Our Newest SMARTBoard Trainer

reflections SMARTBoard tips workshops

We would like to welcome the newest SMARTBoard trainer as a member of the Recess TEC Inc. team of employees.  Pretty cute huh?  I love the tattoos and the ripped stomach muscles.

Mom and I have been in Camp Point, IL for the past two days to provide SMARTBoard training to teachers.  We love working with the folks at Central High School…but WOW is it a LOOOONNNNG drive.  At the end of the day today, Mom held up this drawing that was in the corner of the room.  I have absolutely no idea why it was drawn…I am sure that it had a purpose in someone’s class this spring.  Boy would I like to know the details.  I will probably ask the next group of teachers we train when we head back to Camp Point for our next round of sessions in July.

In the meantime, Mom and I enjoyed our overnight stay in Quincy and were able to find some pretty cute places to eat.  Dinner… and breakfast (we sat at the table right next to the Christmas tree in that image…obviously the tree was not there today). 

These are the pictures that Mom took of the two places.
 Tiramasu and The Park Bench

We have been noticing some different updates in Notebook software since our last round of training this past spring.  We love it when that happens.  It is like unwrapping a little surprise gift in the middle of a workshop.  One is that the shape pen no longer snaps into a shape perpendicular to the toolbar.  If you draw it at a slant, it will snap into place in the exact angle that you drew it.  This is a perfect update for one of my examples in the workshop.  Another update we noticed is the Image Group Generator.  One of our favorite tools has been the Group Generator all year.  Now we see there is one that can be used with images rather than words!  YIPPEE!  Did I mention we love new SMARTBoard “stuff”?

Ok…off to Thomasboro for the next two days…busy, busy!  Just the way we like it!

The Mailbox

Book Reviews reflections

AR Level – 5.0
Points – 6
Interest Level – Middle to Upper Grades

“Vacation” allows me a little more time to sit on our porch and read.  I did just that this weekend and was able to complete my first “student” novel of the summer.  It was “The Mailbox” by Audrey Shafer.  A first novel by Shafer but I am sure not her last.  The genre is hard to pinpoint, something between a mystery and gripping drama.  The main character is a middle school aged boy named Gabe.  He has had a difficult childhood being shuffled from foster home to foster home until he is placed with his gruff elderly Vietnam veteran uncle.  The two have what seems an unconnected relationship until Gabe comes home from school one day to find his uncle dead.  Afraid he will be placed back into foster care and unsure of what to do, Gabe decides to do nothing.  The next day as Gabe is coming home from school he discovers a note in the mailbox that reads “I have a secret, don’t be afraid.”  He is afraid (who wouldn’t be…right?).  He walks in to his house to find that his uncle’s body is missing, and whoever took the body also took his gun collection.  What happens next is only described as touching.  A deeper relationship that rarely surfaced while Gabe’s uncle was living is discovered; unconditional love for a new “family member”, a large black dog named Guppy, flourishes; and Gabe’s rocky living arrangements finally appear to have a smooth ending.

I will not be choosing this for my book club this year, but not because I didn’t like it.  I think it is a little too deep for 4th graders.  And while I was able to connect to the story on many levels, I am not sure most 9 year olds would be able to do the same.  My connections stem from the fact that the teachers are VERY involved throughout this story and I find myself empathizing with the school staff regarding this quiet troubled boy during the school scenes (most teachers have been there, done that regarding kids who sneak their way into your heart with little you can do to help them in their personal lives). Gabe’s relationship with Guppy is warm and fuzzy and heart wrenching all rolled in to one.  While most kids can relate to the pet connection, I was easily sucked in since I am in love with a certain dog named Buddy.   And finally, I was also able to connect to the military portions of the story through Mom’s Army Brat child rearing. 

Reflecting on this past school year, I think the reason I really enjoyed “Shooting the Moon” last summer was because it reminded me of the stories my mom told me about growing up as the daughter of an Army Officer.  I also loved the photography connection throughout the story.  As I read it aloud to my class this year, I could feel the disconnect from my students.  That is something that I have always been able to easily detect when I read aloud to the kiddos in class.  I think “The Mailbox” would have the same impact (or lack thereof).

I do, however, recommend this book for middle school literature circles.  The right group of mature kids would enjoy this book immensely.

Finding the Sun

reflections SMARTBoard workshops
It was pointed out to me by a friend that MSN reported January 18th as the bleakest day of the year 2010.
We were fortunate then.
Several times that day Shannon and I looked out the window to view the gray and foggy skies and commented that we were happy to be conducting a workshop, and that the fact that it was such a dreary day provided no regrets that we were working on a day off from school.  Wonderful Teachers
In fact, we hardly felt like we were working.
First, It was a long trip since Shannon lives as far east from the center of the state as Camp Point is west.
It was also a relaxing trip and a “first” for Recess TEC in that we had to find a “room at the inn” due to the distance.
But most important, we had the good fortune to meet new friends at Camp Point School District.
The teachers there were, well….
“Enthusiastic” doesn’t even describe it.
They gave up their holiday to rise early, without pay, and join us for a day-long session in SMARTBoard training.
The morning was spent showing ways the board can be used in classrooms, and despite the fact that several had
had their boards for a couple of years, they were never distracted and they were very focused on the new things they were seeing. They were open to sharing, helping, and making suggestions to encourage each other.
Bleak day? Can’t say that it was for us…

Looking Back… Looking Forward…

reflections workshops

With but a few hours and minutes left in this year, It is a perfect time for me, (no… us) to look back over the year as well as look ahead. I mentioned to a friend this morning that I wish I could see in the future. I know better than that. Life has taught me that it is best to take it one day at a time, and better yet, moment by moment.Hurry up and wait... Wasn’t it just yesterday when Shannon and I sat at the computer asking each other, “What do you think? Should we do this? Do you want to try?” We had no idea where this would take us and never imagined that we would be where we are today. Even as I form these words, I wonder what is still ahead of us. Every month we are asked over and over again when we are going to stop teaching and do this full time. And we wrestle with those choices. We love teaching. And we understand that, as teachers, we expect the people who train and teach us to understand and appreciate what our vocation requires. We don’t expect people who aren’t standing in our shoes to understand or relate. We understand that is one of the reasons we have been able to connect to our participants. We “get it”.

With that said, I finally committed to retirement. Waiting until the last week possible, I submitted my “Letter of Intent”. It is for the year 2013-2014, but nevertheless, a commitment. I had tried once before, but withdrew it minutes before the deadline. That was four years ago. What made me go through with it this time? What is different? I can honestly say that I have no less energy than I did the day I stepped inside my first classroom. My desire to learn and teach has increased exponentially, and I look forward to new projects and challenges. The same frustrations exist, just with different names and acronyms. This time, though, I have a future. Even though the path is dim and has no definitive direction, it is there. And it is exciting. We have had so many wonderful opportunities to teach and train, and at the same time, the enthusiasm and opportunities to learn from those we have met have made the last year more than memorable.

For now, Shannon and I teach our students, the children that have been loaned to us for a year. We still have this year with so much more they need to learn before we can allow them to step outside our classrooms. The future is filled with so much to learn and try, and the promises of exciting lessons keep us motivated to continue learning and trying. The future will work itself out.

And for now, this moment, I only need to say “Thank you” to my daughter for allowing me to share all of this with her and “Thank you” to all those who have been part of our workshops and presentations. We learn from you so much, as well. You and our children are what make our future so bright…

Sunrise ~ Sunset

reflections SMARTBoard
Sunrise ~ 6:30 am (cst)
Sunrise ~ 6:30 am (cst)

From sunrise to sunset, Saturday rocked.  The two images you see were taken from my window as I was driving to and from Fairfield with Mom to conduct an all day SMARTBoard training.  Now don’t get me wrong, we didn’t hold these poor teachers captive from sunrise to sunset to show them how to use their SMARTBoards.  However, Fairfield is about two hours from home, so rising before the sun and getting home after dark were part of the package at this time of year.

In a word, these teachers were FUN!  They were smiling, laughing, and having an all around good time.  And while Mom and I try to use this blog for things we have learned while on the road, I think what we learned today is not at all related to technology.

The positive energy that filled the school made Saturday one of our best trainings to date.  Even when the participants showed signs of frustration or being overwhelmed by the implementation of their new technologies, they constantly encouraged and supported each other throughout the training.  There was definitely a sense of team.

For teachers, giving up a Saturday to learn something new on a beautiful fall day is not always easy…but knowing it will benefit the students in classrooms makes it easier to bear.  I think the biggest lesson from Saturday was that having a postive outlook can make a world of difference in how we learn…and teach!

Sunset ~ 4:35 pm (cst)
Sunset ~ 4:35 pm (cst)
Shannon is so right. We didn’t even really talk about it as it was happening, but both agreed that the day spent in Fairfield was nothing but fun. It was actually amazing that they would enjoy spending the day with us, especially at this time of year as we sense the “Countdown” beginning with the approach of “Black Friday”. For us, as well, this coming week will be filled with several presentations, a conference, Education Week and Midterm Progress Reports for our students. Add to this the fact that Saturday was forecasted as being a beautiful day with lots of sun, followed by a very gloomy Sunday. As you can see by the pictures, it was. It didn’t matter. It is easy to be excited about teaching when you are excited about learning. It just reinforces what Shannon and I both believe. It is important to surround ourselves with positive people and make the most of every moment. We did just that.

And the Winner is…

reflections tips workshops

tech_idol_blogIt happens every year, a large group forms to reunite, socialize, be entertained, and exchange the latest and greatest in their field.  No, I am not actually writing about American Idol, but instead the Regional Office of Education’s Fall Classic Teachers’ Institute Day.  This year was hands-down one of the best for Mom and me.  Actually I can’t speak for Mom, but I thought it was GREAT!.

We decided to make our main technology integration session interactive this year. “Technology Idol”.  We compiled a list of our favorite classroom ideas, gathered teacher and student examples, and made them compete against each other for the title of 2009 Technology Idol. 

Since we use the Turning Point Student Response System in our classrooms to engage students as well as receive immediate feedback, we decided to place them around the room and have the audience vote for their favorite technology integration ideas as we presented them during the session.  There was only one problem…we have 32 clickers and there were easily over 100 people packed into a high school social studies classroom.  Don’t get me wrong, we were thrilled that the room was PACKED and bursting (sorry to those who couldn’t get in…maybe the ROE will have us do the session again in the upcoming months after school one day), we just wish we could have put a clicker in every hand! Nevertheless, we were able to gather responses from a fabulous audience cross section!

Round 1: Glogster Vs. Etherpad

These two resources are fun, student-centered, and highly motivating for students to use. 

Glogster is an interactive digital poster that allows students to mix curricular-related content with their own personal styles to achieve a 21st century poster report.

Etherpad allows students to collaboratively write on a REAL TIME notepad.  REAL TIME.  Students can work on reports, essays, take notes, or even exchange ideas online in REAL TIME.  Did I mention REAL TIME?

Round 1 Winner: Glogster

Round 2: Glogster Vs. Wolfram Alpha 

Since Glogster had won the first round, it was time to give it a new contender. 

Enter Wolfram Alpha.

This informational website is the teachers’, parents’ and students’ new best friend.  I am here to tell you!  We demonstrated how we have been using this online “brain” in our classrooms and the audience was blown away.  We easily defined a word by typing in “word duo”.  Not only do the definitions of duo come up on an easy-to-read chart, but this site also gives the word origin, synonyms, pronunciation and other “dictionary” related information.  All WITHOUT the drama of using the dictionary or thesaurus. 

We also showed its ability to factor numbers, give nutritional information on various foods, locate destinations using lines of latitude/longitude, generate words based on spelling patterns and phonics, as well as graph advanced mathematical formulas.

The gasps were audible. The buzz in the room was electrifying.  Teachers were DEFINITELY excited about this one.

Do I even need to tell you who won Round 2?

Ok I will…

Round 2 Winner: Wolfram Alpha

Round 3: Wolfram Alpha Vs. Prezi 

Prezi is one of my new favorite presentation tools.  It is just that, a tool.  It is not something that will make the kids understand content any better.  But it is pretty cool and ranks high among my motivators when asking kids to do an oral report with a visual aid.  PowerPoint is maybe a bit overused and a little lame for the kiddos. (Sorry Microsoft…I still love you!)  I showed a lesson on Author’s Purpose using Prezi that generated pleasant smiles from the audience, and they thought it was pretty cool that the presentation was online (no use of memory or flash drives here) as well as the fact that it was all on one screen, even though it didn’t first appear to be during the “show” mode.

I made sure to forewarn the teachers that while Prezi isn’t exactly the EASIEST presentation tool to quickly pick-up, the kids would have no problem and would more than likely enjoy doing reports in this format.

Winner of Round 3: Wolfram Alpha

Round 4: Wolfram Alpha Vs. Multimedia as Writing Prompts

Having difficulty motivating kids to write in a journal?  Do you need new ideas and prompts?  Why not use multimedia to spark a new story?  We showed a series of videos and images as well as what types of prompts could be generated through the use of these two media forms.  Teachers were in agreement that the kids would definitely like this twist on journaling.  They seemed to enjoy the videos (lots of laughter and note taking and questioning us about where to get the multimedia).  Therefore I thought for sure we would have a new leader.


Round 4 Winner: Wolfram Alpha

Round 5: Wolfram Alpha Vs. Google Earth

We know Google Earth is O-L-D.  We know it has been shown at many conferences.  BUT…we also have been known to use it as an interactive learning tool and that is exactly what we showed.  HOW to integrate Google Earth into interactive learning field trips with all levels of students and across all curricular areas.  We also showed how to let students use it to build their own field trips as alternative forms of assessments.  We love Google Earth and the audience seemed to enjoy it as well but….

evidently not as much as they enjoyed Wolfram Alpha.

Winner of round 5: Wolfram Alpha

Round 6 (final round): Wolfram Alpha Vs. Wordle

Wordle is an online word cloud generator that can be used across a variety of content areas.  We showed several student examples and gave additional ideas for using this fabulous web 2.0 tool.

And while the teachers thought it looked pretty useful and some who had already used it shared some of their own success story ideas…

it didn’t win.


The winner of Technology Idol 2009: WOLFRAM ALPHA…

…the site we have used in our classrooms, showed the parents of students how to use for homework help, introduced to teachers from across the region and call the Online Brain, Tutor, and One-Stop-Shop for homework help.

Thank you Wolfram Alpha for being such a motivating and exciting part of our presentation at ROE 11’s Fall Classic Teachers’ Institute Day.

Final Note:  Since this blog is also used as a way to reflect on workshops/presentations that we have provided, I want to take a moment to explain something that I learned today.  While I am constantly looking for new ways to excite, motivate and engage the students in my classroom, it seems that I often share with teachers the tools that I have my students successfully use to accomplish those things.  However, today I had a light bulb moment.  Not only do educators want ideas and resources for their students to use.  They also want ideas and resources THEY can use to help their students.  I think that is probably why Wolfram Alpha was the winner.  A lot of the ideas we showed are pretty cool (in my opinion) with a lot of “wow” factor (also my opinion but since this is my blog I get to express that one-sided opinion).  But the winner was a simple, easy-to-use and integrate, yet HIGHLY effective online learning tool.  Interesting.

I share all of Shannon’s reflections and thoughts here. This day was truly rewarding. I was worried as it began. Car troubles had me arriving just as Shannon finished unloading her car, and she had lost her cell phone (since found), so I couldn’t call her. It was raining, and both of us were more than tired from a full week of school and evening presentations. Then the teachers began to fill the room very early so, as they explained, to make sure they had a seat. This was going to be fun! And it was, as Shannon described it above. The two presentations, we agreed, are now our favorites. I walked over to Shannon after “Technology Idol” as we were waiting for the next session to begin and asked, “Would you have predicted that?” I felt that human nature would have changed the vote as we presented new, fun, and more “glitzy” Web 2.0 applications. No, not so. As the room emptied, a young man walked in, took a seat, and asked what all of the excitement was about. An administrator who had remained from the previous session to attend our next presentation explained, “It’s called ‘Wolfram Alpha’ and it’s going to replace textbooks.” How exciting for us to be part of Wolfram Alpha and its introduction to the educational community. I had to notice some of the difficulty that a few of the teachers had pronouncing the name. Not me. I’ve mentioned before that I am an “army brat”, grew up in Germany, and that my mother was a German “war bride”. When her brother (my uncle) was married, we hosted a huge celebration in our home. The bride’s younger brother’s name was “Wolfram”, and it was at that event I received my first kiss. And I’m sure if my younger sister were to read this, her only comment would be, “Eww…” Even though “That Wolfram” did not end in love forever, Wolfram Alpha is one new site that we will all grow to love in a much more practical way. It really IS a “winner”!

Edusomnia Strikes Again


I am cross posting an entry that I actually just placed on my classroom blog.  Cheating?  I think not.  If you stick it out until the **end of the post you will see my Recess TEC relevance.tired-yawn

Here I sit at 1:49 on a Friday “morning”. Oh who am I kidding…it is definitely still Thursday “night”. Edusomnia has struck again and I have a gazillion thoughts running through my brain. I am very excited about some of the projects I want to tackle this school year but still trying to figure out how to balance it all and cover the IL learning standards all at the same time. The mention of learning standards just caused me to yawn. Could my edusomnia be coming to an end? I think not.

While the standards are definitely something that bore me to even contemplate, I must admit they keep me focused on what I need to cover in my classroom. It is easy to get distracted by all of the tools and fluff that make learning exciting for the students, yet educators must also stay focused on the task at hand. The standards aid in my focus.

Reflecting back to my Parent Orientation presentation, I wonder if I over-spoke about the tools that would be used in the classroom to aid in learning rather than their infused pedagogical use. Ugh…did I really just use the word pedagogical? I exhaust myself. Too bad I can’t use that exhaustion to aid in SLEEP! I digress.

At the end of both sessions I did have several parents approach me about teaching them to use the tools so they could be an active part of the classroom environment this year. WOW. I have actually always wanted to have a Parent-Class for this type of parent involvement, but figured the parents of my students would a.) think I was completely NUTS (ok, I am a little). or b.) tell me they had better things to do with their time (which they probably do).

SO…in summary…. Parents: If you ARE interested in learning how to add comments to the children’s blog pages or wiki pages… or if you are still wondering what language I was speaking during orientation, please drop me an email or even a voice mail and I will get several options scheduled. I think it would be fun to have you come to the computer lab one evening and actually have some hands-on practice with some of this.

Also, if you have any requests for different topics, please let me know. I would be happy to accommodate any type of “info” session that would benefit you and your child.

**Could Recess TEC Inc. be expanding its line of workshops to meet the needs of parents as well?  This has my brain even more overloaded.  I will NEVER get any sleep.  Actually, I am a little nervous about feeling the need to catch upon sleep during our faculty meeting tomorrow afternoon.  I may need to load up on the coffee in the morning….ok…later this morning.  Geesh!

NECC Reflections #2

reflections SMARTBoard workshops

Autistic ChildrenMy niece, Allison, came into our lives thirty years ago. She has provided us with a glimpse of another world that we can’t begin to understand, only because we are limited in both our intellect and ability to “see” things the way she does. As a child, Allison “danced with the fairies” and was lost in thoughts that we could only wish to share with her. She was first diagnosed with significant developmental delays with “islands of ability” or possible “childhood schizophrenia”.  When Allison was five, her pediatrician called my sister, Diana, at work. He had just returned from attending a conference in California and was very excited to have found an “answer”.  Allison eventually was “labeled” autistic, and was placed in special classes in schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Diana worked as a political consultant at the state and federal levels, and used any and all connections she had to educate herself on autism. She became an officer in the Autism Society of America, and became proactive in securing the best help to enable Allison to become all she could be. Eventually we learned that Allison’s symptoms were best described as Asperger’s Syndrome, and she was not only very high functioning, but had an IQ that was far above anyone else in our family. When she was twelve, Allison described to me a book that she was reading about “parallel universes” in terms I could understand. My “Allison Stories” include finding piles of miniature notebook pages under her bed with hieroglyphics of different thoughts and messages filling each page, all easily translated by her at the age of eight. On a visit I took her to buy a bathing suit, and she absolutely needed the black one-piece with a huge beautiful sequined pineapple filling the front. How could I refuse? She loved nothing more than to sit in front of the television under a huge open golf umbrella watching Comedy Central and laughing with the audience. Her humor is quick, dry, and catches you off-guard bringing you to your knees. She has been to “Burning Man”, belonged to a tango club, belly-dances, and has taken Diana and me on a trip to southern France for the “Gathering of the Gypsies”. On our trip to Paris, her first request was to go to the cemetery to see the grave of Jim Morrison. On our trip through the Louvre, she was our personal guide. Just this past Sunday her post on Facebook read, I just had a great day yesterday at Plunderthon. I and a bunch of other people dressed as pirates and went on a bender in Downtown Portland. Yyaaarrr!!!”

So, with Allison in mind, I chose to attend the NECC session entitled “Increasing Attention Span of Students with Autism Using Interactive Technology” presented by Randy Welch, Chief Program Officer, at the Spaulding Youth Center in Tilton, New Hampshire and Kathleen McClaskey, President of EdTech Associates. It was the first session that brought tears to my eyes. With a great deal of conviction and dedication, Randy described the difference that SMARTBoards made in five of their classrooms where the students ranged from ages 7 to 20. He described how the use of these boards help children focus on communicating and for the first time, they found words to relate their experiences and thoughts to their teachers, aids, and other children. Videos took us into the classroom and we were introduced to several of the children, specifically “Katie”, and watched their progress in ways that I have never seen before.

Leaving that session I was excited to share with Shannon what I had seen. I was convinced that schools need to require a SMARTBoard in every special class, and that interactive websites and Web 2.0 tools are included in their curriculum.

The school in which I teach now has SMARTBoards in every classroom. Two of our teachers who work with special needs children, both friends and partners with whom I have taught, attended our SMARTBoard workshops in the first session of our 2009 Summer Series. They were both excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities of how to use the boards in their classrooms, and I look forward to watching them grow and learn, and providing additional help and support to get them started on what promises to be an exciting path to an exciting future.

I invite you to read the handout that was provided in the workshop I attended.

Book Reviews – Round 2

Book Reviews reflections

I hear educators talk about Battle of the Books.  I honestly am not sure what that entails, but I think it sounds interesting and right up my alley. That is the first thought that came to mind as I typed this title.  There will be quite a few rounds of these book reviews this summer since I have found myself on a reading hot streak that I want to ride out for as a long as I can! Also, these book reviews are in the order that I have read them…not in order of preference. Just wanted to clear that up.  Since I have not finished my list, I do not want to make any preconceived decisions regarding my favorites.  Maybe at the end of the summer I will do a post that ranks them…we’ll see.  Ok…here is 4, 5, and 6.


4.) The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff


Let the Book Reviews Begin

Book Reviews reflections

Lately I have been reading…and reading…and reading.  I think you get the point.  Since I am always on the search for new novels for my monthly school book club, I am quite picky when it comes to choosing “winners”.  So far, I have read nothing BUT winners!  I am going to quickly run down the books that I have checked off my summer reading list and give a quick opinion for which classrooms it is most suitable. I have also found a couple of fun “tech tie-ins” that have already been published to the web!  Book reports/trailers created by students who are using technology…I LOVE IT!


1.) Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

AR Level – 5.9
Points – 12
Interest Level – Middle to Upper Grades

If you have ever seen the TV show ‘Wonder Years”, that would sum up this book’s feel.  A young man who is neither Jewish nor Catholic is not required to attend Wednesday afternoon’s religion class which means he is the only student staying in the classroom with his very “put-out” teacher, Mrs. Baker.  After all, this would have been her planning period, but now she has to babysit a 7th grade boy. Insert her sigh here!  Each Wednesday is spent reading Shakespeare and watching the odd but lovable relationship grow between teacher and student.  Due to some deeper content and questionable choice of “vocabulary”, I will not be choosing this book for my 4th grade book club.  However, I would recommend it for upper intermediate and junior high level classes.  I laughed out loud on more than one occasion!




2.) Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

AR Level – 4.5
Points – 11
Interest Level – Middle to Upper Grades

This quirky story had me hooked right from the beginning.  Jeremy’s Mom receives a package in the mail that is to be given to Jeremy for his 13th birthday.  Inside the package is an intricately carved wooden box that requires a series of specials keys to open it.  What’s so special about this box?  It was carved by Jeremy’s father and has been under the care of his lawyer since his death 5 years ago.  It contains “The Meaning of Life”.  Well, as you can imagine, I wanted to know what was in that box right away…kind of like Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy.  There is just one problem.  The lawyer has misplaced the keys and hopes “they understand”.  Quite a series of events unfold while on the mission to locate these keys which kept me turning the pages.  I loved this story.  However, I will have to read it aloud to my class and NOT make it a book club choice for 4th graders.  Why?  Once again, there is some mature content when Jeremy’s best friend “becomes a woman” and has to seek advice regarding feminine products from Jeremy’s mother.  There are also a couple of swear words that can easily be avoided along with the “womanhood talk” as I read aloud to my fourth graders.  If your students are mature enough to handle the previously mentioned questionable content, I would make this a must-read for your students this year!


3.) The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato

AR Level – 4.3
Points – 6
Interest Level – Middle Grades

First off, I must clear up that the “letters” are not in fact letters, but a series of email exchanges between Frankie (actually a girl) and her widowed father’s new “possible” girlfriend, Ayanna.  Dad has recently returned from a business trip in Washington D.C. where he and Ayanna met.  He took one afternoon to visit the zoo during his stay, and as a result of an unexpected downpour went into the small mammal house where Ayanna takes care of the mole-rats.  Ayanna helped him pick out some souvenirs to take back to his family, and Dad ended up with an unexpected and growing friendship.  Frankie is not pleased…AT ALL.  She finds herself making quite a few uncharacteristic decisions and getting herself into a bit of trouble.  One of these poor decisions includes posing as her father in a series of email exchanges with Ayanna in hopes to sabotage the budding romance.  I love this book because it fosters the discussion regarding digital footprints while online.  It will also be easy for my students to connect with this small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business type of setting.  I love the strong female character and how she evolves throughout this book.  This definitely makes the book club list.  DEFINITELY!

Stay tuned…there are more books to come…