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Way to start school: Get students to read The Maze Runner, then go to the movie

favicon We know that reluctant readers like book-movies — that is to say, books that are also movies. Even better are book-movies-to-be. Students can read the book, then go see the movie, and everyone is happy.

Back in the day (a few years ago), Hollywood didn’t entirely understand the widespread appeal of young adult books and their ability to amass large box office returns. Sure, there was Harry Potter, but for the most part, there weren’t too many books turned into films.

That has changed dramatically. Since The Hunger Games, things have picked up. Divergent was big, and The Fault in Our Stars was huge this summer.

And now, coming September 19, is The Maze Runner. Here’s the trailer:

Published in 2009 and written by James Dashner, the book has been medium-popular among students the past couple years. But my prediction is that marketing for the movie will make reading the book much more desirable right at the beginning of school.

So, teachers, here’s an idea: Encourage your students (especially boys) to read The Maze Runner, and tell them if they finish it before the film comes out, you’ll take them on a field trip to see the movie, followed by a discussion comparing the book with the movie.

(On a related note: Book-movie clubs are another great way to promote reading.)

No, sorry, I don’t have ideas about how to fund the field trip, besides asking families to pay for their kid’s movie ticket. It’s possible, I suppose, to do a DonorsChoose project, but it would be considered a special event and perhaps use up too many of your DonorsChoose points. (If you have ideas about how to raise money for the field trip, leave them in the comments.)

Loyal Iserotope readers and Kindle Classroom Project donors: You’ll be happy to note that the entire Maze Runner series is already in the Kindle Library. But I’d like to make sure that there is also one physical copy of The Maze Runner in each of the five Kindle classrooms. (This is also to promote my long-term project of library classroom mirroring.)

Want to help? If you’d like to buy one (or all five, for $32.45, before tax and shipping), click on the cover below. It should take you directly to Amazon to buy the book. When you continue through your cart, you should be able to send it directly to my “gift registry address.”


I can’t wait to tell Tess and Marni and Abby and the other KCP teachers about my idea. My hunch is that they’re going to be interested. We’ll see if the students are, too. If they are, I’ll keep everyone posted, and maybe you can come see the movie, too!

Let me know what you think by leaving a brilliant insight. favicon

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Come on: I dare you!

favicon Tonight I was fooling around with the Kindle Classroom Project’s Amazon Wishlist — adding some stuff, taking some stuff off, and getting the list ready for the start of school.

And then I came across some text near the top of the wishlist. It read, “Want the entire list?” So I clicked, and this is what I got.


Is the screenshot clear enough to read? Yes, apparently, if you’d like, you can purchase all 31 items currently on the KCP Wishlist. Sure, it’ll cost you $1,180.70. But think of the impact: You’d be donating 11 Kindles (7 regular Kindles and 4 Paperwhites) and 20 books. (This option doesn’t let you buy Kindle e-books. Too bad.)

If you’re interested, you’d better act fast. There’s no telling when I’ll be adding more books and other items. (Answer: Soon.)

All kidding aside, the KCP Wishlist is a great way to make a donation to students and their reading lives. Buy one book or many. Choose between donating an e-book or a physical one. Find books you like.

And if there’s nothing there right now, come back in a few weeks, as school begins, as students make their requests, and as the reading buzz escalates! favicon

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This just in…

Go ahead, follow me on Twitter! Or contribute to the Kindle Classroom Project! favicon

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Michele Godwin is founding a library at Leadership High School. Please say hello!

Michele Godwinfavicon There she is! It’s Michele Godwin.

Because of her total awesomeness, you likely already know about her.

But just in case you don’t, I can let you in on a few secrets. Michele is an extraordinary English teacher and reading advocate and former colleague and great friend and overall upstanding person. Plus she’s funny, which I like.

Michele is also the founding librarian at Leadership High School in San Francisco. Yes, that’s the incredible school where I taught for 12 years. It makes me very happy that the folks at LHS, including Principal Beth Silbergeld, are investing significant resources into building a library. And it makes me even happier than Michele is at the helm.

This summer, Michele has been hard at work. Here are a few highlights:

+ She has raised thousands of dollars. Her plan on the first day of staff development is to surprise — Oprah-style — the teachers at LHS with starter classroom libraries. It’s going to be a little like when Oprah gave away free cars. Remember?

Michele is going to do something like this, except she’s going to point at the audience and jump up and down and say, over and over again, “You get a classroom library! You get a classroom library! Everybody gets a classroom library!”

+ Michele is spreading the news and getting people excited. She is tweeting at @readlhsbooks (please follow her!), posting on Facebook at the LHS Books Facebook page (go like it!), and writing book reviews over at Goodreads (go check it out!). Here is an example of one of her tweets:

(And yes, she’s partnering with a local independent bookstore!) Perhaps even more exciting, Michele has launched the LHS Books website, where you can read her latest blog posts, find out what’s in the library (coming soon), and most important: make a donation. Hey, why don’t you make a donation now? Don’t you think so?

Did you make a donation? I hope so!

+ Here’s my favorite thing that Michele is doing: She and I are teaming up on the Kindle Classroom Project! (Michele is also a sustaining donor of the project.) Together we are going to distribute at least 60 Kindles to students grades nine through twelve.

(Nobody knows about this yet, so please keep it a secret. :) )

We’re going to select the lucky students, give them a Kindle, tell them how much we want them to read, follow their reading progress, figure out which books they like, let them request books that aren’t currently in the Kindle library, and make the other students who don’t yet have Kindles jealous.

(Then those jealous students will clamor for Kindles, and we’ll ask for more donations, and we’ll raise more money, and maybe every student at LHS in 2015-16 will get a Kindle!)

* * *
So there you have it: Michele Godwin. Don’t you like her? Wouldn’t you agree with me that she’s impressive? I thought so!

Please say hi to Michele in the comments! favicon

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Here are some of my ideas for this year and the Kindle Classroom Project, 2014-15

Nathaly Bookshelvesfavicon Summer is a great time to reflect, take stock, and figure out next steps for the Kindle Classroom Project. Because so many of you are generous donors to the project, and you like to know what I’m doing, I just wanted to write a few of my ideas so that you know what I’m considering.

First, the things that definitely will be happening:

1. In just a few weeks, the 156 (and counting) Kindles will be in five schools: City Arts & Technology High School (San Francisco), Leadership High School (San Francisco), Envision Academy of Arts & Technology (Oakland), REALM Charter School (Berkeley), and Impact Academy of Arts & Technology (Hayward).

2. Like last year, I’ll be working with excellent teachers and administrators who care as deeply about students and their reading lives as I do. The list is not final yet, but some of those educators include Marni Spitz (CAT); Michele Godwin, Beth Silbergeld, and Kathleen Large (Leadership); Nancy Jo Turner (REALM); and Tess Lantos and Abby Benedetto (Impact).

Next, the things that most likely will be happening:

1. The 501-title Kindle Library will be organized by genre and available online on Iserotope for teachers, students, parents, and YOU! to view. This is going to be an important step for book browsing and discovery.

Up until now, students had access to all the books in the Kindle Library, but there wasn’t a very good way for students to browse. Sometimes they’d find a new title by window shopping the classroom library, none of which yet contain a truly mirrored experience of all 501 Kindle titles. Other times they’d get recommendations from their teacher or their friends.

If I work hard, I can get the new Kindle Library catalog up and running before the first day of classes. It’ll be a major improvement.

2. Students from all five schools will log their reading on one unified Google Form. This will help me gather important data. For example: who’s reading a lot vs. a little, which books are most popular, and whether the Kindles are making a difference.

Up until this year, I have had a good sense of what students were reading, but the process wasn’t always simple and streamlined. Now everyone (including YOU!) will be able to look at the reading progress of students. (Don’t worry: No last names will be published.)

Finally, the things I hope will be happening:

1. My first hope is to tell more stories, involve students and teachers more in those stories, do some interviews, and overall do a better job documenting the successes of the KCP. It’s time that YOU! get to experience all the good news that I get to experience every day.

To that end, I am excited to announce that I will be inviting my collaborating teachers to become guest bloggers. Whether they write just one time or regularly, I think it’s absolutely essential to get their voices out there. For teachers who are too busy or shy to write, I’ll be sure to encourage them to do video and audio interviews.

And why stop at the teachers? Wouldn’t it be great to meet some of the Kindlers? I think it’s time. If I get the appropriate permission from schools and families, I would love to put more student stories up on Iserotope. That could be posts, pictures, interviews, and even a short documentary video (if someone will help me, of course).

2. My second hope is to be able to answer the question about whether the Kindle Classroom Project should remain a little project or grow into something larger.

I won’t go into too many details right now about this possibility (because it’s exciting and scary), but I will say this: I’ve seen the positive impact of the Kindle Classroom Project, and that makes me happy. Because of your generous support, hundreds of students in the San Francisco Bay Area have reconnected to the power of story and reclaimed their interest in reading.

But there is also more work to do. Students of color in urban schools should have easy and plentiful access to books. The books should be high quality and help students see themselves, who they are, and who they want to become.

And though there are may ways to achieve those goals, it makes a lot of sense, given the limited resources of urban public schools, to build hybrid classroom libraries that mix Kindles, e-books, and physical books.

Please let me know your thoughts! favicon

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Promote reading: Give a student access to a Kindle and 500 books for $40 a year!

Kevin Kindlefavicon Today I was doing some number crunching, and I calculated that the Kindle Classroom Project costs about $40 per student per year.

The money, donated by generous contributors, goes to maintaining the 156 Kindles and to building the 501-title Kindle Library via student requests.

But if you ask a student, they’d tell you a slightly different version of where the money goes.

This is what they’d say:

+ The money lets them read whatever book they want whenever they want wherever they want. Students get to take their Kindle home with them.

+ The money lets them reclaim their love of reading. Students read an average of 18 books last school year on their Kindle.

+ The money lets them learn about themselves and the world without depending on others. Students have access to 500 high-quality books.

+ The money tells students that adults care about them and their reading lives. Students want adults to believe in them.

I am asking you to join the Kindle Classroom Project by making a $40 donation to help a student reclaim their love of reading in 2014-15.

Would you like to?

If so, the easiest way is via PayPal, though there are many ways to contribute. Please click on the button below and make a generous donation.

Thank you for reading this post, and thank you for your contribution. Please feel free to leave a comment or a question. favicon
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Get Your Students to Love the News, #7: News360 helps students collect the news

news360_icon_playbook_largefavicon Today I’m back with a new installment to the “Get Your Students to Love the News,” which I think is slowly becoming a great resource for teachers. Today is the seventh installment. When you have time, be sure to check out the other posts, too.

So far in the series, I’ve avoided reviewing “news aggregators,” which collect articles from various sources based on user interests. After all, as I’ve written about, you want to make sure that your students understand that news comes from real people and real news organizations and not randomly from the air.

Once that’s solid, it’s OK, I think, to move to news aggregators because students can choose topics they’re passionate about and then follow them over time.

There are a ton of good aggregators, including Flipboard and Zite (which Flipboard acquired earlier this year). Flipboard is the most popular, and a lot of people like it, but I don’t, mostly because of its user interface, which involves, well, a lot of flipping. Zite used to be my favorite, but since its acquisition, I’ve been checking out News360 and am pretty impressed.

News360 has a website but looks better on tablets and phones. As I’ve said before, for students, the phone is where things happen.

To get a sense of what News360 does, consider its tagline: “Everything you want to read.” In case that’s confusing, News360′s website tells you directly the purpose of its service: “News360 is an app that learns what you enjoy and find stories you’ll like around the web.” OK, I get it. But what does that mean?

It means you first select topics you’re interested in, and then News360 goes and finds articles for you. You can choose topics large or small, specific or generic, local or international. For example, I’m following Music, Movies (both general), Running, Literacy (a bit more specific), and Amazon Kindle (very specific). You can also follow news organizations (like the New York Times), but I don’t think that’s best practice for a news aggregator, whose purpose is to offer new articles from sources you may not read.

After you choose your topics, you get a feed that looks like this (on your phone):


So that’s pretty good. But the best part comes once you start reading articles. You can vote an article up or down, and magically, News360 learns about your interests and gives you more or fewer of those kinds of articles based on your vote.

Let’s take a look at the Jon Bon Jovi article to see what it looks like:


See the thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons? The power to determine whether or not you view more articles about Mr. Bon Jovi is entirely in your fingers. (Additionally, you can share the article with a friend — or save it to your Pocket — using the share icon.)

But also take a look at the tags above the article’s headline. Let’s say that reading about Mr. Bon Jovi has really inspired you to learn more about opera (not exactly sure about why that is, but please go with it). Pressing on that icon leads you to this screen:


Yep, here you have more articles about the opera — and, by pressing on the + button up top, the ability to follow that topic, too.

These two features of News360 – voting articles up or down, and adding topics as a result of reading an article — offer you a nice balance of sometimes refining and sometimes expanding your reading interests.

Plus, News360 looks good, is simple to use, and I think will appeal to students. It’s not anathema like an RSS reader (Feedly, Digg Reader), but it’s also not too-serious = boring.

* * *
Using News360 with Your Students
I can see a lot of ways that teachers can use News360 with their students. Here are a few. Please add more in the comments!

1. Research can be fun.
Research shouldn’t be boring. It should be about following an interest over time and learning more about it. Sure, when students have to write a research paper, then things get serious again — with collecting evidence, paraphrasing, making sure you’re not plagiarizing, and citing your sources. But in the preliminary phases, it’s all about reading a ton. An app like News360 can help teachers send that message to students.

2. Current Events Roundtables.
One frustration teachers tell me about is that students may not have a wide sense of the news. To combat that problem, teachers can require students to follow a small number of topics on News360 and then select one article to share with a small group. This can be done jigsaw-style, where each member of the group has a different topic.

3. Philosophical Discussions about the Internet Filtering Effect
So News360 is one of many services that offer its customers an individualized, personal look at the world. To some extent, most online services do something similar. What’s in our Facebook and Twitter feeds, for example, is determined by whom we follow. I read Eli Pariser’s excellent book, The Filter Bubble, a few back, in which he argues that all this online filtering threatens democracy. What do students think? Engaging them on this topic may also encourage students to think about how they gather and interact with news.

All right, that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this installment of “Get Your Students to Love the News.” There are a few more posts left, including a doozy, so please stay tuned.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts about News360 in the comments, if you like! Do you think news aggregators are good for students and their news reading lives, or are they a sacrilege to journalism? favicon

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Why Kindle Unlimited isn’t a great match for the Kindle Classroom Project (for now)

Kindle Unlimitedfavicon Last week, Amazon unveiled Kindle Unlimited, its new book subscription service. A “Netflix for Books,” Kindle Unlimited lets you borrow as many books as you like for $9.99 a month.

Amazon hopes to compete against other (sort of) popular book subscription services Scribd and Oyster. At first glance, Kindle Unlimited seems like a perfect match for the Kindle Classroom Project.

The most crucial part of the Kindle Classroom Project’s success — even more important than the Kindles themselves — is that students have immediate access to high-quality books. If they want to read a book that is not currently in the Kindle library, they tell me, and because of generous donors, I purchase the title immediately.

The only problem with the current system is that Kindle books, on average, cost $9.99. That’s not too expensive, but especially at certain points of the year, student requests pick up, and my Amazon gift balance gets close to zero. As a result, I am always worried that eventually I will run out of money and have to tell a student, “Sorry, I can’t get that book for you.”

But what if my students could borrow an unlimited number of books? That would mean that I could ask 12 people to donate $9.99 per year (one generous donor per month), and all of my concerns would be solved! Right?

In theory, that’s true, but there are three things that prevent me from pursuing Kindle Unlimited, at least for now.

1. If you stop subscribing, you lose your books.
With Kindle Unlimited, you rent books. You don’t own them. (Some may argue that you don’t really own Kindle books even when you buy them, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another post.) Because you’re borrowing the books, once you stop paying the $9.99 a month, your books disappear. That just doesn’t make sense for the KCP.

2. The program is not meant for teachers or classroom libraries.
When you buy a book from Amazon, you can transfer the title to up to six devices on your account. That means when a book is extremely popular among my students, I sometimes purchase multiple copies. Kindle Unlimited is meant for personal accounts, and as far as I know, it would not be possible to borrow more than one copy at a time.

3. Most important: The selection is currently extremely limited.
There are currently 600,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited’s library. That sounds like a lot of selection, but it certainly isn’t unlimited. The library is particularly shaky when it comes to young adult fiction. Besides the big blockbusters (like Divergent and Hunger Games), there isn’t too much there. Of course, the selection may improve, but right now, it’s pretty middling.

Though I won’t be signing up for Kindle Unlimited right now, I’m not disparaging Amazon’s attempts to get into the book-subscription market. KU seems like it can save some money for heavy readers who don’t like to borrow e-books from the library.

Please let me know if you have opinions about Kindle Unlimited and whether you think I’m doing the right thing not to pursue it at this time. Also, if this post got you excited about making a contribution to ensure that students can always request books they want to read, please check out the Contribute page. Thank you!

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Kindle Classroom Project, news and updates: July 2014

This is a lot of what happens during the summer at the Kindle Classroom Project.
This is a lot of what happens during the summer at the Kindle Classroom Project.

favicon Hi there, loyal readers and supporters of the Kindle Classroom Project! It’s summer, which means that I’m resting and relaxing, but I wanted to share with you some quick updates about the Kindle Classroom Project.

After a donation slump that lasted several months, I’m happy to report that Kindles are again arriving. Even though there are more than 150 Kindles now in the collection, it’s still a wonderful feeling to receive an email (from the Donate Kindle page’s form) that someone wants to donate their Kindle to students in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m always very appreciative of people’s generosity, and it makes me especially happy when total and complete strangers find Iserotope on the Internet, decide that the KCP is a worthy cause, and ship their Kindle to me. It’s pretty great.

Also great is that the Kindle library is beginning to grow again. My goal has never been to accumulate tons of titles; after all, anyone can go on Project Gutenberg and download out-of-print classics that no students will read (even though we might want them to). Besides, you don’t want too many books: It’s confusing to students, plus you don’t want to go over the Kindle’s capacity (~1,000 books for some models). But Kindles themselves don’t do anything until there are good books on them. That’s why I’m grateful for all the donors who have purchased books, either via the Contribute page or by checking out my students’ Amazon wishlist.

The past few months, several people have contacted me to ask why I’m focusing more of my attention on physical books. “Isn’t that taking away your energy from Kindles?” I definitely don’t think so. My goal has always been to spread reading among students; I’m not really partial to any specific medium. That said, I do believe strongly in what I call “classroom library mirroring,” where students can see physical books in the classroom and then access them on their Kindle. Without library mirroring, there’s no good way for students to browse and to discover new titles they might want to try out. Therefore, I’ve been working with teachers (via DonorsChoose, mainly) to build physical classroom libraries. If you’re pro-physical book and would like to make a contribution, please let me know!

Coming Up: This Summer’s Projects

Summer is a great time to get ready for the next year and to work on big ways to make the Kindle Classroom Project better.

I’m happy to report that the KCP will be in five schools in August — two in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, one in Oakland, and one in Hayward.

One challenge I’ve had is to build a robust data-gathering system I can study (with some scientific accuracy) the effects of the Kindles on students. Last year, I tried, but it was not too successful for a number of reasons.

So this summer, I’m creating an easy way (via Google Forms) for students to track the books they’ve completed. That data, when compared to their online reading achievement scores, will help me answer more clearly whether students who use Kindles read more and whether they become better readers as a result.

I’ll need teacher collaboration and support, of course, to ensure that students are reporting their reading. No one, after all, likes to fill out a reading log. (The Form won’t be a reading log, promise.) The good news is that I’m working with teachers (and one school librarian!) who are wonderful and incredible and understand the importance of the project. I’ll be introducing them to you beginning in August.

What else? Oh, another big project is to — finally – publish the Kindle library online, categorized by genre. I have procrastinated on this project for too long (for some good and not-so-good reasons), and it’s time to move. It’s not going to be perfect — no cataloging system is — but I’m going to do my best (and maybe ask my librarian-y friends for help).

There are tons of benefits to this cataloging project. First, it’ll be easier for students (and parents) to browse books if the classroom library is not yet mirrored. One copy of the Kindle library will be on Goodreads, so students can check out the book’s summaries and reviews to determine whether to give a book a try.

Second, it’ll make it much easier to organize the books on the Kindles. Students have access to nearly 500 titles (as long as no more than six students are reading the book simultaneously, per Amazon’s policy), and my feeling is that students will more quickly find books they want to read if they’re organized by genre. (This is very similar to why school libraries over the past two decades have moved toward cataloging by genre vs. by author for fiction and by Dewey decimal number for nonfiction.

OK, wow, this is a long post, and I can go on for longer, but I’ll stop for now. Again, I appreciate the support and the enthusiasm that you all have for young people and their reading lives, and I’m hopeful that 2014-15 will be a strong one for the Kindle Classroom Project. Thank you! favicon

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What’s in my Pocket? Thanks, Pocket!

favicon I’ve written quite a bit about Pocket, my favorite read-later service. Examples: using Pocket in the classroom to promote nonfiction, using Pocket with Evernote for better article printing, and reading tons and tons on Pocket. (Here are all my Pocket posts.)

The kind folks over at Pocket apparently noticed my crazy enthusiasm for their wonderful service and contacted me for an interview for their “What’s in My Pocket” series! And of course I obliged.

Sim, the interviewer, asked excellent questions, listened carefully, and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say! She also did a wonderful job capturing my thoughts and paraphrasing them in a way that makes me sound (somewhat) articulate. Thank you, Sim!

Please check out the final product over at the Pocket blog! (For bonus points: Pocket the post!)

For those of you who need a teaser in order to head on over to read the interview, here’s a quick screenshot. Yes, it features my face.

Screenshot 2014-07-09 14.05.14

Really, let’s be serious for a second. I’m not really sure what people do if they don’t use a read later service like Pocket. Do people bookmark articles that they want to read later? Email them to themselves? Remember? Clearly I’m missing something.

This post isn’t meant to be an advertisement, but I’m going to continue for a little bit longer. Ever since I found Pocket (which lets you save anything with a URL), not only has my reading flow been more flowy, but I’ve also witnessed my students’ interest in reading nonfiction grow markedly.

Please check out the interview and let me know what you think! favicon