Monday, August 22, 2016

And It's Off To School We Go

The Seniors have Graduated.

Best senior prank EVER. Thanks Dominique and Celeste!!

Long Live the Seniors!

The Class of 2016 has mostly gone off to become the Class of 2020, and the Class of 2017 has risen to take their place.  School began last Wednesday and we're off and running at pretty much full-speed already.

On Friday morning, the Junior High had a very successful Skype session with Ami Polonsky, author of the summer all-read novel Gracefully Grayson.  The six homebase classes generated and submitted questions on Thursday afternoon, and the author, a middle-school teacher herself, answered them non-stop for 20 minutes before having to off to an 8 am (her time) teacher planning meeting.  This wonderful novel has been embraced fully by our junior high teachers and students, and it's been the catalyst for some amazing learning already.  Only 8 months left to find a 2017 all-read that comes even close to this one. Yikes.
In the library, it's the usual carousel of summer books coming back, and more books going out.  I've added a couple of titles to our iPods for listening by students for whom text is difficult, and pulled together options for "free choice" assignments.

An alumni family clearing out a friend's house donated 50+ great, essentially brand new books for distribution on the "Free Books" cart.  Who doesn't love free books?

And I've printed FORTY book cover images for faculty and staff participating in the What I'm Reading display.  That's a LOT of reading going on around here, folks!  Yep, it's another school year, all right.  Somebody let the kids in, and we're running with it!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Please, Write in Your Book:
A New Twist on HS Summer Reading Requirements

For twenty years, Paideia's summer reading requirements have been very unstructured.  Students had to read a certain number of books over the summer -- any book, any choice -- and hand in a list of their reading at the beginning of school.  That's been really cool for the students, but harder on the teachers who wanted to build assignments around summer reading, or check a little more deeply into whether their students really had read (and understood) the books they'd listed.  It's hard to come up with an academic assessment that works for a whole class when student choices range from fantasy and sci-fi to classics of the canon, graphic novels, popular fiction and non-fiction.

Click this image for
a printable copy of
these instructions.
A few years ago, we instituted an "Junior High Community Read"  requirement, picking one book for all 7th & 8th graders to read over the summer in addition to four free choice books.  Now, some of the first activities of the new school year include writing assignments, author visits and group discussions of the Community Read choice (which for 2016 is Ami Polonsky's lovely novel Gracefully Grayson).

Paideia's High School English department spent much time and several department meetings investigating the summer reading programs at other schools, and debating how to craft a requirement that reflects the range of student and teacher interests, upholding Paideia's core value on reading for pleasure, while also giving teachers the ability to plan around a single title read by all their students.

Below is the result, and I think it's a fine compromise.  This information is printed inside the cover of the 2016 High School Summer Reading booklet (downloadable PDF edition) or, if you just want to print the instructions, click the image above for a printable copy.

Happy Summer Reading -- read early and often, and feel free to contact me with any questions.

The English department has decided that only ONE book (the grade level title) is absolutely required, and that students may choose ANY THREE additional books they wish from the reading booklet (including anything from the Teacher Picks list). 

NEW!!   2016 Paideia High School Summer Reading Requirement   NEW!!

Each high school student must complete the 4 steps below during the summer months.  Read a total of 4 books  -- 2 required books and 2 personal choice books — plus watch 2 movies from the list.

1.  Find and read the Mortimer Adler article, then read and annotate the book assigned to the grade you will enter in fall 2016:

All grades must read “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer Adler.

(There are several PDFs on the Internet.  Once you have read the article, you are required to annotate your grade’s book listed below as you read it.  Bring your annotated copy of the book to school with you on the first day of school to share with your English teacher.)

9th:  Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
10th: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
11th and 12th:  The Round House by Louise Erdrich

UPDATE -->2.  Choose one of the books from the top picks of the English Department teachers (some are available as free PDFs or ebooks on the internet—search book name followed by the word 'text.'  Example:  "Tess of the d’Urbervilles"  text).

John’s pick: Tess of the d’Urbervilles  Thomas Hardy
Clark’s pick: The World’s Largest Man, Harrison Scott Key
Joseph’s pick: Number 9 Dream   David Mitchell
Gavin’s pick: Treasure Island  R.L. Stevenson
Marianne’s pick:  Left Hand of Darkness  Ursula LeGuin
Tally’s pick: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gregory’s pick: The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
Sarah’s pick: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Thrower’s pick: any poetry collection by Billy Collins
Jim’s pick: Colored People by Henry Louis Gates

UPDATE --> 3.  Choose TWO THREE more books from the plethora of books in the summer reading list.  One of these can be from the Teacher Picks list above, if you choose.

4.  Watch two of the movies from the list below.  You can get some of them through streaming internet sources. 

• Beasts of the Southern Wild
• Selma
• The Namesake
• A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
• Stand and Delver
• 4 Little Girls
• Moonrise Kingdom
• Crooklyn
• Children of Men
• Billy Elliot
• Brooklyn
• Hugo
• Bend It Like Beckham

Friday, April 1, 2016

Musings (or, Spring Break Approaches)!

I was a little bit late walking over to the high school assembly yesterday morning, and as I approached the theatre this scene just bowled me over -- maybe 100 backpacks fairly neatly stacked up outside, waiting confidently for their proper owners to come collect them in 45 minutes.  Just through the lobby doors was a repeat scene.  Around here it's a common sight, but having been to a big public high school for a meeting the night before, I realized again how fortunate we are to enjoy this level of trust in our community.

And only a little bit ironic, since the assembly speaker was J. Tom Morgan, former Dekalb County District Attorney and powerful legal advocate for young people.  It's been a few years since J. Tom last spoke at Paideia, so 75% of the high school had not heard his important message for teens -- "ignorance of the law is no defense."   Spring break, and soon graduation festivities, are coming up, and it's a good time to remind teens in Georgia (where 17-year-olds can be prosecuted as adults) of the life-altering difference a birthday can make!   High school students and parents -- we have a copy in the library, so come check it out.

The days before spring break is also an active time in the library.  Groups of students gather during breaks to prepare for the inevitable "before holiday" tests, quizzes and assignment due-dates.  There's often a cluster of students with iPads around the printers, waiting for a final draft to come out (the stapler usually needs refilling around now too).  The most fun part (for me, and probably for them too) is the re-appearance of the faithful reading customers, having been submerged in schoolwork since the end of short term, now seeing a little room to breathe -- and to read for fun!!! 

I'm gathering all my spring break reading, and downloading some audiobooks & podcasts for the drive.  I always take too much, but it's better than running out!

Right now, it's time to go, so no time to carefully import images and links.  Have a fabulous week, read lots, and enjoy.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What Happens When the Awesome Wears Out?:
Lock In at Book Club

In a talk at Google headquarters, author John Scalzi explained his latest best-seller with this grounding concept -- that what interests him about technology isn't "how awesome the technology is is," but "what happens when the awesome wears out."  As when unimaginably amazing technological advances (a tiny powerful computer in your pants pocket) become so integrated into daily life that we become annoyed when it's not working right (no reception on your smartphone -- crisis!!!).

Last Friday, the high school Book Club met to discuss John Scalzi's most recent best-seller,  Lock In.  Surprisingly, even though it's a mystery thriller, none of the discussion points were even remote spoilers -- the plot wasn't the most interesting aspect of the story.

We talked about what happens when the awesome wears off, and about what happens when a former minority or "protected class" of people becomes (or appear to becomes) fully integrated and accepted members of society?  Should supports be continued to level the playing field, or has the playing field been permanently leveled?  What happens when those folks (like the people who were born Hadens and have never known any other kind of existence) choose a completely different field (in the Agora, a virtual universe for Hadens)?

We watched a couple of Scalzi's responses in the Q&A time of his talk at Google.  If you've read Lock In, did YOU notice that the main character, Chris Schayne, is nowhere in the book identified by gender?  Christopher or Christina?  I confess, I didn't notice it at all -- and revealed my dominant paradigm by making Chris male.  As the author asks in his response -- how does thinking of Chris as the other gender change your interpretation of the story?  Does it change how you see the relationships between characters?  The power dynamics?  Chris' unfortunate habit of destroying rental threeps?  If you ONLY interact with people in a form other than the one you were born in, does gender even have any significance?  Given the recent discussions in the junior high and high school of gender identity, expression and fluidity, these are relevant contemporary questions and ones I hadn't anticipated coming from a best-selling sci fi mystery.

The video should start playing at the end of the previous question.
If the embed link doesn't work, click here to view on YouTube.

Another question the author answers is about writing, and whether he'd adapted his style knowing the book would be produced simultaneously in print and as an audiobook (two audiobooks, in fact -- one with a male narrator, and one with a female narrator!)  Check out his answer at minute 37:00 in the video.

And well, just because it exists, we listened to the official Lock In theme song (honest -- the link came from the author's website)

Review on Boing Boing

Scientific American Q&A with author John Scalzi

Want more sci fi?  Try one of these from the Paideia Library . . .

The Caves of Steel  by Isaac Asimov.  Another sci-fi detective novel featuring humanoid robots.  In this one, a technology-averse human cop investigates a murder, which may or may not have been committed by a robot (against all 3 Laws of Robotics).  The film I, Robot is an adaptation of this story, blended with other Asimov robot stories.

Circuit of Heaven  by Dennis Danvers.  His parents have abandoned their bodies (and their son, Nemo) and uploaded their minds to the Bin, a deathless, disease-free cyber-utopia, leaving a dangerous and unpredictable Earth to the crazies and criminals.  Nemo vows to live and die in a real body in the real world -- until he meets Justine, a new citizen of the Bin.

The Lives of Tao  by Wesley Chu.  Roen Tan, a couch potato IT worker, becomes emergency host body to an alien secret agent working to save humanity.  Tao, the alien, has to whip Roen into super secret agent shape before it's too late.

Redshirts, another bestseller by John Scalzi.   What happens when the guys in the red shirts (you know, the ones in Star Trek standing next to Kirk, Spock, Scotty or Bones, who always get eaten, blown up or otherwise obliterated in some dumbhead move?) start to compare notes and figure out there's a pattern to their comrades' demise?

And of course, Book Club's inaugural title from 2013, Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Club Reads Into The Future

A quick news blurb came into my newsreader yesterday, saying that Ernest Cline's 1980s video-game-saturated dystopian thriller, Ready Player One, has vaulted up's sales rankings in the past 3 days, thanks to a lengthy mention in a Technology article from Tuesday's New York Times.  The article is about high-tech virtual reality developers, such as Oculus, maker of a VR headset, using science fiction as inspiration to imagine future uses for their creations.

It just so happens that Paideia's High School book club was way ahead of Oculus -- Ready Player One was our very first club choice, back in March 2013, and is still one of our favorite reads (and a 2012 Alex Award winner).  An 11th grade student asked me this week for a cumulative list of all the book club choices, which made me realize 1) I've not posted about book club in far too long, and 2) it's quite a cool list.

Today is great timing for coming full-circle with science fiction, since our upcoming book club selection for March is another virtual reality-based sci fi novel, Lock In, a 2015 Alex Award book by John Scalzi.  In about 30 years from now, a deathly epidemic caused by a previously unknown virus has wiped out huge populations worldwide.  Many people fully recovered, but many thousands were left "locked in," their bodies 100% paralyzed but their minds fully aware and functioning.  Technology rapidly developed to free "Hadens" (named after the President, whose wife was locked in) from their frozen bodies by allowing their minds to link to and control artificial bodies (ie, humanoid robots).

What's so freaky about this right now?  Today's Morning Edition has a report on an outbreak in Colombia of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which weakens victims' muscles sometimes to the point of paralysis, and is suspected to be caused by the Zika virus. Creepy when you've just read Scalzi's companion docu-story,  "Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome."

Have you ever read any science fiction that seemed a little too close to near-future reality??  Share the titles in the comments, please.

You can click to the cumulative list of all High School book club choices right here.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Month of Awesome People

It's February, and we showcase African American history this month, even though, as one of my display signs states -- Every Month is African American History Month!  Black lives, and black achievements, matter -- 24/7/365.  But just like it's nice to have a birthday that's your special day, it's nice to have a special month for showcasing the incredible history of US citizens.

This display faces the entry doors of the library (on the wall next to the Learning Specialists' room).  Can you name all 10 of these women from their accomplishments and faces?  If so, come see me -- there's a prize!

Massive thanks to elementary librarian Natalie Bernstein, from whom I nicked both the idea and the list. Check out her bulletin board over in Python Hall.

Don't know them all yet?  Click here for info on all 10!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

#1Lib1Ref, Wikipedia and Me

I love Wikipedia.  For a long time librarians were supposed to ban the online user-edited encyclopedia (maybe we still are), but man, it's just too useful.  What we have to teach our students is that, just as with all tertiary sources, researchers have to move beyond the encyclopedia's text, mine it for clues and get closer to the primary source of the information.  Just as with revenge, Wikipedia is a great place to start, but not a place to stay.

Ok, so I love Wikipedia, and here's an example of why.  At the beginning of this January short term, Catharine came in looking for books of Greek mythology.  Her class was reading Yeats' sonnet "Leda and the Swan," and Catharine wanted to find an "original" version of the myth to add to the discussion.  We headed over to the 200s "religion" area on the shelf and checked book after book in vain. The few that mentioned Leda didn't tell the story at all.  Ovid's two lines also weren't satisfactory.

As so often I do when I need context and clues for a search, I checked into good ol' Wikipedia, which has a substantial article on "Leda and the Swan," but it's all about depictions of the myth in art and poetry.  The article mentions "many versions of the story," but didn't point to any of them. I scanned the whole article, but no luck.  No links, no pointers to any actual sources for the myth. Aargh.

At the end of the second paragraph, though, the sentence "Thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and Fulgentius it was a well-known myth through the Middle Ages . . ." held the clue I needed!  I did a web search for Fulgentius and Leda, and came up with Fulgentius the Mythographer, a 1971 translation from Latin with citations and commentary, of the five known works of Fulgentius, and on page 78 begins "The Fable of the Swan and Leda."  A couple of screenshots later (we librarians have our ways to get the info to our people), and I get to present Catharine with what she'd come for.  Yippee!!

About a week later, I heard about Wikipedia's 15th Anniversary project #1Lib1Ref, which is asking librarians around the world to add one reference, a citation to a reliable source, that backs up a statement in any Wikipedia article.  Participating was a no-brainer -- I already had the goods! So as of right now, the 3rd footnote in the article (near the end of that second paragraph) is the addition of yours truly.  And a link to another source, attributed to Latin writer Hyginus, in the External Links section.  Cool, huh?

 Are you a Wikipedia fan or a skeptic?   Have you ever edited a Wikipedia article?  What do you think of the #1Lib1Ref project?  Comments welcome!