Is the Mayan calendar right? End of world, film at 11

September 20, 2009

Few weeks go by that some student doesn’t ask me about the Mayan calendar and its “ending” in 2012.

I suggest that students keep a chart of predictions of the end of the Earth, or other psychics’ predictions, and see how accurate they are.

And tommorrow, September 21, students tracking such things should get an eye-opener one way or another.

Here’s a site that predicts the beginning of the end for September 21, 2009. It’s an odd, unholy amalgam of Mayan woo, Nostradamus, pagan woo and Christian hoo-haw.

Be sure to check back Tuesday morning.

P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula dug up the site.  More discussion there — much of it deliciously rude.

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Boy Scouts of Harlem, Troop 759

September 20, 2009

First I’ve heard of this film:  “759:  Boy Scouts of Harlem,” a film by Jake Boritt and Justin Szlasa.

Have you seen it?

2010 is the 100th anniversary of Scouting in the U.S.  This film is not officially a part of that celebration — but expect to see more like it.  This film was produced independently, with approval from one Scout council, but entirely independent from Scouting otherwise.

Would this make a good recruiting device for your troop?  Why or why not?

Perhaps one of the Scouts in your troop, working on the cinematography merit badge, might be inspired to make a film like this about your troop.


Bear facts

September 18, 2009

A grizzly mauled a sheepherder and killed some sheep and dogs, along the Upper Green River in Wyoming.

Ralph Maughn’s blog has a lively and informative discussion on the incident, and on bears and bear protection in general.

For all the hard work they do, North American sheepherders sure seem to me to get short shrift in U.S. markets.  When was the last time you could find anything but New Zealand lamb at your supermarket?  And I ask this from Texas, the largest sheep producing state in the U.S. (with very few grizzlies).

While you’re at Maughn’s blog, look at this piece of good news:  You don’t have to eat ‘em.

Nation’s best, but sub-par in Texas school ratings

September 18, 2009

In discussing the Broad Prize won yesterday by Aldine Independent School District (near Houston), William McKenzie, an editorial writer at the Dallas Morning News unintentionally summed up part of the problem with Texas’s testing-uber-alles school ratings, at the DMN’s blog site:

Like Brownsville last year, the state only recognized Aldine as an “acceptable” district, not a “recognized” or “exemplary” one. That could be for several reasons, but the best way to look at the difference between the state’s ranking and Aldine’s Broad Prize is that Aldine is showing substantial progress but still has a high mountain to climb before it’s on a par with suburban districts that do reach the exemplary level.

It doesn’t matter if your district has two of the top high schools in the nation on the Newsweek ratings, as Dallas ISD does.  It doesn’t matter if 85% of a high school’s kids go to great colleges with lots of scholarship money.  A school can get hammered by statistical flukes.

Too often teachers are pushed to focus on getting the subpar up to mediocre.  A school gets no additional credit, in state rankings, for championship performance in the top tier of its students — and so some of the best performing schools in Texas have rankings less than they should have.

It’s nice that Aldine ISD got the Broad Prize.  That prize recognizes outstanding achievement by students in many areas.  But it counts for absolutely nothing in the state’s rankings of schools and districts.

Remember, Texas is one of those states where International Baccalaureate programs come under fire for requiring kids to read “suspect” books, and study hard, and where AP-required course material is dismissed as wrong by members of the State Board of Education.

For teachers in Texas, daily floggings will continue until teacher morale improves enough to push scores up.  Or until someone in authority gets rid of the flogging (I was going to say “shoots the flogger,” but this is Texas; somebody might start shooting).

Broad Prize winner: Aldine ISD, near Houston

September 17, 2009

Aldine ISD, in the Houston metroplex, won the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

Earlier Texas winners are Houston ISD and Brownsville ISD.

From the press release from the Broad Foundation:

WASHINGTON – The Aldine Independent School District (AISD) outside Houston won the 2009 Broad Prize for Urban Education, the largest education award in the country, and as a result will receive $1 million in college scholarships, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced today.  Aldine, where four out of five students qualify for free and reduced-priced school lunch, has shown some of the most consistent student achievement gains nationally in the last decade and has been recognized as one of the top five most improved urban American school systems in four of the last six years.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined philanthropist Eli Broad and members of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to announce the winner. Aldine ISD was selected by a bipartisan jury of eight prominent American leaders from government, education, business and civic sectors, including three former U.S. secretaries of education.

The $2 million Broad (rhymes with “road”) Prize is an annual award that honors the five large urban school districts that demonstrate the strongest student achievement and improvement while narrowing achievement gaps between income and ethnic groups. The money goes directly to graduating high school seniors for college scholarships.

“Aldine shows us that it’s possible for a district facing tough circumstances to get excellent results,” said Secretary Arne Duncan, who opened up the envelope and announced the winner. “We need to highlight the success of Aldine and districts like it so that others can follow their examples and lift up all students.”

As the winner of The Broad Prize, the Aldine Independent School District will receive $1 million in college scholarships for graduating seniors next spring. The four finalists—Broward County Public Schools in southern Florida; Gwinnett County Public Schools outside Atlanta; the Long Beach Unified School District in California; and the Socorro Independent School District in Texas—will each receive $250,000 in college scholarships. Long Beach won the 2003 Broad Prize, and this marked the third year that the former winner returned as a finalist. Broward is a two-time finalist for the award, while this was Gwinnett’s and Socorro’s first year in the running.

How does that sit with us in Dallas?  Gossip at the Dallas Morning News blog, DallasISD:

I don’t know if you all have noticed but talk of DISD winning the Broad Prize for Urban Education by 2010 is nearly non-existent. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa used to always refer to the district’s goal to obtain the award, and he gave himself five years to do it shortly after his arrival in 2005. DISD has obviously made academic gains, but not much is uttered anymore about the “Road to Broad,” the district’s nickname for the roadmap to its reform effort.

Which is to say in other words, Dallas is concentrating on getting performance up, while cleaning up a few nasty administrative messes.  On the teacher level, the work towards excellence doesn’t change much whether Dallas administrators talk about the Broad Prize or not.

Congratulations to Aldine.  Teachers there worked their butts off.

Can anyone find any correlation between Aldine’s winning the award and anything Texas has done as a state?  Did performance pay help out in any way?  Have poor science standards and the assault on social studies standards helped, or hurt Aldine’s performance?

Who really wins the award?

Aldine parent Carlos Deleon, who has had three children educated in the district, attributed its success to “the community, the parent involvement and, of course, most important, the good teachers.”

“When I hear they’re awarded more scholarships,” Deleon said of the students, “wow, that’s great. These kids work so hard.”

Broad Prize winners from the past:  2002, Houston ISD; 2003, Long Beach Unified School District, California; 2004, Garden Grove Unified School District, California; 2005, Norfolk Public Schools; 2006, Boston Public Schools; 2007, New York City Department of Education; 2008, Brownsville ISD (Texas)


Climate change denialists cripple American industry

September 16, 2009

Did you see Tom Friedman’s column today?

Is there any way to interpret away his conclusions that the war against green jobs is killing American industry?

Is there any way he could be wrong?  Read it; doesn’t it make you want to fix things?

O.K., so you don’t believe global warming is real. I do, but let’s assume it’s not. Here is what is indisputable: The world is on track to add another 2.5 billion people by 2050, and many will be aspiring to live American-like, high-energy lifestyles. In such a world, renewable energy — where the variable cost of your fuel, sun or wind, is zero — will be in huge demand.

China now understands that. It no longer believes it can pollute its way to prosperity because it would choke to death. That is the most important shift in the world in the last 18 months. China has decided that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry and is now creating a massive domestic market for solar and wind, which will give it a great export platform.

In October, Applied will be opening the world’s largest solar research center — in Xian, China. Gotta go where the customers are. So, if you like importing oil from Saudi Arabia, you’re going to love importing solar panels from China.

El Grito de Dolores, September 16 (2009 edition)

September 16, 2009

An encore post, repeated:

No, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s “Independence Day.”

It’s amazing what is not available on video for use in the classroom.

Texas kids have to study the “Grito de Dolores” in the 7th grade – the “Cry from Dolores” in one translation, or the “Cry of Pain” in another (puns in Spanish! Do kids get it?). Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo made the speech on September 16, 1810, upon the news that Spanish authorities had learned of his conspiracy to revolt for independence. The revolution had been planned for December 8, but Hidalgo decided it had to start early.

This date is celebrated in Mexico as Independence Day. Traditionally the President of Mexico issues an update on the Grito, after the original bell that Father Hidalgo used is rung, near midnight.

Hidalgo himself was captured by the Spanish in 1811, and executed.

Father Hidalgo issues the Grito

Statue of Father Hidalgo in Dolores, Mexico.

It’s a great story. It’s a good speech, what little we have of it (Hidalgo used no text, and we work from remembered versions).

Why isn’t there a good 10- to 15-minute video on the thing for classroom use? Get a good actor to do the speech, it could be a hit. Where is the video when we need it?

Update for 2008: Glimmerings of hope on the video front:  Amateur videos on YouTube provide some of the sense of what goes on in modern celebrations.

And, see this re-enactment from Monterrey:

Update for 2009: The Library of Congress’s Wise Guide for September features the history of the day:

The Grito de Dolores (“Cry of/from Dolores”) was the battle cry of the Mexican War of Independence, uttered on September 16, 1810, by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest from the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico.

“My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.”

Although many mistakenly attribute the Cinco de Mayo holiday as the celebration of Mexican independence, Sept. 16 was the day the enthusiastic Indian and mestizo congregation of Hidalgo’s small Dolores parish church took up arms and began their fight for freedom against Spain.

Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920” has a rich collection of photographs of Mexico. To view these pictures, search the collection on “Mexico.”

Portals to the World contains selective links providing authoritative, in-depth information about the nations and other areas of the world. Resources on Mexico include information on the country’s history, religion, culture and society to name a few.

September is also a notable month for Hispanic culture with the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month Sept 15 – Oct. 15. Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition to Mexico’s independence day on Sept. 16, Chile recognizes its independence day Sept.18. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30-day period.

The theme for the 2009 Hispanic Heritage Month is “Embracing the Fierce Urgency of Now!” To coincide with the celebration, the Library and several partners present a website honoring Hispanic culture and people.

Viva la república! Viva el Cura Hidalgo! Una página de Gloria, TITLE TRANSLATION: Long live the republic! Long live Father Hidalgo! A page of glory. Between 1890 and 1913. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-USZ62-98851 (b&w film copy neg.), LC-DIG-ppmsc-04595 (digital file from original, recto), LC-DIG-ppmsc-04596 (digital file from original, verso); Call No.: PGA - Vanegas, no. 123 (C size) [P&P] Catalog Record: street in Guanajuato, Mexico. Between 1880 and 1897. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-D418-8481 (b&w glass neg.); Call No.: LC-D418-8481 <P&P>[P&P] Catalog Record:

Specifically on the Grito de Dolores, see the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project:

Cry of Dolores

My Children, a new dispensation comes to us today…Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once.Cry of Dolores, attributed to Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, September 16, 1810.

The Palace from the Cathedral, city of Mexico
The [National] Palace from the Cathedral, city of Mexico,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
between 1880 and 1897.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

Early on the morning of September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla summoned the largely Indian and mestizo congregation of his small Dolores parish church and urged them to take up arms and fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain. His El Grito de Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, which was spoken—not written—is commemorated on September 16 as Mexican Independence Day.

Father Hidalgo was born into a moderately wealthy family in the city of Guanajuato, northwest of Mexico City, in 1753. He attended the Jesuit College of San Francisco Javier, received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mexico in 1774, and was ordained into the priesthood in 1778. He soon earned the enmity of the authorities, however, by openly challenging both church doctrine and aspects of Spanish rule by developing Mexican agriculture and industry.

In 1803, Hidalgo accepted the curacy of the small parish of Dolores, not far from his native city of Guanajuato. Between 1803 and 1810, he directed most of his energy to improving the economic prospects of his parishioners. He also joined the Academia Literaria, a committee seeking Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato, Mexico,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
between 1880 and 1897.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

In September 1810, Spanish authorities learned of the group’s plot to incite a rebellion. On September 13, they searched the home of Emeterio González in the city of Queretaro where they found a large supply of weapons and ammunition. Warned of his impending arrest, Hidalgo preempted authorities by issuing the El Grito de Dolores on the morning of September 16. Attracting enthusiastic support from the Indian and mestizo population, he and his band of supporters moved toward the town of San Miguel.

The rebel army encountered its first serious resistance at Guanajuato. After a fierce battle that took the lives of more than 500 Spaniards and 2,200 Indians, the rebels won the city. By October, the rebel army, now 80,000 strong, was close to taking Mexico City. Hidalgo, fearful of unleashing the army on the capital city, hesitated, then retreated to the north. He was captured in Texas, then still a part of the Spanish empire, and executed by firing squad on July 31, 1811. After ten more years of fighting, a weakened and divided Mexico finally won independence from Spain with the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba on August 24, 1821.

Learn more about Mexico:

Resources, other material:

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Death of President William McKinley, September 14, 1901

September 15, 2009

On the Threshold, illustration from Harpers Weekly, September 14, 1901

"On the Threshold," illustration from Harper's Weekly, September 14, 1901

Teachers should be mining the “On This Day” feature at the New York Times, which usually features an historic cartoon or illustration from an antique Harper’s Weekly.  It is a favorite feature, to me.

Yesterday, it featured the illustration from Harper’s upon the death of President William McKinley, on September 14, 1901.

At the Threshold

Artist: William Allen Rogers

his post-dated cartoon was published as President William McKinley lay dying from an assassin’s bullet.  He had been shot on September 6, 1901, by anarchist Leon Czolgosz (pronounced chol-gosh) at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  The president died on September 14.  Here, McKinley is led to the Hall of Martyrs by grief-stricken personifications of the North and South.  Between pillars topped by busts of the two previously slain presidents, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield, the angel of death prepares to place a laurel wreath of honor upon McKinley’s head.  (Images related to Garfield’s assassination also showed a reconciled North and South.)

There is much more at the Times site.

Robert Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln, was present when McKinley was shot.  Accounts I have read but not confirmed say that Robert Lincoln had been invited to attend Ford’s Theatre with his father and mother, the night his father was shot.  As a member of President James Garfield’s cabinet, Robert Lincoln had been awaiting Garfield’s arrival at Union Station in Washington, D.C., when Garfield was shot.

And as a visitor in Buffalo, Robert Lincoln had as a matter of respect lined up to shake President William McKinley’s hand.

Astounding if true.  Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated.  Robert Lincoln was present for two of them, and close to the first assassination.  Where can we confirm or deny that story?

McKinley’s death catapulted the do-gooder, Theodore Roosevelt, into the presidency, probably to the great chagrin of corrupt Republican politicians who had hoped that by getting him nominated to the vice presidency they could get him out of New York politics.

The rest is history.

Hey, authors! Will you make your books available to the blind?

September 14, 2009

Boing-Boing carried a compelling post from Cory Doctorow, who wrote the “young adult” book Little Brother.

Back in August, I got a surprise in the mail: a long Braille computer printout and a letter. The letter was from Patti Smith, who teaches visually impaired middle-schoolers in Detroit’s public school system. She explained that almost all the Braille kids’ books she had access to were for really little kids — kindergartners, basically — and how discouraging this was for her kids.

The reason she was writing to me was to thank me for releasing my young adult novel Little Brother under a Creative Commons license, which meant that she could download the ebook version and run it through her school’s Braille embosser (US copyright law makes it legal to convert any book to Braille or audiobook for blind people, but it is technically challenging and expensive to do this without the electronic text).

I wrote about this on my personal blog, and it inspired my colleague, the sf/f writer Paula Johansen, to write to Patti to offer up her own YA titles as ebooks for Patti’s students.

Well, this got me thinking that there might be lots of YA writers who’d be glad to see their books get into the hands of visually impaired, literature-hungry students, so I worked with Patti to put together the pitch below. Please pass it along to all the YA writers you know. I would love to see Patti’s class start the school year with a magnificent library of hundreds and hundreds of fantastic YA books to choose from, so that they can start a lifelong love-affair with literature.


I am Patti Smith and I teach at OW Holmes, which is an elementary-middle school in Detroit Public Schools in Detroit, Michigan. My students are visually impaired, ranging in age from 2nd grade to 8th grade. Five of my students are Braille writers and two are learning Braille. I would love books for young adults in electronic format (Word or RTF) so that I can plug the file into my computer program and emboss the book in Braille so my kids can have something to read. I have found it very difficult to find books for young adults; most seem to be written for very young readers. My Braille readers are all age 11+ and it is a challenge to find relevant books for them to read. Thank you so much!!

Patti’s email is

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Pamela Bumsted.

Pass this along so others can see, too:

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Do as I shout out inappropriately, not as I do . . . (Joe Wilson)

September 13, 2009

South Carolina’s U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson voted to provide medical care to illegal aliens.  See solid coverage of the vote and issue at Open Congress.  (Open Congress is a good site — government teachers, bookmark it.)

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Fight the flu: Posters and blog buttons

September 12, 2009

Cover your nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough. Visit for more information.Click on the graphic for more information.

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Products of intelligent design

September 12, 2009

Polychaete worm, 4-foot long version.  A product of intelligent design?

Polychaete worm, 4-foot long version. A product of intelligent design?

Fish and coral-eating polychaete worms can cause destruction in otherwise peaceful fish tanks.  Read about it here.

Fish tongue-eating isopod parasite.  Image from Pharyngula, borrowed from someone else

Fish tongue-eating isopod parasite. Image from Pharyngula, borrowed from someone else

Read about that one here.

Does William Dembski really explain these things with his maths?  What was God thinking then?

Tip of the old scrub brush and a shake of the old lobster trap to Pharyngula.

Share the word:

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Rasberry Crazy Ants – where’s Godzilla when you need him?

September 12, 2009

Texas holds more than its share of nasty pests:  Imported Argentine Fire Ants, Canadian thistle, zebra mussels, creationists — and now, Rasberry Crazy Ants, Paratrechina sp. nr. pubens.

(Hey, Texas A&M spells it “Rasberry” without a “p,” so do I.  It’s named after Pearland, Texas, exterminator Tom Rasberry, who first identified the Texas pest.)

Remember the wonderful old Japanese monster movies, where monsters from past Tokyo ransackings would return to fight the new monsters?  Texas could use a good Godzilla or two.

Texas A&M’s Center for Urban and Structural Entomology has an extensive information and warning piece out on the beasts — reprinted for you below the fold.

Look what else you can find:

Read the rest of this entry »

Education and teaching blogs, new ones, good ones

September 12, 2009

Good teachers constantly search for good ideas and effective ways to make learning fun, efficient and thorough. So the search for new material and new ideas is constant.

Same on the web.  Where are the good blogs?  Where are the useful blogs?  (Many days readers here ask those questions repeatedly.)

You’re a teacher, parent,  or administrator?  Take a look at this open thread at Clay Burrell’s Beyond Teaching (“I hate schooliness.  I love learning.”) Clay asked for recommendations on favorite blogs about 21st century teaching.

Isn’t it astounding how many new, good teacher  blogs show up every year?  I found a dozen new sources in a few minutes.

Stimulus helped thousands in California’s East Bay

September 11, 2009

This is close to how it was supposed to work.

Oakland didn’t burn.

Kids got jobs, most of them with good experience.

How will the reflexive Obama-haters complain about it?  Wrong youth?  Wrong place?  Wrong jobs?  I’ll wager they can whine about any good news.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Sara Ann Maxwell.


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