My Summer Reading List

Hello all,

I hope your summer has been full of wonderful times worthy of scrapbook material (for those of you who know what those are) and overflowing with happy pictures you’ve already posted to facebook, tumblr, instagram, snapchat or wherever else is the latest hot online destination.

For me, summer is a great time to catch up on my long form reading; novels, histories, anthologies and such. I love being able to sit somewhere comfortable with a cold drink and a great book, spending hours racing through words, creating a long and in-depth conversation with the author, losing myself in a world spawned in someone else’s mind, but brought to life in my own.

So far this summer, I have gotten through a number of books and I’d love to share a handful of them with you. I’ll give you a brief review of each and for easy scoring, I’ll be using my own scale shown below.

*                   Why is this even in print? (I probably wouldn’t finish this book.)

**                 Not great, but still better than just watching TV or YouTube.

***               Good book. It’s worth your time and energy, but still has flaws.

****             Highly recommended, but not part of the upper echelon of books.

*****           Excellent book. Part of my “must reads” list.

 

  • Dave Eggers, The Circle. (*** ½) This was the first book that I read this summer and it was only because it was a relatively new read and was gifted to me by my friend and retired Haverhill High School English teacher, Ms. Barberio. She wasn’t a fan of the book and let me know that I could leave it behind wherever I went on vacation. After reading it, I think I understand why she didn’t like it. Eggers’ narrative is at times slow and repetitive in this book, but I feel that this is done on purpose to force the reader to stop and reflect on how redundant our lives online have become. The protagonist, Mona, is a recent college graduate who has landed a primo job at the hottest computer company on the planet, called the Circle (imagine if Google and Facebook and Amazon had a child, and that child also had gene splices from Apple). Her job and life revolve around being online, being “present” online and making sure others always know she’s “there” by liking, sharing, re-posting, commenting and otherwise “contributing” to the online world. It can become a bit of a chore reading that Mona visited 203 sites, has 51 likes, 23 re-posts, 31 original comments, and has moved up the rankings at her job … but it’s also the kind of precursor world I imagine taking shape before two classic novels, 1984 and Brave New World. There’s also some kind of a love story with a mysterious stranger that defies the other logic of the book, and a corny symbolic translucent shark from the depths of the ocean that eats everything, but other than that a fun first summer read. It gets an extra half book on my rating, just because it really does speak loudly about the ubiquity of technology and our insatiable desire to record and quantify what is happening.
  • Fransisco X. Stork, Marcelo in the Real World. (***) Not too many books have a protagonist who is a person with special needs, but YA authors have been more open than other writers to take on the challenge (think Stoner and Spaz, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Freak the Mighty, Stuck in Neutral, Fat Chance, and so on …). In this novel, the reader gets to see the world through Marcelo Sandoval’s eyes (and mind) and he is somewhere on the high end of the Autism-Asperger spectrum. He’s spent most of his schooling life at special schools and will be working the summer before his senior year at his dad’s law firm … in the mailroom. Learning to navigate his way around in “the Real World” is more than just about leaving his protected spaces, for Marcelo it’s also about discovering the ugly truths that all young adults must learn about the larger world. This book is a quick and easy read with an interesting twist and very likeable characters.
  • Ronald Kidd, Monkey Town. (***) Historical fiction is one of those genres that can either really take you to another time period or fall flat on its face. This book does a little bit of both as Ronald Kidd invites us to visit Dayton, Ohio in the summer of 1925. That date and place should ring a bell, for it is the time and the place where a young teacher by the name of John Scopes is brought to trial for having the nerve to teach evolution in science class. Our guide, and protagonist, is a fifteen-year old girl named Frances Robinson whose father owns the local pharmacy and soda fountain bar where the plan to put Dayton on the map was hatched. For Frances, the world is turned upside down and inside out as she is forced to question everything she’s known. Along the way, we get to meet such historical figures as Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan and the curmudgeon, H.L. Menken who befriends young Miss Robinson. For Frances, the twenty something Scopes is dreamy crush who represents the larger world outside of little, provincial Dayton. But she also has pride in where she’s from and she hates that everyone else is calling them Monkey Town. A good read about coming of age set in an interesting period of our own history.
  • Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men. (***) I’ve been meaning to read this book for a few years now, but somehow never get around to doing it. Part of the reason is that I violated my own rule about books that have movies made from them and saw the movie before I read the book. This of course meant that every time that Anton Chigurgh (one of the main characters in this book) appears in the action, I couldn’t help but think of Javier Barden. No matter. What really bugged me at first was the irregular spelling and McCarthy’s use of the dreaded “could of” instead of “could’ve”. Needless to say, I had to forgive him since after the first ten or so pages, I recognized that McCarthy knows what he’s doing when he does that (unlike my first year college writing students and the numerous Facebookers and Twitterers who do this). This novel is ultra violent and full of gruesome details that even today can shock a reader, especially set against the otherwise quiet and quaint world of the Texas-Mexico desert land.
  • Paul Davies, The Eerie Silence. (****) If the universe is as habitable as we think it is, if it is replete with all the necessary ingredients for life as we know it, if it is teeming with billions of stars and trillions of planets capable of hosting life, then where are all the aliens? That, in a nutshell, is the question posed by mathematician Enrico Fermi back in 1950 and it is the subject of this fascinating book. Physicist, cosmologist, and astro-biologist , Paul Davies, leads the reader through a succinct, yet deep and thought-provoking review of not just what we know about life in general and intelligent life more specifically, but also why we may not have yet detected any signals from extraterrestrial aliens. I love books like this that lead me through complex ideas using easy to grasp language and analogies. Less than three hundred pages, and yet so full of historical background and groundbreaking ideas that have contributed to defining what SETI is and why it is worth expanding. Along the way, the reader will learn about the Drake Equation, von Neumann probes, the Arecibo Observatory, the WOW signal, the Cinderella zone, worm holes, string theory, evolutionary theory, tardigrades and many other fascinating science and math topics that should pique just about anyone’s interest. This book is for anyone who’s ever looked up at the stars and wondered, “are we alone?”

I’ve read other books that I’ll try to mention in my next post, but until next time, thank you for stopping by and I hope you’ve still got a couple of weeks of great summer memories left in you.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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Resources for Odyssey Research

Quick hit:

Students who are doing research on Homer’s The Odyssey may find it difficult to uncover valuable Lit/Crit resources online. Below, you will find links for PDF versions of books and articles we have available in our collection. Because our resources are so limited, I have created these files for our students hoping that they find them useful.

P.S. I will be adding a few more in the coming days as I scan other relevant books and articles, so please check back.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope these prove valuable.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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Reviewing Online Research Skills: Part Two

Google Scholar, clustering search engines, citation generators and more

…………Last time I mentioned that most students begin their online research by turning to GOOGLE, and that usually leads to at least one WIKIPEDIA entry. Both of these sites are covered in my last post, and there’s plenty to discuss about them, but with only fifteen minutes left in my presentation, I quickly turn to GOOGLE SCHOLAR.

…………Despite its pedigree, Google Scholar is not a search engine in the traditional sense. Search engines, like Bing, Yahoo Search and Ask retrieve web pages based on algorithms that rank popularity and links to other pages. Google Scholar weeds out most of that noise and focuses on finding obscure hits that are academic, research based papers, publications and other resources that won’t make anyone’s “most popular” list. In this case, that’s a good thing.

…………It’s important to note that many of the finds that Google Scholar returns may be resources that require subscription or purchase. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find useful research material that is free. Included in Google Scholar’s search is the power of Google Books, which often allows users to preview whole sections of books. This is a great resource, especially for high school researchers, whose school libraries cannot keep up with purchasing published materials that are current, reliable, and appropriate for doing academic research.

…………Google Scholar also finds case studies, research publications and other public documents that are published by universities, individual researchers and private think tanks. Many of these resources are not only available for free, but can be downloaded as a PDF. Best of all, if you do find something that you can use in your research, Google Scholar provides the citation information in MLA, APA and Chicago formats. This alone, will save the student researcher valuable time in the end. google scholar Clustering Search Engines

…………With just a handful of minutes left, I finally get to talk about sites not named Google or Wikipedia. (And that’s okay, because it’s important to discuss when and how to use both of those ubiquitous and powerful Internet tools.) I usually have the class brainstorm with me the ways they begin their Internet research, so I return to the list we’ve created. Most times, this list includes other popular search engines such as Bing, Ask, Yahoo Search, maybe Dogpile or Webcrawler. These other sites are also search engines that use different algorithms to search for and sort the finds. They will basically return many of the same websites in different orders, and I don’t have a preference for one over the others.

…………Instead, I introduce students to YIPPY, a clustering search engine. Like the other search engines mentioned, Yippy has a traditional search field where you type in your keyword. Unlike the other search engines, Yippy divides the kind of returns it finds into several categories including what kind of site it came from (.edu, .gov, .org, etc.) and when the site was updated (past week, past month, etc.). Additionally, Yippy also offers a column of related search terms that both expand and narrow the keyword.

…………So, for example, if a student searches “steroids”, Yippy will find the typical Wikipedia entry, all the current news stories dealing with the topic and the sites selling, advertising and talking about steroids. The bonus for student researchers is that the clustering search engine will also divide the websites into meaningful categories such as “Side Effects of”, “Medical Use”, “High School”, “Bodybuilding” and so on. These “clouds” (as they’re called on Yippy) give students other words that could help them narrow or expand their research idea.

yippy2 Citation generators

…………During the final minute of my presentation, I introduce kids to a couple of the great online citation generators that exist to make their academic lives a little easier. I understand that there are still some teachers that insist that their students gather all of the bibliographic information on their own, but I find that most citation generators are imperfect anyway and will demand the students’ attention to correct or complete the information.

…………These online tools are also very useful, I believe, because the amounts and kinds of information that are available to today’s student researchers is ever changing and we could all use a little technical assistance with such matters as proper documentation of sources. The two citation generators I usually recommend are Easybib and Son of Citation Machine. Both of these tools are free and easy to use and require minimum training for learning how to generate proper MLA style citations. (Easybib requires a paid “upgrade” to create APA or Chicago style citations) son of Closing Remarks

…………Just before the bell rings, I remind students that the world wide web is an incredible collection of information, but that most of it isn’t really appropriate for school research. In fact, what most of us know as the “Internet” is really only the tip of the information iceberg that exists online. Stored in private and subscription databases is a whole other world of information that not even Google can reach. If they seem interested in learning more, I’m invited back. If they’re not interested, at least they’ll have some pointers to start with.

…………I hope you found something worthwhile. Next time I’ll discuss the databases available through the Haverhill Public Library and other useful sites for student researchers. As always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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Reviewing Online Research Skills: Part One

This time of the school year, I am invited to visit classes working on research papers to discuss with students how to use the sources available online. Most of the times, teachers are pretty open to allowing their students to pick their own topics to write about. This encourages students to research and share information about subjects, issues and ideas that keep them interested. The teachers work with the students to hone their ideas and develop a thesis statement, and then ask me to come in to their classrooms to talk about where to go online to find reliable information.

Starting Points

Although I’m always pressed for time during my presentations (there really is so much we could talk about), I don’t like to begin by assuming that students don’t already have resources they use to get their schoolwork done. After a quick survey of topic ideas (abortion, women’s rights, illegal immigration, GMOs, internet surveillance, etc.), I ask students where they begin their online searches and inevitably, they respond almost unanimously, “GOOGLE”.

This is a good starting point for discussing what Google is (a search engine) and for taking a look at the kind of results we get when we type a keyword into our search box. Rather than using a Powerpoint presentation during my talks, I use the Polyvision board and a live Internet connection to demonstrate doing online research in real time.* Using one of the suggested topics, I do a Google search that almost always has a WIKIPEDIA hit in the top five returns.

This is when I ask the students what they know about Wikipedia and we talk about how they should and should not use this indispensible online resource. The most common reasons I hear for why they shouldn’t use Wikipedia for academic research is because, “anyone can edit the entries” and “it isn’t reliable”. While the former statement remains only partially true (many articles on the site are locked and can only be edited by certain members of the Wikipedia community), the latter is no longer a legitimate reason for staying away from Wikipedia for school research papers.

In fact, multiple studies have shown that Wikipedia is as good as most traditional print encyclopedias when it comes to accuracy, especially on technical, mathematical or scientific topics. Entries that deal with pop culture, religious and political ideas and/or other issues subject to bias or interpretation, can be more contentious on Wikipedia, but even this can be used as a “learning moment” online.

Using Wikipedia for Research

Most research papers that students write nowadays can be described as argumentative or persuasive. That is, they have an issue in mind that is “debatable” or “controversial” and they have an opinion that they have to support. In order to do good research, the students should also know what the other side is saying about the issue, and this is where Wikipedia’s reliability can be discussed with the students. Topics such as “fracking” or “legality of cannabis” may have an introductory note explaining that there are polarizing views about the subject or that the entry is not considered neutral; and it’s worthwhile to discuss this with students.

In the end, the real problem (for me anyway) with using Wikipedia as a primary source for high school research papers is that it is only an encyclopedia. Just as I wouldn’t allow students to use print encyclopedias such as Britannica or Colliers, I discourage my high school students from thinking of Wikipedia as a primary source.

Instead, I teach them to read the articles for background information, including important dates and names associated with the subject. I also recommend that students look at the REFERENCES section at the bottom of the article. This is where Wikipedia really serves students best as an online research tool. Here they will find links to the articles and information used to write and research the article above. Often, the references have links that will take you to the source, and then the whole process of evaluating that source (for reliability, accuracy, bias, etc.) begins anew.

Hidden treasures of .gov sites    

After spending some time clarifying how to use and not use Wikipedia, I go back to the original Google search and explore the other search finds. This gives me a chance to talk with the students about the different kinds of top-level domains (TLD) that exist on the Internet such as .com, .gov and .org.

There are important differences between who can and cannot have a website in certain domains, but nowadays most web users ignore these distinctions. For students doing research, .gov sites are an excellent source of reliable and accurate information. Here is a handful of .gov sites that I recommend during my presentations:

  • Library of Congress: The largest library in the world with a collection of rare and unique audio, visual and text documents.
  • National Institutes of Health: A great resource for researching diseases, disorders and other health related topics. A search on this site will return government studies and publications on the topic.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Like the NIH above, the CDC is a valuable and reliable online source for health related topics.
  • CIA World fact book: Just as Wikipedia replaced the need for print encyclopedias, this online resource has replaced the library’s need for a print Almanac. Up to date information on the world countries’ population, type of government, economy, geography and so on.
  • NASA: Space exploration continues even if we are no longer sending people on the grand search. The telescopes, rovers and other tools available via NASA should be enough to inspire another generation of stargazers.

By this time in my presentation, I usually stop to ask if there are any questions, and I look up at the clock to realize, I still have a lot more to share, but only about fifteen minutes left to talk. Next time, I’ll discuss Google Scholar, clustering search engines and online citation generators.

I hope you found something useful, and as always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.


 

* Of course this can backfire for many reasons and I do have a Powerpoint presentation ready in case of such an event.

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Free Apps from HPL

The Haverhill Public Library (HPL) is a great resource, not just for students but for everyone. Just as technology has transformed the way we do everything else, it has changed our relationship with the library as well. When I was a kid, the library was just a building that warehoused books. Today it is still a great place to find printed material, but it is also a place on the internet that gives us access to valuable digital information.

Our good friends Nancy Chase and Rachel Gagnon, librarians from the HPL, visited on Thursday, November 13, 2014 to introduce us to some of the digital resources available. They spoke to Ms. Quinney’s, Mr. Lavieri’s and Mr. Rossetti’s classes and plan to return in the future. Here’s a brief introduction to the services they spoke about:

  • Free legal music: Downloading music from unauthorized sites is still considered piracy nowadays, even though there is no high profile site like Napster in the news any longer. Freegal Music is a great alternative and it is free and virus free (which is always a big deal). While library users must deal with a weekly download limit, all songs do have a sample clip which lets you preview the songs. All songs are in MP3 format and videos are in MP4 format; there is no DRM content. The mobile app is free and available at the Apple App Store and through Google Play.

 

  • Hoopla: Someone paid the copy people at this company good money to sell their service, so I’ll let them speak for themselves as to what this app is all about.“Freedom starts here, now.Bringing you hundreds of thousands of movies, full music albums, audiobooks and more, hoopla is a revolutionary digital service made possible by your local library.From Hollywood blockbusters to best selling artists and authors – not just the hits, but the niche and hard-to-find as well – you’ll soon discover that hoopla provides you the freedom you’ve been searching for to experience, explore and enjoy what you want, when you want, and where you want.Simple to access and use, without the hassle of having to return the items you’ve borrowed, all you need is your library card, a web browser, smart phone or tablet to get started. The freedom you want is here, now. Sign up today!”

 

  • Overdrive: Another great app that every student and avid book lover should have. Overdrive allows you to download books, audiobooks and some videos to your smart devices. They have a good, brief introduction video here and like the other services above, content is never overdue since it “disappears” from your account and your devices when it is due back. Overdrive is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms.

 

  • Zinio: Like newspapers, magazines and other periodicals have seen their print subscriptions plummet since the advent of the internet. For a while, these print sources simply offered their content online for free, but those days have passed. Nowadays, you’ll need a subscription to access most of the content of these sources. Fortunately, the public library offers you a great alternative to buying all those magazines. Through Zinio, you are able to access all the magazines that your local library subscribes to, including back issues. You can download content to read while off-line, and like with other digital services, the content disappears from your device when your time expires.

All of these apps are free to download and use on any of your devices. Highly recommended for both teachers and students, and anyone else who wants to get the most from their public library. Hope you find something useful and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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New to our shelves

……….September is almost over and I hope you have gotten off to a great school year. This weekend was beach worthy, even though the autumn colors are starting to show on the foliage, and that means more time to sit around and enjoy a good read outdoors. We are still waiting for most of our new books to arrive to the LMC, but they have started to trickle in. Here then, are five new titles to our collection, along with descriptions lifted from various sites (with proper attribution, of course), and links to Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble.

FICTION

InterworldInterworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reeves

From Booklist: “… A lad discovers that he can walk between alternate Earths—and is swept up in a war between them in this fast-paced, compulsively readable tale. Joey gets lost in his own house, but when he steps into a patch of fog and finds himself in a world where he died, a trillion Earths lie open to him—arranged in a vast arc, with an empire of science-based planes at one end and a realm where magic rules at the other …” Reviewed by John Peters

Boy21Boy 21: a novel, by Matthew Quick

From the publisher: “… Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in broken-down Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, his dad works nights, and Finley is left to take care of his disabled grandfather alone. He’s always dreamed of getting out someday, but until he can, putting on that number 21 jersey makes everything seem okay …

Bucking the Sarge, by Christopher Curtis

From Booklist: “ … The narrator is smart, desperate 15-year-old Luther (not Loser, as some call him) Farrell, who speaks with wit, wisdom, and heartbreaking realism about family, work, school, friends, and enemies. He hates his vicious mom (the “Sarge”), who has made herself rich by milking the system, including evicting poor families from slum housing. Luther’s job is to care for four men in Sarge’s Adult Rehab Center, another scam. At school he wants to win the science fair medal again, even if his rival is the girl he has loved since kindergarten. Bits of philosophy from Luther’s various mentors, who range from Socrates to Judge Judy, blend with the comedy and sorrow… ” Reviewed by Hazel Rochman

GRAPHIC NOVEL

cardboardCardboard, by Doug TenNapel

From the publisher: “… Cam’s down-and-out father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday and he knows it’s the worst present ever. So to make the best of a bad situation, they bend the cardboard into a man-and to their astonishment, it comes magically to life. But the neighborhood bully, Marcus, warps the powerful cardboard into his own evil creations that threaten to destroy them all!”

NON-FICTION

food foolYour Food is Fooling You, by David Kessler

From the publisher: “Former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration David Kessler, M.D., argues forcefully that our brain chemistry is being hijacked by the food we eat: that by consuming stimulating combinations of sugar, fat, and salt, we’re conditioning our bodies to crave more sugar, fat, and salt—and consigning ourselves to a vicious cycle of overeating. Adapted from the adult trade bestseller The End of Overeating, Your Food Is Fooling You is concise and direct and delivers the same message, many of the fascinating case studies, and the same advice for breaking bad eating habits in a voice and format that’s accessible, positive, and affirming for teenagers …

……….Mind you, these are just a few of our new arrivals and you can find these titles and more near the circulation desk, right next to the magazines (yes, we still order and encourage our students to read magazines … on paper). I will highlight more of our new arrivals in future posts and encourage everyone to stop by to check them out for yourselves. Hope you find something useful, and as always, thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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Welcome Back 2014

Summer vacation seems like it happened long ago now, and I hope you had a great break and feel ready for a new school year. I want to welcome all our new staff members and our freshman class. I look forward to meeting everyone as they join our family in the Hillie Nation. You will find me (Mr. T) and my trusty sidekick, Ms. Sicard, in the Library Media Center (LMC), across from everyone’s favorite destination at HHS, the cafeteria.

Here are some important reminders/announcements for the LMC:

  • The HHS LMC Catalog can be found here and at the bottom of the HHS Launchpad, under “View More Links Here”.
  • The LMC is open from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm daily and we can be reached at extension 1143 if you have any questions
  • Teachers can begin booking time in the library to bring their classes. We have two computer labs with 28 and 25 PCs, respectively. We also have 5 computers for Virtual High School (VHS) students. PLEASE NOTE that the LMC labs and other library visits (to check out books or use the pit, for example) should be arranged at the circulation desk … of course, we have a book.
  • Teachers of freshman English classes can begin scheduling visits for an LMC orientation. This introduction to the LMC’s rules and resources takes only one class period. Freshman orientation visits will be held Tuesday, September 16th – Friday, September 28th.
  • Students who have a study period scheduled, can sign up for library study. Students can sign up before first period or at 2:05, after the last school bell. (Study teachers, please DO NOT give students a pass to the library … they should sign up with us). Please call ahead of time if you absolutely must send a student or students for any reason to the LMC and ALWAYS send them with a pass.
  • Anyone wishing to use the library afterschool for a meeting or an event should contact the main office (xt. 1100) to make sure it is available. Students who wish to study, use computers or gather in the library afterschool do not have to make any arrangements ahead of time.

Please keep in mind that there are always many people using the LMC at the same time for different reasons (VHS, early-college, directed study), and it gets difficult to keep a track of who belongs there and who doesn’t. We appreciate your cooperation and thank you in advance for your assistance.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great week.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

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