, and I've heard of most of them. My husband uses Google Voice (No. 9) and FoxFi (No. 21) with great success.

But knowing about them isn't enough for me. So to up my technology literacy skills, I set a goal to at least research the following apps in 2013.

Evernote (No. 4)
Pocket (No. 5)
Spotify (No 11) DONE! (Just jammed to Gangnam Style. Not proud, but it is what it is.)
Google Calendar (No. 14)
Mint (No. 24).

I know ... these are not earth-shattering, cutting-edge apps to most of the digital world, but it's a step toward increased technological literacy in my world. I chose these particular ones because I'm looking for ways to 1) have fun and 2) simplify my life.

If you've used any of the apps on this list, I'd love to hear how and why. And share your usage tips! If you try something new from this list, I'd love to hear how it worked out

Thanks for reading! It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!