Book Review: The Everything Theory

Dianne Gray became my blogger friend four months and three weeks ago now, and we have rallied blogger chit-chat back and forth between our blogs.  As I read her blog the other day, I learned about her book, The Everything Theory,  Browsing the comments on the post, I decided that I definitely wanted to buy the book.  So I headed over to Amazon, made a few clicks, and started reading, and finally put it down because I had to sleep at about one in the morning.

by Diane Gray
by Diane Gray

I am excited to review Dianne Gray’s new book, The Everything Theory, which I just finished in less than a day, but certainly not because it was flat, or simplistic.  Though not to be confused with the Theory of Everything (ToE), which Wikipedia defines as “The “system building” style of metaphysics attempts to answer all the important questions in a coherent way, providing a complete picture of the world. Plato and Aristotle could be said to have created early examples of comprehensive systems,” the reader does get a flavor of those intertwining systems in this book.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_everything

Gray, in her own logical way, unfolded ancient theories, and outlined plausible outcomes to those ancient predictions.  She postulated a plausible answer to the question of the age:  How did the ancients get the knowledge to build the pyramids?  Readers will learn about the way scientists use numbers, referring often to the mathematics of the pyramids, and the books of the Nine Unknown Men.  Recorded on the History of India website, the Nine Unknown Men, according to occult lore, “were a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka 273 BC. …  Each of the Nine is supposedly responsible for guarding and improving a single book. These books each deal with a different branch of potentially hazardous knowledge.”  http://www.indohistory.com/nine_unknown_men.html From another civilization at another time the ancient Mayans predicted that the end of the our world nears daily.  Were they right?  Is this even a possibility?

Scientific facts dotted the story, and at the time I assumed that these stated facts might be purely fictitious, but they seemed plausible.  Last night I checked with Diane, and she said that she spent a lot of time researching and that her facts were all cross checked.  Even though I haven’t researched the many details in the novel, the fact that she didn’t fabricate the scientific references made this book an even better read than if it was science fiction.

The prologue and epilogue book-ended The Everything Theory with men, dressed in animal skins, looking at pictures in a cave.  Curiously, the main characters in the prologue and epilogue had very similar names to the protagonist in the body of the tale, yet clearly the Lukes were not from the same time.  Thus, the Everything Theory mystery began and ended.

Besides the ordinary human bad guys, the primary culprit in this story was a wayward planet named Eris.  As it turned out, Eris is a real planet larger and farther out than Pluto, and Google has hundreds of pictures of it.  Here is one of them.

eris_and_dysnomia_485

The mystery intertwined the lives of archaeologists studying past ancient writings, with amateur astronomers who discovered the rogue planet, Eris.  A couple of murders launched the story, and alerted the reader to the extreme urgency and seriousness of the obstacles facing the heroes.  The lives of these two groups of scientists collided early in the book as they attempted to evade the inevitable outcome of their actions thus becoming the next murder victims.  In the process of survival, the group began to cohere and collaborate to try to deal with the havoc that Eris would bring into Earth’s universe.

Connecting to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards

Most of my book reviews bring up the Common Core English Language Arts Standards.   For the California sixth grade teacher teaching  ancient world history, the Nine Unknown Men would be the perfect place to insert a research project.  Student-generated questions about the end of the world, dangerous knowledge, and an ancient secret society would capture their interest and motivate research.

Without question this book contains academic language making it an effective novel for the language arts teacher to use to support the teaching of science as well.  It corresponds directly with eighth grade Earth in the Solar System (Earth Sciences) .

4. e states “Students know the appearance, general composition, relative position and size, and motion of objects in the solar system, including planets, planetary satellites, comets, and asteroids.”

Are you thinking of a Christmas gift for the reader in your family?  Do they believe that aliens influenced the ancients?  Do they look for answers in astrology?  Do they watch the History Channel or the Discovery Channel?  Do they like Bones, Lie to Me or Fringe?  The Everything Theory appeals to anyone who loves a mystery.

By the way, Dianne did not ask me to buy the book or write a review.  I don’t make money writing reviews either – maybe now you know why!  I just learned yesterday that my website is a “vanity” site because I am not using it for making a profit.  That being said, this review strictly reflects my opinions.

Blog Tip of the Week

When I make a comment, and it doesn’t post and displays a 403 error, I have found that if I close my browser, then open it again, then I can send to that person.  I do lose the reply, though unless I save it somewhere else.

Featured Blog

It only makes sense to feature Dianne’s website.  In it she offers sound advice.

run-from-stag

She shares her philosophy of life, how she writes, and thinks.  She tells you what’s happening in her real life.  Best of all she reads her friends’ blogs and makes comments.  If you don’t already know Dianne Gray, this is your chance.

Reviewing Books – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Thanks to ShareChair I ordered several classic books along with their audio books for free from Amazon.  You really do need to check out her blog.  It’s all technology, and incredibly organized, every article practical or thought-provoking.

taken from an excellent review of the book – http://salmanlatif.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/the-picture-of-dorian-gray/

Back to books, I just finished my third book from this classic find, and I thought that the least I could do would be to offer a review, something new and fresh.  My review for David Copperfield evolved naturally, and I didn’t search the internet first.  However, before I started writing my next remarkable review I decided to search the internet to find out what others said about  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

I started with Wikipedia, which offered a complete background of the controversy that surrounded the book, the author,  and the characters.  The next site suggested by Google was Sparks Notes.   This was even more complete, but not as easy to stay awake while reading.  It included famous quotes, as well as someone’s explanations to those quotes, study questions and answers.  By this time I was getting so sleepy that I nodded off in the middle of reading, and the page disappeared.  I was ready to finish my search for other reviews – especially since I am not actually having to write a paper or participate in a class discussion.  But I am persistent, I plodded on and looked at the third review source, Goodreads.

I’ve seen the Goodreads sign in the side banner of some websites, but haven’t seen the benefit of them yet.  From the Goodreads reviewers of Dorian Gray I learned that many of them enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s humor in this book.  I am not the fastest reader, but I may be the most distracted one.  This book took me less than a week to finish, as I was reading 2-3 others, but as I read the reviews, I realized that I hadn’t caught some of the nuances that other readers had noticed.

The major nuance should have been as obvious as an uprooted tree lying across the road resulting from Hurricane Sandy’s wrath.  I somehow missed Wilde’s humor entirely in this story about a hedonistic, homoerotic, narcissistic young man, Dorian, and his older guide, Harry, who actually lived the cleaner life.  Actually I missed most of the nuances.  I didn’t notice the fact that he had opium at home, but had to go to the opium dens after he killed his friend, the artist, and had his chemist friend destroyed the body which indicated the depths to which his depravity hit.  I failed to see the symbolic colors used in the novel.

Not only did I overlook the language arts nuances, I failed to note many redeeming historical analysis skills that could be gained from reading this book.  Because psychology is one of the social sciences, a pitch could be made to read this book as a study in psychological disorders.

At the same time I was reading Dorian, I finished the In Search of Bill Clinton:  A Psychological Biography, by John Gartner, the story of another charmingly engaging fellow.  I couldn’t help but compare the two personalities, since both have narcissistic traits.  Clinton managed his, and poor Dorian did not have his skills or moral balance to do the same.  The fictitious character, Dorian Gray, had a true malignant disorder, whereas Clinton was diagnosed as having hypomanic traits which were not malignant.

In spite of all the literary connections which I didn’t recognize, I enjoyed reading the book, and I would recommend it to those who love classics, and a touch of what I would classify as very early science fiction.

I would not recommend it as a literary classic that meets Common Core Standards, AND the standards for History-Social Studies.  Since English teachers only get 50% literature, and need to focus the other 50% of their time on expository reading, I would not waste the student’s precious literature hours on this book.  They can read it when they are on their own as part of a life-long learning program.

I am trying to develop a schedule to my posting, so I write the day before, then polish in the morning before I post.  As I was looking for a good picture this morning, I came across this excellent review o a WordPress site where I got the picture I used.  Click here to read that review.  ShareChair must have inspired many people to read this book because I found several other reviews that have been done in the last month or so, which I included below.  Who knew Dorian would be making such a great come back?

The Hilarity of Real Spam

Both Sex Gratis and Tattoo Age need to work a little on their persuasive writing skills. as well as their language usage.  Maybe that is why the Common Core standards are pushing teachers to teach persuasive/argument writing grades K-12.  These folks are so pathetic they are fodder for the funnies.

“I think this is a powerfull site with much interesting blogposts about this stuff. And i just wanna say thnx for this. I’ll subscribe to your website to see if you post more stuff like these!”

I guess this person assumes is that I would WANT him/her to subscribe to MY website!!!  On what grounds would I want him or her to be part of my world?  Certainly their gravitar name and photo doesn’t do much to sell them.  Then there is the ignorance of simple rules of grammar.  I am not the best grammar teacher, but starting from the beginning powerful is misspelled.  I didn’t catch it, but by WP did on the routine proofreading checker.  I misspell words on purpose sometimes to make a point or make up a word, but this is not the case here.  Next “much interesting” should be many interesting.  I love the old red pen, don’t you?  Next, could he/she be use a more specific word than “stuff” What “stuff” is he/she reading on my blogpost that is so powerful and interesting?  I didn’t see anything too sexy or tattooish about my vase stories.  Rules of capitalization and spelling in a formal email such as this one should be followed if he/she wants to be believable to a stranger like me.  Finally, Is “stuff” singular or plural?  He/she is referring to one post, but using a referent “these” to refer to the plural “stuff” that was found in the post?  It is confusing if not incorrect.  

“Hi there you have a good weblog over here! Thanks for posting this interesting information for us! If you keep up the good work I’ll visit your website again. Thanks!”

You know, I like praise as much as the next person, but is this a threat?  If – then statements are great for science, but for enticing someone to do good work?  Not to helpful unless you are the parent.  IF you get your homework done, THEN you can visit your friends.  Kids love this – and RUSH to get their homework done!  My husband might TRY an IF – THEN statement like that, and substitute homework for housework.  On the other hand, IF he did try that, THEN I probably would have the dirtiest house in the world – and I don’t (BTW).  On an aside I think people who dislike each other and live together have lazy contests – who can do the least around the home? Maybe they used too many IF – THEN statements in their conversations with each other.

“everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. it contains truly information. your website is very useful. thanks for sharing. looking forward to more!”

Who writes this stuff? OK Spam Geeks, EVERY sentence starts with a capital letter, unless you are a published writer with a huge following, and even then…  So lets assume that this is computer generated, and the programmer doesn’t understand the First grade rule of capitalization.  I get computer generated messages from WP, LinkedIN, Facebook.  THEY know how to generate a simple sentence that is correct and motivational.  I actually do endorse people when the generator asks me to – if I know them and like them.  So take a lesson from the experts and put a capital at the beginning of every sentence.

“hey, great job friend, cheers.”

I can live with these spams.  OK, there’s no capital, but it’s simple and sort of “Good morning” kind of innocuous statement.  I know, as a teacher, that “great job” is no longer acceptable.  I used to say that so much that my students would imitate me – voice included!  My spam friend, be specific in your praise.  What is great about my work?  Nonetheless, a simple, “great job friend, cheers”, well it’s happy and positive – no threats.  I can live with this one.  However, with enough of real people out there reading with faces instead of computer generated pattern gravitar, I’ll still delete this one permanently.  No sale.

What is you favorite spam, or do you look at them?  One of them might be me, so please look.  Have you found me there?  Are you still finding me in the Spam with sex gratis and tattoo age?  Are you finding more interesting Spam than I have?  Please share!

P.S.  My website was immediately shut down when I published this article this morning.    I had copied and pasted a gravitar of one of the spammers because it was so nonsensical.  Just a warning.  DON’T DO THAT!!!

PSS.  Thank you WordPress for reading my plea and restoring my blog.

Authentic Assessments for History-Social Science

Introduction

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.

Debate
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 http://www.CaliforniaEEI.org 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  http://valleysocialstudies.com/resources/teaching-resources/, 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.

Ubiquitous

ACADEMIC VOCABULARY

Academic Vocabulary is one of the six major shifts in language arts standards as states are moving to implement the Common Core Standards.  Teaching academic vocabulary is going to be ubiquitous.  Every content area teacher ia already responsible for teaching vocabulary.  All content teachers teach the vocabulary that is unique to their content.  Where, but in a history class, would you learn the word Senate?  The shift in academic vocabulary instruction due to the implementation of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts is that all content area teachers will  become responsible for teaching Tier 2 words, words that are ubiquitous across all content areas.

USE THE WORD IN A SENTENCE

The word ubiquitous is ubiquitous.  While  this is an accurate and true statement it is the perfect example of why having students use vocabulary or spelling words in a sentence is not an effective learning strategy.  However, the question is whether or not the word ubiquitous rises to the level of being classified as academic vocabulary that should be taught by direct instruction by content area teachers.  I would argue that it does not.

Granted when you meet a person and he or she uses the word ubiquitous in general conversation, your first impression is that the person is well-educated.  I know that because it happened to me.  I remember exactly where I was when I when I first heard the word ubiquitous.  My husband and I were eating lunch at Hometown Emporium in Exeter, California, when a friend approached him and said, “My friend, you are ubiquitous.”  I was impressed with this friend, and we spent the next five minutes discussing his choice vocabulary word – and that was my introduction both to the word and the friend.

WHAT  VOCABULARY DESERVES DIRECT INSTRUCTION?

Only Tier 2 words are targeted for direct instruction by all content area teachers.  Is ubiquitous merely a showy, ostentatious Tier 3 word, or is it truly an academic necessity Tier 2 word? Based on the work of Isabel Beck, who categorizes academic words as Tier 1,2 or 3 level, I would classify ubiquitous as a Tier 3 word.  It is not a common or Tier 1 word like pencil or high use word like the.  It does not have different meanings in different content areas like Tier 2 words:  table, key, or expression.

STRATEGY FOR DIRECT INSTRUCTION OF  VOCABULARY

To give you an example of a ubiquitous Tier 2 word, let’s put the word table on the table.  To do that I’ll create a table to demonstrate how it is used in different content areas.

CONCLUSION

Even though Common Core standards are only adopted nation-wide for language arts and mathematics, language arts standards are particularly ubiquitous.  To make a point, I would argue that Common Core standards in English Language Arts are even MORE CORE, more ubiquitous, if you were,  than in mathematics because students have to read, write, speak, and listen even to master the core mathematics standards.

Common Core standards are ubiquitous in the United States.  Again, I would argue that the major shift of teaching academic vocabulary may be the most ubiquitous of the six major shifts in language arts standards.  Words are important.  They represent the expression of all we think and do.  Words are ubiquitous.