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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
Animals Do Too! How They Behave Just Like You–Parents and Teachers, take note of this one!
Animals Do Too! How They Behave Just Like You
by Etta Kaner
Animals Do Too! How They Behave Just Like You is a wonderful picture book that can be read on so many different levels and in many different ways. Preschoolers would enjoy the basic predictable story pattern that compares their action to that of an animal (e.g. “Do you like to dance? Honeybees do too!). The young elementary student will enjoy the scientific description of what the animal does that is like what the child does and why. The slightly older student would enjoy reading the book independently. At the end of the book is an illustrated glossary of all the animals in the book with a short description of each. No review of this book would be complete without kudos to the illustrator, Marilyn Faucher. Her illustrations of both people and animals are colorful, engaging, and fun. They will make you smile!
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
Publication: May 2, 2017—Kids Can Press
How can New Mexico help its students?
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:
Admission of Guilt–a teacher tries to make things better for his students, but…
Admission of Guilt
by T. V. LoCicero
Admission of Guilt by T.V. LoCicero is a page turning thriller set in a rapidly declining Detroit. There is no easing into this story. The author immediately sets up his reader with sympathetic characters and then hits those characters and the reader with the reality of inner city life–poverty, children selling drugs, devastating budget cuts to education, gang warfare, and mafia control of the drug trade. Characters include an out of work teacher, a social worker, a P.I. and members of the country club set.
The characters find themselves making life and death decisions with moral, economic, and personal ramifications, and the reader is confronted with the age-old question of “does the end justify the means?” I guarantee lots of twists and turns to the plot that you just won’t expect and a book you won’t want to put down.
Admission of Guilt is Book 2 in The detroit I’m dying Trilogy but can be read as a standalone.
I would like to extend my thanks to the author, T. V. LoCicero, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery & Thriller
Notes: Warning–the language is not anywhere close to squeaky clean; it is appropriate for the characters in their culture and to change it would produce a dissonance between the characters and their reality.
Spring leaves, already withering, scratched and whispered in the few Dutch Elms still standing on this dark, working-class street. Birds chirped and chattered on the pre-dawn breeze, and a worn-out Plymouth whined slowly to a stop in front of one of these decrepit wood-framed flats. A smallish figure slipped out, ran to a big front porch, then darted back to the street.
Swing Time–review and reminder of book giveaway for The Other Einstein
Sunday, November 20, 2016 is the closing date for the drawing for a free copy of The Other Einstein. To enter, go back to the ORIGINAL GIVEAWAY POST. It’s easy to enter!
by Zadie Smith
Swing Time has been summarized in simplistic terms as the story of two dance-loving brown girls growing up in London. This friendship is actually only one part of a complicated story that extends from New York through London to West Africa and includes politics, religion, and a variety of cultures.
I was immediately drawn into the story as I read the Prologue. At that point I had other things to attend to and put the book away with regret thinking “if the Prologue is so engaging, the rest of the book must be fantastic.” And it was. Part of it. Unfortunately, it unintentionally reflected its title swinging back and forth from interesting to “let’s just move on through.”
Zadie Smith is undoubtedly a very good writer. For Swing Time she draws on her own Jamaican heritage as well as extensive research of West African culture. She also depicts the various social and cultural groups of London. She has interesting characters but she doesn’t always share a satisfactory motivation for their actions. Some of the characters, such as the never-named main character/narrator’s boss and her mother’s partner are important but are treated more as accessories to the story rather than fully developed personalities. I do not regret reading Swing Time, but I wouldn’t reread it.
Note: Language warning
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Penguin Random House UK for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September 2016
Why should the arts still be important in education?
How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?
I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.
Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:
If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and…
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Teaching: Hollywood Image vs. Reality
Get past the probably well deserved rant against TFA and read what teaching is REALLY like.
Dennis Ian, a regular reader and commenter on the blog, writes here about Teach for America:
Teach for America … little more than camp counselors without the pine trees on their shirts.
Imagine for a moment the instant promotion of butchers to surgeons … or deck builders to bridge engineers. Imagine Cub Scout troop leaders as military generals … or menu makers as the next classic authors.
Like any job, teaching is layered with misconceptions … and it’s further distorted by Hollywood fantasies.
Everyone is so seduced by Hollywood and tv-land that they actually think they could sail right into a classroom and every kid would sing the theme song of “To Sir, with Love”. And the world would cry because of their greatness.
Everyone seems to see that “To Sir, With Love” guy winning over the thuggery class and becoming a revered legend overnight. Or that Mr. Chips who…
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Perfect Chapter Book for Beginning Readers
As a teacher of early learners, K-2 in particular, I was always on the lookout for useful books for the classroom. I have found one that is great for students to read at home and at school. I am not a fan of the “guided reading” programs currently pushed in many school districts. A large number of the book selections are frankly boring. Reading should be fun! Pedro, First Grade Hero is a book young readers will enjoy. Its anticipated release date by Capstone Press is September 1, 2016, and I highly recommend it! I personally would use it in reading groups and then send it home for kids to enjoy there as well.
Pedro, First Grade Hero
by Fran Manuskin
Pedro, First Grade Hero, is a delightful “chapter book” for early readers. Children usually want to read chapter books like their teacher models for them. Unfortunately most chapter books are just too difficult for them to read independently. Pedro, First Grade Hero, however, comes to the rescue for the beginning reader. It is actually a collection of four stories, all about Pedro. The readability level, length of the stories, and interest level is perfect for first graders as is the focus of each story.
Pedro is a very likable little boy. In the first story, “Pedro Goes Buggy,” Pedro has to find a bug to write about in school. Discussions about the best bug ensue in the classroom and at home. Even his little brother Paco gets involved in the fun. The story has a nice resolution and ends on a humorous note. For the teacher who likes to integrate learning strands, language arts, math and science provide easy tie-ins.
“Pedro’s Big Goal” draws in boys and girls who love soccer. This chapter has “bigger is not always better” as well as “keep trying” as its themes. Children will enjoy the ending and teachers can help them appreciate the play on words.
Most people love a good mystery as do Pedro and his friends who form a mystery club in the third story, trying to find a missing locket and cell phone. Good vocabulary words include sparkle, locket, and chirping.
The final story, “Pedro for President,” teaches Pedro and his friend Katie Woo what is involved in being class president. As they ponder what they have to offer the class, little brother Paco “helps” with the election poster and Pedro creatively turns that effort into a positive. Pedro, who always encourages his classmates and promotes fairness in the election, is the obvious favorite for president.
The illustrations by Tammie Lyon are colorful, appealing, and depict well the characters’ emotions and reactions. Teachers interested in promoting multi-cultural cohesiveness in their classrooms will appreciate the inclusion of children of various backgrounds. At the end of this book are four pages of jokes in the riddle format that will delight first graders.
I would like to thank netgalley.com and the publisher, Capstone Press, for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Three Day Quote Challenge–Day 3
The message today from school administrators to teachers is “we are always looking over your shoulder and you need to hit the mark every single minute of the day.” The message should be “we are here to support you as you experiment in your classroom. Keep it vital, new, creative and full of growth. Every class you teach will be different. Classes and students will even have different needs from the day before. Keep trying until you find what works for this class. Education is not a one size fits all endeavor.” This message of school being a “no mistakes” zone is passed along to the students. Real learning is messy. Let teachers and students engage in the process!
I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 5)–Reading is a Passion, Not a Learning Objective
Dear Former Students,
What do I hope you remember about me?
Reading, of course! Together we fell in love with the books we read. If you were in my recent classes, you will remember the magical repetitions of Pete the Cat books. For a more sophisticated enchantment, we devoured several books in the Magic Tree House series, sneaking social studies and science into our day. Who could forget the adventures of Jamie and Tom at Dinosaur Cove or Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz? Some students may be reminiscing about the aliens in The Sand Witch and the mystery and history found in Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library. Bunnicula, a great children’s mystery, was a favorite with some classes.
As a young teacher, I had experts tell me that first graders are not ready to sit and listen to chapter books. Not true! Storytellers have been recounting their tales without benefit of visuals since before the written word. Perhaps you were in the class that listened at story time to several picture books, at least one chapter in a longer book, and then BEGGED for more. I usually introduced classes to chapter books with Judy Blume’s short chapter book Freckle Juice followed by Chocolate Touch and Chocolate Fever.
We had many special literacy activities related to stories we read. For example, we discussed the meaning of Bill Martin Jr.’s Knots on a Counting Rope and made our own counting rope. In the 1st/2nd grade multiage class, we read the original version of 101 Dalmatians learning the meaning and use of many British words and enjoying playing with the unfamiliar words. We made a huge mural containing 101 Dalmatians just in time for the 100th day of school. Drama, dancing, art, music, and writing were all pulled into the process of learning to read and learning through reading. Activities did not begin and end because of the clock on the wall or the threat of an administrator’s possible walk-through. We had reading buddies once a week from the upper grades, working on social skills as well as reading skills and giving you the opportunity to read your favorite books as many times as you liked and have a positive emotional connection to reading. Our buddies benefited in similar ways with the addition of an opportunity to practice leadership and demonstrate maturity.
You amazed your parents with your beautiful poetry recitations—poems that move the soul like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and poems that giggle the spirit like “The Purple Cow.” You recited the poems by yourself before the whole class exploring the sounds of language and gaining self-confidence. You learned to appreciate language by playing with rhymes, patterns, meter, and figures of speech. Often whole families memorized the poems, and some can still recite their favorites. Reader’s Theatre and musical Reader’s Theatre provided fun opportunities to practice reading with fluency and expression.
My philosophy was “I teach reading all day long.” It worked. I had parents tell me that their child loved reading because of me. I hope you were one of them.