Late July Quick Hit

Sure I am on vacation, like the rest of you. I hope you are enjoying your summer surrounded by loved ones and getting your energy and creative juices ready for the new school year. Where I am, there is very little internet connection (and that is so awesome) but I have been able to log on late at night when there are fewer active users. Just wanted to take a moment to share two related sites with you all. The first is an article at Scientific American, one of my favorite sites and magazines, discussing the expanded role of data in our schools, “Scientists Bring New Rigor to Education Research“. In the article, the writer, Barbara Kantrowitz, mentions the What Works Clearinghouse site which is where all of this new data is being collected and categorized for all of us interested in education. I must admit that while I have heard of the site before, I have not delved into the contents yet, and I have added a link to the site on my blogroll. You will find it listed at “Q” just below the “Getty Images” site (another place I have yet to really explore). So much to see and discover online, that even with help I sometimes find it overwhelming. Luckily, summer vacation is only half over, so we have plenty of time to meander. Hope you find something interesting in your journeys. Good luck and thank you for stopping by. 

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Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

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Online resources for research

Hello all. It’s been a while again, since my last blog post, and I apologize for the absence. I’ve been presenting to English classes as they prepare for their research projects. I generally start by introducing the HHS OPAC so that our students will know how to get around their college libraries once they get there, and then I ask them where they start their online searching. Without fail, every class has mentioned Google and Wikipedia. Then our real discussion begins. Depending on the topics, grade level, and amount of research the teachers are expecting of the students, we discuss different strategies, online tools and databases to use. Everyone gets introduced to the Haverhill Public Library databases and I reinforce the importance of having a library card.

But no matter how much I stress the value of databases, I still see students returning to the internet to complete their academic research; and I don’t blame them. There are many wonderful and useful sites out there, and today I’d like to share with you a short list of my favorite online tools and websites for doing academic work and research:

  • CIA World Factbook: An indispensible collection of intelligence gathered from countries around the world including the best, most current data on population, economics, religion and other social and financial information.
  • Newseum: Part curiosity, part digital archive, the collection at this website is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, you can see the front page of over 1000 newspapers (yes, they still print those) from 89 countries. Second, you can see the front pages as they appeared on a few recent historic days (think 9/11, Katrina, final shuttle launch, 2004 Tsunami, etc). Third, there are also a number of professional development opportunities that teach how to incorporate the news in the classroom such as “The Photographic Revolution: The Ethics and Impact of Seeing the Story” and “The Media and the Cold War”.
  • Bartleby.com: No relation to Melville’s scrivener, this website is one of the original and best compilations of “classics”. Here you will find Bartlett’s Quotations, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Oxford’s Shakespeare, and other reference works including anthologies of TS Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Emily Dickinson & others.
  • Getty Images: I haven’t completely explored this website, but I do know that there are more than 3 million pictures available and that makes for a fantastic resource for any project. Unfortunately, you can’t save the pictures without purchasing them (unless you don’t mind a large watermark crediting the photographer … which sometimes, I don’t). Even if you don’t include the pictures in your paper or presentation, the photographs in this collection are still useful for looking at primary documents from different periods to examine fashion, architecture, living conditions, etc.
  • Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab): a great resource for anyone who is writing a research or academic paper of any kind. For me, this site basically replaces my old desktop, spiral bound copy of Diane Hacker’s Writers Handbook. Whenever I teach academic writing I always use the sample papers available on the site to show students what a paper should “look like” … presentation counts, after all.
  • PaperRater: Sure, whatever word processing program you’re using already has a built-in spell correct and grammar check feature, but this web site offers just a little bit more than that. PaperRater tells you up front that it can’t tell you a lick about your content, but it is pretty good at looking at things it can quantify, like sentence length and words per sentence. It can also make some guesses about your writing by looking at your vocabulary, capitalization, and punctuation. That’s really good feedback for free.

This is by no means a complete or comprehensive list of all the resources available online for doing research, but it’s a start, and I hope you find something useful. Thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Researching online

Well, I missed posting anything in February, and it seems to me like the month just zipped by; but I do remember shoveling (a lot). As usual, I had many false starts at writing a post, but eventually grew either disinterested or discouraged and just gave up. There’s so much I could write about, but by the time I gather my thoughts, I feel like the world has moved on to the next idea and whatever I’m writing about, feels like old news. Such is the speed at which the world seems to move nowadays.

embedded-infographic-600-logo

Which brings me to this post. This week I had the privilege of getting in front of people and talking a bit about one of my areas of specialty; doing research online. On Monday I was invited to speak to Ms. Morin’s and Mr. Andrew’s junior year English classes, as they prepared to research a current “controversy”. Then on Wednesday, I was invited to present to the Haverhill Public School’s ELA teachers, many of whom are friends and colleagues I already work with regularly.

On both occasions I used a permutation of a slide show I’ve used and modified many times throughout the years. The basic idea is that using GOOGLE to do research for school projects is not acceptable in most cases, and that we need to teach our students how to find reliable online resources and how to recreate an online digital “library” for themselves. I hope to be able to share the slideshow here on this blog in the near future, but in the meantime, any teacher who is interested in getting a copy can contact me at htoromoreno@haverhill-ps.org.

teaching cover

Among the other points I highlighted in my presentation are:

  • We are all awash in information, but most of this information is personal or commercial, and isn’t really useful for our academic research.
  • Today’s students didn’t grow up with specialty references (atlas, dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus, etc.) which divide knowledge into different areas, therefore information is “flattened” … that is it all seems the same.
  • There are reliable and class worthy government sites available for students.
  • Clustering search engines such as Yippy and Carrot, help student find other keywords or phrases associated with their search terms.
  • Google Scholar and Wikipedia are ongoing digital projects that keep getting better and more useful for beginning academic research.
  • Students should be encouraged to turn to subscription databases available through their school or public libraries.
  • Databases are part of the “deep web” which is not made up of web pages and is therefore not available to search engines, not even Google.
  • Academic databases include all the citation information students need and teachers want in the proper MLA, APA or Chicago format.

4 ws

There’s more to this, but that’s the basic idea. Hope you find something useful and that you have a great weekend.

P.S. Getty Images has just made its database of 35 million photographs available for public non-commercial use. WOW is about all I can say about that … And I will definitely add GETTY IMAGES as a major link on this blog.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Since MLK …

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Freedom-March-Selma-to-Montgomery-1965

For this post, I am not writing an essay or anything that looks like a traditional article. Instead, I have been thinking a lot about how the United States has changed since the nearly half a century, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

I have been sitting around meditating on the idea that my whole lifetime, I have lived in an America that was transformed by Dr. King.  Sadly, I believe that his kind of transformative and moral leadership is not possible today for a number of complex reasons I cannot go into here. Still, I have been wondering how things have changed, big and small, and I will share with you some of the things I discovered (and where I found the information). Unfortunately, most of the information I have uncovered is bleak, and rather depressing and points to a society that has gone wrong in many ways. While looking through some of the information I have collected, keep in mind that race, education, prosperity, wealth, social status … all these are labels that intersect upon real people and impact their lives.

All this while wondering, “Is this the America that MLK was envisioning in his ‘Dream’”?

1968 1980 1990 1999 2009
Cost of new home 26,600 76,400 149,800 131,750 173,100
Median household income 7,743 17,710 29,943 40,810 51,190
Ounce of gold/ average 39.31 615 383.59 278.98 972.35
Gallon of regular gas 0.34 1.25 1.16 1.3 2.56
Dozen eggs 0.53 0.91 1 0.89 1.94
Gallon of milk 1.07 2.16 2.78 2.88 3.05
Minimum hourly wage 1.6 3.1 3.8 5.15 7.25

 

In 1971 there were fewer than 200,000 inmates in our state and federal prisons. By the end of 1996 we were approaching 1.2 million. The prison population, in short, has nearly sextupled in the course of twenty-five years. Adding in local jails brings the total to nearly 1.7 million. To put the figure of 1.7 million into perspective, consider that it is roughly equal to the population of Houston Texas, the fourth-largest city in the nation, and more than twice that of San Francisco. http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/c/currie-crime.html

incarc rate by race & gender - web

Since the early 1970s the prison and jail population in the United States has increased at an unprecedented rate. The more than 500% rise in the number of people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails has resulted in a total of 2.2 million people behind bars.

jails

This growth has been accompanied by an increasingly disproportionate racial composition, with particularly high rates of incarceration for African Americans, who now constitute 900,000 of the total 2.2 million incarcerated population.

http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_stateratesofincbyraceandethnicity.pdf

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1.4 million African American men, or 13 percent of the black adult male population have lost the right to vote due to their involvement in the criminal justice system. In the states with the most restrictive voting laws, 40 percent of African American men are likely to be permanently disenfranchised.

http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/00-05_rep_punishingdecade_ac.pdf

At the end of 2000, 791,600 black men were behind bars and 603,032 were enrolled in colleges or universities. By contrast, in 1980 — before the prison boom — black men in college outnumbered black men behind bars by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, the study found.

http://www.justicepolicy.org/index.html

us_prison_higher_ed

There is a lot of information here gathered from various sources around the web. This is the same information that our students have access to every day, but it begs the question, “what does it all mean”? To answer that, you need discussions, further research, first person accounts, a hefty reading list, some videos, debates and so on. In other words, a school with teachers.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you did something productive with your MLK day.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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End of the year post, 2013

Well, here we are again, at the end of another calendar year, near the end of our Christmas/ New Years holiday vacation, in the middle of our school year. For many people this is both a festive time, and a time for reflection, especially as they get older. This was my second Christmas without my father, the first Christmas for my just born nephew, the twentieth Christmas with the woman who became my wife. My oldest son turned fourteen during this vacation, and will start high school next year, joining the ranks of students my colleagues and I are responsible for; the future belongs to them, and it is an exciting (revolutionary) time we are all living through.

As the final hours of this year tick away (I have been trying to write this all week, in one form or another, and now it is almost 4 pm on New Year’s Eve) I would like to share with you some of my favorite stories, ideas, speeches and other links from the past year. Obviously, there will be some duplication on this list from earlier posts, but wherever possible, I will try to provide either an update or a new link to the same story. This list is NOT a top ten of anything, or a list of the most important stories. As you’ll quickly see I make no mention of the Boston Marathon bombings and the aftermath or Obama care the website and its rollout or any other number of stories. I hope you find something interesting.

Oldest North American Rock Art: Archeology continues to amaze in unearthing clues to our past. The story of the first inhabitants of the Americas is continually rewritten as more evidence is found that there were people here earlier and earlier than we originally thought. What’s more, (and should have been expected, given human nature and history) it seems that there were waves of migrations during different periods.

map of human migrations

map of human migrations

Humans of New York: If I’m not mistaken, I was first told about this site by our video and tech guru, Mr. Brandon. I didn’t have a chance to explore it until this vacation, and it is fascinating and a time thief. It is the kind of web site that shows you what one person with a camera and a vision can do.

The MOOC is dead! Long live the MOOC!: Everything has undergone radical change over the last few generations, so the thinking goes, education and how we do schooling should likewise undergo such transformation. The only problem is that people get in the way of making these changes, because they’re well, people. Sebatian Thrun (genius and founder of Udacity, the largest MOOC provider) hasn’t given up on the MOOC, but is starting to rethink about how it should be done.

All the nuclear explosions ever: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a short time lapse film may be worth a million pictures. According to the information with this seven minute clip, “Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project’s “Trinity” test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May of 1998”.

Voyager I reaches interstellar space: The “little satellite that could”, continues to amaze nearly four decades after it was launched in 1977. Sometime during this past year, Voyager I officially left the “bubble around the sun” known as the heliosphere and entered interstellar space … the space between stars. Most news outlets either didn’t report it as a story at all or erroneously said that the satellite had left the solar system. (Technically, it hasn’t, and won’t for another 30,000 years!)

Either way, Voyager I is further away from Earth now than anything we’ve ever made and has a few things to teach us about ourselves and our place in the universe. Maybe it is because I was still a child at the end of the space race, that I long for more space exploration, and that I cheer these stories.

New Type of Boredom Discovered: I thought that boredom was something I was immune from. I mean, I have lazy days, of course, and there are times I’d rather be someplace else, but I never thought of those things as straight up boredom. But it turns out, they might be two of the five types of boredom that exist. According to the article linked to the title, this newly discovered type of boredom is both rampant and the most boring kind of boredom. (Yawn).

Bonus: Short animated clip about New Year’s Resolutions. What would an end of the year post be without at least one reference to making a change in the New Year?

Well, 2014 approaches, and I really should get myself a glass to toast in the New Year. Salud to everyone, and may you all get home safely.

Thank you for stopping by, and see you in the next year.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved.

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Book donations and web stories

……………I can’t believe it’s past the middle of November, but I hope everyone is having a good school year so far.  I feel like I don’t have any one particular thing I need to share with anyone who reads this, so instead, think of this as a digital cornucopia of websites, observations and other such goodies as we head towards the Thanksgiving Day Holiday.

……………If you haven’t already tried using the HHS OPAC, I’m here to remind you that we have nearly twenty five thousand titles in our collection and that we are always adding new books we acquire through purchase and through the generosity of our school community. Last week we were fortunate enough to receive three boxes of books thanks to Mary Sullivan and Melanie Kutschke who remembered the Haverhill High School library. The books were all in excellent condition and were evidently part of the research for a PBS documentary on Latinos in the United States. We want to thank them for the wonderful addition to our collection and encourage our readers to check out these books. Among the titles donated are:

As always, I run across many interesting stories that make me wonder and I’d like to share a few of these with you:

  • 10 Scientific Theories and Laws You Should Really Know: I love lists and this one is especially necessary in today’s modern day. Plus how can you top a list that has Newton, Einstein and Archimedes on it?
  • 10 Things we’ve learned about fat: I told you that I love lists. And I especially love lists where chocolate and bacon get to be the “good” guys. Although it kind of makes me wonder when we’re going to get the health information “right”.
  • Foods with 100 calories: This is the last list, I promise, and I include it only because I love food and I do all the cooking for my family. I would love to print out all 24 of these foods (in color, 8.5” x 11”) and make myself a giant laminated poster to remind me what constitutes 100 calories (But I won’t, of course). 13 large steamed shrimp or 43 Okra pods, you decide.
  • Artist creates faces from DNA left in public: I consider myself a lover of art and a supporter of science, but something about this story makes me think of the worst Orwellian horror multiplied by Kafka.
  • Writing by hand improves learning. I’m a scribbler and a journal keeper and a list maker. I collect random lost pens and have notebooks full of poems, stories, cartoons, line drawings and all sorts of other doodles. So of course, I am absolutely biased when I think about how valuable putting pencil or pen to paper is for your brain. These two articles (How handwriting trains the brain and Is Writing better than Typing) support my belief that there are other positive effects to learning by writing it down.

That’s all for now. I hope you have a great week and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved.

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Reflecting on Columbus Day, Again (2013)

Image

Salvador Dali’s The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. I have had this print hanging in my home office for the last 20 years.

What is it about Columbus Day that always makes me stop to consider my own identity? Maybe it’s because it’s an easy way to illustrate what I mean about having multiple personalities on being an “American” (be prepared, there are going to be lots of “air-quotes” used in this short piece).  This duality about who Columbus was and what Columbus Day means to me, probably became most clear in 1992, during the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing somewhere in the Caribbean, when I was visiting for the first and, thus far, only time, my father’s homeland of Ecuador.

 

Here in the United States, there were plenty of demonstrations and other gatherings meant to highlight how some of the indigenous groups felt. While one side celebrated the “discovery” of the “new world”, the other side lamented the “incursion” on their world. It was a time to reflect on what had happened half a millennia ago, and how the world we live in today was shaped by those events.

Image

One of my favorite reflections on the topic remains Barry Lopez’s The Rediscovery of North America, and I think it should be required reading as we head forward in history still being shaped by powerful corporate interests with only economic considerations as their bottom lines; where the world and everything in it, including other human beings, are seen as “natural resources” meant for the rich and affluent to exploit to further fill the coffers they will pass along to their progeny. Don’t forget that Columbus’ voyage, while partially backed by the king and queen of Spain, was for all intents and purposes a financial investment meant to make a profit. His desire to find a trade route to the East while travelling west was also precipitated by the fact that many ports and harbors in the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Seas as well as those in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, were controlled at the time by Muslims who did not have good relations with many European city states.

That summer in 1992, I spent traveling with two of my best friends, through a land that was foreign, yet somehow familiar. Ecuador, being further south than where Columbus and his men landed, and facing the Pacific, became colonized by the Spaniards rather than the British, and it is why I spoke Spanish at home before learning English from Sesame Street and public school. In Ecuador too, that summer, the people there were reflecting on what had started with Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492. Everywhere we travelled there were murals depicting what most were calling “the incursion”, “the invasion”, “the attack”. Some of the murals depicted natives bowing down before the Europeans or carrying gifts as tribute to the strangers. One mural showed Columbus holding a severed head in one hand while standing atop a pile of bodies. It was uncomfortable to see such images in full color splayed against the building walls.

Image

Aside from providing teachers and students, including myself, with a day off from school, Columbus Day really is my least favorite “holiday”. By now, many people have been relieved of most of the myths associated with the famous sailor. People in his time didn’t believe the Earth was flat, and he certainly wasn’t the “first” person or even European to “discover” the new lands that would come to bear not his name, but that of his fellow “countryman” and cartographer, Amerigo Vespucci.

Despite his fame and infamy, there is still much that people don’t know about Christopher Columbus. Thus, here then are some facts and observations I find fascinating about the man whose name and legend are celebrated on the second Monday of October.

  • Technically speaking, Christopher Columbus was not “Italian”. He was born in Genoa, which at the time was a small, independent city center; one of many left over after the fall of the Roman Empire. Modern Italy wouldn’t come into existence until 1861, so calling Christopher Columbus an Italian, is like calling Sitting Bull a South Dakotan.
  • Christopher Columbus never made it to the one “America” that celebrates him. His first and second voyages explored Hispaniola, (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean, while his third voyage got him to the north coast of South America and his last one made it to Central America.
  • Despite never finding cinnamon, turmeric, ginger or cardamom, and never seeing tigers or elephants or a single city that resembled anything described by Marco Polo or any previous European adventurer, Christopher Columbus reportedly died absolutely convinced that what he had stumbled upon was most definitely, absolutely, just had to be … the Far East. Others would soon prove him very, very wrong.
  • The reason we’re Americans and not Colombians (except for those of you from Colombia, of course) is because a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemuller published a map in 1507 crediting a Florentine, Amerigo Vespucci, with the “idea” that the lands which Columbus happened upon represented a new, heretofore unknown continent.
  • For someone who didn’t think he had “discovered” new lands, but had simply found a westward passage to the Far East, Columbus sure was quick to re-name every place he landed and everyone he encountered.
  • Even though Christopher Columbus gained fame during his lifetime, there are no confirmed contemporaneous portraits of what he actually looked like. Thus, all of the images that we have of him are “as imagined” by artists.
  • Although various accounts have sailors on the Pinta signaling they first spotted land on October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus would later state that he first spotted the land from his boat, the Santa Maria and therefore claimed the reward for whoever first saw land.
  • Columbus wrote two books, including one called the Book of Prophecies in which he uses a handful of Biblical verses to interpret the meaning of his voyages.
  • Despite claims that Columbus died broke and destitute, this is really a matter of perspective. According to the entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Nonetheless, it would be wrong to suppose that Columbus spent his final two years wholly in illness, poverty, and oblivion. His son Diego was well established at court, and the admiral himself lived in Sevilla in some style. His “tenth” of the gold diggings in Hispaniola, guaranteed in 1493, provided a substantial revenue (against which his Genoese bankers allowed him to draw), and one of the few ships to escape a hurricane off Hispaniola in 1502 (in which Bobadilla himself went down) was that carrying Columbus’s gold. He felt himself ill-used and shortchanged nonetheless, and these years were marred, for both him and King Ferdinand, by his constant pressing for redress.”

Whether you think Columbus was a hero or not, his voyages changed everything about the world. Suddenly there was another half of the world that NO ONE knew existed.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you have a great Columbus Day.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved.

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