August 31, 2014

Happenings in Hodgensville: Instagram

Happenings in Hodgensville is me sharing a piece of my non-reading self with you. It's usually related to what's happening in my classroom or my sharing my latest StitchFix with you.

Today, I want to talk Instagram in a secondary classroom. I received an email asking me for tips on how to use it in a secondary classroom, and I responded. I decided then to create a blog post about it as well.

Use Instagram in my secondary classroom?! Absolutely.

I love social media for a lot of reasons, but most especially for the way I am able to communicate with my students.

Instagram is something I love using. Pictures tell stories on many levels. I use my account to share a bit of myself, my classroom, my interests, etc. While some have very focused accounts, mine is a bit of a hodgepodge of life. 

If you’re on Instagram and are a secondary teacher, you’ve probably noticed that there seems to be an absence of us. There are some of us sharing what we do in our classrooms, but there could be more.

If you’re on the fence on using Instagram to enhance your own classroom, let me share a few ways I use it for my students.
  1. Create a hashtag for your students to follow. For my kids I use #hodgensap, #hodgens12, #hodgensmyth. The hashtags allow students to not have to follow you, but can see how you celebrate your classroom.
  2. Selfie with your students and other teachers. It allows students to see that you understand the point of selfies, and it models for them how to do it in a constructive way. I will have students who will ask me, “Are you going to put me on your Instagram?!” It excites some. But before I take a selfie with a student, I ask, “Do you mind this going on Instagram?” I will have an occasional student say yes.
  3. Share classroom happenings - last year I took a picture of my midterm review sheet and posted it on Instagram with the class hashtag. I had several students tell me they thought that was cool. And it shows them how we can use Instagram for pictures of more than just ourselves, and our food.
  4. Take humorous pictures of yourself. If I’m feeling overwhelmed with grading, or if I’m having a rough day, I will day a selfie and post it with my class hashtag. This allows them to see that I can have a sense of humor, even on my roughest days.
  5. Take pictures of students working in groups - I try to get them when they are looking down. I have to remind them to “not look” while I’m taking pictures. But it lets them, and their parents, see what they’re doing in class…and how comical some of their faces become when they’re working really hard.
  6. Take pictures of student work that is impressive…and not so impressive. I like to make collages of projects my students complete and post it to Instagram. It gives students a defined sense of self in a new way; I’m not just hanging their work in the hall but sharing it on social media because I am proud of the work they put into their assignments.
  7. Relax. Have fun. Be yourself.
I don’t have all the answers, but I hope the above tips help nudge you to start using it too.

Do you use Instagram for your students? If so, share tips below you would like to add to my list.

Happy Teaching!

          - The Hodgenator

August 16, 2014

Happenings in Hodgensville - Pinning

Happenings in Hodgensville is me sharing a small piece of myself with you—sometimes it will be classroom related and sometimes just a, “Hey! Here is what is happening in my life right now” post.

Today I'm writing about pinning.

This summer I was fortunate enough to work with a lot of teachers to help them challenge their students’ reading, writing, and thinking skills. What I learned while working with these teachers is that several are not on Pinterest.

I was surprised because I just assumed that everyone was on and using it to help them with classroom ideas.

This is not the case.

So, I want to make a case for using Pinterest in your classroom.

First, I call Pinterest a place of magic. A lot happens there—it is not just a place to “pin” things. It is an inspiration. I use Pinterest to pin all kinds of decorating ideas, style ideas, and classroom ideas.

I also can share my love of books, Marilyn Monroe, Star Wars, and more…

But here is how I use it to help me grow as a teacher.

1.    I have a board titled “Hodgensville.” This is what I call my classroom, so when I see something that may inspire something I want to do in my classroom—from decorating to seating arrangements to handouts—I pin it to this board.

2.    No matter if I have taught something for fifteen years or am about to teach something for the first time, I turn to Pinterest first. I search for what I am teaching, and I scroll through ideas. Any that I really like, I “pin” for later use.

3.    Confession: I hate teaching poetry. I have never enjoyed reading and studying it. I struggle with the idea of rhythm in poetry. With senior English, I have no choice but to teach it. (I can get away with not teaching it in AP Lang since we are a non-fiction class.) So, I turned to Pinterest for ideas on how to help me bring it to my classroom (1) without torturing myself and (2) engaging my students. Through Pinterest, I found a great YouTube video that teaches students how to properly use TP-CASTT. I found two different version of TP-CASTT to use with my students. This inspired me to teach TP-CASTT to my students using Dr. Seuss books. I broke them into groups of three, had one read the book to them while the other two worked through TP-CASTT together. This allowed students to practice the strategy without overloading them with “scary” language and gave them a foundation to use TP-CASTT on an assigned poem.

4.    With Pinterest, I don’t have to “bookmark” everything and then lose it when my browser updates, which has happened a few times. I know I have an idea pinned on my Hodgensville board, so it does not take me long to find it.

5.    It gives me a common language with my students. They are social media mavens. They use social media for so many things. The first time I ever mentioned Pinterest, they were surprised I knew what it was. I told them, “I was on Pinterest back when it was new and no one really knew what it was.” That always surprises them—and it allows me to appear hip and tech savvy in a world where being those two things at my age are getting more difficult.

6.    Pinterest really is a place of amazing professional development. Many of us have joked about earning PD credit because we spend so much time on the site, but truly, it is a site that I find so much inspiration and new ideas and development, that it really should be considered PD.

How many of you are on Pinterest? How do you use it in your classroom/PD?

Leave a comment below and let’s talk about what inspires us as educators, what helps us grow our craft? Pinterest is just one small and simple example.

Happy Teaching!

     - The Hodgenator

Review: Still Point

It has been a while since I’ve blogged about anything—between teaching workshops for two weeks before school started to surviving back to school, I have been pooped.

But, I am back. And I am reviewing the final novel in one of my favorite YA dystopian series.

Title: ‘Still Point’
Author: Katie Kacvinsky
Pages: 345
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Available: September 2
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the final installment to the trilogy begun with "Awaken, " Maddie returns home to make her final stand against Digital School, and uncovers deeply guarded secrets about her family an new truths about herself.

My Thoughts:

‘Awaken’ is one of my favorite dystopian novels for teens—it reflects a world they currently live in a hyperbolic way. It is one of the few dystopian novels I’ve read where I thought, “I can see this in twenty years.” So, I am a fan of Kacvinsky’s writing and world-building.

With the final installment of the series, I was a bit surprised. But in a good way.

Maddie returns home and agrees to abide by her father’s rules, as long as he is home.

But the world is crumbling around them, and Digital School is in danger of being toppled. Maddie’s father is in the center of it; after all, he is the founder of DS. This gives his character a reason to be absent, and a way for readers to see a relationship between Maddie and her mother.

This whole series has focused on the strain between Maddie and her dad—so it was refreshing to have mom step in instead. A lot of times I do not enjoy parents being involved in YA tales because they tend to get in the way of the storytelling. That is not the case in this novel. It offers a softness to the hard, technological world in which people are living.

While Maddie is living home and fighting DS in her own way, I must not forget the other half of her heart. Justin.

Oh Justin. He is heartbroken that Maddie left without saying goodbye, but she has his heart. He is a fighter, not just against DS but FOR Maddie.

That is about all I feel I can say without giving away any important plot points.

Kacvinsky brings her series full circle with a satisfying ending. She builds on Maddie’s character development, and it is refreshing to see Maddie grow on her own, on her own terms.

If you have read ‘Awaken’ and ‘Middle Ground,’ you have to read ‘Still Point.’ The final showdown against DS happens; but be warned: there are prices to pay when something greater is at stake.

There is no ‘Allegiant-style’ ending here—but I still needed a few tissues.

Do I recommend this book?

Absolutely! This is one of my favorite dystopian series—and I reference ‘Awaken’ a lot when I work with teachers and with students. This series is one of the dystopian series that will open a lot of discussion into a classroom because some students are already living a life very close to what is being portrayed.

Let’s talk about books—what’s your favorite dystopian novel/series?
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator
July 5, 2014

Review: Divergent Thinking

I am a huge fan of Roth's series, so when I received an email asking if I was interested in reviewing this book, I jumped at the opportunity.

Title: ‘Divergent Thinking’
Editor: Leah Wilson
Pages: 256
Publisher: Smart Pop
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: BenBella Books

Summary (from Goodreads):

Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy (DivergentInsurgentAllegiant) has captured the hearts and thoughts of millions of readers. In Divergent Thinking, YA authors explore even more of Tris and Tobias’ world, including:

� What Divergent’s factions have in common with one of psychology’s most prominent personality models
� The biology of fear: where it comes from and how Tris and the other Dauntless are able to overcome it
� Full-page maps locating all five faction headquarters and other series landmarks in today’s Chicago, based on clues from the books
� Plus a whole lot more, from why we love identity shorthand like factions to Tris’ trouble with honesty to the importance of choice, family, and being brave

With a dozen smart, surprising, mind-expanding essays on all three books in the trilogy, 
Divergent Thinking provides a companion fit for even the most Erudite Divergent fan.
My Thoughts:

I was surprised not by how much I enjoyed reading the essays in this book but by how applicable I can make them in my classroom. As an AP Language teacher, I am always looking for interesting non-fiction pieces, especially ones that connect to YA, and this book definitely meets those standards.

This book covers a lot of interesting questions, several focusing on how factions work not just in the series but in life as well. We naturally “faction” ourselves off, and the authors explore and connect how “factions” define who we are as people as well as how they define the characters in the series. This was one of my favorite things to read throughout the book.

I really enjoyed several things about this book, and I can see teachers using excerpts of these essays within their own classes. You do not need to read the series to use the material, but it will help. Most of your students will probably be familiar with the series/film at the very least.

Ideas explored in the essays include connecting the factions to pop culture (Hogwarts/Star Wars/Batman/Superman), the “Big 5” of psychology, mapping out of the factions in Chicago, a mother/daughter conversation about choices that can be made again, bravery, fear as a biological response (cross-curricular with science teacher), etc.

The essays are wide-ranging, do not need to be read in order, and really are just an interesting look at the series.

Do I recommend this book?

I would recommend this book for the die-hard Divergent series fan and/or English teacher looking to bring something interesting into the classroom. With common core, I hear a lot of teachers looking for non-fiction ideas. This would be a great addition.

What's been your favorite non-fiction read lately? Share below. I am always looking for books to add to me TBR pile.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator
July 3, 2014

Review: Sinner

I am such a fan of Stiefvater's world-building. She creates solid stories with solid characters thrust into interesting worlds. For her latest novel, world-building happens in an interesting way because the world is already there: Los Angeles; however, she creates a microcosm of L.A. that will keep readers turning the page.

If you have not read the Mercy Falls trilogy, it's okay. Stiefvater fills holes in for readers as needed, but my guess is that if you read this first, you will want to go back and read that series just to see where Stiefvater started with Cole and Isabel versus where she takes them in this novel.

Title: ‘Sinner’
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 368
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

A standalone companion book to the internationally bestselling Shiver Trilogy.

Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole's story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole's darkest secret -- his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel's life. Can this sinner be saved?

My Thoughts:

First, let me say that I read this book in a single sitting—I was that captivated by the story. But I wasn't sold from page one.

As the novel opens, readers are in a car with Cole, who is doing a live radio interview via cell phone. During this interview we meet Leon, the man who has been charged with driving Cole to his destination—and who becomes one of Cole's best allies in the novel. While the interview was not compelling, the moment Cole steps out of the car to walk to his destination, I was curious. Curious to see how Stiefvater was going to unfold this story.

And I was surprised. I was—because at first I didn't think I was going to like this novel. I went into it thinking, “Hey, I really enjoy Stiefvater's writing, and the cover is kinda cool, so I want to give this novel a chance.” But when I got to that opening, I was convinced that this novel was not going to be for me.

I was wrong (not the first time; won't be the last).

So, if you open the novel and see that interview and think, “I don't know if I'm going to like this,” keep going. It is worth it.

This story is told in duel narration with Cole and Isabel, and I liked this approach. It broke up the monotony a little, especially when Cole was being a bit too wild or Isabel was being a bit too, well, Isabel.

Cole sold this story for me. He is a character on the brink of re-fueling his career, finding love, fighting the wolf inside him. But this story isn't about Cole the wolf. It is about Cole the musician; Cole the man; Cole the friend; Cole in love.

Cole the wolf does make a few appearances—and I won't spoil the why. But let me say that it is cleverly woven into the storytelling.

Cole has come to Los Angeles for one reason, and one reason only: Isabel. He wants her in his life, but he is scared of what he will find when he reunites with her.

Stiefvater doesn't make us wait either. The reunion happens early in the text because this reunion is what sets the stage for the rest of the story.

While Cole is trying to re-start his career via a reality show, readers will find Isabel living with her mom, aunt, and cousin and working for a fashion designer. Isabel is sharp-tongued, and she has some of the best lines in the novel. Isabel is as lost as Cole, but she hides it a bit better. She has started her studies to become a doctor, but her parents are on the brink of divorce, and this eats at her soul. The chip on Isabel's shoulder is a heavy one, and it is going to take a lot for it to be chipped away.

If anyone can do it, it's Cole.

What I loved about this book is how Cole and Isabel's characters are weaved nicely together as a couple but also as individuals. They both have their own interests and pursuits in life, and they both go for them. But they also celebrate what makes each of them so wonderful, and this is honesty on a page.

There are minor characters of note in the novel that contributed to my enjoyment, but two stood out the most as my favorites.

There's Baby, the producer of the reality show, was a bit cagey for me, but of course she is meant to be. She tries to pull fast ones on Cole several times, but he turns the tables on her and her show, and it is fantastic.

And then there's Leon. He is my absolute favorite character in the novel. We meet Leon at the beginning because he is the man charged with driving Cole to his destination. Leon becomes an important figure in the story, not for his driving skills but for the friendship he develops with Cole. Leon is Cole's voice of reason, the guidance that Cole needs to help him stay focused on his life goals. I just want to hug Leon. He should have his own story.

There is an epilogue that takes readers into a chunk of the future to see if Cole and Isabel achieved their dreams together, separately, or at all.

I think on that note, this is the time to stop because I am afraid I will give away key points in the story, and I really don't want to spoil anything for you.

Do I recommend this book?

I absolutely do. I read this book in one sitting because I really wanted to see where Stiefvater would take Cole and Isabel, and I was most curious to see how she would tie it all together.

What's been your favorite read lately? Share below. I am always looking for books to add to me TBR pile.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

June 22, 2014

Review: Conversion

Fact: If I see a YA novel that deals with the Salem Witch Trials in any way, I am going to read it. I love a good witchy read, but most especially a read dealing with this time period, so when I saw that not only was there a YA novel dealing with one of my favorite subjects but also was written by Katherine Howe, I may have squeed a little.

I went into this novel with the idea that I was going to really enjoy it. And guess what? I did.

Title: ‘Conversion’
Author: Katherine Howe
Pages: 432
Publisher: Putnam Juveline
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Penguin First-to-Read

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane comes a chilling mystery—Prep meets The Crucible.

It’s senior year at St. Joan’s Academy, and school is a pressure cooker. College applications, the battle for valedictorian, deciphering boys’ texts: Through it all, Colleen Rowley and her friends are expected to keep it together. Until they can’t.

First it’s the school’s queen bee, Clara Rutherford, who suddenly falls into uncontrollable tics in the middle of class. Her mystery illness quickly spreads to her closest clique of friends, then more students and symptoms follow: seizures, hair loss, violent coughing fits. St. Joan’s buzzes with rumor; rumor blossoms into full-blown panic.

Soon the media descends on Danvers, Massachusetts, as everyone scrambles to find something, or someone, to blame. Pollution? Stress? Or are the girls faking? Only Colleen—who’s been reading
The Crucible for extra credit—comes to realize what nobody else has: Danvers was once Salem Village, where another group of girls suffered from a similarly bizarre epidemic three centuries ago...

Inspired by true events—from seventeenth-century colonial life to the halls of a modern-day high school—
Conversion casts a spell. With her signature wit and passion, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe delivers an exciting and suspenseful novel, a chilling mystery that raises the question, what’s really happening to the girls at St. Joan’s?

My Thoughts:

I am always looking for YA novels to tie into what I teach in my classroom. It helps me establish “street cred” with my kids, that what we do in the classroom does spill into other parts of the world. Especially when it comes to YA. After all, if writers find ideas to be important enough to make a YA novel out of it, then it must be important. Right?

This book is a perfect tie-in to my teaching 'The Crucible.'

The Goodreads description says this book is 'The Crucible' meets 'Prep,' and I'm cannot comment on that because I've never read 'Prep.' What I can say is that I really enjoyed this book.

For me, Howe wove together a masterful tale of contemporary issues and a confession of truth. Between each chapter is the tale of Ann Putnam, the only girl from the Salem Witch Trials time to actually publicly apologize (according to all of the research I have done), so while readers are thrust into a mystery, Howe unravels a historical one for readers.

While the center of the story revolves around what is making the girls fall ill, the secret element sprinkled throughout is a mystery of another kind, one that ties back to Salem Village during a time when witches and witchcraft were a real threat. Is that what is happening now, or is there something else at work?

And the same question remains the same between the two interwoven time periods: are the girls faking?

Colleen is the star of the novel, and I really enjoyed her character. She is on the hunt for the truth, and there are a lot of truths throughout. She is on the hunt to find puzzle pieces and to place them in the right form. She wants to uncover the truth before she becomes the next one to fall.

Howe does not keep readers engaged in one story but in several. There are stories juggling throughout, and I thought that really spoke to Howe understand the life of a teen. Teens do not worry about a single element—they worry about family, friends, grades, college, future, etc. These are all of the things that readers will see Colleen juggle as she tries to sift through it all for truth.

Usually in children/tween/YA novels, parents are a tricky business to write. Frankly, sometimes they just get in the way of the storytelling. Not the case in this novel. They are essential to Howe's purpose. As a high school teacher, I have seen, heard, and experienced a lot from parents. I felt that Howe was honest in her portrayal of parental reaction to the events affecting their children, their accusations toward the school as a result, etc.

I enjoyed Howe's characterization of stress. You read that correctly. Stress. Report after report says that teen stress is at an all time high, and Howe puts the students of St. Joan's into a pressure that is ready for an explosion of epic proportions.

Does that sound familiar?

Do I recommend this book?

Enthusiastically! I recommend this book to any reader who enjoys historical fiction, witchy themes, the Salem Witch Trials, 'The Crucible.'

I also recommend this novel to anyone who remembers the events that inspired the writing of this novel because Howe takes a very interesting approach to explain the unexplainable.

Share your favorite witchy read below. I am always looking for new, interesting ones to read.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator


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