Mountains of Reading: Check-in #4

Sorry for the delay, folks! Sometimes life just gets in the way. Now, I know really mountain climbers don’t hop from peak to peak like this, but the library doesn’t always cooperate with my plans 😉 At least that means some kid out there is reading these great books! Back to Scholastic’s 50 summer picks!

Summer16 mtns of rdg

falafelIt Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. This is a must read for every middle grade class. Just. Read. This. Book. This book is everything. 5 stars dylan villain

Dylan the Villain by K. G. Campbell. Enjoyable and entertaining. I would definitely be open to a sequel 😉 3½ stars

maybe something beautifulMaybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by Theresa Howell. I was so hopeful – this one is multicultural, based on a true story, and features art! The illustrations were indeed beautiful, but the story and text were wanting. 2½ stars

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen. I can tell you exactly when I became invested in this story – paxchapter 13. An interesting ending – not quite a twist, but still a bit unexpected. I enjoyed it, although perhaps not as much as Katherine Applegate (read her blurb on the back cover). I’m still trying to figure out the setting – what war is this?! In the end, it’s not the point of the story, but it’s still nagging me 🙂 4 stars

clatter of jarsA Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff. I thought I had heard of her before, and I was right – she wrote The Thing About Georgie, a great book that even my sports-crazed struggling readers have enjoyed. What is about the multiple perspective story that is so popular right now? Ever since Rob Buyea’s because of mr. terupt (2011) and Rick Riordan’s Egypt series (2010), it seems like this narrative structure is everywhere! Graff weaves a fairly gripping mystery with this structure and the result is definitely worth your time. 3-3½ stars




Mountains of Reading: Check-in #3

Summer16 mtns of rdg

Today I’m hopping back across to the first mountain – Elementary Nutmegs.

village by the seaIn a Village by the Sea by Muon Van, illustrated by April Chu. A nice, quiet picture book about family. For the younger end of the elementary spectrum. The setting in Vietnam make this a good multicultural addition to personal and classroom libraries. 2½ stars queen diamond

Queen of the Diamond by Emily Arnold McCully. Very enjoyable story of a remarkable girl. Be sure to read the notes at the end. This is a subject worthy of further reading! 4 stars

hamsterHamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon. I was VERY surprised at how funny and entertaining this story is! Based on some more advance vocabulary and the sarcasm expressed by several characters, I could recommend this books for 4th graders. Vernon also wrote and illustrated the Dragonbreath series. Like those books, I’m sure boys would absolutely enjoy the Hamster Princess, but the pink and purple glittery cover may put some off. I’d love to wrap it in brown paper and do a “blind date with a book.” 4 stars quinny

Quinny and Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen, illustrated by Brad Swearingen. SO GOOD! Well-developed characters you love quickly, feel for and celebrate with. And it’s not a series! Although I wouldn’t mind reading more if the story were as strong as this one. 4½ stars

skateboard partySkateboard Party by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman. Part of the Carver Chronicles which follows different students at Carver Elementary. This story is VERY relatable – for students, parents, and teachers. Funny with a good lesson for all our kiddos to learn. 3½ stars lulu

Lulu’s Mysterious Mission by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Kevin Cornell. Viorst (of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day fame) creates another memorable child character. I think we all know a Lulu somewhere in our lives 🙂 Great voice by the author. 3-3½ stars






Mountains of Reading – Check-in #2

Summer16 mtns of rdg

Today I’m hopping across the mountain range to Scholastic’s 50 Best Books of Summer. The 50 chosen titles are broken down into a range of genres (and I use that term loosely)- Picture Books, Fantasy & Magic, Humor, Realistic Fiction, Nonfiction, and Magic & Mystery. I’m not even going to try to post my reviews by these categories – since I’m borrowing books from libraries, there’s no certainty that I’ll be able to get all the titles at all, never mind in any sort of organized manner.

Alexie_ThunderBoyJr-1200x1200Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales. I really like Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so I was looking forward to this one. Read the info below the dedications – how Morales created her illustrations is SO cool! This is one of those stories that just makes you smile. The father-son relationship, the desire to be your own person (not “my father’s son”, but “me”) is something so relatable. The poetic text combined with the bold, colorful, playful illustrations are a treat. 4 stars

red riding hoodRed: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff. What a wonderful message! The themes of fear, life and death, and courage/bravery are skillfully intertwined. Goldie isn’t fleshed out enough and therefore many of the sections where she features fall flat. I would bet that, together with Shurtliff’s Rump and Jack, this would be a kid favorite. For teachers who cover traditional literature in their reading and writing curriculum, this would be a good text to show repeated and overlapping themes. 3 stars

The Bolds by Julian Clary, illustrated by David Roberts. This story started out quite promising, but it didn’t turn out to be as funny as I hoped. This would the-boldsstill make a good read aloud, especially if you can pull off the English accent! Spoiler alert: McNumpty is an animal, too – saw that one coming from a mile away. 3 stars

save me a seatSave Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. I *heart* books like this! Personal growth. Antagonists you love to hate, but at the same time you know their story is just as dynamic and worthwhile as the protagonists’. Multicultural! It puts me in mind of Andrew Clements’ Extra Credit. I enjoyed Weeks’ food mysteries Pie and Honey. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her and her co-author.


OK…that’s 4 books out of 50… 2/25…still a long way to go…

Until next time, keep reading!



Mountains of Reading: Check-in #1

Summer16 mtns of rdg
For some reason I have “Climb Every Mountain” running through my head…

Wow. Picture books go quick! All of the books in today’s update are Elementary Nutmeg Book Award nominees – I’m a little more than 1/3 of the way up that peak. Ratings are on a scale of 5 stars, with 5 being the best thing since sliced bread.


one plastic bagOne Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Another good story of real world problem solving by kids (it even mentions Beatrice’s Goat and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind). This would be a good book to use for character traits, problem/solution, or even argument/opinion writing (recycling, plastic bags, etc.). 3 stars


grandma in blueGrandma in Blue with Red Hat by Scott Menchin, illustrated by Harry Bliss

Maybe because I’m an arts-inclined person, but this one made me smile. The illustrations were happy and I appreciated the Van Gogh cameo. Very enjoyable. This would be a good book for an art teacher, or as part of a social development lesson on character – being creative, looking at things from different angles, appreciating beauty in unusual places. 4 stars



mr ferrisMr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

I love the cover! Shades of blue always speak to me, and the title font is reminiscent of old carnival posters and theater playbills. The text structure in this one is more complex. Each 2-page spread has the narrative in one font, and then background information in another font. I needed to read this one twice to make sure I got everything. I really loved the illustrations and learned quite a bit about this ride that’s a staple of every fair. 4 stars



star stuffStar Stuff by Stephanie Roth Sisson

The action and character development are told through illustrations as much as through text. Readers need to infer from the combination of text and illustration to figure out what is really going on with Carl’s thoughts and feelings. That being said…

What a great book – I will definitely read this again! It instilled a sense of wonder, of awe, of vast, open, unimagined spaces that Carl must have felt as a child, stretching his arms out like John Carter, hoping to get to Mars. I love Sisson’s artistic style, and am about to go fin the 60+ other books she has illustrated. 4½ stars (given time, could be 5 stars)

hana_hashimoto_sixth_violinHana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng

I was struck by a 2-page spread of Hana, violin in hand, making the long, slow walk to the microphone. Anyone anxious about appearing in front of a crowd can relate to the feeling of blood pumping in your ears, of peripheral vision falling away and your ultimate destination staying forever in the distance, yet arriving all too soon. I was pleasantly surprised by the climax and resolution (without spoiling anything!). That bumped this books to 3½ stars.



winter_beesWinter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

I was ready to snuggle up just reading the jacket and gazing at the beautiful print of the end pages. Like Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, informational text is included with each poem. Unlike, Mr. Ferris, however, the structure is easier to follow in this book. Sidman has an uncanny ability of crafting the poems to evoke the feeling, sound, sight of the subjects – a gangly moose or a still, silent snowfall. Allen’s prints are GORGEOUS! 5 stars


One thing to think about… When doing the ratings, I found it difficult to compare nonfiction to poetry. Does that make sense?

What I love (and Don’t Love…and Really, REALLY Love) About My Job

My position is unique among the staff at my school. I am the Tier II reading interventionist for grades 3-6. There are 2 more Tier II staff, but because I’m a certified teacher, I get pulled to sub. I love that I work with kiddos all across the school – making me one of the few paras who can name every student in the building. (Yes, I said para. My job is uncertified, even though I am). I love that I can delve deeply into reading instruction with my intervention groups, yet still teach math when I’m in a classroom. (I like teaching fractions. Does that make me weird?)

I don’t love that there are stretches of time when there are no subs and I get pulled more frequently. Yes, being in the classroom is wonderful, but my primary responsibility is to my students.

I don’t love that I see my colleagues – and students – stress themselves out over the barrage of testing that hits us in the spring. I don’t like that so many of my colleagues don’t have the time or energy to do the one thing we all love outside of school – read.

Which brings me back around to why I really, REALLY love my job. It is all about reading. While I don’t often have time during the school year to climb the mountains of new books constantly being published (not to mention past classics, award winners, etc)., summer is the ideal time to scale those peaks.

So, let me introduce to you my own summer reading challenge – a mountain range of books consisting of:

  • Nutmeg Book Award nominees (Elementary, Intermediate, Teen) – This is a big deal in my school. Ask a Connecticut librarian for more info, or check out their website.
  • Teacher magazine’s “50 Best Books of Summer” – Scholastic’s magazine publishes a collection of 50 titles organized by genre.
  • How Full Is Your Bucket? – Staff development for the coming year will focus on this book.
  • Suggested titles and mentor texts for Units of Study, which my school will implement this coming year.
  • If I have the time…

I have one self-imposed rule for scaling these book mountains: I cannot purchase anything until I have read it. The library and I are going to become quite close over the next two months.

My first trip to the library. Thank goodness for self-check out!

I’ll be posting updates with reviews and ratings every few days. Until then – keep reading!


Project Management for Instructional Designers – Part IV

Welcome back for the fourth and final installment in this blog series on project management (PM). These past two weeks we have focused on the executing, monitoring, and controlling phase of PM.

Image courtesy of Tom Tiede, via SlideShare.

For the most part, this process group is where the planning ends, and the actual work of the project begins (Cox, 2010). Purchases are completed, requests for quotes are placed, and vendor contracts are negotiated. The project team is assembled, and any necessary skills are developed through training. This is also when the communication plan jumps into action. In order to manage the stakeholders’ expectations and keep their support, it is crucial to distribute appropriate information at the right times, in the right channels (Cox, 2010). While all this is going on, there systems are in place to monitor and control (manage) the project including, but not limited to, quality assurance, change management, risk management, and scope management – all of which were laid out in the project plan.

PM techniques can be a real boon to educational organizations, not just in the corporate world. I still struggle a bit to explain to my colleagues and teacher friends why this course is part of my EDUCATION Master’s program. I often refer to it as a crash course in administration, but that’s not quite accurate. For a teacher or administrator in a K-12 school, PM processes are tools we can use to promote transparency, efficiency, and quality in our endeavors (new technology initiatives, new curriculum, etc.) to support student learning. The gentleman in the video above (especially from 2:00-14:30) gives a good explanation of why a project manager would be an asset to a higher education organization, but the same reasons hold true for K-12 districts. Given budgetary constraints, it would be impractical for each school in a district to have their own PM, but one or two (or more depending on the district’s size) at the district level could be workable. The best – cheapest – solution, however, may be to train existing faculty and staff in PM.

Cox, D.M.T. (2010). Project management skills for instructional designers: A practical guide. New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc.


Project Management for Instructional Designers – Part III

Project Plan

The project plan is the document that outlines the parameters of the project. Throughout its multiple pages, budget, timelines, resources, communications, risk, changes, and scope are detailed, and a plan for managing them is explained. While you might be inclined to call the plan the project’s bible, there is one key aspect of the plan that differs: the project plan can change over time. Budgets get changed or voted down. Vendors raise or cut prices, or go out of business. Organizational culture shifts in a different direction – or digs in its heels to oppose the project at every turn. The project plan includes a change management plan – the person responsible for signing off on changes to the project. By having this [dynamic] document in place before executing and implementing the project, the PM can save the innumerable headaches that come with creating more project documentation while the project is underway.

Rita Mulcahy, featured in this video, makes a great analogy. The project plan is like an athlete visualizing their performance – after planning in your head, the actual execution becomes faster and easier.

I don’t think we, as teachers, recognize how often we behave like project managers. Each time we teach a new lesson, each time a surprise schedule change forces us to alter our plans, we think about what needs to get done, why, and by when. We then make a plan to get to that goal. Like Rita mentions in the video, we don’t need to have a multi-page document, we do, however, need to think it through.


As cliche as is sounds, communication really is key to a project’s success. Effective communication not only keeps everyone (vendors, sponsors, more senior executives/management, team members, etc.) “in the loop,” but can actually increase buy-in and support for the project (Charvat, 2002). In order to have effective communication throughout a project, you need to plan for it. A communication plan includes three main categories: who receives the communications, what type of information they receive, and how the content will be delivered (channel) (Cox, 2010). Included in any good communication plan will also be a schedule – how often communications will be sent to each stakeholder group. (Image courtesy of

As part of this course, I’m wrestling with the issue of communicating with parents, not only to convey information, but to get their buy-in on a project. Teachers and administrators – what have you found to be the best ways of reaching out to parents for this purpose?

Charvat, J. (2002). Project communications: A plan for getting your project going. Retrieved from

Cox, D.M.T. (2010). Project manegement skills for instructional designers: A practical guide. New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc.

Project Management for Instructional Designers – Part II

Welcome back. Over the past two weeks, we’ve focused on the beginning steps of project management: project initiation and the first step of Cox’s (2010) Four-Step Combo – analysis.

Project Initiation

…is exactly what it sounds like – the steps and processes to get the project off the ground. High-level planning defines the scope of the project and the stakeholders. This phase results in the creation of a project charter – a document that outlines the problem and proposed solution (purpose), scope (timeline, budget, desired performance), deliverables, environmental factors and assets related to the project, and the project organization (sponsor, team, and stakeholders) (Post University, n.d.). Once the document is signed-off, the first step of the Four-Step Combo begins.

Around 6:00 the narrator dives into business-speak, which doesn’t help me as a teacher, but the overall sentiment should be taken to heart: any project undertaken in a school must serve the school’s vision or mission.

Needs Analysis

Image courtesy of

Ah, my old friend 🙂 A blast from the not-too-distant past. One of the lessons I remember well from EDU 623, which was echoed in this unit’s readings, was that training may not be the answer to an organization’s problem. The only way to find that out is through analysis. By studying the gap between the organization’s desired state and current performance, a designer or project manager can determine whether or not training is appropriate.

Task Differentiation and Sequencing

Another aspect of this first step of the Four-Step Combo we focused on is task differentiation. Similar to the task analysis an instructional designer would complete, this is the step when the project team’s work is broken down into its component pieces. Tasks are ordered and sequenced into primary tasks (the project’s objectives) as well as the main and supporting tasks that must be accomplished to complete the primary tasks. In project management, this is called the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

This image shows how tasks are usually organized in the WBS. The primary task is given a number (1. IT Installation Project). It’s main tasks are numbered 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3. The supporting tasks are listed under their main tasks, and numbered accordingly (ex., 1.1.1, 1.1.2).

The Take Home…

Much of the work in this course has aligned well with what I learned about ADDIE and instructional design in general. However, I struggled with the differences in task analysis between instructional design and project management. My professor explained it best when she said that designers focus on the skills and tasks trainees will need to complete, but project managers focus on the work the team needs to accomplish to complete the project. (Thank you Dr. Milhauser! 🙂 ).

In our discussion boards we’ve been sharing our experiences (or lack of) with PM in our work environments. There seems to be a general consensus that teachers could benefit from some training in PM, as I’m sure we’ve all been part of a project that was unwieldy and unfocused. I would extend this sentiment to administration. Schools have projects all the time, but having someone to guide and manage the work and the people would make our jobs that much less stressful.

Cox, D.M.T. (2010). Project management skills for instructional designers: A practical guide. New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc.

Post University. (n.d.). EDU 627 Managing instruction & technology: Unit 2 – Initiating the project. Retrieved from

Project Management for Instructional Designers – Part I

Welcome back! After the last course I had a (very welcome but very brief) break, and now I’m back in the swing of things with a new class. EDU 627 focuses on project management – skills and knowledge in the field, and applying it to our own educational context. Today is the first in a series of four posts where I will share what we’re learning and offer my thoughts and reflections.

Image courtesy of

What is a project? A project has three main characteristics:

  • It is temporary – there is a start and end date.
  • A project is undertaken to create a product or service.
  • Aspects of the project “develop incrementally over time” (Cox, 2010).

A note of clarification – there is a difference between projects and operations. While a project might be launched to create a new process or service, say a business developing a new employee directory, the daily functioning of the system falls under operations. The project ends when its objectives are met, then the process is turned over to operations (Cox, 2010).

What does a project manager do? The key word here is manager. The project manager is in charge of defining the problem that creates the need for a project, organizing and motivating a project team, keeping stakeholders up-to-date, assessing and mitigating risks to the project, and adapting to changes along the way (Haughey, 2011).

This video explains more about what happens in the phases of project management. He organizes the phases a little differently, and his language dives into business-speak quite a bit, but it is a good overview of what goes on for a manager during a project.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably have bells ringing in the back of your head. So much terminology in project management overlaps with instructional design (ID). See my ADDIE series posts for more on ID. The responsibilities of the project manager are very similar to those of an instructional designer. Even the steps of project management align with those of ID: definition of goals, objectives, success factors; initiation; planning; execution; monitoring and control; and closure (Haughey, 2011). Dorcas Cox (2010) combined the two processes of project management and ID into her Four Step Combo:

Image courtesy of

This idea of the Combo was really helpful for me. Going into this course, I wasn’t quite sure why students of ID and educational technology would be studying a domain that frankly smacks of administration and business. I get it now. For public schools, the projects cold be anything from remodeling the building to the ubiquitous curriculum work. When curriculum needs to be revised, a team is assembled under a leader (the project manager), they are given a deadline, resources, and objectives to work towards. It is a perfect example of the union between ID and project management.

I have not had the opportunity to be a part of a project at work, either as a team member or manager. For a while I considered the organization, leveling, and upkeep of our intermediate book room as a project, but it fails to meet the first characteristic of a project: time. The book room is an ongoing process – no deadlines. Our big project for this class is to create a project for our educational context, one we could possibly implement in real life. I’m kicking around a few ideas: blended learning, BYOD, and a new 1:1 iPad pilot our school starts this year. Stay tuned for more!

Cox, D.M.T. (2010). Project management skills for instructional designers. New York, NY: iUniverse, Inc.

Haughey, D. (2011). Introduction to project management. Retrieved from

Final Reflection on EDU 625

Another day, another class over. I still find it hard to believe that it’s been a year since I started and I only have four more courses left! This once was perfect to take over the summer – I had plenty of time to explore the technologies each week. I’m looking forward to actually using some of the activities I created with my kiddos when school starts – in two weeks!

 , or OMG I can’t wait to use this!!!

These technologies I found to be easier to incorporate into instruction, both in the classroom and in intervention. They are appropriate for elementary and middle school, and they were fun to learn and use!

Image courtesy of

PowToon – a presentation technology that is entertaining and easy to learn. Plus, who doesn’t love pandas? Here is the PowToon I created for this course (a brief into to Compare and Contrast). I also ran across a webinar that was really helpful for me as a newbie. You can access the webinar here.


Image courtesy of Jisc Digital Media

Mobile learning, whether on tablets, smartphones, or laptops, is perfect for bite-size learning that students need to access anywhere at anytime. By incorporating augmented reality, we can take learning out of the classroom and around the building, the grounds, and the community, making content relevant and meaningful.

Image courtesy

Games and game dynamics, to me, make learning a lot more fun. My kiddos know they struggle with reading, and as much encouragement and feedback as I give, as much progress as they make, they still don’t always enjoy reading (never mind coming to me!). Finding small, simple ways to include games or game dynamics can tap into that joy of learning that will help these kids go far. Story, choice and control over what comes next, immediate feedback, and scaffolding are all part of game dynamics, and fit easily into literacy intervention.



, or What I Won’t Be Using Any Time Soon…

Second Life. I found it inappropriate for elementary age kids and difficult to to figure out. I refer you to my hair debacle from the last post. Since everything in these worlds has to be created from scratch, the options are limited, and I couldn’t find islands that easily applied to my context (elementary literacy). Safety and anonymity for minors is also a huge issue. In my previous post I relayed the uncomfortable situation of continually running into a group of adults who were practicing Spanish – completely innocent, but I still felt awkward, and I won’t put my students in a situation like that.

How have the activities in this course changed my view of technology for teaching and learning?

It is much easier to incorporate than I initially thought. Coming into this class, I had a limited list of resources I used. Now, I have a much broader sense of the resources out there. Having the opportunity to experiment with several of them, using learning theory and good design principles, I’ve added to my “bag of tricks.” One of the most important lessons I learned about technology, is that the activity doesn’t have to be complex, it can be bite-sized and simple – and much easier to create!

What are my plans for incorporating technology into my instruction?

My first step is to get the actual devices. I’ve mentioned the issues with our mobile labs (and the fact that, as an interventionist, I only get my desktop) – their age and my somewhat limited access. Perhaps the best news I’ve received all summer is that my school will be piloting a 1:1 iPad program with 5th grade this year! This is a huge weight off my shoulders. So, now I’m back on Pinterest reading every iPad-related pin I’ve saved. I’m going back through my course materials and links to find some simple activities to try out first. One of the tools I will use is Google Drive. Since it is accessible online, the kiddos don’t need to download an app. Digital exit tickets here I come!

For the 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade groups, I will still use the mobile lab from time to time, but I’m most interested in infusing games and game dynamics to my instruction. In the first section I mentioned scaffolding and student choice as examples of game dynamics. I scaffold all day long, but I don’t allow my kiddos much choice. Something like “Read and Roll” is an easy way to give the kids some control in their work – and make it fun, too!

, or How Do I See Technology Changing Education in the Next 10 Years? 

Education – teaching, learning, even administration, will have to become more collaborative, if only to slog through the vast amount of shared resources and research out there. The teacher’s role will (and already is in some places) move from lecturer to facilitator, guide, and mentor. We don’t know everything about the technology that is in our classrooms, why not let the students take the lead in discovering and helping their peers? Make learning more student-directed with problems and projects that interest them. I’d like to see more elementary school-friendly virtual environments (Colonial Boston and Philadelphia, anyone?!), with security measures in place so we don’t accidentally overhear another class.

And now, faithful readers, the questions:

What are your tried-and-true, favorite technology-infused activities?

How does your school incorporate technology (what devices do you and students have access to)?

Have you run into any obstacles (funding, teacher attitudes, student or parent attitudes) in your quest to incorporate technology?