instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Blogging On History, Science, and Education

A History of US, a "new" timely take on US history

We've been looking at some of our American heroes and finding flaws. Jefferson, who promised his dying wife he'd never remarry made a young slave his concubine. Was he a victim of the time? Our children all understand that classic excuse for bad action, "Well, everyone else was doing it." But some Americans got it right.  A History of US has tried to include some of them.  Read about William Johnson who married a Native American woman and treated her publicly as his wife (she happened to be amazing). Johnson was a key figure in his time. He won a major battle during the French and Indian War. You could argue that there mgiht not be a United States if that battle had been lost. So why isn't he in most books? Read his story on page 25 of "From Colonies to Country" and answer that for yourself.

A very rich Virginian, a contemporary of Jefferson and Washington,freed all his slaves because his beleif in God told him to do so--and got written out of most history books. You can read about him on page 142 in "The New Nation."

Post a comment

On Reading As Exploration

I was a beginning teacher in a very old inner-city Baltimore school.
One day, wandering in the school's basement, I pushed an unlocked door and saw books, mountains of books, that may have been undisturbed for decades. After blowing dust from a stack of old readers I lugged them to my classroom. I suggested that my students pretend to be time explorers. "Let's try these books and see what school was like for your grandparents," I said, not knowing how they would respond. They began reading.
One of the stories was John Ruskin's 'King of the Golden River." First published in 1841 in England it became a Victorian classic. It's a tale of good and evil on a mountain where amazing things happen. (To reassure you: good wins out.) The author used very big words; the characters were outrageous. The tale seemed to come from another world, which we all thought appropriate for a make believe story. My students loved it.
After that I discarded our reading text and made copies of some of my favorite reading fare. We read (and loved) T.S. Eliot's poems about cats; all agreeing that Macavity the Mystery Catwas the best of the litter. We never went back to the assigned commercial reading text. The basement books and library books (chosen individually and shared) kept us occupied. A supervisor encouraged: she was happy to have us reading and writing. We wrote stories and published a class literary journal that was placed in the library. We were proud.


Post a comment

Why We Need to Rethink Science Education

Schools like to have authors talk to their students and, as someone who writes books for the ten and up crowd, I often oblige. So there I was in a well-regarded Montgomery County school, talking to bright middle schoolers, when I asked a question.
'What is gravity?" I asked.
The answer was immediate and in unison, 'It's a force."
I gasped. We've known for 100 years that gravity is not a force.
Before that we were wed to Isaac Newton's gravity.  Newton not only said that gravity is a force that acts at a distance and instantaneously, he gave us an easy formula to measure gravity. That formula works…at Earth speeds and in most instances we encounter here on Earth. But Newton knew he didn't have it right. In a letter he sent to the Reverend Richard Bentley, he called gravity an "absurdity" and asked that Bentley "not ascribe gravity to me."
In his words: "That gravity should be innate inherent & {essential} to matter so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else by … which their action or force {may} be conveyed from one to another is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters any competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it." Umm, really? That was Isaac Newton?
Yes, there is a problem with gravity that Newton couldn't figure out. Nor could the amazing Galileo. All objects in a gravitational field fall at the same rate. Can that be explained? Albert Einstein managed that 100 years ago when he came up with General Relativity, which is a theory of gravity. Not an easy one. An explanation usually starts with a stretched rubber sheet dented by a bowling ball. The sheet is time and space (or four-dimensional spacetime). The sun is the bowling ball. Gravity is a response to the dent. (Roll a marble on the dented sheet, where does it go and why?)
Can this be explained to middle schoolers? My experience tells me yes, but teachers need to understand the science first.  And, mostly, we've taken the easy route in science education. The new national science standards don't even try, they call gravity a "force."
I came home from my classroom experience and made some calls. I found that some schools in the DC area get it right. The ones I found were independent schools. As a believer in the importance of public school that was disturbing.
I looked at the NGSS. There was gravity—as a force.
I talked to a science teacher with impressive credentials about the new science standards. She said she has seen many new science teaching efforts. "They get a lot of hype, but never seem to lead to real change."
Juliana Texley, a former NSTA president, and my personal candidate for "best educator of the century" says the new standards are an improvement over what we had, which I didn't read as passionate enthusiasm.
A master California teacher told me the same thing.
But David Evans, the very personable chief of NSTA, was passionate when discussing the new standards. He sees them revitalizing science instruction. NSTA has already produced manuals and books aligned to the standards. So have the major textbook companies and others who will cash in on the change of standards.
What's to do? Maybe it is time for the scientific community to pay more attention to what and how we teach science in our schools. Right now we do a pretty good job of providing skills for future scientists. As for science's big ideas and its big stories? Mostly, aside from our scientists, we have an educated population that is scientifically illiterate. The NGSS may help a bit, but mostly it is the same approach to science instruction wearing a new dress. Ask your neighbor, or yourself, "Why isn't gravity a force and if you don't know, you might want to watch the PBS special narrated by Brian Greene on gravity and special relativity.

Post a comment

Why We Need to teach reading with History and Science

Narrative non-fiction (that means stories about real people and real events) is the reading form of our time. This is the information age. Non-fiction is what we adults choose to read most often. We all love a good novel once in a while, but  nonfiction is reality. So why, after 3nd grade, do we continue to mostly teach reading with make believe stories? Real stories, about real people are what grip middle school children and all of us. Some first graders really believe rabbits can talk (an innocence to be cherished), but the 10 year olds that I know are amazingly well-informed--and interested in the real world and its stories.

In a classroom test, where AHistoryofUS replaced the reading text, reading scores rose 10% and more.

Post a comment

WashPost Education Writer Jay Matthews

Here's a link to Jay Matthew's WashPost article on my work in history and science.

The point of the article: NGSS (the new science standards) are a step forward, but they aren't enough. We need to tell our kids science's stories.



Post a comment

Michael Dirda on "Best Christmas Ever: A wrap-up of interesting titles to find under the tree

Michael Dirda, who is just about everyone's favorite book critic, cites "The Story of Science" and "A History of US" in a Christmas book list published in the Washington Post on November 29th. It's a great list that includes books you may not know; if Dirda recommends them they are worth pursuing. One that sounds especially intriguing is "The Writer's Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands"  with essays by Philip Pullman and others. Another is "For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon," editd by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. I'm awed to be in this exciting company. Dirda calls "The Story of Science" an exhilerating three-volume survey...

Post a comment

How to Protect American Children From Americans With Guns: Have More Guns?

A notice from a Denver Jewish organization:

Beginning on Monday, November 5, the Entrance  will remain locked throughout the day and will not be accessible, even to those who ordinarily enter using their FOB. You will need to enter the building via the Main Entrance ...

In addition, beginning on Monday, we will have a security guard present with our precious children during their playtime on the front playground.


How and why have we allowed American gun zealots to turn us into an armed state and threaten "our precious children" and all of us?


Post a comment

Jay Matthews in the Oct. 11th Washington Post

"The following statement is not a joke: Many writing classes discourage much writing. The nonprofit Education Trust found that only 9 percent of 1,876 literacy assignments in six urban middle schools asked students to write more than a single paragraph."


Matthew writes of Will Fitzhugh, who publishes the Concord Review, all written by high school students, and who says this, "Sadly, English teachers don't have time to handle lengthy researched essays. They cringe at what Fitzhugh calls his Page Per Year Plan: a five-page paper in fifth grade, adding a page each year until everyone does a 12-page paper in 12th grade. He wants students to address issues they have read about, maybe even tackling a nonfiction book or two, very rare in schools."


My experience tells me that writing in schools often means writing about "your inner feelings," or writing fiction. That's tough for most kids. Writing narrative nonfiction is a whole lot easier and it teaches important research skills. Besides, narrative nonficiton is the art form of our information-centered times.

Post a comment

A Map of this New Land Is Worth Pounds

A 1499 map of the new world turned up recently in a rolled-up parchment in the UK's National Archives. Included were details on a reward William Weston received from King Henry VII for drawing the map. That was in 1500, just a year after England sent its first British-led expedition to "Terra Nova" (the so-called New World).


The reward (30 British pounds sterling) was hefty.  William Weston was a Bristol merchant who traveled on the 1499 voyage.  That sum of money was the equivalent of about six years' salary for a laborer. King Henry VII must have been pleased. The map would help with later British claims to discovery of the New World.


In 2018 explorers at the National Archive discovered the parchment detailing Weston's payment. They had to use ultraviolet light to see what the text said.

Post a comment

What are We?

We think of ourselves as living in a democracy and we do, sort of. Actually ours is a republic. Yes, it is a government "of the people, for the people, by the people," which is a definition of democracy. But we are not a pure democracy. We have representatives (congressmen and women) who vote for us. In a republic a constitution or bill of rights protects basic rights--they cannot be taken away, even by a majority of voters.  Read More 
Post a comment

On Making Book Choices

I was an early reader. The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and a big book of myths got me started. And then I read a small book that changed everything. It made me realize that books can get to your inmost thoughts; they can deal with serious life issues. The book that I found dazzling, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, is an American classic, but filled with tough words and a theme, adultery, that no one would suggest for an elementary schoolgirl. I found it on a shelf in my house and began reading. Read More 
Post a comment

Finding Political Integrity

John McCain was running for president when an audience member said that his opponent, Barack Obama, couldn't be trusted because he was an "Arab." McCain said, "No ma'am, he's a decent family man that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign is all about."

Meanwhile our nation was built on the notion that "All men are created equal." Are we in the process of throwing that heroic concept away? And can we find more politicians of McCain's fiber? Read More 
Post a comment

Teaching Charlottesville

Greg Toppo of USA Today asked a teacher at Hawaii's Punahou School and this author about how to teach students about the current political turmoil. Here's a link to his article:
Post a comment

The Pope Comments

Pope Francis, in his first encyclical letter, Evangelii Gaudium, said these words that seem especially pertinent today:

People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that “responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation”. . .  Read More 
Post a comment

We're in the same boat, brother

Way back in the 1960s, a singer named Leadbelly, who inspired a young Bob Dylan, sang this about the politics of his time. It remains pertinent today:

We're all in the same boat, brother
And if you shake one end
You're going to rock the other
It's the same boat brother.
Post a comment

A Blow for Teacher Learning

A few years ago I visited a superb public elementary school in Ohio. It was innovative, it was teacher and student run. Fifth graders were studying Latin to enhance their English language skills. They were reading about the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were reading Virgil and Ovid (yes, 5th graders, many from lowincome homes. How did that happen? Two teachers got NEH grants that allowed them to attend a university summer school where they studied great literature. They came back energized. A terrific principal backed them up. Contact your congressperson. We need the liberal arts for all children. We need the National Endowment for the Arts, We need the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Read More 
Post a comment

A New Look at American History

A public notice was defaced at Denver University last week. It was a poster about the national movement, "Black Lives Matter." The university called a general meeting; I attended and heard student response. The theme of that response: ENOUGH. This needs to stop.
As a historian who writes about American history it made me think. We've been teaching an upbeat history to our children, which is age appropriate but often not balanced. I'm doing some thinking. We need to learn more about the less than wonderful parts of our past. I plan to do some revising.  Read More 
Post a comment

Race Relations? Where We Got it Right

Wm Johnson. Do you know him? Well Great Britain might not have won the French and Indian War without him--which means we might all be speaking French now. He was celebrated as a great hero in Europe and knighted by the king. What happened in America? Well, Johnson was married (happily) to a Native American woman who was terrific herself. They controlled the fur trade and became very rich. You'll find him in "From Colonies to Country." Mostly he's been written out of our history because he broke the mores of his time. He judged people by what they were, not by their skin color or ethnicity.
Then there is Robert Carter III. A contemporary of TJ and GW he had more slaves than the two of them combined. He freed them all, for all the right reasons. That action got him dropped from our history. But you can read about him in "The New Nation," and also in the ebook, "Free To Believe, Or Not."  Read More 
Post a comment

What Teachers Do

"We cannot make life perfect. What I believe we can do instead is make life a little less terrible and a little less unjust in each generation."
Karl Popper, in a speech to the Institut des Arts, Brussels, 1949
Post a comment

Why Study History?

"When students and school boards ask, 'Why history? What are we supposed to be getting out of this?' The best answer is still that one word: judgment. We demand it of all professionals: doctors, lawyers, chefs, and quarterbacks. And we need it most in the profession of citizen, which, like it or not, exercise it for not, we are all born into."

That quote is from Paul Gagnon, a history professor at UMass (who died in 2005). His words are increasingly relevant, especially in this country, as we become increasingly diverse. Paul and I talked of writing a world history together. I was to do the ancient world, he would begin with the Renaissance. Wish it could have happened. Paul's memory is honored in a history prize given by the NCHE. As for my take on why history? It makes you think and gives you something to think about.  Read More 
Post a comment

A Great Teacher is A Great Artist

John Steinbeck wrote this in 1955, "I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit." This quote appeared in a larger article written by J.Wilson McKenny editor of the California Teachers Association Journal. In that article McKenny discussed Steinbeck's life, especially his ideas on education.  Read More 
Post a comment

Digesting The ABC's

The Civil War was finally over and the Raleigh, North Carolina Tri-Weekly Standard was now informing its readers about food, instead of war deaths. Here's part of an article from 1867:
"The latest culinary novelty is alphabetical soup. Instead of the usual cylindric and star shaped morsels of macaroni which have hitherto given body to our broth, the letters of the alphabet have been substituted. These letters of paste preserve their forms in passing through the pot."  Read More 
Post a comment

The Power of A Great Teacher

I left high school sure of one thing: I was through with American history. I'd memorized and forgotten the presidents' names more than once. And none of them, except maybe Abe Lincoln, had done anything that I found interesting.
European history wasn't much better, but at least it had princes and princesses and knights in armor, although they seemed irrelevant in the modern world. Given a choice, I made sure my college freshman year was history-free.
And then a friend told me I should take a course given by a professor named David Donald.  Read More 
Post a comment

Wall St Journal Book Review on Science Writing

"The finest accounts of science feature a vivid authorial presence and the narrative flow of a good mystery. They allow readers an insider's perspective, an over-the-shoulder glimpse of discovery and the heartache of experimental failure." says physics professor Alan Hirshfeld, who happens to be a terrific writer. Of course I agree.
Post a comment

Great Reading Makes You Think

Just finished a remarkable book, "In The Light Of What We Know," by Zia Haider Rahman (not to be confused with "The Light We Cannot See," another epic novel). Rahman is from Bangladesh, but educated at Oxford and Yale. He attempts a kind of War and Peace grand sweep novel of ideas. He's not entirely successful, at times the book is dense. He could have used a great editor. But among the ideas: British culture which has dominated the world for centuries is now facing the rest of the world's peoples who are ready to take a place at an expanded world table. There's no way we of the West can stop these emerging peoples. Should we want to? How we handle the next decade will determine a lot about the future.  Read More 
Post a comment

NYTimes Front Page Anti-gun Editorial

Finally, in a strong front page editorial (the first front pager since the 1920s) the NY Times speaks out on gun violence and the indecencies that make weapons of war easily available to almost anyone who wants them.

"It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that people can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill with brutal speed and efficiency. . .America's elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killings..." says the Times.

Enough. Let's stop electing those who enable our home-grown gun terrorists.  Read More 
Post a comment

Life : Early on Earth, Perhaps Elsewhere

Life may have existed on Earth almost from its birth, possibly before the forming of the Moon. That changes much, including the possibility of life elsewhere. We now believe it is likely. Study done at UCLA is a Wow.
Post a comment

Ed Workers Who Don't Teach

Most of us know of the incredibly generous gift of one hundred million dollars given by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to the city of Newark. The intent was to improve its schools. That money is now all gone and nothing much happened to the schools. “How would you have spent the money?” a student asked educators at a recent community meeting. No one had an answer for him. But one did pose a question, Read More 
Post a comment

Does Technology Make Kids Smarter?

Computers do not noticeably improve school pupils' academic results and can even hamper performance, says an OECD report that looked at the impact of technology in classrooms across the globe.

While almost three quarters of pupils in the countries surveyed used computers at schools, the report by the the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and  Read More 
Post a comment

NSTA, Reno, biology

I’m now writing two books on biology. The field is exciting beyond anything I’d imagined. Today’s biologists are trying to figure out the origin of life. Theirs are tales of wonder. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to tell some of their stories. I’ll be speaking at the National Science Teachers Association 2015 Area Conference in Reno, October 22-24. Science and literacy will be the focus. So come and join the fun. And, yes, there will be sessions on the Next Generation Science Standards, along with STEM and STEAM. Check out: http;//  Read More 
Post a comment

An Upside to A Computer Hacking

My computer got hacked today by someone from the Philippine Islands. I hope no one took it seriously. I don't think so. And there was an upbeat side to it. Got phone calls from: Canada, London, Vermont, Nevada, Texas, and more. It turned out to be a day of connecting with friends who care.
It also got me thinking about the Philippines. It just happens that I've been reading about King Philip II, who ruled and put his name on those Pacific islands. A blue-eyed fellow with a jutting Hapsburg chin (lots of inbreeding among royals) he was king of Spain, eventually Portugal, ruler of The Netherlands, and for a short time while married to Queen Mary, King of England. When Mary died he sent a letter of proposal to Elizabeth. She never answered. Maybe he was annoyed by that rejection, whatever, he sent a huge impressive fleet, an armada, to prepare for Spain's invasion of the island nation. Things didn't work out as he expected.  Read More 
Post a comment

Teaching With The Game

In "The Game Believes in You," Greg Toppo, the education writer for USA Today looks at videos games as a way to revolutionize learning, and maybe our schools too. We all know kids who spend hours immersed in those games, a pursuit that often takes intense concentration as well as brain power. Why not use games as a way to teach problem solving and school content? As Toppo shows, some schools are doing just that. And some game designers are coming up with games that challenge and inform. This exciting book took me into a world I hadn't considered. It's upbeat and encouraging. Read More 
Post a comment

Reading Reality

When my grandson was four he had a favorite book. It was all about birds: bird wings, bird beaks, bird tails, with pictures of a whole lot of birds, big and small. My daughter, his mom, complained: "If I have to read that bird book one more time I may explode!" That grandson, who loved books about the real, finally discovered fiction and poetry in high school when a great English teacher led him to delve deep. The point: we often neglect nonfiction in our schools, assuming that children prefer made up stories. In this Information Age those who are fascinated by the real world may be telling us something. Many of them happen to be boys.  Read More 
Post a comment

Reading About the Real World in English Class?

The books usually assigned in language arts classes--novels--don't prepare students to read with understanding about the world they inhabit. Yes, like everyone else I love a good novel. But nonfiction can be just as gripping. This year's "Boys In the Boat," is a page turner and a true story.
What about nonfiction that deals with physics or history? It can not only be compelling, it can lead to understandings of the world we inhabit. Good nonfiction is enthralling and, knowing that your are reading a true story? Well that just adds frosting to the reading cake.
 Read More 
Post a comment

Writing is the Flip Side of Reading

I often get emails asking how to teach with my books. There are great coordinated teaching materials, I highly recommend them. But when I was a teacher I always had my students publish books which ended up in the school library. The students were the authors of chapters that demanded research, writing, and revising. We did local history, science stories, family history--I let them figure out a theme.  Read More 
Post a comment

American Slavery: It’s Demographics New Book With Statistics

Why study history? Among other things: it provides grounding on which to build ideas. Here’s a statistic you may not know: Of those captured in Africa who became victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, fewer than 4% ended up in North America. Most were taken to South America, Mexico, or the Caribbean Islands, say  Read More 
Post a comment

Genetics and biology for readers like me

As an investigative reporter I usually got to pick my subjects and then it was up to me to do something with them. As an author I've been doing the same thing: writing about subjects that I want to know more about. First it was American history, then physics, now it is biology. Each time, it has seemed as if I'd fallen down Alice's rabbit hole into a world of fascinations. Right now, it's genetics and evolutionary biology that have me in their thrall. I'm convinced that reading (and then writing) about serious subjects is a key to breaking the literacy glitch in some of our schools. Who wants to read easy stuff? Read More 
Post a comment

Scandal in LA Schools

See: LAEP NewsBlast 9.3.14, It' tells the story of what amounts to insider trading in school materials and technology. This, an iceberg's tip, is a story that, with variations is pertinent to schools across the country. School materials are costly, adoptions are ripe for exploitation. The system as we have it doesn't work. Our schools are filled with expensive books and programs that have failed our children. Why? Because of the big money involved. Can the system be fixed? Easily. Just stop the one-publisher-provides all huge adoptions. Why can't each teacher in a school district chose his/her own materials from an approved list?  Read More 
Post a comment

Summer Reading

Mostly I read nonfiction, for two reasons: it's essential for the work I do. And I like reading about the real world. But once in a while I wander. This summer I've dined on a smorgasbord of books. Most recently a terrific novel by Anthony Doerr, "The Light You Cannot See." It's a World War II tale and, no question, novels at their best heighten and help explain the real world. This does both. For those of you teaching WWII, I especially recommend it.  Read More 
Post a comment

Reading Scores? It's Time to Ask the Students

A front page article in today’s Denver Post says that “Colorado students in 2014 took slight steps backward on the small academic gains made on standardized tests in recent years, part of a long-term trend of flat scores. . .” Umm, you bet. We’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. Teaching reading with expensive textbooks that no one would choose to read.  Read More 
Post a comment

ReTeach for America

Every year thousands of teachers retire. Among them are some of our most qualified and most successful professionals. Let’s bring them back and use them as swat teams that go into classrooms and share their expertise. I propose a new organization: ReTeach for America.
Post a comment

Page turner, The Boys in the Boat

If we want reading scores to rise, maybe we should let our children read exciting books, not test-oriented commercial textbooks. Here's a book I recommend for L.A. and history classes: "The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics." It's the inspiring true story of young men who worked hard and achieved , it should send students researching those Olympics, WWII, and more.  Read More 
Post a comment

Good Intentions, Terrible Legacy

Edward Thorndike, who died in 1949 after a long career as chief of Teachers College, Columbia, was in his time one of America's most influential educators. He believed that learning ability is determined by "inborn personal factors." Thorndike asked why we should waste time training Jews and Negroes the same way we do others ..."we cannot expect different races to have the same capabilities." Thorndike was a believer in eugenics.  Read More 
Post a comment

Is Understanding Paragraphs Enough?

The new vogue in reading instruction is all about paragraph analysis. Many current reading programs focus on paragraphs that students are expected to read and analyze. Before they get started students may be given vocabulary words they will need to know. Having read the paragraph there are metaphors to identify and understand, key words to note, word pictures and syntax to identify, and more.  Read More 
Post a comment

The Importance of Science for Everyone

I read an Isaac Asimov quote this morning, and it seemed right on. Asimov was a popularizer of science, something I also attempt. While some of his books are dated and a bit out of fashion, mostly they are terrific. Here's the quote. It's from his "New Guide to Science."  Read More 
Post a comment

A Yank in the UK

They say that travel is broadening, and I did gain weight on a recent trip to the UK. Maybe it was the breakfast pastries, or the teatime scones. Whatever, I indulged. London has become a foodie city, with interesting street fare and some very sophisticated restaurants. The chef at Ottolenghi, a restaurant of the moment, is from Israel and does wonderfully imaginative things with fresh vegetables and meats.  Read More 
Post a comment

Choosing Blindly: The Challenge of Textbook Selection

In 1964, renowned physicist Richard Feynman was asked to serve on the California Curriculum Commission to help pick new science textbooks. Feynman, a Nobel prizewinner, lived in California and his children attended public schools, so he agreed to serve on the commission. Soon, 300 pounds of textbooks were delivered to his door. He installed 17 feet of shelving, began reading, and went through each of the submitted textbooks: the only one on the adoption committee to do so.  Read More 
Post a comment

Science and History as Reading Subjects

I loved writing A History of US, and I’m being blown away by my ongoing foray into science., but in the name of full disclosure, I see myself as a reading teacher.
I have Information Age reading and thinking on my mind as I write and I see both history and science as the best way I know to approach the teaching of reading—analytical mind-blowing reading. The kind of reading our 21st century students need to master.  Read More 
Post a comment

Speaking In St. Louis With Help From William James

I'm sitting in front of my computer, thinking about what I will say as a featured speaker at the 98th (!) annual meeting of NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies). My friend William James is helping me focus. (No, I'm not quite old enough to have known him, but I think of writers I  Read More 
Post a comment

Pleasure Reading "significantly" Increases School Performance

"The University of London’s Institute of Education Children has released a study showing that reading for pleasure can “significantly” improve a child’s school performance.
"Most dramatically, the researchers ruled that “reading for pleasure was found to be more important for children’s cognitive development between ages 10 and 16 than their parents’ level of education.”  Read More 
Post a comment

Teaching With My Books

A teacher reader asks me how I would teach with my books. I told her there is no one way to teach. I see the author as a partner with teachers who are free to try whatever approach works for them and their students.
That wasn’t a good enough answer for my questioner: “ But I was wondering if you had a certain idea or image in your mind, as you were writing, of how you would use them if you were teaching with them.”  Read More 
Post a comment

Hooray for Napa Valley

Pat Alexander, director of education at the Napa Valley Museum (in California), leads a project called “Museum In the Classroom” that she is rightfully proud of . It brings schoolchildren into the museum and follows through with projects that involve reading, writing, history and the arts.  Read More 
Post a comment

Textbooks, Reading Scores? Is there a correlation?

Reading scores have plummeted again? Is anyone surprised? Let me tell you a personal story. Twenty-five years ago, disturbed by declining SAT scores and what I was seeing as a parent, a teacher, and a journalist, I decided to write a history book for young readers. As I wrote I did something that seemed logical, I gave manuscript to children and asked them to be my editors. (I turned it into a job and actually paid them.) After all, they were my potential readers.  Read More 
Post a comment

History as an Intellectual (Idea-centered) Discipline

You’ve heard about history, it’s that dull subject that is all names and dates. Umm, avoiding that scenario (David McCullough has called it the “punishment” of textbooks) isn’t difficult. You just focus on people and ideas. That’s what Colonial Williamsburg does in a small book titled, “The Idea of America.” Intended for high school students, it zeroes in on the ideas and values that “shaped our republic and hold the key to our future,” clearly delineating key ideas and conflicts that keep appearing on our national landscape.  Read More 
Post a comment

Great Teaching

Great teachers are national treasures; they change lives. They aren’t paid what they should be, but there are rewards. They and those they impact (children, parents, and often the greater community) usually appreciate what they do. And their students will remember them for the rest of their lives. Christopher Naze and Jim Bentley are two teachers who rank among the greats. Both teach in elementary schools.  Read More 
Post a comment

Good Writing Means Good Thinking

Christopher Naze, at Capitol Hill Elementary in Portland, OR, is doing something incredibly important: he is teaching children to think critically and write eloquently. Recently I got a manila envelope with letters from his students. What amazed me was that each letter was unique and thoughtful and neat and without errors. I’m posting one of those letters to the right, but somewhat reluctantly. All the letters are worth posting, so I apologize to the other students. What’s important is the gift of writing and thinking that you were given this year.  Read More 
Post a comment

Partners in Learning: Teachers, Students, and an Author

An email this morning asks for scope and sequence materials for "Einstein Adds A New Dimension." Umm, there aren't any. There is a fantastic coordinated teacher guide and activity book written by NSTA President-elect Juliana Texley and available as an ebook on the NSTA website. It's free to members, $9.95 to others. Here's the link if you need it: (I think it is great.)  Read More 
Post a comment

A Book for Summer Reading

My grandson, Casey Hakim, soon to enter 5th grade, recommends a book titled, "Here Be Monsters!" Written and illustrated by Alan Snow, it is subtitled: "An adventure involving magic, trolls, and other creatures." It was first published in Great Britain by Oxford University Press, who happen to be the publishers of "A History of US" (in England known as "A History of Them").  Read More 
Post a comment

Why Do We Teach?

As all teachers know, the focus in the early grades is on teaching basic learning skills. About fourth grade, a switch begins. It’s concrete knowledge that starts to take over. By college that’s what learning seems to be all about: piling more and more information into the brain.  Read More 
Post a comment

Two Wonderful Writers

A friend asked me to recommend some books for her classroom. Instead I decided to recommend two authors, both wrote a while ago, but good writing doesn’t go out of style. Jean Fritz is the first author. She wrote about American history before I tried, and her work was and is an inspiration.  Read More 
Post a comment

Citizenship First

Should citizenship education be an important part of the curriculum in our schools? Robert Pondiscio, who has been a fifth grade teacher and a vice president of Core Knowledge, makes a case for it in the current Atlantic Magazine. He has a simple proposal: by 2026, the 250th birthday of this country, every graduate of an American school should know enough about our nation, its history and its civic traditions, to pass the test required for those who apply for U.S. citizenship.  Read More 
Post a comment

Writing Reality

My email inbox has been reverberating with missives about the Common Core curriculum. Some fit in a “hooray” box, others predict the end of literature in schools. I’m in a wait-and-see mode. Common Core curricula encourage nonfiction reading. I write narrative nonfiction. More than that, I see it as the literary form of the Information Age. But will good nonfiction make it into classrooms? Ah, there’s the rub. Today most school nonfiction is delivered in boring textbook prose.  Read More 
Post a comment

Young Nonfiction Readers

Like almost everyone else, I love a good novel; the great ones provoke ideas and images that stick. But typically I read nonfiction, as do most Americans. In this increasingly complex world, it helps clarify and explain. Perhaps that’s why we have some incredible authors writing nonfiction; it’s the literary form of this Information Age.  Read More 
Post a comment

Daily Writing

For years I would advise young people that after graduation, in whatever discipline, they take a year and work at a daily newspaper. Work habits on a newspaper are unlike anything else I knew.
I was lucky to be part of what I now see as American journalism's golden age. Working on a daily newspaper, back when they were great institutions (Norfolk's Virginian Pilot was one of them), meant meeting relentless deadlines. No fudging, no excuses allowed, the paper is coming out tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (to borrow a phrase). Being an editorial writer was tougher than anything I'd done before, or did after. The "editor" was uncompromising, he was responsible for the editorial page and to goof was to reflect on him and to provoke rage that sent one of my colleagues to the men's room to throw up. I goofed a few times, I still shudder thinking of his reaction.  Read More 
Post a comment

Why History? Why Science?

“Why become a historian when there is nothing left to write about?” It’s a refrain I’ve heard more than once when I talk to school students. Another goes like this: “Why be a scientist? Hasn’t everything that can be discovered been discovered?” I think of it as the born-too-late syndrome. It’s not new. And it’s not just children who fall into its trap.  Read More 
Post a comment

Why Aren't Textbooks Page Turners?

The Brookings Institute has said that the materials we give children to read are as important as the teacher. That may be overstating things, but even in the worse inner-city environments, some children, given good books will learn. We don't give them enthralling textbooks. Then we wonder why they don't want to read.
How can we solve the problem? Eliminate adoptions where everyone in a city reads the same book. Those adoptions are windfalls for a few publishers who, even if intentions are good, won't try anything innovative when the stakes are huge.  Read More 
Post a comment

Educating A Scientist

Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Now we all probably agree with that, but I lived with Albert for almost ten years so I know he expected his thoughts to be questioned. I fell for the guy—as did quite a few women of his time—but I think that he was being a bit disingenuous with that statement.  Read More 
Post a comment

Jury Duty

Like most people who get a jury summons I had mixed feelings when mine arrived last week. Yes, trial by jury is a foundation of our democratic system of government. I know that it is my civic duty to take part in the system. But last week I also knew that I’d probably spend a lot of time waiting in a jury room and then I might be dismissed. I’m trying to finish a book; could I put up with the frustration that usually comes with anything bureaucratic?  Read More 
Post a comment

History vs Hogwash

A dedicated 5th grade teacher wrote to me recently about the way she teaches:

In social studies we focus on essential questions such as, “What makes a good leader?” Or, “What has stayed the same throughout history, and what has changed?” We never study the Civil War as a topic, but we do study civil war and use many examples, including our own, to understand the concept. . .otherwise they would simply walk away with dates, names, and answers to dreadful end-of-chapter questions.  Read More 
Post a comment

VA's Textbook Muck

The Washington Post reported on October 20th that a Virginia social studies textbook, purchased widely in that state, is not only something less than scholarly, it seems to have been written to push an agenda. According to an article by Kevin Sieff, “A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders says that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War — a claim rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery’s role as a cause of the conflict.”  Read More 
Post a comment

How We Learn--and Remember--Best

University of Washington microbiologist and brain theorist John J. Medina spoke to a group of educators in Denver recently.

He described the way the brain stores information, which got me thinking about the way schools work. According to Medina, most information that we learn needs to be revisited within a two-hour window, or it is lost. If the goal is to take knowledge from our fluid memory banks and put it into long-term memory storage, that isn’t likely to happen unless the information gets repeated-usually more than once.  Read More 
Post a comment

Test Scores and Teaching Methods

The test scores keep rolling in: Reading scores stay “flat” as the gap between rich and poor becomes a chasm. In science we rank somewhere in the middle of the international scene, gazing wistfully at places like Singapore and Finland where students excel in math and physics. Are their kids smarter than ours? Are their teachers more skilled? I don’t think so. But I do think we are off-course in some of our teaching methods.  Read More 
Post a comment

Teacher Jim Bentley on the Importance of Civic Education

Because of what I do, I meet great teachers. They are the ones who come to conferences and booksignings, who seek out a writer. California’s Jim Bentley is one of those great ones. He teaches fifth grade and, in addition to having his students read history, he has them actively participate in civic activities.

I asked him some questions recently and, as I expected, he gave me much to think about.

What is the proper role of civic education in America?

Here are Jim’s words:  Read More 
Post a comment

When I Go Into a Classroom...

When I go into a classroom, in order to get a dialogue going, I usually ask an uncomplicated question or two. Here’s one I’ve tried a few times: ”When did Christopher Columbus arrive in the Americas?” I ask. At first I was astonished when no one knew the answer to that question. Now I’m no longer surprised.

But I am disturbed, for several reasons. Yes, it makes clear the historical illiteracy of our time. But there is something else. It points to the rejection of memorization as a tool of teaching.  Read More 
Post a comment

American Society of Microbiologists Conference

Last week 8,000 microbiologists gathered under one roof (a big one) in San Diego. I was with them at an annual convention, carrying a 350-page schedule of events. Thumbing through that monster catalogue I found sessions with titles like this: Use of Luminescent Trypanosomes to Explore the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Chagas Disease and African Sleeping Sickness.  Read More 
Post a comment

Test Scores

The test scores keep rolling in: Reading scores stay “flat” as the gap between rich and poor becomes a chasm. In science we rank somewhere in the middle of the international scene, gazing wistfully at places like Singapore and Finland where students excel in math and physics. Are their kids smarter than ours? Are their teachers more skilled? I don’t think so. But I do think we are off-course in some of our teaching methods.  Read More 
Post a comment

Story-Based Books: Nothing New, Yet Innovative

I’m trying to upset the educational apple cart with, of all things, information-packed books. In an age of easy twitter-talk, solid absorbing reading may be the real balancing innovation. Traditionally, the best way to pass on information, and make it stick, has been through stories. (Read educational psychologist Kieran Egan to learn of the power of stories.)  Read More 
Post a comment

For the Love of Reading

A review in the NY Times of a new edition of “Wind in the Willows” reminded me that my older son (now in his 40ties) loved that book. His younger brother (now in his 30ties) refused to read it. When I asked him why, he said, “It’s a schoolbook.”

In the decade between them, schools around the country had introduced new reading series. They contained lots of great authors–all presented in bits and pieces. The younger boy had read a single chapter, out of context, from Wind In the Willows. It had become a schoolbook, not a story to cherish, or remember, or read.  Read More 
Post a comment

Book for all Ages--Really!

A school principal sent an email asking a question. Here’s our exchange:

Dear Joy Hakim,

I am sure you get this question a lot but I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer (or I am not looking at the right source!). We’ve been using your History of US books in 4th and 5th grades at our school. . . We purchased the first books a long time ago, when your series was first featured on NPR. We have loved your approach to telling the story of our history in an authentic and dramatic narrative. Now, the teacher who teaches it feels we were in error using it with our 4th/5th graders and that the series was written for middle and high schoolers. I disagree as I recall hearing it was designed for elementary and middle school students, but online there is mixed info.  Read More 
Post a comment

The Early Days: Encountering the Textbook Crisis

It was about twenty years ago. I was a newspaper reporter sent to Richmond to attend a special meeting called by the Virginia State School Board. Someone on the board had looked at the literature book most used in Virginia high schools. It contained “Romeo and Juliet.” That seemed a reasonable choice. But a board member who knew the play well discovered that whenever Shakespeare used a difficult or arcane word the publisher changed it, without noting in the text that a change had been made.  Read More 
Post a comment

Prizewinning Teacher

A few days ago, Nancie Atwell from Edgecomb, Maine, was awarded a million dollars in Dubai in what is being called the Nobel Prize in Teaching. How do you pick the best teacher in the world? Of course you can’t, but after reading Atwell’s book," The Reading Zone," I’m adding my vote to her total. In essence, Atwell says if you want children to read and learn to love reading, surround them with good books, then let them pick the ones they want to read. She explains how she goes from that beginning to produce skilled avid readers. For a start she creates a reading zone in her classroom where there is silent concentration: everyone is reading. If a student should pick a book that he or she doesn't like, they aren't forced to finish it. She has lots more to say, all worth reading. Her students read, on average, 30 to 40 books a year. As to the prize. Hooray. It's time we celebrate our great teachers. We have many of them. We need to make it easy for them to exchange ideas.  Read More 
Post a comment

In the Name of Education: Cutting Social Studies? Science?

Front page headline in the Sunday Denver Post on Feb 8 says: "State Educators May Lower bar: New graduation guidelines could mean axing science and social studies." The story: two yeas ago Colorado's education leaders instituted a new set of graduation requirements for Colorado students. Things haven't working out. The Post says, "Bottom line: If approved by the Board of Education this spring, graduating from high school in Colorado will be easier than [it was] two years ago." Forty years ago, when Denver had a bigger school population than it has today, the school administration headquarters was an open-to-the-public two story building. Now it's a nine story bastion, mostly closed to teachers and citizens. While we bash teachers and their unions, it's the growing education bureaucracy, not the majority of our teachers or our children, who seem to have been failing us.  Read More 
Post a comment

Preparation for Learning: Missing Out

When Sonia Sotomayer's Princeton roommate mentioned Alice in Wonderland, the future Supreme Court justice was lost. She'd never heard of Alice. Her roommate told her it was a children's classic. Here's what Sotomayer says in her autobiography,
"I recognized at that moment that there were likely to be many other children’s classics that had not read … Before I went home that summer, I asked her to give me a list of some of the books she thought were children’s classics, and she gave me a long list and I spent the summer reading them.
"That was perhaps the starkest moment of my understanding that there was a world I had missed, of things that I didn’t know anything about … " As teachers, are we aware of the depth of the cultural divide? What can we do to help students who have missed out? E.D. Hirsch and Core Knowledge have one answer, are there others?  Read More 
Post a comment

Why Not Read About the Real World?

Here's an excerpt form E.D. Hirsch, Jr's book, The Knowledge Deficit that is pertinent in today's Common Core debate:
"For many years the great reading researcher Jeanne Chall complained that the selections offered in language arts classes did not provide students with the knowledge and language experiences they need for general competence in reading...far too much time was being spent on trivial, ephemeral fictions and far too little on diverse nonfictional genres [e.g. history]... little has changed. Most current programs still assume that language arts is predominantly about “literature,” which is conceived as poems and fictional stories, often trivial ones...Stories are indeed the best vehicles for teaching young children—an idea that was ancient when Plato asserted it in Republic. But stories are not necessarily the same things as ephemeral fictions. Many an excellent story is told about real people and events, and even stories that are fictional take much of their worth from the nonfiction truths about the world that they convey.
"The association of language arts mainly with fiction and poetry is an accident of recent intellectual history that is not inherent in the nature of things. Older American texts that were designed to teach reading, such as the McGuffey Readers, contained moral tales and historical narratives as well as fictional stories (not that we should go back to the McGuffey Readers, which have many shortcomings). Ideally, a good language arts program in the early grades will contain not only fiction and poetry but also narratives about the real worlds of nature and history. Ideally, such a program will fit in with and reinforce a well-planned overall curriculum in history, science, and the arts.  Read More 
Post a comment

American History: What Do We Teach our Children?

Should we have elected or appointed school boards? Common sense says elect them. But track records say appointed boards usually (but not always) perform better. I live in Denver right next to Jefferson County where a recent election brought new members to the school board; along with some already on the board they created an ultra-conservative majority--with an agenda. They fired the superintendent who, by most measures, had outstanding achievements. Then they decided to change AP history instruction making it more patriotic by teaching "respect for authority" and by eliminating the teaching of civil disobedience. Some teachers called in sick in protest. Then school students got involved, staying out of school and marching. The Denver Post called it "A lesson in civics." The College Board sided with the students saying they would not give course credit to less than factual history. The Post's editorial page editor, Vincent Carroll, wrote, "History is not a morality tale. It does not exist to make us feel good or bad, although it often does both... let's keep the politics--left and right--from tainting its presentation." By the way, Thomas Jefferson, for whom Jefferson County is named, once wrote, "Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself." Read More 
Post a comment

It's About Money

Those on the bottom rungs of the money ladder often eat fast food, which leads to those national scourges: obesity and diabetes. We who know better and can afford it have wild salmon and fresh vegetables for dinner. Something like that is happening at our schools: in the tony suburbs and at elite independents, children read whole books, often classics, good books that appeal to young readers. If they are lucky, they do research projects and write papers. In many inner-city schools, especially where there are big adoptions, it is endless paragraph analysis. Sometimes there are lesson plans that attack a subject through snippet reading and mind-numbing test-prep questions. A whole nonfiction book? No time for that. Which means no time for big ideas. Boring. You bet. Our children know that. Something else: no one makes big money selling those classic books that we know work. So...  Read More 
Post a comment

History and Social Studies Supporting Each Other?

The history/social studies wars have impacted learning mightily says Kieran Egan in a book titled, "Children's Minds, Talking Rabbits & Clockwork Oranges." If you can only read one ed book this year, I suggest this one published in 1999. Egan says the dominating social studies curriculum is flawed, then he explains why, and also why we should return to a curriculum that focuses on concrete knowledge. My thoughts: history is conveyed in stories, an approach that works with readers (of all ages). Social studies is about forming attitudes: tricky, hard to find agreement on, and...usually boring. History is about what has happened in this world of ours. As a ten-year-old said to me, "Knowing history makes you smart."
Can educators come together on this? If we can get past the terminology, yes. Good history is broad and inclusive, it doesn't just focus on political events. In the parlance of the time, good history is BIG.  Read More 
Post a comment

A Comment from my Lawyer Brother

If one defines corruption broadly to include acts by public officials to be taken for purposes other than in the public interest (e.g., for political or personal purposes) and to include acts by private individuals and companies that corrupt public officials for the private gain of those individuals and companies, we see currently an extremely high level of corruption throughout our society. This corruption threatens our democracy, our society and all manner of things we are concerned with, including our education system. What you describe in the textbook field is an example of the corruption of the part of the education system where the power and influence of monied publishers dominates the selection process; these are acts not in the public interest, but in the interest of publishers' profits. Sadly, the media is generally supportive of the powerful, rich, Establishment interests which control the decision making. It is not at all clear whether the level of corruption at present is simply a cyclical phenomenon or a more worrisome indication of an ultimate decline from a peak in the American experiment. Read More 
Post a comment

Lessons from Homeschoolers

Speaking at a homeschoolers conference recently I was asked in the Q and A, “Do mainstream educators take homeschooling seriously? Do they know what we accomplish?” Thinking about that question, I believe the answer is “no.” Which is too bad, homeschoolers have a lot to teach us.

It’s not a path for everyone. To be successful at it you need some teacher genes, you need to be dedicated, and you need the luxury of available time. But I believe those who do it well are offering their children an education that may be without peer.  Read More 
Post a comment

History boring? No way, says WW

Woodrow Wilson, a member of a famous committee of ten charged to look at America’s schools in 1892, suggested that all high school students--whether college bound or not--study four years of history because--in the words of the committee--it best promotes “the invaluable mental power which we call judgment.”  Read More 
Post a comment

To Teach Critical Thinking Try History and It's Choices

History hones the mind. It is a discipline that asks questions that can’t always be answered. Considering some of those questions makes for the kinds of discussions that energize children--and all of us. There is that central paradox in U.S. history. How could we have had slavery in the land of the free? Mostly our books are terribly simplistic and moralistic on that. Slavery was evil. Period. Of course it was evil--but a lot of slave-owners were not bad people. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were not evil. Why would they do something they knew was wrong? Children need information to wrestle with that thought.  Read More 
Post a comment

What Does An American Look Like?

A few years ago I was in Athens, Greece and saw a bunch of children—little girls in starched dresses with bows, and boys with neat shirts and pants—walking into a big building. Of course I followed them and was soon in the principal’s office. Her English was better than my Greek and we made ourselves understood. Then she sent me to an English language class of fourth graders.  Read More 
Post a comment

Literacy wins, History Loses, says An Education Week Headline

Seems that “literacy” programs are being funded, but history programs are not in the latest federal budget. But literacy doesn’t win when history loses. Few subjects are better suited for teaching critical reading than history. A discipline that gives you people, ideas, and stories, it demands research and thinking and writing. We hardly each it in the early grades, and our children have paid a price for that.  Read More 
Post a comment

A Friend Reminds Me of the Instructive Power of Stories

Signing books isn't easy. I always want to write something clever, or pertinent, or worth thinking about, but I’m not very good at it. So, recently, when my friend Lee Kravitz signed his book "Unfinished Business" for me, I was impressed by his personal comment. He said I was “opening people up to the instructive power of story.”  Read More 
Post a comment

Science Standards Not Good Enough

“The average person’s body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 is human.” That sentence made the front page of the October 11th Washington Post. And, yes, most of your cells and mine are not the familiar nuclear cells diagrammed in textbooks. Rather, they are microbial cells—bacteria and archaea--that pass on their information buddy to buddy, in a process called horizontal gene transfer. We are just beginning to understand the implications of that process and of the role those 90 trillion microbial cells play in your life drama. “We’re seeing an unprecedented rate of discovery. Everywhere we look, microbes seem to be involved,” says a Colorado University scientist quoted in the Post. Microbiology is today’s revolutionary science; the excitement in the field is palpable. The American Society of Microbiologists now has 38,000 members.
After reading the Washington Post article I decided to see if any of that excitement is conveyed in the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 science education, a document intended to lead to another, which will frame a common core science curriculum for states to use. The assumption is that this well-intentioned blue ribbon committee-effort will change science education in this country and make our children able to compete in a global economy.
I read the 300 page NRC document to see if that is likely. Does it describe good science? Good pedagogy?
In the section on biology bacteria and viruses are mentioned briefly, but archaea not at all. That’s out of date science. Archaea are one of the three forms of life, known as domains, broadly accepted as the base of the evolutionary bush. (At the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, t-shirts for kids now come with the three-branched bush of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryota.)  Read More 
Post a comment

Talented Teacher Corps

This is about three of my educator friends. The first became a teacher of the year. When a supervisor asked this middle school whiz if she would consider teaching a class made up of the lowest achievers from several schools in her district, she said “yes.” A year later the reading comprehension scores of students in that class were up more than 10 percent. After that the district used her as a teacher/trainer. She retired last year.
The second educator, in her fifties, already has 25 years of teaching experience. A reading expert who works in grades 1 and 2, she has long been considered an exemplary teacher. Her district is changing retirement benefits; if she doesn’t retire at the end of the academic year she will lose substantial income. She can’t afford that.
Teacher three had a distinguished career as a high school social studies teacher in Los Angeles where, among other things, she directed a 3-year government funded teacher enrichment program. She retired two years ago.
All three of my friends are aching to be active in education. And schools need them. So here’s my suggestion: an organization called “ReTeach for America” that would cull its members from the best recent teacher retirees. They could be used as swat teams to train new teachers or they might spend time in schools that need help. Teach for America brings eager, young, inexperienced teachers into classrooms. A core of experienced teachers in Reteach for America could help them transition into career educators.  Read More 
Post a comment

NAEP: Providing Proof of Education Insanity

I challenge anyone to think of a nation that works as hard as we do to find silver linings in its educational failures. On Tuesday morning NAEP reported that, in the course of two years, our nation's 4th and 8th graders improved a single point (on a 500-point scale) in three of four reading and math assessments, and flatlined on the fourth. If you look at figures plotting NAEP scores over the last 30 years, any upward slope in the data is nearly undetectable to the naked eye. Analysts have spent the last few days slicing and dicing this data and making unconvincing arguments that some positive trends can be detected.

But the reality is that these results are appalling—particularly if you consider the massive federal funding increases, intense reform debates, and the incessant promises of new technologies that have dominated the education discussion for nearly two decades. We have spent a great deal and worked very hard but gotten unimpressive results. And this is in reading and math where, to the detriment of so many other core subjects, we've aimed nearly all of our firepower.  Read More 
Post a comment

Encouraging Rebellion

An email today is titled, "Lessons schools can learn from business." I find its content frustrating. NCLB is a business-oriented approach to schooling and hardly anyone is pleased with it. All over the country, lawyers and businesspeople are becoming superintendents. Mostly their record is one of failure. It's teachers who understand the problems and the solutions. But very few are speaking out in state and national forums. If schools are to find their place in this new century, if they are to be all we want them to be, no one can lead the way like experienced teachers. It's time for the real experts in the field to speak up and take charge.  Read More 
Post a comment

Science as Storytelling

Here the link to a web post:

It's about education researchers in Australia who are testing to see if storytelling enhances science comprehension and interest. Umm, they don't have to test. Just ask me and some of the teachers I've seen this summer. Of course. Everyone likes stories, they are the classic way to teach. A story cements details in the mind. It's hard for me to understand how we got away from this method of teaching and why we replaced stories with litanies of facts.Science as Storytelling.  Read More 
Post a comment

Letters From An Oregon School

Getting letters from readers is always a treat. They used to come in handwritten classroom batches, now mostly I get individual emails. I’m not sure what that says about today’s teaching, but there seems to be less time for a writing-to-the-author exercise. So, yesterday, when I got a manila envelope filled with letters from Christopher Naze’s fifth grade in Portland, Oregon, I read them all with delight.
Here’s one of them:  Read More 
Post a comment