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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

On Freedom of Speech

Because of student protests at Rutgers, Condoleezza Rice recently withdrew as commencement speaker. Something similar happened at Smith College where Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, was scheduled to give the commencement address. Now I happen to be a graduate of Smith, where I learned that our founders guaranteed freedom of speech in the First Amendment.  Read More 
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Writing For Kids Or Anyone

I‘d been a business reporter and editorial writer for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk when I decided to leave daily journalism to write a U.S. history for young adults. That was after I read an academic study that compared student’s comprehension of writing by journalists (this case Time magazine writers) with their comprehension of the same events as written in standard textbooks. Comprehension was 40% higher with the journalists. I understood that right away. If you’re a journalist and your writing is obtuse, or dull, you’re not likely to keep your job. in  Read More 
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This New Era

Just before 1600, a Polish priest named Copernicus figured out that the Sun was the center of what then seemed the universe. You know that story and how it impacted a charismatic professor in Italy named Galileo.
It would take about two hundred years before most people and most authorities could accept the scientific proofs showing that Earth circles the Sun and not vice versa. When that happened we began embracing what is now known as the Scientific Revolution. It initiated a paradigm change in human thought.
Something as big as that revolution is occurring right now. I believe our time will be seen as the end of one era of thought and the beginning of a whole new one. We, as teachers, need to be aware of what’s going on.  Read More 
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Using History to Teach Reading and Thinking

While I was writing A History of US I began trying out chapters and then books in schools in Virginia, in Rochester, in Chicago, and in San Diego. Teachers gave me feedback. Students gave me comments. I listened. I wrote a coordinated workbook to go with the text. Its focus was on history a sa reading subject, one that links all the disciplines together. So it included information on geology, on art, on anything I found interesting. There were original stories and pertinent math problems, along with essay tests. One teacher wanted more conventional work and suggested fill-in-the-blanks and true/false questions. I provided, adding ideas for historic research intended to lead to papers or student written performances or art. Getting the books published was hard, adding innovative classwork was going too far. But I’m aware of fresh educational winds. Schoolwork can now be fun, as well as challenging. Boring should not be in anyone’s learning vocabulary.  Read More 
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Frozen History

From this week's Science Magazine:
"The warming climate has spurred a miniboom in archaeology, as melting alpine ice releases a trove of exquisitely preserved artifacts. Frozen for millennia, clothing and leather are intact and supple; Stone Age arrowheads still bear the resin used to haft them. In Norway this summer, archaeologists and glaciologists scoured the edges of melting ice patches, using a helicopter to reach remote mountainous sites. In less than a month, they found nearly 400 objects, ranging from a complete horse skull to a Viking walking stick and Stone Age arrows, as well as still-pungent piles of ancient reindeer and horse dung. The haul makes Norway ground zero for ice melt archaeology today, but in the past 20 years rising temperatures have exposed frozen artifacts worldwide, including Ötzi, the Stone Age mummy discovered in the Alps in 1991. Archaeologists are working to build a specialty from these frozen finds, with papers, conferences, and a new journal that debuts in November. The discoveries encompass a wide swath of Europe's history, from the time of hunter-gatherers to that of medieval travelers on skis. In the short term, the priority is to rescue fragile artifacts quickly. But already, researchers are beginning to use them to understand how people in the icy parts of the globe dealt with past climate change."  Read More 
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From London

Friends at home tell us of terrible weather, here in the UK the sun is shining. My husband and I lugged raincoats and umbrellas, we haven't used them. Daffodils, camellias, and other spring flowers are blooming in pots and boxes on railings and doorsteps.. Today we visited Samuel Johnson at his handsome 17th century home, with tall windows, gleaming woodwork, and an entry garden.  Read More 
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"Unbiased" is Tricky. Fairness is Key.

I sit alone in a home office-which overlooks a pond and trees and Colorado mountains, so I’m not complaining—but I don’t have as much contact with my readers as I used to have, and I often wonder how they are reacting to what I write.

So I was delighted with two emails I got this week.

One described my books as “unbiased.” Which is nice to hear, except that I, as a writer, know there is no such thing as an unbiased book. Even those dreadfully dull textbooks (which aren’t written by real authors, mostly they are put together by editorial ghosts) are the product of choices. No one can tell it all, so by necessity we bring our backgrounds and our purpose into whatever we write.  Read More 
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