Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fantastic 50 Reading Challenge

This year, my school is participating in a reading challenge. The challenge, which was started by some of my very smart English teacher friends and is based on concepts from The Book Whisperer, is to read 50 books in a year. It's been a really great experience for all of us.

Professionally speaking, it has helped us to build a culture of reading and I have seen kids really blossom. For example, last year, a 9th grade boy showed me some poetry he wrote because he was reading a poetry book and thought it might be fun to try to do his own. Um... wow, right?

Personally speaking, it's been a great opportunity for me to stretch myself as a reader because part of the challenge is to include a variety of genres, I've discovered books that I probably wouldn't have tried before. It's pretty cool actually, to figure out where your preferences lie and then purposefully try something new. Anyway, this is getting really long. If you're curious about more details like the genre breakdown, you can check out my friend Daniel's prezi or email me. (I'd link to my prezi, but it's not that great.)

Our time frame, of course, is from the end of last school year to the end of this school year. I've had 4 students finish already, and 2 have even done 100 books. My progress isn't quite so impressive, but I am a little bit ahead of schedule, and I've exceeded my personal goal of reading 50 books in 2011. Here are some of my favorites from the year.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society- This book is simply charming. It's a historical fiction book that follows the correspondence of an author with the citizens of Guernsey just after WWII. The history and characters are interesting and unique.

The Wednesday Wars- This is another historical fiction, but this one is set in the 60s. The book is about a boy named Holling who has to spend Wednesday afternoons with the English teacher that "hates" him while everyone else has religious education. The teacher, who is actually awesome, has Holling study the works of Shakespeare (which he believes at first to be a form of torture). What I really loved about this book was how the other events each echo the action of a work of Shakespeare. That, and it's hilarious.

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes- I think I'll write a whole post about this book and meeting the author (Brandon Mull). This book was incredible. I'll admit, I didn't like the beginning at all, but about 40 pages in, things get good. The story is about a boy named Jason who is transported to another world, a world which is ruled by the evil wizard Maldor. The really cool thing about this book is the concept of a world without heroes. It isn't that Maldor is going around killing all of the heroes, it's that the heroes get sidetracked and corrupted. He breaks heroes by giving them power, wealth, and anything else they want which makes them abandon their purpose. And, that's what Jason (and the awesome Blind Prince) has to face. So good!

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World-
Mike was so excited when he brought this home to me; he really, really wanted me to read it with him. It was too cute to ignore, so I did. There are two aspects to this book. Firstly, games (board, dice, word, video, whatever) have value in our lives; this book is specifically about the value of video games, and it makes some convincing arguments. Some incredible games have been designed that can make real world contributions: they can help map proteins in hopes of finding a cure for cancer; they can also allow citizens (of England) to check the expenditures of the members of parliament and alert authorities to suspicious spending. It's awesome. Secondly, I was able to pull a lot of concepts from this book to use in my classroom because it's all about motivation. It's definitely a good read for teachers.

The Help- If you haven't read this yet, you should. This book is about a very small corner of the Civil Rights movement and how it affects the lives of several women. It's engrossing and touching. I also really enjoyed the movie.

The Poisonwood Bible- Mike brings so many good things into my life, and this is one of them. This book is elegant and insightful in a lot of ways. The story follows a Christian missionary and his family to the Congo; the narration switches between the missionary's wife and four daughters and describes their experience living in the African jungle and learning to live and work with the Africans. If you really want the full experience with this book you should read Things Fall Apart first. Together, they give you an incredible picture of the time period and clash of cultures.

Yay reading!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Still Alive, Which is Pretty Impressive

Hey guys. I'm writing this post with great anticipation. I am sincerely excited for 2011 to come to an end. It's been kind of the worst.

2012 is looking like it has some potential, though. Here are some things that seem to indicate that it will be a significant improvement upon the current year:
  • Mike and I seem to have finally figured out a more or less bearable schedule wherein we will get to spend some actual real time together on a regular basis.
  • As a result of us spending real time together regularly, we might even start spending time with other people on occasion. Social life! We're back!
  • I get to have my same class schedule in the upcoming school year. Yay!
  • We're going to New York City in January! The joy from that will probably hold me over for quite some time.
  • I have promised myself to quit working on school things at home (except for essays).
  • I am going to have hobbies. Hobbies, people. Probably ones most people think are lame, but hobbies, nonetheless.
  • We will both be turning 25, which seems like a cool age.
So, life is looking up. Maybe I'll even post on my blog more that 10 times a year... We'll see.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Best Parts

Here are my very favorite things about teaching.
  • Talking about reading and writing all the time.
  • Being consulted by boys about their plans for the big dances. It's cute how much it means to them to impress their dates.
  • Getting little thank you notes in journals and emails and Digimon cards and yearbook pages.
  • Having opportunities to help people every single day.
  • Seeing the smiles on the faces of kids who have been struggling but who finally get it.Link
  • Doing service projects with my National Honors Society kids.
  • Hearing about how students apply what I teach them (semi-colons in text messages, research papers about family vacation destinations that win them parental pride and money for the trip, etc.).
  • Going to pep rallies and assemblies.
  • Seeing someone I recommended a book to read it and love it as much as I did.
  • Working with other English teachers; they are kindred spirits.
  • Watching my seniors walk at graduation.
  • Knowing that, if I do it right, I can make a difference in the world.
Sometimes it's hard. But mostly it's great. I love what I do, and I'm glad that I get to do it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Nerdy Friends Will Be So Jealous

You guys! I'm breaking my incredibly long streak of not posting anything at all to tell you something awesome!

There is this book club in my district cleverly disguised as a professional development workshop. It's such a ruse though. I mean, how can this be work? Here's the deal. I pay $65. I get 7 YA books to keep. I get to go to once a month meetings to talk about books and eat treats with smart teachers, including at least two of my teacher friends from school. I get some college credit. And, the real kicker for me, the authors of the books we read will be at the meeting for their book!

Want to know who I'm going to get to meet and have literary discussions with? Here's our book/author list.

September- Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
October- The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah Eden
November- Possession by Elana Johnson
December- Beyonders by Brandon Mull
January- Mark of Royalty by Jennifer Clark
February- Candy Bomber by Mike Tunnell
March- Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

I'm really, really excited. I haven't read any of these books yet, and I'm pretty much the nerdiest when it comes to meeting authors.

Actually, that's a good story... The first time I met a real life author, it was Dean Hughes. I got paid an "allowance" in books (which was totally awesome of my mom to do, I think) when I was a teenager, and his Children of the Promise books were the ones I remember being the most excited about. He was a guest speaker in my very first English major class, and it was so neat to meet him, but I was way nervous about it. I guess I was worried that he'd be mean or egotistical and my ideals would be ruined. But, then he was just super nice and smart so all was well. I've met a few more authors since then, but it's still way exciting to me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Animal Rescue

One of the many side jobs I have as a teacher is being the advisor for my school's chapter of the National Honor Society. It's a service organization for students who excel in academics and leadership. So, basically, they're the best kids ever, and it's a lot of fun and very uplifting.

Last week, we had the chance to help out at a local animal rescue center. I was surprised to find out that they had a lot more than just dogs and cats. They also had horses, chickens, pigs, goats (regular and pygmy), emus, geese, ducks, and even a couple of yaks! Here's a picture of an emu for you, I think it's Clyde. I'd have a picture of the yak too, but when we stood by the fence to look at it, it false charged us and scared me to death.We fed the animals first thing, and, dang, they eat well! A lot of local businesses donate produce and bread for them. After they had eaten, and the owners of the facility had relocated Andy the head-butting goat, we split up into groups and cleaned stalls.

Mike and I mostly helped to clean out the pygmy goat stall, and then the sheep stall. I was okay with this, because I love pygmy goats. They're kind of adorable. I mean, look at this:
Also, it turns out Mike is the small-livestock-whisperer. All the goats and sheep wanted him to pet them.After the hard manual labor was done, we took a couple of giant dogs for a walk. Mike got to walk a huge, gorgeous Siberian husky, and a walked a black dog that could have passed for a black bear.

By the end, we were sunburned, exhausted, and very happy. It's really fulfilling to work hard alongside of a very cute (and strong!) husband and some very impressive and talented kids. Our next big activity is a tour of the food bank and helping out a little bit there. I'm pretty excited for it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why We Crave Drama

Something that is interesting about people is the seemingly inherent need for drama. Even if you don't think you want it, there seems to be something that pulls you into a juicy story or a venting rage. Or is that just me?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think I've put my finger on it. To explain, I first need to present a detailed analogy.

One Christmas, my cousin gave my little brother an old west style fort made out of wooden blocks. That fort, simple as it was, substantially changed our play time. We invented the most time consuming and intense game yet. The premise was simple: you have spring, summer, and fall to plan, grow, build, and trade. Then, winter comes, and the fortmaster would determine whether or not you survived the winter.

Our neighbors, 5 siblings close in age to us and each other, my brother, my sister, and I were the contestants. We each had a plot of bedroom carpet staked out. And then, we'd have a free for all to vie for starting capital. The toy box was opened and you grabbed like mad for my brother's farm animals, cowboys, marbles, socks, anything that could possibly be helpful, until time was up. That's when trading began.

Of course, we were kind of cutthroats, but we were also endlessly creative. We were almost manic in the way we gathered, traded, and prepared for an imaginary winter and it's dangers. Of course, there was little real danger except for the danger of the fortmaster's declaring a disappointing, or embarrassing fate. We loved that too; creativity in explaining that you didn't have enough blankets or firewood, so you had to cut open a cow and sleep in it for the last 2 weeks of winter (we obviously, had just recently watched Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back), was crucial to making the game fun. It was invigorating to have the sensation of fighting something huge and dangerous, and, yet, being completely safe.

I think that the gossip and drama of life can be the same way. We create a temporary enemy, a person who has upset us or done something we dislike. This feeling of conflict brings an adrenaline rush because we are choosing to fight, even if our enemy is not present (they usually aren't). And yet, there is seldom any real danger. We can criticize, theorize, and even demonize a person or group of people in the safety of like-minded people with very little chance of anything happening. Essentially, participating in gossip and negativity is giving us a rush of adrenaline without any risk.

I assume, like most chemical induced responses, this can be addictive. I guess that's why it's so easy to slip into the cycle of negativity. Hopefully this isn't coming off as self-righteous or preachy, it's just that I've been trying to eliminate some of the negativity in my life, but it's turned out to be hard. It's really hard. And I think thinking about it this way has given me a little bit more objective way of looking at these situations as they come up. Hopefully that will help me to try to deal with things in a positive way instead of wallowing in negativity because my brain loves the chemical hit is gets when I fight an imaginary battle.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Live Every Week Like It's Shark Week

Forever and ever ago now, we made these awesome shark cupcakes with Stephanie and Cortney.
Here's a secret about me, I love themed parties. So, I was really excited when we planned to make the cupcakes and watch Jaws (which I had never seen before). It was fun, and the movie only made me scream like twice.
Luckily, I now get the "That's some bad hat, Harry" reference (Mike says it's in the credits of either Lost or House).
To make sure we can go to the beach in the future, Mike looked up the odds, and you're more likely to get hit by lightning than attacked by a shark. Unless you wear a swimsuit with fish designs and swim around sharks while they eat. So, that's good to know.

I think we'll have another themed cupcake night soon. We're watching Tremors this week to prepare for the live episode of Film Sack we'll get to see at the conference we're going to on Friday (this time, it's Mike's professional conference), maybe killer worm cupcakes? We'll see.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Finally Summer!

There were days I thought it would never come. But, we're pretty much having a blast! Here's our latest adventure... at home s'mores. Maybe this is a thing people do, but I have only ever made them over a fire.

Anyway, we turned on the broiler and toasted the marshmallows, and warmed out hands...
... toasted them...
... and enjoyed their gooey goodness.
(They are purple looking because they are chocolate marshmallows, not an effect of the cooking method.)

In other news, we're making some exciting changes. Mike is transferring to the U of U because they have a great computer science with a nationally ranked emphasis in video gaming. We are so lucky because we get to spend tons of time together. We're headed to Alaska soon, and hopefully we'll be able to go to California later on to check out some of the big video game companies and do fun things. I'm not going to lie, this has the potential to be the best summer ever.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Friends, the Dinosaurs

I think I have always loved dinosaurs. If you don't believe me, ask my mother, who stopped me at the front door of our apartment during my only known bout of sleep walking.

"Where are you going, Aubrey?" She inquired.
"To play with the dinosaurs." 4th grade Aubrey replied.

On top of that, we didn't travel much when I was little. The first time I went to Disneyland, I was 20 (and I still dragged my dad to see all the princess-y stuff). But, I didn't feel developmentally lacking because of this. After all, I had Dinosaurland.

Dinosaurland (also known, to less fun people, as Dinosaur National Monument) is located in Northeastern Utah. I have been there (I think) 4 times. Maybe more. The first time I went there with my grandparents and my little sister. We don't have a lot of home video footage, but we do have footage of me dragging a 4 year old Martina around a museum yelling out the names of different species of dinosaurs. Seriously, I was such a know it all. I don't know if I was cute or annoying. I'll ask my grandma next time I see her.

I think the best thing that happened to me all of last summer was Mike taking me to the Ogden Eccles Dinosaur park. We took a lot of silly pictures and it was so much fun.

One of my greatest regrets in life is not going on a dinosaur excavation that I was invited to by a paleontologist in Price.

I guess I'm telling you all of this to make it clear that I am not a casual dinosaur lover. I have strong feelings on the subject. Which is one of two reasons that I had never read Jurassic Park until now. The other reason being that I generally make it a rule not to read a book which has the author's name bigger than the title on the cover, and this was my first exception to that rule for a long time.

Mike bought the movie of Jurassic Park for me for my birthday (since we have been searching for it in the $5 movie been where it is falsely advertised at Wal-Mart every time we've gone since November). We watched it and he convinced me to give the book a try. Overall, I liked. It was more intense than the movie in some ways (except for the kitchen scene... shudder...), and it was very engaging. I don't really want to write a whole book review, but I have a few thoughts after finishing the book today.

1. Even though the raptors were laying low until the last 100 pages or so, I would have been FREAKING out once I realized that the dinosaurs had been breeding and there were 37 of them, obviously not contained. For the majority of the book people are out chasing the T-Rex and getting eaten by other various carnivores, and I'm mostly terrified that they're going to run into these loose raptors. It just baffled me how they never even worried about the raptors at all until they had conveniently tranquilized the big T-Rex.

2. Also, what happened to the big T-Rex? She was tranquilized by the waterfall, but probably wouldn't drown (according to one believable character). But then later, there is only one T-Rex found. Did she drown? Did the scan not pick her up because she was tranquilized?

3. As Grant and the kids are traveling back to the headquarters they are continually surprised by the appearance of dinosaurs, especially T-Rex. Seriously? You choose to go through the dinosaur habitats, knowing that T-Rex is chasing you, and you're not on the lookout? I don't know how they made it back alive.

4. Relatedly, after barely surviving the raptor massacre, why would the survivors feel it was necessary to find the raptor nest? There was some unclear explanation of moral duty to count the eggs even though the entire island was about to be obliterated by the Costa Rican government, but I did not get it at all. If you did, please enlighten me.

5. Why did the last page have to create a weird cliff hanger? Are Grant and Sattler and Muldoon going to be kept in Costa Rica against their will until the sequel? Probably.

And, in closing, I would like to express my dismay at the continued delay of the re-opening of the Quarry at Dinosaurland. I have been planning a trip for literally three years, but they just never finish it. How will I ever prove to Mike how awesome it is if they keep the main part under construction all the time? Ugh, life.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Digimon and Gratitude

One of my favorite things about teaching is the magic of random. There are routines in school, but the most common routine is dealing with the unexpected. Often, the unexpected is unpleasant and upsetting. But, sometimes, the unexpected is happiness condensed into a small, memorable moment.

Last week, I had a moment like that. My seniors were working on their mock graduation speeches, and I was walking around helping them. As I moved past one table, a student asks me to come stand in the front of the room. I guess I'm suspicious, because I was hesitant. But, eventually they coaxed me to go along with their plan.

With a song from Star Wars playing in the background, I was presented with this.
Someone had found this card in a book they were reading, and then they all signed it and wrote some very nice things to me. It was a silly thing, but it was so special. It was so rewarding to see their gratitude for the effort I've been making. It made me feel a little bit more capable and it made me more grateful for them.

A few days later, during a different class, I had to leave for about 15 minutes to do something for NHS. As I left, I threatened them with my unending wrath if they snuck out or did anything very wild. I came back to this on my whiteboard.
And this, which they made up because they are silly.
This whole week, these silly messages have made me think a lot about showing love and appreciation. They showed me their appreciation, and even made up some from me to them. Being appreciated is something we all crave. We need to be recognized from time to time to feel valued and capable.

Most of all, this experience made me want to be better at showing my gratitude. It's a small way to make the world a little bit better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm So Tired of Plagiarism


Please, change the font from the website you copied to match the one you're using.
Change all the big words to words you would actually use.
Don't assume that I won't notice if I read a derivative of a paper I already graded in another class.
Realize that I can find that Wikipedia article just as easily as you can.
Remember that I have read your writing every day for the last 8 months and know what it looks and sounds like.
Oh, and by all means, when confronted with indisputable evidence, deny it. Because I'm sure it's just a coincidence that you and Sparknotes had the exact same things to say about that book you read.

Or, just write your own two page paper.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Being a Little Braver

I think I've figured out my problem with this blog. Within the last year (ish), my readership has changed drastically. I now have in-laws, book club friends, and some random acquaintances instead of my mom and friends from high school and college. I now feel the need to impress you all the time. And, that makes it a little more scary to write.

But, here's the thing, you are all very nice people. I'm sure that even if I wrote the world's worst blog post, none of you would send me hate mail or even mention it at all. So, I'm going to stop worrying about impressing and entertaining everyone and just write. After all, my mom needs something to read when things are slow at work ;)

Last week, I attended the last session of my literacy conference, and today, I went to the third session of a technical and professional writing conference. I have decided that I love professional conferences (at least so far) for these reasons:
  1. I get paid to go to them.
  2. I get college credit for them. Although most of those credits won't ever apply to a graduate degree, it makes me feel so stinking cool to know that I am stockpiling graduate level credits.
  3. I get a break from being in the classroom. Don't get me wrong, I love being at school and teaching. It's kind of like being a mom. Sometimes, you need a babysitter and a day out to get a pedicure so that you can live up to your best mommy potential.
  4. I learn lots of great things. I think (and have been reaffirmed by my teaching idol Jeff Wilhelm) that the best teachers are always still in the role of being a learner. Plus, I just genuinely like learning things.
  5. They are rejuvenating. People always have such negative things to say about education. It is so discouraging to be working my very, very hardest to be a good teacher and make a difference in the world only to have people make thoughtless and ignorant statements about how ineffective and overpaid teachers are. It's like nails on a chalkboard. It's like tacky acrylic nails on a chalkboard. That's why I love meeting with other adults who have dedicated their life's work to improving education. These are passionate and intelligent people. They help me stay focused on my goals as an educator. And, they are the proof that those uninvolved critics of education are wrong.
I also think it's important to post an update here on things in general. Remember when I wrote that post with all the homemade charts about how school was awful and pretty much made me cry a lot? It's so, so, so much better now! There were some behavioral and instructional changes made. Oh, and my biggest class dropped down to a much more manageable 40 students, that helped. But, most of all, I re-learned that most important of lessons for a teacher to know: when you are interacting 100+ people on a daily basis, perfection is even more impossible than usual. So, you do the very best you can, deal with things as they come up, and try to stay focused on the positives. Anyway, here's a new chart for you with a confidently projected outcome for the rest of the year (even with the assumption that I'll be on the graduation committee again):

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Whooooo's Still Reading?

I'm sorry for my continued blog neglect. But, to make up for it, I have pictures of the adorable cupcakes Mike and I made a few weeks ago. The design is from Hello, Cupcake, a book I got Mike for Christmas because he proved himself with Swampy when we were dating.
We made chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing. The eyes are mini Oreos, and so are the ears (cut in half). And, the nose is an M&M.
We made about twenty of them, and we gave most of them to family/neighbors.We're planning a shark themed evening. We're going to watch Jaws (which I have never seen), and make some shark cupcakes. Bloody ones. This is what we call an "at home date." We are so stinking busy, that sometimes, this is the best option.

Although... eating vanilla waffles covered in Belgian chocolate in celebration of one wonderful year of marriage was pretty good too.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hamlet Project = Complete!

I just barely finished this presentation for my big literacy conference on Monday. I have to present my inquiry unit on Hamlet. I'm actually pretty pleased with how it turned out. So, I'm posting it here. It probably doesn't make much sense without the accompanying explanation, but it's a little insight to the projects that keep me from blogging/cleaning/sleeping. You know. Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Last Week Was Weird

Last week was really scary. By Friday, I was kind of afraid to leave the house. Maybe it was a reminder for me to enjoy life... while I can. Really though...

Tuesday: There was a gun on campus. Immediate, well-thought out action kept the situation low-key, but, seriously terrifying in every way imaginable. I hate even thinking of things like this. Those kids drive me in-freaking-sane sometimes, but I hate to think of anything happening to them.

Wednesday: There is a section of the road I take to work where it road separates into two, one-lane roads. Some poor old lady got confused, and she was going the wrong way... in my lane.

Thursday: While filling up my car at a local gas station, I heard yelling across the street at another gas station. I'm fairly sure I witnessed the last part of a robbery. The part where the guy got chased across the street and continued to run... towards the police station. Dummy.

Luckily, there weren't any other dangerous/potentially fatal experiences. Mostly I just went to book club, watched Killer Klowns from Outer Space with Mike, and then I slept for like 14 hours on Sunday. Those parts were nice.