2011 – My year in books

Just a recap of the books I read this year in the order I read them. Maybe you’ll see something that strikes a spark in you. Some of these were educational, but most were recreational. No matter what you read, it will make your brain muscles grow!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand — Biography of Louis Zamperini, Olympian and WWII POW survivor. Fantastic read and very descriptive of life in a Japanese prison camp.

Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson — Last of the Dragon Tattoo books. Heard of them? 😉

The River Why by David James Duncan — Life as a fly fisherman, a dream of mine.

Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin — Behind the scenes of the 2008 presidential election. Perfect book to read as the 2012 election is upon us.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby — Like most Hornby books, life is full of complicated relationships and good music. If you liked High Fidelity and About a Boy, you’ll enjoy this one.

Best American Travel Writing 2010 — Good book, full of travel stories from a variety of publications. The Best American series puts out some great books each year.

Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson — I saw Halverson give a keynote at a conference and then bought/read the book. This is an exceptional read for anyone interested in some big picture thinking about how schools have changed over the past century and how they need to change. Absolutely loved this book.

Bite Me by Christopher Moore — Moore’s tales are wild and bizarre and this one fits that mold. Love and war among vampires and their strange entourage.

Manhunt by James Swanson — This is the story of the assassination of President Lincoln and the hunt for his killers. If you love history, this is a book for you. This is a real page turner and not some stuffy historical text. It will also lead you to great appreciation of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Ireland by Frank Delaney — Story telling is a wonderful Irish tradition and this book shares many Irish tales to explain the history of Ireland. Read this while on vacation in Ireland in June. Aside from the Irish history, it is a great story of family relationships.

Straight Man by Richard Russo — The politics and lunacy of life as a professor. My wife is a professor and this book certainly resembles some of the humorous stories she tells about colorful campus characters.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo — Those Scandinavians are good at writing creepy crime novels and this is one of them. If you liked the Larsson books, this one ought to be on your list.

The Passage by Justin Cronin — 800+ pages of creepy dystopian awesome. Super vampirical creatures from the jungles of South America nearly decimate the population of the earth. Small bands of humans learn to survive and eventually make progress toward bringing down the bad guys. It’s like a Stephen King story starring the alien creatures from Predator. This book is already being made into a movie and I can’t wait for the second book to be published within the next year.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes — This quite possibly is the best book I’ve ever read. This is a fictional account (but based on true events) of Marlantes’ time as a soldier in the Vietnam War. It is unimaginable what these young men were asked to do in this war. Beyond just war stories, this is a story of humanity. No wonder so many soldiers came home from this war, but could hardly be called survivors. If you only picked one book from this list, this would be the one.

Results Now by Mike Schmoker — Want to make an immediate positive impact on your classroom and school? Then read this book. More than just theory, you’ll learn concrete doable strategies to make you a better educator.

Readicide: How schools are killing reading and what you can do about it by Kelly Gallagher — This should be required reading for every educator. In this age of accountability we sometimes lose sight of the fact that reading should be an enjoyable (but still challenging) activity. This book isn’t just a scolding about poor teaching practices. You’ll also learn what you can do to be a better teacher.

The Hunger Games triology by Suzanne Collins — Read these books before the movie comes out this spring. Once I started the first book, The Hunger Games, I gave up sleep until I finished it and the other two (Catching Fire and Mockingjay).

Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world by Heidi Hayes Jacobs — This was a book I assigned to my students in a grad class I teach and see the video book report we made. This is a great read for anyone who wants to be a change agent in the reformation of schools. You can also find author Jacobs on Twitter.

Best American Sports Writing 2011 — Sports are played and enjoyed by real people, and this collection of articles will make you laugh, curse, and cry. I look forward to the release of this anthology every year. The book is filled with many amazing stories but my favorites would be “The Courage of Jill Costello” by Chris Ballard and “Gentling Cheatgrass” by Sterry Butcher. The stories are quite different as Costello was a coxswain on a crew team, and Cheatgrass is a mustang.

Hope you picked up some ideas for material to add to your “gotta read” list. Would also love to hear from you about your faves from this past year.

Your life is happening right now

Your life is happening right now and this is the only moment you can control. This is the only minute that really matters. If you are constantly dwelling on something that happened in the past or feeling anxious about the future, you are missing out on YOUR LIFE. Do what makes you happy in this moment and your life will be full.

The quote above is from Jill Costello who was featured in an article written by Chris Ballard for Sports Illustrated. Ms. Costello was a coxswain for the University of California’s crew team and her battle with cancer was documented by Mr. Ballard. You absolutely need to read the article in order to understand the life of Jill and to put her quote in true context.

Her zen-like message would be relevant for any person from any profession, but it certainly spoke to me as a father, husband, and educator. Today is the only day we can control, so enjoy it. Don’t worry about the mistakes of the past, as there is nothing you can do about it. If you screwed up, just ask for forgiveness. Whether that forgiveness is granted is beyond your control. Don’t fret too much about the future. Make good decisions and treat people right TODAY. If you do that, the future will take care of itself. Life, your life, takes place each day. Be fully present for it.

Oui! Another magnifique use of YouTube

After recently starting to use YouTube as a means of communication for my school, I’ve been looking for other schools/educators doing the same. Below is an excellent example (excellent is actually an understatement) of how to use YouTube to reach students and other teachers. Sylvia Duckworth is a French teacher in Toronto, Canada and has put together some excellent videos that have compiled more than 500,000 views. That’s right, more than a half million views of her videos. While I don’t speak much French (so sorry Madame Farrell, my beloved late French teacher!), these videos are very engaging and make the subject matter a lot of fun. After you watch the trailer vid below, be sure to go to her channel to see everything else she’s posted.

In addition to Madame Duckworth’s YouTube channel, please check out the other resources she has made available to the world at her blog.

Another YouTube for schools post

After posting my own school’s YouTube video for communicating with families, I’ve heard from a couple other schools who use YouTube. Here are some examples:

Dave Meister (@phsprincipal) shares some wise words with parents of his students about social media and appropriate use.

DRS-HALB Yeshiva High School (@dovemerson and @natanfarber) uses YouTube to share school events. I would think this is very much appreciated by parents who weren’t able to attend these events, and fun for students to watch to relive some good memories.

Using YouTube to communicate with school families

This isn’t necessarily the most interesting video in the world, but just wanted to share an example of how we’ve started to branch out in our school’s communication with families. As a parent of school age kids myself, sometimes it’s too easy to quickly delete an email that only highlights a list of dates. We hope that these videos convey important information in a more memorable way. I also know that my two co-hosts really enjoy making them and they get good speaking practice (a natural talent for them). I told them to remember where they got their start when they become news anchors or late night talk show hosts.

We’ve just ventured into these video announcements and we’ll get better with them. I see that I overlooked the fact that Photo Booth gives us a reverse image. If your school uses YouTube as a communication tool, please drop me a tweet, email, or comment. I’d love to see what is working for you.

Be warned, brain growth is a common side effect

More and more educators are connecting to the interwebs these days in an effort to increase their knowledge and skills. Whether it’s via Twitter, news/blog readers, or social bookmarking, I’m very happy to see more educators discovering the world beyond their own classrooms and offices. The blogosphere just keeps gets bigger and more diverse. There are thousands of blogs out there with fantastic information from educators; more than I could ever hope to summarize and list. The ones below stand out to me because of the way they make you pause and think about education. Give your brain a good workout and read a few posts from these sites.

Dangerously Irrelevant — brought to you by Scott McLeod — Dr. McLeod is at the forefront of challenging school leaders to keep their schools and themselves relevant.

Hacked Education from Audrey Watters — The world of technology for education changes quickly, so put yourself at the edge of the crowd to understand these changes.

Cognitive Interfund Transfer from Brad Saron — Brad is a school superintendent and is a big-time ed thinker in a small Wisconsin school district.

Shifted Learning from John Pederson and Julia Fallon — Pederson is the Mayor of the Internet and Julia is the Baroness of Bacon. Strengthen your synapses by listening to the podcasts on this site.

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension by Pernille Ripp — Put yourself inside the mind of a compassionate and creative classroom teacher.

Curriculum 21, a video book report

Below is a video book report from the book Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. This video was created by the students in the grad program I teach through the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. The editing and production is a little rough, but the point was to have fun while learning the content of the book. Plus, my students learned a practice that they could put to use with their own students. Videos were shot on iPads and then edited in iMovie.

Part 1

Part 2

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

I’ve spent hours putting together presentations to share with educators about how Twitter would be beneficial to them. In pure genius fashion, Marc-Andre Lalande made the video below that perfectly explains Twitter for educators in just a few minutes. Please put this video in front of someone you think may benefit from the almighty Twitter.