Category Archives: Common Core

national standards in English Language Arts

Book Review: Through the Redwood Curtain by Robert Burke

Bob Burke is front and center at the Foundation Bologna Feed.
Bob Burke is front and center at the Woodlake Foundation Bologna Feed.

At a Woodlake High School Foundation Dinner I attended recently, Bob Burke, the 2011 San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies High School Teacher of the Year, told me he had just published his first book, Through the Redwood Curtain.

Through the Redwood ForestI was thrilled for him, and anxious to read it, a story about places and times familiar to me.

McKinleyville collage

The main character, Steve, a long-haired student at the College of the Redwoods, transversed between his home, where he lived in a tiny trailer in an ultra-conservative, poverty-ridden McKinleyville trailer park with his brother and his brother’s wife, to his place of school and employment in Eureka, 13 miles away.  On the way driving south on Highway 101 in his rundown Volkswagen van Steve passed through the now progressive town of Arcata, home of Humboldt State University, just over five miles away from his home.  The two towns couldn’t have been further apart politically.  When folks for the two towns met and talked politics, it was like metal on pavement, driving on the rims.

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Through Steve’s naive eyes, the reader sees the battle lines  being sketched between two ideologies, environmentally conscious students, and lumberjacks and fishermen barely scratching out a living as they destroyed some of the most pristine forests in the United States.  The destitution of the residents contrasted with the privilege and unappreciated wealth of the majority of the Humboldt State students from Southern California created a dramatic backdrop of political sparks that fueled this book’s plot from beginning to end.

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The drama didn’t end with politics, however.  Steve had his own internal combustion engine when it came to the love of his life, Cheryl, and their lonely times of separation, the abundance of drugs, family differences, friendships, and betrayals.  In addition, the death of Steve’s mother, the lack of support from his drunken father colored his emotions, and his own desperate financial situation added to the intense conflict of forces within the story.

firewood

Finally, the story wouldn’t have been complete without Steve’s $1.65 an hour job at Coastal Gardens Nursery in Eureka.  Steve worked with an assortment of characters, most of whom were paroles, students, or local tooth-free young women looking for good men – in all the wrong places.  Steve seemed to innocently bound through his mixed up world always seeing roses through his fog colored spectacles.

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All of the dramatic facets and interludes of Steve’s life seem inextricably intertwined into the life of his rusty, fussy old VW van.   Could it be that the opposing forces in Steve’s life wouldn’t begin to come together as long as he had the troublesome VW?  Or would his troubles only deepen if the old van ever died?  To find that answer you will have to read the book.

Common Core Standards

While this is a work of fiction, I think most high school teachers could use this with their students studying modern U.S. history, and would find Through the Redwood Curtain more than just a fun read.  Of course they could analyze the characters and setting, both of which are part of the new standards.  One of the important aspects of being a historian is to know the author, and understand the lens through which the book is written.  Robert Burke graduated from Humboldt State in the 1970s, so is a primary source when it comes to the issues found in the book.  So did Bob have an agenda when writing the book?  Did he see like as a wealthy college student, or did he, because of his own lack of funds, identify more with the conservatives who also had financial troubles bigger than the Redwoods?  How would the book have been different if written from the perspective of the owner of Coastal Gardens Nursery?  These are topics with which students have to grapple in their Common Core classrooms.  In my opinion this story would be an excellent one for examining perspective.

If you know Northwest California, and love the complexity of the simple life found there, you will love this book.  Read it and pass it on to a friend or two that went to Humboldt State in the 1970s.  They probably knew Steve – even though he is fictitious.  I felt like knew him – back when.

Book Review: Team of Rivals

Stephen Spielburg based the epic film,  Lincoln, on the book, Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Amazon already has 1,588 customer reviews of this book.  Mine is not needed, and, although I read it two years ago as I prepared to visit Civil War Battlefields and museums, I can’t help but sing its praises as one of my all time favorite books!

Can you name Lincoln's rivals?
Can you name Lincoln’s rivals?

The rivals mentioned were the others that wanted the Republican presidential nomination in 1860:  William H. Seward – NY, Salmon P. Chase – OH, and Edward Bates – MO.  Most of the research about this book came from their personal journals, and those of their family members who knew and interacted on a personal level with Abraham Lincoln.

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Lincoln amazed and saddened all the pundits when he won the Republican nomination for President in 1860.  Goodwin maintains that he triumphed, not because of a fluke involving the swing state of Illinois, but because he controlled the nomination process with self-reliance, shrewdness, and canniness.  Lincoln’s greatness showed when he managed opinions that differed from his.  To add to more controversy than just having his party rivals for the nomination to the cabinet, Lincoln included former Democrats:  Gideon Welles, Montgomery Blair, and Edwin M. Stanton.  It was even-tempered Lincoln, who “dispelled his colleague’s anxiety and sustained their spirits with his gift for storytelling and his life-affirming sense of humor.”  (loc.211-214)  All his rivals eventually acknowledged his greatness.  Even the treacherous Salmon P. Chase eventually realized that he’d been out witted by the comedy-cloaked brilliance of the 16th President of the United States.

Her passion explains this book's excellence.
Her passion explains this book’s excellence.

Goodwin weaves the stories in this volume with such skill that you wonder what is going to happen next even when you know what happens.  It was the most valuable resource in studying for a Civil War tour that I had personally.  In the hands of language arts and history teachers, it has great use in the Common Core classroom.  The character details will thrill the language arts teachers.  “He lifted his whole foot at once rather than lifting from the toes and then thrust the whole foot down on the ground rather than landing on his heel.”   Details like these that came from Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, turn students into historians in the classroom.

Unflattering stories told of Mary Todd Lincoln are somewhat softened by Goodwin’s quotes from primary sources.  On their first meeting at a party Lincoln told the well-educated, lively woman, “I want to dance with you in the worst way.”  Mary confided to her cousin, “He most certainly did.”  (Hmmm, was he the worst dancer??)  Lincoln developed unflinchingly loyal friends during his circuit experience as an attorney.  “Lincoln and his fellow lawyers journeyed together throughout the state.  They shared rooms and sometimes beds in the dusty village inns and taverns.”  Lincoln was always the center of attention.

Lincoln movie image

Through the pages of this book, you come to understand why Lincoln became the unsurpassed successful president he was.  There is much more to this book than the movie, even though the movie portrayed a most crucial event during Lincoln’s presidency.  If you are a Lincoln fan, you probably already read it.  If you aren’t, it’s worth your time.  :)

For other top reviews check out Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Worst Hard Time…

Before I start my book review, which I promised you last week, I want to thank you for responding to my poll yesterday.  I will be establishing a posting schedule in a few days based on your advice.

Attention English teachers!!!  The Worst Hard Time:  The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan reads almost like fiction. History and science teachers join forces by using this book as primary source background information to introduce or expand the topics including the Dust Bowl and the environment.

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Hundreds of thousands of people fled to Arizona and California to escape the worst natural disaster in modern times.  This book focuses on those who stayed, and lived in wooden shacks with no insulation to keep out the dust.

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You will experience the emotional debates raging in the hearts of the hanger ons when their lives blew away.

“In those cedar posts and collapsed homes is the story of this place:  how the greatest grassland in the world was turned inside out, how the crust blew away, raged up in the sky and showered down a suffocating blackness off and on for most of a decade.” p. 2

This book includes shocking facts beside the tragic stories of the nesters who had obeyed their government, farmed the land, and reaped a bowl of dust.

“…Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, … the storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal.  … More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day. … Jeanne Clark could not stop coughing.  … The doctor diagnosed Jeanne with dust pneumonia, … she might not live long….  Jeanne’s mother… had come here for the air, and now her little girl was dying of it.” p.8

The “great plowup” of millions of acres lasted only thirty years, but the consequences lasted a decade at its worst, and continues today with a cautionary tale for the future.

“The land came through the 1930s deeply scarred and forever changed, but in places it healed. … After more than sixty-five years, some of the land is still sterile, and drifting. … The (nearly 220 million) trees from Franklin Roosevelt’s big arbor dream have mostly disappeared.  … When the regular rain returned in the 1940s and wheat prices shot up, farmers ripped out the shelter belt trees to plant grain.” pgs 309-310

What is frightening after reading this book is the realization that it could happen again, and this time there would be no remedy.

“The government props up the heartland, ensuring that the most politically connected farms will remain profitable. …  To keep agribusiness going a vast infrastructure of pumps and pipes reaches deep into the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s biggest source of underground freshwater, drawing the water down eight times faster than nature can refill it. … It provides about 30 percent of the irrigation water in the United States.”  p. 310

This book is guaranteed to make you more aware of the extreme dangers of continuing in the direction we are going as a nation with regards to what and how we grow.

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In Central California where I live, the subject is especially poignant for two reasons:

  1. Many people have relatives still living in the Dust Bowl states.
  2. Central California depends on aquifers and agribusiness to exist.

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I recommend this book for use in Common Core classrooms grades 5 and up.  It covers science as well as social studies topics as it combines environmental issues with historical facts.

Please rate this review.  Thanks  :)

Book Review: Soul’s Child

Soul’s Child, the 2012 award-winning spell binder by Dianne Gray, unearthed and explored a love/hate relationship between co-dependent father and daughter after the accident in which Aurora Jones’ mother and younger sister died, and left Aurora in a coma for three weeks.

Do you love a mystery?
Do you love a mystery?

The accident also gave Aurora an insatiable and uncontrollable urge to draw unnaturally realistic scenes she had never experienced.   Although she hid her drawings, her father, originally Mervin Oswald Jones, discovered their secret meanings, and began to capitalize on them.  Mervin legally changed his name to Clive Soul, and created a Hollywood TV show, Soul Search,  to “prove the reality of precognition, ghosts and demons.”  The show totally destroyed her trust in her father, when she learned he would do anything to take possession of her drawings.

Throughout the book, Aurora sought true friendship, and struggled to find those she could really trust in an increasingly hostile environment.  She finally discovered the significance of her scribblings as her father became more and more dependent on them.  She feared for both hers and her father’s life, as the webs between the pictures and real life inextricably entangled.

I usually connect book reviews to the Common Core and sometimes the History Social Science Standards.  This is definitely not a non-fiction piece, nor does it specifically teach any social studies, but the value lies in the fiction work, so students would analyze the book referring to the Reading Standards for Literature.  For example, asking seventh grade students to work with standard RL 6 Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text, will help them deeply understand the intricacies of this surprisingly complex novel.

I highly recommend this book to mature readers.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Pattern

As Sarah Rosso says, “Patterns are everywhere. Patterns are sometimes intentional and sometimes accidental. They can be decorative or merely a result of repetition, and often patterns can be in the eye of the beholder to discover them.”

I love lines and shadows, bricks and glass.  Patterns can be numbers. like how many petals on a flower, or leaves on a stem, or points on a leaf.  My friend Jean and I just got back from San Francisco.  This beautiful church, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, lurred me into its trap.  How many different patterns do you see?  It’s the perfect question to pose in a Common Core classroom.

Founded in 1851, about the same time Tulare County was established.
Founded in 1851, about the same time Tulare County was established.

The doors of buildings inspire sculptures and designers worldwide and over the centuries.

I like the many arches in this church
I like the many arches in this church.

Arches are distinctly a contribution of Roman culture.  The repetitive pattern of arches in the doorways and windows is a perfect tribute to its heritage by a San Franciscan Roman Catholic church.

The front door makes a patterned impression
The front door makes a patterned impression.

Here is the impressive front door.  I love the reflection in the window next to the back door. Patterns abound.

The simpler patterns in the back door of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The simpler patterns in the back door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Across the street are the Yerba Buena Gardens beckoning visitors with another arch and shadow patterns winking from the cement walkway.  Did you know that Yerba Buena, meaning good herb, probably a mint, was San Francisco’s first name?  So if SF was a girl, her whole name would be Yerba Buena San Francisco.

Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens

I love the patterns of the glistening windows of tall buildings against the brilliant blue sky.

San Francisco Marriott Marquis
San Francisco Marriott Marquis

Large cities are fun because of all the patterns you find in them.  Math teachers have used a simple walking field trip to inspire their students to learn about the many patterns around them.  With the pictures of many patterns burned into their brains, and on the sensors of their cameras, they go back to the classrooms and learn the formulas for figuring out those patterns.  And voilá, next generation’s civil engineers.  This is just as much fun for parents and grandparents to do when they walk or drive with their kids as counting how many VWs they can find, and much more educational.

Speaking of education.  Some of you are still guessing about our wax visitor yesterday.  One person knew precisely who it was.  I’m going to leave you wondering for one more day.  In the meantime, practice being historians with your kids and grandkids.  Who are the famous people in your lifetime.  Who are the infamous ones?  Are any of them appealing enough to immortalize.  My waxy friend was.

In Tulare County we glorify train bandits, Sontag and Evans.

I don’t know why this story has retained it popularity here.  Historians erected no statues, but  they wrote books and even a famous play in San Francisco during the 1890s about the “famous bandits of California”  Hu Maxwell.  The Visalia Fox Theater brought the historic play to life about 10 years ago, and my husband and I, along with a huge crowd in Visalia attended.

 

 

The famous gun battle in which John Sontag lost his life took place in a place called Stone Corral in 1893.

he actually died in 1893 in Stone Corral, but who cares about accuracy in history, right?
he actually died in 1893 in Stone Corral, but who cares about accuracy in history, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Evans, his partner, only lost an eye and an arm.

Chris Evans, immortalized train robber from Tulare County
Chris Evans, immortalized train robber from Tulare County

 

 

National History Day – California – Tulare County a Huge Success

This was my first year in the past twelve years NOT to coordinate Tulare County’s History Day event.  The job now falls on my dear friend, Joy Soares, who took my place as the History Consultant at the County Office.  She has enough energy and ideas for three people, and indeed more than three people kept very busy bringing this exciting day to fruition.

Joy Soares dressed in 1940s style including a black line drawn up her leg.  Styling, Joy!
Joy Soares dressed in 1940s style including a black line drawn up her leg. Styling, Joy!

My job in all of this was to represent two volunteer organizations, San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies (SJVCSS), and Tulare County Historical Society (TCHS).  Both organizations had booths, and both gave scholarships to students.  This was the first year we named any of the donations from these organizations.

Three tables for three organizations.  Tulare Treasures, TCHS, and SJVCSS
Three tables for three organizations. Tulare Treasures, TCHS, and SJVCSS  See me manning the tables?  OK I’m a little ghostly, but there’s my coat.    800 ISO picture – much better!

Two individuals from TCHS were especially instrumental in bringing TCHS and History Day together, Stan Barnes and Madeline Franz.  When I first started coordinating History Day, the Fresno County Historical Society actively supported the Fresno County event, and I didn’t even know who the Tulare County Historical Society was or how to find them.  Then Sharon Doughty created a website, and I made a phone call.  That next year Madeline Franz judged for our event.  The next year she brought friends, Don MacMillian, Terry Ommen, and Stan Barnes.

Madeline is a kick.  You'd love her.  Her daughter is sitting next to her.
Madeline is a kick. You’d love her. Her daughter is sitting next to her.  You can see Terry Ommen behind her with his arm up like he is taking a picture.  He was. 

Stan was particularly taken with the project, and insisted that the Society donate money as long as it didn’t get swallowed in a “black hole.”  The society also contributed a large amount to a group of students from Kingsburg, CA who were going to National History Day in Washington, D.C.  What an opportunity for students who had never been out of Tulare County!  TCHS bought tee shirts one year so that when our students went to state they all dressed alike one night and really stood out in the crowd of thousands of students.  This year was the first year that the Society specified scholarship amounts, and named the scholarships.  Unfortunately, Stan Barnes passed away just a few weeks ago, so did not see what the scholarship named for him will do for students.  His daughter attended the awards ceremony.

Stan Barnes' daughter is at the ceremony to present the scholarship with President, Jill Brown.
Stan Barnes’ daughter is at the ceremony to present the scholarship with President, Jill Brown.  Stan’s daughter is the smiling blond woman looking towards me.  The blond in the background was my boss at TCOE when I retired.  Jill Brown is not wearing brown, but yellow.

Madeline also participated in the awards ceremony, bringing her family with her.  TCHS President, Jill Brown presented both awards.

Seating was tight, so I had a hard time getting in to get the right angle on the picture.  I still need a lot of work as a professional photographer!
Seating was tight, so I had a hard time getting in to get the right angle on the picture. I still need a lot of work as a professional photographer!  Someone was not extremely excited to be there for the presentation part.  This is Madeline’s family.

SJVCSS is the local affiliate council of the California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS) It is a professional organization for social studies teachers, administrators, and professors, and really is NON-profit.  Each year since I started as coordinator the organization gave $50 to History Day, and I used it to purchase things we needed for the event.  This year we upped it to $100 and created an Exhibit Scholarship in the name of Marvin Awbrey, Father of History Day.  Marvin is from Fresno County, just north of us.  He IS the Father of History Day in California, the man who brought it to Fresno County, then the state.  He also served as the judge captain of the Exhibits Category for many years.  At the awards ceremony yesterday, I made a presentation speech, and Marvin gave the scholarship to a deserving exhibit designer, Mr. Wilson.

By this time, I had learned to bring folks where I want them, not take a snapshot!  I learn SO slowly!  :)
By this time, I had learned to bring folks where I want them, not take a snapshot! I learn SO slowly! :)

I will write a more professional article that has student names and a little less silliness for the Los Tulares, the TCHS quarterly magazine available to members.   My blogging friends have to put up with all my foibles, bad photography, and antics.  It is SO fun to be retired and be able to be silly.  There is something to be said for that second childhood!

Here are some other photos if you are a parent or an interested bystander that just loves HD.

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Book Review: The Eleventh Question by Dianne Gray

In her riveting book, The Eleventh Question Dianne Gray takes a visionary slant to take care of an invasive social problem that has received much publicity in the last 10 years. The problem of bullying is one of the chief causes of teen suicide as well as incidents of school violence that shock entire communities to their core.

Wikipedia tells casual researchers like me that  “Bullying consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal, and physical. …Social aggression or indirect bullying is characterized by attempting to socially isolate the victim. …Often bullying takes place in the presence of a large group of relatively uninvolved bystanders. In many cases, it is the bully’s ability to create the illusion that he or she has the support of the majority present that instills the fear of “speaking out” in protestation of the bullying activities being observed by the group.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying

This brief excerpt from Wikipedia describes the life of Arista, teen-aged daughter of a loving, but alcoholic and neglectful mother.  With nowhere to turn for help, Arista is on the verge of suicide, when help comes from seemingly out of no where.  What makes this story so fascinating is the OTHER story, of a young ayudante, or helper, to a seer in another part of the world.  Ayudante has his own real world struggles, but is able to “see” Arista as she grapples with her life’s questions.  Her questions somehow tie into his life as well.

The Eleventh Question wove its magical spell around my clock, and time didn’t seem to move at all as engrossed as I was in this novel.

The Eleventh Question and the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.

It is my trademark to offer an opinion here to how a teacher might ramp up the effectiveness of non-fiction documents by the use of fiction, and vice versa.  The non-fiction, social studies issue here is bullying, and with a hint of religious rights.  I can picture students reading this book and doing what I did, rushing to the find out more about bullying, and then turning it into a social action, project based learning experience.

Project Citizen is one curriculum published by the non-profit organization of Center for Civic Education that helps students reach out to the world of public policies to help them solve major social problems in the local community.  Other organizations such as the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Civic Action Project, and the Buck Institute offer similar effective programs or curricular ideas for whole class participation in a project that drives the learning deep as well as wide.

There are few people in this world who have been untouched by bullying.  It is frightening how subtle bullying can be, and how long-term, sometimes fatal, the effects of intimmidating.  Gray’s solution identified social policies connected with the foster care system that students could evaluate.  She also integrates the spirit world, which captures the imagination in a Harry Potter fashion, as a means of solving the problem.

Conservative Christians will have to keep an open mind as they read this book, just as they do with any book that edifies a religion other than Christianity.   Gray puts the actions of one zealous Christian man on the proverbial red carpet, as his behavior warrants.

As I read this I asked myself, “Is this how people typically view Christians?” and then I continued to question, “Is this an accurate stereotype?”  Then, “Why am I feeling defensive here?”  “Am I responsible for the actions of one man in a story?”  “Does he reflect MY values?”  “What about the imperfections of the Seer, and Ayudante?”   “Were they portrayed as evil or wrong?” One right after another, questions kept tumbling into my brain.  I feared that I might end up with eleven questions.  And then what might happen?

Read the book.  Fall in love with Arista and Cayo, the young Ayudante.  The Eleventh Question is heartening, loving, surprising, and deep.  See if it doesn’t make you think, and smile, and cry a wee bit.

Learn about the philosophy of the eleventh question.  I accidentally found out there is more to this than some random number.  You can always count on Dianne to dig deeper in her writing.  :)

My favorite picture of Dianne of all times!!! You can’t meet a nicer lady!!! :) ML

Other reviews and interviews of author, Dianne Gray, you might enjoy.

Using the Creative Cloud by Adobe

As many of you know, the job of designing a brochure somehow dropped on my unartistic shoulders.  I created something using the Creative Cloud for our Board Meeting on Saturday, and received immediate feedback about what to change.  This was my first time ever to use Adobe Illustrator, and it represented about 8 or more hours of intensive effort.  I just LOOKS so easy a first grader could do it!  I would not call Illustrator an intuitive, user-friendly program.

My first attempt using Adobe Illustrator
My first attempt using Adobe Illustrator

Today I spent the entire day creating a new brochure with an artsy look rather than a blocky photography look.  My husband helped me on this one by brainstorming with me, then finding me a nice artsy print to get my creative dry mouth (there were not juices) started.  He also agreed with Cotton that the California Bear Flag was the primary symbol to use to anchor this brochure.

I couldn't figure how to color this one blue.
I couldn’t figure how to color this one blue.  I still thought it was cool.  Do you recognize anyone here?

I couldn’t find the same picture he did, and I thought I would be so clever and Photoshop of our own meetings.  It didn’t transfer well into Illustrator, so he emailed me the picture he found.  I made major changes on it before I used it.

This was the best I could do in Illustrator.
This was the best I could do in Illustrator.  Oops a flag pole in the middle of the sky.  Weird.  The colors don’t really go here, but I hat to take a break.

The hardest part after he found the anchor artwork for the meeting was to create a seamless look between the artwork and the background.  I’m not sure I could do any of it again at this point.  I found that it was easier to merge the pictures and the background in Photoshop than in Illustrator.  I couldn’t even get the paintbrush tool to activate on the layer I wanted in Illustrator, and I couldn’t flatten the layers.  So back to what I knew.  I got a little paint on the photos, but I’m hoping it gives that artsy-dreamy look.  I need to brush up my coloring skills.

I tried using the select tools, but forgot how to use them correctly, and so I just colored around the map – that took forever!!!  I also had to do it more than once.  The first time I thought I coud just place it into Illustrator.  Place is how you get your photographs to stick on the background in both Illustrator and Photoshop.  That is in the file drop down menu.

I found out that Photoshop CS6 is different enough from Elements 10 that I had a bit of a learning curve, but I was able to McIver my way through the project.

After I was as pleased as I could be in the amount of time that I wanted to devote to my 4th makeover, I saved the project as a jpeg and then placed it over the first page white blank sheet in Adobe Illustrator.  Then I just added the words.  V helped me with the words, too.  He used to be in advertising, and he focused me on what was really the reason for the brochure – to GET PEOPLE TO JOIN THE ORGANIZATION!  So that went in the top right hand corner.  DUH!

This was my third attempt.
This was my third attempt.  Here it looked like I scribbled around the map because I was dodging the words.  Has any one ever been to the state of Califronia?

I got it all done, and sent out to our Exec. Board, and realized I had misspelled California.  Believe it or not I had to start back in Photoshop and get my three pictures together again on the background.

This was the most time- intensive part.  this was my fourth attempt.
This was the most time-intensive part, and it was my fourth attempt at creating the brochure.

I finally got the words back on  using Illustrator because the words are sharper if you use Illustrator rather than Photoshop.

This is my final draft - SO FAR!!!
This is my final draft – SO FAR!!!

I had a few changes to do to the inside, but those were simple.  So this is the journey I’ve been on for the last few days since our start long ago with the simple cover you all voted on.

You overwhelmingly picked this design for the front of the brochure.
You overwhelmingly picked this design for the front of the brochure.

Thanks so much for all your input.  I appreciate when YOU offer suggestions.  Thanks also to V for all the help you gave me this morning, and the patience to see me through my tears without trying to SOLVE all my problems.  I knew I could do this if I just put my mind to it.  I was not going to be overcome by a computer program!!!!  :)

Book Review: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

This book, The Elephant Whisperer, kept me on the edge of my seat the entire two days it took me to finish it.

Considering that I was reading it on my cell phone the whole time because my Kindle needs to be emptied before I can load any more books, it’s amazing that I even stuck it out.   Out of forty-two chapters, there wasn’t a single dud.  I read it because I was intrigued when someone  wrote that when Lawrence Anthony died, the elephants mourned.

We all have problems and obstacles when we follow our dreams, but this man had more than most.  He bought a 5,000 acre game reserve in Zululand, South Africa called Thula Thula.  He had the ability to get, not only wild elephants to listen to him, but also local police, local political leaders including tribal leaders from warring tribes.  He conquered poaching problems, floods, and built a thriving lodge in the midst of this reserve full of all kinds of wild animals, the largest being the elephants.

These desperate, wild elephants uprooted trees weighing several tons and crashed through electric fencing to escape the reserve and run free in towns and countryside where EVERYONE from poachers to police wanted to shoot them.  The logistics of capturing, transporting and keeping animals of this strength and determination were mind-boggling.  His story of training and taming them without domesticating them kept me transfixed and absorbed for about two days.

One of the major characteristics that comes out about Lawrence Anthony besides his ability to work hard in horrible circumstances, is his humility.  He credited everyone for the wonderful ways they contributed to his project, and in so doing inspired immense loyalty.  Possibly just as amazing was his companion, Franςoise.  She combatted snakes, and nursed a dying 280 pound baby elephant in her spare bedroom – well the run of the house, actually.  She ran the lodge, made and served gourmet French cuisine, and finally after living with the man who didn’t mind having elephant slobber all over his body for 15 years planned and executed their surprise wedding.

Elephants and the Common Core

Remembering that the Common Core is all about non-fiction, and integrating science, social studies, and technology, this book will do it all – especially if students are reading it on their iPhones as I was.  In spite of it’s length this is an engaging read for upper elementary students and above.  It is also a great one to engage male readers, who statistically respond both to animals and adventure.

Anthony’s story of survival, love, adventure, drama, and caring for both animals, the environment and culture of the people will inspire and challenge everyone to meet their own challenges with courage and innovation.

Featured Blog

Featured BlogThe perfect blog to feature today is one of another adventurer, Amy at shareandconnect.  I have heaped awards on Amy’s shoulders, and I have enjoyed her company, her uplifting comments on my blog for many months, but tonight I spent time just thumbing through her blog, reading the back pages, and the more I read, the more I liked.  This wonder woman has been everywhere.  If it has a trail, she climbed it.  If it’s beautiful, she’s photographed it.

Here’s a peek.  You are going to want to set aside some time and just go browse in her museum of photos.

You can thank me later because you’ll be richer for it!  Enjoy Share and Connect, you’ll be glad you connected.  :)  Marsha

 

Miles Dean, age 57 riding across America

Book Review: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America

A Black Cowboy's Ride

It’s not every day that a good book about both geography and history comes along, but Lisa Winkler’s non-fiction epic, A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America, guides the reader from New Jersey to California.  Each chapter portrays the real-life adventure of an African-American teacher, Miles Dean, who rides horseback across the United States beginning September 22, 2007.  The mini-biography of Dean spans not only the country, but the centuries of African-American history in various places along the way.

There is not enough room in history books to tell the stories of all the remarkable people who walked this earth.  So they  leave out those folks who do not specifically advance the historical narrative the editors wish to portray.  For example, American children all read about George Washington, the first President of the United States, and they should.  Do they also know about Blanche K. Bruce, the first African-American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate in 1874?  Readers travel with Miles and pick up gems of history where they happened along the journey.

Blanche K. Bruce Mississippi Senator, 1874-1880

In this book the reader experiences the difficulties of the actual horseback ride across motorized America in spite of extensive planning,  along with the exuberance of meeting welcoming strangers in every place.  Readers learn along with Miles about various famous African-Americans, who were firsts in fields that don’t make the history books, such as horse jockeys or cowboys.  Rather than being a chronological history, this is a geographical history.  Every locale has its heroes and heroines, and they fit into various historical time frames.  The focus of this book is on African-American heroes from each stop along the way, so there might be a Civil War hero, and a country singer in the same location.

In truth children learn history, just as they learn their first language, from those closest to them.  They learn about their own ethnicity from their parents and grandparents, and blend it in with their growing life experiences.  They hear the stories of the folks in their home territory.  Then they learn how those stories fit into the broader scope of history.  Somewhere along the way, they begin to pick up an internal timeline.  In this book the reader becomes like a child growing up in each site where Miles stops, and learns a bit about each place, whetting their appetite to follow-up and research more about specific people or events later.

Winkler’s mini-biography easily meets the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, since students will be required to read greater percentages of non-fiction texts.  This is a book that will interest students, particularly ones who like horses and cowboys.  Teachers are often looking for books that will appeal to disenfranchised students.  This book is the perfect hook for African-American males, statistically having the largest percentage of students in this category.  Miles, the rider, is the first hero, attempting this difficult trip at age 57, and overcoming obstacle after obstacle, persevering until he completes his goal.  Then meeting all the unsung African-American heroes along Mile’s historic epic gives these students a sense of belonging and contributing to the history of the United States that is so essential for creating future citizens of this nation.

Miles Dean, age 57 riding across America
Miles Dean, age 57 riding across America

As an educational consultant, I think this book has implications that reach far beyond the written word, and the standards we teach.  It touches the heart, and motivates young people to emulate heroes.  It goes beyond exposing the faults of the country to forgiveness and allows students to see how people of different ethnicities contributed to the success of Miles’ journey.  We don’t forget our history or cover it up, but maturely go beyond its faults and take advantage of new opportunities.  We stand on the backs of heroes who paved the way for our success, and move forward in appreciation of their sacrifices to create a better world.

I featured Lisa Walker’s blog, Cycling Grandma, in my Christmas Sweater Post earlier in December.  You will enjoy visiting her blog as well.  A Black Cowboy’s Ride will make an excellent gift for your child’s teacher, a student in your life, a history buff, or yourself. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Book Review: Entertaining an Elephant

Thank you and congratulations to Larry Otter, the 30th “LIKE” on my new Facebook page, GOLD STAR!  Thanks to the many others that also pressed “LIKE”

Many of you are teachers, and many more of you have children, grandchildren, or at some point in time are expecting to have them.  A few months ago I went to a Common Core Conference, at which Dr. Bill McBride presented strategies to help teachers implement Common Core Standards.  His presentation style was just as interactive and fun as any I have attended.  I also purchased the book , If They Can Argue Well, They Can Write Well, a step-by step instruction manual on teaching students how to develop an argument. 

Entertaining an Elephant, on the other hand is a fictitious book about education, and I warn the reader to have a Kleenex or two nearby.  (That was clever, I wasn’t sure about how to pluralize Kleenex.  Putting es on the end, just didn’t look right, and ‘s did, but ‘s indicates belonging, so just a simple rewording solved my problem.  YEAH!)

by William McBride
by William McBride

Written by William McBride, Entertaining an Elephant documents the metamorphosis of a seasoned, but jaded teacher who encounters a new janitor that changes his life.

“Reaf wasn’t allowed to leave for a half hour, and he decided not to let the janitor run him out.” p. 7

His tired attitude helps you dislike this teacher right from the start.  He thought he knew what the kids needed, and I can just hear his gruff voice speaking to the peon janitor.

“You see, I’ve been in the business for a long time, and even though these kids have had a lot of schooling, they still don’t have the basics.  I don’t know what those teachers are doing at the lower levels, but these kids can’t tell a participle from a noun.  So I take it upon myself to make sure they understand grammar.  None of the other English teachers spend that much time with it, so it’s up to me to hammer it in.”

If that wouldn’t make a student want to take his class, I don’t know what would!  I’m sure the other teachers loved him just about as much as the kids did.  Every teacher loves to think their teaching taught the kids all they were expected to learn that year plus a little more.  They NEVER like to hear that the kids FORGOT any some of it – or worse, they never had time to teach it, or worse still, they taught it, but NOBODY got it.

The janitor was a wise, wily fellow, though, with some tricks up his sleeve.

“Unfortunately, most of them don’t use the grammar.  That’s why they’re going to be failures, which proves my point.  But that’s between you and I.”

“Me,” the janitor said.

“Yes, you.”

Who else would I be talking to, thought Reaf.  …then suddenly (he) realized the janitor had corrected him.  It is between you and me. … the teacher threw the grammar book he had been holding …

I have to admit that, as a teacher, I want to make sure my kids learn grammar, but I’ve also made MY share of grammar errors as an adult with lots of education.   In fact I’ve made the very SAME mistake that Reaf made.  It was embarrassing the first time I made it, sitting at a dinner table with a movie star, no less – and corrected by HIM.  It was worse the third time I said it.  And I was the EDUCATOR, but the star seemed like a Reaf to me, and he didn’t earn a fan that night.

So where did Reaf throw the grammar book?  What did the janitor do to cause the teacher to change?  What made the teacher so irritatingly uninteresting in the first place?  Why would you want to find out?

I’ll answer the last question for you.  Reaf learns and practices some new teaching and relationship strategies as the book progresses which change his life, but most of all HE changes, and the story is heartwarming.  Common sense strategies are easily employed by anyone, teachers or non-teachers, who want to see improved relationships and motivate others to learn.

The real question is, will YOU cry at the end?

Featured Blog

You must read and enjoy Sierra Foothill Garden if you want to learn more about the plant life in my neck of the woods.  This blog is more focused than my streaming thoughts site.  We really do get snow in the mountains and higher in the foothills than I am.  Sue has a handy list of California bloggers in her sidebar, which I am going to find helpful.  If you want to get more familiar with California, this is one place to start.

If you have already read the book Entertaining an Elephant, how did your react?

  • I threw the book across the room.
  • I cried.
  • I planted the book to see if I could get it to grow.
  • I gave it away at a White Elephant Christmas party.
  • Other responses

Book Review: The Everything Theory

Dianne Gray became my blogger friend four months and three weeks ago now, and we have rallied blogger chit-chat back and forth between our blogs.  As I read her blog the other day, I learned about her book, The Everything Theory,  Browsing the comments on the post, I decided that I definitely wanted to buy the book.  So I headed over to Amazon, made a few clicks, and started reading, and finally put it down because I had to sleep at about one in the morning.

by Diane Gray
by Diane Gray

I am excited to review Dianne Gray’s new book, The Everything Theory, which I just finished in less than a day, but certainly not because it was flat, or simplistic.  Though not to be confused with the Theory of Everything (ToE), which Wikipedia defines as “The “system building” style of metaphysics attempts to answer all the important questions in a coherent way, providing a complete picture of the world. Plato and Aristotle could be said to have created early examples of comprehensive systems,” the reader does get a flavor of those intertwining systems in this book.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_everything

Gray, in her own logical way, unfolded ancient theories, and outlined plausible outcomes to those ancient predictions.  She postulated a plausible answer to the question of the age:  How did the ancients get the knowledge to build the pyramids?  Readers will learn about the way scientists use numbers, referring often to the mathematics of the pyramids, and the books of the Nine Unknown Men.  Recorded on the History of India website, the Nine Unknown Men, according to occult lore, “were a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka 273 BC. …  Each of the Nine is supposedly responsible for guarding and improving a single book. These books each deal with a different branch of potentially hazardous knowledge.”  http://www.indohistory.com/nine_unknown_men.html From another civilization at another time the ancient Mayans predicted that the end of the our world nears daily.  Were they right?  Is this even a possibility?

Scientific facts dotted the story, and at the time I assumed that these stated facts might be purely fictitious, but they seemed plausible.  Last night I checked with Diane, and she said that she spent a lot of time researching and that her facts were all cross checked.  Even though I haven’t researched the many details in the novel, the fact that she didn’t fabricate the scientific references made this book an even better read than if it was science fiction.

The prologue and epilogue book-ended The Everything Theory with men, dressed in animal skins, looking at pictures in a cave.  Curiously, the main characters in the prologue and epilogue had very similar names to the protagonist in the body of the tale, yet clearly the Lukes were not from the same time.  Thus, the Everything Theory mystery began and ended.

Besides the ordinary human bad guys, the primary culprit in this story was a wayward planet named Eris.  As it turned out, Eris is a real planet larger and farther out than Pluto, and Google has hundreds of pictures of it.  Here is one of them.

eris_and_dysnomia_485

The mystery intertwined the lives of archaeologists studying past ancient writings, with amateur astronomers who discovered the rogue planet, Eris.  A couple of murders launched the story, and alerted the reader to the extreme urgency and seriousness of the obstacles facing the heroes.  The lives of these two groups of scientists collided early in the book as they attempted to evade the inevitable outcome of their actions thus becoming the next murder victims.  In the process of survival, the group began to cohere and collaborate to try to deal with the havoc that Eris would bring into Earth’s universe.

Connecting to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards

Most of my book reviews bring up the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.   For the California sixth grade teacher teaching  ancient world history, the Nine Unknown Men would be the perfect place to insert a research project.  Student-generated questions about the end of the world, dangerous knowledge, and an ancient secret society would capture their interest and motivate research.

Without question this book contains academic language making it an effective novel for the language arts teacher to use to support the teaching of science as well.  It corresponds directly with eighth grade Earth in the Solar System (Earth Sciences) .

4. e states “Students know the appearance, general composition, relative position and size, and motion of objects in the solar system, including planets, planetary satellites, comets, and asteroids.”

Are you thinking of a Christmas gift for the reader in your family?  Do they believe that aliens influenced the ancients?  Do they look for answers in astrology?  Do they watch the History Channel or the Discovery Channel?  Do they like Bones, Lie to Me or Fringe?  The Everything Theory appeals to anyone who loves a mystery.

By the way, Dianne did not ask me to buy the book or write a review.  I don’t make money writing reviews either – maybe now you know why!  I just learned yesterday that my website is a “vanity” site because I am not using it for making a profit.  That being said, this review strictly reflects my opinions.

Blog Tip of the Week

When I make a comment, and it doesn’t post and displays a 403 error, I have found that if I close my browser, then open it again, then I can send to that person.  I do lose the reply, though unless I save it somewhere else.

Featured Blog

It only makes sense to feature Dianne’s website.  In it she offers sound advice.

run-from-stag

She shares her philosophy of life, how she writes, and thinks.  She tells you what’s happening in her real life.  Best of all she reads her friends’ blogs and makes comments.  If you don’t already know Dianne Gray, this is your chance.

Reviewing Books – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Thanks to ShareChair I ordered several classic books along with their audio books for free from Amazon.  You really do need to check out her blog.  It’s all technology, and incredibly organized, every article practical or thought-provoking.

taken from an excellent review of the book – http://salmanlatif.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/the-picture-of-dorian-gray/

Back to books, I just finished my third book from this classic find, and I thought that the least I could do would be to offer a review, something new and fresh.  My review for David Copperfield evolved naturally, and I didn’t search the internet first.  However, before I started writing my next remarkable review I decided to search the internet to find out what others said about  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

I started with Wikipedia, which offered a complete background of the controversy that surrounded the book, the author,  and the characters.  The next site suggested by Google was Sparks Notes.   This was even more complete, but not as easy to stay awake while reading.  It included famous quotes, as well as someone’s explanations to those quotes, study questions and answers.  By this time I was getting so sleepy that I nodded off in the middle of reading, and the page disappeared.  I was ready to finish my search for other reviews – especially since I am not actually having to write a paper or participate in a class discussion.  But I am persistent, I plodded on and looked at the third review source, Goodreads.

I’ve seen the Goodreads sign in the side banner of some websites, but haven’t seen the benefit of them yet.  From the Goodreads reviewers of Dorian Gray I learned that many of them enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s humor in this book.  I am not the fastest reader, but I may be the most distracted one.  This book took me less than a week to finish, as I was reading 2-3 others, but as I read the reviews, I realized that I hadn’t caught some of the nuances that other readers had noticed.

The major nuance should have been as obvious as an uprooted tree lying across the road resulting from Hurricane Sandy’s wrath.  I somehow missed Wilde’s humor entirely in this story about a hedonistic, homoerotic, narcissistic young man, Dorian, and his older guide, Harry, who actually lived the cleaner life.  Actually I missed most of the nuances.  I didn’t notice the fact that he had opium at home, but had to go to the opium dens after he killed his friend, the artist, and had his chemist friend destroyed the body which indicated the depths to which his depravity hit.  I failed to see the symbolic colors used in the novel.

Not only did I overlook the language arts nuances, I failed to note many redeeming historical analysis skills that could be gained from reading this book.  Because psychology is one of the social sciences, a pitch could be made to read this book as a study in psychological disorders.

At the same time I was reading Dorian, I finished the In Search of Bill Clinton:  A Psychological Biography, by John Gartner, the story of another charmingly engaging fellow.  I couldn’t help but compare the two personalities, since both have narcissistic traits.  Clinton managed his, and poor Dorian did not have his skills or moral balance to do the same.  The fictitious character, Dorian Gray, had a true malignant disorder, whereas Clinton was diagnosed as having hypomanic traits which were not malignant.

In spite of all the literary connections which I didn’t recognize, I enjoyed reading the book, and I would recommend it to those who love classics, and a touch of what I would classify as very early science fiction.

I would not recommend it as a literary classic that meets Common Core Standards, AND the standards for History-Social Studies.  Since English teachers only get 50% literature, and need to focus the other 50% of their time on expository reading, I would not waste the student’s precious literature hours on this book.  They can read it when they are on their own as part of a life-long learning program.

I am trying to develop a schedule to my posting, so I write the day before, then polish in the morning before I post.  As I was looking for a good picture this morning, I came across this excellent review o a WordPress site where I got the picture I used.  Click here to read that review.  ShareChair must have inspired many people to read this book because I found several other reviews that have been done in the last month or so, which I included below.  Who knew Dorian would be making such a great come back?

Teachers Pay Teachers

Want To Make A Million Dollars?

One of the services I do for SJVCSS is Chair the Curriculum Committee.  During the last adoption for History-Social Science I was fortunate to be selected to serve as a Reviewer.  Although I was unable to perform that role, I was involved at the county level after the adoptions were available to districts.

With the coming of the Common Core Standards individual teachers are beginning to search for materials on their own.  One of the most logical places to look for materials is the internet.  On September 27  CNN’s Martin Savidge aired a story featuring “a small town kindergarten teacher (who) becomes a millionaire and says other teachers can become just as rich too.”  I was curious about the website, and the materials, so I am reviewing the site, Teachers Pay Teachers in this post.

Before I start let me tell you how curricula is approved for use in public schools in California.  In the state of California curricula has to pass numerous criteria including alignment to current California subject matter standards and, in the case of history-social studies, the history analysis skills. The California state board adopted curriculum for grades K-8 is checked by curriculum specialists and teachers before it is adopted by the state of California and is available for purchase by districts.  This committee turns over their findings to the Instructional Quality Commission which ultimately approves each publisher and their materials.   After that a district committee looks through the reviewers’ notes, examines the textbooks and makes a decision as to which materials the district will adopt and use for the 6 (or so) years after that.  It takes a long time for curriculum to reach teachers because it is reviewed extensively before it can be mass produced.  This is not the case in the free market place.

Teachers Pay Teachers is a free market for teachers to sell their own materials. This is a review primarily of how the site is organized, not a judgement of the materials that are sold there.  On the home page, the menu is categorized several ways.  At each grade level, you can see how many materials for all subject areas are available.

Examining the subject areas I chose social studies to begin my research.  At the top of the menu bar you can choose your grade level.  You can see below that  there isn’t much to choose from in general social studies.

At that point I could choose a grade level or a branch of history.  Below are the first seven choices listed alphabetically.

When I went through the grade level first the choices for social studies seemed much fewer.

So I went back and looked at Asian studies.  There was only one MP3 available.  It seems that these numbers don’t agree.  How did 317 items become only 1 item?

Another way the materials are sorted are by type.  Several of these types are listed below.  They are in alphabetical order.

Next they categorize materials by price.  The website, Teacher Pay Teachers, offers several price choices to teachers.

Finally teachers could browse by several other criteria.

Browse by:

Choosing the state of California, the website took me to biographies of contributors, and how they were rated by their users.  Most of them posted how many years’ experience they had teaching.  Most contributors had at least 10 years experience.  One as little as 4, and one as many as 50.  One teacher I noticed posted that his students tested well.

  

Finally, I went back to social studies.  On the left the menu further divided the resources by grade level. This menu indicates that there are 4100 items social studies items available for third grade alone, and more for the next two, whereas in an earlier menu I found only 7 items.  This confused me, so maybe one of your reading this will be able to clear that up for us. 

Clicking on third grade brought me to units like “Me on the Map”.  This particular product is designed to accompany a book with the same title.  I’m not familiar with the book, but the illustrations in this particular product look professional.  It includes a description of what a teacher will find inside the project book.  “2 writing prompt pages: Each begins with, “If I could travel anywhere on the map I would go to…” (which is could lead to the higher skilled opinion-type of writing.) There is a primary ruled option and an intermediate ruled option. Both have a space to illustrate their writing.”  This teacher, like many others, has created a website to tell more about the products they are offering.

While it is not a fair sampling to check out one product, it would take a tremendous amount of time to do a thorough examination of each item and determine if it meets, not only the social studies standards and analysis skills, but also the Common Core English language arts standards as well. 

In the short time I have taken to look at the website, I haven’t really formed an opinion of the quality or reliability of the products within the website itself.  I think it is a great idea to be able to share resources and be paid for them.  I also know how much expertise and time it takes to develop resources.  In history-social studies, the biggest push is to use primary sources and to help students to read informational texts.  In the lower grades at first glance I saw what I’ve seen for years in school supplies, coloring for Columbus Day and other holidays, and art projects.  These products are rated highly by teachers, but there again we don’t know the expertise level of the teachers rating the materials either.  Do these teachers want rigorous materials, or just something to keep the kids busy?  I would like to see that the teachers that are producing the materials as well as the ones rating them are members of a professional society for their subject matter, such as National Council for the Social Studies, or their state and local affiliated Council. 

While I am not saying that the products are not credible, there are many vetted, free, or low cost curricular materials available from recognized non-profit organizations such as the Center for Civic Education, Constitutional Rights Foundation, California History Project, California Council for Economics Education, and the California Geographic Alliance.  Many of these products are developed by teachers working with subject matter experts in higher education.  They are approved by social studies professional organizations such as California Council for the Social Studies of the California Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee’s Sub-Committee for History-Social Science. 

Materials abound in all subject areas.  As you spend your hard-earned money on curriculum, be sure that you check all the sources that are available.  When it comes to what you are going to take into your classroom, reliability is key.

If you purchase or bring in any of your own curriculum, what criteria do you use to choose the best materials?  How do you know what to buy?

The Hilarity of Real Spam

Both Sex Gratis and Tattoo Age need to work a little on their persuasive writing skills. as well as their language usage.  Maybe that is why the Common Core standards are pushing teachers to teach persuasive/argument writing grades K-12.  These folks are so pathetic they are fodder for the funnies.

“I think this is a powerfull site with much interesting blogposts about this stuff. And i just wanna say thnx for this. I’ll subscribe to your website to see if you post more stuff like these!”

I guess this person assumes is that I would WANT him/her to subscribe to MY website!!!  On what grounds would I want him or her to be part of my world?  Certainly their gravitar name and photo doesn’t do much to sell them.  Then there is the ignorance of simple rules of grammar.  I am not the best grammar teacher, but starting from the beginning powerful is misspelled.  I didn’t catch it, but by WP did on the routine proofreading checker.  I misspell words on purpose sometimes to make a point or make up a word, but this is not the case here.  Next “much interesting” should be many interesting.  I love the old red pen, don’t you?  Next, could he/she be use a more specific word than “stuff” What “stuff” is he/she reading on my blogpost that is so powerful and interesting?  I didn’t see anything too sexy or tattooish about my vase stories.  Rules of capitalization and spelling in a formal email such as this one should be followed if he/she wants to be believable to a stranger like me.  Finally, Is “stuff” singular or plural?  He/she is referring to one post, but using a referent “these” to refer to the plural “stuff” that was found in the post?  It is confusing if not incorrect.  

“Hi there you have a good weblog over here! Thanks for posting this interesting information for us! If you keep up the good work I’ll visit your website again. Thanks!”

You know, I like praise as much as the next person, but is this a threat?  If – then statements are great for science, but for enticing someone to do good work?  Not to helpful unless you are the parent.  IF you get your homework done, THEN you can visit your friends.  Kids love this – and RUSH to get their homework done!  My husband might TRY an IF – THEN statement like that, and substitute homework for housework.  On the other hand, IF he did try that, THEN I probably would have the dirtiest house in the world – and I don’t (BTW).  On an aside I think people who dislike each other and live together have lazy contests – who can do the least around the home? Maybe they used too many IF – THEN statements in their conversations with each other.

“everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. it contains truly information. your website is very useful. thanks for sharing. looking forward to more!”

Who writes this stuff? OK Spam Geeks, EVERY sentence starts with a capital letter, unless you are a published writer with a huge following, and even then…  So lets assume that this is computer generated, and the programmer doesn’t understand the First grade rule of capitalization.  I get computer generated messages from WP, LinkedIN, Facebook.  THEY know how to generate a simple sentence that is correct and motivational.  I actually do endorse people when the generator asks me to – if I know them and like them.  So take a lesson from the experts and put a capital at the beginning of every sentence.

“hey, great job friend, cheers.”

I can live with these spams.  OK, there’s no capital, but it’s simple and sort of “Good morning” kind of innocuous statement.  I know, as a teacher, that “great job” is no longer acceptable.  I used to say that so much that my students would imitate me – voice included!  My spam friend, be specific in your praise.  What is great about my work?  Nonetheless, a simple, “great job friend, cheers”, well it’s happy and positive – no threats.  I can live with this one.  However, with enough of real people out there reading with faces instead of computer generated pattern gravitar, I’ll still delete this one permanently.  No sale.

What is you favorite spam, or do you look at them?  One of them might be me, so please look.  Have you found me there?  Are you still finding me in the Spam with sex gratis and tattoo age?  Are you finding more interesting Spam than I have?  Please share!

P.S.  My website was immediately shut down when I published this article this morning.    I had copied and pasted a gravitar of one of the spammers because it was so nonsensical.  Just a warning.  DON’T DO THAT!!!

PSS.  Thank you WordPress for reading my plea and restoring my blog.

Widow of the South and the Common Core

Attention English teachers!!!  Revel in teaching literature for informational text  and argument writing assignments  using the genre of historical fiction.  History teachers – join forces and use the same literature as background materials to introduce topics.

Widow of the South addresses California history-social studies standards in 8th grade about the Civil War.  It also addresses several Common Core standards noted in the body of the text.   It has many primary source documents, like diary entries, woven into the text.

A sample student performance task from Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects, Appendix B p. 89 modified for this book:  Students explain how Robert Hicks, in his novel,  Widow of the South,  uses choice of words  to develop point of view of the three main characters in this historical fiction, a Confederate soldier, a Union Lieutenant, and a slave-owning middle-aged mother, Mrs. McGavock, living on her plantation, Carnton.

Robert Hicks includes  pictures and notes of Franklin, TN and Carrie McGavock, the widow, in the back of Widow of the South.

A Look at Perspectives:  Consider this quote.

“But hell, the Yankees had thrown away more than we’d laid our eyes on in months, maybe years. …The thing I kept thinking about (as we were marching up the pike) was the nightshirts and the pots of jam, lying there on the roadside (left by the Yankees).  They made me wonder whether we’d been fighting the same war”   Sergeant Zachariah Cashwell, 24th Arkansas. p. 25.

In Cashwell’s quote, ia student of the Civil War learns one of the major reasons that General Lee soon surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.   Using this quote students practice “Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text Common Core English Language Arts Standard RL1.”   Teachers guide students to “detect the different historical points of view on historical events and find the context in which the historical statements were made (the questions asked, sources used, author’s perspectives) California History Social Science Analysis Skills Research Evidence and Point of View #5”

As the reader gets to know these characters, they vicariously experience the nuances of life and come to realize how normal situations are even more complicated by war.  Read the quote below.

“Dear Mrs. M,

I cannot raise this boy.  I am tore up… I got to get away, to start something new.  I want to change…  I will send for the boy when I’m right.”

“He didn’t bother to sign it, and I never heard from him again.  I never asked John if we could take the boy in as our own son.”  Carrie McGavock p. 299.

The author’s choice of words, “I never heard from him again.” lets the students realize how desperate times were when a parent would write a note, and leave it with a child on someone’s doorstep.  “I never asked John…” allows students to glimpse a time when asking was ordinary, but these times were extraordinary.

There are plots and subplots, elements of complexity, that will draw even the most reluctant teen-aged girl into this story.  Teen, Becky Griffin, for example, “had wanted to grow large quickly so that she would have to spend the spring and the summer answering the questions.  I loved a boy and a boy loved me, she planned to say…”  Teen aged pregnancy is not uncommon today, and would be a rich field for developing a homework assignment to develop an argument.  Students could research the difficulties that Becky Griffin faced with the difficulties faced by young teen-aged mothers today.

Using the next quote teachers could build an homework informational writing assignment.

“She sat down heavily on the stool I had assumed had been meant for me.  …  She had been silent for days.  …  Were we strangers?  Impossible, and yet what did I know of her, really? … she had been mine…”

‘Do you want to leave?  Leave here?  Carnton!’

Me is what I meant. (Carrie’s self talk)

Silence.

‘You can if you’d like.’ …

‘Don’t have anywhere else to go. …  Ain’t nothing to be done about it.  I’m too old to be running from crackers with ropes. …’” p. 394

How did slaves feel about being freed?  Students might compare the way different slaves felt about their new freedom, and the ramifications of that freedom.  There is primary source evidence in the form of oral histories recorded before the last of the slave generation passed away on websites online in the National Archives.  How does this slave compare to other oral histories?  How might her responses be compared to Steven Oates, Fires of Jubilee, the story of the South Hampton slave revolt?

The toughest boy in class will have to work hard not to be touched by the grim glories of war. as he reads the point of view of the Union soldier.

“I was proud that such an army, a vibrating mass of butternut gray and sharp metal, screeching that strange wail of theirs, was arrayed against me and my men.  I was proud that we were worthy of that.  …  Why did they keep coming?  By the second hour of fighting… when a rebel appeared on top of our entrenchment waving a flag or a rifle around, we’d yank him down and make him a prisoner rather than shoot him. …  The dead and dying were packed so tightly that the men were charging right over them, shattering legs, arms and ribs.  It was the sound of bones snapping.”  Lieutenant Nathan Stiles, 104th Ohio p. 85.

What did the Union soldier mean when he said, “I was proud that we were worthy of that”?  Why did he “yank him down and make him a prisoner?”

On Wednesday, November 30, 1864, the townspeople of Franklin, TN, a population of 2,500, had to contend with 2,500 Union and 6,700 Confederate casualties from that 5 hour battle.  “The body of Co.F.S.S. Stafford, of the 31st Tennessee, was found dead standing upright, wedged up to his waist in corpses.”  p. 407Research becomes a natural by-product of reading this novel for the student and teacher who has never been to Franklin, TN, or seen the trenches of a Civil War battlefield.  Even unfamiliarity with Civil War artillery or the structure of the military might spark curiosity easily satisfied at the click of a mouse in order to “Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration Common Core ELA Standard W7.”The Civil War changed the United States forever.   Textbooks make blanket statements that students take for gospel without examining them for their veracity.  Historical fiction puts heart into sterile statements, and engraves those opinions into the hearts of the students.

To read the entire novel, The Widow of the South, would take a long time for eighth graders who are just starting to read complex, full-length texts.  BUT that being said, it is so compelling that many of them might want to read it.  I would recommend this as background reading for both history and language arts teachers to build your own perspective on the Civil War.

David Copperfield and the Common Core

A new blogging friend, Sharechair, blogged about a great Amazon offer of free audible books.  I rushed to Amazon and downloaded about ten of them.  The first one I listened to was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, narrated by Simon Vance.

Vance transports you to 1850s England in a time before cell phones, cars, planes, or any kind of easy communication that we have today.  The wonderful fiction becomes a window to the world in that time period through the characters. and the descriptions.  If you are studying this period of history, David Copperfield,in my opinion, becomes a primary source.

I hope that English teachers across America are hearing this.  With the coming of Common Core, literature, as such, is deemphasized, and informational text is taking the forefront.  This will affect the high school English Language Arts class more than any other because by high school students will be required do 70% of their daily reading in informational texts including primary sources.  For teachers who love to teach only literature, there is a low outcry.  For those of us who teach history, there won’t be too much change.  History students have to read.  Now it will count as part of the day – reading informational texts, but history (and science) teachers can’t do it all even if they give 100% of their time to reading.  English teachers will still need to spend about 50% of their time in informational text.

As I understand primary sources, they are the fountain of information that historians use to discover the past – to “do” history.  As a “document”, David Copperfield, is a primary source because it is not “about” the past, it IS the past.  Written in 1849-1850 in a series of articles, David Copperfield enables the reader to unravel the past.  The reader experiences the language of the time, the overly polite way that English people conversed tinged with dry humor and a touch of sarcasm.  Through the book the reader  can observe the life of the middle or working class, and understand how desperate life was before there were social safety nets.  They can learn about child labor, and why laws were written to protect the young.  They also learn about the limitations that women, particularly young women, endured, and how women learned to navigate the waters to provide form themselves and their children.  They can view a time before compulsory education.  The book traverses the world.  Several of the characters emigrate to Australia, then still a colony of England.  There they find freedom and financial success. Students should use their map and math skills to realize the magnitude of that move.

This is my argument for using this piece of literature as a primary source, an informational text, if you will.  In order to do this effectively, however, I would also argue that the English teacher needs to partner with the Social Studies teacher in order to teach students how to dig the historical nuggets from the “informational document” rather than merely concentrating on the wonderful story line.  Reading David Copperfield as an informational text has a different purpose, and must be read differently.  The students are now on a quest to discover what life was like in mid 19th century England – and the world.  They need to corroborate the information they glean from reading the period fiction with other non-fiction sources that authenticate the information they read in Dickens’ work.

When reading informational texts, students need to read closely.  They can do a quick read for enjoyment of literature. For a typical language arts class they might read this fiction more  closely to pick the characters apart.  They might look at the way Dickens used words to describe characters, setting, and make an emotional appeal, but rarely do they go beyond that to look at the kinds of employment the characters have.  They probably wouldn’t ask, “What does that employment allow them to do?”  A language arts lesson might point out the social conditions in passing, but the historian might research the various types of employment that were available to men and women of the time.  What were the educational requirements for the choices they had?  Which careers were the most profitable?  Why were the characters who were unsuccessful in England, successful in Australia?  This book is all about economics and geography.

Looking at the Historical Analysis Skills listed in the Framework and in the Common Core Implementation Toolkit that I wrote in conjunction with other history-social studies consultants in California will help the language arts teacher use classics like David Copperfield as a primary source document by asking the analytical historical questions to help students uncover the past.  Or better yet, English teachers could collaborate local history-social studies teacher to plan what literature might help their students understand the time and places they study.

My final argument is that taking literature out of the curriculum for students is not going to help students any more than taking history out of the curriculum.  Students need to learn how to think critically and analyze facts.  Using literature as a primary source is one way to keep both fields viable, and teach students to think for themselves.

 

 

Technology and the Common Core Assessments

Because California is such a big state, the county offices of education (COEs) play a huge part in getting information and training out to districts from the California Department of Education (CDE.)  For the past 15 years I worked at a county office of education.  Since public education is governed by the state legislature, legislators, and the State Board of Education (SBE, a board appointed by the governor) dictate policies that affect what teachers do in the classroom.  Much of my job for the past fifteen years has been to carry the messages from the legislature, SBE through training for teachers and administrators.

http://csrb.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/blocking-social-netwroking-sites-at-college-huh-no/

Even though I have retired, this past Thursday I was invited to a different COE to teach a beginning information session about the Common Core Standards.  The questions that these teachers raised are pretty universal concerns, and some of them I couldn’t answer, so I thought I would do some research.

Most of the questions were about technology and assessment.  The technology problems have not all been solved, nor are they mine to solve.  Nonetheless the Smarter Balanced website has some detailed information for states and districts to attend to  as they get ready to administer the tests in the spring of 2015.

  1.  Are the tests going to be ready?  “Smarter Balanced member states have nominated K-12 teachers and higher education faculty to participate in crafting the Achievement Level Descriptors (ALDs) this fall. Draft ALDs will be available for public feedback and comment later this year. Preliminary ALDs are expected to be finalized by March 2013.”
  2.  Are they writing them right now?  Are there going to be released items like we have now?  Yes, the grand designers met the day before we did.  Here is an important name – Carissa Miller, Ph.D., Smarter Balanced Executive Committee co-chair and deputy superintendent in the Idaho State Department of Education.”Participation in the Pilot Test will be open to all schools in the Consortium… The next Smarter Balanced Collaboration Conference will be held in March 2013.”
  3. How are we going to be able to all get on and give the tests?  We don’t have enough computers.  They are not very fast.  “Olympia, Wash.–Jan. 31, 2012–The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) today announced they have awarded a contract to Pearson to develop a new Technology Readiness Tool”   Districts are going to need to use this tool to get their systems ready for the assessments that WILL BE GIVEN in Spring, 2015.  More information about this is available on the CDE website.  I tried going to the tool itself, but you do have to have a user name and password to access it.   Even though I was addressing teachers, the district technology gods are going to have to address this issue.  Teachers’ role is in the area of advocacy.
  4. How are they going to score writing tests?  Will there be rubrics? Yes Smarter Balanced has already developed rubrics that are online.  For those who are interested there is a PDF of the work plan.
  5. Are kids going to have to learn to type?   Will they scan the kids’ handwriting?  I can’t even read it, how will a computer read it?  I’m still not sure on this one.

Although there will be some adaptation for students without computers, Teachers need to urge district leader that are dragging their heels to get their internet connections up to speed.  One issue that I have noticed as I have traveled around to school district and even county offices (COEs) is the issue of blocking websites.  For example, I can not access my own website from some districts and COEs.  Teacher created websites are a very useful tool for communicating with teachers and parents, as well as giving students a place to respond to issues, books, articles, and see the responses of others.  If the tools are blocked by IT people who control the reins, students may not be able to access the sources they need online to help them take the assessments.  This can be very political, and very SCARY to the leaders who want to protect the students from harmful sites.  However without access to many sites, students will be harmed by not being able to DO their work.

The two teachers from the Sacramento Diocese will be giving the assessments this year (if you think YOU are feeling stressed!!) using McGraw-Hill assessments.   I am including a link to an article about those online assessments.  They will give their first interim assessment in October.  THAT’S NEXT MONTH!  They are blazing the trail here in California.

As I field more questions from teachers, I will pass them along so that if you who read this blog are interested, you can be among the knowledgeable ones.