Watch Us Rise

Genre: Young Adult

Summary: Jasmine and Chelsea have always been encouraged to advocate for social justice, but when the clubs they are a part of don’t allow them to advocate for themselves and what they believe to be right, they start their own club: a blog called Write Like a Girl that allows them to speak out about the issues they face. When the club begins to make waves and the adults in their school become uncomfortable, Chelsea and Jasmine have to dig deep to discover their purpose and take bigger steps to stand up for what they believe is right.

Sensitivities: death, sexual harassment, racism, sexism

Classroom Library:  Absolutely.

Most Appropriate For: Jasmine and Chelsea are both juniors in high school. They are dealing with normal issues for this age. That being said, there is no reason that I would be worried about giving this book to sixth grade students (11-12 year olds). The only hesitation I have would be that the poetry is often abstract and may be difficult for younger readers to understand.

Enjoyability: ★★★★ (4/5)

At one point during this book, I found myself thinking “man, being friends with these girls would be exhausting.” And then I immediately thought “woah, check your privilege.” And that is what I like most about this book. It is about checking your friends, your classmates, your teachers, your parents. It is about pointing out how simple, everyday actions need to change to make the world accepting and to move us toward equality. It is a reminder that marginalized groups do not get to put down that weight. Not ever.

This book wasn’t perfect. There were times when I found the narrative and characters a little bit clunky. But those preferences in writing style are overridden by the book’s importance. Jasmine and Chelsea are two normal teenage girls: they are navigating loss, and friendship, and family, and crushes. While they’re doing this, as if trying to be a teenager isn’t challenging enough, they are also learning how to be activists and speak out for a world they know they deserve to live in. They are learning how to stand up for what they believe is right in ways that are purposeful and intentional and we get to learn with them.

This book should become an essential for everyone. Get it into the hands of the kids with a fire burning to help guide them, get it into the hands that don’t seem to be on fire quite yet to place the kindling.

Teachability: ★★★★ (4/5)
There are about several ways that I can see this book being used in the classroom, but none of them are rooted entirely in skills. It could be used as a starting point for a unit on social justice. It could be used to talk about activism. I can imagine discussions with students on the actions that Chelsea and Jasmine took that they think went well, and the actions they think could have been done with more intention.

It could be used to help students see what issue nags at them the most, as this book does an excellent job of mentioning nearly all social justice issues at one point or another.

Excerpts of chapters could work as examples of what Chelsea and Jasmine experience and how those experiences turn into blog posts or poems. Before having students turn their own experiences into blog posts or poems.

The moral of the story is that this book begs to be used with students.


Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Genre: Middle Grade / Young Adult

Summary: Genesis knows that she’s unlikable, she even has a list of 96 reasons not to like her (and counting). Her skin is too dark, she’s always smiling, she gets evicted from her house too often… the list goes on. But it’s during one of the post-eviction moves that lands Genesis in a place where she finally begins to see that part of being accepted by others is accepting yourself.

Sensitivities: Alcoholism, colorism, racism, poverty

Classroom Library: Please. Multiple Copies.

Most Appropriate For: 5th grade and up. Genesis is in middle school, which is apparent in the book, but the way the book is written it does not feel grounded in Middle School, it feels like a kid trying to find her way.

Enjoyability: ★★★★ ★ (5/5)
“I’ll tell you what beauty ain’t. It ain’t some organ hidden on the inside – no one cares about how good your heart is. And another thing, being black like me ain’t nothing to be proud about.”

I haven’t been floored by a book in awhile. The story is full of such raw, and powerful moments that Williams artfully navigates. Ultimately, Genesis Begins Again is a story of acceptance: of wanting to be accepted by others, of learning how to accept yourself, of learning that you can refuse to accept the behavior of others and love them anyway. It is also about a young black girl learning how to feel comfortable in her own skin in a world that tells her she shouldn’t. Genesis’ journey is heartbreaking, and honest. But it’s also funny, and developed, and full of references to Doctor Who. This is the story that every kid, but especially girl, and especially especially black girl, deserves to read.

Teachability: ★★★★ ★ (5/5)
I am already trying to figure out how I’m going to get enough copies of this to use with my students next year. There is so much in Genesis’ story to unpack, there is so much to discuss. I can especially see this story being used in units about change or self-acceptance, but it could also be used to discuss race, or self-advocacy. Most of all, it could be a read aloud book that can be shared with students for the joy of it. The options with this one are limitless.

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America

Genre: Young Adult (mostly contemporary)

Summary: This is a collection of short stories about young black teenagers navigating their existences.

Sensitivities: death/grief, discussion of sex, discussion of abortion

Classroom Library: Necessary.

Most Appropriate for: There are some stories that would be more appropriate for older readers, but I would put this in my middle school classroom library without questioning it.

Enjoyability: ★★★★ (4/5)

This is a powerful anthology, with a wide variety of characters and stories and situations, that explores the complexities of being black. It firmly shows that there is no one way to be. Every black child can find themselves reflected somewhere in these pages (for that matter, every child). There are stories about first love, and time travel, and trying to figure out who you are outside of your parents, and grief. These stories comment on the aspect of being black in all of these situations, whether it be overtly or indirectly. In the Introduction, Ibi Zoboi writes “my hope is that Black Enough will encourage all black teens to be their free, uninhibited selves without the constraints of being black, too black, or not black enough.” I have no question that is what the book will do.

Teachability: ★★★ (3/5)

I have no doubt that there are stories in this anthology that could easily find their way into classrooms. “Half a Moon” questions what it truly means to be family, “Samson and the Delilahs” discussion the idea of meeting expectations, “Whoa!” could be incredibly interested thrown into on historical fiction, or literature from the 1800s. But I don’t think that is truly the point of this collection. I think the point of this collection is for black children to see themselves, and all of their complexities, reflected back at them from stories in the same way that white children have been able to do for so long.

That’s it for 2018

When I really think about what was good about 2018, everything is kind of grayed out, overtaken by the fact that most of 2018 was the first year I had to exist without my grandma, who was, indisputably, the best person I got lucky enough to be so close to. This was followed closely by other thoughts of loss. It took a lot of thinking, and going through iPhone memories to remember that other things happened, that my year existed outside of that.

Here are some of the higher points:

Albums that were released in 2018:

5. Living Proof – State Champs
4. LM5 – Little Mix
3. M A N I A – Fall Out Boy
2. Love and Loathing – With Confidence
1. Youngblood – 5 Seconds of Summer

Honorable Mentions:
Shawn Mendes
Panic Vertigo (EP) – The Wrecks
Trench – twenty one pilots
Camila – Camila Cabello
Dark Horse – Devin Dawson

Albums not released in 2018 that were still important

2. Dear Evan Hansen
1. Red Pill Blues – Maroon 5

Top 5 Songs Released in 2018

Intentionally not choosing songs from the previously mentioned top albums because those albums were chosen due to how much I listened to THE WHOLE THING.

5. I Hope You’re Happy – Blue October
4. Back to You – Selena Gomez
3. Sangria Wine – Pharrell Williams and Camila Cabello
2. Birthday – All Time Low
1. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Backstreet Boys

Honorable Mentions:
Fall in Line – Christina Aguilera and Demi Lovato
Capital Letters – Hailee Steinfeld
This is America – Childish Gambino
New Light – John Mayer
Chances – Backstreet Boys (coming in hot for 2019)

Top 5 Songs Not Released in 2018

5. You Should See Me in a Crown – Billie Eilish
4. Coal Makes Diamonds – Blue October
3. Delicate – Taylor Swift
2. Smoke & Mirrors – Demi Lovato
1. End Game – Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift

Top Cover Songs of 2017

5. congratulations – Lewis Watson
4. You Should See Me in a Crown – The Wrecks
3. No Roots – 5 Seconds of Summer
2. Back to You – Our Last Night
1. Stay – 5 Seconds of Summer

2017 Concerts

5. 5 Seconds of Summer – House of Blues, Chicago
4. Harry Styles – United Center, Chicago
3. Warped Tour (The Maine, With Confidence, State Champs
2. Haunted Holidays (The Wrecks, The Maine, All Time Low) – The Rave, Milwaukee
1. 5 Seconds of Summer – Aragon Ballroom, Chicago

Honorable Mention:
Blue October – Westfair Ampitheater, Council Bluffs
Pink – Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln
5 Seconds of Summer- The Armory, Minneapolis (because every sauce show can’t be in the top 5)

On to non-music things!

Top 8 Books (because it’s 2018)

8. Chemistry – Weike Wang
7. The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
6. Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds
5. Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson
4. Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake
3. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green
2. All the Crooked Saints – Maggie Stiefvater
1. The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X.R. Pan

Honorable Mentions:
9 Days and 9 Nights – Katie Cotugno (man, I just love Cotugno)
On the Come Up – Angie Thomas (this book isn’t out until February, but
If You Come Softly – Jacqueline Woodson (this was a reread for me, but it’s a good one)

Top 5 of Life

I wrote this as moments last year, but what stood out to me about this year wasn’t specific moments but moreso themes or concepts.

Friendship: Through this year, I have solidified some adult friendships that mean a lot to me and make my life better in general. I am thankful for good friendships that have developed, and golden friendships that have continued and I hope always will.

Career: I am incredibly lucky to have a job that I love with coworkers that are supportive, generous, and intelligent and tiny humans that continue to surprise me without thoughtful, and hardworking, and kind they can be.

Babies: Two of my best friends have brought their own incredible, small humans into the world and has been so much fun watching them grow up and watching people I love get to be mothers.

Books: Sarah discovered Project Lit this year and we embarked on a journey of creating a chapter at our school and attempting to work with students toward better understanding and the checking of privilege, an it has been a great experience. Also NCTE.

Concerts: I continue to believe that concerts are one of the great unifying forces in the world and a fantastic reminder of humanity and the power of connections. Also included here is any Green Brothers book tour because they continue to be some of the best experiences I have.

Miles Morales: A smart, black boy from Brooklyn

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Summary: Miles Morales is just a normal teenager from Brooklyn trying to please his parents, do well in school, get the attention of the girl he likes, and manage being Spiderman, which isn’t always easy when his spidey-sense is alerting him to dangers he can’t see.

Sensitivities: Some violence, discussion of racism

Classroom Library: Absolutely

Most Appropriate for: older, or more advanced readers, or students that know a lot about the marvel universe. This book could be tricky for students who don’t know what they’re walking into.

Enjoyability: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Things I loved about this book: The Sijos, Jason Reynolds’ ability to add mundane details into his stories and normalize characters, the very present parents, the rich and detailed side characters. 

Things I’m struggling with: This story, is obviously, about Spiderman. Throughout the story there is a build up to the battle scene, with Miles’ Spidey sense alerting him and the way too evil history teacher. It felt like all of this build up happened and then the battle scene was 10 pages long and then it was over.

However, the more I think about this, the more I think that it’s done this way on purpose. Being Spiderman is just one part of Miles. He is also a son, and a friend, and a student, and a teenage boy trying to navigate his crush. This story tells one small period of time in his life. Once he has defeated the villain, he still has real life demons to answer to and problems of racism and discrimination that cannot be as easily defeated as the larger-than-life villain.

So while this was unsettling to me when I read it, it forced me ask myself a lot of questions and grapple with why the story was told this way and the answers make the grappling worth it.

tl;dr Jason Reynolds is masterful in his story telling. This is exactly the story Donald Glover was talking about years ago. Spiderman is just a normal, smart black kid from Brooklyn.

Teachability: ★★★ (3/5)
I can see this book being a really interesting addition to a unit about Heroes and the hero story. Examining whether Miles is truly a hero in terms of “the hero’s journey” would be interesting, especially given the arguably more heroic ending. This book could be a catalyst for an interesting discussion about what it means to be a hero. However, it may be challenging to teach without providing students with an origin story. This is included in the book, but subtly and pretty far into the story, which may create frustration for student readers.

The Internet and The Teacher: A Conundrum

I am a bit obsessed with Booktube. Booktube, for those of you who have not fallen into the black hole and love reading, is a subcategory of Youtube wherein the primary content of the Youtubers videos is, you guessed it, books.

If you are interested in how videos are made entirely about books, here is an interesting one to get you started. Plus, Ariel is top notch as far as Booktube goes.

As I’ve been watching these videos lately, a few have made me think “hm. Maybe this a thing that I could do.” This is completely ludicrous due to the fact that nothing sounds more painful to me than making a video of myself talking, but that fact aside, my immediate second thought is, “but I’m a teacher.”

Which… sounds ridiculous. I know it sounds ridiculous. But is it really?

We are told from day 1 of entering the teacher education program, and now at least weekly in standard life, that you need to be careful what you put online. Many teacher education programs go so far as to tell you to not have online profiles at all.

You can find a slew of posts about what teachers should or should not do online. Like this one that gives dos and don’ts of social media use for educators, or this one that outlines all of the potential horrors that could befall you.

But nothing is so easy as “don’t have a profile” in the 21st century. Could you take that route? Sure. But the drawbacks of choosing this are too many to name and unrealistic if you want to interact with the modern world.

A Booktuber that I used to watch avidly went through a bit of a debacle last year after her students (she’s a librarian) found her account. Now everything is on private: her Goodreads account, her Youtube Channel, her twitter. Everything. Admittedly, she was living her life realistically on these channels. She used curse words, and talked about books she read that had adult content in them.

I can understand why students stumbling upon this content would be of some concern, but where do we draw the line?

Is our obligation to keep our profiles private? Is it to decide what social media platforms  to make available to students and which are on as heavy of lockdown as the website provides? The somewhat unspoken agreement of the profession is that once you’re a teacher, you’re a teacher 24/7, so does this mean that I should refrain from using curse words in anything I post ever, even on private accounts, in the off chance that a student were to come across it? I don’t know the answer. I don’t know that anyone has an answer that is clearly and definitively The Way To Do Things.

I do not actually want to make a Youtube channel. But what if I did?

So long, 2017!

I would not, on the whole, say that 2017 was a great year for me. I love my job, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my colleagues better. My family is phenomenal. My friends are the best. But the year was somewhat unremarkable, plagued by a summer full of too much hospital and what we all thought was going to be an end to something remarkable. In the end, it turned out better than I expected. Here are some things I loved about it:

Albums that were released in 2017:

5. Flicker – Niall Horan
4. Beautiful Trauma – Pink
3. Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine
2. Harry Styles
1. Last Young Renegade – All Time Low

Honorable Mentions:
Divide – Ed Sheeran, which I enjoyed but did not adore from top to bottom
From the Outside – Hey Violet
The Search for Everything – John Mayer

Albums not released in 2017 that were still important

5.  Even if It Kills Me – Motion City Soundtrack
4. Glory Days – Little Mix
3. X – Ed Sheeran
2. Sounds Good Feels Good – 5 Seconds of Summer
1. Better Weather – With Confidence

Top 5 Songs Released in 2017

Intentionally not choosing songs from the previously mentioned top albums because those albums were chosen due to how much I listened to THE WHOLE THING.

5. Like Home – Eminem (feat. Alicia Keys)
4. Take What You Want – One OK Rock (feat. 5 Seconds of Summer)
3. Dive – Ed Sheeran
2. Most Girls – Hailee Steinfeld
1. Slow Burn – State Champs

Honorable Mentions:
Let Me Go – Hailee Steinfeld (feat. Florida Georgia Line)
I Miss You – Louis Tomlinson
It Ain’t Me – Selena Gomez
All On Me – Devin Dawson

Top 5 Songs Not Released in 2017

5. ILYSB (Stripped) – LANY
4. Medicine – Havelin
3. She Burns – Foy Vance
2. Automatic – Castro
1. Favorite Liar – The Wrecks

Top Cover Songs of 2017

5. Touch – Ed Sheeran
4. Dancing on My Own – Pentatonix
3. Girl Crush – Harry Styles
2. Green Light – All Time Low
1. Issues – Niall Horan

2017 Concerts

5. John Mayer (with LANY) – Kansas City
4. The Main (with The Mowglis and Beach Weater) – Chicago
3. State Champs (with With Confidence and Don Broco) – Chicago
2. All Time Low (with The Wrecks and two other bands) – Kansas City
1. EdCon 2k17: Ed Sheeran  (with James Blunt) -Kansas City , Des Moines, Omaha, Chicago

Honorable Mention:
Twentyone Pilots (with Jon Bellion) – Omaha

On to non-music things!

Top 7 Books (because it’s 2017?)

7. Scythe – Neal Shusterman
6. We Are Okay – Nina LaCouer
5. Brain on Fire – Susannah Cahalan
4. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
3. Turtles All the Way Down – John Green
2. The Underground Girls of Kabul – Jenny Nordberg
1. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Top 5 Stand Out Moments

5. Toby being born and managing to be unreasonably cute,  Laeken being adopted and also being unreasonably cute.

4. Adopting Breezie.

3. Turtles All the Way Down Tour, which was full of togetherness and hope for humanity and singing Sweet Caroline without the ba ba bas.

2. Getting to do an argument writing project with students that they were passionate about. Passion really changes everything.

1. Grandma being exited from Hospice, a thing that does not happen, because she’s 92 and she does what she wants.


Group Projects: The Good, the Bad, and the Ineffective

group work
Obtained from Pixabay

I’ve had group projects on my mind a lot lately. Group projects have become the driving force of both of my Master’s program classes, and have been a recent topic of conversation in school’s professional development as we work toward an instructional model that heavily features collaboration.


So what makes Group Projects work? And what makes them fall apart?

Group Projects fall apart when:

1. There isn’t a defined and obvious goal

Group projects cannot be effective if the entire group doesn’t agree with and understand the goal for the project. Simply asking a group of people to work on the same task results in everyone completing work without a sense of purpose. This is also true when the goal provided does not seem to match the task at hand. For example, if the goal is to practice having collaborative discussions but the project is to create a slideshow about an animal, the mismatch of the project and the goal can create a disconnect for the group members.

 2. Everyone thinks they have the best ideas

The give and take of true collaboration is a key component of a successful group project. If every group member comes to the project with the belief that they know best and an unwillingness to listen to others, the project will not be successful.

3. The group members are not invested in the task

Similar to a lack of a goal, if the group members do not all believe in the importance of the task or are not engaged in the task, the project will not be successful because the group members that are not invested will not feel compelled to do their part.

4. The task itself is not clear

If the task itself is not clear, group projects will not be successful. Group members will spend a majority of their time attempting to make sense of the task and what it is that they’re supposed to be doing and whether or not they are meeting the expectations of the teacher instead of focusing their efforts on a cohesive project.


Group Projects are successful when:

1. All group members have a clear role to fulfill

In successful group projects, every group member has a specific role. Whether these roles are self-chosen, or whether they are assigned by the teacher does not matter. Older group members may naturally fall into roles without needing to specifically define them, however, roles give each group member clear tasks and expectations. The roles below are examples of how to divide tasks up for a project to give each group member a specific job to do.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 2.27.28 PM
Obtained from Teacher’s Notebook

2. There are mini-deadlines in place to keep the project on track

Projects are often packaged in a big-picture, final-product format. However, by creating deadlines along the way groups are much more likely to be successful because the task is broken down into smaller, manageable parts.

3. The project is relevant to all group members

Buy-in from all group member is essential for a successful project. Allowing for some element of choice can make this more likely, as well as clear goals and expectations.

4. There is a purpose for doing the project as a group

It is also essential that a group project clearly necessitates being done as a group. If the project could just as easily or more-easily be done independently, the group project will not reach it’s potential. Group projects are necessary when the project clearly requires varying perspectives, or when the learning is new or difficult and is made more accessible to learners when done with the assistance of other students. If the reason for the work being done in a group format is not clear, members will be resistant to working together.

Group projects have the potential to enhance learning and make the experience better for everyone involved if done with careful attention to detail. As teachers, it is our responsibility to show students the benefits of getting to work with other learners, so it is our responsibility to attend to the details and create a positive experience for them.

“Working with other people just makes you smart, that’s proven.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda

What is the purpose of Global Collaboration?

Global Collaboration is becoming a bit of a buzz word in Education, or at least in the EdTech corner of the world. As with any buzz word, it runs the risk of becoming a box educators want to check off as something they have done to keep up with the trends. But what does it really mean? What purpose should it serve in our classrooms?

In her video entitled “Global Narratives Part I”, Julie Lindsey, author of The Global Educator, includes this quote from Al Gore: “We are witnessing the birth of the world’s truly global civilization. Rather than being places where students learn about the world, schools are becoming places where students learn with the world.”

This quote stood out to me because of Gore’s notion that students are learning with the world. Although Global Collaboration, as noted in the Global Connection Taxonomy below, can begin with connections inside the classroom, and can reach as a far as a global student to student connection that is managed by the students themselves.

Global Connection Taxonomy
Lindsay, J., Davis, V. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds:  Move to global collaboration one step at a time. Chicago: Pearson Publishing.

So if the connection itself does not need to be far reaching, the purpose of the project or task itself somehow needs to represent a global connection. Students need to utilize the project in some way to become more aware of the world around them and the experiences, beliefs, thoughts, and lives of people who are different from them. For example, the Global Read Aloud project allows students to discuss a book with people from across the world that are different from them. They are able to see how someone else might read the same book as them and have different thoughts about it based on their life experiences.

Although working with someone in another class, or another state, or another country on a task that requires students to work on a project together may technically be global collaboration, this type of project does not require students to learn about the experiences and lives of those that are different from them. To me, Global Collaboration would be more useful in a project that requires students to answer a question, such as “What is family?” or “What is adversity?” because this project would allow them to learn about the differences between their lives and the lives of the students that they are working with.

Although any type of collaboration is a good experience for students, it seems worth a second consideration when creating a global collaboration project to make sure that students are truly having a global experience that raises their awareness of the world.

Global Collaboration vs. Curriculum

I come to the idea of Global Collaboration with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. It’s something I’ve always been interested in but wasn’t able to wrap my head around completely. As my building begins its journey to become an International Baccalaureate school, a program that emphasizes global learning, it’s been on my radar a bit more lately.

Then, my building’s librarian told us about a new website, PenPalSchool, which allowed kids to participate in a project and interact with students around the world. We chose the “World Exploration” project. The kids were thrilled, I was excited to give them an engaging and purposeful way to work on their writing, and it had easy and obvious connections to other content areas.

I quickly realized that this was not a spur of the moment activity if we truly wanted to make use of it.

Once the project started, my kids were put into a group of about 4 other pen pals. For most of these groups, there was one student from another country. Then, each week they were given a topic to focus on: History, Food, Pop Culture, Art and Literature, and Daily Life. Everything sounded like it was going to be a great experience.

The problems arose when I realized there was no way to do this program justice and create the kind of learning that it was capable of when I only have 60 minute class periods and the topics essentially asked for a research project to be completed each week for it to be beneficial. We also discovered inconsistency in how teachers from other schools were expecting their students to use the website.

It has been a somewhat frustrating experience that did not turn out at all how I wanted it to.

Looking, however, at the RWLD, I noticed several ways that I could use Global Collaboration more effectively in the future. The Global Read Aloud, as well as Classroom Bridges, would allow for Global Collaboration projects that would fit better into the existing curriculum that I am expected to follow.

These projects would allow standards and class content to still be taught within the framework of the project. I could focus on standards on writing, or

I look forward to learning more about Global Collaboration and how to fit it into the classroom.