Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Clippings: 7.29.09

The seemingly moribund newspaper industry is saving space by cutting puzzles.

Speaking of which, baseball writer Joe Posnanski has a great blog on the future of newspapers.

In the latest edition of The Reading Teacher, Lisa Zawilinski makes a case for student blogging in elementary classrooms.

UCLA's slang dictionary makes me feel like a "didiot." Perhaps I'm just getting old.

Get in the Game - Read!! is a great compendium of sports books for kids.

And Deborah Ruf argues that gifted children learn to read much differently than others.

(Photo by Flickr user Gord McKenna. Thanks!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cross Words: Striae


[strahy-ee] noun 1. slight or narrow furrows, ridges, stripes, or streaks, esp. many in parallel arrangement: striae of muscle fiber. (Plural form of stria. See page for unadulterated definition.)

Etymology: From classical Latin stria, meaning "furrow, channel, flute of column." The etymology seems to be a bit complicated, and I would encourage you to check it out for yourself.

Found in Fearsomely Frightful Crosswords from The New York Times. Puzzle #102. "Narrow grooves."

(Photo by Flickr user Roger Smith. Thanks, Roger!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cross Words: Rime


[rahym] noun 1. Frost. "An opaque coating of tiny, white, granular ice particles, caused by the rapid freezing of supercooled water droplets on impact with an object." ( verb 1. to cover with rime.

Etymology: doesn't tell us much, but my trusty Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th Ed.) traces the word back to OE hrinan, meaning "to touch." Cool.

(Photo by Flickr user scottshephard, who is also my dad.)

New Feature: Cross Words

I have become addicted to crossword puzzles. I am supposed to be doing classwork, planning a wedding, and paying attention to my fiance, but the only thing that seems to interest me these days is putting letters in little boxes.

In order to justify this behavior, I thought I should highlight crossword puzzles' vocabulary-building power. So, I am starting a new series called Cross Words. These will be posts highlighting words that I learned while attempting to solve these infernal little puzzles. They will include links to and, two essential vocabulary-building websites.

Entry #1, jape, can be found below. Enjoy!

(Photo by Flickr user Jessie Whittle. Thanks, Jessie!)

Cross Words: Jape


[jeyp] verb 1. to joke; jest 2. to play tricks. 3. to make fun of, mock (now rare). noun 1. a joke or jest. ( page)

Etymology: Possibly from O.Fr japer, meaning "to howl."

(Photo By Flickr user patries71, CC)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kindersite: Kid-Friendly Educational Links

Nick Peachey recommended yesterday on his fantastic blog, so I thought I'd poke around a little bit. I did something similar with a month ago.

Kindersite's stated mission is twofold: first, the proprietors want to provide a portal to safe, educational content for children ages 2-8; second, they want to provide data to facilitate research on how children use such online content and how it affects their learning.

The first thing I find is a growing database of nursery rhymes in various languages. They have lyrics in the original language and in English. You can listen to some of them in mp3 form, and some of them have videos. I found myself a bit mesmerized by this Greek lullaby:

After a couple of dead ends, I find "Pictures as Words," a game from PBS's Sagwa the Chinese Siamese Cat page. This is a PBS series based on Amy Tan's childrens book of the same name. The game is very simple and would be a good way to introduce students to the idea that other alphabets are quite different (and perhaps more intuitive) than ours. Here's what it looks like:

Finally, I browse through Kindersite's treasure trove of story links. I end up having a story read to me about Mr. Happy and Mr. Stubborn, two characters created by Roger Hargreaves. This is a pretty exciting moment for me, as I had completely forgotten these books. Turns out there is now an animated Mr. Men series on Cartoon Network with a fun, kid-friendly website.

As you can see, my time on Kindersite led me to a lot of other places. Although I think their interface is a bit clunky, the proprietors of Kindersite are living up to the first part of their mission. Parents can feel completely secure turning their kids loose on this site. They will find a few time-wasters, to be sure, but they will be kid-friendly. A little more digging will turn up some serious educational gems. Happy hunting!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Reviews: "A Whole New Mind" and "A Short History of Nearly Everything"

Six months ago, I attended the TIES conference in Minneapolis with my dad. There were a number of things we were eager to see, but none more than the keynote address by Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind. We heard him argue, as he does in the book, that the kind of abilities that society values are beginning to change. He lists six aptitudes, or "senses," that will become essential as this change occurs: Design, Symphony, Empathy, Play, Meaning, and Story.

Story, of course, is most pertinent to the denizens of Literacy Log. I found Pink's discussion of the importance of story useful when I spoke to a literacy class at Hamline University in St. Paul recently, and I thought I would extend that discussion to this blog.

I used this quote from A Whole New Mind to summarize the societal shift Pink sees, and why it makes Story more important than ever:
What's unsurprising today would have seemed preposterous just fifteen years ago: an English-speaking thirteen-year-old in Zaire who's connected to the Internet can find the current temperature in Brussels or the closing price of IBM stock or the name of Winston Churchill's second finance minister as quickly and easily as the head librarian at Cambridge University. That's glorious. But it has enormous consequences for how we work and live. When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact (p. 102).

I am reminded of my former life as a high school debater. Every August, before the season began, our team piled into two school vans and made the five-hour trip to the University of Minnesota Library to conduct research. We spent three days photocopying thousands of pages of books and magazines. We then took them back to our room at the school and spent days with scissors and glue sticks in hand, compiling briefs on various aspects of the research topic.

Today, this kind of effort seems absurd. What fifteen of us could accomplish with a ten-hour round trip and weeks of cutting is now the easy task of two or three students with laptop computers. This kind of shift has taken place across our entire economy, and especially in those activities that require the retrieval and use of information.

At Hamline, I was speaking to a room full of Math and Science teachers who were learning about teaching literacy in their classrooms. I used Pink's view of things to stress the importance of Story in Math and Science. These are not the only subjects that tend to place undue value on the memorization of facts. As the world changes, workers will not just have to retrieve information; they will have to convey it as well. Teachers in all disciplines must nurture the storytellers in their students.

In search of an example of the power of Story in Math and Science, I remembered a brilliant book by Bill Bryson called A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson, of course, is a well-known teller of travel stories. Here, he strays from his home genre into the history of science.

I must note that I have spent my entire academic life avoiding science. I have thought of myself as a student of the humanities, greatful that others found the workings of the physical universe interesting enough to study. And so I was surprised to find myself absolutely enthralled by A Short History. Bryson's brings his considerable storytelling talent to bear on the people and events that shaped our understanding of the world, and the result is the most unexpected page-turner I have ever stumbled upon.

To demonstrate what Bryson accomplishes with this book, and to exemplify the shift from a knowledge-based economy to one that values Story, I turned to the book's discussion of the Richter Scale.

Students in Science classes encounter the Richter scale in this form:

(Technical Difficulties: Please click the picture to see it more clearly. And thanks to

The average student will attend to this chart only to the extent necessary for regurgitation on a quiz or test. And yet most instruction I recieved about the Richter Scale revolved around a chart such as this. Compare this knowledge-based tool to the story told by Bryson on page 211. It is too long to quote in its entirety, but I will share a bit with you and let you read the rest on your own.

The Richter scale has always been widely misunderstood by non-scientists, though perhaps a little less so now than in its early days when visitors to Richter's office often asked to see his celebrated scale, thinking it was some kind of machine. The scale is of course more an idea than an object, an arbitrary measure of Earth's tremblings based on surface measuremnts. It rises exponentially, so that a 7.3 quake is fifty times more powerful than a 6.3 earthquake and 2,500 times more powerful than a 5.3 earthquake.

Bryson spends the next few paragraphs telling stories about earthquakes of different levels of magnitude. He culminates with this one, on 212:

For pure, focused, devastation, however, probably the most intense earthquake in recorded history was one that struck - and essentially shook to pieces - Lisbon, Portugal, on All Saints Day (November 1), 1755. Just before ten in the morning, the city was hit by a sudden sideways lurch now estimated at magnitude 9.0 and shaken ferociously for seven full minutes. The convulsive force was so great that the water rushed out of the city's harbor and returned in a wave fifty feet high, adding to the destruction. When at last the motion ceased, survivors enjoyed just three minutes of calm before a second shock came, only slightly less severe than the first. A third and final schock followed two hours later. At the end of it all, sixty thousand people were dead and virtually every building for miles reduced to rubble. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, for comparison, measured an estimated 7.8 on the Richter scale and lasted less than thirty seconds.
For a student like me, this description would lead to a better conception of the Richter Scale than any amount of hours staring at that chart. That is why I love A Short History of Nearly Everything and would recommended to anyone who wants to take an alternate route to an understanding of science. In addition, I think that Mr. Bryson provides a powerful example of the importance of Story in disciplines such as Math and Science. Some students have a natural affinity for such subjects, but others find them intimidating or dull. The excerpt above could catalyze an interest in Seismology or an understanding of magnitude in a student who might have forgotten the facts once the test was completed.

When I mentioned Bryson's book, a few of the science teachers in the room nodded their heads in approval. Any teacher of science will find it a great resource, and I defy the casual reader to find it anything less than engrossing. Likewise, I believe that A Whole New Mind has a lot to tell us about how the world is changing and how we should change what we teach accordingly.