Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Favorite Books of 2015

I am sometimes asked for book recommendations so I am going to list some of my favorite books of 2015 (and two that come out in January). I will undoubtedly add to this post with books I read before the new year and also the ones that should be on here but I've forgotten to add. Check back!

Picture Books

Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner
     This is a really sweet book with really cool art. I loved the sweet story and the storytelling.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad
      An amazing story told in perfect words by Laurel Snyder and absolutely stunning art by Julie Morstad. I can't say enough good things about this book. One particular spread literally made me stop and marvel for a long time. 

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
     No one tells a humorous story like Drew Daywalt. This book does not disappoint. The sheer amount of weeks on the NYT list should tell you something about this book. I can also tell you, Drew is one of the nicest people in the world. Love to see the good guy get ahead!

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
     There are times when there is so much talk about a book and you are disappointed... You will not be disappointed with this book. A great true story told with awesome art.

Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato
     I love everything about Elliot. I have given this and it's predecessor away several times because it has a lot of heart. 

Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora
     Ame Dyckman is a seriously funny person. You get to see that shine through in Wolfie The Bunny!

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Joshua Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
     This is a fun book to read and to read aloud. The quest of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast is just plain fun.

Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares
     Inspiring story with the most stunning art. Matt has truly made a masterpiece with this book. 

You and Me by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
     Looking for a book about friendship? This is it. A very sweet message with Peter's awesome illustrations.

Birdie's First Day of School by Sujean Rim
     Birdie is a handful and this book is the perfect companion to the first days of school. I gave a copy to the Kindergarten teacher because I thought it was important to get this in the hands of kids! As a bonus, I love Sujean!

Snoozefest by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
     Another read-aloud classic, you can't help but love everything Samantha Berger writes. Take a trip with a lovable sloth and you will feel sleepy in no time. 

The Whale in my Swimming Pool by Joyce Wan
     Here is how I read every Joyce Wan book.... Open the book, look at every cute picture and wonder how art can be so cute, then go back and enjoy the story.  This is a fun book and the Kindergarten class I read it to loved it!

(New Additions)
There Was An Old Dragon that Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle
     Fun read aloud that will inspire kids to think of ways to change old songs into fresh and fun new songs!

Daylight, Starlight, Wildlife by Wendell Minor
     I am the world's biggest Wendell Minor fan (except maybe for Florence). Absolutely stunning art work contrasting day and night creatures.

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Goro Fujita
     Super story and really different (and awesome) illustrations. 

Middle Grade and YA

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
     A really smart adventure book. This book has it all from laughs to heartache. 

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
     I've probably already recommended this everyone. But just in case, I had a two week book hangover from this book. I didn't want to read another book, I wanted to remain in this world. Read this, you will love it.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
     So much heart packed into these pages. A great story that might help you find your sense of wonder again.

Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee with art by Christopher Denise
     I would recommend this book based on the Christopher Denise magical artwork alone. However, Alison has written a great story about love, friendship and fitting in.

The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
     This book is a great story which is told in such a way that little bits are revealed and you can't help but wonder how someone could write such a sweet and wonderful story. Included in this book are recipes and, you might just run out and buy your wife some Cherries in the Snow lipstick!

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
     This book should be required reading for all teachers, administrators, and everyone who has struggled in school. This book is for the kids who struggle and everyone who helps the kids who struggle. I think of it as a love letter to teachers everywhere. I believe this book will change lives.

Coming Soon: 

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson (January 26, 2016)
     This is such a fun adventure story. I wasn't really sure what to think when it arrived, but I loved every single word. Kirby Larson tells an amazing story. I don't know many people who can make historical fiction so fun to read.

Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton (January 5, 2016)
     If we have been friends for longer than ten minutes, you know I adore Elizabeth Rose Stanton.  Part of the reason is because she is a generous and kind person. The major reason is because she writes unusual and extraordinary stories. I have read hundreds of books and sometimes they all blend together, but Henny and Peddles have both struck a chord in me as unique and important. The message kids get from these books is so important. I read Peddles to the Kindergarten class and they loved every minute. See their review below.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What Do High School Kids Think of Dot Day?

Several people have asked on Twitter how to celebrate Dot Day with high school students. Since the very beginning, I've just set out art supplies and let them make dots. No special lesson. We do use canvas now and I hang the resulting dot art in my classroom for the remainder of the year. I decided to ask my beloved former students what they thought of Dot Day. At the risk of seeming immodest,  I am quoting them exactly as they responded. I believe their responses show exactly how amazing my students are:

As a student I enjoyed dot day. I remember the first time I saw the video, I wasn't sure what to expect and it turned out to be something very eye opening, motivating, and encouraging. I loved the idea of dot day, not only because I got to create my own dot, but because it was a great message that we were helping send out world wide. - Molly

I liked seeing the map showing all the countries that participated in Dot Day! I thought it was cool that my music teacher from Iowa had managed to reach kids that were hundreds of thousands of miles away.- Emma

I liked Mr. Shay.. He was cool and everyone respected him.. Maybe if more of the teachers were like him they wouldn't need to pry their students to make a dot that could change a life.. Not only change a life, but show that there are people who care and want to help out all over the world...Taylor

Dot day to me not only stimulates and shows the creative nature inside of everyone, but also being able to see a small group of people be able to reach out and affect thousands of lives for a day. It shows you can make a difference through hard work and inspiration.-Mitchell

Nowadays, we are pushing students to do more and learn more to try and help them find out what the future may have in store for them, but it is ALWAYS necessary to take a step back for a day and bring out your inner feelings and creativity, and what better way is there to do so than a dot! Dot Day is one of my favorite times of the year because I can forget about everything, and just focus on making a dot of my own that would be hung on Mr. Shay's wall. Your eye is always drawn right to them when you walk into his room, and it is really awesome to see everyone's creativity come together to form such a beautiful piece of art. I cannot wait to one day have a classroom of my own and get to encourage my students to partake in this great event each year! -Landon

To me. dot day is a day that not only celebrates creativity, but also emphasizes the significance that is held by each and every person on this Earth. It is a day that reminds us all that each and every one of us has talents to share, no matter how small we may think they are. It teaches that we never need to be anything more than ourselves; we are all great in our own ways. Just think, if a small town, Iowan, teacher can spread joy, creativity, and a sense of significance, to millions around the world, starting with something as small as a dot, what great things can you do? - Shannon

I always enjoyed dot day because I liked how it was something people from all parts of the world could share together. You were able to get creative with your dot and share a little bit of your personality with everyone that was able to see it. -Jackie

As I said, best kids in the world! Celebrate however you like, but don't think you need to do anything special. Watercolors, markers, crayons....whatever you have. High school kids just want to be all of us.

High School Canvas 2014

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Finding Beauty

This summer has been one filled with travel. A few weeks ago I accompanied my wife to Florida as she attended a class for her school. The weather was so hot, it was hard to enjoy, but there were moments that were so incredible, it was hard not to be swept away. We walked on the beach near sundown every evening...feet in the water.

Currently, we are working our way back home from the longest trip we've ever taken. Our first night away from home, after a ten hour drive, was in Newark, Ohio. The city resembled Stars Hollow from the show The Gilmore Girls. Sweet and peaceful. There was a gazebo and a little band play in it. The stuff of TV shows. We fell in love s little.

Next we went to King of Prussia. Nothing beautiful to be seen. An outrageous mall. The people weren't friendly...and rain.....lots of rain...just a pretty unhappy time. However, by luck of the GPS, our trip into Philadelphia was outstanding. We somehow ended up on the scenic route. Beautiful old buildings and lovely colleges. (Plus "Insomnia Cookies" served warm)

Philadelphia is not a beautiful city. In fact, it ranks amongst my least favorite. But, if you know a little secret, you can find a stunningly breathtaking view. Floor 33 of the Loews after dark.

After the ISTE conference, we drove to New York City...where beauty abounds. The buildings, Central Park, Broadway theaters...a wonderful place to visit.

The final stop on our journey is Hannibal, MO. My wife is taking a class this week. Hannibal is a river town.....if you know what I mean. Somewhat dirty, gritty, and filled with the kind of places I don't usually go. Last night, I had to drive my wife out to the Tom Sawyer's Cave and  on my way back, I was a mile or so away from the town and, from above and a ways a way, it's a beautiful town. Even a river town can look beautiful from the right vantage point. Which leads me to my point....

Students are a bit like cities....sometimes you have to find the right vantage point in order to see the beauty. Sometimes, it's easy. Like walking through the gates of Central Park. Open and friendly, awaiting your arrival.

Sometimes, however, the beauty is not as easy to in Philly. You have to know the right time and the right place. You have to search. It's there, it's just waiting to unfold. Often, however, it's not as easy as  a clandestine elevator ride. Sometimes there is a lot of searching involved. The thing is, with kids, most of the fortress around them was built through years of dealing with things you will
never know about....but the searching is important.

Finally, changing perspective. There is a famous scene in Dead Poet's Society where Robin Willams' character asks students to climb onto a desk and say something to feel a different perspective. Shortly after watching that film, I took a trip with students. We went to this beautiful but icy waterfall. I fell and hit my head really hard, busting my glasses. Of the five kids that were with me, only one made the effort to come and make sure I was ok. It was the student that I knew the least....the student I was not that close to. Message received. I had to look at them through a different lens (no pun intended). Like my trip back into Hannibal....seeing things from a different vantage point is helpful....and sometimes painful,

The takeaway from all of this......If you look for beauty, you find beauty. The opposite is also true.
What are you looking for?

Now, if you took all my words at face value, it would seem like I am the greatest teacher I have all the answers. I am not and I do not. This message is one that I continually work on. Last year, I had a student that was so difficult, I never found the beauty or the good. It was the hardest time of my teaching career. I never stopped trying, but that goodness was buried deep. I am ashamed that I couldn't reach that one. I am not ashamed that I didn't stop trying. One other confession. Kids get a million chances with me....adults only a few. It's a character flaw. I'm working on it. Lucky for me, I've found a group of friends who found the good in me.

So, what is it you're looking for?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

92 Dot Day Countries

Sunday, January 18, 2015

For Linda

In 2009, I met Linda Ragsdale and I was immediately changed by her strength and her kindness. In one of the early emails, she said this, "There is good in everything....sometimes you have to look harder." Once you hear her story, you will never forget it. You will want to draw dragons and you will want, more than you ever have before, for peace. 

Linda is now facing another daunting challenge....and she is determined to turn lemons into something sweeter. If you are into prayer, send one up. If you think positive thoughts, send some in her direction. If you love to draw, make a dragon and have it eat some lemons. You can hear her story below.  Linda- I'm sending you so much love and even more peace. I love you, brave warrior for peace.

I made this lemon for you....with love.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Characteristics of a Good Teacher - 2014 Junior High

I asked JH Chorus kids to write down what the characteristics of a good teacher are:

I think a good teacher would be when you ask a question, she explains to you again when it does not make sense. She helps you work, but doesn't give you the answer.

I think a good teacher helps their student learn first, and then is a fun person

Fun, smart, gives you a little homework, funny, let's you play some games, teaches in fun ways, helps you, can do gymnastics, brings food/candy, tells funny stories, makes you laugh

A great teacher teaches us a lot of things, but doesn't make it boring. A funny teacher is a great teacher. A teacher that doesn't assign a lot of homework.

Humorous- funny at times Inspiring- good example. Sharing life experiences.

We learn lots of stuff but in fun ways. Cracks jokes in the middle of class. Doesn't give a lot of homework. Understands us. Doesn't make class boring.

I think a good teacher is someone who is fun and who teaches cool things to people and who gives candy to people who get stuff right.

I think a good teacher is a fun teacher and also a teacher who helps you learn things.

I think a good teacher should - actually give detentions instead of just threatening -take control -have fun - is serious - teacher instead of handing out fliers -talks to class -explains assignments -and jokes around

A teacher is nice and assigns little homework

Someone who doesn't favor anyone in class. Someone who can joke with us. Someone who is laid back but still stern.

To be hilarious and to not give us homework, but give us candy

I think a good teacher is someone who teaches and explains everything thoroughly and makes sure we all understand. They also are awesome if the can joke around with us.

Funny. Not a lot of homework. Teachers in a fun way. Plays games sometimes. Helps you. Has fun stories. Brings food/candy

I think a good teacher who is stern enough to yell at people, but will give them a warning first. I think a teacher who rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior will be liked by students.

I think a good teacher is someone who knows how to tell you something so that you understand it well. If a teacher is really funny it helps, but they have to also be getting the point across.

I think that a good teacher is one who doesn't let the students talk when it's time to learn but makes learning fun and having experiments. A person to tell jokes to and have fun, but can be serious.

A good teacher is a teacher that is happy and wants to help you and that is forgiving when you make a mistake.

A good teacher makes sure everyone is listening. They help students when they need it. They want us to learn.

Lets you talk but keeps it under control. Laughs at out jokes. Teachers in fun ways. Learning games. Not a lot of homework.

To be funny and cool and if a girl, good looking.

They let us do fun stuff. They like to joke around with us. Don't give us homework every night. Let's us do fun activities. Teaches interesting things.

A teacher I would listen to has to like football, gives candy and good info.

A teacher who is serious about work. Not strict and has a good sense of humor.

Let's you play fun games. Sit by whoever you want. Gives you candy. Fun to hang out with. Likes football.

A good teacher is one that is fun and teaches us.

I like teachers that are funny. Mr. *** is funny and he is one of the best teachers ever.

A teacher I learn from and that is fun. That lets us talk sometimes.

Friendly and makes things fun.

A good teacher is a teacher that plays games and no homework.

A good teacher is one that isn't mean and tells you good info that's not fake and they're fun.

Is fun to hang out with. You can learn from. Gives a lot of candy. Likes football. Music

Nice. Doesn't give detentions. Gives little homework. Good at explaining things. Plays games with the class once one a while. Gives you in class work time for homework.

Lets you be on your phone during class. Is fun. Gives candy. Gives little homework.

A good teacher is like Mr. *** Helps you and is fun, funny, scary (sometimes) but really awesome.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

North Tama Makes a Mark on the World

Last Wednesday, September 17, my school celebrated International Dot Day with a huge K-12 celebration. Here are some highlights:

Each student K-12 was given two dots. One was for them to decorate and one was for them to have someone who has made a positive mark on his/her life decorate. This was amazing and the dots were beautiful. We laid them out in the middle of the gym floor. Here's the collective dot display:
Here's a time-lapse video of placing the dots:

The K-12 celebration kicked off with a welcome from Superintendent, Mr. Robert Cue

I was surprised by a special gift for me which was presented by Principal, Paul Rea and Secretary, Suzanne Earley. A very special original piece of artwork from Peter H. Reynolds which Becky Conners helped coordinate with the school:

We followed that surprise gift with a viewing of "The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds.

Elementary counselor, Teresa O'Meara, took the podium and introduced our first "Make Your Mark Award" recipient, Ellen Young. Ellen is a tireless supporter of our community and worthy recipient of this award. 

I was honored to present Ellen with a signed copy of "The Dot."

We then watched a short presentation that highlighted the ways North Tama has celebrated International Dot Day since it started at our school in 2009. We were blessed to have a very special video in the middle of our presentation from famous author, Deborah Underwood.

We concluded the event by inviting all 500 students to circle around our collective dot.

It was an awesome Dot Day. I'm honored to work in a school that supports and encourages creativity.

Students had the option of creating electronic dots, you can view them here

Other Dot Art from around the school: