The Future of Learning for K-12

ChromebookNews organizations have truly embraced the old adage, “never let a crisis go to waste.” With every new pronouncement regarding the COVID-19 virus, the sky gets a bit closer to falling. Many of the public schools in my area have closed, but most of them are posting assignments online. Indeed, one of them has offered Chromebooks for check out if the family lacks a computer. This strikes me as a leap into the future of K-12 education.

Having taught both web enhanced and hybrid classes for the Technical College System of Georgia, I fully understand how to teach from my couch. In those classes, students had access to an online learning suite (either Blackboard or Angel, depending on the flavor of the year) wherein I listed assignments or offered online assessments. For those readers who are not chronologically gifted, the idea of closing schools seems unthinkable, but for anyone who has attended a post secondary school in the past decade, these fortnight long closures are no big deal. Indeed, I used to make jokes (during face-to-face class sessions at school) about teaching in my pajamas!

For younger students, such as those in K-12, however, quite a few of them have little experience with online learning, and some of their parents may not have experienced it at all. With a bit of coaching, both students and parents will come to see that much of what happens in a classroom can happen at home. In fact, in some cases, it is better to have online content. Forgot what happened to that important handout? Just print another one. Want to check the due date for an assignment? Just look at the online lesson plan. Need extra help? Email the teacher with your questions and concerns and you should get a prompt, personalized answer. Missed a class? Watch a recorded video session. In my experience, most college students eventually came to appreciate online resources, even if they didn’t embrace them. There is a learning curve, of course, as anything new requires some learning. Parents around here are about to embark on a new way of helping their kids with homework.

Who knows if the COVID-19 will actually be a serious threat to public health? Only the perspective of time will let us know that. However, this unprecedented interruption of business as usual in public education will demonstrate the power of online instruction. No doubt there will be some kinks in it, as this is new for some folks. But, the future of K-12 will be online, and this is just a preview of how it will work.

Resources for Readers

DaVinciWhat to read? When I was young (a very long time ago) my mother took my sisters and me to visit the public library every week. This was “free” entertainment, and as we were fairly poor, it was a great deal. However, there was that day when I’d read everything of interest to me in the children’s and young readers category. Again, this was a long time ago, when “young adult” publications were not a big category. I remember her guiding me over to the adult fiction section (meaning not for kids, but nothing racy—it was a public library) and she suggested some titles. My first reads from that section were what mom would term “mysteries” although romantic suspense would be closer to the genre of that time. The authors were Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, although I can’t remember the titles. So began my transition into reading for pleasure, an activity that is still a big part of my life.

Mom has been gone for a long time, as she had cancer and died before she should have, but there are plenty of other places to find recommendations for reading. I do belong to way too many Facebook Groups, and most of those have advertising that I largely ignore. For a time, Amazon was my favorite place to find books, and while it is a source for content, the weirdo reviews have made it less and less reliable for recommendations. Also, big A encourages authors to buy ads, making it even less relevant. If you are lonely and want to be inundated by promotional emails, there are lots of sites that promote books via that route, but by and large that content comes from paid ads, so it’s not reliable either. I read a lot of eBooks these days, and my public library has a few thousand titles, but I’ve noticed that far too many of them are “reprints” wherein established authors are giving their backlist titles new life, and I have either read those books are wasn’t interested the first time. So, what to do?

There are some solutions. First, check out Goodreads. It’s now owned by Amazon, but it seems to work quasi-independently from big A, so the reviews are more often by serious readers. Authors can have a “page” on Goodreads, too, which can be helpful. If you like a certain genre, typically there are blogs that feature books of interest. As a lover of science fiction romance, I like this blog: SFR Brigade. Some authors maintain a blog or a Facebook group, so check on a favorite writer’s web presence. Often writers will mention fellow writers or their own favorite reads. I’ve really enjoyed Susan Grant’s books and her blog, Come Fly with Me (now found via her website).

In addition to big A, readers sometimes leave reviews on traditional bookstore sites such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. As these sites primarily serve readers, the reviews tend to be written more literate customers. There may be fewer reviews, but I believe they are more reliable.

Also, if you know others who like to read, try forming a book club. My sister belongs to such a club, and members propose which books to read. She’s given me some suggestions of books that were well-received by her group, such as my current read: DaVinci, by Walter Issacs. It’s fascinating, and I would never have chosen it without the recommendation of that group over in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

Snow in the South

In celebration of a rare snowfall in Georgia, here’s a picture and a poem:

IMG_1559

The Snow Storm

Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1803-1882

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

Jersey Boys on Netflix

Jersey BoysLike many of you, we use services such as Netflix rather than having a traditional cable subscription. At times, we miss the old TV Guide magazine, which would guide the viewing experience. Instead, with Netflix, there is some algorithm that knows my husband likes shoot ’em up flix, so I am not always happy with the suggestions. However, a couple of days ago, I noticed “Jersey Boys”as an option in our feed. I’m embarrassed to say that hubby actually, “What’s that?” I simply said, “Click on it and you’ll see.”

Anyway, fortunately for me, hubby likes music, especially vintage pop, so he was eager to take a look at the movie version of this musical, which had a great run on Broadway, and is still touring around the country. Jersey Boys tells the story the Four Seasons, featuring the fabulous Frankie Valli. Surprisingly, the film version is directed by Clint Eastwood. The cast is really great, with Christopher Walken in a small but pivotal role, and it also has the original Valli from Broadway, John Lloyd Young as well as Erich Bergen, who has a supporting role in another show we’ve watched on Netflix, Madame Secretary.

There is much to like about this film, which is actually a 2014 release, but I was most impressed with the sound track. And, as is possible when watching a film in the comfort of home, I paused it and did some research, finding that the cast sang, rather than having it dubbed by either the original band or by hired musicians. Many of the hits from the Four Seasons are present, including “Sherry”, “December 63 (Oh What a Night)”, “Walk Like a Man”, and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Valli’s solo, “My Eyes Adored You” is also in the film, as are other familiar tunes.

Although not entirely happy, for this film follows the rise and the ultimate fall of The Four Seasons, we enjoyed this film quite a lot. If you are a Netflix subscriber, the movie version of Jersey Boys is a great way to spend an evening. Toe tapping is optional, but recommended!

The book of the year?

The price we pay book cover
Lots of books are published each year, and I can only read a few of them. But, when a really important general interest book comes along, I often put it on the top of my “to be read” pile. In September, Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon associated with Johns Hopkins, released a book entitled The Price We Pay: What Book American Healthcare—And How to Fix ItSince most people in America eventually get sick or have an accident, and only a few of us are fifty rich, this is the ultimate general interest book.

In Part I, entitled “Gold Rush” Makary doesn’t have to travel far—he visits “health fairs” at local churches, where salespeople disguised as medical professionals do screening tests and scare participants, mostly those on Medicare, into unnecessary and rather expensive procedures, such as placing stents into leg veins. In the second chapter, he discusses the lack of transparency in hospital pricing, as well as the astronomical rise in common procedures. For instance, a medical center in New Jersey offers joint replacement surgery for $135,400.00, which rose a mere 76.8% in a single year. BTW, Medicare only pays 13K for that procedure. For his third chapter, Makary travels to Carlsbad, NM, where the medical center seems to have overcharged and then sued almost everyone in town. Back in Virginia, Makary visits the courthouse to learn more about similar shenanigans at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. Sadly, this hospital is supposed to be a “not for profit” hospital, and thus receives favored tax status, too. Also in this section, Makary provides an analysis of the proliferation of for profit helicopter ambulance services, which charge somewhere between $40K and $60K for a ride that I could make in an hour in my Toyota.

In the second portion of the book, Makary delves into some medical practices that can be improved by focusing on individual physicians. One OB doctor in Florida had a reasonable rate of C-sections, until figuring in Fridays, when the rate rose 80%. Why? The good doctor didn’t want to be bothered on the weekend, so moms who were in labor on Friday got the surgery. This section of the book also discusses the opioid crisis, and Makary admits that he had to learn to write fewer prescriptions for pain pills, after learning about the misuse of all those pills.

Part III of the book is about “Redesigning Healthcare” and it does offer several solutions to problems, but one chapter in this section explains how drug prices are affected by middle men (pharmacy benefits managers) who don’t supply anything other than a big bill for their services. Here’s an example: A pharmacy is paid $34.94 for 90 40mg doses of Zocor, but the employer is charged $442.85–and the PBM gets over $400 on that one transaction. Another chapter discusses problems in health insurance, which less and less helpful except in catastrophic circumstances, and there is even a chapter on “wellness” and how those well meaning programs are far too costly, especially as they often mean an invasion of privacy, or worse, over-treatment for minor issues.

Makary doesn’t make the mistake of only discussing problems without discussing solutions. Several positive programs are mentioned throughout the text, including websites such as ImprovingWisely.com, and the last chapter is a bit of a call to arms. In short, legislators and employers need to be educated on these matters, and healthcare consumers should do everything possible to demand transparent pricing for upcoming procedures.

The Price We Pay is a very important book. This should be the topic of your next book club, a gift for your friends and/or family, or even a holiday gift for your doctor or your legislator. Please buy this book, read it, and pass it on. Knowledge is power, and as this text has lots of information for Americans, this may well be the most important book you will read this year.

My video is reaching students!

NASA nebula

A still shot from NASA

Way back I took classes in “podcasting” and “movie-maker.” Afterward, I came home and practiced what we’d learned in class. I made three videos, which are a lot closer to Powerpoint presentations, if the truth be told. Anyway, one of them has had a bit of success—”A Brief History of Science Fiction.” This video was designed with a few still images, mostly screen shots from NASA such as the one I featured on this post, and two audio tracks. We’d been warned in class about using commercial music, so I downloaded a freebie track that I thought sounded dramatic. The second audio track is my voice, reading story boards, in my rather strong Southern U.S. accent. I did write the story boards, based upon my study of the science fiction genre, my training in English literature, and what of that matched up with the still images that I managed to acquire at the time.

Science fiction is an ever changing literary and film genre (with more than a dash of animation) so my video is already a bit dated. Still, I was most gratified when reading a very valid complaint about the loud musical soundtrack. The complainant stated that my little YouTube video was required for class. Gosh darn! My Brief History of Science Fiction is required by a teacher (somewhere?) for a class (in something?) I’m flattered. Really.

If you don’t mind hearing that awful musical track, head over to YouTube and see A Brief History of Science Fiction. While you are there, the link to my “book trailer” for The Gift Horse is still live also.

Born with Teeth—A Memoir; review and commentary

Born Mulgrew

Kate Mulgrew’s Memoir

My guess is the first I heard of Kate Mulgrew was when she starred in Mrs. Columbo, but that’s not a certainty. Like many fans of all things Star Trek, I was both thrilled and a bit concerned when Mulgrew was very publicly named the newest captain in the fourth iteration of that television franchise, Star Trek Voyager. And, I was rather amazed to by her character in Orange is the New Black, in a role that is far from her roots as a distinctive and attractive leading lady.

Regardless of when one first noticed Kate Mulgrew, she is a force on the screen. Recently, I read her memoir, which has the curious title Born with Teeth. Apparently, she was indeed born with teeth, which were extracted so she could feed properly. For Mulgrew’s fans , there may not be all that much new information, but the style of her prose does illuminate readers on her perspective in regards to matters that matter most. The narrative is mostly linear, although she skips a lot of years and events. First, the reader learns just how dedicated she is to her craft and how much work it has been. Second, readers will become better acquainted with Kate’s large family, and see how they have influenced her. One of my favorite passages is when, as a schoolgirl, Kate invited her artist mother to hear her recitation of poems she had written. Upon learning about the program, Kate’s mom, Joan, gives her a copy of a poem (The White Cliffs of Dover) to read, and during the school program young Kate not only read her poems, but she read the classic poem so well that her audience was almost in tears. Afterward, Kate’s mom told her that she could either be a bad poet or a great actress. Apparently, Kate took those words to heart, because from that early age, she put all of her effort into becoming an actress.

Fans of Ryan’s Hope (a soap opera that was Kate’s first big break in television) or Star Trek Voyager (perhaps her most influential role) will find a few gems, but she doesn’t concentrate on those stints. Instead, what Mulgrew writes about is relationships. While filming Ryan’s Hope, Kate became pregnant, and as she was not married and quite young, she assumed she’s have to leave her job. Instead, the pregnancy was written into the show, and her character gave birth a few days after Kate did it in real life. The Mary Ryan character kept her baby, but Kate gave up her daughter for adoption. Later, she expends both time and money in an attempt to find her biological daughter, and that search is a focal point of the memoir.

Certainly, Mulgrew has experienced quite a lot of grief, as one of her sister’s died of a brain tumor and another succumbed to pneumonia. Romance has not always been easy, either. Mulgrew also writes of her loves—her first husband, Robert Egan, and the sons that he fathered, and how divorce affected her and the boys. Later, she reveals how her love for her second husband, Tim Hagan, endured a rather on again then off again period. The memoir ends as she meets her daughter and her relationship with Hagan finally settles into marriage.

I’m a science fiction fan (and writer) so I was just a tad disappointed in this memoir. I’d love it if Kate would do as Shatner has done and publish a book about her time portraying Captain Janeway. Perhaps she will, when she has more time, for she does seem to be one busy lady.

Flag draped caskets

Recently, hubby and I attended the funeral of a contractor who worked for us several times over a couple of decades, a craftsman who was also so personable that we viewed him as a family friend. In addition to being a darned good carpenter, he always visited a bit with us. Mike collected license plates from cars, and he asked for an old plate off my car. (I drive a Honda Odyssey, so my personalized plate says “HOMERS”, thus I drive around in Homer’s Odyssey. A lot of people don’t understand the tag, but Mike was one those who got the joke and thought it funny.) So, after he finished doing a re-roof and soffit repair, I gave him one my old plate, which he put into “a place of honor” in his shop. Since I love to read, he would bring me his old Time magazines. When he gave me a stack, he usually apologized for taking so long, and recommended the articles he had enjoyed the most. I am going to miss those visits.

The first person who eulogized him was his daughter. Although we knew him well, she was able to relay some interesting tidbits of his life, so we were able to know him even better in death than we had in his life. The minister who delivered the message also knew him well, and told some stories of Mike’s service to the church as well as the community.

I didn’t know that Mike had served in the National Guard until the funeral, but his casket was draped with a flag, honoring his service.


When I listened to the funeral of President George H.W. Bush, I was very much reminded of the accomplishments of the forty-first president. His presidency only lasted four years, but he was a hero during our nation’s greatest war, a congressman, an ambassador, and he was commander in chief during the first Gulf War, a crucial time in our country’s history. The remarks by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney were particularly enlightening, as they blended the public accomplishments with the private persona of the former president. The remarks by his son, former President George W. Bush, a eulogy that was primarily about Bush as a father, also helped the nation know this man a bit better.

Most Americans know that Bush (41) was a warrior, and the military aspect of his funeral was a affirmation that some of the greatest Americans served the country well, and that flag draped coffin is a sign of honor which signals that another of our nation’s heroes has gone on to a greater reward.

Our friend Mike left his fingerprints all over the community, as he worked for many people in our area. President Bush left his fingerprints on the nation, because he was involved in government service at the highest levels. Regardless of the scope, to serve well is to live well.

America by Charles Kuralt

Okay, this book is seriously vintage as it was published in 1995, but my hubby is recently retired, so he wants to do some traveling. But, when and where should we travel? A friend mentioned that a CBS news feature reporter who spent much of his career “on the road” discussed his favorite places to be in Charles Kuralt’s America, and the narrative relates his first year of retirement, where he spent time visiting them, at the best time of year to be in those spots. Despite the passage of time, the weather and scenery is no doubt much as it was in Kuralt’s retirement year, so the book is still relevant.

What’s special about this book is the magical prose that Kuralt employs to describe his series of destinations. In January, he spent time in New Orleans. As he is riding from the airport to his hotel in the French Quarter, he says, “I could have closed my eyes in the backseat of the taxi and known where I was purely by the pungent accent washing over me from up front.” I once worked with a lady from Louisiana, and the accent is unique, for sure. Kuralt further states that there are ” three main themes of the city: family, music, and food.” All three are the subject of his discourse, and apart from not actually tasting the jambalaya and crawfish étouffée, the reader feels as if he, too, had visited New Orleans. In February, Kuralt visited Key West, and again, he makes the reader feel like a participant in the trip. March’s destination was Charleston, a city that I’ve visited, but Kuralt stayed longer, met more natives, and has some interesting stories to share. In April, Kuralt ended up enjoying the emerging sign of spring, daffodils, which sounds incredibly boring, but it is not when Kuralt describes them.

In May, he is traveling again, and his destination is again in the south—Grandfather Mountain. His discussion of this scenic area of North Carolina includes everything from what makes the best barbecue to why one should make the drum of a banjo from squirrel skin. Kuralt packs more information into each chapter than I’ve read in several guide books for the area. June he spends in Ketchikan, Alaska; July in Ely, Minnesota; and August in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Kuralt’s love of boating and fishing is apparent in all of these destinations, as it is in his September destination of Twin Bridges, Montana. For local color in October, Kuralt visits Woodstock, Vermont. As the weather in the north chills, he goes to Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico, soaking up history along with the sunshine. For December, he returns to the place where he made his home for many years, New York City. However, as Kuralt explains, people don’t live in New York; rather, they live in a neighborhood within the city. Again, he gives the reader several examples of people and places in the city, which is decorated for the holidays in his prose.

Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road” feature stories for CBS news on television were a part of my youth. His voice rings true in this rambling, but never unfocused, narrative. For those who remember him, this is a nostalgic read. For those who don’t know his work, the book could serve as an introduction to a time when people didn’t spend time on their smart phones and computers, but spent leisure time in scenic places, learning from the people who inhabit those places. I’m glad that my friend recommended this book so highly, because I certainly enjoyed savoring it.

Classic YA fiction by Elizabeth George Speare

Calico CoverI was watching the grandkids play and perusing a shelf of older books. A title, Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, caught my eye. Before long, I was reading and glancing over at the kids from time to time. When I taught middle grades (long, long ago) I used Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of my class novels. I’m not sure that all of the students liked it, but I did. Calico Captive, like “Witch” is an historical novel, with a young adult protagonist.

Nowadays, many novelists write for younger audiences, and the readership is quite broad for such novels. Everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to The Hunger Games (Book 1)to The Princess Diaries  are squarely aimed at YA, but caught on with adults and movie audiences, too. Speare’s novels are very well written and could have a varied audience of entertained readers. Instead of re-cycling old television shows, maybe some film makers will decide to put Elizabeth George Speare’s tales into production. This novel would make a great movie!

Calico Captive tells the story of a young woman, Miriam Willard, living on the frontier in the 1700s; first captured by Indians, then held more or less as a prisoner of war by the French, during what historians now call the French-Indian War. According to my research, this is Speare’s debut novel, and it is based on a real life story. Miriam and her fellow captives are portrayed in a manner that held my interest. Okay, it is not quite a page turner, as it strives for some historical accuracy meaning that this all takes a while to resolve, but this story also helped me learn about a period of history that I don’t know well at all.

Readers who love history and are looking for a well written novel with adventure and a hint of romance will really enjoy this story. Speare’s later, better known works, are good reads also, but I have genuinely enjoyed this window into another time.

Netflix? Hulu? Amazon? Come on, let’s get these stories into production!