Explaining Our Book Orders

               We’re finally starting to get some of our book orders in, and that’s always a happy time in the LMC. I don’t care how great technology gets, you’re never going to convince me that your electronic version of the book “feels” the same as the bound set of pages loaded with static text in my hand. I know the words are what we’re really after; that it’s the ideas that matter. But form also matters in this case. Perhaps I sound a bit defensive; a bit like the scroll makers at the sight of the first books. All I know for sure is that I’ve always carried something to read with me, and I’ve never needed batteries or a plug.

               So, how do we decide what to use our valuable (and shrinking) book funds for*? Many of our book orders are recommendations from teachers and students, along with our own choice titles. We pay close attention to the conversations we hear all around us, so that if there’s an interest in a title or a writer, we make sure they find their way onto our shelves (That explains how Potter, Twilight, Da Vinci Code, and many others arrived). We also recognize where our collection is lacking, and try to improve those weaknesses. Needless to say, this is not an easy or simple task, trying to consider and balance all of the resource needs for a school as large and diverse as Haverhill High School.

               Thrown into the mix, of course, there are my own biases combined with my educational philosophy. There’s no sense in having this much power (to fill the shelves with ideas) and not trying to shape it in some meaningful way. Looking through the book orders, it should be clear that I have an agenda, and here is some of it, along with examples of books I ordered for our collection.


  • Expand notions of “literacy”: I openly admit that I loved reading comic books as a kid. Even now, a good graphic novel or a cartoon in Mad magazine can be just as satisfying as a text only book or a magazine article. Nowadays, many educators are finally beginning to rediscover that there is more than one way to tell a story. We’ve been expanding our graphic novel collection for years now. Among our current collection you’ll find titles such as Maus I & II, Citizen 13660, Yossel, and Persepolis. We’ve also just received graphic novel adaptations of two classics; Fahrenheit 451 and Darwin’s Origin of Species.



  • Promote non-fiction and pro-science reading: I fell in love with reading primarily through fiction but by the time I was in high school, I was reading much more non-fiction. I still love a good novel, but if I can choose a book about the history of pencils or rats or heartburn or the color peach instead, I do. Fortunately, there are many capable and entertaining writers telling all kinds of fascinating stories about the world. Recent arrivals include The Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage, Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, Language and the Internet by David Crystal and Snake Oil Science by Barker Bausell.


  • Support AP students and courses: One thing that was lacking when I first started working here were study materials for students to check out. Our collection did not have any test prep material for students taking AP courses or preparing for the PSAT, SAT or ACT. With competition for college entrance getting tougher every year, we felt it necessary to develop a collection of these books. We try to order 4 or 5 test review books in the various AP subjects, keep one for the library and pass the rest along to the classroom teachers.


  • Continue sharing TED Talks: This isn’t at all about the book orders, but about great free online videos. I’ve known about this site for at least a couple of years, and I am always amazed that I can still find some new fascinating talk, told in a different way, in under twenty minutes. This time, I found an animated talk titled, “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty”.

That’s all for now. Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something interesting.

* There is a formal selection process outlined in the LMC information and policy handbook.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.

The World Wide Web as Interactive Learning Tool

[Editor’s note: The staff writer forgot that last post he promised to write this week about why subscription databases like Big Chalk E-Library are better for academic research than the general Internet … that post is still coming]

               I love checking out the on-line resources that teachers use when they come into the LMC, so that I can share them with the rest of the school. Most times, teachers talk with me about those websites, but sometimes we either forget to share or are too busy during the period to have a discussion. Even when we don’t talk, however, I do take notice of the kinds of interactive sites that teachers are incorporating into their lesson plans. Here is a small collection of some good sites I’ve seen teachers using, and others I’ve found myself.

              Interactive Writing Resources: I believe Ms. Sullivan first introduced me to the Read Write Think.Org site. I saw her students using Essay Organizer recently in the LMC and it reminded me that there are other tools at this site to help students organize their writing and research assignments. This site is dependable as it is hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English.

               Interactive Math Resources: I don’t recall which math teacher recommended I visit The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics website (sorry), but it is a great site with a number of on-line activities and lesson plans for grades k-12. The NCTM’s Illuminations site is not only for math teachers as some of the calculators and graphing tools lend themselves to lessons in other subjects, such as science, social studies and art.

               Interactive Geography Resources: I’ve always loved maps, but like most Americans I’m not a geography whiz. I know much of the obvious information; the continents and oceans, important mountain ranges, rivers and deserts. I can name the fifty states of my country, but not their capitols (any longer). I can identify all the countries south of my homeland, but don’t really know all the provinces (territories?) that make up Canada. It’s a good thing there are some great places online to brush up on these skills. Here are three worth checking out.

  • United States History Maps: These offerings from Annenberg Media are full of challenging and interesting maps that chronicle the history of the United States. Some maps focus on the natural landmarks of the country, while others are about Native American tribes and the history of settlement and expansion.
  • Games at Sporcle: I’ve mentioned this little site before, and while there are many games/ quizzes that are rather silly (Kate Winslet Oscar Nominations? The Lost Quiz?) a few allow you to brush up on the names of the U.S. States, Countries of Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, and the U.S. Presidents  (Warren G. Harding and Rutherford B. Hayes, why do I always forget one or the other?)

               Interactive Biology Resources: I’ve seen biology classes on various sites learning about DNA, chromosomes, and heredity. Not too long ago, Ms. Willwerth’s classes used PBS’ DNA Workshop to explore replication and protein synthesis. One of my favorite finds is the Dolan DNA Learning Center website. According to the website’s information, part of their mission, “is to prepare students and families to thrive in the gene age.” Its many interactive offerings range in difficulty, and the resources I sampled were well designed for a novice scientist such as myself.

               Interactive Chemistry Resources: I know that many textbooks nowadays come with discs and access to on-line activities that supplement the book. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to explore any of these electronic resources, yet. Instead I offer three activities that I found interesting. Please remember that I am a chemistry tyro.

  • Match the element to its symbol. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Sure many elements reveal their hand with their unimaginitive abbreviations, but there are some tricky ones (I’m looking at you Potassium (K) and there are A LOT of elements.
  • It’s Elemental is a “game” that challenges you to pick the correct coefficient to balance chemical equations. You can choose up to fifteen equations to challenge yourself and the difficulty ranges from beginner to advanced. (I didn’t explore beyond beginner because I got three right in a row and wanted to feel like a winner.)
  • Interactive Periodic Table. I know that there are many of these out there, and I have seen and used quite a few. I found this one from the American Chemical Society (ACS) easy to use and recommend that you explore its features. I’m pretty sure it’s very good because it comes from the ACS and there was a lot of information I didn’t really understand.

               Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something worth using in your classroom if you’re a teacher . If you’re a curious student, I hope you explore the many links for yourself. Have a safe and great Super Bowl Sunday and I’ll see you all tomorrow.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.