By Student Request: The Book List

One of my writing and book club students came to me about a month ago and said that she had set the big goal of reading 300 books this year! How exciting, right!?! The problem was that she was running out of ideas for book titles.  I immediately knew that I would give her a copy of this master book list I found online about a year prior, while seeking out titles for my own kids to read.  Ever since I gave this student “the list,” I have had others come and ask me for a copy.  So here it is, the master list! More book titles than you can shake a stick at, and definitely more than I could read in a single summer!


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In The Footsteps of Giants: TED Talk Examples

Students will begin giving their TED-style speeches next week at Enrichment. Often, the best preparation for something like this is to really watch how others have done the same thing.  While our speeches will only be 3-5 minutes in length, the following TED Talks help demonstrate some of the best ways to use humor, visual aids, and even a script, for your own TED Talk.  (*Pay close attention to the eye contact of the speakers and the tone of voice used. Practice your speeches in a mirror to perfect these skills yourself!)

Former Vice-President Al Gore gives a humorous, but effective TED Talk using PowerPoint slides. Watch his speech HERE.

Author Isabel Allende demonstrates how to give a passionate TED Talk standing behind a lectern, with a script. Check out her speech HERE.

Journalist Stephen Petranek speaks from behind a lectern, with a script, and using slides. This is very close what most of you have suggested doing for your speeches. Check out his example HERE.



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Book Club resources: To Kill a Mockingbird

My hsap book club members have been participating in some very insightful conversations about our current book, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.  For instance, this week, we took part in a “gallery walk,” looking at photos of people and places from the South during the same era.  Students watched a video depicting life under Jim Crow, and read essays about code-switching and life during the Great Depression.

Afterwards, students paired up to make character icebergs! We know that most of an iceberg lies below the surface, hidden to most people.  We took a closer look at characters like Boo Radley, Scout, and Calpernia to analyze which traits can be seen from the surface and which ones are kept below the surface, but appear throughout the novel.  We also used the iceberg metaphor to help better understand why some characters behave the way they do.

Lastly, students are finishing the novel this week! For those students who may be struggling to keep up with the readings, they can use free audiobook resources like the one here. Students can hear actress Sissy Spacek read individual chapters, or even the entire book!

Finish strong! This one is a page-turner, especially throughout the trial! And remember to picture Scout, going ahead of the group, watching it all and relaying the information back to us, in true first-person narrator style!


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The Power of Their Ideas

WAY back in college, I read a fantastic book titled “The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem” by Deborah Meier.  This week, I was reminded of just how powerful students’ ideas can be, even if they don’t know how great their ideas are at the time. I hope these two links can help you stay motivated as we approach our second full workday for our Genius Hour projects.

Last month, one of my 6th grade writing students delivered a speech on hunger in America.  In his speech, he suggested that we could find a way to refrigerate leftovers and share those leftovers with the hungry people in our community.  That student might not have had any concrete ideas on how to go about solving the refrigeration issue at the time, but a community on the other side of the planet was busy at work devising a solution to the very same issue.  Check it out here. 

Sometimes, we stumble upon inspiration for learning in the most unlikely of places.  One young student was reading a magazine while in the waiting room of doctor’s office when a spark was ignited.  Another, was grieving the loss of her grandfather to cancer.  Check out these inspiring young women and their amazing TED Talk. They are a true testament to the power of everyday people (under the age of 18) who asked questions, sought answers and made a difference.

Stay curious!!




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Project Pitches for Genius Hour

Are you ready for start your Genius Hour project?  Not so fast!  First, you’ll have to “sell” me on your research idea by giving a speedy, 60-second project pitch.  Based on your pitch, you will either be approved to move on or sent back to the drawing board to refine your idea.  If working under pressure isn’t your thing, print out the pitch hand-out and begin prepping for tomorrow.  60-Second Project Pitch

Still need a little inspiration? Check out these effective project pitches created by students just like you!

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Genius Hour What and Why (a video explanation for parents)

Last night, I hosted a parents meeting to introduce parents to the concept of the Genius Hour and explain to them how and why I planned to implement a Genius Hour as a replacement for the traditional research report. The support was overwhelming!  Still, some folks were unable to attend the meeting, and for them, I wanted to share a brief video explaining what exactly is a Genius Hour.

Now that we know what a Genius Hour is, some may be wondering WHY?  In my writing classes, I have students in grades 6-12.  By the numbers alone, I have to steer my teaching methods to cover six years of academic development, with five of those grades being in a single class together! Not only does Genius Hour enable me to guide students through the research process in a personalized, meaningful way, the science behind HOW and WHY we learn makes the concept of a Genius Hour, well….genius!

One of the things I asked parents to do for me during this research project was to let their children struggle.  Ask them meaningful questions that may help them work through the problem they are experiencing rather than giving them the ready answer.  (For example, if Will comes to me frustrated that he doesn’t know what to do next for his project, my response can be to say, “Tell me how you got here? Where do you think you could find the answer for your problem?” This is essentially asking a student to intellectually retrace their steps to help them find the answer.)  Most importantly, these types of scenarios are the precise moments when true learning occurs. We are not only teaching our students how to problem-solve, but we let them know that we believe THEY CAN resolve their problem on their own, with a little guidance. This creates (or reinforces) a growth mindset. Studies overwhelming show that students with a growth mindset not only fair better in school, academically, but they exhibit more self-worth and resiliency in life beyond the school years!

I will continue to share videos of student TED Talks, Q & A, and other resources as we work through the next eight weeks.  In the meantime, please know how excited I am, and how proud I am, of each one of our students! They represent homeschooling and YOU, very, very well!

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Pep Talk and Prep Work – Day 1 of The Genius Hour

Thursday’s writing classes started off with a little pep talk, not just for the students, but for me, also. Let’s face it, it’s hard to do something completely different!  Building on what we learned in our 6-week speech unit, but allowing students to explore topics of their own choosing, all while bolstering language arts principles meant that I needed to be  BOLD and BRAVE in my approach to this next unit! My comfort zone lies somewhere between organized textbook curriculum and hands-on project-based learning, but this was a departure, even for me! What would the parents say? How would I implement this across 6 grades and myriad writing abilities?  Needless to say, sometimes we all need a little pep talk to help us take the leap.


First Things First

What is a genius hour? The genius hour concept, also known as 20% Time or Passion Projects allow students the freedom to explore topics that THEY select. The concept came from the tech giant, Google. Google wondered what would happen if people were allowed to spend 20% of their work week on something they were really curious or passionate about? (Prior to Google, 3M had employed a similar strategy and thus, the Post-It was born!)  What Google found was that these “passion projects” actually made their employees more innovative and productive. Products like gmail and google + both came out of genius hour inquiries.

This semester, we will use what is known as the “Engineering Design Process” to  frame our projects.  Students will begin by asking questions.  “What am I interested in?” “What are my talents?” “what am I curious about?”  I used a modified version of the forms used on the Runde’s Room website. Scan_20160308 (2)

From those questions, we will begin to sift through topics that will eventually form the base of our guiding question.  Guiding questions are great because they help us filter all of the information that is seemingly at our fingertips nowadays.

Once we have our guiding questions, the researching begins! Students will gather information and data from all kinds of sources, make connections, draw conclusions, and test theories.  It is important to note that Genius Hour projects aren’t graded on the success of the final project.  Instead, students will write outlines for a final presentation that will be recorded (a la TED Talks).  In their presentation, students will share what they learned, where they succeeded and where their failed. They will share their insights and reflect on what they may do differently next time.  These “TED Talks” will then be available to view on our district YOU TUBE channel, as well as at the Share Fair in May.

If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right!  But I can not wait to see what we have gained as a result of the trying! In life, I believe that whether you win or you lose, you are always better off for having tried.  Perhaps we will find that this Genius Hour things is a great way to motivate and inspire our learners, and maybe we will learn some valuable lessons to the contrary. For certain though, the students will gain the benefit of stepping out of their own comfort zones and knowing that I am right out there on the ledge alongside of them!


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Finishing Strong – A Satisfying Outline Pt. 2

Satisfying Outline Pt. 2

Final speeches are just a few days away! I am amazed at how quickly 6 weeks can fly by! For those of you still working on your speeches, I have a few more notes to help you out with everything from your transitions to conclusions. Check out the power point above for all you need to know to finish strong!


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A Satisfying Outline Pt. 1

Last Thursday, students in 6-12 writing began outlining their speeches.  When the students presented their “40 Chances” speeches earlier in the term, I made notes of common areas where students struggled.  Organizing seemed to be at the top of that list.

I often repeat in class that writing isn’t so much a physical skill, as it is a mental one. Students need to be able to organize their thoughts into a cohesive statement, be that in the form of a three minute speech or a five page essay. Speaking extemporaneously (as we did during out candidate commercials) helps students hone those organizational skills in a short amount of time.  Another way to help young writers cultivate their mental organization is with a visual aid.  On Thursday, all students received a copy of A Satisfying Outline form.  (I am attaching a PDF of this outline form here, as well. A Satisfying Speech Outline)

If you want to take things one step further, I encourage students to check out the Power Point slides that reiterate and expand on the things we discussed in class, including how to write a thesis statement in a SNAP and how to establish credibility with your audience.  Satisfying Outline presentation

Happy Writing!

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Book Club Covenant

The following covenant was handed out at book club on Thursday, January 21st.

Book Club Covenant

Welcome to the club!  I personally want each of you to know that I value your participation and your unique contribution to this club! The purpose of this book club is to be an avenue for you and your peers to explore good books, discuss the larger themes and ideas contained within those books, and that you will also find encouragement, accountability and enjoyment through your participation.  We will meet weekly, for the duration of the semester.

Members of the book club agree to the following:

  • Commitment: I will continue to attend even if I don’t like the book we are reading at the time, and especially if I haven’t read for the week, because I can still gain something from listening to the discussion.
  • Being Prepared: I will try my best to keep up with the reading assignments. If I am struggling, I will ask for help from my group or Mrs. Johnson.
  • Being a Good Listener: I will show I am listening by looking at the person speaking, asking questions to better understand, and waiting to speak until the other person is finished.
  • Being a Good Speaker: I will share my ideas and contribute to the conversation.
  • Respect: I will respect other people’s ideas and build on those ideas to further the conversation. I will stay on topic and try not to distract the members of my group with unrelated topics or conversations.
  • Accountable: I will be accountable to my peers, as well as to Mrs. Johnson, that I will try my best to stay on track with the reading and on task when in my group.


I have read the above covenant and agree to participate in accordance with these guidelines. Failure to respectfully adhere to the terms contained herein can result in my removal from the book club.



____________________________________________    _____/_____/_____

              Student Signature                                                                                      Date



Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”    – Margaret Mead

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