Countdown Zero Blog Tour Interview & Give Away

Countdown Zero Blog Tour Banner

I’m excited to have author Chris Rylander on my blog this morning. Chris writes humorous books that resonate with my students, such as the trilogy of Fourth Stall books. Countdown Zero is the sequel to Codename Zero. Both titles feature Carson Fender, king of pranks and unlikely secret agent.

Carson makes it clear he finds Principal Gomez’s mandates incomprehensible. What is the strangest mandate the principal has issued at school for the students or teachers?

The whole no doodling in notebooks thing, I feel is so out of bounds it should be criminal.  A student’s notebook is their personal property, and it seems terrible to me that a teacher or principal would try to dictate exactly what goes inside of it.  There was an old teacher at my high school who used to do this.  I know for me as a student, I never could make it through note-taking or lectures, without being able to doodle.  If I had a principal that didn’t allow doodles inside any of my notebooks, I certainly would have flunked out of middle school.  Then who knows where I’d be?  Maybe I’d be that guy who hangs out downtown all day pretending to be a three-legged reindeer with a headcold?  Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad life…

In this series, Carson’s friend Dillon is very intrigued by conspiracy theories. Did you have any favorites to read about when you were a kid?

All of them!  I love conspiracy theories.  In fact, not just as a kid, I still probably spend 6-7 hours a day on Wikipedia reading about unsolved murders and conspiracy theories.  My first favorites were all of the usual big ones: the JFK assassination, the moon landing, Area 51, etc.  Of course, the funny part is that while I love reading about them and find them all so fascinating, unlike Dillon, I don’t really believe in many of them.  The simplest explanation is often the most plausible. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to find out that at least one of those three turned out to be a real conspiracy.

Carson has to visit some pretty interesting places in this book. Would you rather get stuck in Snaketown or Bear Country?

[Shudder]  Probably Snaketown?  I don’t particularly hate snakes or bears, but I definitely have an aversion to things that might kill me.  Bears are probably less likely to attack a person, but at least with snakes there are anti-venoms.  Whereas, there’s really no cure or antidote to having your face ripped off by massive bear claws…

If you were ever in a situation where you needed to be rescued, would you rather have Carson and his friends there to help you or Mac and his friends from The Fourth Stall?

Great question!  Definitely Carson and his pals, since they have access to a vast array of high-tech gadgets and weapons, and also have the backing of a powerful government spy agency.  Mac is better at solving every day problems for sure, but when I think of needing rescue, I’m assuming I’d be in a much tougher spot than simply needing the test key for an upcoming final math exam.

Thanks for hosting me, those were some great questions!  Okay, back to Wikipedia…

Chris Rylander is the author of the Fourth Stall Saga and the Codename Conspiracy series. A fan of brown shipping boxes turned on their sides, dance-offs to win a girl’s heart, and rice, he lives in Chicago. You can visit him online at

Find Chris on Twitter and his website.

Countdown Zero

Everyone at his school knows Carson Fender is a prank mastermind. Principal Gomez just hasn’t ever had enough concrete evidence to prove it. Carson’s latest plan, Prankpocalypse, should have Carson humming with excitement. There’s freshly fallen snow, which is always good for a new arsenal of options. Carson’s partners in crime are hitting their school with as many pranks as possible. They’ve never attempted a scheme of this magnitude.

Prankpocalypse has just one problem–at the start. After being retired from the secretive Agency that had recruited Carson to assist in thwarting the plans of an evil organization, school pranks just don’t bring the same adrenaline rush. Then other problems begin to snowball Prankpocalypse. Carson’s putting the finishing touches on a frozen replica of his insufferable principal when a frantic text warns him the principal has just arrived. It’s 2:53 AM and Carson’s stuck in the principal’s office.

In the aftermath of Prankpocalypse, Carson finds himself suddenly reinstated as Agent Zero in a mission to one of the Agency’s bases where a dangerous virus has been compromised. He has three days to get to the base and save Agent Nineteen, his former mentor. Carson has to find a way onto the seventh grade field trip, which means meeting Principal Gomez’s request that he give up all his accomplices. Then there’s the small matter of breaking into secret chambers concealed within Mount Rushmore.

For all of the stops on the blog tour, please click here. Chris will be at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia tomorrow (Thursday, March 5, 2015).

For more information about Walden Pond Press, check out the links below:

Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Blog

Enter to win a signed copy of Countdown Zero

Categories: Reviews

Sphero in the Middle Grades

Over the summer, my school’s library was able to purchase a Sphero robot through a grant on DonorsChoose. Sphero has been a big hit with students in my school. About the size of a baseball, this robot can work with a wide variety of free apps and games. What I love are the possibilities for coding. Draw N Drive is a great introduction to the idea of coding and is accessible for very young students. They set a speed, colors and draw a shape. When they run their program, Sphero carries out that design. Students quickly learn spaces in their drawing don’t work as expected.

MacroLab offers students more intense coding experiences. They can create looped commands, use the raw motor command to cause Sphero to flip or program Sphero to travel intricate paths.

Some classes at my school have been exploring Sphero during their intervention and extension block. Fifth graders are also rotating through a Sphero station during library classes. I’ve found small groups of two or three students per Sphero work best. Larger groups can work during an introduction when we are trying out Draw N Drive.

Using Sphero’s SPRK education lessons as a starting point, I created station cards that allow students to more independently explore Sphero. The cards begin with two videos on how Sphero works and then take students through Draw N Drive, the Sphero app and MacroLab. I also drew inspiration from Mrs. J in the Library’s Little Bits 101 cards.

Take a peek at these  SpheroIEChallenges. I also created a basic command sheet for students to use with Sphero.

Categories: Uncategorized

Don’t Judge These Books by Their Covers


To coincide with Read Across America next week, my library is finally launching its take on blind book dating with Don’t Judge These Books by Their Covers. Two of our library volunteers paper bag covered the books the library assistant and I set aside. Today we created summaries and hooks for these books. Hoping these create some buzz next week.

Can you guess which titles are included in the pictures below?










Categories: Reading Love

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes: Recent Reads

Books have the ability to transport us to another time and place. They are time machines more effective than any converted car or police box. Picture books offer us an effective means to take an entire class on a journey outside their life experiences.

This last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Anderson Bookshop’s 13th Annual Children’s Literature Breakfast. One thing I love about this event is being introduced to books I have not yet discovered, including the four picture books described below.

The Soda Bottle School by Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade

This nonfiction picture book is a must read for classes using elements of the maker movement or for Genius Hour projects that focus on solving community problems. It also speaks to the power of perseverence. I knew just what two classes in fifth grade needed this book from the moment I started it.

This book relates how the students at one Guetemalan school dealt with the need for more space. They gathered up plastic bottles and other trash from their village and from miles around to create eco-ladrillos (eco-bricks) to expand their school. They worked for 15 months to finish the project. It’s an inspiring read.

Friends for Freedom by Suzanne Slade

I enjoyed discovering this book about the friendship between Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Slade traces their friendship as well as what would happen when they would arrive to speak at the same place. Anthony came to the assistance of the Douglass family when their home was burned. One thing I really appreciated as a reader was the depiction of their friendship’s struggle after the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution but were able to reconcile.

With Bricks and Books by Suzanne Slade

This book would pair well with The Soda Bottle School. Booker T. Washington accepts a teaching job in this book in a community that does not yet have a school. After beginning classes in a shed, Washington purchases an abandoned plantation. He and the students spend long hours digging up clay and then creating bricks to build a new school building. They try using three different kilns to bake the bricks, but all of them break. When many want to give up, Washington sells his one possession of value to get one last kiln. Finally, they are able to build the school. By the time of Washington’s death, that school property would have over a hundred buildings.

You can find more about Suzanne Slade’s books on her website.

Walking Home to Rosie Lee by A. LaFaye

I find the Civil War fascinating, so I was pleased to read this historical fiction picture book. This story portrays what happened after slaves were emancipated at the end of the war. One boy goes on a long journey to try and find his mother from whom he was separated. He follows false leads and faces a number of obstacles during his search.

Check out A. LaFaye’s other books.

Categories: Reviews

Speech Recognition Google Add-On

I recently read about the new Speech Recognition Add-On for Google Docs from a post by Tech Coach Tammy Lind. I was excited about this Add-On because I had previously struggled with using some dictation apps in the past.

Speech Recognition includes the ability to select different languages to use. Dialects can also be selected, but the dialect regions are pretty large. English has several dialects, including United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

While testing out the add-on at school today, I found the add-on did a decent job of matching spoken words. When you dictate, the words show up in a small preview window on the right until the speaker pauses. Then the words appear in the document itself. The mistake that occurred was in the case of a homophone. Punctuation can be added by speaking the words representing those punctuation marks, which is something I will try out tomorrow. This will be a great accessibility tool for students. I can also see it being a great way to record brainstorming.

Here is a brief screencast I made showing how to install and start using Speech Recognition. I created this screencast using Screencastify.

For some additional ideas on using Speech Recognition, see this post from Ben Hommerding.

Categories: Writing with Google Drive

Streamline Student Sharing with Google Classroom

Google Classroom is an excellent new tool launching this week for schools using Google Apps for Education (GAFE). This tool will enable teachers to share and manage projects using Google Drive more easily. This is a solution that I know offers solutions teachers at my schools have been waiting for since we adopted GAFE. Several educators in my district have been trying out the beta version of Google Classroom over the last few weeks.

One thing I really like about Google Classroom is the ability to easily share out documents to students, whether those documents be direction sheets or a project for students to complete. Students can be given a file to view or have a personal copy named for them that will then have a specific naming convention already attached to it.

I found this collection of resources from invaluable in learning about Google Classroom.

To help prepare  teachers at my school for Google Classroom, I’ve created a few simple tutorials as well.

I am looking forward to using Google Classroom in my library classes. One of our first projects will be creating our Reading Footprints. Later in the year, I would love to use this tool to manage Genius Hour projects.

How are you looking forward to using Google Classrom?

Categories: Tech in the Library, Writing with Google Drive

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading From Picture Books to YA?

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts, and Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, run the kidlit focused meme It’s Monday! What Are You Reading From Picture Books to YA. You can find great reads linked each week or by search #IMWAYR on Twitter.

Recent Reading Adventures


Middle Grade

Dash by Kirby Larson – This is a middle grade must read for historical fiction. Mitsi misses her dog Dash terribly when her family is sent to an internment camp during World War II.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt – A pair of raccoons and a boy must defend their beloved Sugar Man Swamp from multiple threats.

Graphic Novel

Abraham Lincoln: From the Log Cabin to the White House by Lewis Helfand – A graphic novel biography of the 16th president framed as a recounting to Tad Lincoln of his father’s life.

Professional Literature

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess – A professional title that is all about increasing engagement in the classroom through creativity. This book gave me a lot to think about in terms of my teaching practice.


This Week’s Reading Adventures



Reading this title after having it recommended at a number of edcamps and sessions on Makerspaces in the last year.

Categories: It's Monday What Are You Reading

Picture Walk Through History #pb10for10

For history to come to life, you have to tell the story of people. A list of dates and names alone don’t tug at the heart strings. Picture books provide an excellent opportunity to connect children to the people and times of yesterday through the magic of artwork and story.  For this reason, I selected ten nonfiction and historical fiction picture books for Picture Book 10 for 10 #pb10for10.

These ten books reflect both well known events and ones that may not be as known. From the beginning of the American Revolution to the cultural revolution in China, from battlefields to the racetracks, these books will transport you to life in another time.


The American Revolution

Henry and the Cannons: An Extraordinary True Story of the American Revolution by Don Brown – A winter expedition in 1775 to bring cannons to Boston.

US Civil War Era

The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Judith Fradin and Dennis Fradin. Illustrations by Eric Velasquez – Oberlin, Ohio in 1856 and the repercussions of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Voices of Gettysburg by Sherry Garland. Illustrations by Judith Hierstein – Different perspectives in the voices of participants in the 1863 battle and its aftermath.

Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of Doctor, Reformer and Civil War Hero: by Cheryl Harness. Illustrations by Carlo Molinari – Medical service in the Civil War.

20th Century

Kid Blink Beats the World by Don Brown – 1899 strike in New York City.

This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrations by James Ransome. One girl’s family experiences as they move from South Carolina to New York City during the Great Migration.

Seabiscuit: The Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy. It’s the race of the Great Depression when Seabiscuit takes on War Admiral.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss. Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu.  Kenichi Zenimura brings baseball to a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-li Jiang. Illustrations by Greg Ruth. Chinese Cultural Revolution and a young boy’s separation from his father.

As Fast As Words Can Fly by Pamela M. Tuk. Illustrations by Eric Velasquez. Set in 1960s North Carolina, an African boy starts attending a “whites-only” high school in this historical fiction picture book.


Categories: Favorite Reads

Take a Look at the New Google Drive

Google Drive has a new layout that you can opt into right now by going to your Google Drive settings and selecting ‘Experience the New Drive’.

Screenshot 2014-08-05 at 2.04.57 PM


Two big changes were made to the Google Drive menu. The big red Create button has been replaced by the big red New button. You’ll also notice the upload icon is missing. You can still upload files and folders, but you’ll find those choices after you click the new button.

The other change is that Shared with Me has been replaced by the word Incoming. Any files that you do not own will appear under incoming.


The Incoming section will show an icon of the person sending you the file next to its name. You’ll have the choice to download it, add the file to My Drive, etc.  The vertical three dots symbol means ‘more actions’ in Google Drive. That button gives you quick access to making a copy of the file, starring it, etc.

Screenshot 2014-08-09 at 10.23.11 AM


For more about the New Google Drive, watch the short video below.

Categories: Writing with Google Drive

Lucidchart Diagrams: Google Add-On

Two of my favorite Google Drive Apps that I taught last year were Lucidchart Diagrams and Lucidchart Press. Lucidchart Diagrams now has a Google Docs Add-On that allows access to complex graphic organizers right inside of a doc itself. Students can share their brainstorming process, create science lab reports, write their family history or show off their interior design skills using this Add-On.

Two weeks ago I shared how to create a very simple web based on a bulleted list using the MindMeister add-on. Lucidchart Diagrams allows students to add previously created diagrams to a Google Doc or to create a new diagram. Templates are available for Venn Diagrams, floor plans and many more options. Students can also create a Lucidchart from scratch. Many of the tools available inside Lucidchart Diagrams are similar to what you would find in photo editing applications: layering, image search, rotation, resizing and font options.

Watch the brief overview below. Please forgive the glitch at the beginning of the recording where you can see the timer. I was testing out ScreenCastify’s beta desktop recorder and it does truly record everything on the desktop.

Categories: Writing with Google Drive

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