New To Our Shelves: October 2016

It is that time of the year again, when our book orders finally start rolling in. As is usually the case, we got fewer books this year than last year, and we got fewer books last year than the year before. I wonder how long it will be before I only have one new book to report? Until then, I will share with you some of the best of the best titles that we have added to our humble collection. Below you will find three picks from our fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel and test prep/ pro-development sections, along with descriptions lifted from sites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Goodreads.

fiction

Fiction

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. “When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.”

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. “A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The truth. We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.”

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. “Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame? As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are”.

graphix

Graphic Novels

March Volumes 1 & 2 at told by John Lewis. “Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell.

The Divine by Lavie Boaz. “Mark’s out of the military, these days, with his boring, safe civilian job doing explosives consulting. But you never really get away from war. So it feels inevitable when his old army buddy Jason comes calling, with a lucrative military contract for a mining job in an obscure South-East Asian country called Quanlom. They’ll have to operate under the radar―Quanlom is being torn apart by civil war, and the US military isn’t strictly supposed to be there. With no career prospects and a baby on the way, Mark finds himself making the worst mistake of his life and signing on with Jason. What awaits him in Quanlom is going to change everything. What awaits him in Quanlom is weirdness of the highest order: a civil war led by ten-year-old twins wielding something that looks a lot like magic, leading an army of warriors who look a lot like gods. What awaits him in Quanlom is an actual goddamn dragon. From world-renowned artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka (twins, whose magic powers are strictly confined to pen and paper) and Boaz Lavie, The Divine is a fast-paced, brutal, and breathlessly beautiful portrait of a world where ancient powers vie with modern warfare and nobody escapes unscathed.

nonfiction

Non-Fiction

Dreamland: The True Story of America’s Opioid Epidemic by Sam Quinones. “With a great reporter’s narrative skill and the storytelling ability of a novelist, acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of capitalism run amok whose unintentional collision has been catastrophic. The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s reached its peak in Purdue Pharma’s campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive–extremely addictive–miracle painkiller. Meanwhile, a massive influx of black tar heroin–cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico’s west coast, independent of any drug cartel–assaulted small town and mid-sized cities across the country, driven by a brilliant, almost unbeatable marketing and distribution system. Together these phenomena continue to lay waste to communities from Tennessee to Oregon, Indiana to New Mexico.”

The Brothers; The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen. “On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 264 others. In the ensuing manhunt, Tamerlan Tsarnaev died, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured and brought to trial. Yet even after the guilty verdict and the death sentence, what we didn’t know was why. Why did the American Dream go so wrong for two immigrants? How did such a nightmare come to pass? Acclaimed Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen is uniquely able to tell us. A teenage immigrant herself, she returned to Russia to cover firsthand the transformations that wracked the region from the 1990s on. It is there that she begins her astonishing account of the Tsarnaev brothers, descendants of ethnic Chechens deported to Central Asia in the Stalin era. Following the family in their futile attempts to make a life for themselves in one war-torn locale after another and then, as new émigrés, in an utterly disorienting new world, she reconstructs the brothers’ struggle between assimilation and alienation, which incubated a deadly sense of mission.”

How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt; From Chapter One, “The death of the mp3 was announced in a conference room in Erlangen, Germany, in the spring of 1995. For the final time, a group of supposedly impartial experts snubbed the technology, favoring its eternal rival, the mp2. This was the end, and the mp3’s inventors knew it. They were running out of state funding, their corporate sponsors were abandoning them, and, after a four-year sales push, the technology had yet to secure a single long-term customer. Attention in the conference room turned to Karlheinz Brandenburg, the driving intellectual force behind the technology and the leader of the mp3 team. Brandenburg’s work as a graduate student had pointed the way to the technology, and for the last eight years he had worked to commercialize his ideas. He was ambitious and intelligent, with a contagious vision for the future of music. Fifteen engineers worked under him, and he oversaw a million-dollar research budget. But with the latest announcement, it looked as if he had led his team into a graveyard.”

prodevtest

Test Preparation/ Professional Development

Find it Fast by Robert Berkman. “Author Robert Berkman gives expert advice on how to search the internet to locate the best information sources, how to find and utilize the professionals behind those sources, and how to combine these techniques to complete an information search on any subject. This fully updated 6th edition includes how to search beyond Google, leveraging big data in the search process, and how to search the social web. Readers will also find expert advice on how to know if a site is a trusted source; understanding how and why sources differ; using precision search strategies and taming information overload; and finding, evaluating, and identifying experts. Whether it’s consumer advice, information for a job or project, facts for starting a new business, or answers to questions on obscure topics, Find It Fast is the perfect resource for learning to hone one’s internet searching skills.”

Using Apps for Learning Across the Curriculum: A Literacy-Based Framework and Guide by Richard Beach: “How can apps be used to foster learning with literacy across the curriculum? This book offers both a theoretical framework for considering app affordances and practical ways to use apps to build students’ disciplinary literacies and to foster a wide range of literacy practices.

Using Apps for Learning Across the Curriculum

  • presents a wide range of different apps and also assesses their value
  • features methods for and apps related to planning instruction and assessing student learning
  • identifies favorite apps whose affordances are most likely to foster certain disciplinary literacies
  • includes resources and apps for professional development
  • provides examples of student learning in the classroom

A website (www.usingipads.pbworks.com) with resources for teaching and further reading for each chapter, a link to a blog for continuing conversations about topics in the book (appsforlearningliteracies.com), and more enhance the usefulness of the book.

Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT (Kaplan Test Prep): Prepare for the New SAT with confidence from the test maker with more than 75 years of expertise! Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT features effective new strategies and practice for the College Board’s redesigned SAT. Big changes are coming to the SAT in Spring 2016. The redesign affects the way the test is structured, administered, timed, and scored. The Math Test requires a deep knowledge of advanced algebra and data analysis as well as critical thinking and real-world problem solving skills. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing require not only strong reading and analysis skills, but also the ability to interpret data and use evidence to make conclusions and inferences. And, the optional Essay is now twice as long and twice as hard.

Sound scary? Don’t worry—Kaplan’s 5 Strategies for the New SAT explains what you need to know about the new test, and how you can begin to prepare for it.

 

Thank you for stopping by and hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.

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Opening thoughts on Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind

Editor’s Note: This year the faculty and staff at my school will be reading and discussing Eric Jensen’s Teaching With Poverty in Mind and I will be leading one of many discussion groups. The thoughts and opinions here are my own and do not reflect the feelings, ideas or positions of the school administration or of the faculty in general.

                  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic American novel, The Great Gatsby, opens with narrator, Nick Carroway, telling his audience, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’.” It’s a sobering thought, especially for those of us fortunate enough to have grown up with some “advantages”.

                  For writer Eric Jensen, it seems to be the kind of thought he has had on many occasions, admitting in the introduction to his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind that he, “was simply unable to fathom why the poor could (or would) not lift themselves out of poverty. (He) believed that if ‘those people’ simply tried harder or had ‘better values’, they would be able to succeed. “ Jensen goes on to explain that his attitude was “small-minded and prejudiced”, but that he has since traveled extensively and learned things that “opened (his) eyes and transformed (his) soul”.

                  This is exactly the kind of language you would expect to hear at a revival or carnival, for you see, Eric Jensen is an education snake oil salesman; a charlatan who rides into school districts with his thin volumes of pretend academic research ready to offer desperate administrators a quick solution to their myriad problems. Like spiritualist, Deepak Chopra, who hijacks the language of quantum mechanics to talk about spiritual vibrations, energy levels and the non-locality of the mind, Eric Jensen obfuscates his trickery by cloaking it in fabulous language. Just take for example, his definition of poverty which is … “a chronic and debilitating condition that results from multiple adverse synergistic risk factors and affects the mind, body and soul.” No matter how good the professional development seminars that Jensen delivers are, I don’t think I will ever be certified to work on people’s souls.

                  But Jensen’s writing and presentation styles are persuasive, so they work like the charms they are supposed to be. Like Ruby Payne, and her book Framework for Understanding Poverty, before him, Eric Jensen travels around the country spreading what in academic circles is known as the “deficit-model” of education; a philosophy that views students as “broken” or “missing something”. Jensen does this (and has been doing it for nearly two decades) under the guise of “Brain-based” education because, after all, that sounds really smart, doesn’t it?

                  One of my problems with Jensen in general, and with his book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, specifically, comes from the fact that some of the research he relies on is twenty years old and older. This is especially worrisome since so many advances in brain imaging and cognitive science have been made in the last two decades. In the first chapter alone, for example, Jensen cites Freiberg (1993), Bradley, et al (1994), Graber and Brooks-Dunn (1995), and Mouton & Hawkins (1996). To make matters worse, the information Jensen cherry picks to make his case, is less than conclusive enough for him to then extrapolate to a more general scenario. According to Jensen’s research, “40% of children living in chronic poverty had deficiencies in at least two areas of functioning at age 3” (Bradley, et al., 1994). This means that more than half of the children in CHRONIC poverty did NOT show these affects.

                  For Jensen, however, this kind of evidence seems to lead him to such outrageous conclusions as, “…children raised in poor households often fail to learn these [healthy, appropriate emotional] responses, to the detriment of their school performance. “ Among the responses he believes poor children don’t learn at home are things such as gratitude, forgiveness, patience and empathy. This is not true, according to Assistant Professor of Psychology and writer, Michael W. Krauss who says, “Disposed to reduced social and economic resources, lower-class individuals’ outcomes are more likely to hinge on outside forces. These conditions make it so that it is more costly for lower-class individuals to mis-read others’ emotions. In contrast, abundant social and economic resources allow relatively upper-class individuals to navigate the social world without (for the most part) incurring social costs that come from not reading others’ emotions. In essence, while upper-class individuals can remain blissfully unaware of others’ emotions, their lower-class counterparts must be vigilant of the emotions of others to identify both social opportunities and potential social costs.”

                  Jensen does this sort of thing throughout the first few chapters (I am only on Chapter 3), making negative blanket statements about the impact poverty has on people, without ever considering the kind of resourcefulness and ingenuity that necessity demands of them. Furthermore, he makes claims about low SES students that could be applied to students in general, and to teenagers in high school more specifically.

                  Take for example the opening paragraph of the first chapter, “Understanding the Nature of Poverty”. He begins with an anecdote that introduces us to history teacher Chris Hawkins (whom he doesn’t clarify is a real person or a pseudonym for a real person or just a name for a character in a story he is telling us). Jensen says that Hawkins is desperate and that like others who teach economically disadvantaged students, he complains of their “chronic tardiness, lack of motivation, and inappropriate behavior.” Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a high school, no matter what social class the students belong to, will attest to the fact that these are traits shared by many teenagers, not just poor ones.

                  But Jensen persists in making such misguided leaps of logic and uses great slight of hand to smooth over the nonsense that he is pushing. Near the end of the first chapter, he writes, “Many nonminority (does he mean White?) or middle-class teachers cannot understand why children from poor backgrounds act the way they do at school. Teachers don’t need to come from their students’ cultures to be able to teach them, but empathy and cultural knowledge are essential. Therefore, an introduction to how students are affected by poverty is highly useful.” To which I respond, “wait … what?” Is Jensen implying here that poverty is some students’ cultures? If he is, then I missed that part of his thesis. If he isn’t, then he needs to continue editing his slim manual so that it makes more sense.                                  

                  Like the best con artists, Eric Jensen has made a name for himself by co-opting the language of the field, preparing professional looking wares and stringing together other people’s research and ideas to suit his own means and ends. It is the kind of junk science that may be fine when ghost hunting, preparing herbal supplements or tracking ancient aliens, but educators should not fall for it. Viewing our poor students as having sub-optimal brains or being somehow deficient of such basic human emotions as humility or optimism seems monstrous to me and unacceptable as a teacher and a father.

                  Of course we want to improve our schools and be better teachers for our students; their success is our success. But we cannot be lured by false promises or quick fixes like the idea that simply changing our attitudes will correct deep, systemic and persistent deficiencies. In closing, I would like to return to Nick Carroway, who says, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——”

                 We may still be able to realize our American Dreams.

And now, some definitions and some numbers.

Poverty as defined by dictionary.com is the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.1

Poverty as defined by the Federal Government is a family of two (2) people making less than $15,391. Three (3) people making less than $18,871. Four (4) people making less than $24,257. Five (5)  people making less than $28,7412

According to the 2014 income-to-poverty ratios, 6.6 percent of Americans were living in deep poverty. Among children, the rate is higher: 9.3 percent of children were living under 50 percent of their family’s poverty threshold.3

In 2014, the Median Household Income in the United States was $53,5674

  •                   In Massachusetts, it was $69,200
  •                   In Essex County, it was $70,074
  •                   In Haverhill it was $61,2085

According to one set of data from the Census.gov site, Haverhill has 12.2% of its population living in poverty. According to another set of data from the same site, the number is 16.8%.

Sources

  1. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/poverty
  2. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-poverty-thresholds.html
  3. http://www.irp.wisc.edu/faqs/faq3.htm (Institute for Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  4. https://www.census.gov/did/www/saipe/data/interactive/saipe.html?s_appName=saipe&map_yearSelector=2014&map_geoSelector=aa_c
  5. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/2529405 (Haverhill Information)

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.

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Belated Welcome Back, 2016-17

……….So, here we are back at it again. Another September has rolled up on us, and the Labor Day weekend marked the official end of summer for students and teachers. Four weeks into the new school year and there have been plenty of changes around HHS*. To all our new teachers, paras, ESPs, lunch workers, building maintenance, security staff and, of course, freshman, I say, “Welcome to Hillie Nation”!

……….To our returning students and staff, I say, “Welcome back. I hope we can all do a little more and a little better this year.” And I don’t mean just in the building, and just in our work. I hope for myself and for all of you, that this year is full of great things and that even when things don’t go as you might expect, that you find strength and allegiance to get through whatever challenges you face. We are not alone, after all, if we remember that everyone around us is also in some quandary, in some struggle against something.

……….And remember also, that most people want to help, want to extend a hand to someone they see struggling. Especially in a place like a school … we are surrounded by people who like helping others. So, take advantage of the brains, brawn and brotherhood/sisterhood in your midst.

……….Now, onto the business I usually take care of in my first blog of the new school year.

 

Library Media Center Hours:     Monday – Friday, 7 am – 3 pm

Students that would like to use the LMC computers or space after-school, do not need to make an appointment. Many clubs, groups and other people book the library for meetings or other events, and on rare occasions, students may be asked to leave.

 

OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog): You can search our collection here.

There is a link available through the HHS Launchpad, but most people don’t realize that it is embedded in the “View More Links” at the bottom of that page. I didn’t even know there were more links until a few years back when I accidently scrolled down in my partially opened window.

 

Class Visits

……….The LMC has two PC computer labs. Lab one is on the left side of the “pit” and has 20 working computers. Lab two is on the right side of the pit and has 24 computers, including six that are around the bend.

……….If you wish to bring your class to the library to use the computers, search for books or work in the “pit”, you must check the LMC log kept at the circulation desk. There is no online version of this to book the library.

……….Please call us (xt. 1143) to check if we have room to accommodate you and/or your group if you have NOT already booked an appointment with us in the LMC log. We love to see our space full of students, teachers, aides, counselors and everyone else who makes HHS a great place to work. But we don’t like to be surprised and we don’t like having to turn you away at the door if we don’t have room.

 

Study Students

……….Students who would like to use the library during their study period need to first report to their study class so that their teacher may mark them present for that period. Study teachers can then send up to four (4) students to the library for that period, with a signed pass of course.

……….Study students may lose the privilege of coming to the library if they disturb others or if they cannot follow these simple rules:

  1. No food or drink.
  2. No hats, hoods or phone calls.
  3. Be respectful of others and the space.
  4. Stay seated until the bell rings.

 

Copiers, projectors, overheads, etc.

……….As the librarian/ media specialist, I am here to get you through some of your frustrating technology encounters. I know how much our faculty and staff rely on copies, printouts and scans to get their work done, so please make sure you call me whenever you’re having trouble with one of our many Toshiba machines. Contact me if your local machine needs its toner or staples replaced, if you’re experiencing chronic paper jams, or if you get an error message of any kind.

……….I’m also able to assist you if you still use a television, VCR (what?), DVD player (huh?), overhead projector (why?), CD player/radio (how?), or other antiquated machine that helps you do your thing in the classroom.

 

Contact Information

School Extension:   1143

Henry Toromoreno, Librarian                     htoromoreno@haverhill-ps.org

Melissa Tarpy, Library Aide                         mtarpy@haverhill-ps.org

 

* P.S

You didn’t think I would write this post without mentioning Ms. Sicard, did you?

It finally happened. My very special friend and amazing assistant, Barbara “Babsy” Sicard, retired after 13 years by my side. She had plenty more years under her belt from way before I showed up on the scene, but I wasn’t around for those, so I can’t comment either way. All I know, is that my time with her was pretty great in the way that special things are amazing just by being ordinary, everyday, mundane. The way you expect a light to come on when you flick a switch without thinking about how hot a filament has to get to light up a room. The way the smell of cut grass or fresh bread or pine on a cold day always takes you back to a memory that’s good. In an age of disembodied electronic friends, Ms. Sicard was a connection to a time when people sat around talking across a table (or the circulation desk in her case) sharing small talk, being interested in each other’s lives … not to comment or ridicule or lambast each other, but to sympathize, to listen, to share, to exchange stories about hardships and triumphs, small complaints about the grind of life, to laugh not at one another, but at themselves.

So many kids who knew Ms. Sicard tell me how much they miss her. And so does everyone else who stops into the library. For the thirteen years she was my assistant, I woke up every workday knowing one thing … Barbara is going to be there when (or if) I get in. And she was out only one day due to illness. Imagine, just imagine, how much I miss her.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.

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Great Online Learning

Hello everyone. It’s been four months since my last post, and while some of that was definitely due to my medical emergency*, mostly I haven’t shared anything, because there is so much to share. I know that doesn’t really make sense, except that it is the way that I sometimes feel when I try to catalog the sites I serendipitously stumble upon. There is so much good stuff happening online, that it is impossible to stay focused long enough to write about it. But here goes. Below you will find a handful of links and brief descriptions for the sites. Most sites are “educational” in nature, and make for a great classroom resource. Some sites are better organized than others, and therefore easier to navigate and find what you want. All, however, are worth checking out.

  • TED Ed: An outgrowth of the popular TED Talks videos, TED Ed’s tagline is, “Great educators and animators collaborating to create lessons worth sharing.” Short animated videos cover topics in a range of subjects and allow visitors to view lesson plans others have uploaded to the site. View one of my favorites, “5 Ways Social Media is Changing Your Brain”.
  • Crash Course Who knew that author John Green (“The Fault in our Stars” and “Paper Towns” among others) had a brother, Hank, who appears to be as knowledgeable and as full of boundless energy as he is. Seriously, how do these two have the time to create and record all of the frenetic, fast-paced videos you will find at their ever-growing website. John covers world history, American history and literature, while Hank talks about biology, ecology and general chemistry. Videos are ten to fifteen minutes long, are animated and have a recap of the major ideas at the end. View one of my favorites, “Meet Your Master; Getting to Know Your Brain”.
  • The School of Life: According to the opening line of their About Us webpage, “The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I love their videos covering topics in philosophy, political theory, pop culture, and the history of ideas. Maybe it’s the simple straightforward illustrations used, maybe it’s the erudite British accent of the narrator. Whatever it is, it works. View one of my favorites, “What’s wrong with the media”?
  • Story Corps I first learned about this website by listening to the radio broadcast on NPR. Story Corps calls itself a national project, collecting oral histories of ordinary people. Since 2003, they have collected more than 60,000 stories that are also archived in the Library of Congress. You can also find thirty-one stories that have been animated wonderfully. View one of my favorites, “Facundo, the great”.
  • VSauce Host Michael Stevens invites you to ponder the imponderable with him as he takes you along a speculative, but fact-filled journey of almost answers to life’s biggest (and weirdest) questions. Sample topics are, “How to count past infinity” and “What color is a mirror”? Many videos are between ten to fifteen minutes long, with some reaching twenty minutes. View one of my favorites, “This is not yellow”

 

* For those who are not aware, I suffered a Spontaneous Subarachnoid Hemorrhage on Feb. 10th and was hospitalized for two weeks. Fortunately for me, the damage was minimal and did not affect my communication, language or memory functions. I am recovering very well and want to thank everyone for their support, assistance and thoughtfulness during my time of need.

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

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Closing Thoughts, 2015

Hello all. I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and are looking forward to the New Year. As usually happens with vacation, I have had some free time and found myself contemplating things. Some of these topics are related to education, others are not, but as I occasionally do on this blog, I’d like to share some of my thoughts for your consideration.

Electronic devices in school

After years of trying to resist the invasion of the personal electronic devices in our schools, the war is finally over. The machines have won and now we are left simply negotiating the terms of the truce. The advent of the smart phone and tablet and the availability of wi-fi has made it basically impossible to monitor all devices, and so we have to come to terms with this new reality.

While I still maintain that the less we see of the electronic buggers the better, I have also witnessed students who use their devices to type papers, do research, review flashcards, and otherwise organize their academic lives. On a couple of occasions, when we did not have enough computers to host two classes, some students were able to work on their smartphones and turn in their assignments via Google Docs or Google Classroom.

I’ve also seen students studying, doing homework or typing on a computer while listening to music from the personal devices, and while this used to bother me, I have come to accept it because it’s the way most students (and adults) probably work at home. Besides, as I said before, the war is over, the invasion is complete, and now we have to learn to work with this new, morphing electronic presence.

The rise of “a-literacy”

One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read”. Overlooking the fact that he excludes half the reading population, it’s a pretty good quote about reading and one that points to the obvious truth … that reading is like physical exercise, and only benefits those who actually do it. Knowing how to do it isn’t enough.

This observation is related to the above-mentioned electronic invasion, of course, but it runs much deeper than just reading books. I don’t see students reading newspapers or magazines like they did in the past either. And this is not because they are reading it online on their smartphones or tablets. In all the informal surveys that I have conducted over the last several years, students routinely tell me that they do not visit news and magazine sites. They are more likely to get their information through their social networks and places Buzzfeed, Reddit, or the news feed on their browser. According to a 2013 report, the way younger people consume the news is changing and this is reflected by their reading habits.

My concern as a librarian and a lover of reading is not so much that students are not reading at all, but rather that what I observe them reading tends not to be long, in-depth, and challenging texts. The time that used to be spent in the library reading a “good book” (and today there are so many) is now often taken up by the entertaining sparkle of a hand held screen. When I try to convert students back to a reading lifestyle, I often point out that if they read just 20 minutes a day (about 6-7 pages) during their “study” period in the library, at the end of a week they’d have practiced reading for an hour and forty minutes and have read about 35 pages. A couple have taken up the challenge, most have remained faithful to their devices.

The Presidential Candidacy of Donald J. Trump

I find it more than a little bit remarkable that less than a decade after Wall Street and its machinations nearly brought the economy to its proverbial knees, the leading candidate for one of the two major political parties in the United States is the poster boy for wealth, privilege and power. Donald Trump, who called “a million dollars” a small loan he got from his father. But being wealthy and successful doesn’t disqualify you from being Presidential. In fact, nowadays it is an asset considering how expensive it is to run for political office.

Most of the expense of running a campaign is getting your message out to the people, of course. If you’re a newcomer or a relative unknown, you spend your money introducing yourself to the people. Donald Trump was a known commodity, a reality TV star, who also happened to be a billionaire. It didn’t hurt that he was bombastic and impolite, willing to get personal and mean. His oversimplification of complex political and social issues such as terrorism and immigration, fed people what they wanted to hear which was, “trust me, I’ll fix it”.

But his terms were extreme, racist, and even unconstitutional. Building walls that span a continent, halting all immigrants of a certain religious tradition, deporting 10 million “illegals”, revoking the citizenship of children born in the U.S, shutting down sections of the internet and other such propositions demonstrate that Trump’s solutions are impractical and churlish.

Still, even as 2015 comes to a close, Donald J. Trump remains the leading candidate for the Republican Party. His presence has made the Republican debates some of the most watched political events in television history. A fact that Trump certainly attributes to himself, and which we can’t really argue against. In defending him and his sometimes outlandish remarks, his supporters will say things like, “he tells it like it is” or “he’s not afraid to speak his mind”. That may be good for television, but it makes for harsh, inconsiderate politics.

If Donald Trump does become president, here are a few firsts he would bring to the office. He will be the first president to ever have:

  • buildings and golf courses bearing his name before he came into office.
  • his own top-rated reality show.
  • his own vodka, fragrance and board game.
  • to leave a better living situation to move into the modest White House.
  • been roasted on Comedy Central with a panel that included Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, rapper and marijuana enthusiast Snoop Dogg (before he became a Lion), Larry King and Mike “the Situation” from the Jersey Shore.

In the words of FDR, “never underestimate a man who overestimates himself”.

Happy New Year and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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News and observations from the LMC

……….Hello all, now that the curse of the giants seems to have passed (Pats fans will know what I’m talking about) allow me to share some news/information with you. If you’re a regular user of the library, you might have noticed some changes in the place over the last month or so. We have realigned the computers and therefore, changed the way we assign Computer Labs 1 and 2.

……….This makes a difference in how we book classes for LMC visits, so I feel it’s important for you to know about it. Below you will find a schematic of the LMC to help orient you to our general layout. For new teachers, this will be helpful in knowing how to direct your classes during visits and for research; for veteran teachers, this will hopefully serve as a reminder of all the resources available for both you and your students.

LMC layout

……….As you can see, the HHS Library Media Center (LMC) includes not just a vast collection of printed resources (19,327 books) but also 2+ computer labs (49 computers), 3 small classrooms, the MCAS Tutoring Room, the Internship Office and the library offices. We are a large, welcoming space for multiple classes at any one time, and we encourage you to visit us and use our many resources.

……….Teachers who wish to sign up to use the computers need to book with us at our circulation desk. We work on a first come, first serve basis, which means that if you have a class with 30 students, we will reserve Lab 1 (with 20 stations) and 10 computers from Lab 2 for your class. That means that the next teacher will only have 14 – 19 computers available (if the VHS computers are not being used). I am hoping to get more computers into the library, so that we can accommodate two classes of 30 students, but for now, we will work with what we’ve got.

……….Also, note that we have two (2) printers in the LMC and they are labeled as LIB-CIRC (color copier by the circulation desk) and LIB-LAB (black and white copier at the corner of LAB 2). These two machines get a lot of work in the mornings before first period, as students rush to print out papers and projects, so it’s best to avoid making multiple copies there just before school.

……….Please feel free to call us at extension 1143 with any questions or feedback you might have.

Next, a few quick observations:

  • We have free newspapers, but no one is taking them. We get 10 FREE copies of the E and the Wall Street Journal (a $3 newspaper) and we have leftovers all the time. (In fact, I’ve saved so many copies, that I’m hoping someone will start a paper mache project or a fish business). I understand that most people get their “news” online nowadays, but as an avid newspaper reader since my youth, I can’t help but lament the death of such an important industry. Some people will point out that going digital is just a transformation of the delivery of the Eagle-Tribune news, and not its death, but I still feel like we’re losing something important.
  • We seem to be busier than ever, but no one is reading. This observation is connected with the first, of course, but it also stands on its own. We see a great number of students throughout the day, and too few spend their time reading anything of significance. Their digital connections have really invaded what used to be free time spent reading. Instead of spending a half hour quietly engaged in a mental exercise that would expose them to vocabulary they need to grow mentally, I see too many students playing games, texting or even streaming television shows during their “study” period. We allowed personal electronic devices into our schools under the naive assumption that they would be used for “educational” purposes only … but we were cutting a deal with teenagers, remember?
  • The people that we see daily in the LMC have got to be the happiest, zaniest, most driven, best people in the building. Just about everyone that’s a regular – from the students who wander in during lunch and ask if they can do their homework, to the building crew who rearranges the furniture for meetings and presentations, to the teachers who also make their home in the LMC, to the many classes that visit daily, to the security guards who wander in for a quick breather, to the seemingly endless kids who hang around the circulation desk and are willing to talk to a fifty-something librarian, and his sixtyish assistant (You see that Babs?) – they all seem to share my belief that the library is a special place. That sometimes makes Mondays a little bit more bearable.

……….Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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New to our shelves, October 2015

……….I love getting new books for our collection. With an ever-decreasing book budget, I have to decide between replacing stolen or worn out copies of popular books (Go Ask Alice, Of Mice and Men, Thirteen Reasons Why, Speak) or ordering new/ popular titles (The Fault in our Stars, The Maze Runner, Just Listen, If I Stay). I also have to consider the research needs of our students, and, therefore, search for books that address current controversial issues such as online security, marijuana legalization, gay marriage, climate change and ongoing issues like immigration, abortion, and poverty.

……….Furthermore, today there are also many good writers who cover science, history, political theory, economics, social studies and just about every other intellectual niche. There are great books about past presidents, revolutionaries, inventors, trailblazers and ordinary people who did amazing things. Who could have imagined that someone could write an interesting book about Cod or Salt? Mark Kurlansky, that’s who.

……….So, with all these considerations in mind, and a very limited budget, I must choose books I hope will find some readers. Here then, is a handful of titles I hope catch your attention and find a temporary home in your hands. The summaries are lifted from Amazon or Barnes and Nobles (and sometimes edited for space); links will take you to a review from a site I consider reliable, that could help you decide if the book is for you. Stop by the LMC and take one home:

new books

Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, by Michael S. Roth.

“Wesleyan University president, Roth, adds his voice to the current debate about college education. Is it vocational instruction meant to lead to immediate employment after graduation or a time for expansive ideas and self-exploration? He argues that liberal education, with its emphasis on critical thinking, is an important part of American ideals of democracy. He traces the historical roots of liberal education from the ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. But he focuses on American thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, William James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Addams, John Dewey, and others.”

Read the Washington Post Review.

Looking like the enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps, by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald.

“The author at 16 years old was evacuated with her family to an internment camp for Japanese Americans, along with 110,000 other people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast. She faced an indefinite sentence behind barbed wire in crowded, primitive camps. She struggled for survival and dignity, and endured psychological scarring that has lasted a lifetime. … Like “The Diary of Anne Frank,” this memoir superbly captures the emotional and psychological essence of what it was like to grow up in the midst of this profound dislocation and injustice in the U.S.”

Read the review by Sherry Wachter at Story Circle Book Reviews

Fabricated: World of 3D Printing, by Hod Lipson & Melba Kurman.

“Fabricated tells the story of 3D printers, humble manufacturing machines that are bursting out of the factory and into schools, kitchens, hospitals, even onto the fashion catwalk. Fabricated describes our emerging world of printable products, where people design and 3D print their own creations as easily as they edit an online document. … Fabricated takes the reader onto a rich and fulfilling journey that explores how 3D printing is poised to impact nearly every part of our lives … Aimed at people who enjoy books on business strategy, popular science and novel technology, Fabricated will provide readers with practical and imaginative insights to the question ‘how will this technology change my life? …” from the Wiley publishing (publisher’s site).

Read the review by Justin Slick at About.com

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science, by Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos

“This meticulously researched, brutally honest, compelling book offers readers a different way to look at many events over the past 200 years or so. The title says it all. From the slave trade through abolition; from revolutions (American, French, and Haitian) to the Louisiana Purchase; from the decline of honey to the rise of saccharine, these events and many more are directly traced to the cultivation and production of sugar cane around the world. With a focus on slavery, Aronson and Budhos demonstrate how this one crop, with its unique harvesting needs, helped to bring about a particularly brutal incarnation of slavery.” … from School Library Journal, by Jody Kopple.

Read a short review from the Washington Post.

What the numbers say, A Field Guide to Mastering Our Numerical World, by Derrick Niederman & David Boyum.

“The bad news is that, in an age of science, complex financial planning, and competing deficit forecasts to support competing stimulus packages, the average citizen needs math more than ever. The good news, according to this delightful and eye-opening numeracy primer, is that it’s all sixth-grade math. Niederman, a mathematics Ph.D, and author of The Inner Game of Investing, and Boyum, a public policy consultant, assert that quantitative competence is mostly a matter of simple habits of mind, including: trust numerical data over anecdotal observations, but always question what the data are really saying; think in terms of probabilities rather than certainties; and make rough-and-ready estimates so your calculations don’t go off track. … This engaging book is a great challenge to fuzzy math of all stripes.” … from the publisher

Read a review by ATD here.

What I eat cover

What I Eat: The World in 80 Diets, by photojournalist Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio.

“A stunning photographic collection featuring portraits of 80 people from 30 countries and the food they eat in one day. In this fascinating study of people and their diets, 80 profiles are organized by the total number of calories each person puts away in a day. Featuring a Japanese sumo wrestler, a Massai herdswoman, world-renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adria, an American competitive eater, and more, these compulsively readable personal stories also include demographic particulars, including age, activity level, height, and weight.” … from the publisher

Read a review by Aaron Spiegel, featured at the Huffington post.

……….We have also received a bunch of other fabulous books, but I just wanted to preview a few that I find interesting. I will let you all know about other new titles in future posts, but any teacher who wants to know what we’ve added can e-mail me and I will send them a complete list of our books orders.

……….Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2015. All rights reserved.

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