A List of Things I Liked About “Moana”

This is simply a list of things I enjoyed about the movie Moana.

  • The soundtrack, obviously.
  • Moana is raised in a culture where her birthright is to lead, regardless of her gender. In fact, her gender never enters into it. This is in contrast to previous Disney films like Aladdin, where the female heir Jasmine must choose a prince to marry; and Mulan, where Mulan dresses as a boy to fulfill her father’s military obligation, since she would not be allowed to as a girl. Moana is expected to lead the people of her village; she also just happens to be a girl. I liked this because, while my mother grew up in the Jasmine mindset (have to marry to change my circumstance) and I grew up in the Mulan mindset (actively battling gender stereotypes), I want my nine-year-old niece to have the Moana mindset.
  • Moana doesn’t struggle because of her gender, but she does have struggles one can relate to. She questions why she would be ‘chosen’ and at one point in the movie she has to stop and address her self-doubt. Impostor syndrome writ large on the big screen.
  • Moana’s grandmother is a key figure in her upbringing, and also an important person to her community. She refers to herself as “the village crazy lady,” but she obviously has an important role involving childcare and oral tradition. I really liked how she taught Moana to be think about thinking and feeling, instead of supplying her with ready-made solutions to her problems. Gramma Tala is one of my favorite Disney characters ever, hands down.
  • I have a not-so-secret, not-so-little crush on Dwayne Johnson. He is a gleeful adult man with many muscles and good looks, and animators somehow translated those things into an animated movie character. He even sang his own song!
  • Speaking of Maui (the character played by Dwayne Johnson), what an interesting character. He used his superhuman powers for such human reasons. There was no true villain of the piece; the conflict was created when a well-intended action by Maui went completely awry, and he had to be persuaded and helped to fix it. And yet, he’s a likable guy, he just gets things wrong sometimes. Way wrong sometimes. But his biggest mistakes don’t define him — he’s more than those things.
  • Back to Moana, who at one point sings, “I’m everything I’ve learned and more.” She’s really fantastically acted by Auli’i Cravalho, who I don’t know as well as I know Dwayne Johnson. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for her in other projects.
  • Moana’s parents. They’re present (not dead, as they often are in fairy tales and Disney movies). And while they don’t see eye to eye with Moana on key things, that conflict does not drive the story.
  • There are things about the story line that could affect an audience’s suspension of disbelief. Instead of singing and dancing around them, the characters discuss these issues. And even if they don’t come to a verbalized conclusion, it was enough for me to see it acknowledged.
  • It was like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker The Movie. Gorgeous to behold.
  • Alan Tudyk plays a chicken.

Hey hey, Heihei.

Book It! Making Reading Material for Class

Hey, look what I found while cleaning my closet the other day!



This is a book I made a long time ago. This is twenty-two years old? Holy moly. Maybe I need to clean more often.


I remember this assignment coming up a few times during my grade school (and even high school) years. I loved making books for class. Every part of it was appealing to me. I loved writing out the story, and creating illustrations, and using contact paper to laminate everything.

(Can you see in the photos how crazy I got with the contact paper? That’s probably why this book has lasted so long.)

Part of the reason I bring this up is because in the ITERS and ECERS scales, in the section regarding books, it is clear how important having a diversity of topics, characters, and styles are when assessing classrooms. However, when schools and day cares have limited budgets, it can be difficult to hit all of these marks.

Just like I have difficulty coloring within the lines, apparently.


But I digress. The point I’m trying to make is this: it can be much easier to make what your classroom needs, instead of trying to find it. When making their own books, children can write about the topics that interest them, and create characters whose experiences can reflect their own. Alternately, they can get as imaginative as they want, and come up with fantastic characters, settings, and plotlines, to show off their creativity.

Or, in my case, my burgeoning sense of sarcasm.


What Is Weeding? Why Does It Matter?

The other weekend I got it in my head that I wanted to watch the entire Mummy series of movies, from the first (The Mummy) to the last (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor). I went across the street to my local library branch and although I was able to find those two in the library system, the second entry in the series – The Mummy Returns – was weirdly missing. It’s without a doubt the worst in the series, but since it’s part of the series, it felt like required viewing for me… so I had to request it from another library and wait for its arrival in order to begin my movie marathon.

So what happened? The Mummy Returns was a popular movie when it came out, and obviously it’s newer than the first one. It may have been damaged or lost and never replaced, but it’s also likely that the DVD was “weeded,” or, in other words, removed from the library collection.

There are a lot of reasons for weeding. Most public libraries, for example, have limited physical space, and don’t have room to store every book ever written. In order to make room for newer, more relevant resources, they have to take things out of the collection once in a while. If certain kinds of resource are outdated or in poor condition, it’s probably a good idea to get rid of them in that case as well, since they aren’t going to be as useful as they otherwise could be. It makes it easier for most library patrons to find what they need. If a resource hasn’t been used for a while – my local library considers getting rid of items that haven’t been checked out or moved from the shelf in a year – then it’s also a candidate for the chopping block.

Which probably means I don’t get to watch my Mummy.

But what this also means is that sometimes books and movies that aren’t popular don’t get to stay at the library, regardless of how important it is they be accessible to the public. If they don’t get used within a certain span of time, librarians can’t predict whether or not they’ll be used in the future. Some libraries have policies to safeguard against getting rid of certain books and other resources, but policies can vary widely from one library system to the next, so it’s difficult to know whether any particular library will have a resource accessible.

My answer to this? Increase circulation! Every time I’m at the library I get a handful of books and movies out, even if I know I won’t have time to read or watch them all. I know I’m giving them a reprieve before they get weeded out. I live across the street from my local library branch, though, so this is an easy solution for me. What do you think might work? How would you make sure certain books stay accessible and available to the reading public?

School Week Round-Up: Week Thirteen

A coworker pointed out that at the end of October, we had report cards coinciding with Halloween. Then it was the week of the election which coincided with a conference-style district PD day and our first evening of parent-teacher conferences. Then it was Veteran’s Day week, when we spent much of our time preparing for an incredible and moving assembly, you know, around our other evening of parent-teacher conferences. Then this past week we had our Thanksgiving feast, and standardized testing all on computers for the first time. This upcoming week we only have two days, thank goodness, because stop the ride, I would like to get off. I just need a breather, then I’ll be good to go again. I promise.

Lessons: On the one hand, this was the week we were scheduled to do our AIR test practice prompt in the computer lab. But, it was also the week of the AIR test, for real. So I went easy on the third graders, but second graders still did their prompts. Unfortunately, because I was one of the people giving the test, I was not able to keep up with the grading with the same turn-around I had the first time. And then… well, you know what happens with a stack of ungraded papers. It… it gets bigger. And then you do the thing where you carry that stack home, because you promise to yourself you’ll get it done while wearing sweats on the couch. Then that doesn’t actually happen, either, because surprise surprise, when you wear sweats on the couch, your brain starts operating on lizard levels only, caring only about food, warmth, bathroom, and binge-watching The Librarians on Hulu. Then you end up carrying that stack of papers, untouched, back to school, and the cycle repeats itself, possibly extending into the weekend. We’ve all been here, right? Yeah. Yeah…

Support: Oh my gosh, I know I can’t speak for everyone in my building, but I vastly preferred using computers for standardized testing. Maybe it’s because I knew exactly what to expect, but I found it so much less stressful then bubble sheets and booklets. I know some of my colleagues felt differently, but I hope this sticks around as our new normal. So easy and convenient, and I think the kids handled it pretty well too. Problems we had were mostly solved by shutting down and restarting a machine. I did see some error messages, though nothing that I couldn’t solve, and nothing that would have made a difference between a pass or a fail to the affected student. Plus, unlike test booklets and bubble sheets, we can reuse Chromebooks and computers for, you know, other things that are actually instructive.

There was also an issue that arose with one of our carts of older MacBook laptops reimaged to run as Chromebooks. Many kept blinking off for just a second, then coming back on, having lost whatever tabs were open in Chrome. Very frustrating for students and teachers. I asked the tech department what to do, and the response was basically, “It’s going to be super annoying, and take about a half an hour, but you can do it yourself, here are the steps…” I really, really, really appreciated the fact that they told me up front how annoying it would be! Because, well, it was annoying, but more importantly, I knew to anticipate it. That way I kept persisting instead of giving up and quitting too soon. If they had not told me how annoying it would be, I might have followed the steps and then assumed it was even worse than I thought when the issue persisted. It probably contributed to my feeling inordinately proud of myself when I got through a dozen Chromebooks having that issue.

Things I Did Well: I felt pretty proud of myself for fixing all those MacBooks in a semi-reasonable amount of time.

Things I Will Do Better: I’m going with the stack-of-papers-to-grade thing. I am lacking motivation to just focus on it and get it done. I need to get on that. I don’t want it hanging over my head over Thanksgiving break, that’s for sure.

Cold Prickly: We had a lice problem in one of our classrooms this week. I feel bad for kids and grown-ups who have to deal with that. We had a lice problem exactly once when I was a kid; one of my younger sisters had lice when I was already in high school. It is an inconvenient problem, for sure.

Warm Fuzzy: Our principal canceled our staff meeting this week. When she mentioned this to me in passing in the hall, I went, “Woo!” She responded, with good humor, “I won’t take that personally.” (Sometimes… sometimes you just have other things to do. That I still didn’t do. But you know.)

People Are Allowed to Talk About It, Yell About It

In fact, I hope they do. I’m glad many are doing so.

I have seen this attitude on social media, and I have overheard conversations in real life to this effect: the election is over, the people have spoken, end of story. Another key phrase includes, “What’s the point of protesting anyway?” It’s almost like folks are conflating activism with acting out.

So, I am not someone who has been to many protests or rallies. When I had the time I didn’t have the interest, and now that I have interest I also have a full-time job. I also try not to discuss the traditionally controversial topics of religion and politics in public online, though I am very comfortable discussing those topics with close friends.

But. My feelings started changing with this election.

I mentioned before that I did not get my wanted-for outcome, but I was feeling this way regardless.

I have a big concern with the ideas of civic duty and obligation. It takes a huge effort to get people to go to vote, so for many of us, that feels like the extent of it. Really, voting to make your opinion be heard? It’s not enough.

It’s like we vote, and then we expect our elected officials to know exactly how we would like them to govern by… reading our minds? Or keeping up with our individual vague, passive aggressive social media posts? Do we really think the conversation ends at the ballot box?

I had resolved, long before the outcome was known, that I wanted to stay engaged. I live a life shaped by politics and policy, so I may as well feel listened to about it. How do I make my voice heard?

I figure out where I stand on issues, through research and reflection, not all of it easy, not all of it comfortable.
I figure out what matters most to me.
I call and write my congresspeople and senators.
I take part in demonstrations, and communicate to others why.
I can volunteer and donate to causes I believe in.
I can support members of my community more directly affected by policy shifts.
I remain receptive to other ideas.

I think it’s worth noting that many of the protests I see reported are at high schools; perhaps that’s what I see because I spend so much time on the education side of Twitter. But, anyway, many high school students are not yet old enough to vote, yet many will be directly affected by changes in policy that originate in this election. They couldn’t use their vote as their voice, so they’re using their feet as they march.

And I really, really want to quash that pernicious “the people have spoken story over” narrative, especially when I hear it said in front of children by adults with authority. It’s true that not everything is up for debate. One candidate lost the election, and the other one. But there are bigger issues at stake. We need to hold our representatives accountable for their decisions, and large-scale demonstrations help them know that, while we elected them once, we may not do it again: they are beholden to us. We do what we can to keep them accountable.

I will be the check, and I will find my balance. And I hope that others will join me.


Nappiness and Unhappiness: An Example of Controversy in Children’s Lit

I remember reading bell hooks in college and graduate school. A scholar, activist, and champion of intersectionality, she addresses issues of race, class, and gender in her work; I’d absolutely recommend looking into some of her scholarly articles. Needless to say, when I saw that she had written a book for children, I was immediately intrigued. Happy to Be Nappy is a fun read; the text lends itself well to being read aloud, and is accompanied by lovely illustrations by Chris Raschka. However, I had no idea when I found this book that it responds to a contentious debate, spurred by a particular event that occurred in the New York City school system in the late 1990s. This event was triggered by a white teacher’s use of the book Nappy Hair in a diverse classroom setting, and echoes of it still reverberate in classrooms today.

The short version of the story: In 1998, teacher Ruth Sherman read Carolivia Herron’s award-winning picture book to her Brooklyn classroom. Students loved it so much they wanted to take it home with them. Unable to oblige them all, Sherman made photocopies. The quality of cheap and quick Xerox copies, found by parents in their children’s book-bags and folders, did the illustrations little justice. Rendering a deceptively complex text and its colorful pictures into black and white does it no favors. From there, the events escalated, until the teacher transferred to another school, and Herron’s book was banned from classrooms all over.

It can be very challenging to teach a controversial book. It can be questionable even having it in a classroom. But what was at the heart of this issue? Herron maintains that her book was written as a celebration of nappy hair, but somehow a white teacher using it in her classroom appeared racist. The teacher was marked. The book was tainted. The topic was touchy. This is the atmosphere that bell hooks attempted to break through by creating a book of her own that addresses the same touchy topic of textured tresses, in an even more celebratory way than the original controversial text, but whether or not it’s been successful at addressing the controversy is hard to determine.

One could look and see how many copies each book has sold, whether they’ve been continuously in print, their placement on bookseller’s lists. One could check their local bookstore and see if they’re on the shelf. But the truth of the matter is I’ve never seen them on display in a classroom I’ve visited. Neither of them are on the shelves at my local library. I could find them through the library loan system, surely, but that’s not the easiest way to get one’s hands on a particular book – especially if the hands they need to get to are the hands of children.

Would you teach either of these books in your classrooms? If so, would you address them differently than you would other books? If you didn’t teach these books, would they still be welcome on your shelves?

School Week Round-Up: Week Twelve

Week 12, what a week of ups and downs.

Lessons: We tried our first HyperDoc in second grade. They understood pretty quickly how it worked, but their feelings on it are lukewarm. This is probably largely because it’s not the world’s most incredible HyperDoc; it’s very training-wheels-style. That says more about me than it does about them, I think. But since we have so many devices in our school now, I think other teachers could start to incorporate HyperDocs as a tool more and more in other subjects. Plus, it seems like a good idea to have a library of HyperDocs on a variety of topics, to pull out when needed. I might even make a couple to post on Google Classroom in case I have any unexpected absences; if kids understand HyperDocs pretty well on their own, then they can probably walk a tech-challenged substitute through it.

Support: “It’s like this week is the week where all my technology just decided to go crazy.” A first grade teacher made that remark to me as I was re-setting up her SmartBoard after she decided to switch from pairing it with a desktop to pairing it with her laptop. It was funny to me because technology does sometimes seem to have moods and issues that can’t be explained logically. Really, there probably are logical explanations, we just aren’t fully aware of them.

I’m also a little nervous about students taking the AIR test on Chromebooks next week. I hope we have few issues. I need to re-read a lot of the directions, to feel better about it.

Things I Did Well: This week the principal came and observed one of my classes. And… I got probably the best evaluation I’ve had in a long time, possibly the best since I’ve come to this district, possibly the best of my career. Did I do a perfect job? No. Not by a long shot. But my principal had reasonable, achievable feedback for bringing up the parts that were weaker for me. And, not that her feedback has to meet this particular metric, her ideas for improvement were ideas I got excited about.

Things I Will Do Better: Well, I’ll start with incorporating my principal’s ideas into my lessons and professional practice! She also had good ideas for better harnessing my strengths, too. For example, she acknowledged risks while agreeing that backchanneling can be a powerful tool, and had some ideas on how to sharpen students’ focus while using it.

Cold Prickly: I am having a difficult time dealing with election results, and the domino effect they have had. I am not referring only to the presidential election, I am referring to elections on my state and local level too. Out of every candidate, all the way down the ballot, only three I voted for won their race; out of those three, one ran unopposed, and one’s headed for a recount. I also had two issues on my ballot, and only one ended in the result I voted for. So, I definitely feel like I was on the losing team this time around. But I still have every intention of holding my elected officials accountable, whether or not I voted for them.

More than that, I feel heartbreak over reports of hate crimes. For example, my sister and her husband saw a swastika and “kill [slur]s” spray painted on the grass on the bike trail they used to get to their polling place. They contacted authorities immediately. They live in a community where that is less of a threat against a minority, and more of a call-to-action aimed at people who agree with the sentiment; so while I worry over who might have seen it, it’s not because I think someone’s feelings may have been hurt. It’s more because it emboldens people who think that idea is okay. 

I have also read stories shared by teachers on social media about assuaging students’ fears. My heart goes out to these school families.

Additionally, I’m reading some of the president-elect’s actions as counter to some of the things he said on the campaign trail. For example, “drain the swamp” was a repeated chant at many of his rallies, symbolizing the removal of “insiders” from Washington, D.C. Yet his transition team seems filled with many such insiders. My concern there is for his supporters, who voted for him as the change candidate, believing that it was time for someone with an apolitical background to be in charge. What I see is someone who was not a politician very quickly becoming a politician. Obviously that was going to happen to some degree; but I wonder where the line is for supporters. We are all of us willing to forgive in our own candidate what we condemn in the other, but I wonder what will be the point where supporters do decide to hold their candidate accountable to things said while campaigning. For example, I am very skeptical of there ever being a physical wall on the Mexican border that Mexico pays for. If that wall does not materialize, what will the peoples’ reaction be?

A resource I’ve enjoyed is this NPR critique of Donald Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office. It’s a helpful reminder of the limits of presidential power. Some of these things cannot and will not get done unless others go along with them; the suggestion of congressional term limits stands out as an example.

Warm Fuzzy: This week I am thankful for my supportive husband. For example, this week a local church group provided dinner for teachers at our parent-teacher conferences. But, by the time I got to eat, the options were rather limited. I remarked to another teacher that I was okay with it, because I could simply text my husband and he would have dinosaur-shaped macaroni and cheese waiting for me when I got home. Well, I forgot to text him… but he still had dinosaur-shaped macaroni and cheese waiting for me when I got home! That was just one of several examples of why I love him this week. He is such a great helpmate and I love him so very, very much. </mushy stuff>

Method to Morning Announcements

einstein-1173990_1280This is how we make our morning announcements at our school.

First, I downloaded free, no-attribution-necessary videos from Pixabay to make into our Intro and Outtro stings, as well as our regular announcements like birthdays and weather. I added free, no-attribution-necessary music from Youtube to them, to make it more fun.

Next, students record clips of themselves doing the daily changing announcements using Quicktime. Usually they use my laptop, since it’s faster than the lab computers. Sometimes they eat lunch in the computer lab and work on them days in advance, since things like the lunch menu can be figured out in advance. They name the clips something like 1027lunch, 1027news, 1027history, so that I can import them into iMovie all at the same time. I also only change the Outtro every couple of weeks, since that script is more permanent. I will have students re-record as we start rotating new kids in this month.

We do have one student records audio and not video, so I download pictures to go with that report, either from Pixabay or Wikimedia Commons. I try to get ones that I don’t need to attribute, but if I do have to attribute, I make sure I copy and paste the necessary attribution into the video description when I upload it. (Thanks Creative Commons!)

Then, I put the clips in the order that I want them. And I make sure visual images sync up with audio where necessary. This is something I’ve turned into a template. I hope that by the end of the year, the students will be doing much of this behind-the-scenes work. But, we’ll see.

Next, I make sure the “titles” are updated. I use titles to identify the students reporters, to credit news sources for current events, and to overlay changing information over videos that stay the same. For example, I just click on the weather title and re-enter the forecast info for each day.

Finally, I share the project to Youtube, altering the date and making sure it’s set to public. I linked my Youtube account to iMovie to do this. I also set up a Youtube playlist that automatically grabs any video I upload with “WPKY News” in the title. I also usually shoot out a reminder email to teachers with a link to the announcements.

I really liked how we did announcements last year on Google Hangouts, because teachers could tune in live if they wanted, and our efforts were automatically uploaded after. But I like this way too. We can do more in advance (like recording Monday’s announcements on a Friday during lunch if I have a meeting in another building). We can re-do individual bits if we have to and change them out (I expect this will happen to the lunch menu sometimes when we have snow days). We can try and try again when kids stumble over pronunciation.

But it is a work in progress. There are days when I thought I updated a clip but I didn’t, and send out a video with yesterday’s birthdays or lunch. Sometimes when I add a new clip, I forget to delete an older one. I tried to get it going on a lab computer so that kids could do more of the editing independently, but the machine was so slow that both the kids and I got really frustrated with it. I want to incorporate regular segments like “Tech Tip Tuesday” but scheduling is a pain.  But some mistakes stay in on purpose. For example, when kids struggle with words but self-correct, I like to leave it in because I think that’s good modeling for younger students still learning to read.

I’m uploaded the pre-produced clips to Google Drive, so you can use them if you want, or get a sense of how to make your own. I really do encourage making your own, or having students make them, to go along with your school culture!

Children’s Book Awards

When I was a kid I didn’t care a lot about book awards. If a book had some kind of animal on the cover, that was pretty much enough. Maybe some of the books I read were award-winners, maybe they weren’t. I certainly didn’t keep track. Besides, if it was up to kids to give awards, they would probably pick them according to completely different criteria, the way I did – dinosaurs on the cover get first place, ones with horses and dogs get second, honorable mentions to ones that have elephants.

The awards aren’t really there to help the kids; they’re there to help the curators. If a parent or a teacher has a choice between two books, one with a shiny medal on the cover and the other without, which one are they likely to choose? The medal indicates that this book has been through a panel of people who all decided it was pretty great for one reason or another, and that must mean something.

And it does – don’t get me wrong! It’s just that different awards mean different things, so if you’re trying to create a diverse, useful library for young readers, it’s important to pay attention while keeping track.

Perhaps the best-known book awards are the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal. These longstanding awards, decided by the Association for Library Service to Children, to distinguished contributions to American literature each year. These are meant to determine the cream of the crop, but with thousands of new books coming out for kids each year, there’s no way this can be comprehensive!

Fortunately, there are a number of other awards that can also be helpful. The Pura Belpré Award recognizes great Latino literature for children. The American Indian Youth Literature Award does the same for books about American Indians. Other awards that specialize in this way include the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and of course, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards for outstanding African American authors and illustrators.

Using awards to help fill empty shelves, or the empty spaces in those shelves, might be a useful way to get good literature into the hands of eager young readers. Do you use awards as guidelines when purchasing books for your classroom or library? I’d love to hear more about it!