Tag Archives: Common Core

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.

Tuesdays – Review Day – YIKES!

Today is Review Tuesday. According to my poll TV and movie reviews were much more popular with my voters than books.  Since today is the first day of my Tuesday schedule I thought I ‘d start out by showing you my page on Book Reviews because many people don’t click on pages, but some of you have commented on my organization.  I’m an organized mess – not a Hot Mess, Ralph!  Though not a professional reviewer, I was an elementary teacher then an instructional consultant so I’ve read lots and lots of books, and I continue to read when I’m not writing.  I taught reading and writing to both students and adults for over 25 years.  Currently I post reviews on Amazon as well as on my blog.  If you hate reviews, just stop here and press like, or comment on something else!  hahaha  (I haven’t lost my sense of humor!)

I apologize ahead of time – I approach most books, TV and movies from the standpoint of how they would work either for students or teachers, especially in this era of Common Core Standards.  Fun books I usually read for fun, not review.  Regarding books by blogging friends, I do make an exceptions sometimes often. So if you are a writer/blogger and want me to review your book, feel free to email me at tchistorygal@gmail.com.

It’s my hope that you’ll enjoy my reviews, and they will encourage you or your friends to read the book or see the movie or show.  I am also working on a Resource Page since there are many fine bloggers, whom I love, who also review books, movies – etc.  My slant will be mostly educational, so if you know teachers, please refer them here.

MY PAGE

Books

Most books I read I don’t review.  I don’t know many people who do.  I never used to even keep track of all the books I’d read.  Then I went on an interview once and one of the questions was, “What books have you read this year?”  I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head even though I had read tons.  As a result I started asking people with whom I associated and admired what books they read.   Sometimes it started a great conversation.  Sometimes, they admitted that they didn’t like to read.  If you are a blogger, then you MUST like to read a little.  So this page is for you.

Book Reviews

Book on Kindle

Jillian Hoffman suggested revealing our shelves to other bloggers.  I haven’t taken pictures of my shelves filled up before, and it is difficult to do because my room is small. Here are a few of my shelves.  I do love them.  I have them organized loosely into groups like local history, Civil War, how to teach, dictionaries, general history, and quilting and other stuff.

Civil War Shelf

We have two other book cases in other rooms, one of which belonged to my great-grandmother.

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I joined Good Reads finally.  It can keep track of what I’m reading, as well as what everyone else who belongs is reading.  I have to admit that I haven’t kept it up.  I also removed it from my site because my blog loaded slower because of it.  I also joined Amazon affiliates so that if you see a book you’d like to order, you can do it directly here without leaving and opening another window, and I receive a small commission on each sale.

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

 

Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer.

Kristen Lamb, author of Are You There Blog?  It’s Me, Writer., writes non-fiction in a folksy, easy to understand style.  Read like good fiction, the pages of this how-to book practically turned themselves.  Writers and bloggers can immediately apply her tips to improve their blog, Facebook and Twitter platforms.

In spite of the fact Are You There Blog?  It’s me, Writer. was easy to read I found myself highlighting, taking tons of notes, and rereading to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  I had to discipline myself to keep on track.  My thoughts were screaming, “Wow, I need to go to Facebook RIGHT NOW, and remove my birthday, but I did a little self-talk “Take notes, Marsha.  Copy down the tips you want to remember.”  Because LEARNING SOMETHING is the goal of reading a non-fiction book, it IS a different skill than reading fiction.

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts always lurk in my brain whenever I read now.  Across the United States, by the time they start high school, students will spend 70 percent of their school day reading non-fiction materials.  I would recommend this book for students from 6th grade up.  Common Core Standards also put a greater emphasis on writing than ever before.  Teaching students to blog, and having them interact with each other as well as others, means less editing for the teacher, more interest and commitment from the students.  For language arts teachers this book will address reading and writing standards at the same time.

Even young students can respond to a teacher’s blog about a topic.  This doesn’t mean that the teacher has to “write” every “topic” on their blog.  They can copy paragraphs or quotes directly from a book they cite.  By high school many students will have a Facebook account.  Lamb’s book teaches them to use it safely and wisely.  They also learn to use Facebook as a marketing tool to market themselves.  We often overlook, or feel too pressured to teach, the importance of the “soft” skills in education, of how to get along with people, how to motivate them, and get them to like us.  Those skills are an integral part of DOING social media.  Kristen Lamb integrates those skills as she explicitly teaches basics of blogging and using social media.

“Giving is when you take your time to read their blog, to repost their story and to congratulate their writing goal on Twitter. Giving is when you write a nice review of someone else’s book unsolicited and expecting nothing in return.”

Lamb, Kristen (2011-05-07). Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer (Kindle Locations 572-573). Who Dares Wins Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Students will learn that “people love feeling good” and that “a positive attitude is a key ingredient for a hit blog that connects with others in a meaningful way.” (Ibid Location 1519)

These soft skills that students learn will be useful to them no matter what profession or trade they choose to enter during or after high school.

Kristen’s book is available on Kindle, which means that note taking will be easy for students (and teachers who are beginning bloggers).  When a quote is copied from the book on the computer the biographical information is automatically noted.  WHEW!  That was EASY!

Mike Lebsock, 8th grade history teacher, President San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social STudies (SJVCSS), John Adams in Colonial Williamsburg

Mike Lebsock, an eighth grade teacher in Fresno, posts a blog entry then has his students write one response to his post, and one response to another student’s response.  How easy that would be using this book.  The teacher doesn’t have to write his or her own content.  He or she simply copies right from the book into the blog.  The biographical information is automatically there as well.

Are You There Blog? is easy to read, but that doesn’t mean that there is NO academic vocabulary.  The academic vocabulary is primarily content-based and can be grasped within the context of the book.  However, for students using Kindle or other e-readers, they can open a window with the definition of an unfamiliar word by just passing the cursor over a word and stopping.

When I started this review, I struggled with recommending it for Common Core because it was such an enjoyable book to read.  After analyzing how the book can actually meet many elements of Common Core I have changed my mind.  Non-fiction books can be enjoyable, and enjoyable books can be academic.  Read and enjoy Kristen Lamb’s book, Are You There Blog?  It’s Me, Writer. with your students – – or just for yourself.

Today’s Featured Blog 

My blogging friend Rommel, has taught me so much.  He was one of my first visitors before I knew squat, he had nominated me for an award.  I didn’t even understand what an award was.  He kept coming back when I was working full time+, and hardly had a second to visit any blogs, there was Rommel commenting on my blog.   Then recently he featured me on his site.  Who knew?  What a kind thing to do.  So it is with great honor and pride that I introduce my first Featured Blogger, Rommel.  The post that I chose, although he writes great travel stories, posts amazing pictures from all over the world, I fell in love with Once in A Blue Moon, a poem.  This is how it starts.

Another special post.

Here goes…

You know what…. I need to pause… An image first.

Can’t you just picture a vibrant young man venturing out on unfamiliar waters, writing a poem?

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.

 

Common Core FAQs Relative to History-Social Studies

Today our San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies had their big planning meeting.  One thing that came out of that was the need for a one page FAQ sheet for the Common Core Standards for Social Studies teachers in particular – to quell their fears of the unknown.  This is all I got done this afternoon.  See what you think of it, and tell me what else you thing should be on it.KNOWN ASSESSMENT FAQs

• Common Core Assessments for ELA and Mathematics begin field testing in spring 2014.
• Common Core Assessments for ELA and Mathematics begin testing in spring 2015.
• There will be History-Social Studies reading and writing tasks included in the test for language arts.
• These assessment tasks will NOT be aligned to the California History Standards, but the reading complexity, or lexile levels, will be appropriate for the grade level of the student.
• The CST for ELA, mathematics, history-social science, and science will be given until 2014 when it will sunset.
• There are sample test items on both the Smarter Balanced and the PARC websites.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
• We don’t know what will replace the CST tests for History-Social Science and Science

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT HISTORY-SOCIAL STUDIES STANDARDS
• We know a consortium has been working on Common State Standards for History-Social Studies.
• We know the standards will be presented at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference, November 16-18 in Seattle, WA
• We know that the one of the primary developers will present these standards at the California Council for the Social Studies, March 6-8, 2013 in Burlingame, CACome and join us if your on the left coast this year.  We are going to have a major Common Core Conference within our regular California Council for the Social Studies Conference – 8 hours of intensive training in the Common Core Standards and how they pertain to teams of History-Social Studies/English Language Arts teachers.

Here is a FAQ sheet from Sacramento County Office of Education  http://www.scoe.net/castandards/multimedia/common_core_faq.pdf

The Source, Journal of the California History Project which published an article of mine. http://www.ccss.org/Resources/Documents/CommonCore_Source.pdf

“Preparing Students for College, Career and CITIZENSHIP:
A California Guide to Align Civic Education and the Common Core State
Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies,
Science and Technical Subjects”, a white paper by Dr. Michelle Herczog, Los Angeles County Office of Education —http://www.ccss.org/Resources/Documents/Herczog-CCSSNCSS%20Journal%20Article%20for%20Matrix.pdf