Children’s Choice Book Awards Announced

This year’s winners of the annual Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards were announced at the seventh annual Children’s Book Council gala in New York last night. What I like about these awards are that the children vote for their favorites themselves, so this list is truly a reflection of what our nation’s kids like to read!

“The Children’s Book Council’s vetting process ensures that voting is done by children and teens, or submitted from classroom ballot boxes, they said.”

Here are the top winners in each category (click on thumbnails for more information):

K-2nd grade Book of the Year:
The Day The Crayons Quit
by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.






3rd-4th grade Book of the Year:
Bugs in My Hair!
by David Shannon.

Bugs in Hair





5th-6th grade Book of the Year:
National Geographic Kids Myths Busted!
by Emily Krieger, illustrated by Tom Nick Cocotos.

Myths Busted





Teens Book of the Year:
by Veronica Roth.






Illustrator of the Year:
Grace Lee
Sofia the First: The Floating Palace.

Sofia First





Author of the Year:
Rush Limbaugh
Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans.

Rush Revere


Is it Summer Yet?


Mud Pie Kitchen.

A kid-centered local business in Wilmette, Growth Spurts, recently posted a great Pinterest board with outside play ideas for children. Growth Spurts is actually an indoor play space for kids, but it looks like they are moving a few activities outdoors in anticipation of summer. I poked around Pinterest, and found a few other boards with inspiration – some for playing outside, and some for just playing (you never know when you might go for that play therapy credential, right?). After the recent flooding and crazy weather, I think we’re all ready for a little sunshine and fun!

Links to other Pinterest boards:
Play Space Ideas
Mud Pie Kitchens
Outdoor Fun
Waldorf Preschools
Get Back Outside
Play Learn Grow

The Resignation Heard ‘Round the World

Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher. As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that  “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.

For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,

Gerald J. Conti Social Studies Department Leader
Cc: Doreen Bronchetti, Lee Roscoe
My little Zu.


“Once You Learn Something it Never Leaves You”

A little school humor for my cohort. It’s been one of those weeks where you know you know what you know, but you can’t translate that knowledge into statements that make sense to anyone.

Someone told me we’re in what’s known as the “March Doldrums.” Tensions are flaring, moods are fragile, and stress is high. I guess it’s just part of the school-year cycle, but I’m hoping it’s over soon – if only for the sake of our collective mental health. A lot of schools have spring break next week, so that may be the cure. In the meantime, enjoy this clip from The Andy Griffith Show.

The “Toy Stories” Project

Enea - Boulder, Colorado

Enea – Boulder, Colorado

Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti spent 18 months taking photographs of children around the world posing with their most prized possessions. The project is called Toy Stories, and you can see a nice sampling of it here. 

All of the photos, along with a longer essay about the project, can be viewed on Mr. Galimberti’s website, here.

What a beautiful and thought-provoking project. As someone named Graeme Stuart writes in the comments section of the feature shoot article: “…It certainly highlights the differences in standard of living – but not necessarily quality of life.” How true.

Arafa & Aisha - Bububu, Zanzibar

Arafa & Aisha – Bububu, Zanzibar

Cun Zi Yi - Chongqing, China

Cun Zi Yi – Chongqing, China

Davide - La Valletta, Malta

Davide – La Valletta, Malta

Kalesi - Viseisei, Fiji Islands

Kalesi – Viseisei, Fiji Islands

Ragnar - Reykjavik, Iceland

Ragnar – Reykjavik, Iceland

Abel - Nopaltepec, Mexico

Abel – Nopaltepec, Mexico

Virginia - American Fork, Utah

Virginia – American Fork, Utah

Doodle 4 Google Drawing Contest

Did you know that Google is hosting a drawing contest for kids? Apparently they’ve been doing this for the past six years, but I just found out about it yesterday. Okay, so I’m a little late to the game. But there are still about 2 weeks left to submit entries so I thought it was worthwhile to post about (plus, now you’ll have a heads-up for next year!).

It’s called Doodle 4 Google, and it’s open to all K-12 kids in the U.S.

This year, we ask students to exercise their creative imaginations around the theme, “My Best Day Ever…” One talented student artist will see their artwork appear on the Google homepage, receive a $30,000 college scholarship, and a $50,000 technology grant for their school along with some other cool prizes!

Here’s a short video about it:

Want to see how many submissions your state has entered so far? Check out this interactive map. Looks like North Dakota is still in the lead, while Illinois isn’t even in the top 10. We’ve got some work to do!

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 12.09.13 PM

Parents can submit their child’s art, and teachers can submit their students’ art. The only limitation is one drawing per child, but, for example, a teacher could submit a drawing by each child in her class. Good luck, and let’s all get doodling!

Contest information.
Entry forms.

Archive of all Google doodles since 1998.

Inspiration of the Week: Holly Marschke


If you need a little pick-me-up, I suggest reading this great profile of 14-year-old Holly Marschke in the NY Times. Deaf since birth, Holly attended mainstream schools through middle school, at which point she switched to the New York School for the Deaf-Fanwood at the age of 12 (the article hints that perhaps her hearing peers were not so kind as they approached the teen years).

When the girl’s basketball team at her school folded – because most of the girls wanted to switch to cheerleading – Holly gracefully shifted to the boy’s team. Since then she’s been known simply as No. 34. She’s not “a novelty,” she’s not “the girl player,” she’s not “the deaf girl player.” She’s just No. 34. Sometimes inclusion can happen in ways you couldn’t anticipate, with outcomes better than you could imagine.

Holly’s been playing basketball since she was four, and has no intention of stopping any time soon. Way to go, Holly! You’re an inspiration to all of us.

“I’m never going to give up on basketball,” Holly said, with her mother serving as her sign-language interpreter. “I want to be famous.”

The State of The Union and A State of Mind

Picture 4“His melancholy was stamped on him while in the period of gestation.
It was part of his nature.” –Henry C. Whitney

Tonight is the President’s State of the Union address. In honor of this important American tradition, I tried to come up with something linking psychology with the American Presidency. Perhaps not surprisingly, I actually found something!

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln wrote eloquently about depression (melancholy)? I think it’s pretty common knowledge that President Lincoln was known for his “gloomy” temperament. But it’s probably less well-known that he wrote poetic and touching letters to grieving citizens and friends at various times during his life.

Here’s a great page about Lincoln and his depression from a website devoted to Abraham Lincoln research. Called the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, it was created by an ex-history teacher named Roger J. Norton for “students, teachers, schools, and anyone interested in…Lincoln.”

The page on depression is a pretty quick read and engaging from start to finish. So I definitely recommend just reading that. But here are a few quotes, written by Lincoln, that stood out to me:

“Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.”
“A tendency to melancholy…let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault.”
“You can not now realize that you will ever feel better…and yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again…I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.”

Book links for further reading:

“Lincoln’s Melancholy,” by Joshua Wolf Shenk.
“The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln,” by Michael Burlingame.
“Herndon’s Life of Lincoln,” William H. Herndon.

The Scared is scared (of things you like)

Here’s a wonderful little movie created by a 6-year-old boy named Asa (with a little help from a grown up, but still).

The movie, called the Scared is scared, tells the tale of a bear, a mouse, swimming pools, sleepovers, friendship, pizza and life. It’s excitement, fear, joy and bewilderment wrapped up into a story full of heart and humor that only a six-year-old’s imagination could provide.

It also is a great lesson in handling adversity. When you find yourself facing a challenge – a major life transition, a metaphorical door closing, anxiety, a monster under your bed – Asa has this advice:

“You should just say ‘OK! I’m fine!’ I usually let it go. I just think of something that I really like to do…just think of something else until the nervous has gone out of you…”

In other words, by thinking of something you like, you can help relieve sadness, anxiety, tension, etc. Asa: “The Scared is scared of things you like.” 

Asa doesn’t know it, but his approach is a lot like cognitive behavioral therapy: by challenging your negative thoughts, you can have a positive impact on your mood and behavior. Way to go, Asa. Thanks for the important reminder!

Mayan Apocalypse Myths are Scaring Children

Yesterday, NASA hosted one of their live Hangouts on Google+ to talk about the myths surrounding 2012 and the Mayan calendar. We’ve all heard the stories about the world supposedly ending at the end of this year, and luckily we are able to laugh them off as the silly stuff of pseudoscience.

But did you know that NASA scientist David Morrison receives letters from children all over the country who are so worried about the world ending in 2012 that they are having trouble eating and sleeping, and some teenagers have even confessed to feeling suicidal? This is not good, to say the least. The myths and fears being propagated about the Mayan calendar are seemingly fed by Internet rumors, New-Age-type beliefs, and Hollywood movies.

The complete Hangout is about 52 minutes long, but I definitely recommend it if you have time. Skip ahead to the 5:30 mark to hear Mr. Morrison talking about the disturbing letters he’s received from children and teachers across the country. Here’s the full video:

For a shorter, quick-and-to-the-point video explanation of why the world won’t end in three weeks, here is Don Yeomans from NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory breaking down the different aspects of the myth:

For further reference:

  • NASA’s FAQ page about why the world won’t end in 2012.
  • Don Yeoman’s 2012 hoax page.
  • Top six 2012 “end-of-the-world” myths debunked by National Geographic.
  • And, for a little perspective, a list of predicted apocalyptic events throughout history. I think we can all agree on the outcomes.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a famous quote from my all-time favorite astrophysicist:

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” -Carl Sagan