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The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America
The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America
by Heather Won Tesoriero
Heather Won Tesoriero spent a year in Andy Bramante’s science research classroom. Andy, a former analytic chemist, left the corporate world to become a teacher, to make a difference. He and his students are award-winning, and The Class gives an in-depth look, not at what he does in his classroom as a model for cookie cutter programs across the nation, but at the teacher Andy and how he cares about his students and helps them be independent, creative thinkers in science and in their personal lives.
Andy’s students have to apply to be in his class which is centered around independent research and participation in multiple science fairs. Success in the science fairs can result in prize monies and affect college admissions. Along the way, the students learn advanced science (often in multiple fields), self-discipline, how to use professional scientific instrumentation, research methodology, and presentation skills.
The students in The Class live in tony and highly competitive Greenwich, Connecticut. Most would be considered nerds and most, but certainly not all, are from upper-class families. Many are children of immigrants and those parents are highly motivated to see their children succeed. Many of these very intelligent teenagers are also talented in other areas such as athletics and music. They will all go to good colleges.
The Class is formatted according to the school year with chapters about various students and Andy as they move through the seasons. We read of the students’ personal struggles as teenagers as well as their attempts to find a topic for research and bring their project to fruition. It doesn’t take long to become engaged in their struggles and begin to root for a good outcome.
This book has widespread appeal partly because the author seems to be invested in the subjects of her writing and makes them come to life. I learned a lot about the current world of college admissions. I must admit that the science involved in many of the projects was beyond the scope of my science background, but was explained well. I recommend The Class and wish Andy and his students well in their future endeavors.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Ballantine) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Nonfiction (Adult), Science
Notes: 1. Some casual swearing throughout the book by both teacher and students.
2. The author made several snide slurs about the current presidency. Those remarks seem unnecessary and politically motivated. They are supposed to reflect conversations she heard, but they certainly seemed couched in her language, especially a disparaging comment about the First Lady. A writer selects what to share from the many words and events that pass before her. I think in this case she should have asked herself two questions as she put pen to paper: Is it necessary to tell my story? Is it kind?
Publication: September 4, 2018—Random House (Ballantine)
Andy would have it no other way. To him, the whole reason he got into the teaching business was to work side by side with kids, to develop the relationships and let the science unfurl in all of its glorious unpredictability.
“All day, we’re telling the kids, do this, read this, use this—and if you don’t, you fail. They need a space where it’s okay to fail.” —Nancy Shwartz, Cos Cob school librarian and creator of Maker Space, a place at her school where creativity is prized
“We’ve moved from education, teaching people how to think, to training, teaching people how to bark on time. And highly structured curriculum and even scripted curriculum in some places—the teacher reads the lesson. Those are not places where someone is being educated. It can’t be… Which is more valuable to the person and to the society? I can memorize something and give it back to you in an orderly fashion, even in a comprehensively well-expressed fashion. Or I can think. To me, it’s not even a call.” —Thomas Forget, Ph.D., professor and Andy’s mentor
Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt
written by Linda Bailey
illustrations by Bill Slavin
Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt is a juvenile graphic novel that kept this adult interested from beginning to end. In this book, which is part of The Time Travel Guides, the bored Pinkerton twins chase after their little sister Libby who has entered the rather creepy Good Times Travel Agency. Opening the owner’s personal guide book catapults the three children into Ancient Egypt. They learn that their adventure will not end until they finish reading the book.
The layout of the book is very appealing. The fictional story is told in comic book style at the top of the page. At the bottom of the page is a drawing of an aged book (Julian T. Pettigrew’s Personal Guide to Ancient Egypt) containing nonfiction text that explains and elaborates upon what is happening in the story. For example, when an Egyptian woman invites them into her home, the nonfiction text describes the house, food, and clothing of Ancient Egypt.
I can’t stress enough the current importance of books like this to interest children in history for three reasons. First, most people are familiar with the saying attributed to George Santayana that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” There are many horrific events in history most can agree should never be repeated. Second, sadly to say, most children are not exposed to history in their younger years in school. The school day and curriculum in public elementary school is so regimented that the focus is reading, taught in a boring and uninspired way, math, and standardized testing. I am not kidding or exaggerating when I say that as a teacher I had to sneak in science and history and hope the principal didn’t catch me. Third, history is interesting and FUN. in an age when teachers do their best to incorporate games and movement activities called “brain breaks” (to replace the recess that was taken away), we need to restore the intrinsic fun that comes through learning interesting things. In that way we create life long learners.
In addition, a book of this type actively demonstrates reasons for reading—to learn more about something you are interested in and to be carried away by a story. I particularly appreciate that Bailey gave a belated shout out to her high school history teacher: “Great work, Mr. Visch—you made it fun!” She dedicated the book to her daughter who “once did a school project on the Sphinx and has been in love with all things Egyptian ever since.” Teachers and projects do make a difference.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Nonfiction
Notes: 1. new edition of an older book
2. Grade Level: 3-7
3. Age Range: 8-12 years
Publication: May 1, 2018—Kids Can Press
For drinks, try the national beverage—beer! It’s made from half-cooked bread and river water, and it’s thick, dark and sometimes a bit lumpy. You’re supposed to strain it well before serving, but not everyone does.
Down at the bottom are the farmers and laborers. Most people in ancient Egypt are at the bottom of the society—where there’s plenty of room!
Sightseeing in the middle of a getaway? This was a very bad idea. Emma and Josh tried to lure their little sister out of the pyramid.
by Tara Westover
Very few books leave me speechless, but Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is one of them. Well written, this is the author’s very personal story of growing up in a dysfunctional family with abuse of various types from several family members and later betrayal by others. Tara lived a secluded and physically difficult life with a large family dominated by an authoritative father with mental issues. He was an extremist Mormon with an antigovernment, end times, survivalist fixation.
Tara was supposedly homeschooled, but her education was basically nonexistent. She and several of her brothers in turn realized their only escape was through education. Self-taught, Tara scored high enough on her ACT test to qualify for admission to Brigham Young University as she turned 17. She was unprepared mentally and socially for a college experience. She did not even have basic hygiene skills.
Over the course of her academic education, she was confronted with multiple instances where the foundations of her beliefs from childhood were shattered by learning the true version of events. She was lied to, put in danger, and manipulated time after time. Tara’s journey to mental health and a new normalcy happened slowly and only after many confrontations with her family. Eventually she was forced by them to choose with whom her loyalties would lie and the direction of her life as an adult.
Educated is a powerful memoir and emotionally very difficult to read. Its focus on education, relationships, and faith results in a painful tale as Tara journeys from Idaho to Cambridge with forays to New England, Paris, Italy, and the Middle East—all places she could not even dream of because she previously knew nothing about them. This is a story that needed to be told, and one I am glad the author shared.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: links provided by Random House
LISTEN to Tara’s NPR Fresh Air interview: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/20/587244230/memoirist-retraces-her-journey-from-survivalist-childhood-to-cambridge-ph-d
WATCH Tara’s CBS This Morning segment: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/tara-westovers-journey-from-off-the-grid-childhood-to-cambridge/
DISCUSS the book with your book club: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550168/educated-by-tara-westover/9780399590504/readers-guide/
Publication: February 20, 2018—Random House
I’d never learned how to talk to people who weren’t like us—people who went to school and visited the doctor. Who weren’t preparing, every day, for the End of the World.
“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”
It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you, I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.
In that moment part of me believed, as I had always believed, that it would be me who broke the spell, who caused it to break. When the stillness shattered and his fury rushed at me, I would know that something I had done was the catalyst, the cause. There is hope in such a superstition, there is the illusion of control.
Educators, students, bloggers, I am reblogging this because it not only addresses copyright issues which we all need to be respectful of, but also offers free use the blogger’s pictures. And they are beautiful!
If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you probably know I LOVE photography and combine that with my love for Autumn!
Growing up in San Diego, there wasn’t much to see in the way of Autumn leaves as the palm and eucalyptus trees didn’t yield to Fall’s changes. Once in a while, in December, when some of the east areas felt a few cold nights, did you see the few Liquid Amber trees show their Fall colors.
One I moved to Sacramento as an adult, and lived among “the City of Trees,” my obsession for Autumn grew each Fall as the entire region became a burst of color. It also does this in the spring, but that’s for another season!
You also may know that I love my photo challenges and am including this photo (from a two-year old post) into a fun challenge I discovered…
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Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder
by Sara Rosett
Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder is a thematic shoe-in for me, and it surpassed my expectations. The setting is Georgia, but the author grew up in and currently lives in Texas. The action occurs at an elementary school which is the unlikely scene of a murder. Except for the murder and mayhem, this could have been the elementary school I taught at for a few years in Leander, Texas. The details are perfect for a middle class school where parent participation is high, students wear an assigned color T-shirt for field day, and the Teacher Appreciation Week is five days of food, small gifts, and recognition for hard-working, appreciated teachers.
The main character is Ellie Avery, an Air Force wife, mother of two children, part-time organizing consultant, and very active volunteer at her children’s neighborhood school. The amiable Ellie finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She tries not to actively involve herself, but others look to her for help because of previous associations with a murder. Later, someone takes the threat to her doorstep, potentially endangering Ellie and her children.
This mystery is a fun, “don’t put me down” kind of read. The plot has twists and turns that keep the reader engaged and wanting more. The characters are interesting and there is a subplot concerning a competing organizer in town which enhances the appeal. If you like cozy mysteries, you will love Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #10 in the Ellie Avery Mystery Series, also called the Mom Zone Series. I enjoyed it as a standalone.
2. The book also includes “Organizing Tips for PTA Moms” placed at the end of some chapters so as not to be intrusive into the storyline. They are practical and are approved by this former teacher who also volunteered with my school’s Parent/Teacher Organization.
Publication: March 28, 2017–Kensington Books
“Yes, that is my favorite way to relax, supervising twenty-two eight-year-olds hyped up on sugar at eight in the morning.”
I wished the rest of the school year could be more like the end of the year. The end of the year–when the standardized tests were over–was when the kids got to do all the fun stuff, instead of studying for the standardized tests. Why couldn’t the kids do more hands-on activities like this throughout the year?
We rush through our days so quickly and have so many little rituals that we do, day in and day out, but then a moment like that last day of school comes along. It’s a milestone that makes a definite break in the continuum and emphasizes that one phase is ending and another beginning.
Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!
Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response: