April’s Online Finds

……….No long essays or observations about the world in this post. What I have instead is a grab bag of online tools I’ve (re)discovered and would like to share.

Research Tools

Massachusetts Databases: If your computer is in Massachusetts, then you can access the free database available here. According to the site it is, “maintained by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency that fosters innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning.” The great thing about the search returns is that the articles highlight your search term AND they provide you an MLA citation you can cut and paste. Nice.

Google Scholar: Practically everyone uses Google, but how many people remember Google Scholar? Hidden somewhere in the dozens of things that Google is trying to do in it’s attempt at online dominance is Google Scholar. But you’ll have to search hard to find it through the drop down menus. The easiest way to get to Google Scholar is to type “Google Scholar” in Google search. The hits in this search do not include Wikipedia and the typical internet finds, but books, articles and PDFs. Some hits require you to buy the book or pay to download the article, but there are enough free finds to make it worth the trouble. Best of all, the articles all feature a “CITE” link that provides citation information in MLA, APA and Chicago styles. Again, very nice.

Clustering Search Engines: Regular search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo do a great job of returning relevant hits. Clustering search engines, like Yippy and Carrot, return the same hits you get with your favorite vanilla engines, but also have a list that breaks down and/or expands your search term. Try it to see the difference.

Brainstorming Tool

Bubbl.us: I wrote about this website a while back and mention it again only because it is free and it is fun. It doesn’t make you register, unless you want to save your work, but it does allow you to print your concept web … which is all I usually want.

Springboard Tool

Visual.ly: I think I don’t quite get yet, what I can create with this website. But that’s okay because I love exploring the “Infographics” gallery that is on the site. It’s a great way to teach kids about design and presentation when it comes to getting ideas across. One of my favorite (albeit sad) graphs is the one that points out that, “Sharks kill 12 people a year, while people kill over 11,000 sharks …. every day.”

One more stunning graphic is the “Sea of Plastic”. Very cool (and sad, again).

Even if you can’t use the site to create your own graphics online, exploring the available gallery should give you (and your students) ideas about how to create your own unique “Infographics”.



Paper Rater: Paper rater is a free online tool that allows you to cut and paste your text onto its site and then have them … rate your paper, just like the name says. It’s basically a sophisticated version of tools your office software probably also contains such as spell check and grammar check. Additionally, Paper Rater analyzes your sentence and paragraph length, the level of your vocabulary, your use of transitional words and it gives you statistics about the readability of your text. Each kind of writing error is highlighted in a different color, and some suggestions are useful. The site is easy to use and there is no registration required, but beware, Paper Rater does not “understand” what you are writing. Yet.

TED Talks: Still one of my favorites online resources for inspiring talks. They have expanded their offerings to include many “educational” videos, though in my opinion every video in this collection fits that bill. Here’s a wonderful talk by Wade Davis, filled with beautiful photographs of a majestic Canadian landscape, that may soon be littered with roads and pipelines … drilling for energy.

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

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved 

End of the Year Reflections

……………The so-called “Mayan Apocalypse” came and went without much incident (as expected by the sane portion of the population) and thus, we had to pull out our calendars, PDAs, smartphones and digital tablets and continue planning for the future. Like most people, this time of year brings to mind New Year’s resolutions (goals to aim for) as well as making me stop to reflect on the past twelve months and all that has transpired, both in the larger world and personally in my own life.

……………It’s impossible for me to write a coherent, essay-style post covering all the things that I’ve been thinking about lately. So instead, I offer you a list of bullet point observations with some links to let you explore more if you like, less if you don’t want to:

  • Explosion of information/ My role as librarian: It used to be that being a librarian basically meant that you were an archivist and a keeper and organizer of information. Every library used to be a warehouse unto itself and the best librarians knew everything about their collection and where it could be found. The modern librarian is not so much a keeper of information any longer, as there are just too many good resources to warehouse in any one place. Even the Library of Congress can no longer keep up with the data available. The internet itself is still only partially archived because after all, how do you make a back up copy of everything in the world? As such, my job as a librarian has evolved to the point where I am expected to keep and manage our limited text collection, but more importantly, I should be knowledgeable about what is available online. No small task indeed, but one that always leads me to great discoveries.
  • The digital intrusion at home: One of the first things you notice about the modern home is the number of electronic devices in use. At my own house, everyone has their own computer. My wife and I have laptops in our respective home offices, and my sons both have a their own gaming computers in the family room. We have two small LCD televisions, one LCD projector, two DVD players, one radio, one MP3 player and a Kindle Fire. Even when everyone is at home, we are hardly ever all in one room doing something together. I am just as guilty as everyone else, having grown up with a television in my bedroom as my late night companion. If it wasn’t for those late night shows, I might never have seen Jackie Gleason in the HoneyMooners or Lucy and Desi in I Love Lucy or Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (and I’ve written before here about how much I love that show). The only exception is meal time, which I still cook and which remains media free. That is not to say that we don’t do other things together (play with legos, build puzzles, read, play Scrabble, draw), but I noticed that there was usually something “on” in the background as we played. A television show or movie, a stream of Pandora music, someone playing a video game.
  • Words with Friends: This game is really the main reason I still keep my Facebook account. I have become so accustomed to playing my turn every day against multiple challengers from all different stages of my life, that I miss it when my friends don’t play their turn. Because it is an asynchronous game, each person taking their turn whenever they are on, it isn’t really the same kind of interaction seen in the popular multi-player online shooter games. What worries me most though, is how unhappy I am (even if just for an instant) when I log on and I don’t have a turn to play. I wonder how many other people feel this kind of “letdown” from their digital devices, either when they don’t get an e-mail, or a Facebook response or some other digital communication.
  • My oldest kid became a teenager: I now have one of “them” living with me. It is a little bit intimidating to tell the truth, to have to live with someone who is so hypercritical of others, yet so very unwilling to reflect on his own shortcomings. Luckily there are many great quotes to keep me grounded as I make my way through these years. Besides that, all my years in education have been spent in 9-12 except for a two year stop as a k-4 school librarian. One thing I’ve noted so far is that my oldest son, like so many boys his age and older, calls himself a “gamer”, as though that were a title akin to say, piano player or dancer or artist. Anyway, this means that he needs more expensive computers that can handle the graphics demands of today’s online environment. That’s getting expensive, and difficult to keep up with, technically speaking.
  • Curiosity Lands on Mars & the Solar System may be larger than we thought: Now that we no longer have a Space Shuttle program, it seems that NASA’s game plan is to shoot rovers, satellites and probes out among the stars. It’s not a bad plan, really, considering the vastness of space currently prohibits any real long terms journey with people aboard. That, and the fact that all of our technology has really taken quantum leaps in the fifty years since we first ventured into space, means we could learn plenty without endangering human lives. Besides, a space journey that began when I was just a ten year old boy (Voyager I) still hasn’t officially left the solar system, thirty five years later. On the plus side, both Voyager spacecraft (yep, there were two) are still sending back valuable information about the far reaches of our own little corner of the universe.
  • Early human history and the role of art: I love all kinds of art, but lately I’ve castillo cavetaken a special fascination with Paleolithic and Neolithic art, commonly known as cave paintings. Many of the sites have been dated back tens of thousands of years, with the oldest sites being almost 40,000 years old. The sheer beauty of the artwork is a testament to the minds behind the paintings. More haunting and cryptic are the hand prints and outlines of hands that are found throughout the caves. Fifty thousand years or so may seem like a long time to us (since we live only about 75 years, it represents nearly 700 lifetimes) but it is a mere blip in geologic or evolutionary time. What’s more, it now appears that we (homo sapiens) shared the Earth not that long ago with at least three or four other human species (Neaderthals, homo floresiensis also popularly called “hobbits”, and now the Red Deer Cave people of China). As far as we know, only homo sapiens began representing the world symbolically through art, and this distinction may be the key to understanding why we are here today, while our closest human cousins are all gone (or absorbed, some would argue).
  • The Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs-Boson: After numerous false starts, the LHC in Switzerland was able to make preliminary confirmation of the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson. Now, I would be lying if I told you I really understood what the scientists at CERN are doing and what it all means. In a nutshell, they were shooting protons at each other at nearly the speed of light and recording the collision for traces of what “comes out of” the crash. What they were looking for, known on the street as the “God particle”, is the Higgs boson which confirmed the standard model of the universe, and explained why things have mass. Sounds cool, even if I can’t do the math.

I had more to write, but “ran out of time”, as I wanted to post this before the New Year … Technically, I still have about five hours left as I am in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone. WordPress, however, who hosts this site, is somewhere in Europe, where they have already started 2013, so I submitted the post prematurely to get it “in” for 12/31/2012. I missed by 5 minutes …. Anyway, have a Happy New Year, and I will see you all in a few days.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

As November Ends ….

……………This is one of those things that has to get done. It’s been more than four weeks now since my last post here, and with each passing day, it gets more difficult to return to writing here. I don’t want to miss all of November without having written something, however, and so I will string together a bunch of false starts, quick hits and random thoughts to share with you.

About Copiers/ Printers/ Scanners

……………I am now the defacto point person to turn to for immediate troubleshooting on the twenty something machines spread throughout the building. I am not terribly excited about this prospect, of course, but I am always happy to help teachers and other staff members get their work done. To that end, I feel that I should share what I know with all those I am trying to help, so that we may be able to make each others’ jobs easier.

  • ALWAYS check what printer is selected on your computer. TEACH this to everyone around you. Every student and adult needs to do this every time they print anything.
  • Remember that it’s just a machine … and a delicate, complex, amazingly wonderful machine. Don’t get angry at it. Walk away before you get toner everywhere.
  • Tell me about any problem as soon as you can; in the most immediate way you can. Call me at extension 1143, drop in to the library and tell me about it, drop me an email via the Spiceworks support link. If I don’t know about it, I can’t put it on my TO DO list.
  • Stop saying things like, “they’re all broken”. They have never ALL been down at the same time. There are more than twenty printer/ copier/ scanners in the building; there’s always at least one that is working.
  • Stop saying things like, “they’re always broken”. I checked the machines recently and discovered that collectively, we’ve printed or copied some 11 million pages in about a year and a half. That’s enough pages to print 28,000 four hundred page books; about the same number of books in our library collection. So obviously, they’re not “always broken”.
  • Think about what you are printing and what you are asking students to print. Instead of asking students to hand in full color powerpoint presentations, have them e-mail you that presentation … there’s no need to print everything.
  • Pick up everything you print and copy. There are few things as depressing to me as seeing the amount of paper that is simply wasted day in and day out in our building. As a child, I always wanted clean paper … lined, unlined, white, color, typing, oaktag, tracing … all kinds of paper were sacred and pretty scarce back then around our house. Today I have journals, diaries, sketchbooks, folders and file cabinets filled with that paper I collected and diligently filled with poetry, letters, essays, college papers, sketches, drawings, watercolors, paintings, collages. Paper is not cheap. Making good paper is neither technically easy nor environmentally friendly. Just because it is abundant, does not mean we should take it for granted.
  • Final word about the copiers is to please tell me immediately about any problems you are having. I will get to it ASAP, and at least be able to confirm whether or not it needs technical service. You are never bothering me with these kinds of calls, it is part of my job like shelving books and supervising students via LAN school.

About OPAC

……………Believe it or not, it’s been about three years now since we’ve had an Online Public Access Catalog or OPAC. This software is what allows anyone to search our library collection to see what titles we have. Amazingly there hasn’t really been any clamoring for one either. I’m not sure what this means exactly, but I offer a few observations.

  • Most research is done online nowadays, and students don’t feel the need to find books for their projects. Unless teachers force students to use printed books as a source, most students will use all online resources.
  • When students are given a choice to pick a book for “outside” reading, most prefer reading either fiction or biographies/ memoirs. These two collections are most accessible in our library, being near the circulation desk, and they are easy to navigate, being in alphabetical order, according to author’s last name and subject’s last name, respectively.
  • When classes do use our collection for research, each section is small enough to allow students to approach the shelves to see what titles we actually have.

……………Even though there hasn’t really been any demand for the OPAC, we have been looking at getting one that would allow anyone to search our collection. The two leading contenders thus far are Atriuum and Destiny. Destiny is owned by Follett, who makes the outdated cataloging software that we are still currently using. They are also affiliated with Aspen who makes the X2 software that we use. I’ve been calling them and trying to get a salesperson to talk to me about their Destiny product because it would probably also integrate information from the X2 database more easily than other software. But I can’t seem to get in touch with anyone. It’s like they don’t want my business, so I will be moving on and recommending that we try out the Atriuum software. Their salesperson visited me about a half dozen times, always unannounced and uninvited. I didn’t like that, but I appreciated his tenacity, and he obviously means to sell me something.

About Google Drive

……………I just recently started using the 5GB Google storage that was set up by our tech department. This is a great place online to drop school related info. If you haven’t explored it yet yourself, I highly recommend that you check it out. Just follow these simple steps to get to your online storage area:

  1.  Go to Google
  2. Find the “Drive” tab at the top of the page
  3. Type in your HHS e-mail, for example, htoromoreno@haverhill-ps.org
  4. DO NOT type in a password, just hit “Sign In”
  5. This will bring you to a new LOG IN page
  6. Type in your HHS username, for example, htoromoreno
  7. Type in the password you use to get into your HHS email

…………...I started using the Google Drive to store pictures that my Lit Mag kids take of the student artwork using the new iPads. I haven’t checked out what the prints will look like yet, but the pictures don’t look too bad. Here is an uncropped, unedited example:

dot dude

Hope you have a wonderful weekend, and thank you for reading.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

April Quick Hits

Happy April Fool’s Day. No tricks coming from here, just a couple of quick hits for now.

  • CNN this week is going to have a series of programs about Kids and Race, hosted by Anderson Cooper. Race and racism has once again grabbed the headlines in national news, due in part to the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. Cooper and CNN had apparently planned this special, however, before that tragedy focused the nation’s attention on race, having commissioned a study over a year ago in preparation for this program. The show will air nightly the week of April 2 at 8 and 10 pm on CNN.
  • Congratulations to my HHS colleague and fellow blogger, Darshan Thakkar, who just recently published two more books and has another on the way already. One of his blogs, Trends in Multimedia Instruction is included in our blogroll and is of course, recommended reading. His books, Web Based Machine Translation: History, Models, and Lessons for the Secondary Language Classroom and Remembering New Words in a Second Language, are available at the links provided. We look forward to hearing more from Mr. Thakkar in the future, and learning all we can from him.
  • Google is so much more than just a search engine, but many people aren’t even aware of the many other things you can do with it. Our television and media guru, Mr. Brandon, passed along this find called The Comprehensive Guide to Google Free Tools for Teachers and Students, to me, and now I would like to share it with you. Among the many topics covered are how to use Google Sketch Up, Google Reader and Google Scholar. I’m not convinced it is the final word in all things Google, but it is easy to navigate and includes a number of short videos to cover each of the topics. (The author of the site and presentation claims to be a teacher in Canada and a computer enthusiast. I explored his posts for about an hour and have bookmarked it for future use.)
  • Any casual reader of this blog knows how often I turn to TED Talks to share an inspiring or mind blowing video. TED Ed is an offshoot of this great site, aimed at a younger and perhaps less technically inclined audience. It uses more animation and visual aids than the usual “talk”, but I hope that makes it more accessible and fun to watch. In How Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries, Adam Savage (co-host of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters) demonstrates two breakthroughs in thinking that came from simple observations. While the channel is still very young and therefore limited in its collection, the other topics include such interesting titles as “How Containerization Shaped the Modern World” and “Evolution in a Big City”.
  • Serendipitous YouTube Find, Leonel Toromoreno’s Art Studio @ Perkins Academy. I still paint, draw, sketch and doodle to this day because of the huge influence that my uncle, Leonel, had on my childhood. He was an art prodigy if I ever saw one, replicating the paintings of the Renaissance masters using what he could afford; pencil on canvas. I spent hours as a kid dressed in oversized clothing, modeling as a waif for his still life drawings. Today, like so many people in my family, he is an educator, sharing his time and his gifts with the next generation. I was excited to find the video linked above showing off some of the work he’s doing in his classrooms.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something worthwhile.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

Thoughts and thanks

          Hello, again … I’ve missed two three Sunday posts here, and I’ve started writing this entry four different times about four different things, but I feel it’s time to put something up and get back on track. So here is a couple weeks’ worth of thoughts, observations and a link…

          So Halloween was canceled? Or postponed in many communities because of a freak storm that left as many as three quarters of a million people in Massachusetts without electricity. Sure, it’s been great weather ever since, but I was one of those people left without power for a few days, and I have neighbors who didn’t get their power back until more than a week after the storm had passed. My home got its connection back to the civilized world around one in the afternoon on Tuesday, November 1, 2011. As is usual for me, this “event” gave me much to think about and reflect upon. Here are a handful of personal observations:

  • I am woefully under prepared for emergencies: The truth is that I have lived through many events that would qualify as emergencies, such as the the blackout of ’77, the blizzard of ’78, Hurricane Gloria, Y2K, the noreaster of 2004, the financial meltdown of 2008, and so on. While each of these events impacted my life in some small way, each was a relative blip in my emotional landscape. I’ve been really fortunate to have lived four and a half decades of a relatively crisis free life. I’ve never been in the bull’s eye of something like Hurricane Katrina, Chernobyl, Bhopal Gas Leak, the World Trade Center or any other such catastrophes we learn about daily. Perhaps it has been this experience that has led me to be so lax in preparing for real catastrophes. So far, I’ve gotten by okay with just what I have available to me to get by, until things get back to “normal”. If my wife hadn’t sold candles at some point in the past, we wouldn’t have had any in the house. The only flash lights we had were all attached to my oldest son’s “spy gear” toys … night vision goggles, nerf guns with lighted scopes, thumb sized LEDs.
  • Electricity & indoor plumbing are the roots of modern comfort: Sure glass windows are great, and electronic gadgets that we plug into the walls make for awesome forms of entertainment, but the truth is that we really only need lights, heat and water indoors to make for pretty fabulous modern living. I use my computer, television and radio like the media addict that I am, but I didn’t miss them hardly as much as I missed having lights to read a book by, and water to rinse my hands and take a shower. I can, however, learn to live comfortably without most of my appliances. During my years in college and grad school, I didn’t own a TV for seven years. Even today, I’ve never owned a microwave, ipod or a DVR unit. I don’t eat much toast or make much coffee at home. What I do need at home are lights, a refrigerator for food, a stove for cooking, heat in the home, and a working sink, tub and toilet. Everything else is a bonus.
  • I am no longer a city boy at heart: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and while I did have to shovel out my stoop and the sidewalk, I never had to worry about trees or leaves or any sort of yard work. It has been more than ten years now since I bought my first home and I have learned how much work it takes to maintain a house and the property it sits on. Even though I have a lot of land to cover, I really enjoy the time I have just being outside, raking a bunch of leaves, clearing some brush, cutting back a tree. It is hard work and time consuming, and I don’t really do any gardening or beautifying of my place. I don’t wear headphones or listen to music while I work outside. I just listen to the sounds coming from the woods around me, monitor my breathing and lose myself in thought or thoughtlessness.
  • I love my solitude, but recognize my need for others: While I was out there clearing my yard of the debris left by the one day storm, I couldn’t help but feel really lonely at times. Individualism is held in the highest regard in the United States and it is the reason we all want our own homes, our own cars, our own rooms, our own everything. We are not used to sharing, especially when it comes to sharing burdens or responsibilities. I grew up in a house with two younger brothers, two adopted cousins, my maternal grandfather, my paternal grandmother, two uncles and an aunt. Whenever there was something that needed to be done, there was much help to be had. Nowadays, I have to bribe, threaten or trick my eleven year old son to come help me; but once he’s out there, it changes everything.

Quick Hits (In the spirit of thankfulness)

  • Thank you to Ms. Jones, for giving me the idea of being thankful, and for always having a smile and kind word … no matter what.
  • Thank you to Ms. McClain, Ms. Nunez-Donnelly and all their dancers for their wonderful presentation in the LMC for Hispanic Heritage Month. The enthusiasm and eager participation of the audience demonstrated the finest qualities of our student body and left us all feeling really good heading into that weekend.
  • Thank you to Ms. Patturelli and all the guidance counselors for their wonderful effort in organizing and supervising the college fairs held in the LMC during October. It was great to see so many schools visiting HHS and realizing how many opportunities you open for our students through your work.
  • Thank you to all the teachers (too many to name) who continue to use the LMC computer labs and resources, despite several technological set backs. Your patience and understanding in dealing with our technical difficulties proves you always have a plan “B” to fall back on. We’ll continue to work hard to keep our labs in the best condition possible because we believe your students’ time and work matters.
  • Thank you to the building maintenance crew who always comes around to help in a pinch. Your attention to detail makes a huge difference in our work environment. I like the color coded hallways if for nothing else than to break the beige monotony. (Now help me finish painting the mural out side the TV studio).
  • And of course, my biggest “thank you” to Ms. Sicard, for refusing to stop showing up. Thank you for being there day in and day out, bright eyed and fluffy tailed, ready to take on the hordes that come at you before I even step into the building. You are like the NOAA tsunami warning system in the ocean of my job. (Too much Big Bang Theory in the background).

The LINK: As always, I look through TED Talks to find a fascinating speaker. I hope you feel the same way after listening for twenty minutes. Charlie Todd: The shared experience of absurdity (Like we’d know anything about that).

Now this post is done … and I can move on. Thank you for reading, and I hope there are many things you’re thankful for today.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.

Closing thoughts, 2011: “Markers”

               The end of this month marks the third year that I have been posting to this blog. This forum has given me a unique and unparalleled opportunity to exercise one of the skills I treasure most, which is writing. When I am not writing here, I’m writing somewhere else (other blogs, my journal, poetry sites, etc.). But this blog has given a special kind of focus, as I approach each post from the perspective of an educator seeking to share something worthwhile with an audience of teachers and, hopefully, students.

              The end of this year marks the end of what was a rough year for me personally, as many loved ones suffered losses to death. I lost my father-in-law and an uncle. A close friend from college lost his mother, and my best friend since childhood lost his father-in-law. It was an awful year of loss, especially since all four deaths came rather suddenly. None had experienced hospital stays longer than a couple of weeks in the last year, although all four were in various stages of compromised health dealing with conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

              Needless to say, the losses have provided me much to contemplate lately; the meaning of our lives, the marks we leave behind. The funerals have given me an unfortunate reason to reconnect with many people I love, but hadn’t seen in years. Very few looked anything like their Facebook photos. This past year had me dressed in black too often, had me hurting in more ways than one on too many days.

              As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I have been also been dealing with a painful pinched nerve and hope to have that resolved in the New Year. That’s one reason I am looking forward to ushering in 2011. It also marks my eighth year at Haverhill High School, and traditionally we’d give each other a gift of bronze or pottery (it feels like we’re married).

              One thing 2011 doesn’t mark is the start of a new decade. Technically speaking the first decade of the 2000’s ended in 2009, so we’re already moving along in the second decade of this once imaginary future. You have to understand, for those of us who are older than a minute, the year 2000 was the fantastic far off future in our childhoods ….  filled with personal jet packs, flying cars, sentient robot servants and cities on the moon. Needless to say, I am a little disappointed to find myself in the second year of the second decade of the 2000s without any of these predicted goodies.

              2011 does mark the beginning of the first wave of Baby Boomers who turn 65, much to their own dismay and surprise. March 18, 2011, marks the first time the spacecraft Messenger will begin orbiting Mercury for our closest look ever at the hot little planet. The second most populated country, India, will complete it’s 15th census in 2011, giving us a better picture of who the people of this rising nation are. July 10, 2011 will mark Neptune’s first complete orbit around the sun, since it was first discovered in 1846 … that’s 165 years to make one trip around the sun. Sometime in 2011 will be the last flight of the space shuttle, marking the end of an era that began in 1981 with the launch of Columbia. One group believes that the end of the world will happen on October 21, 2011. (In my opinion they should have chosen a cool date that’s also a palindrome like 11/02/2011).

             Of course it’s only 2011 for those of us who use the Gregorian reform calendar. According to the Hebrew calendar it’ll be the year 5771-5772. The Islamic calendar marks the upcoming year as 1432-1433. According to the Byzantine calendar, the world was created on August 31, 5508 BC so this upcoming year is 7,520.

             Regardless of what calendar you use, 2011 will mark the 519th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in Hispaniola, the 404th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 146th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and the 66th anniversary of the end of World War II.

             No matter how we measure it, time is that elusive fourth dimension … simple to experience, but difficult to explain. In my own life, there have been moments that have acted as markers. Some have a special date attached to them like a wedding anniversary or the birth of my children. The majority of my most important experiences, however, are like the memories of a first kiss or a really great meal: vague impressions and flashes that create a story I can retell. Some time next year, the earth will carry me around my starting point for a 44th trip around our marvelous little star. I’m sure I’ll find something to write about, as life continues leaving its mark.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope 2011 is a great year.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

Why our mission matters

               If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I am sorry that I haven’t written in nearly a month. You know how things get as the school year moves along … more work, less time … less sunshine, less energy. Of course we’re all still taking care of family and social obligations as well, thus some times it gets difficult to find something meaningful to write about for this blog.

               Those of you who know me a little better than just as the library guy, also know that I am dealing with a painful medical problem right now; a pinched nerve due to natural degenerative changes in my spine. I share this here and now, for two reasons. First, I’d like to thank EVERYONE … students, staff, faculty … everyone for their patience and understanding during my physical difficulty. It is humbling and wonderful to listen to people recount their personal stories of overcoming pain as I am going through, and to feel in their sharing and advice that they are truly rooting for me. So, thank you again for commiserating with me during these trying times and for offering me all kinds of help, advice and, of course, your understanding.

               Secondly, I mention my medical “adventure” here because it has been quite a learning experience for me, and it has been an experience that epitomizes the importance of living up to the HHS mission statement which reads, “The Mission of Haverhill High School is to produce self-directed learners who read, write, and speak effectively in Standard English and who apply analytical and technological skills to interpret information and problem solve.”  

               What started for me in July of this past summer as a mild discomfort in my right upper thigh and lower back, has turned into an all consuming personal project to understand what is wrong with me and how to fix it. Unlike a cold or a sprain or a cut (familiar physical pests of the past) this new injury demanded that I be not just a good self-directed learner, but an excellent one, as I would discover.

               Throughout the summer and into September, I convinced myself by talking to others who had experienced back pain, that there was nothing unusual about what I was going through. I further solidified my own (incorrect) conclusion by reading articles that only described what I wanted to read – articles about sprained muscles or intermittent flare ups in the sciatic nerve. I learned what the sciatic nerves are and also learned more about how common back injuries are. (An incredible 80% of us will feel back pain at one point or another!)

               Finally, around the middle of October, I admitted that I wasn’t getting any better and reluctantly went to see my doctor. I say reluctantly, because despite my respect for doctors and medicine, I am very much a typical American male … hard-headed to a fault and convinced that I can DIY just about anything.

               This visit (and the others that followed) began a whole other level of learning, as I was examined in a matter of minutes, questioned as to the pain’s origin and intensity, and sent off with my first round of prescription medication. I learned that I was given a muscle relaxer, which I was to take 3 times a day. But I still didn’t know what was wrong with me or how these pills would help. And after such a cursory medical examination with a doctor who barely knew me, I suspected that he wasn’t sure yet either. This is where the second part of our mission statement came into play. I was going to have to “apply analytical and technological skills to interpret information and problem solve”. This was very important to me, since we were talking about my physical health, after all.

               With my prescription in hand, and the internet fired up, I was able to find reliable and accurate information about what I was about to put into my body. I turned to sites such as the Mayo Clinic, the National Institute of Health and WebMD to find out what the side effects and long term dangers of using the medications was. It’s not that I didn’t trust my doctor (ok maybe a little), it’s that I knew that my doctor did not know me, and hadn’t spent enough time with me to learn about my injury. 

               So I learned in succession about cyclobenzaprine, tramadol, nabumetone and methylprednisolone as each was prescribed to me after little more than an office visit and a talk. None of the medications appealed to me as I read about how they worked, what they were supposed to do and what side effects I might expect. Plus … no one had told me yet, exactly what was wrong with me.

               Thus, I struggled along, using OTC medications very sparingly, since analgesics such as aspirin can act as a blood thinner, and ibuprofen and acetometaphine tend to upset my stomach. Long story, short, is that I went back to my doctor, then had an X-Ray which showed I had some natural changes. Then came an MRI which showed some curious things around my L5 and S1. Finally came a visit to a neurologist, which ended in a epidural steroid injection, which hurt like crazy and didn’t help my pain. All during this time, I turned to the internet and to friends and family members who are medical professionals, to learn more about each procedure and to better understand all the terminology that was being used around me. 

               What could you see on an X-ray? How are MRIs useful to spot diseases or other dangers? What was an S1 and why was it making my life so miserable? How would the spinal injection alleviate the pain I was feeling shooting down my leg? Certainly my doctor did answer the questions I posed to him, but I had so many that he wouldn’t have time to answer them all. In the end, what has left me feeling most optimistic and empowered is that I can use my communication skills effectively to ask the right questions. I also feel confident that with all the data & information available to me, that I can apply my strong reasoning and technology skills to solve the problems that I am facing.

               Life-long learners do not have to be told to use what they can to help themselves. If we can deliver the Mission of HHS to produce self-directed learners, our students will not feel powerless in the face of the difficult obstacles they will certainly face in their lives. During this, the holiday season, isn’t that the greatest gift we give?

Thank you for stopping by and have a great weekend. 

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.