You really can’t get an idea of the size of these little guys from this picture.  The white frame on which Froggie is resting his laurels is 1/2 inch wide.  Here’s what happened.  They spread their translucent bodies out all over the windows, then when we opened the door, they hopped into the house!  What they didn’t realize was that they are nor designed to be house pets.  No, the dog didn’t eat them, but they died in the carpet.  Or the vacuum, I’m not sure which.

Embassy Suites in Downey, CA

I can’t believe I forgot to didn’t take a picture of the beautiful pool!!!  On the front desk as you walk in is a digital picture frame with photos of the hotel, and sure enough, THE POOL flashed up reminding me just as I walked out of the hotel for the last time, of my omission.  So I apologize ahead of time to you my readers and you’ll have to take it by faith that Embassy Suites in beautiful Downey, CA really does have a beautiful pool and spa.

I could have been at our time share in Hawaii once I walked into the hotel.  To be fair, our time share is an old, slightly remodeled Embassy Suites, which we bought from resale timeshare dealer three years ago.  The time share allows us to stay at the Ka’anapali Beach Club for only about $528 a night – averaged over the three years we’ve owned it.  In about a hundred years, that should go down to only about $157 per night, just in case you are thinking about buying a time share.

Even from the front you can see that the feel is tropical.  When I arrived in the evening July 9th and got out of my car, accustomed to the 104 degree comfort of the trip over the Grapevine with no air-conditioning to help my car weather that steep climb in halting road construction traffic, I needed a jacket to brave the cool breezes in Downey.  It was probably 75.  My husband said it was 108 at home, so you can see why I was suffering so.

This registration clerk’s smile exemplified the kind of service I received while I was there.  Oh, by the way, there are free snacks and drinks from 5:30 to 7:30 in the evening and a free, fully cooked breakfast in the morning.  Mary, the breakfast hostess, was such a friendly person.  She made the rounds making sure everyone had what they needed.  One young family stopped to visit her after they finished breakfast, and she gave the children little containers of koi food so they could feed the fish.

You can see that the fish get a little blurry after eating so much!  The rooms were nice, but not spectacular.  The beautiful parts of the hotel were the public areas.

I enjoyed the size of the room even though I was there alone, there was plenty of room for one or two more depending on sleeping arrangements.

If you were at the Embassy Suites for an extended time without a lot of money you could have lived pretty cheaply.  There was a tiny refrigerator and microwave in the living room.  If you like popcorn and cheese fish crackers for dinner, and a wonderful breakfast all you needed was a large lunch with left-overs to complete your balanced diet for the day.  If you do want to go for dinner, the restaurant downstairs, The Firestone Grill had delicious food for reasonable prices.  Mimi’s restaurant was a walk across the parking lot.

The only disappointment to me is that the hotel clerks that checked me in that night must have thought I was disabled.  I made the mistake of telling them that I had been in a fender bender on the freeway while sitting in stalled traffic in LA .  As a person with a disability, I didn’t get a tub in the bathroom.  I actually can get in and out of a tub, but if I couldn’t I would have been very grateful for the shower.   I don’t want to sound like I am  complaining because most of the time I shower anyway.

As far as the fender bender goes.  I figure I was stalled in traffic twice during the  trip – I mean majorly stalled.  One fender bender out of two major stalls isn’t bad.  Not only that I had the permission of the highway patrol man to chase down the man who bumped me – since he didn’t stop when the patrolman motioned him over.  That meant 85 MPH on a LA freeway with my cellphone camera going to get his license plate picture.  That’s another story.

I took this picture especially for my sister-in-law because I know she reads my blog from time to time.  The first time she stayed in a hotel by herself, she came back so excited, and told us all about it.  “It even had an iron and an ironing board!”   I now appreciate the amenity of having a working iron and an ironing board that does not have a frayed cover.  I left it out the entire time I was there just for decoration – oh yes, and I did a lot more ironing that I ordinarily would have done, so I’m sure I looked much more professional that I would have otherwise.

While the ironing board didn’t excite me too much, I still get a thrill out of riding up and down in a glass elevator.  What is it about glass elevators anyway?  Maybe you don’t feel so claustrophobic in them.  Maybe it’s the natural-like light and not elevator light. Maybe it’s all the greenery all around as you land.  Whatever it was, I was happy just getting into and riding the elevator.  I tried to forget things in my car just so I would have to make another trip.

I do a lot of walking.  I walked around in Downey, just 13 miles from downtown LA feeling perfectly safe and comfortable.  Much of the walking I did in parking lots.  Then I stopped to take more pictures outside.

I liked the cute balconies and romantic architectural details, like the lamps and iron work.

Even the entryway was romantic and inviting.  I love the Romans for giving us arches.  they make things so cozy and appealing.

Inside and out – Roman influence everywhere.

The grounds are immaculate, and romantic.  See the lights wrapped around the tree, and of course the lamp posts?  Flowers, privet hedges – all the right accoutrements to make this place an affordable luxury at $125 a night for the government rate, $169. for the someone with no discount coupons in their wallet.

While you are enjoying one last romantic picture of the courtyard, I will regale you with a bit of the Downey surroundings that I didn’t bother to photograph because I was there for work, and that’s mostly what I did.  Next door was the Downey theater – very handy, but nothing playing that I particularly had to see.  Across the street was a little shopping center with CVS pharmacy.  I always love to see a shopping center close by because USUALLY I forget something important – underwear, a nightgown, hair brush, blouse to go with my favorite suit, stockings.  You know it’s never the same, but it’s always something.  So a shopping center with plenty of variety is a welcome sight.

The hotel was on a major thoroughfare, but it was unbelievably quiet.  According to Wikipedia,  “Near the center of the city lies what was once one of the busiest intersections in the world, the intersection of Lakewood Boulevard (State Route 19) and Firestone Boulevard (former State Route 42). Route 19 was a major thoroughfare between Pasadena and the port at Long Beach, and Route 42 was part of the old Spanish Trail system that connected Los Angeles to San Diego.”  This hotel was on Firestone and about one or two lights away from Lakewood Boulevard, so quiet should have been a tough achievement!

So all in all, if you HAVE to go to LA it’s a great place to stay.  If you go to LA County Office of Education, it’s perfect because it’s only 10 minutes or less to get there – and that’s including traffic!

Authentic Assessments for History-Social Science


Multiple-choice, true false, short answer, matching, and other types of standardized tests target only factual knowledge at a recall level, and often do more to measure how well students take a test than what they actually know.  Common Core standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments indicate that education is trying to move away from total dependence on that one type of assessment.  Since the traditional summative tests don’t always measure what is important to measure, in some schools students won’t have the opportunity to learn higher level skills such as analysis, problem solving, and application.  According to cooperative learning experts, Spencer and Miguel Kagan, tests don’t measure how well a student can revise and edit an essay, or create or interpret texts and artistic expressions.  Authentic assessments are trying to remedy that flaw by creating multiple measures by which student progress in important skills can be measured. Authentic assessments are best scored by the use of rubrics. They can be scored by different aged students, peers, or themselves as well as the teacher. One of the most important features of authentic assessment is the student’s reflection, not only at the end of the project, but along the way. However, teachers need to note one that in order for authentic assessments to work, students may work collaboratively, but they are scored individually.

Authentic Assessments that work well for history-social science:

Building Models

Students who build models or museum exhibits practice many skills.  They debate, share ideas, make decisions, reach consensus, and present findings in a physical form. One program that makes use of this authentic type of assessment is the History Day Program. One of the categories of the competition is Exhibits.  These projects can be about many topics, but align to a yearly theme. One of the advantages to participation in History Day is that student projects are judged by adults outside the classroom setting.  Students explain or show their project and participate in an interview after the presentation.

Classroom Discussion

Classroom discussion explores issues and faces misconceptions, and biases.  Teachers begin by setting the context using text, lecture, video or power point. Students also need direct instruction in skill building such as: civil discourse when there are differing viewpoints, understanding bias, determination of purpose and audience, evaluating sources of information, and questioning strategies. To scaffold for English learners it helps to have ground rules, specific language, and academic language sentence starters that students are required to use as they respond to one another.

A Slam Debate is a short version of debate in which students group themselves using a strategy called Four Corners (Strongly agree to strongly disagree) on an issue. They pick an opening person to persuade the audience that the group has a valid stand based on reason, but using an emotional appeal. Each team has one minute to present their argument. Person Two has two minutes to deliver the meat of the argument using reasoning skills and evidence. Finally, person 3 has the responsibility in 30 seconds to bring the position to an emotional conclusion. Then students vote with their feet, and reflect on why they chose to move or stay. In a formal debate the opening statement, rebuttal, and closing argument is similar to legal formats and gives students an opportunity to present what they know while avoiding hostility, direct antagonism by modestly trying to persuade others in a dispassionate, objective political-type arena.

Document-Based Questions (DBQs)

The DBQ Project is a product that engages students with both American and World History primary and secondary source  documents.  DBQ tasks and activities reinforce practically every area of the Common Core Standards. Students analyze the information within historical documents to draw out evidence, facts and reasons for their own thesis i which answers a meaningful driving or focus question.  From that thesis statement they write a persuasive essay.

Economic Simulations

Simulations are imitations of real world activities over time.  Economic simulations and activities allow students to play with the stock market, or international trade or supply and demand in a setting that seems real, but no real money is invested.  Sometimes students are given a set amount of “money” to invest or trade, and they follow their choices in real-time for a period of time.  At the end of the simulation, they take stock of how well they have done. When I taught 4th grade fifteen years ago our students played the Oregon Trail in which their character had choices to make in order to travel safely from St. Louis to Sacramento with some money left at the end of the journey to buy mining supplies.  Students kept a journal and kept records of how much they earned or lost each day.  Computer simulations have come a long ways in 15 years, but simulations are still engaging and teach critical thinking skills as well as reading and writing skills. Project Citizen is a program that teaches students to make public policy, which always has an economic as well as a social issue component. California Council for Economic Education has some interactive simulation games as does the Federal Reserve.

Environmental Education Initiative

This curriculum meets standards for history, science and environmental studies in units that can replace the textbook for the specific standards they address.  Available through CDE at no cost, the Environmental Education Initiative  materials offer high quality modules for grades K-12.  Teacher can download the material at after they fill in a form because the materials are password protected.

Interactive Mapping

National Geographic Society’s website, is just one of many online resources that have maps and activities.  Interactive means that students can make choices.  They start by choosing a region to study, then a smaller area, such as a state.  Next they choose physical, human or environmental systems.  With each choice the map changes or a text boxes pop out giving students information.   Google Earth is another online resource that has many uses.   Students can practically walk the streets virtually.  If they are studying a novel there are units already developed using maps and pictures.  They can connect their own pictures and maps to create their own virtual itineraries as well.  The California Geographic Alliance also has interactive maps.  Spatial thinking is one of the history analysis skills that integrates will with reading literature as well as reading for information because all stories have settings.

Little Women

Mock Trials and Simulated Hearings

Both a mock trial event and a simulated hearing require students to formulate and present an argument for or against an issue. These activities assess students both in social studies and civic education content as well as addressing many Common Core standards. Students write an argument based on evidence, facts and reasoning ahead of the hearing or trial. However, during the course of the presentation the student presenting their argument may be interrupted by questions or objections, from a student attorney or even an actual judge who is trying the case, or and attorney who is judging a simulated hearing. Students are then forced to defend their viewpoint based on evidence. For example, We the People publishes simulated congressional hearings. Constitutional Rights Foundation publishes mock trial cases. Researching online teachers can also find famous court cases appropriate to use with students. Students don’t know the outcome of the case, and they received primary sources and make the judgments for themselves before they read what the Supreme Court actually decided. Many local and state Councils for the Social Studies have resource links on their websites. Our local Council for the Social Studies,SJVCSS, which is affiliated with California Council for the Social Studies has a very complete page or useful links thanks to the work of Dr. Peg Hill from the Inland Empire Council for the Social Studies.

Problem-Based Inquiry and Project-Based Learning

Based on a driving question, using an effective hook to start the inquiry, project or problem-based learning allows the students’ natural curiosity  to motivate them to learn content.  In addition students solve problems at the same time.   In order to complete the project students must research, question, creatively problem solve, and present their product – preferably to an evaluator outside of the classroom. Brown University and Buck Institute for Education both have excellent materials. Bruce Lesh’s book, “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answers.” also has several complete lesson examples.

Service Learning

Service learning can be more than planting a community garden, picking up trash in the local park, or singing at a retirement center.  California Department of Education defines service learning as an “instructional strategy whereby students learn academic content standards by participating in organized service that addresses community needs and fosters civic responsibility.” While all the above activities foster civic responsibility and address a need, the teacher needs to insure that there is an academic part of the activity.  For example, students that research about the plants, take part in an economic simulation as they decide which seeds to purchase,  or consider whether to buy genetically engineered or heirloom seeds are integrating social studies with the activity of planting a garden.  Constitutional Rights Foundation and  Center for Civic Education both have excellent materials and lesson plans for service learning projects.

Skits, Readers Theaters, and Performances

Students who create their own performances learn content and language arts at a high level. They have to make iessential decisions about what facts and details are most important to portray in order to make a compelling story. National History Day offers students this opportunity in the Performance category. Shy students can use technology and do somewhat same thing, filming their presentation out of the classroom and presenting a Documentary.  NHD-California has many useful research tools for teachers and students as well.  Below is a student who is presenting at an event called Civil War Time Travelers in Fresno, California.  She and her classmates wrote a readers’ theater using diaries of children from the Civil War.  They presented the readers’ theater to thousands of 5th and 8th grade students from Tulare, Kings, Fresno, and Madera Counties that participated in this event.  Participating students went from learning station to learning station taking pictures, interviewing actors, taking notes.  After the event they wrote a time period newspaper and submitted it for judgement to the Fresno County Historical Society.  In this way both the presenters and the participants took part in an academic activity that met both Common Core standards for English Language arts and History-Social Science.

There are many forms of authentic assessments that work for history-social studies. .  The students in the picture below are presenting their state History Day Performance at a Tulare County Historical Society Board of Directors’ meeting.

Adding just a few of the types of assessments listed above will add spice and life to the history-social science classroom. Students remember what they do for years. They will also remember the teacher that allowed them voice and choice and a chance to be creative.  Enjoy authentic assessments.

Fires of Jubilee

I’m reading this book in preparation for a book chat on September 17 for a completely different book,“Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” by Bruce Lesh.  I don’t think any author has inspired me to order books more than Bruce Lesh, and I’m really glad I ordered this one.  My husband thought I paid too much because it cost me $4.00, and the book only cost  $7.95 new.  (Of course that was in 1990).

Lesh’s lesson captured my attention since I’ve dedicated the 150 year anniversary of the Civil  War years to studying it.  Unlike a true historian I still default to my experiences and imagination (as you will see as you read) to help me understand what took place at another time very different from the one in which we are now living.

When siblings fight, there is always the “He started it!” accusation that is supposed to vindicate the scuffle to Mom and Dad.  I think I’ve always just naturally felt that way about the North and their culpability for the Civil War.  The first shots of the Civil War were fired when South Carolina authorities ordered state militia to fire on the unarmed merchant ship, Star of the West and to bomb federally controlled Ft. Sumter off the coast of Charleston.  When I found out last year that some Southerners still call the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression, as a Northerner I was truly puzzled.  They started it – right?  To be fair I went on a quest touring Southern Civil War sites to find out what they meant.

Struggling to understand the Confederate point of view, when I got to the museum in Petersburg,  I felt my first pang of empathy.  Pictures, artifacts, and a 20 minute video of the destruction of life and property during General Grant’s deadly siege left me feeling heartsick.  I had more than an inkling of why they wanted revenge for that 9 month battle.  I saw for myself how beautiful those antebellum homes were.

Here I have to revert back to my life.  I love the beauty and safety that my home provides me.  From time to time I  imagine how I would feel if people, someone – anyone, would come in and destroy all the work that has gone into creating our comfortable home.  I think about how frightening it would be.  So I can understand the fear, and anger that Southerners felt when their towns were destroyed by those aggressive northerners.  After reading Steven Oates book, I now believe that their designation of “Northern Aggression” had little to do with what happened toward the end of the war.   Southern desperate fear and hostility may have started with Nat Turner’s slave rebellion.   Until that time, they convinced themselves that the slaves didn’t mind being slaves.

A little aside here – I can’t imagine being a slave, let alone liking it –  no matter how hard I try.  I get testy when my husband is bossy doing home improvement projects when he wants me to help him.  I do as little as possible, and hide out.  So to even think about slavery being remotely likable for any human is just outside my ability to imagine. OK – back to the past.

Southern hatred of “Northern Aggression” started long before the War.  In Fires of Jubilee, the author does more than recount the story of Nat Turner and the slave rebellion that spawned terror in the hearts of Southern whites in 1831 and beyond.  There was nobody powerful enough to calm the revenge storm that raged against negroes after the rebellion.

Oates set the context with his words, “..Needing to blame somebody for Nat Turner besides themselves, Southern whites …linked the revolt to a sinister Northern abolitionist plot to destroy their cherished way of life” p. 129.  Even the governor of Virginia believed that abolitionists urged “our negroes and mulattoes, slaves and free to the indiscriminate massacre of all white people” p. 130.  So there you have it.  The Northern aggressive abolitionists were responsible for the negroes acting dissatisfied with their way of life.

Now, even though I still firmly believe that Southern whites were 100% in the wrong by holding on to the institution of slavery, I can finally understand how they had to blame “damned Yankee fascists” as one Southerner recently labeled us, tongue in cheek, for attacking their peaceful way of life.

First published in 1975, so you may have already read it, but I’m going to step out here and make a sales pitch and recommend Stephen B. Oates‘, The Fires of Jubilee:  Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion.  You will learn so much about this one pivotal event that contributed to the War of Northern Aggression.  In addition, I also hope many history teachers will read as “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” by Bruce Lesh to help us as we learn to teach engaging, Common Core-friendly lessons.

And if you live in my area I hope you will come to the book chat on September 17th.

Guess What I Found!

I wasn’t looking for them, but I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised when I found them.  Amazingly they are so easy to find, as easy as spreading peanut butter on a Ritz cracker.  If I were English, I might be a little happier about finding these little things, but I’m not English.  Nor, is it like anyone else wants them.  Even if they did want them, they wouldn’t want the ones I have. They’re used already!

These annoying finds are like herding cats, to use a cliché.  They pop up everywhere.  You think you’ve got them under control, and they scatter.  I found one of them under my chin, of all places! Unfortunately, I know why these things have sought me out.  I brought on this disaster myself.  It took a month, but already I have accumulated 6 of these unwanted items.

If you haven’t guessed by now, my unwanted friends are pounds – and they’re everywhere!