Books, Books, Books

Hi! and hope you’re doing well, wherever you are and whatever you’re up to.  Here are some books I’ve read and liked as of late.

1.A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihar

This book is becoming a cult classic and I think our grandchildren will be reading and talking about it. I liked it, but it’s hard to get through. I had to take a break from reading it (twice) because it is so devastating, but I really loved the main character, and so I kept coming back. This book is nihilistic, but the prose is exceptional and the character development is realistic, relatable, remarkable. It made me want to learn every word in the world. The plot itself involves some suspension of disbelief. The amount of success, the failure, and abuse in the storyline is completely exaggerated and difficult to believe.

There are a ton of loose ends in this book, which makes it feel sort of sloppy; but it’s engrossing and thought provoking enough to carry. It is definitely rated R. I don’t think I recommend it to everyone, because it is so devastating and graphic.  This book will make you very happy to come back to your life. Also it’s 800 pages.

2. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

Oh, this is a good one!  Sort of vapid lifestyles but the main theme of the novel is substantive. It’s delicious, intriguing, and suspenseful. The plot: mothers and their children living in a wealthy part of Australia, a child being bullied in kindergarten, and the secrets these families keep. A sub-theme of the story is that secrets don’t stay secrets. The TV version also emphasizes the tightrope women walk when trying to balance family and career. Loved the ending of this one- Liane Moriarty knows how to entertain.

3. Counting by 7s, Holly Goldberg Sloan

A YA read about a genius, quirky middle school girl whose parents die in a car accident.  She thinks very analytically and the narrative involves a lot of math and science and some amusing thought processes that made me laugh out loud a few times. It’s full of interesting factoids, but the plot isn’t very intriguing. As a side note, the YA read I keep hearing good things about is The Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate.

4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

This book is a delight. Hilarious. However, Eleanor’s thinking is super grating.  She is SO judgmental! She is awkward and harsh and very very candid. Her narrative will make you laugh out loud.

As the story progressed, Eleanor completely grew on me.  She is endearing and lovable in the quirkiest of ways. I also really felt for her and her life story. The themes of the book are social awkwardness and loneliness – the author illustrated and articulated her themes so clearly and she depicted life in 2016 (ish) perfectly. I love Raymond and I love Raymond’s mom.

The ending made me question all the thoughts and beliefs we cling to. You will be shocked at the end.

Here is my secret wish: to know what a guy thinks of this book.

5. Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane

Before reading Since We Fell I had never heard of or read anything by Dennis Lehane (have you?). In the prologue you find out that Rachel kills Brian at some point in the story, but you don’t know when it will happen. The beginning is a little slow while Rachel is looking for her birth father and then things pick up in the second half when you learn more about Brian. It’s not meant to be a funny book, but there is one scene near the end, when everything is unraveling, that made me fall over laughing.

The reviews say it’s diabolical. I just looked up that word and it *is* diabolical (of the devil!). At least Brian is.

I think they should make this into a movie and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers. I loved it. I might even read it again, violating my only-read-a-novel once policy.

6. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Eh. The plot is sort of interesting but too slow. The characters aren’t really special. I really make an effort to like at least one character in every book I read, but it wasn’t easy in this one. I think the author has potential though.

There is part of me that sort of wants to write a book, but I think coming up with a good plot is pretty challenging. I don’t want to write one that is a thinly veiled story of my own life- That might be kind of bland. ; )

Anyway, I hope this list can help you find a good read for your next vacation. : )

Don’t forget to watch general conference this weekend and please feel uplifted by this video:


Happy New Year!

We have the news conference about Ultima Thule on– it’s the new object that the Hubble Telescope discovered that is 1 billion miles past Pluto. I think NASA first saw it in 2014.  The New Horizons spacecraft flew past it and took pictures of it last night. Since it takes a few hours for the pictures to get to earth, NASA will show them sometime tonight. The New Horizons spacecraft launched 13 years ago– the NASA people look so relieved and happy right now.   

Are you watching? Do you think we’ll get a new planet? What do you think is on it?!

And, did you have a great holiday?  The highlight for me (so far) was getting a ride in the new Tesla 3.

Wishing you a great start to the new year.

Grateful Anew

Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday.  Isn’t it nice to know we already have everything we need? My list includes: food, shelter, a soft warm bed, my faith, and difficult things. I’m grateful for my computer and all the things there are to learn about HCI. I’m grateful for earnest little humans and for my family.

What are you grateful for?

Of course it is hard to beat the food this time of year.  Here is a Thanksgiving Battlecry to inspire you when it comes time to eat thirds this Thursday. 😀

Wishing you a full heart, table, and stomach this Thanksgiving.

You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman


My brother got an iPod in 2002 and came over to show it to me.  It was blue and boxy and I had never seen anything like it. He was super excited about it and he said it could hold thousands of songs. I was skeptical.

To demonstrate, we went out to his Audi in the driveway, hooked it up with the speakers, and turned on Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman.  It was my first time hearing the song and my brother sort of ruined it when he sang along. But It was one of those surreal moments when I was holding this weird tech gizmo from the future and  listening to this new, old song from decades ago and it gave me a rush I won’t forget.

What a legend. R-e-s-p-e-c-t. We’ll miss you Aretha.






I’m reading a book about Elizabeth Schuyler and it’s got me on a Founding Fathers kick.  Unending props to Lin Manuel Miranda for sparking a patriotic awakening.

Here are some profound little gems I’ve enjoyed as of late.

Founding Fathers Quotes:

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” – George Washington

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” -Thomas Jefferson

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams

“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.” – John Adams

“Hide not your talents.  They for use were made.  What’s a sundial in the shade?” – Ben Franklin

“Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.” – Ben Franklin

Education Quotes:

“I have no interest in competing with anyone.  I hope we all make it.” – Erica Cook

“The truth is that anything significant that happens in math, science, or engineering is the result of heightened intuition and creativity.  This is art by another name, and it’s something that tests are not very good at identifying or measuring.” -Sal Khan

A longstanding favorite of mine:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.  It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places- and there are so many- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.  The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

-Howard Zinn

Also, have you read the book the Four Agreements?  It’s my new Bible.  The ideas are a little oversimplified, but it’s a good read.

Hope you’re having a great week! Go Warriors!

Giving Students the Right Amount of Power and Autonomy Part 3: The End

In case you’re still interested, here’s a couple things to keep in mind in the end of a project or unit.

  1. Have students defend their process, and
  2. Weigh out mastery, momentum, and student investment.

Have students defend their process. 

When students have the chance to create their own vision and product, they also have a lot of opportunities  to get lost.  In the end, the logic and decision-making involved in their process is just as important as the success or failure of their outcome.

Steps of a process can be structured using specific questions, new information students gathered, and decisions students make based on those decisions.

So, for example, if a group (perhaps older students) want to build a small bridge that can carry the weight of a seven year old, they might start their process with questions like:

-How much does this seven year old weigh?

-What kind of bridge do we want to build?

-What math/physics/architecture do we need to know to build our bridge?

-What language do we need to know to google/research information to help us?

-What are good resources where we should start?

-What is our budget?

-How long should our bridge be?

With these questions students can prioritize their next steps and then start building.

Each step and piece of information gives students a new chance to pivot and refine their plan.

When students begin building, their questions might change to:

-Why isn’t this working?

-Will it work if we do this?

-Why does it work when we do this?

-How do we figure out what isn’t working?

In the age of information, with every known fact available at our fingertips, the most valuable and distinct habit of successful students will likely be a persistent quest for the right questions, direct questions. Questions help us to structure and refine our process, distill information, pinpoint problems, and communicate effectively. Progressive questioning makes learning active and creative. The students who are continually questioning each detail absorb the most, learn the fastest, and contribute the most.

Students can defend their process by explaining the questions in their process and the information they gathered. Against teacher and peer examination, students can defend the decisions they made each step of the way.

One important component of this process is failure.  Discuss it explicitly with students, because in a freeform project, students will likely deal with some failure at some point in their process.  What did they learn from this?  What can they do differently or better next time?  If they’re motivated, students generally learn much more from failure than from success.

Weigh out mastery, momentum, and student investment. 

One thing I really love about Khan Academy is the idea that the time a student takes to learn something is not fixed. Khan asserts that time, and not mastery, should be the variable.  In other words, if it takes you a long time to learn something, that’s ok; but in the age of online learning, every student should be given the time to master every concept.

That said, sometimes asking a student to work on a skill for a few more days, hours, or even minutes, can seem like a punishment.

I think this is part of the reason so many people dislike math- it’s force fed to students over and over even when they are bored and exhausted.

When it’s time to test a student’s project or knowledge and they just aren’t there yet, you can take inventory of their investment in the material. If they’re passionate or hanging on, you can give them some more time.

If students have that dread, when they’ve lost investment, you can give them a chance to try something different and come back to the material. This is NOT a cop out; students still master the concepts and content. But this way they have a little more wiggle room to think about and chew on the material.

This also gives teachers chance to step back and research ways to address the content.  Students and teachers can come back and creatively approach what they’re learning from a different angle.

You can maintain high expectations and let students bring back some new energy to the challenge.

That’s a wrap for my ideas on giving students power and autonomy in the classroom. I hope you were able to glean something useful from this! Thanks for reading.