iPad Rollout – They’re heeeeeeeeeere!

iPad Rollout (c) Kristen Dembroski

Day 2 of school, and we did the iPad rollout today! I was really impressed at the planning that went into this event. Our staff spent months planning for this day, and their organization really paid off.

Even though each student grades 6-8 will get an iPad, they started with just the 8th graders today. Throughout the day, they pulled groups of 25 students at a time. Each group took about 1 hour, but they rotated between 2 rooms to increase efficiency. Students started at the ‘buffet line’ where they picked up the required items, including iPad, Otterbox, cleaning cloth, stylus, charging cable, and ‘technology bag’ (a drawstring bag that we are calling a ‘technology bag’ because we don’t want them to put anything but their iPad in it). Then the students sat down in Room 1 with the Technology Director as he walked them through initial setup of the iPad (setting the location, language, getting onto the district Wifi, etc.), and creating/logging into their iTunes account.

After that, the students moved to Room 2, where the Technology Instructional Coordinator assisted them with putting on their Otterbox, writing their name on the Otterbox in silver Sharpie, and going over basic handling, cleaning/care, and other expectations for the iPad (come each day with it charged, no decorating it or password protecting it, you are responsible for all activities/content both in and out of school, etc.). The students also logged into their new gmail email account.

Today was really just the basics of getting the iPads into their hands. We are waiting for Friday, when each student will finally have his/her iPad, to go over the academic use of the iPad. Each teacher has become an expert in one of 6 topics, and the students will rotate amongst the teachers to learn about each one. I am in charge of Google Calendars, which we are using instead of assignment notebooks this year. There are also stations for eBackpack, Google Apps, Gmail, Essential Apps, and Infinite Campus (our gradebook).

Yeah, my head is kind of spinning – but how amazing is this??? I am really excited for these students and the many possibilities they will have this year and beyond. I hope I can keep up!

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First Day Games/Activities

Welcome back, teachers and students! Today is my first day back with students. We are doing an all-school pep rally to start the day, then rotating through a shortened version of the schedule so students can see their classrooms/teachers, then after lunch we have a PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) activity for the whole afternoon to learn about school expectations.

I have quite a few ‘Get To Know You’ Activities planned. My goal is always to learn all 180 students’ names by Day 2. In reality, I will have about 7 names that just won’t stick by the end of Day 2 – I’ll get it by Day 3. I really take pride in getting to know my students and establishing a strong working relationship. I like to know what makes each student unique. Positive relationships are the cornerstone of my classroom management style.

The first activity is called ‘Get To Know You Bingo.’ It is a Bingo board with a question in each box. Each student will have his/her own worksheet and a pen/cil. They will have to walk around the room, ask a classmate a question, listen thoughtfully, and write the classmate’s name/response in the box. In this way, they should go around the room until they’ve gotten 5 in a row (or fill the whole board, depending on pacing and how much time we have). I encourage them to come up to me so I can appreciate their responses as well. You can see a preview picture of the activity below, and you can download the Get To Know You Bingo pdf here.

Get To Know You Bingo (c) Kristen DembroskiAnother fun activity that I can do in the last few minutes of class throughout the first week uses this ‘Question Ball,’ which I adapted for my 8th graders from this blog post. I bought a bouncy ball from the Dollar Store for $2 and then wrote 35 ‘Get To Know You’ questions using a Sharpie. Doing this every day for the last couple of minutes will really help me learn those names!

Question Ball (c) Kristen Dembroski1. What is your favorite dessert?
2. Do you belong to any clubs/groups?
3. How long do you sleep on the weekends?
4. How many times have you moved?
5. What do you do during recess?
6. What is something you’d like to buy?
7. What makes you really mad?
8. What is the last book or story that you read?
9. Tell about an injury you have had.
10. Do you have any chores at home?
11. What is your favorite summer activity?
12. What do you want to be when you grow up?
13. What is your biggest pet peeve?
14. What is your favorite breakfast food?
15. Do you like your name? Is it a good fit?
16. What makes you extremely happy?
17. Which class is your favorite?
18. Who lives with you?
19. Tell something that not many people know about you.
20. Do you have a favorite song, album, or musical artist?
21. How do you relax/unwind?
22. What is your favorite movie or TV show?
23. Which class is the hardest or easiest for you?
24. What is the strangest food you have ever tried?
25. Do you have a cell phone?
26. Have you ever been on Honor Roll or Student of the Month?
27. Where do you want to live when you grow up?
28. What is your favorite sport to play?
29. What makes you feel stressed?
30. How clean is your bedroom?
31. Chocolate or vanilla?
32. Walk or run?
33. Early or late?
34. Hot or cold?
35. Do you like surprises?

I’m really excited for today! I can’t wait to meet all of my new students!

 

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Seat markers

In our 2-story school, we have 4 minute passing time. Students have complained about this from the dawn of time, but it is what it is. My room is about 80 yards from the nearest restroom (it takes me about 4 minutes to walk there, use the restroom, and walk back. I’m sometimes late to my own classes, ack!). Therefore, I am a bit more lenient/understanding of students who are tiny bit late because they had to use the restroom. What I prefer, however, is that they come to my room first, drop off their belongings, and then go. Since we are going to have iPads this year, that is going to be a mandatory procedure because federal law and school rules mandate that no iPads are allowed in the restrooms.

So that students don’t have to hunt me down or interrupt a conversation during passing time to ask permission to use the bathroom, I put together these Seat Markers. A student can simply grab one from the side table, put it at their seat, and then off they go. When class starts and I am doing attendance, I will notice the visual cue at their desk that they are in the restroom. I may even branch out this year and allow my students to grab a seat marker and excuse themselves to use the bathroom without interrupting the lesson to ask permission – we’ll have to take that on a class-by-class basis depending on behavior.

I wanted something cheap, tall, and not at all appealing for students to destroy (no toys, no cups because they’ll tap that Cups song by Anna Kendrik). I managed to make these with a lot of things that I had lying around the house:

Seat Markers (c) Kristen Dembroski

2 empty Pringles cans
Decorative Duct Tape
Plastic flowers
Small, heavy rocks/marbles, etc.
Glue gun
Scissors/knife

The final product isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing I’ve ever made, but I know it will do the job. I wrapped strips of duct tape around the can, filled it with small rocks to give it weight, poked a hole in the cover to insert the flowers, then hot-glued it all shut so they couldn’t open it.

Seat Markers (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Pancakes, I <3 You

Pancakes are a weekend thing, right? There’s honestly no better way to spend an early Saturday or Sunday morning than sitting at the kitchen table with my husband (and the dog sitting ON my feet – he has attachment issues), reading the news, eating pancakes, and planning the rest of the day. How often do I get to do this? Almost never. Who wants to go through all the trouble and make all that mess?

WELL! I tried out another great idea I found on Pinterest. I made the pancake batter and spooned it into a plastic bag. I got the griddle nice and hot, cut off the corner of the bag, and squeezed the batter into perfectly shaped silver dollar pancakes. AWESOME!

The clean-up was almost nonexistent. I just threw away the bag! No drips all over the counter/stove to clean up. I am in love with pancakes all over again! Next weekend, I am going to try fun shapes. I mean, why not?

Pancakes (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Cleaning The Shower – Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Dat!

Like most working people, I have zero time/patience for the mundane, odious household tasks like cleaning the shower. It’s just not top on my ‘to do’ list, and I’ll admit, I don’t do it as often as I should.

As a teacher, however, I am always trying to come up with creative solutions to make things work. So how can I make cleaning the shower easier to ensure that it gets done? I found a fabulous solution on Pinterest.

I bought a soap-dispensing dish scrubber, which I then filled with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and dish soap. It stays right there in the shower. I find this a brilliant solution because I’m already in the shower and everything I need is right there (no excuses). I have a detachable shower head, so I just scrub all the walls down, hose it off, and voila – clean shower. It takes me an extra 3-4 minutes tops. Who doesn’t have time for that?

I’ll also say that I am very pleased to have moved away from harsh chemicals. The vinegar really does the trick and is non-toxic.

Even though I know my shower is squeaky clean, it still bothered me that the grout was getting dark. My house is over 70 years old, so things are always in need of a facelift. I had tried everything to brighten up the bathtub: Comet, bleach, Bar Keepers Friend, Tide Bleach pen, EVERYTHING. Trust me, I put in a lot of elbow grease, and I was very disappointed. Though ready to give up, I was willing to try one more product that my sister-in-law recommended: Norwex Cleaning Paste. I got an old toothbrush, wet it, and just started scrubbing the tile. GUYS. WOW. Just look at the results!

Cleaning the Shower (c) Kristen Dembroski

And to top it all off, the cleaning paste even got out some scratches in the porcelain. I don’t sell Norwex, I have nothing to gain by telling you this other than sharing something that really worked for me in hopes that it can work for you, too. I also love that it is non-toxic, made only with marble flour, chalk, natural soap, and some coconut oil. My shower has never looked better!!!

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My Book

It’s finally finished! My first book 🙂

The Paper Chain: An Instructional Workbook for Argumentative Writing 

The Paper Chain Argumentative Writing (c) Kristen Dembroski

 

It is a 77-page exciting student-friendly instructional manual and workbook for writing an argumentative  paper – perfect for grades 7 – 10. This Common Core Aligned unit addresses writing, reading, and language. These are reading and writing techniques that can be used for cross-curricular writing in Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education… you name it! I have provided professional development at my school for these writing techniques, and the entire staff at my middle school now uses them. It’s great to be on the same page.

By using the instructional workbook, students learn how to read and write argument/persuasive papers step-by-step. The following topics are addressed:

* Argumentative Writing
* The Paper Chain: Overview
* Argument Writing: Flow Chart
* Practice Identifying the Argument
* Effective Argument (word choice)
* Practice Generating an Argument
* Generating your own Argument
* Practice Identifying Claims
* Claims and Supporting Evidence
* Generating Claims: Supporting the Argument
* Practice Identifying Evidence
* Organizing Evidence
* Claims and Supporting Evidence
* Quoting Evidence
* Credibility
* A Search for Evidence
* Collecting Evidence: Internet Search
* Is this Website Credible?
* Practice Determining Credible Evidence
* Homework: Find Your Own Evidence
* Counterclaim
* Adding a Counterclaim
* Deconstructing a Counterclaim
* Writing a Body Paragraph: Organization
* Reasoning / Links: Explaining Evidence
* The Whole Paper = A TERCon Sandwich
* Citing Sources: Avoiding Plagiarism
* Other Ways to Say ‘Said’
* Bibliography / Works Cited
* Peer Revising
* Peer Revising Sample
* Revision Checklist
* Rubric
* Model/Exemplar Paper
* How to get an Advanced Score
* Sentence Fluency: Appositives
* Why Appositives Are Important
* Appositives Practice
* Commonly Misspelled Words
* Editing Shortcuts and Practice
* Publishing
* Glossary
* Answer Key

My favorite part about the workbook is that it is filled with models, examples, and practice, as well as easy-to-follow visuals and charts. You can print out the manual as a hard copy workbook for students or – as I do in my one-to-one iPad school – email it to my students as an ebook to reference all year.

I am hoping to have this available on iTunes University soon! In the meantime, you can purchase a version from Teachers Pay Teachers here. Happy Teaching!

The Paper Chain (c) Kristen Dembroski

The Paper Chain (c) Kristen Dembroski

The Paper Chain (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Technology, Motivation, & Working Out

I am going to tell you an embarrassing secret. Last school year, I worked out…. 18 times. Total. For the entire school year. And it was always on a weekend. That’s really sad!

I just needed some motivation, right? I thought I WAS motivated. But it turns out, just wanting to be healthy (okay, skinny!) isn’t enough. And thinking about all the money I was wasting by paying the gym and NOT showing up wasn’t enough of a guilt trip, either.

So I tried what any good teacher would do. I set goals, a schedule, and created a reward structure. If I worked out ‘x’ amount of times, I would reward myself with a new workout shirt, etc. The problem with this is… I am in charge of the system. And I lie, cheat, and steal. I am not a reliable coach of myself. I can talk myself out of or into just about ANYthing!

This blog post is all about what DOES work for me; what keeps me active, motivated, and working out an average of 3-4 times per week. The Cliff’s Notes: competition, money, goal-setting, multi-tasking, and mental escape.
Workout Motivation (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Fitbit One
My husband bought me a Fitbit One for Christmas, 2012. I haven’t taken it off (other than to shower) since. What is it? I describe it as a fancy schmancy digital pedometer. It records my steps, activity level, flights of stairs, and sleep. This all syncs wirelessly with my phone or computer. I get immediate feedback on my levels of activity. I set a daily goal (10,000 steps, 10 flights of stairs) and do what I have to do to make that goal. Fitbit sends me cheerful push notifications (like texts) to my phone, letting me know when I am nearing, meeting, or exceeding my goal. It’s like getting a gold star! Who doesn’t love the positive feedback?

What’s brilliant about Fitbit is the social aspect of it. My mother and sister both own a Fitbit and use it as religiously as I do. Our activity level is displayed on a virtual leader board. We three women are pretty competitive, so it’s always a tight race for first place. My sister is training for a half-marathon right now, and I’m beating myself up trying to keep up with her! After dinner, I’ll check the leader board and see who ‘winning’. I may then take a walk, run some stairs, pace while I brush my teeth, volunteer to take the dog out again – whatever I can think of to get in more steps and get to the top!

Here’s a leader board example (note who is in first place!! muahaha!)

Fitbit (c) Kristen Dembroski

Conclusion: Fitbit motivates me to stay in shape by encouraging me to meet my own goals and by competing with others.

2. GymPact
If Fitbit keeps me moving throughout the day, GymPact actually gets me to the gym to work out. GymPact is an app for your phone that PAYS you to work out. I’ve made over $33 in 3 months. That may not seem like much to you, but it is a great bonus for me!

I describe GymPact as a way of gambling about working out. Let’s say I am willing to bet that I can work out 3 times next week. The minimum I can bet per workout is $5. So 3 x $5 = $15 total that I am willing to put on the line, promising that I will work out 3 times next week. GymPact is linked to your Paypal account, so believe me when I say that if you don’t make good on your bet, they will charge you. As it turns out, the threat of losing $5 because I am too lazy to work out is pretty darn motivating! I have not been charged EVER, because I am so stingy with my money that I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I ever miss a promised workout.

So where does the income come from? Think of it as a ‘losers pay winners’ sort of situation. GymPact collects from the people who didn’t make their workout pledge, then divvies that money up amongst those who did keep their pledge. You can make about $0.30 to $.50 per workout – it varies on the week. Once you have reached a balance of $10, you can withdraw your earnings to your Paypal account and buy yourself something nice – you earned it!

Here is a screenshot of my GymPact app from a week this summer when I was able to work out 5 times:

Gympact (c) Kristen Dembroski

Conclusion: GymPact motivates me through cold, hard cash!

You might be wondering – how does GymPact know if I am working out or not, huh? Well, the app requires that each workout is a minimum of 30 minutes and has GPS verification that you worked out. That means either ‘checking in’ at the gym with your app, or syncing GymPact with another app that tracks when you walk/run. And that app is…

3. RunKeeper
RunKeeper is an app that tracks your run/walk via GPS. When I leave my house, I simply hit ‘Start’ on the RunKeeper app. The app tracks my pace, location/route, splits, duration, and even allows me to enter notes and a picture when I complete my activity. As with Fitbit, I can set a goal for myself, which RunKeeper tracks for me. The app will give you verbal notifications of your progress as you walk/run, but I turn them off for peace and quiet. Once I’ve hit the 30 minute mark, I head home and complete my workout. RunKeeper then syncs with GymPact and let’s them know what I worked out, which counts toward my GymPact pledge. Sweet!

Here is a screenshot of my RunKeeper app, showing the distance and times for all of my recent runs/walks:

RunKeeper (c) Kristen Dembroski

Conclusion: RunKeeper motivates me through goal-setting and syncing with GymPact

Wanna know what I listen to when I work out? Hint: It’s not music!

4. Audible
I LOVE to read. As a Language Arts teacher, this only makes sense. But I don’t often have time to actually sit down and read a book. I make time, of course, because that is very important. However, Audible allows me to consume more books than by reading alone. Audible is a an Amazon company that sells audio books. Payment is linked to my Amazon account, so that’s easy enough, and the books download through ‘the Cloud’ right on to my phone. Easy as pie!

What’s brilliant here is that I have made a rule for myself. I am only allowed to listen to an Audible book while I am moving. What will happen is I will get really hooked on a book and want to listen more. BUT, in order to do that I’ve got to get on my running shoes and start moving! It’s a lovely motivation, and I know that I am doing something great for my body AND my mind at the same time.

Listening to books also keeps my mind focused while I work out. When I listened to music, it was too easy for my mind to wander and start to realize, ‘Hey – working out kinda stinks! I wanna stop!’ I’d stare at the elliptical or the clock. With the audio book, I can close my eyes and let my mind travel to a far away place! The 45 minutes on the treadmill/elliptical go by in a snap, and sometimes I go even longer because the book is at a really great spot!

Conclusion: Audible motivates me by allowing me to multitask and by taking my mind on great adventures!

 

Some other things I have learned about myself:

5. I need to work out on my way home. If I go home first to change or relax, I am never getting back in my car.

6. I have to pack my workout clothes the night before. I always keep a set in my car. To make things more efficient, I have also considered putting workout outfits in gallon-sized Zip-loc bags so they are ready to go, no excuses.

7. I tell someone I am going to work out. It just feels horribly disappointing to tell a coworker that you are heading out to the gym, then go straight home and plop in front of the TV.

Final Thoughts: 

I started out with just my Fitbit, but I slowly added in the other apps. I now use all 4, and I work out about 3-4 (often 5) times per week. I feel SO much better than I did last year when I was a big ole’ couch potato. Now I never even consider missing a work out. I hope you find some of these tips helpful! Enjoy your endorphin rush!

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Warm-ups / Journal Entries

Warmup Journal  (c) Kristen Dembroski

Do you do warm-ups or journal entries in your classroom? This is SUCH a good idea for so many amazing reasons:

1. Your students need time to center themselves and transition their thinking between subjects.
2. It insures that you will do some writing every day.
3. Routine, routine, routine!
4. Students enjoy them. They can be creative, personal, inspiring, etc.
5. It’s a great way for students to track their own progress throughout the year.
6. It’s a great place to start generating ideas for longer writing pieces.
7. You can use it to introduce the big idea or topic of the day. Students can active their prior knowledge.
8. It can be used as an opportunity to review concepts from the previous day.
9. It provides immediate feedback (informal assessment) on your students’ state of mind. You can see who’s on task, who’s having a rough day, who needs a writing utensil, and how students are progressing toward your various learning targets, etc.
10. It gives you some time to do attendance and circulate your classroom to observe students.

I aim to do a warm-up or journal entry every single day. The type of warm-up / journal changes throughout the year, of course. But I always begin the year with ideas from my favorite teacher author, Kelly Gallagher. Though I am pretty sure I own all of his books, this one is his most recent, and my current favorite 🙂

Write Like This - Kelly GallagherNot to brag or anything, but I did get to meet him in person. He hugged me. And he signed my book.

Kelly Gallagher Signature (c) Kristen Dembroski

But I digress…

Anyway, this book is filled with some phenomenal warm-up or journal ideas. The reason I love to start the year with these is because I also want a chance to get to know my students personally. Here is a list of my favorite warm-ups from “Write Like This”:

* Six-Word Memoir
* Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
* Favorite Mistakes
* The Bucket List
* Childhood Games
* A Watermark Event
* A Treasured Object
* Top 10 Lists
* Unwritten Rules
* How Does ___ Work

His book is designed around different purposes for writing, including Express and Reflect, Inform and Explain, Evaluate and Judge, Inquire and Explore, Analyze and Interpret, Take a Stand/Propose a Solution. It’s a great reminder to us as Language Arts teachers that we must make sure to tap into each of these kinds of writing equally (I’m sure we all have our favorite, but… ). And I like to remember that each of my students (and myself, too!) have different strengths and weaknesses with each kind of writing. It’s important to explore and develop our writing skills in multiple ways.

Some other great sources for warm-up or journaling ideas are:

* Visit the “Writing Prompts” website. There are some very thought-provoking questions.
* Check out the “National Geographic Photo of the Day“. Have students write what they think is happening, a story based on the photograph, etc.
* Purchase “Descriptive Creative Writing: Show Me!” This is a complete writing workshop unit CCSS, lesson plans, discussion / activities, handouts, and rubric.

Descriptive Writing (c) Kristen Dembroski

 

 

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Zoo Animals

Do you ever get the urge to be creative? I know some people are just creative all the time, but I like to think that I’m a healthy mix of practical and creative. Unfortunately, the creative side doesn’t get as much face time as I would like. The result is that every once in a while, I get the ‘creativity bug’ and I go on a major binge. I’ll stay up late painting a mural, spend all afternoon knitting a hat, or find a new Pinterest project to occupy my weekend. A lot of these projects sit unfinished (shhh… let’s not talk about that…)

Well this weekend, I just felt like drawing. I love to draw. So I sat down and started drawing zoo animals. (I really desperately can’t wait to have my own kids so I can decorate their nursery!) Well after a while, I had a pretty great collection going! I made 25 total. Here are some samples, and some ideas of how I would use this in an elementary classroom, if I had one. These would be some really fun activities to do before a field trip to the zoo!

Zoo Animals

Zoo Animals (c) Kristen Dembroski

 

Camel - Zoo Animals (c) Kristen DembroskiIn Art, explore different art materials to create texture and shading.
Or, create a cool graphic design!

Lion - Zoo Animals (c) Kristen Dembroski

In Science, label the parts of the animal. Draw the animals habitat.
Write details in or around the animal about the lifestyle and eating habits. Hippo - Zoo Animals (c) Kristen Dembroski

In Language Arts, write a story or poem inside or around the animal.
Use the animal as an illustration in your own book.
Do a research project on the animal and use the printable as a note-taking sheet.

For Math, take a poll to see which animal is the class favorite. Use the animal printouts to make a giant bar graph. Use multiple printouts to represent proportions and ratios (ex. 1 lion to ever 5 elephants).

For Social Studies, research the current topics around an animal. Is it frequently in the news? Being used to help society in some way? Endangered? Create a large mural with several habitats, and allow students to place each animal correctly.

In Foreign Language, use the printables as posters with the target words (ex: name of animal).

For your classroom, determine each student’s favorite animal, write his/her name on the animal, and place it on the desk as a name plate.

There are TONS of ideas! I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section. If you’d like to download the Zoo Animals printable templates, click here! Thanks, and Happy Teaching!

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Books I Read This Summer

Being a middle school Language Arts teacher means reading LOTS of adolescent fiction. I do my best to stay on top of what is current and popular amongst my particular demographic of students. That way, I am able to make book recommendations to students and parents.

Even though we do SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) for at least 45 minutes each week, it’s still difficult to find the time to read all of the books I want to read during the school year. I am able to read (and enjoy!) many more books during the summer by spending countless lazy hours suntanning in the backyard with the dog. My other favorite activity is to download the audio version and listen while I run. I have an account with Audible (through Amazon), and I also download a free YA book each week from http://www.audiobooksync.com.

This summer, I was able to read 7 books on my list:

Adolescent Fiction Books (c) Kristen Dembroski

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth

In this science-fiction dystopia, humans are divided into 6 groups or ‘factions’: Erudite (intelligent), Amity (peaceful), Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), and Candor (honest). Once a person reaches the year of his/her sixteenth birthday, he/she must take a test to determine which faction to join permanently; this may mean leaving their own family. Beatrice Prior takes the screening exam, purported to determine one’s aptitude for a particular faction, yet the results come back… inconclusive. Since Beatrice is intelligent, selfless, AND brave, she must choose a faction for herself. But this means deciding who she really is inside – a tough journey for all teens. Beatrice, or Tris as she is known amongst her new faction, is definitely an underdog that you will root for.
This novel is filled with romance, violence, secrets, mystery, suspense, conspiracy, technology – it’s got it all! I would recommend it to any student, male or female, who likes a futuristic adventure! It is also being made into a movie, which I know increases its appeal to many students.

2. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Having read Divergent, I simply had to keep going with Insurgent. Tris continues to find herself – no, put herself – in harms way as she works to protect the ones she loves. She is the perfect combination of brave, selfless, and intelligent, but she is becoming reckless with her erratic, unilateral decisions. Throughout the novel, Tris is in constant peril and struggles with loneliness, grief, doubt, and identity. There are definitely some shocking, compelling scenes that took me by surprise. I enjoy Veronica Roth’s ability to give descriptive detail as well as paint a realistic picture of the characters’ inner turmoil.
What a shocker of an ending! I can’t wait to read Allegiant. I’ve already pre-ordered it 🙂

3. Born at Midnight by C. C. Hunter

The protagonist, Kylie Galen, is a teen struggling through a rocky time; her parents are divorcing, her friends are engaging in illegal activities, and her boyfriend doesn’t have honest intentions. While grappling with these issues, she is caught attending a party where drugs and alcohol are present. Her mother, exasperated and looking for help, sends her to a camp for troubled teens at the recommendation of Kylie’s therapist. Reluctantly, Kylie heads off to camp for the summer, expecting the worst. She soon discovers, however, that the camp is one for teens with supernatural abilities. Despite her plans of a quick summer of keeping to herself, Kylie makes some true friends, finds romance, and begins to search for the truth behind her own unique abilities.
I would not be able to recommend this book to my 8th grade students. Not only because it would likely not be found in our middle school library, but also because some parents would object to the topics of drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex.

4. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder is not your average Cinderella story. In this futuristic science fiction novel, humans, androids, and cyborgs co-exist. There is no glitter, singing rodents, or fairy godmothers. Cinder is described as a homely girl with mousy, stringy hair, no curves, and robotic appendages. She is extremely gifted and slaves away at the family mechanic shop, the only source of income for her step-mother and two step-sisters. One day, Prince Kai, heir to the throne of New Beijing, comes to visit the renowned mechanic Cinder for help fixing a broken android. Their paths now crossed, Cinder and Kai will soon find themselves in a dangerous and forbidden human-cyborg romance. Furthermore, their society is threatened by the brutal Lunar society who wish to engage in an intergalactic power battle. Cinder’s mysterious past is the key to saving the future.
This is a fun read for anyone into romance, steampunk science fiction, suspense, and new twists on a classic. It is a fun mental challenge to compare and contrast the various Cinderella stories I have read and try to anticipate what will happen next – except you won’t expect the twists and turns of this story!

5. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd

I had no idea when I picked up this book that it would affect me so deeply. Based on a quick flip-though, it appears to be a children’s book with pictures and prose-like text. Don’t be fooled. This book deals with some heavy issues of grief, loss, and inner turmoil. The main character, Connor O’Malley, is a teen boy learning to be independent in the face of his mother’s battle with cancer. To add insult to injury, he is mercilessly teased by bullies at school. Every night, Connor has the same nightmare filled with spinning, darkness, and screaming, One evening, at 12:07, a nightmarish monster comes to life and marches straight up to Connor demanding the one thing Connor is afraid of most… the truth.
I would recommend this to my students who are willing to read something more emotionally demanding. This book really forces you to face your own monsters – fears – and I think it is an excellent soon-to-be classic young adult book. It is a very quick read, probably one or two evenings. The pictures are absolutely breathtaking.

6. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

I fell in love with Cashore’s Graceling last year, and I was very excited to read the other two books in the series. I loved that Katsa made a reappearance in Bitterblue. This book takes place 8 years after Graceling, and Bitterblue is now Queen of Monsea. The realm of Graceling, Bitterblue, and Fire is one in which some are born with special skills or ‘graces.’ These special skills could range from telepathy and sword-fighting to a photographic memory. The beginning of Bitterblue is very slow, carefully laying the groundwork and establishing the setting. Queen Bitterblue is completely sheltered in the castle, mired with boring paperwork, longing for an adventure beyond the castle walls. At night, she begins sneaking out in disguise, assuming a new identity, and getting herself into trouble. She meets new friends that help her to see the evil legacy that her father, King Leck, left behind.
I would recommend this to students who enjoy longer books (547 pages!) love puzzles, strong female leads, and a touch of romance.

7. Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is by far my favorite in Cashore’s series. Fire, who’s hair is the colors of flame, has an irresistibly beautiful appearance. Humans are stunned by her beauty, but fear and hate her for her ability to control minds. The fierce monsters of the realm are attracted to her blood and hunt her. Because of her special abilities, the royal family summons Fire to their castle to help King Nash defend against the traitors who would have his throne. Because of the awful, unspeakable deeds of her late father, Fire is loathed by Nash’s son, Prince Brigan. It turns out that relationships that start as one of pure hatred, then grow into respect and much more, are the steamiest of romances. This is a gripping love story, intertwined in a fantasy adventure. My biggest criticism is that Fire, for a strong female heroine, definitely has some ridiculous and annoying weaknesses. It becomes nauseating how many times the author mentions that Fire has her period and is defenseless against the blood-thirsty monsters. Fire and Prince Brigan also have a more mature, adult relationship. The slow burn is excruciating at points; you just want Fire and Brigan to be happy together!

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As you can probably tell from my list, I really enjoy reading YA literature. I gravitate toward fantasy, science fiction, and strong female leads (a la the Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins). I really owe it to my male students to catch up on more novels with male leads – that was my project last summer when I read Bruiser by Neil Shusterman, Peak by Roland Smith, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

So what will I read next? Here is a list of YA book recommendations I have received from students:

1. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
3. Matched by Allie Condie
4. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
5. The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
6. The Unidentified by Rae Mariz

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