The Summer is for Reading!

As the temperatures begin to heat up in classrooms around the country, I felt it was a good time to discuss summer reading lists!

Summer reading has always been an unorganized disaster that most school districts fail to upgrade year after year. At my previous district we assigned one book per summer. The following September we would begin the year with an essay exam in which students could respond about a book they

A) Did not read

B) Read in June when it was assigned

C) Read the back cover and sparknotes

Personally, I found this exercise to be a waste of time and resources. Plus, students were only assigned to read one book! ONE! I know some districts have reading lists that students can select from or offer free personal pan pizzas when you finish a book…BOOK IT! (clap if you remember!) What a great way to educate and fatten at the same time! Go America!

In order to make summer reading an effective tool in our academic arsenal, we need to first define what we want our students to gain from their summer reading lists. The obvious answer is to get them reading during their summer long down time. That’s the wishful thinking response. Other responses might include preparing students for the initial unit next fall, introducing a theme or simply to expand their world view on books teachers cannot fit in during the school year. While all these examples are practical, there is no checkup through out the summer and no way of collaborating.

Here are my problems with summer reading:

Why is there not summer reading for every subject?

What is our objective and end goal for reading in the summer?

Why is there not summer reading for Faculty and Administration?

Now some of you may work in districts that can answer all of those questions with specific examples of how your district has integrated summer reading programs, but I am here to provide an answer to all of the above through two free web applications.




If you are unfamiliar with these applications let me briefly explain what they can do. Enjoy!

In short, Goodreads and Shelfari are social networks for people who love reading and sharing their thoughts on the books they read. Here are some ideas in which you can make Goodreads and Shelfari a part of your summer reading curriculum:

  1. Create a class group and assign a reading list for the summer.
  2. Have students post a discussion topic on the book they are reading and respond to other student posts weekly
    1. Teacher can create a rubric for discussion posts.
  3. Use the online discussions as an icebreaker for the following year or segue way into the first unit.
  4. Include parents in on the summer reading fun! Parents can read along and include their thoughts on the books!
  5. If students do not have computer access it will give them a valid excuse to visit a library (shiver!), Internet café or school districts could (if available) laptops for the summer.
  6. Create a group for cross-curricular reading, i.e. Language Arts and World History.
  7. Create a faculty reading group!
    1. This is a great way to share good reads (pun intended) concerning education. Most of us take courses throughout the year and are introduced to various new books on our craft. Every teacher should have a good reads or shelfari page!
  8. Make reading interactive and fun! Like Facebook!

Hope this helps and I would love to hear ideas and feedback on how your district is approaching summer reading this year.

Power Who? Power What? Power Point!

Yesterday I posted on the great features of SlideShare. Today I received this response on my Ning…

Googledocs is better as it is more collaborative and allows the easy use of Youtube videos. Slideshare is merely passable as you lose all music, animations and video. At that point you might as well output your ppt as jpegs and drop them into a java slideshow which is essentially what slideshare seems to do.

While this author makes a valid point about the collaborative nature of GoogleDocs and the ability to embed video and animations, he fails to miss the – get ready to LOL at this intended pun – point of the intended nature of my students’ powerpoint.

Here was my response…

For the project I assigned above, my students were only allowed to use images and brief text to convey their idea. When you rethink the idea of a powerpoint what does a video, massive amounts of text and neat animations provide an audience anyway? If you are presenting it is YOU who is presenting the information, not the powerpoint. If you embed YouTube videos and animations then you might as well tell your students to create an imovie and let the students sit back and watch while the presenter joins in the viewing.

I want my students to be thorough with their research and knowledgeable presenters who can think on their feet and are well versed on what they are presenting. I alway show the first few minutes of Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” to help students understand what a good presentation looks like. The presentation should be the backdrop to the presenter not overly animated and visually distracting.

Nothing against Googledocs, but when you want students to PRESENT and not ENTERTAIN then have them use slideshare!

I’ll leave you with this from a former colleague of mine who was helping students rethink and redesign powerpoint…

If your students are presenting on hieroglyphics, which slide looks better to as an audience member? Which slide intrigues you more? Which slide requires more presenter involvement and knowledge?


When I am sitting back in the audience grading a presentation, I want to see slide #2! I have created – back in the days of primitive powerpoint (insert golf clap for alliteration! Teaching moment!) – and have sat through numerous presentations using slide #1 and it is torture to an audience member.

Two years ago our assistant principal gave a powerpoint presentation using a stoic white backdrop that was flanked by default black text. Despite numerous misspellings, the powerpoint was a flop. A flop in the vein of The Love Guru.

My point is that no matter what housing forum we use to share and embed our powerpoints, we need to understand that powerpoint is a tool for a presenter; it is not intended to replace the presenter. As teachers we must also employ this same method when presenting to our students. Many times we don’t practice what we preach and torture our students with text laden powerpoints that go on for days.

The next time you create a powerpoint for your students, think about how it would feel to view the same powerpoint you just created. What effect will it have on learning? If you are just dictating notes via a powerpoint to usurp valuable class time, then simply give them a hand out or post the note filled powerpoint on your class wiki for students to view at home, take notes and then discuss the next day in class. This will surely save class time and your students will love you for it!

I’m not saying that SlideShare will change the way we present, but it gives us an option to display the powerpoints we want, while providing a central location for viewing and sharing them.

I hope this helps in your classroom and I always welcome feedback!

SlideShare is Everywhere!

Have you ever plugged in your flash drive into a laptop, opened a powerpoint presentation and it doesn’t work? Have your students ever done the same thing, and used technology downfall as an excuse to get out of presenting? Have you ever wanted to embed your powerpoint slides on a wiki to share with students and parents? If you answered yes to all of the above then I have your solution.

Slideshare is a site that allows users to upload, store and share powerpoint slide presentations. Slideshare gives you the ability to have your powerpoints at your disposal where ever you go and the best part is that it is totally free!
Last year while I was teaching 1984, I utilized slideshare with my students who were presenting chapters of the novel to the class. I introduced them to slideshare and they were able to upload their presentations and then post them on our class wiki. If you reference my earlier post on wikis in the classroom, you will see that I had students maintain a daily log of their work on the presentations. They had to provide progress, group tasks and any documents they would be handing out during their presentation. Here are two of the examples that students used via slideshare.

You will notice that once the presentations are embedded into your blog or wiki, they allow you to utilize most of the functions that is alloted in a presentation program. Also, teachers can utilize this with all of their presentations they use in the classroom. You can even email them to students if they missed a class in which you gave a presentation. Slideshare is also useful for professional development classes and workshops. It is one way in which you can share your presentations and student work without having to locate, find and sync a flash drive.
Students and colleagues alike can follow along with a slideshare presentation as well. If teachers embed their slideshare presentation to a blog or wiki, students and faculty can follow along on their laptops. This may assist students who have trouble following slides or if students wish to use the presentation as a study guide later in the unit.
I hope you enjoyed this idea and would like to hear feedback about how you utilized slideshare in your own classroom!

Evernote Will Organize Your Life!

Today I will be beginning my two part series for Earth Day! These two lessons will help you reduce paper usage in your classroom, library and school building, while educating your students with great web tools for research and presentation. However, be careful of jealous colleagues when you are suddenly viewed as the “green teacher”. I was told once that I was, “making everyone else look bad and ignorant.” This comment came after I began piloting my paperless classroom. I put a lot of time and effort into reducing paper in my classroom, only to be scoffed at by several colleagues who were not willing to…

  1. Try something new after 30 years of teaching
  2. Improve their classroom organization and reduce clutter
  3. Enjoy their prep period rather than spend it fighting with the copier

Enough about my ranting and on to the content for today! Go GREEN!

Today I am presenting a wonderful web-clipping tool that both teachers and students can use in a variety of ways. The tool is called Evernote. Evernote can be downloaded on to MAC and Windows operating systems and is completely free. This can also be used on smart phones and the iPhone.

Here is an introduction to the basic features of Evernote

Evernote allows you to gather clippings from various websites without having to bookmark every single site you enjoy. In short, you can select the text and photos that are of importance to you! So, let’s consider Evernotes practicality in the classroom.

Language Arts/History

Think about students doing research. The teacher gives his or her students a credible, academically authored list of websites. This list can be posted on the class wiki or moodle in order to save all the future trees that will be planted tomorrow! Students review the sites and find a piece of information they really like on George Orwell. However, time is running out and for most students they would immediately select FILE > PRINT. And what prints out? The entire web page! (Insert old school Mr. Yuck sticker here!). The student takes the 15 pages that just printed out, stuffs it into a folder and forgets that good bit he or she was reading right before the sound of the bell. This is the old way. Let’s have our students try the new way!

Art/Graphic Design

Let’s consider what an art teacher might use Evernote for…

Using Evernote in the classroom is always a great way to help students understand the importance of a “Tag”. Provide students with a mini lesson on tagging and how it can save them time when conducting research.

I hope this has been a valuable asset to your class and look forward to hearing how you use Evernote in your class!

Hamlet in Plain English

I thought for my first official post on this site I would entertain my readers and fellow teachers with a new way to look at William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Last spring I decided to turn Shakespeare’s world upside down by utilizing the “common craft” technique to storytelling. If you have not visited Lee LeFever’s website, please do now! Pass GO, collect your $200 and get to Common Craft!!!! Ken Rodoff, our technology coach at Springfield, introduced me to this site and we were both impressed by the simplicity and ability to glean difficult concepts via Mr. LeFever’s videos. We pondered….”How can we bring this concept into language arts?” Then we came up with this…

Hamlet in Plain English

If you are reading this, you…

A) …are alive.

B) …passed reading class a long, long time ago.

C) …just watched a witty Common Craft video.Yay!


Take a theme from Hamlet and create a Common Craft-esque video that represents your theme.

We will use class time to create this project, and we’ll have many special guest appearances by Ken Rodoff, aka the Lord of the Wiki! In class, we’ll break down each day into a different task. And at the end, we’ll screen our films.


1. Select a theme. We have discussed many themes threaded throughout Hamlet. Your job is to select one and propose your initial idea to me.

2. Once you have your theme, you will gather at least five textual examples that represent this theme. I want to see the act, scene, and line numbers.

3. Once you have gathered the textual evidence, you will organize it into an outline that you will eventually translate into a storyboard.

4. Create a storyboard. The storyboard will serve as the blueprint for the film. You must provide pictures along with the script for each storyboard scene. I must approve the storyboard before you begin filming.

5. After you have created your storyboard, you will begin to gather and create elements to use for the film. Keep in mind that you are using the blueprint of a Common Craft video to convey your theme simply. You may use a variety of options here.

6. Once you have completed all of the aforementioned tasks, you will begin filming.

Filming should take one class block. I suggest filming in sequential order to expedite the editing process.

7. The final stage of this project will consist of editing the film and doing the voice-over recording. This will be the longest stage of the project and will require a lot of input from all group members.

8. After you’ve finished your films, we will screen them all in class. We will show the films not only to our class but to other classes as well.


  • Hamlet Text
  • White board and storyboard
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • Video Camera and Tape
  • Microsoft Movie Maker
  • Microphone and Audacity Sound Editor
  • CD-R

Grading Criteria:

  • The following are criteria for grading this project:
  • There is evidence of collaboration during research, storyboarding, filming, and editing.
  • The storyboard is clear and has extremely specific scenes and quotes. It identifies your theme and shows that your scenes reinforce and demonstrate that theme.
  • You do all your work within the allotted time. This includes your storyboarding, filming, and editing.
  • The film’s scenes sync up with the storyboard.
  • The storyboard is well written and free of grammatical and mechanical errors.
  • The film is at least one minute long, but not longer than two minutes.
  • Group members show that they had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed this “super happy-rific” project!

The entire project will be worth seventy points per group. Each group member will also anonymously grade the other members on their individual performance in the group. I will provide a rubric for this procedure.

© 2008 Andrew Marcinek, Springfield Township High School, and Ken Rodoff,

Classrooms for the Future.

Eureka! Shakespeare is fun, cool, collaborative, visual and engaging to senior, honors English students!!!

This lesson was introduced after we completed the reading and viewing of Hamlet. In class we would read and analyze the play. Each night students would read a section of the play and bring in their interpretations of what they felt were critical passages in the play. At the end of each Act students were quizzed on specific passages in which they had to identify the players, context, literary techniques used in the passage and a thorough analysis of the passage. Also, at the end of each act students were shown the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet.

Once we finished the play I started the Hamlet in Plain English lesson by showing my students one of Mr. LeFever’s Common Craft videos. I then asked, “Describe this video in one word.”

Some of the responses I received….








Then I asked them, “Why did I show you this video? Taking into consideration the current unit we were discussing.”


This was my inciting incident! With that student response the lesson was underway!

I want you to make a common craft video that focuses on a theme in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and make it CLEAN, SIMPLE, CLEAR, EFFICIENT, CLEVER, BASIC, PAINLESS!

I then handed them the aforementioned criteria and we were off. Here is an example of one of the videos and also the winner of Best Picture and Best use of Humor. Enjoy!

When we finished the lesson we had a screening day where I showed the films from all three of my English classes. We also held a mini-Oscar Award show in which students voted on categories such as, Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Use of Humor, etc. This day was a great conclusion to my Shakespeare/Hamlet unit.

Positive Outcomes of the Lesson

  • Student collaboration and engagement with the play
  • Understanding a complex text and its literary merit
  • Finished product students could share with friends and a teacher could model to other students.
  • Several videos that a teacher could show to Special Education students for a language arts lesson on Shakespeare.

Lesson Recommendations

  • This can be time consuming so make sure you provide your students with a time schedule. Creative productions can drag on if not properly time stamped.
  • If you have a tech coach in your building, make sure you sign up for his or her assistance!
  • Understand your video equipment, sound equipment and editing software on your computers! It is best to present a mini lesson on all of these tools before going forward. It is best to have the tech coach present with you if this option is available.

Any questions or comments on the lesson you can leave below or if you would like a PDF of any of my handouts from this lesson please feel free to e-mail me at