Monthly Archives: August 2013

Inspired Idea: Secret Code Reviews


I just finished George Washington Spymaster by Thomas B. Allen (book review to follow soon.) The book is all about the spying and deception that took place during the American Revolution.  The author explains many ways in which spies for both the Patriots and the British created secret codes to mask messages.  One of the ways was the “book code.”  I’m already familiar with this type of code because I’ve watched National Treasure about seven million times.  (Remember the scene where Riley keeps paying the little boy to bring back the words?) The code uses three number which correspond to a specific page, line and word of a specific text.  For example:

35.3.1 = page 35, line 3, word 1

The person trying to decipher the word would need to know what book to use as a key, and have access to that book.  In my example the book is George Washington Spymaster and the corresponding word is… L_Y.  (I’ll let you figure out that one on your own!)  There were a few more guidelines that went along with this, but that’s the gist.

I started thinking about how it might be fun to have the students create their own coded messages.  After discussing the “book code,” the students could write reviews or summaries about a books that they have read.  They would then code the message using the book itself as the cipher.   As the process is a little cumbersome, it might be prudent to have them only create one or two sentences.  The code could be written on a sticky note and placed on the front flyleaf of the book so that others could try to figure out the message.  This could also be a center activity.  How can you see this activity panning out?

Curricu-Links: 6 August 2013



Genius Hour

Genius hour is a block of time set aside to allow students to autonomously work on projects for which they have  passion.  Wouldn’t it be nice if this could be worked into our schedule somewhere?

Sashimi Tabernacle Choir

WARNING: NO REAL EDUCATIONAL VALUE HERE! (unless you count making a creative idea into reality.)  I was looking for information on Makerspaces and I came across this (in the middle of a TEDtalk if you can image.) Honestly… it is creative and it makes me smile so I thought I’d share…

Language Arts

The Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf

Need to recommend a great read, but stuck for a title? Check out this post of the 100 must-reads for 9-14 year olds.  How many have you read?

Picture Books as an Art Form

From the Eric Carle Museum. Provides a framework for using picture books, not just for entertainment, but to promote discussion.

Social Studies

Back  in the Day: Lessons form Colonial Classrooms

An Education World article with many resources for teaching about colonial classrooms.  Inculdes suggestions for hands-on activities and resources.

Great lessons and interactive games related to civics.  The lessons contain everything you need for lessons on citizenship, branches of government, the constitution, and others.  Check out the teacher page or just play a game!  If you register, the points you earn from playing games can go toward making an impact on the world.

This site, published by the National History Education Clearinghouse, was featured in a blog post on Free Technology for Teachers about “Why Hoistorical Thinking Matters” Features teaching materials, history content and best practices.


79 Animal Adventures in Honor of Shark Week

Blog post by Common Sense Media.  Includes apps, movies games, and more.

Information Literacy/Technology


Free sound effects with licensing information clearly marked for each file.

August AASL Hotlinks

I receive these monthly via email with my membership in AASL, but many of the articles are applicable to all educators. Includes a lot of information on curriculum, assessment, STEM etc.

Wikipedia as an authentic Learning Space

Professional development opportunity provided by EasyBib. Hurry!  The meeting is tomorrow August 7, at 3:00 EDT.

PicMonkey Collage

This blog post from Free Technology for Teachers discusses creative ways to use this new tool effectively.  PicMonkey is free and no login is required.

Sources of my sources: Susan L. Panter (@SLPanter), Joyce Valenza (@Joycevalenza), Robin Bryce (@busybryces), Emily Gover (@Emily_EasyBib)

Summer Reading (MTG): Short Reads

Short Reads (MTG)

Short Reads (MTG)

For my first “Mind the Gap” post, I read a few short non-fiction works.  (I figured I’d ease my way into my reading gap.) All of these are non-fiction or biographies.   The books were short and so are the reviews.  The summaries are from our catalog records.   I’ve tried to include a brief reflection and fiction books to pair.

How Do You Burp in Space? : and Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know by Susan E. Goodman.  “A non-fiction travel guide to space tourism that includes information about accommodations, attractions, and more.” –Provided by publisher.

Reflection: Quite an interesting book with many facts about past and future trips into outer space.  Focuses on the possibility of space tourism.  Many photos of astronauts accompany the text.  One criticism: the timeline in the back is very cursory.  Many more items could have been added.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Cottrell Boyce, Frank. Cosmic. New York: Walden Pond Press, 2010. Print.
  • Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the great glass elevator : the further adventures of Charlie Bucket and Willie Wonka, chocolate-maker extraordinary. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2001. Print.
  • Horowitz, Anthony. Ark angel. New York: Philomel Books, 2006. Print.
  • Moore, Eva, Joanna Cole, and Bruce Degen. Space explorers. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.
  • Reeve, Philip. Larklight, or, The revenge of the white spiders!, or, To Saturn’s rings and back! : a rousing tale of dauntless pluck in the farthest reaches of space. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006. Print.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate 
by Melissa Stewart.  After reading this book, the word “chocolate” may bring to mind not only candy and ice cream, but also lizards, fungi, and monkeys–all part of the cocoa trees’ ecosystem. Includes further information on cocoa and rainforests and suggestions to help save rainforests.

Reflection: I loved that the author talked about all of the “gross” things (ants, maggots, fungi, etc.) that are involved with this ecosystem.  A fun feature of this book is the two tiny book worms, drawn at the bottom of each page, who banter comically about the text.  Very cute!

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Catling, Patrick S. The chocolate touch. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1996. Print.
  • Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the chocolate factory. New York: Knopf, 2005. Print.
  • Smith, Robert K. Chocolate fever. New York: Putnam’s, 1989. Print.

On a Beam of Light : A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne.  A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived.

Reflection: A great read to introduce the life of Einstein.  The watercolor illustrations seem simple and quirky but they are perfect for the subject.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Clements, Andrew. The Report Card. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2006. Print.
  • Draper, Sharon M. Out of my mind. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. Print.
  • Elish, Dan. The School for the Insanely Gifted. New York: Harper, 2011. Print.
  • Lasky, Kathryn. Ashes. New York: Puffin Books, 2011. Print.

The Boy who Loved Math : The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman.  An introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique, if not eccentric, character traits that made the noted mathematician “Uncle Paul” a great man.

Reflection: This short biography is about a man I had not known about. Paul Erdos was a mathematician who was fascinated by prime numbers.  The author tries to reinforce this fascination by working numbers into to the text and writing the numbers as numbers rather than text (i.e. “1,000,000” rather than “one million.”)  I think this gimmick falls a little flat though… I found it a little annoying.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Erskine, Kathryn. The absolute value of Mike. New York: Philomel Books, 2011. Print.
  • Lichtman, Wendy. Secrets, lies, and algebra. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2007. Print.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss.  Traces the childhood dream of Japanese-American baseball pioneer Kenichi Zenimura of playing professionally and his family’s struggles in a World War II internment camp where he organizes baseball teams to raise hope among the inmates.

Reflection: This subject is near and dear to my heart mainly because I didn’t even know about the Japanese internment until I was in graduate school!  I’ve wondered how I could have made it through all of my years of education with no knowledge of these events.  I decided that I would provide my students with opportunities to learn what I had not.  This is a well written story with beautiful illustrations.

Pair with these fiction books:

  • Conkling, Winifred. Sylvia & Aki. Berkeley [Calif.: Tricycle Press, 2011. Print.
  • Denenberg, Barry. The journal of Ben Uchida, citizen 13559, Mirror Lake internment camp. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Print.
  • Fitzmaurice, Kathryn. A diamond in the desert. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
  • Hughes, Dean. Missing in action. New York: Simon Pulse, 2011. Print.
  • Larson, Kirby. The fences between us : the diary of Piper Davis. New York: Scholastic, 2010. Print.
  • Lieurance, Suzanne. The lucky baseball : my story in a Japanese-American internment camp. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2010. Print.
  • Mochizuki, Ken. Baseball saved us. New York: Lee & Low, 1993. Print.
  • Wolff, Virginia E. Bat 6 : a novel. New York: Scholastic Signature, 1999. Print.

Curricu-Links: 4 August 2013



  • DENapalooza Stops in Pittsburgh
    • The Discovery Education Network is offering a free professional development on Saturday, September 21, 2013 from 9-4 at Montour High School.  Session include topics such as digital storytelling, project-based learning and personal learning networks.  The tour will visit other cities as well.

Language Arts


Social Studies

  • A Short Explanation of the European Union
    • I know that many of our 6th grade teachers do projects on the Countries of the World. This blog post contains two short videos, one explaining the European Union and one explaining the United Kingdom.  I’m always confused by these countries, and now I know that’s with good reason.
  • Daily Flag Status
    • I noticed that some of the American flags in the area were at half staff yesterday but had no idea why.  Then I found this website.
  • Half Staff American Flag Notifications
    • The site also shows the status of the flag.  You can subscribe to email updates and even embed a widget.


Information Literacy/Technology

Sources of my sources: Mr Schu (@mrschureads), Tom Murray (@thomascmurray), Edutopia (@edutopia), Gwyneth Jones (@GwynethJones), Nancy Hniedziejko (@NancyTeaches)

Summer Reading: The Ugly One


The Ugly One by Leanne Statland Ellis.  Historical Fiction.

For as long as Micay can remember, with the exception of her family, all of the people in her village call her “Ugly One” because of the deep scar that runs from her eye to her lip.  She is an outcast who is ridiculed, bullied, and ignored.  When Paqo the village shaman makes Micay his pupil she is confused by what the Gods might have in store for her.

Themes/Content: Incas, storytelling, Machu Picchu, self-esteem, beauty, shamans, Peru, macaws, rituals, gods and goddesses, descriptive language, context clues, loneliness, destiny, family

Recommended for: Grades 6 and up, readers who are interested in the ancient Incas or Machu Picchu, readers who need reassurance about self-image

My Two Cents: This book is very different from anything I have read lately.  The text is very descriptive and yet also feels slightly primitive. It is more introspective, possibly because Micay spends so much time alone.  When the book begins she is very self-conscious about her appearance, and to some extent, brings her isolation upon herself.  Her self-isolation and negative self-image only serve to fuel her tormentors.  As much as she tries to stay strong, she is hurt by their words and actions.

Her life begins to change when a stranger from the jungle presents her with a gift of a baby macaw, who becomes her companion and confidante. She names him Sumac Huanacauri, or “Beautiful One,” and it is Sumac who leads her to the Shaman and her destiny.

It took me a little while to get into this book, but after a few chapters I was hooked.  One aspect of the book that I appreciate is the fact that even though the people in her village have shunned her, her family, especially her sister, sticks by her and tries to gives her support.

Some of the descriptions of the activities and rituals of the ancient Incas may be disturbing, and although possibly historically accurate, may not be appropriate for all readers.  The author includes a glossary, although she also explains the Quechua (language) of the Incas in context.  Ellis also includes an author’s note and additional resources.  With my limited knowledge of the ancient Incas, I would have liked the author’s note to explain her choices a bit more.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Calvert, Patricia. The ancient Inca. New York: F. Watts, 2004. Print.
  • Clark, Ann N. Secret of the Andes. New York: Puffin Books, 1980. Print.
  • Gruber, Beth, Johan Reinhard, and National Geographic Society (U.S.). Ancient Inca : archaeology unlocks the secrets of the Inca’s past. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007. Print.
  • Mann, Elizabeth. Machu Picchu. New York: Mikaya Press, 2000. Print.
  • Scheff, Duncan. Incas. Austin, TX: Steadwell Books, 2002. Print.
  • Silate, Jennifer. The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Detroit, MI: KidHaven Press, 2006. Print.

Favorite Quote: “The more you observe, New Voice, the more you understand.  Once you can interpret the voice of the world, you become its revealer.” (Ellis, Leanne S. The Ugly One. New York: Clarion Books, 2013. 135. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Pretty good for the right reader. 🙂

Minding My Gap


Maybe it’s because I’m reading more blogs and tweets this summer, but I have been thinking a lot about what I’m reading and what I’m recommending (and what I’m not.)  In this June post from School Library Journal, Reading Nonfiction for Pleasure | On Common Core, the authors talk about how non-fiction is underrepresented on summer reading lists.  Ryan M. Hanna in his Reflections post on Nerdy Book Club discusses how teachers who reflect on their various reading lives (how they’ve progressed to the readers they have become) can help their students make better book choices.  Here’s part of my comment in response to Matt’s post:

“Right now I have an entire box full of fiction that I brought home from my library for summer reading. I had every intention of bringing home some non-fiction, and biographies, and graphic novels, but my box was already full!”

As I reflected (an read comments from Matt) I realized that I have a huge reading gap.  I love children’s fiction.  I love young adult fiction.  I love fiction in general.  Everything else I read when I get to it.  Of course… I never get to it.  (There’s just so much good fiction!)  I’m guilty of not recommending many genres (non-fiction, biographies, graphic novels) not because there are not amazing works out there, but because I don’t know it well enough to share.

I suggested this challenge:

“How about this challenge? What 5 books are on your “I Know I Should Read This But I’d Rather Clean the Cat’s Smelly Litter Box” list? OK… its not that I don’t want to read, these I really do, but as the saying goes… “so many books, so little time…” With a choice between these and a fiction book, I know what I’m going to choose.”

I agree… maybe the title of the challenge is a little harsh… How about the “Mind the Gap” Challenge.

Here’s my MTG list (and I’m completely embarrassed by this list…):

  • Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm
  • The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull
  • George Washington, spymaster by Thomas B. Allen
  • Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

My goal for the remainder of the summer is to not only keep up with my fiction, but to mind my reading gap.  The MTG Challenge will be to read all of the books on my list (and then some.)  Look forward to some Summer Reading MTG posts in the future.

What titles do you know you should read, but keep pushing to the bottom of your stack? What’s on your MTG list? Are you up for the MTG challenge?