Buzz Books

(A version of this post appears at HBWReads under a different title.  Feel free to check it out here)
In April, I wrote about a project we began in Verona regarding summer reading, and described it as an attempt to make reading viral within our middle school.  The post, titled “Making Reading Viral,” detailed what was then an idea about how to create buzz around the titles we were recommending for the summer.The project began in earnest on June 27th, and we are now a month in.  Some brief stats on the site so far:Our middle school has a population of less than 700 students, and our town roughly 14,000 people.  Students and teachers write on their assigned days, with some mixing and matching going on.  It’s been a pleasure to administer the site and organize their work.

On Tuesday, August 2nd, I have the privilege of speaking at #140edu: Exploring the State of Education NOW Conference at the 92nd Street Y, NY, NY.  My topic: The Buzz Books.

A while back, I was asked by the conference founder, Jeff Pulver, to participate in this conference, and if so, what did I have in mind to talk about.  Immediately, I thought of the Buzz Books and the HBWReads blog.  Reading, to me, has been a difference-maker in my life, taking me from a place of shadows and ignorance, to one of luminosity and understanding.

Scholars have recently been examining the state of reading today among the general population of children in grades 5-12, and thestatistics coming out of their work paint an awful picture.  There are extreme ramifications upon our society if we raise a generation of non-readers.  So, we as a district, looked at what we thought of reading in general, and more specifically of summer reading.  We looked at reading phenomena like the Harry Potter books, the Twilight Series, and more recently, the Hunger Games trilogy.

We saw something there that caught our eye.

Reading is a social endeavor, and it’s done best when we can talk about books with people we have an interest in.  When we read a book that is outstanding, the first thing we want to do is to run and tell someone who matters to us all about it and recommend it to them.  We wanted to capture that somehow.

When I get on stage on Monday, I’m going to talk about that idea, but I am also going to talk about the work that has been done by all of the students and teachers at HBWReads so far this summer.  Looking back at the statistics I shared the other day, we have had wild success in terms of readers and traffic through our site.  We have had conversations around books that would not have otherwise occurred.  We are making reading viral, and helping to spread it through not only our community here in Verona, but also in other parts of the county and world.  Don’t underestimate the power of that.

The conference will be live on the web, and as soon as the information is posted as to how to tune in, I’ll pass it along here. (Here is the Ustream address if you are interested in catching the conference.  I go on roughly at 11:45am)


What Blue Zones Can Tell us About Ourselves.


Yesterday began the first of our Spring TED Series and a group of teachers from our district and a neighboring district got together to watch Dan Buettner’s TEDxTC talk about his work with the Blue Zones.  Blue Zones are defined as:

a region of the world where people commonly live active lives past the age of 100 years. Scientists and demographers have classified these longevity hot-spots by having common healthy traits and life practices that result in higher-than-normal longevity. The name Blue zone seems to be first employed in a scientific article by a team of demographers working on centenarians in Sardinia in 2004.

and are the topic of Buettner’s work with Quest Network and National Geographic.

While not the stuff of our usual TED talks, which focus more on education and related issues, this talk immediately resonated with the group. Our discussion of Buettner’s description of the three Blue Zones he profiled in the talk brought out some uniquely personal insights from many of the members.  Several of the group shared insight into how the characteristics found in the communities in the Blue Zones are so foreign to our lives here in the United States.

Prior to the talk, we spoke about factors such as genetics, geography, exercise, diet, and lifestyle as the prevailing elements that contribute to longevity, and we argued about which one played the most prominent role.  Following the video, we spoke mainly about how our lifestyles were in such stark contrast to the communities in Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, and Lorma Linda, California.  How we live our lives, and who we choose to live our lives with have such profound affects on how long our lives last.  Yes, genetics are a factor, but there are other elements that these communities all share.  Garr Reynolds created a succinct graphic to depict the points that Buettner distilled in the talk.

Interestingly, some members of the group had recently screened Race to Nowhere, and were able to draw some stark contrasts between the lives of our children today and the lives of the members of the communities in the Blue Zones.   I have not seen the film, but their concern was rooted in the fact that we have essentially eliminated much of the Blue Zone ideals for our children when we place such pressure on them to succeed.

On a personal level, having watched this talk several times now, I expressed to the group that what most impressed me was a section of the talk in which Buettner talked about the term “ikigai” (生き甲斐 literally: life + value, be worth while–the reason you wake up in the morning) in Okinawa.  One of the surveys given to members of these communities by the research team asked each of them what their ikigai was and, Buettner stated, none of them hesitated.  They all knew exactly what their purpose was in life.

Do I?  I’ve asked myself several times since the first time I watched this, and I’m put off by my hesitancy.  I know my reason for waking up is to help make my family’s life the most beautiful it can possibly be, but I wonder if it changes as you move through life?  Also, throughout the talk, the term “plant-based diet” was uttered countless times, and in looking at my own life, I could do much better there.

Poulain M.; Pes G.M., Grasland C., Carru C., Ferucci L., Baggio G., Franceschi C., Deiana L. (2004). “Identification of a Geographic Area Characterized by Extreme Longevity in the Sardinia Island: the AKEA study”. Experimental Gerontology, 39 39 (9): 1423–1429. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2004.06.016PMID 15489066.

Making the Case for the Humanities

Earlier this week, I was asked to speak to the parents of our upcoming 8th graders in the district I work in.  Rather than walking them through the courses available to them or answering specific questions regarding readings, requirements or subject matter–all of which I invited questions by email about–I chose a different tack.

I’m in the process of trying to redesign two departments K-12 with an eye on transforming learning practices and raising the expectations for our students.  I wanted to outline some of the pressures we as educators face, as well as show that students today are inundated with information.

I wanted them to know that learning in today’s world looks different than it did when they were in school.

This is what I came up with.  I’d love to hear your feedback: