ROBOT – review one book on Thursdays- Divergent by Veronica Roth

robotI’ve mentioned Divergent several times on this blog. Thing is, it’s on the top of my mind- next week I begin teaching it. So, I thought, why not review a book I am teaching? Especially since I am rereading it right now, making notes in my kobo and designing/modifying a unit of study for my students to complete on it. My brain is all divergent right now!

Divergent by Veronica Roth is a modern dystopian novel. Set in future Chicago, the world outside of the fence has been destroyed by war. Those who were left set about building a society, each with different ideas about why the last society went wrong. Some felt cowardliness, some felt dishonesty, some thought it was because people did not value knowledge. Others still felt it was because people did not help enough and more felt it was because people were not accepting enough. So they formed five groups – Dauntless (the brave), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless) and Amity (the friendly). Each faction lives apart, but each contributes to the well being of the society. When a child reaches the age of 16, they choose which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives – do they stay with their parents or seek a different way of life? Divergent hc c(2) They get tested, a test which is supposed to help them understand who they are. Our main character, Beatrice, was born into Abnegation. She is questioning if she belongs there -and then is tested. Her results are inconclusive – a dangerous result in their society. She is deemed divergent by her tester and told to never speak of it. She knows she could choose from any faction – stay with her family, as they are expecting, go to Dauntless or Erudite, the other two factions that came up as results for her. I will give a spoiler – she chooses Dauntless and becomes Tris, the first jumper and the “stiff” who is trying to be brave.

Divergent follows Tris through her training and we see her building relationships with her fellow transfers. She has to try to fit in to a faction that is perhaps the polar opposite from how she was raised and has some struggles. The biggest struggle, however, is suppressing her divergence – hiding that she can be more than one thing. This comes to a head in the end as she is forced to make choices and determine where she fits and what she feels is right and fair.

Divergent is a great book for teens, especially in the grades seven to twelve category. They are figuring themselves out – where do I fit, do I need a faction of support or can I survive without a group of people like myself? When you are forced to decide on one characteristic that defines you, sometimes you are hard pressed to determine what it might be – can I not be brave and honest? Caring and wise? When is it brave to be selfless or selfless to be brave? In teaching this novel, teens find themselves questioning these issues, which is a huge part in their development.

This novel is not perfect. It’s a little simplistic at times and there are characters that could be more developed. There are questions that you might have as a reader that are not addressed in this book – is there more to the world? Where do they get some of the things they can’t make? However, it is the strongest of the three (well, three and a set of novellas) that make up this series. And it does get you thinking, even as an adult – where do I belong and why?

I have read this book too many times to count,  in hard cover, soft cover and on my kobo app. The ISBN is 9780062024039.

ROBOT – Review One Book on Thursdays – ‘Openly Straight’

robotThere are times that a concept of a book makes you think. It could be a questioning of the ethics of entertainment, such as ‘The Hunger Games’, or a look at values and nature vs nurture, such as ‘I Hunt Killers’. In this case, for me, ‘Openly Straight’ by Bill Konigsberg, made me think about what it would be like to be tired of being ‘that person’ in their lives and want to experience the world. Unsure what I mean? Read on….

Rafe is a normal American teenage boy. He’s got parents that he loves dearly and who love him dearly. He writes, he plays soccer, he’s won skiing prizes. And he’s gay. For him, that’s just part of who he is – he’s the guy who likes to do what he straightdoes and that’s him. But to others, he’s the GAY guy. And not in a homophobic way. But in a way where that’s all that is noticed about his personality. His parents made being parents of a gay child their lives – starting support groups, encouraging him to have boyfriends, fighting the fight against homophobia and discrimination. But for Rafe, being gay is only one part of his life while everyone around him thought it was all he was. Time for a change.  His goal – a “label-free life”. To accomplish this, Rafe transfers to an all-boys school in New England. His goal there is not to lie about himself but not to define any parts of his life either. He’s still planning to be who he is but he wants to be able to develop all facets of his life without any of them defining him.

And it works! Well, for a while. He gets a great writing teacher who knows what Rafe is trying to do. He has friends, teammates, party companions. He gets to just be Rafe and it’s great. He pretends he has a girl friend back home, which takes care of some of the dating concerns. And he gets to write and play soccer and be everything but gay. But is that enough? He can still fall in love – and does. And the truth is still there – gay may not be all he is, but it is a part of him. As his best friend points out, “How do you take a break from who you are?”. Rafe has to determine who he is and how he can make all parts of his life balance so that no one part of him threatens to take over the others.

This book does a great job discussing tolerance vs acceptance. That is one of my biggest linguistic issues with social justice – when you teach tolerance you’re saying that there are bad things that you’ll put up with. Acceptance means you’ll be good with the person for everything they bring to the table. You are good enough. While Rafe is learning how to present himself so that he is accepted by all, he learns that sometimes the issues are different from he thinks – perhaps not telling people means that when they do learn about it, they won’t accept him. Not because he’s gay but because he’s dishonest. Because he’s presenting a different side of himself then they are expecting and is in a different place in his life than he’s saying he is. But the lesson that when you deny who you are to others, even through omission, you deny who you are to yourself and lose that part of you is a strong one and one Rafe has to learn, through trials, tribulations and acts of tolerance. It’s a story about a boy who came of age and then had to do it again to truly learn who he is.

Messy hair, great book!

Messy hair, great book!

Sometimes the characters are a little shallow or stereotypical. However, they are written in a smart, funny and often in realistic situations, so that can be forgiven. Konigsberg does a great job balancing the story of Rafe and showing how a character and develop, learn and grow. There is some “language” and a few sexual situations, which makes it realistic for a book about teens. For YA readers interested in LGBTQ issues or ones who work with social justice, this book is a great addition to a collection.

Plus, it has this quote, one of my favorites:

We were dancers and drummers and standers and jugglers, and there was nothing anyone needed to accept or tolerate. We celebrated

I read this book August 18th and 19th, 2013 in a real, live hardcover copy. The ISBN is 9780545509893. It now lives in my classroom library.

 

Organize yourself!

I am not the most organized person. Well, compared to some,  I am super organized and the poster girl for keeping things in order. Or at least that’s what I’m told. However, when writing or creating, I try to make a plan – map things out and get it all in order before I start. This is a skill that took a while to develop and one that I appreciate any and all help to make it easier. There are a few great sites I use and encourage students to use – especially those who say they don’t need to make any outlines for their work.

Popplet is a website and app (for apple) that helps you web information. You can

Screen shot of popplet I made with my English 3202 last year. Popplet itself can be found here.

Screen shot of popplet I made with my English 3202 last year. Popplet itself can be found here.

use it to present information or to map your ideas. I like using it with students for study, especially since I can colour code each idea (and colourcoding is my life!). Popplet is free to start – you just need to sign up with an e-mail address. However, if you want more than five popplets, it costs 3$ a month or 30$ a year. For me, it was worth it but for students it might not be. They do offer an educational option – popplet groups. This option offers a lower cost for popplet accounts for student groups – a cost between 2.00 and 0.50 per account depending on how many students are signing up. For teachers or schools that want to use this as a good organizational tool, it’s a great price.

With popplet you can do some great maps. You can then set up timings and order and present them to others or just keep it for your own usage. If you’re using it for organization for essay writing it’s excellent – simply put the name of your topic in the center in one colour, then follow that by linking your three topics. Then, link your info for each topic. You can find connections and from that build transitions from section to section. Making each section a different colour will help you see your topics that much easier and from that, help you organize. You can also add pictures and video. AND, you can embed it into a website, well, if your site supports flash. Mine apparently does not. You can access your popplet account on the web or with your apple product. Whether you use it for essay organization, for exam review or for presentations, popplet is pretty nifty.

There’s a neat app for apple called MindMap. It’s 1.99 at the app store.

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Horizontal

With it you can plan maps, much like you can with popplet. When your iPad is horizontal, it gives you a map much like popplet – choose a central circle then put your topics around it, adding sub topics as you go. When you turn your iPad vertical,

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Vertical

it gives you a more textual outline, more like you would write on a piece of paper. You can edit it in either form, which ever works best for you. If you want and have e-mail set up on your iPad, you can send it to someone (like, perhaps your teacher who required an outline for that paper you’re working on?). The vertical option does have colours, but the horizontal does not – I like popplet better for mapping because of that, but the mindmapping vertical is great for those who like to make lists, not maps.

 

If you like to type your ideas out, ReadWriteThink has a great free essay mapper. It leads you step by step through your five paragraph essay – asks you for a few lines and sentences explaining your topic, three topics that support your idea

Mapping it out!

Mapping it out!

and details that prove each of those topics.  By simply clicking the arrows, you are prompted to move through your details. At the end it allows you to print, save or share. Very useful for writing the traditional five paragraph essay. And free! All you need is a computer – you don’t even need to sign up for anything. A teacher could just print off the pdf of a blank map if they don’t have access to the technology, however, as long as students have access to a computer, there’s no reason they shouldn’t pass it in.

One of the biggest questions that students don’t understand when it comes to essays is coherence. One of the biggest comments I give when I pass back essays is ‘focus’. These tools will help all students working on essays achieve coherence and focus as they attempt to write the perfect essay.

Healthy Living and apps of mine

dropzone

Me, after rappelling the nine stories of Atlantic Place during an Easter Seals Fundraiser.

One of the last things I said to a fellow teacher was that this summer was going to be my summer. I was going to be well rested, get super healthy and get fit. I had plans, such plans.
So, rested didn’t happen – my family and I have been all over the province. I’ve rappelled down a building for goodness sake! Rested didn’t really happen. Oh well, I can sleep eventually, right?

 

Healthy and fit…. well, that started. I have to admit, there were some holidays taken where wings and pizza were on the menu – it’s a good thing the Bonavista Social Club isn’t closer to my house. However, with the use of some apps, I’ve gotten to push myself health and fitness wise and go farther than I would have imagined. You should note that I mention these apps for my samsung phone; fitbit is the same for my iPad and I am positive that Apple would have a comparable app for c25k and s health.

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Fitbit tracker – whoops – gotta charge it soon!

A gift that I was given was a fitbit. if you’ve ever wondered how much and far you walk every day, a fitbit will help you out. I have the “one”, a fitbit that can track not just my steps but my stairs, my sleep and with the app, give me a space to track water and any weight goals I have. I find it fun to see how much I walk in a day – there are days that seem super active and yet I only walk 7000 steps. There are days I know are full and the fit bit at the end of the day shows that yes, I walked 14000 steps. One hike we took this summer was equal to 49 sets of stairs! The days that are lower but feel like they should be more I analyze- was there are lot of walking from sitting to sitting, was the day more active mentally and that’s why I’m tired? I not-so-secretly have the goal of doing a workout that alone reaches my goal of 10000 steps per day. However, that will come. Right now I think my record is 9000 steps during a workout. Not so shabby and I know it because of my fitbit.

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S Health Tracker

Yet, if you don’t want to pay the money, chances are if you have a smart phone you have a step counter and fitness encourager. My phone is a samsung galaxy and came with S Health. It’s a great step counter – and gives you encouragement as you go – but you do need to be walking with your phone. It doesn’t do as much as fitbit, but has been great for those days when I forget my fitbit at home but want to keep track of my steps. I do like hearing it triumphantly trumpet when I meet my step goals.

 

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My next workout!

But running. How running? I have always envied runners their ease of exercise – they look so graceful and strong running with serious faces. I have always been more of a yoga/swimmer/climber/jillian-michaels-victim. This summer I tried running. I decided that I needed a coach of some sort and most programs were not at good times – being a teacher, you don’t get to do stuff at the same times as others. In this case, I wanted to run at 8am as many mornings as possible. I was not pushing enough – I was letting myself walk more than I should. So I downloaded a Couch to 5K app. You can get any number of paid versions. I, however, choose the free version of the Zen Labs C25K. It’s fantastic – it pushes me to run longer but gives me walking time to recover. I can use a playlist of my own music in the background, while a pleasant voice tells me when to walk and run. AND, in case I don’t hear it, my phone will vibrate. I can choose whatever workout I want and when I finish it will tweet or update my facebook status for me if I wish (I have not opted to do this). You can get a paid version with no ads, but the ads don’t bug me, so I haven’t upgraded. For those hoping to put some fitness into their school week, this is a great app to help push you into running. I’m still not very good – I am quite slow – but my endurance is building up and I’m thrilled by that!

So, as the school year begins, I will have to find new ways to make these apps work with me. If you see me taking laps around my classroom, you’ll know why! I encourage anyone who wants to explore healthier options to check out what they can do with their phones/ipads/tech. I know that my eyes have been opened by my technologies and what they tell me!