Category Archives: Library Lessons and Activities

It’s April already?!

Sheesh, time is flying.  RJHS students have just returned from spring break, and we have 6 weeks of the school year left!  Amazing.

There’s still lots to be done before the year is over.  Next Wednesday is the libraries’ annual Poetry Slam, a new experience for me.  I started poetry readings at my previous school but, at RJHS, this is the libraries’ 8th annual Poetry Slam!  Our guest slammer, SATA a.k.a. Avery Kirk, is booked; cookies and coffee are in the works; talented students are signing up to perform their own slam poetry or songs with their rock bands…it’s all very exciting.  Select teachers and the guest slammer will judge the slam, and prizes will go to the top 3 poets.


Mrs. Whitley and I are working on interactive library displays to celebrate National Poetry Month.  We’re thinking spine poet-trees, among other things.  This week we are wrapping up March Madness, which was put on hold because of two snow days right before spring break.  The final game is The Perks of Being a Wallflower vs. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — you can easily guess which is in the lead!

Bye for now,


Inquiring minds want to research…Frankenstein!

Firstly, happy 2016!  It’s been a busy start at RJ with history projects, a huge Theology project for all freshmen, and juniors and seniors out of school on service projects for a full two weeks!  What a cool school I work at, where students are given extensive opportunities to immerse themselves in solidarity with those in need.

During those two weeks of service, the sophomores were hard at work on inquiry-driven research projects.  Half of the sophomore class is writing a research paper on Frankenstein.  They were given five topics to choose from:

  1. Advances during the 1800s. What were some of the latest techniques and discoveries? More specifically, consider cloning and stem cell research. (Just how weird WAS Victor’s idea that he could make a human being).

**Remember, you are not simply researching and presenting these discoveries, but ALSO applying them to Frankenstein.

  1. Choose one of the scientists whose work Victor Frankenstein is said to have admired (Luigi Galvani, Allesandro Volta, Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, or Paracelsus). What were their discoveries or areas of study? What influence did they have on Victor?
  1. Crime and punishment during the 1800s. For example, various characters in the book are accused of murder. What kind of trial and punishment could they expect? Were accused women treated differently than men? How is this portrayed in Frankenstein—accurately or inaccurately? OR, consider grave robbing. How much of a problem was grave robbing? Why? What were the punishments?
  1. Consider the role of women in society of the day. Where were the expectations placed upon them? What were their goals and pursuits? What jobs were open to them? Were Justine, Caroline, and Elizabeth “typical”? ALSO, consider the role of Mary Shelley’s actual life throughout the novel. What influence did her life have on her characters and overall story?
  1. What is the “Nature versus Nurture” argument all about? Consider what might cause the creature’s personality to develop the way it does. Along these lines, look into studies of “Wild Children” (Wolf Boy, Wild Peter, Feral Children, ETC). What happens to children that are completely isolated from human society?


What I love about these options is that each topic can be open to interpretation, and variations on these topics will be accepted by the teacher.  I find that this sort of guided inquiry goes over well with students; they want choice and they want to be free to explore, but they like having a bit of guidance.  I showed the girls how to use the Pocket app ( as a tool for curating sources.  It’s one of my favorite apps for research because in addition to saving web articles, it finds and saves the permalink for database articles!  Kudos, Pocket.

The research paper has to be 5-7 pages in length and include an annotated bibliography.  I like the idea of reforming a traditional research paper by being more flexible about deadlines, paying close attention to purpose and audience, writing to appeal, offering freedom for outline format, and making the annotated bibliography experience more authentic (Brainstormed in  Each of these is a longer conversation than I’ve had with the English department since I have been here, but I sense that they’re open to change if it translates to college readiness and a more joyful experience for the students.  Things to work on next year.

Free Tech for Teachers: Read Write Think Timelines


From the website:

  • Looking to build skills or create new habits? Help children or teens make and manage a focused schedule of activities for a week.
  • After reading a book or story, review the events by helping children put them in order. Encourage them to record their reactions to enhance the review.
  • Before a big event such as a family gathering or vacation, help children or teens plan what steps need to be taken to get ready. Ask them to keep track of the steps as they are accomplished.


I’m sending this link to teachers who are participating in the RJHS “Year of the Top 30” project. Depending on the essential question they choose, teachers could use the timeline tool to present the top 10 works of American literature, the top 10 scientific theories that every American should know, the top 10 World History events that everyone needs to know, etc. This is an easy tool to create a visual representation of the class list.

RJHS “Year of the Top 30” Project

This is a school-wide, interdisciplinary program to unite the community in answering these questions: “What does it mean to be American? What does every American need to know? What is the common knowledge of this country?”  I will be supporting teachers as a co-teacher and with research materials as they find the best way to integrate the project into their curricula.  Background reading and inspiration: E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Should Know.


Project outline:

How to Be American: RJHS “Year of the Top 30”


Situation: Who is “us”?  Common knowledge and common references are what unite us as a people.  E.D. Hirsch began the first list in 1987 with his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Should Know.  Hirsch’s book of 5,000 items of common knowledge caused much controversy over the American identity and where multiculturalism fits into our nation’s history.


Task: In order to achieve cultural literacy, what does every American need to know?  As a class, choose an essential question and compile a list of 10 things every American should know about that subject.  Student majority votes will condense the lists into the Top 30 for each subject in the spring semester.

Ideas for essential questions:

  • What are the top 10 most important events in the history of America?
  • What are the most influential works of American literature?
  • What are the 10 most essential Mathematical concepts that every American should know?
  • What should every American know about French culture?
  • What are the top 10 scientific theories that every American should know?
  • 10 Things Every Catholic Should Know


Once the class has chosen an essential question, begin researching the knowledge, images, symbols, stories, and references that hold our nation together and compile a class list of the Top 10 and why each item is essential common knowledge for an American citizen.  As a class, create an authentic document / diorama / timeline / poster / media presentation / slideshow that showcases your Top 10.

Be prepared to defend your list at a lunchtime debate series in March and early April.  Your goal is to convince the student panel to add one or more of your items to the Top 30 list for your subject area!


*All projects and Top 30 lists will be on display at the Poetry Slam (April 13th) and all lists will be assembled into the 2015 RJHS Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.



The goals of the project are:

◦To define and recognize common knowledge for all Americans.

◦Use creativity to present the class (or individual) “Top 10” list (consider technology tools!)

◦Connect the dots for your students.  Why do we have to learn…?

◦Promote higher level thinking skills!


Suggested strategies to integrate”Year of the Top 30″ into the curriculum:

◦Have individual assignments (short or long) in which students defend their answer to the essential question.

◦Answer the essential question for each unit or as part of the review at the end of the semester or year.

◦Identify the knowledge, images, symbols, stories & other references that are “essential.”

◦Students create an independent freewrite list with the essential question as a prompt near the end of the course (March / April) with a follow-up discussion, whittling these into a class top 10 list.

◦A teacher-assigned (or student-generated) essential question to guide student research.

◦Student groups are asked to research and decide on 2-3 most important things to know about a topic or the essential question before compiling a class list.

◦Have students decide what the most important topic was from each class unit to make a top 10 list for that subject.


By end of year:

The library will collect the “Top 10” lists from your classes and the projects that represent that knowledge.

A panel of students will decide which items will make it into a top 30 list for each subject area.

The libraries will display the top 30 lists and projects in the spring at the Poetry SLAM!

Coding in Our Schools


Thank you Education Week for bringing the computer science controversy to light in your current issue.  The article titled “Computer Science: Not Just an Elective Anymore” is a follow-up to’s recent “Hour of Code” in which more than twenty million students participated in learning to code using’s list of online tutorials.  The field of computer science is one of the fastest growing career fields with a projected 1.4 million job openings by 2020 that will only have approximately 400,000 potential qualified employees to fill those positions.

This is the second year I have been teaching intro to computer programming as part of the freshman-required Computing Technology course at Loyola School.  I love–I use the video featuring big names like Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Bosh to introduce this unit, which sparks interest in those students who had never dreamed of learning to code.  It’s been a success so far; I am hoping to expand it to an after-school club for those who are hooked on coding.

And guess what?  I’m not a computer programmer.  I’m learning while I teach.

Do I believe that computer science courses should be a substitute for language requirements in high school, like Texas?  Absolutely not.  Learning a foreign language helps students become more global, just like computer science.  My question is: why do we have to choose?  Let’s have our cake and eat it, too!