Week 1 Community Building

I know that there are really two lasting things I want to do in my classroom: 1) help every student become a life-long reader, and 2) help my students build a community. With my freshmen especially, I really work on this second one. There are only a couple teachers they all have, and I’m fortunate enough to be one of them. They also are going to be with each other for 4 years, so they should work from the outset at making those 4 years fantastic.

So for the first week, I have them sit somewhere new each day, helping them just get to know each other a little bit. I put their directions on the screen for when they walk into the room.

Day one: “Without talking, seat yourselves in alphabetical order.” I don’t tell them if I mean by first name or last name. I don’t tell them where to start (my room is in table groups, so this is a hurdle to them). I don’t tell them how to communicate. I also don’t remind them that all of their names are inside their agenda books which they received the day before at orientation and are required to bring to every class.

Because we have students come from many different schools (of our 28 freshman, the largest number from any one school is 6), they have to find ways to communicate. Something pretty cool happens when their voices are taken away. They don’t just go to those whom they know. They’re all in this together, immediately.

Day two: “Sit with the person you got to know for HW. Didn’t get to know someone? You have until the bell rings.” Their HW at the end of day one is to find someone they didn’t go to school with last year and find out 4 things: their name, where they went to school in 8th grade, their favorite book of all-time, and the last book they read and enjoyed. I purposely don’t give them class time for this. It’s up to them to find someone and talk with them in the halls, at lunch, or exchange e-mail addresses or phone numbers.

Our students live far apart (up to 50 miles away from each other), but they also are going to be friends and study partners for the next 4 years. They have to find ways to make this work. Also, when we then do quick introductions the next day, I get the information I want: what books do they like, and have they read any good ones recently? The student who says their favorite book is one that came out in the past year is a reader. The one who says their favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar is either testing me about picture books, the class clown, or hasn’t read a book in years. Perhaps all three. Regardless, this is good for me to know, and also helps them connect as a class.

Day 3: “Sit with someone who’s read your favorite book or whose favorite book you have read.” This gets them thinking back to the previous day and the favorite book conversation. It forces them to talk, and to connect about books. One of my classes even went so far as to move tables together so they could all sit together, as they found they had so many books in common already. Yet in no class had they all read any single student’s favorite book.

This also ties into the grammar instruction I like to sneak in for the first couple weeks: apostrophes and possessives. Pronouns get weird with these concepts, and I want to help my students avoid who’s/whose and it’s/its confusions in their writing.

Day 4 this week was different. Every quarter, my school does what’s called “Stop and Drop.” “Stop and Drop” is a half day for the students where they focus on test prep. We do things like take practice ACT/SAT, have a couple classes about specific skills for those tests, or anything else that doesn’t fit into our normal curricula. For the freshmen, they had quick lessons on note taking, test taking, and stress reduction techniques.

We had a few extra minutes in one of my sessions with them, so I asked them what they liked about our school so far. One of their answers made me wonder if all the community-building I put into our first week was really worth it:
“I like how when we got on the bus on the first day, we didn’t just sit there in silence because we didn’t know each other. Whenever people got on, everyone said ‘hi’ and smiled and we all got to know each other.”

I asked if that was the case on the other bus (we have two buses). They said yes, it was.

These kids get it. It’s going to be a great year :-)

On Presenting

Last week, my school had their week of professional development before the start of classes. I was privileged enough to present two short sessions: one with a coworker on positive relationships, and one on Google Drive to our entire staff.

It was thrilling.

It was just what I needed to prepare for the school year — getting in front of a room of people, and helping them learn a thing.

Of course, it was also quite different from what I do with students. In my stats class, for example, I work with 24 students who come from different backgrounds, who are entering different professions, and who have varying interest and abilities in statistics. I work with them one on one to help each of them find success.

In presenting to my faculty, I have several teachers who come from different backgrounds, but all in the same profession, with similar interest in if not the same ability level in teaching. The presentation style is markedly different.

Not to mention they’re adults.

But it was a lot of fun. And I can’t wait for the chance to do it again.

Year 2; Year 9

Tomorrow is a pretty awesome day, and I’m incredibly excited. At my school, we offer what we call Summer Boot Camp. This is a chance for any student who would like to to come in for a couple hours a day for three days for some focused instruction on any specific areas. So if a student wants to get a little more attention in math, for example, before the school year starts, they can do that. It helps any student who would like it have an extra push before the school year starts.

I’m teaching the English boot camp, and it begins tomorrow. This is the first official teaching capacity I will have with our new students.

It’s here. My second year at this school. My ninth year teaching. It’s upon us. I am both ready and completely not ready — as is always the case, it seems.

But beyond anything, I am excited. HERE WE GO!

Student Interview with Jeff Anderson

Today on the blog, I am glad to share with you a 5-question interview between Joe — one of my 9th graders last year —  and Jeff Anderson, the author of the upcoming Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth. Joe read a copy of Zack Delacruz back in March, and was excited about it from page one.

He immediately wanted to get in touch with the author. Fortunately, Jeff Anderson is basically made of Awesome, and agreed to answer a few questions of Joe’s.

Check out that amazing cover!

Check out that amazing cover!

Jeff: Hey Joe,
I was happy to hear from one of my first readers. Pretty great how Mr. Wyzlic has lots of books. For me choice really mattered. I struggled as a reader for most of my life. Around your age I started being in plays and had to memorize lines. All that rereading made something click and I read better after that, but it wasn’t really till after college — as a teacher that I fell in love with books and started to want to write one. I always liked to write — for me.

Joe: What inspired you to be an author?
Jeff: To tell you the truth, my childhood wasn’t an entirely happy one. That was one of the reasons I became a teacher — in hopes of making life better for kids by being positive with them. I loved reading aloud to my fourth and fifth graders — actually any of the grades I taught through 8th — and I felt like I had a story to tell. And the particular book was inspired in part by my life, but also the students in my life in San Antonio.

Joe: What inspired you to write Zack Delacruz?
Jeff: I wanted a book my students would want to read. You know, cut out the boring parts. Have a fast pace. I am easily bored as a reader and I wanted something that was fast-paced and funny. I also wanted to see my hispanic and black kids represented in books where they just had normal everyday problems.

Joe: What is your favorite book that you didn’t write?
Jeff: That changes depending on when you ask me. But probably my all time favorite was The Liar’s Club by Mary Carr. It just spoke to my childhood. It was set in the same place I grew up in my early years, so it just resonated with me. I also love Chuck Palahnuik. Sometimes I like nonfiction. Really enjoyed Lawrence Wright’s book about Scientology: Getting Clear.

Joe: Who is your favorite author, other than yourself?
Jeff: See above, but once I was so struck by Cynthia Rylant it’s hard not to think of her when you ask your question.

Joe: Who are your favorite NBA players?
Jeff: Here I am going to fail you, Joe. I could pretend that I care about The Spurs because I live in San Antonio, but as life goes we focus only on what interests us, and I don’t follow basketball at all. If you do, there’s lots out there to read about it though.
Thanks again for the questions, Joe. I hope high school goes great for you.

A big thanks for Joe and Jeff for sharing their conversation with all of us. I love Joe’s subtle humor in his questions (“other than yourself”) and Jeff’s honesty in his answers. Be sure to swing by The Nerdy Book Club, where Jeff Anderson is today’s guest writer. When you’re done with that, be sure to head over to your local bookstore and grab a copy of Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth, out today!

The Beauty of August

Today is August 1st. For the past couple years, this meant that I would be creating and uploading my first #VEDA video (Vlog Every Day in August). I’m not doing VEDA this year, but August still brings some important things with it:

The nitty-gritty prep work for school
I don’t know if I’ll admit this if you corner me, but I really like prepping for school. I love putting together lessons that I hope will reach my students in new and exciting ways. I love thinking of the books we’ll be sharing that the writing that we’ll be doing. I love thinking up or finding new units to do throughout the year, or new ways of approaching certain concepts.

That’s largely July’s work, though. August is when the rubber meets the road. Maybe in July I thought of a new letter I want to send home with parents. Well, August is when I have to make sure I write and revise that letter. Maybe in July I thought of doing more play-acting or pantomime in the classroom for a softer transition into formal speeches. August is the time to put that together. In July this year, I was spending a lot of time doing big idea planning for a new course I’m teaching, Contemporary Literature & Writing. August is the time when I’ll create the rubrics and the unit overviews and the syllabus.

August is also the time to figure out what I’m going to do with my desk this year (I envy those who go deskless, but haven’t been able to figure out how to make that work with my lack of classroom storage space). Also: how are my student desks going to be arranged? Will the TV be a focal point, or more periphery? How much will I use my whiteboards this year? What will go on the bulletin boards?

I love asking these questions in July, but I love even more answering them in August.

Staff/State/National PD
This year, I’ve been asked to lead a PD for my coworkers on two topics: Google Drive and positive relationships with students. I spent July putting together some outlines, but August is the time to finalize and actually give those presentations. It’s also a time to think about proposals for the Michigan Reading Association conference (proposals due September 30) and begin crafting my NCTE presentation (for November).

The Students!
This year, my school is starting on August 24. Prior to that, I’ll be teaching a summer “boot camp” for those who want a little warm-up to school. This is my absolute favorite time of year. Everyone is refreshed from summer, and I am reminded of why I love my job so much: I get to interact with teenagers on a daily basis. I get to see their smiles and their frustrations and watch them grow into young men and women. It’s an absolute blessing. As much as I need the summer to recharge for the school year, I need the school year to recharge for life.

I can’t wait.

What are you looking forward to in August?

Rabbit, Rabbit.

Poopy Statistics

Most who read this blog know me as an English teacher. However, what some may not know is that I have taught at least one math course for all 9 years of my teaching career, including next year. In fact, I have taught every math course I am certified to teach: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math, Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Trigonometry / Pre-Calculus, Calculus, and Statistics. I am even helping out with our AP Physics class next year, as it is a math-heavy course. I love math.

So math is where my mind was at when I came across this joke the other day (paraphrased):
“It’s skewed a bit by my first couple years, but I still poop my pants 22 times a year on average.”

I love this joke. I’m going to be 31 years old next month, and I probably poop my pants, on average, over 32 times a year.

The key, of course, is in the words “on average.” I’m definitely going to have my students calculate this for themselves next year in my stats course. Here’s what I did:

First, I needed an estimate of how many times I pooped my pants/diaper as an infant. Having a newborn of my own, I have a pretty good idea that this is way more than I thought humanly possible. A number my wife and I are often told is healthy is three times a day, at least for the first three months or so, when it begins to lessen. So for the first three months of my life, I probably pooped my pants about 90 times.

Mr. Poopy Pants Himself

Fun fact: as I was typing that last sentence, my son pooped his pants.

Let’s be conservative with the rest of the poops. Maybe I pooped about once a day until I was 2, and then, like magic, I was potty-trained (crossing my fingers that this happens with my own son!). This gives us 730 pooped pants.

But let’s be honest. That number isn’t right. It’s probably actually over 1000 (I’m pretty sure my son is over 1000 already, and he’s not even 4 weeks old). So let’s just go ahead and settle on 1000 poops. It’s a nice number, easy to remember.

So I have pooped my pants 1000 times. Over 31 years of my life, that is — on average — over 32 times a year.

The reason I love this joke is because I can use it to help my students think about the measures of center, and which ones really make sense to use. Yes, I can say I still poop my pants, on average, 32 times a year, but that’s certainly not the case (I max out at like 25 or so, I swear). So which measure of center makes sense to use here? The mean (often called “the average”)? The median? The mode?

The default example for this seems to be income levels, with one worker making over a million dollars and everyone else making around $30,000. Trust me: that has no basis to our students. But tell them they poop their pants over 50 times a year, and I promise you you’ll have their attention.

And there’s even a bonus linear modeling question! If someone poops their pants an average of 22 times a year, and we assume they pooped 1000 times as an infant, how old are they likely to be? I’ll leave that one for you to work out on your own.

Comic Peeps You Need to Know

You may or may not have noticed this, but we are kind of in the midst of a high point of comic love, especially for kids. Graphic novels (or as they’d been called for years before people got freaked out by their kids reading comics instead of traditional books, “comic books”) were honored by the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz committees this past awards season. The Kids’ Comics Revolution Kids’ Comics Awards were announced just a few weeks ago at the Kids Read Comics Festival in Ann Arbor. The Eisner Awards were just announced last night at the San Diego Comic-Con, and we saw authors who write mainly or exclusively for children win major awards — awards without a “kids” category.

In all of this, I’ve been thinking about some of the best and smartest people in the comics industry, especially when it comes to bringing comics into the classroom with success. I assume that, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know the likes of Cece Bell, Jenni Holm, Matthew Holm, Jeff Smith, and Raina Telgemeier. If you don’t, go look them up, read their works, and get them for your classroom. You probably won’t see those books for months, aside from when your students have them open.

But what about some superstars who aren’t, for whatever reason, as well known? There’s a few I’ve become familiar with over the past few years, and they are absolutely stellar.

Jerzy Drozd
Who is he? Jerzy is an accomplished comics creator, including the webcomic Boulder and Fleet and as part of the trio who created the graphic version of The Warren Commission Report.
Why should I know him? While Jerzy’s comics creating skills are unquestionable, his teaching is beyond compare. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness him give a workshop for kids, and the amount of teaching he did and the amount of learning that the kids did was mind-blowing. I’ve seen good educators do their thing, but. . .wow. You can find Jerzy on Twitter @Jerzy or on his website (with links to his webcomic and workshops).

Faith Erin Hicks
Who is she? Faith is the creator of 10 comics for teens, including the Eisner-winning Adventures of Superhero Girl.
Why should I know her? In addition to writing amazing things, Faith is a strong advocate for intelligent things: using comics with people who like to read them, treating women and men with equal amounts of respect and admiration, and the benefits of being Canadian. Basically, she’s the entire package, and you should be hunting down her every book and including it in your classroom (preview first — some of her stuff tends to skew more YA than MG). I was able to read an early copy of her upcoming solo project, The Nameless City, and, you guys. Holy crap. It’s amazing. Not at all surprising. Follow Faith on Twitter @FaithErinHicks or her website.

Scott Robins
Who is he? Scott is a Children’s librarian for the Toronto Public Library system. He writes on a School Library Journal blog called Good Comics for Kids and is also the author of A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics.
Why should I know him? Okay, if the above two sentences didn’t give you enough reason, then I don’t know what you’re looking for. Scott is incredibly knowledgeable (like, top of his field knowledgeable). If you haven’t heard of him, then he is absolutely the best librarian dealing with comics who you haven’t heard of. If you have heard of him, then he is the best librarian dealing with comics who you have heard of. You can find Scott on Twitter @scout101.

Dave Roman
Who is he? Dave is the creator of several comics for kids and teens, including one of my absolute favorites, TeenBoat! (co-created with illustrator John Green).
Why should I know him? He is the smartest person I’ve ever heard talk about comics. If you find yourself needing some rational thinking about why comics are good to use with students or just a shot in the arm to support what you’re already doing, look up Dave Roman and the things he has to say. In addition to being a great comics creator and possessing a superior comics brain, Dave and Jerzy Drozd (see above) also run the Kids’ Comics Revolution Podcast. It is worth every second of your time. You can find him on Twitter @yaytime or at his website.

Bonus Website! Reading With Pictures
Reading With Pictures is not a person, I know. But it’s a website run by some amazing people. Their mission statement says it all, I think:

Reading With Pictures advocates for the use of comics in the classroom and beyond to promote literacy and improve educational outcomes for all students. We work with academics to cultivate groundbreaking research into the proper role of comics in education. We collaborate with cartoonists to produce exceptional graphic novel content for scholastic use. Most importantly, we partner with educators to develop a system of best practices for integrating comics into their curriculum. At Reading With Pictures, we get comics into schools and get schools into comics.

So there you go! If you’re not familiar with these people (or website), go check them out. We’re living in an age where comics are amazing, and those being written for a school-age audience are both well-written and enjoyable. Why would you not want to do everything you can to include them for your students?