Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How to Go Global on a School Budget

The goal: to connect your middle schoolers with experts, students, teachers and citizens around the country and world. The obstacle: your school's budget. But Alexander Russo reports in Edutopia that, using the Flat Classroom Project as an example, teachers can create global education projects with on-hand and free resources.

Russo tells teachers to start close to home, in their schools and communities. Teachers can tap other teachers and students, local businesses or cultural organizations, like churches, that have some connection to another country or region. One example comes from the small, rural town of Mathis, TX, where a new international studies school "discovered that a local company was selling cattle guards to India. The business owner helped explain to the class how the relationship with an overseas buyer works, along with the logistical and cultural issues." Starting close to home not only cuts costs but also helps teachers focus on content rather than webcams, microphones and projectors. Focus on "a meaningful, skill-developing experience, not just a virtual field trip that is pleasant but not particularly deep or rigorous," Russo writes.

And there are a lot of free tools available for all kinds of global or international projects. Wikis, podcasts, and Google Earth are familiar tools for sharing and working across borders and time zones. Nings, also free and with multimedia capabilities, allow students to connect and share in a controlled space, vital for middle schoolers. Scheduling can be coordinated with AirSet, a free online program. FlashMeeting provides free videoconferencing, even for schools with low bandwidth. ePals offers free learning communities that teachers can control and monitor. Many schools are already using ePals for all kinds of learning projects and needs.

For somewhat minimal fees, depending on your school's resources, teachers can also tap iEARN and Journeys in Film. iEARN, International Education and Resource Network, coordinates collaborative projects for $100 per teacher or $400 for an entire school. As many as 20,000 educators are part of iEARN's learning communities. If your school has no online connections, Journeys in Film offers lesson plans to use with international films to bring the world to your students. Journeys in Film charges $75 per teaching guide or $250 for a set of four.

Other sites that have resources for global projects include the Global Educational Collaborative, a social-networking site for teachers; the Apple Learning Exchange, an online community maintained by Apple; and Global SchoolNet, a site that offers project learning exchanges on the Internet.

SOURCE: "Global Education On a Dime: A Low-Cost Way to Connect" 11/12/07
photo courtesy of Gaetan Lee, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

NASA's Digital Learning Network

News Blaze reports that Wednesday, April 30, middle schoolers across the country will connect with NASA astronauts. The Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, will coordinate and "host" the free event.

NASA's Digital Learning Network (DLN) offers fee webcasts and interactive videoconferences to connect students and teachers around the world with NASA experts. The DLN's primary goal is to bring high-quality and "unique" STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) content to K-12 educators and students. At the DLN website, you can search the catalogue for other free, interactive programs for students at any grade level.

Wednesday, students from Junior High School 145 Arturo Toscanini, Bronx, New York; Brenham Junior High School, Brenham, Texas; South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency, Shelton, Washington; Greencastle-Antrim Middle School, Greencastle, Pennsylvania; Middle School at Parkside, Jackson, Michigan; and other middle school students that have been invited to the Goddard Space Flight Center will participate in the webcast. (Greencastle-Antrim and Middle School at Parkside are NASA Explorer Schools.) The webcast will start at 1:15 PM EDT. All the students will be connected to the space shuttle crew that will service the Hubble Space Telescope. The crew will discuss the STS-125 mission to work on the telescope. They will also talk to students about the diversity of the crew and their educational and professional careers. This highlights one of the great side benefits of these kinds of NASA webcasts -- students get to experience remote mentoring to encourage and tempt them to investigate STEM studies and careers.

At the DLN website, you can search for other free programs, look at event guidelines and register for future events. The site also has links for the event catalogue, podcasts, and additional tools and plugins to make connecting middle schoolers and NASA experts easier. NASA has a lot of other great resources for K-12 education, almost all of them free.

SOURCE: "Astronauts to Make Virtual Connection With Students" 2008
Public domain photo courtesy of Library of Congress via pingnews.

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #7: Cowboys and Coffin Makers

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #7:
"Children at Work
in the 19th Century"

(for a colorful, downloadable PDF version, click here)

Topic/Subject: World History
Age Range: 9-13
Grade Level: 4-8

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"Children at Work in the 19th Century"
an excerpt from the book
One Hundred 19th-Century Jobs
You Might Have Feared or Fancied

by Laurie Coulter
Published by Annick Press.
Reprinted here with permission.

~ The Most Beautiful Sight ~

Asa Candler, a soft drink manufacturer, once wrote, "The most beautiful sight we see is the child at labor." He wasn't talking about homework.

Child labor in the Victorian age was considered normal and necessary. Businessmen like Mr. Candler could pay working-class children lower wages than adults and boss them around more easily. Politicians knew that fast-growing industries needed cheap workers for 10- to 12-hour-a-day unskilled jobs. When factory owners broke the few child labor laws that did exist, politicians looked the other way.

Didn't children have to go to school? Not necessarily. In the first half of the century, parents who could afford it sent their children to private schools. State-funded, free public schools began opening in the 1830s. Slave children weren't allowed to learn to read and write. By 1889 most states had passed laws making it compulsory for children to go to school, although the laws weren't always enforced.

Boys and girls were burnt, cut, mangled, and poisoned in accidents on the job. But then, adults were burnt, cut, mangled, and poisoned on the job too. It wasn't until late in the century that children began to be treated as children rather than small adults.

~ Forced Laborer ~

African-American slaves in the 19th century performed many jobs from laundress to skilled craftsperson. In 1860, three-quarters of slave laborers worked on the land. Only a small minority worked in mills, ironworks, and machine shops. The wealth of Southern slave states came mainly from agriculture, not industry.

If you are doing railroad work for the Union Pacific pushing east from California, you are probably a Chinese immigrant. If you work for the Central Pacific railroad heading west from Nebraska, you are likely an Irish immigrant or an ex-soldier.

As a Native American, you do the hard, dirty work that Anglos don't want to do. Under an 1850 California state law, you have been arrested for being a dangerous "vagrant" -- this is someone who doesn't have a job and is considered a public nuisance. In your case, the law is an excuse for forcing you to work on a farm or in a mine. Native children are also seized and forced to work.

A group of kidnappers with nine children under the age of 10 once claimed that they had taken the children as "an act of charity" because their parents had been killed. They were asked how they knew the parents were dead. "I killed some of them myself," replied one man.

By 1870 the Native-American population of California had fallen to 30,000 from about 150,000 in 1848, as a result of racial violence, forced labor, and epidemics.

~ Jobs for Boys and Men ~

Boys began their apprenticeship in a trade as early as the age of 10. As preteens, they went to war as drummer boys and buglers. They also carried drinking water to train passengers, sold newspapers, worked as night messengers and office boys, and toiled in the cotton mills and coal mines. Boys on farms were expected to pitch in and were often hired out to other farmers.

Canal Hoggee

You are the least important worker on the new canals, but without you, the boats wouldn't move. Canal boats are towed by two or three horses that walk along a towpath beside the canal. Your job is to lead the horses for about four hours at a time; then another driver and team take over. Sometimes the relief horses are kept on board and sometimes they are waiting in a shed along the way.

Like you, many hoggees are boys, some as young as 12. Most of the time, the captain is telling you to hurry up, so you look forward to stopping for a while at a lock -- one of the watery "steps" inside gates that let boats move up- or downhill.

As your canal boat waits its turn, you sing with the crews of other barges in line. Your favorite song is "The Raging Canal." You particularly like the lines, "We trusted to our driver, although he was but small, for he knew all the windings of that raging canal." (Probably best not to think about a later verse where he and his team fall into the canal during a storm and the horses drown.)

Railroad Laborer

You are a laborer on one of the construction crews building the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s. Building the line is backbreaking labor done mostly by hand.

Engineers and surveyors stake out the exact route. You cut down trees, blast through foothills with explosives, and dig tunnels through granite mountains so hard that it takes a day to drill eight inches (20 cm). Once the roadbed is level, you put down the tracks.

You work fast. The government has turned the building of the line into a race between two railway companies. The one that builds the most track will make the most money. On the Plains, your crew can put down the wooden ties, lay the heavy iron rails on top, pound the spikes into the rails, and bolt on the connecting plates as quickly as a man can walk.

~ Jobs for Girls and Women ~

Girls worked as street vendors selling matches, flowers, or hot corn, and as babysitters for their younger sisters and brothers while their parents worked. Girls on farms were expected to do chores and were sometimes hired out to other farmers for field or house work.


During the gold rush, you run a successful business washing men's clothes. In the days before washing machines, doing the laundry is long, hard work, usually women's work.

Here's how to do it; haul water in pails from a lake, creek, or well. Fill a large washtub. Use a washboard to scrub the dirt out of the clothes with soap. Boil the clothes in an iron pot over a fire, then rinse them in another pot. After wringing out the wet clothes, hang them to dry. Heat up the heavy iron over a fire and press out the wrinkles. Repeat last step many times.

In 1825, Hannah Montague of Troy, New York, became so tired of washing her husband's shirts when only the collar was dirty that she invented a detachable collar. Less imaginative women who could afford it hired a laundress.

Telephone Operator

You are excited to be one of the first telephone operators, a new career for women. On your head you wear a metal-and-rubber headset that connects you to the switchboard in front of you. Your job is to connect and disconnect callers with cords and plugs. You must have a nice speaking voice and be "ladylike" talking to customers -- no rude sighs or hanging up. Callers ask all sorts of questions, the most common one being, "What time is it, please?"

You could be promoted after many years to chief operator or office manager. However, because this is "women's work," your salary is kept low. The company assumes that you live with your parents and will leave as soon as you find a husband, so you don't qualify for a "family wage" as men do.

In 1876, only 3,000 telephones exist in the United States. By 1900, there are 1.4 million. Now that's a big business!

# # #

Copyright 2007 by Laurie Coulter. Excerpted from the book, COWBOYS AND COFFIN MAKERS: One Hundred 19th-Century Jobs You Might Have Feared or Fancied." Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554510689 (library binding), ISBN 9781554510672 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


Kids' Work in the 21st Century

Laurie Coulter wrote about children's work in the 19th century, from the canal era at the beginning of the 1800s to the railroad era at the end of the 1800s.

Your assignment is to write about children's work in the 21st century. That's now. What kinds of jobs are children allowed to do today? What trends do you see? Are there new jobs for children that didn't exist way back in the 1990s?

Divide your classroom into teams of one to five persons. With your team members, write down as many jobs as you can think of that children have today. That will be the opening paragraph of your history of "Kids' Work in the 21st Century."

Next, assign each team member to write about one job on your list. Try to write about the job the same way Laurie Coulter does in the reading selection. For example, for the job, Newspaper Delivery Person, you might begin like this:

You get out of bed when it's still dark, before your brothers and sisters, before your parents or grandparents. You ride your bike through dark streets until you reach the newspaper station. You roll up dozens of newspapers into plastic bags because it might rain and people don't want their papers to get wet. Etc.

Each team turns in a final history that includes the job list and one job description from every team member. How many different jobs did the class come up with? What was the most unusual one? What are the hardest jobs? What are the easiest jobs? Are kids' jobs still segregated by gender into "boys' jobs" and "girls' jobs"? How is 21st-century children's work different from 19th-century children's work?


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will be revealed during the live Skype Chats and made a part of the Skype Chat Transcripts.

1) Multiple Choice. Which is the best definition for the term, "canal hoggee"?

A. A long, skinny sandwich.
B. A pig that eats the weeds growing on canal embankments.
C. A boat captain trained to sail boats through canals.
D. Someone who guides the horses that pull boats through canals.

2) Matching. For each job listed, indicate whether it was considered a "boy's job" or a "girl's job" or both in the 19th century.

A. newspaper seller
B. hot corn seller
C. babysitter
D. farm chores
E. war drummer

3) Matching. Much hard labor in 19th-century North America was done by slaves, indentured servants, prisoners, immigrants, and Native Americans for little or no wages. Match the groups (numbers) with the jobs they most often did (letters) in the two lists, below.

1. Native Americans
2. Slaves
3. Irish Immigrants
4. Chinese Immigrants

A. Agricultural Labor in the South
B. Railroad Labor in the West
C. Railroad Labor in the East
D. Farm or Mine Labor in the West

4) Multiple Choice. What is Hannah Montague best known for?

A. Inventor of the detachable shirt collar.
B. Inventor of the washing machine.
C. Inventor of the telephone switchboard.
D. Inventor of the foot-long "canal hoggee" sandwich.

5) Multiple Choice. At the beginning of the 19th century, no one had a phone. How many people in the United States had phone lines at the end of the century?

A. Four
B. Four Hundred
C. Four Hundred Thousand
D. One Million, Four Hundred Thousand


  • Should children be allowed to work? What are the benefits of having children in the workplace and what are the drawbacks? Should there be any limits on the kind of work children are allowed to do? What sort of limits would you suggest?

  • Are jobs still divided by gender? What jobs are still all or mostly female? What jobs are still all or mostly male? Do you think it's fair to segregate jobs by gender?

  • Can you think of anywhere in the world that children are forced to work? Where? What kinds of work do they do? Can you find the name of an organization that is working to end forced labor?

  • Do you have any jobs now? Do you have paying work? Do you have non-paying work you must do? What work do you like? What work do you hate? Do you have a choice whether to work or not?

  • If you had to choose, would you rather have a job that's fun or a job that pays well? When you finish your schooling some day, what job or work or career would you like to pursue? Why?

Copyright 2008 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

Introducing Laurie Coulter

Laurie Coulter is the author of five books for young people. Her latest is COWBOYS AND COFFIN MAKERS: One Hundred 19th-Century Jobs You Might Have Feared or Fancied, published by Annick Press. She's also in the LIVEbrary On Demand program, which means you can invite her to your school or library for an Online Classroom Visit. And we've just released a LIVEbrary Lesson Plan to go with Laurie's visit. The plan is designed for World History students at the middle school and junior high school level. Check it out when you have a chance. In the meantime, here's a little background on Laurie Coulter.

Laurie grew up in London and Toronto, Ontario. During winters as a child, she pretended to be a figure skater on a backyard rink, took ballet lessons, and tobogganed in the park across from her house. In the summers at her family's cottage, she and her friends swam, sailed, water-skied, made terrible pizzas, and tried, unsuccessfully, to row around the lake.

Laurie's parents encouraged her to read and draw. When she was a child, she took art lessons and liked drawing more than writing. She loved reading, though, and she and her best friend visited the bookmobile every Thursday after school.

Mrs. Jones, her grade 11 English teacher, encouraged her to write after reading a story she wrote. Laurie began writing poetry at that time as well. In university, she helped a friend with an essay and discovered a second way to play with words -- editing. After graduating from university, she wrote ads and articles for a company that published business magazines. Most of her career, though, has been spent as a book editor, helping authors improve their manuscripts or photographers choose photographs for their books. When she first began writing books, it seemed strange being a book's author rather than its editor!

In her spare time, Laurie likes gardening, canoeing, hiking, visiting zoos and museums, playing badminton and board games, reading, and doing crossword puzzles. Laurie has two children and lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Maile Peachey: The Boalsburg Grant Project

In another great Education World profile, Cara Bafile introduces us to Maile Peachey and Corl Street Elementary School's Boalsburg Grant Project. The fifth grade students study history in a way that belies the usual "nothing exciting every happens where I live" mantra you can often hear from middle schoolers. Though the project has not been updated in a few years, it is still a great model for similar projects and the webpages produced are still available on the Web.

decided to center their project around As Peachey and fellow teacher Loretta Jeffreys (now retired) talked about creating a project, they knew they wanted to avoid just looking at Penn State and State College, Pennsylvania, as a college town. With lots of historical sites all around the State College area, Peachey and JeffreysBoalsburg, PA, the birthplace of Memorial Day.

A Pennsylvania Digital Grassroots grant supplied the computers and digital video cameras needed and the project was off and running. To get students involved in "documenting the past, present, and future of historic Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, on the Internet," Peachey explained, they had to learn "such skills in technology as designing Web pages, creating and editing movies using digital cameras and iMovie software on Mac computers, using scanners, exporting photos in jpeg format to the Internet, and linking other related Web sites."

The fifth graders at Corl Street have no American History or language arts textbooks. Articles, simulations, discussions, videos, guest speakers, and projects are used instead. Students also visit local historical sites. Two fifth grade classes discuss the project as a whole then break into smaller groups to work on specific topics and projects as part of the overall Boalsburg Grant Project. Multiple web pages were produced each year. Those pages and updates are available at this website.

Peachey told Bafile that she especially liked that the bulk of the work on over 100 webpages was done by the fifth graders themselves: "They took ownership of the project and felt great pride about what they accomplished. Each student came away feeling that important people and events really are located near them, not just in places typically discussed in history textbooks." Her advice to other teachers is to not shy away from a big idea or big project. Projects like the Boalsburg Grant Project excite all students regardless of learning style or even ability level. Plus, "it creates fun, happy memories and learning that lasts!" This project is a great model for integrating middle school social studies, local history, language arts, and many Web 2.0 tools.

SOURCE: "Teacher Feature Starring: Maile Peachey" 5/16/05
photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, April 25, 2008

NASA Quest Challenges!

One of NASA's great STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education initiatives is NASA Quest, a series of online explorations or "challenges" that involve students in "authentic scientific and engineering processes" with solutions that "relate to issues encountered daily by NASA personnel." With a couple of plug-ins, a free download and some planning, your middle schoolers can join an exploration and participate in webcasts, chats and other interactive features.

In the explorations, students work in teams, taking on roles that parallel those of NASA researchers. To help guide students' research and process, experts at NASA have regular contact with them through Q&As, chats, webcasts and feedback left on the Challenge website. These NASA Quest Challenges occur twice a school year in 6-8 week sessions. Usually, the Challenge starts with registered students getting a question that mirrors a real NASA mission in progress. Students then "work on preliminary solutions, based on research, as NASA experts provide 'real time' critiquing. Final designs are developed after student obtain constructive feedback and encouragement." All of the final student work and similar projects are featured in a Webcast at the end of the Challenge.

To participate in the live events, you'll need to download and install RealPlayer (a how-to page at the NASA Quest site gives clear guidance and up-to-date links). The how-to page for joining ilive events has links to test your installed RealPlayer. Once it is installed and tested, you can click any link available to you for the Challenge your students are registered for. To chat, you need a browser that supports and has Java enabled. Links for chats are provided at specific events but the instructions page also has step-by-step instructions for joining. Other plug-ins or programs you may need for other parts of the Challenges include the Shockwave plug-in and Adobe Acrobat Reader, both free.

In Fall 2007, the HiRISE Challenge had students examining images of Mars to find signs of water and possible life. It was repeated this spring and wraps up in May. The LCROSS Cratering the Moon Challenge wraps up this month. The LIMA Quest Challenge on Antarctic research is in midstream and finishes in May. More details on these and other missions can be found at the NASA Quest website.

SOURCE: "Welcome to NASA Quest!" 6/2007
photo courtesy of emmyboop, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Duane Habecker: Fun with Middle School Math

Cara Bafile reported in Education World on Duane Habecker's online math games and features for his students. Habecker started his web site to help his 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math classes at Pleasanton (CA) Middle School but now leaves them available for other students and teachers to use in their math studies.

Habecker started his first web site as a "resource" for homework and math help. He wanted students to have resources to turn to before they sought out his help, something many teachers try to foster in their students. As he saw the web site's usefulness for his own students, he expanded and created a Math Resource page for Pleasanton Middle School that collects powerful and fun activities and games for students. Habecker himself "love[s] games, especially ones that reinforce or enrich students' understanding of the math topic at hand. I also know that when I am doing something I enjoy, like playing games, my students will naturally enjoy the experience as well."

The resource page and Habecker's website have activities on exponents, percents, fractions, decimals and much more. Habecker's personal favorite is PIG, a dice game of luck and strategy. Habecker no longer maintains the web site but leaves it available for anyone to use. The Math Resource page is updated when new games or activities are brought to Habecker's attention. You can even enter your email to be updated anytime the resources page is changed.

Of his web sites and online math resources, Habecker said, "I especially enjoy using the many, many, many Java applets on the Web to teach math topics...Many applets do more to help kids understand and practice math topics than a teacher with a static whiteboard could ever do. I encourage teachers to purchase a projector, making it possible -- with only one classroom computer -- for the entire class to share in the experience of the Java applet."

Habecker's resources can be found on his web page, which he also uses for his classes, and at the Math Resource page. Habecker is in the process of moving all his math resources and information to a new Moodle page. The Moodle is a work-in-progress and may not be accessible right away. Everything, though, is still available at the other 2 webpages.

SOURCE: "Online Games Make Math Fun: Starring Duane Habecker" 8/20/05
photo courtesy of Dicemanic, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Learning about Kenya through IVC

Thanks to ACELINK, Summit Middle School students in Fort Wayne, Indiana, are taking part in a Global Nomads Group international collaborative program titled "Kenya: The Power-Sharing Era." The Times Online reports that the five-part program started April 22 and will run through April 30.

ACELINK is a project run by the Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) Division of Continuing Studies and the Invent Tomorrow Education Consortium which provides and promotes the use of technology in education, especially through collaboration. ACELINK provides free programming to Allen County (IN) partner school districts and is sponsoring the Global Nomads Group (GNG) program for Summit Middle School.

The goal of the Global Nomads Group is to use interactive technology, such as interactive videoconferencing, to bring "young people together face-to-face to meet across cultural and national boundaries to discuss their differences & similarities, and the world issues that affect them." For the Kenya program, students will interact with Kenyan students and experts to examine the recent crisis in Kenya:
Through GNG’s live student-to-student interaction, Summit Middle School youth will explore the causes and consequences of the Kenyan post-election crisis and its attendant period of reconciliation. Hearing directly from experts and students on the ground, students will try to make sense of and understand how a democratically stable and comparatively prosperous place became a nightmare of violence and mayhem leading to many deaths and displaced peoples. Furthermore, young North Americans will listen first-hand to how Kenyans from both the Kikuyu and Luo tribes were affected by the crisis, and what it means for them to live in a new age of political power-sharing.
The GNG programs are widely available. You can sign up for upcoming programs at the website. May's program features Bolivia and study of its recent political tensions and changes. GNG also offers streaming of past videoconference programs such as "China: A Superpower Emerges?" and other great resources for bringing the world in to your middle schoolers.

SOURCE: "Summit Middle School to participate in ACELINK Kenya project" 4/21/08
photo courtesy of kevinzim, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #6: Kids Who Rule

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #6:
"Henry Puyi -- Last Emperor of China"

(for a colorful, downloadable PDF version, click here)

Topic/Subject: World History
Age Range: 9-13
Grade Level: 4-8

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"Emperor Puyi of China: 1906-1967"
an excerpt from the book
The Remarkable Lives Of Five Child Monarchs

by Charis Cotter
Published by Annick Press.
Reprinted here with permission.

Puyi snuggled closer to his nurse, Ar Mo. He was sleepy and warm.

"Nearly bedtime," Ar Mo murmured.

"Nooooo," he replied, but he didn't really mean it. Ar Mo's arms were soft, and she smelled sweet, like the white jasmine flowers in the garden. His eyes closed.

Suddenly there was a loud knocking in another part of the house, then running footsteps, then a whole lot of people talking at once.

Puyi sat up and looked at Ar Mo. She was as startled as he was, but she tried to quiet him.

"It's all right. It must be some late visitors," she began. But the racket was getting closer, swelling up outside the room they were in. As the door burst open, a crowd of people rushed in like an angry wave flooding a sandcastle on the beach.

Ar Mo jumped up, still clutching Puyi, who screamed and clung to her neck. Everybody was talking at once: his father, his mother, some servants, and many large men Puyi had never seen before.

His father's face was pale, and he looked strange and sick. "You must go with these men, Puyi," he said. "They have come to take you to the Imperial Palace. The dowager empress is asking for you."

"No!" screamed the terrified boy. Puyi jumped down from his nurse's arms, ducked under his father's legs, and took off out the door. Behind him the noise rose wildly again, with women screaming, men cursing, and somebody yelling, "Catch him!"

Puyi headed straight for the back room, where his hiding place was. He scrambled into the cupboard and shut the door, holding it fast as his heart beat loudly in his ears. But the babbling voices followed close behind, and soon the door was wrenched open.

His father looked down at him sternly.

"Puyi, you must come!" he ordered, grabbing the boy by the arm.

Puyi kicked and screamed and cried as he was dragged out. Soon he was making as much noise as the crowd of grownups. Ar Mo spoke softly with his mother, and people began to leave Puyi's room. Ar Mo sat down and started to rock him.

"You must go, little one," she whispered. "But I will come with you."

~ A New Emperor for China ~

Against all royal protocol and tradition, the next emperor of China was accompanied by his wet nurse in the royal palanquin that carried him from his father's house to the Forbidden City. There the dying Dowager Empress Cixi lay waiting for him. The little boy saw an ancient, wrinkled face peeking out at him from behind a curtain. That set him off screaming again.

"Give him some candy," the old lady croaked to her servants. But Puyi didn't want candy. He wanted Ar Mo, who had been left outside the door. He threw himself on the floor, and kicked his feet and kept screaming. He was two and a half, after all, and screaming was what he did best.

From behind the curtain came a raspy laugh. "What a naughty boy," said the old lady with some satisfaction. "Take him away."

Despite Puyi's naughtiness, the dowager empress had made up her mind. She had the power to appoint the new emperor, and she thought the little screaming one would do very well. For more than 50 years she had been the most powerful figure in China, ruling from behind the throne. Young emperors were easy to control, and as soon as they grew up, she found a way to get rid of them. Puyi's father, Prince Chun, was a nervous, indecisive sort of person, and the empress was sure she would have no trouble from him. The doctors said she was on her deathbed, but she didn't really believe them. She had been very sick, it was true, and she had eaten a huge bowl of crabapples and cream that had violently disagreed with her. But she was a tough old lady, and she thought she would get better.

The empress didn't get better, though. She died two days after her midnight meeting with Puyi. The little boy became a permanent resident of the Forbidden City -- as the Supreme Emperor of China, the Son of Heaven. For the next 16 years Puyi lived shut inside its high red walls.

About 500 years before Puyi was born, the Emperor Yongle had built the Forbidden City as a royal sanctuary in the heart of Beijing. Designed to be a city within a city, safe from attack and outside influences, it took 14 years and 200,000 workers to complete. The Forbidden City occupied a rectangle about one kilometer (.75 miles) long and .8 kilometers (.5 miles) wide, and it was protected by 10-meter (33-foot) walls and a moat seven meters (20 feet) deep. There were towers at each corner of the rectangle and gates in each wall.

Inside the walls, the city was laid out in an intricate maze of palaces, walled courtyards, temples, bridges, and gardens. Many of the roof tiles were yellow, the special color that only the emperor was allowed to use. Everything possible was done to create an exquisitely beautiful hidden city for the emperor, filled with all he could desire. Over the years the Forbidden City became the cultural center of China. Everything new and beautiful found its way there: valuable treasures such as jewels, porcelain, and precious manuscripts, as well as talented musicians, actors, and artists.

Twenty-four emperors lived out their lives within the Forbidden City's high red walls, along with their wives, children, courtiers, and servants. Although it could be a bustling, lively place (as many as 10,000 people lived there at one point), it was also considered a holy site where the emperor could communicate directly with God. According to Chinese tradition, the emperor was an exalted figure greater than all other human beings; he alone had the right to speak to heaven. In the Forbidden City, the emperor was surrounded by rituals to support his lofty position and keep him at a distance from the world.

By the time Puyi became emperor of China in 1908, the Qing dynasty (the royal family) was losing its grip on power. China's government wasn't working, and different groups fought over who would replace it. Everything was falling apart, and the royal court no longer ruled the country from within the walls of the Forbidden City. When Puyi was six, China became a republic, and he was forced to give up his position as supreme leader.

The royal family was still respected in China, however, and life in the imperial court continued much as it had for centuries. Four key women helped to maintain the royal rituals. These were the consorts: wives of former emperors who were now dead. The rulers of China were allowed to have several wives each. Once an emperor died, the most important wife (the empress) became the dowager empress, and the other consorts became dowager consorts. They stayed in the Forbidden City for the rest of their lives. The four old women still living there when Puyi was a little boy did their best to preserve their privileged way of life.

~ The Forbidden City ~

When Puyi entered the Forbidden City at the age of two, it was as if he had stepped 400 years back in time. The inhabitants lived as if they were in medieval China, preserving all the traditions of the imperial court. It was considered undignified for the emperor to walk, for example, so Puyi was carried everywhere on a litter or in a special sedan chair.

According to an ancient Chinese tradition, all the servants in the Forbidden City were castrated men called eunuchs. Puyi couldn't go anywhere without a procession of eunuchs to cater to his every need. Because most people weren't supposed to look at the emperor or even to see him, one eunuch went ahead making a kind of honking noise. This was to warn everyone that the emperor was coming and they should get out of the way double quick. Then came the two head eunuchs, followed by Puyi on his litter, with two more eunuchs on either side. They were followed by a line of eunuchs carrying everything that might be wanted on the walk: medicine, tea and cakes, a teapot, hot water, umbrellas, extra clothes, and a chamber pot (in case Puyi had to pee). The eunuchs walked silently, showing great respect for their emperor.

At first, when Puyi was feeling frisky and wanted to get down and run, the eunuchs would gather up their long robes and try to run after him. This proved too awkward, so after a while the whole procession would stop and wait while Puyi had a little run, then proceed when he felt like "walking" again.

Anyone meeting Puyi, even his parents, had to kowtow to the emperor: they had to get down on their knees and touch their foreheads to the ground nine times, to show how exalted he was and how humble they were.

The emperor's special shade of yellow was used for all Puyi's personal items. The lining of his clothes was yellow. So were his hats, belts, cushions, sedan chair, dishes-even the reins for his horse. This too emphasized how special the emperor was, and how different from ordinary people. When Puyi's brother Pujie first came to play with him in the Forbidden City, Puyi threw a fit when he saw yellow on the lining of his brother's jacket. Pujie quickly learned not to wear that color again.

~ The Strange Life of a Child Emperor ~

Perhaps the strangest traditions in the Forbidden City were the rituals around food. There were no set mealtimes. When Puyi said he was hungry, the word was passed from servant to servant until it reached the building where the food was cooked. Almost immediately, 100 servants in clean uniforms would proceed to the Palace of Mental Cultivation, carrying tables, the imperial dishes, and a huge amount of food. The food was laid out in the emperor's special yellow porcelain dishes that were emblazoned with the imperial five-toed dragon. It was the tradition to serve 25 dishes to Puyi; this number had been reduced from 100. They included duck, poultry, pork, beef, vegetables, and bean curd (tofu). There was even a special dish to honor Puyi's ancestors, called Ancestor Meat Soup. One month, when Puyi was four, the palace records showed that he had eaten 90 kilograms (200 pounds) of meat and 240 ducks and chickens.

Of course nobody could eat that much. All this food was just for show. What Puyi actually ate were the rather plain meals cooked by the dowager consorts' chefs. The fancy buffet was cooked ahead of time and sometimes the same dishes were put out day after day, going rotten and crawling with maggots. But the food had to be presented this way, because it was the tradition.

Another expensive imperial tradition held that the emperor should never wear the same thing twice. Many tailors were kept busy, using up reams of cloth, hundreds of buttons, and many spools of thread to make new silk tunics, waistcoats, and jackets. When Puyi had worn his clothes once, they were discarded.

It was a very strange life for a little boy. At first Ar Mo cared for Puyi. She nursed him with her breast milk, comforted him when he cried, and slept with him in his bed at night. Although Puyi didn't see his real mother again till he was eight, his father, Prince Chun, visited him briefly every couple of months.

Puyi had no one to teach him right from wrong, except Ar Mo. All the other servants treated him like a god. Ar Mo tried to give him a little guidance. She had a calm, peaceful air about her, and Puyi clung to her side. The dowager consorts, who were always scheming to get control of the young emperor, resented Ar Mo's influence on the boy. They had kept Puyi's mother away because they didn't approve of her, and when Puyi was eight they sent Ar Mo away too. They didn't even give Puyi a chance to say goodbye.

Puyi called all of the dowager consorts "mother." They provided him with food from their kitchen, and every day he made an official visit to exchange formal greetings with them. But that was the extent of their communication. When Puyi was sick, all the dowager consorts made visits to his room with their servants, but none of them showed him any affection.

Once, when Puyi was quite small, he got indigestion from eating too many chestnuts. Dowager Empress Lung Yu decided the best cure would be to put him on a diet of rice porridge for a month. Puyi was so hungry he ate the stale bread used to feed palace fish. Nobody seem to care or even to notice that the little boy was starving.

After Ar Mo left, Puyi had to make do with eunuchs for company. They dressed him, fed him, played with him, and told him ghost stories about the statues and carvings of animals in the Forbidden City, which supposedly had magical spirits and could come to life. Puyi loved the stories and always begged for more, but he got so scared he couldn't be left in a room by himself.

~ School at the Palace ~

When Puyi reached his eighth birthday, he began his schooling in earnest. He had already learned to read and write. Now some other little boys were brought into the Forbidden City to be his classmates. One was his younger brother, Pujie; the others were sons of noblemen. The students and teachers treated Puyi with great respect in the classroom, lining up and bowing to him at the beginning of each day. If Puyi was bad and made a fuss or didn't learn his lessons, they beat one of the other kids instead, because no one was allowed to strike the emperor.

The schoolrooms were located in a big, empty building called the Palace of the Cultivation of Happiness. From eight until eleven in the morning, Puyi and his schoolmates studied classical Chinese and Confucian texts. (Confucius was a Chinese philosopher whose values and ideas had formed the basis of Chinese society for hundreds of years.) Puyi also studied Manchu, the language of his ancestors.

He wasn't particularly good at any of his lessons. What Puyi really liked to do was watch the long line of ants in the tree outside the school window, as they carried food to their nests. As he grew older, he loved to read adventure stories about knights and magic, and he would make up his own stories and illustrate them. But none of his teachers encouraged him in these skills, because they weren't considered important. Neither was math, science, or geography, so Puyi didn't learn much about the outside world. He didn't even know where China was located on a map.

When Puyi was 11, the chaos of China's politics suddenly broke into his secluded life. A powerful army officer, General Zhang Xun, had decided to restore the monarchy, and he had the support of a strong faction of royalists, including Puyi's tutors. For 12 days Puyi was a real emperor again, signing proclamations. Throughout Beijing, people hung out imperial flags emblazoned with dragons and wore court robes, hats with peacock feathers, and false pigtails, to show their loyalty to the emperor. (The pigtail was the traditional hairstyle worn by royalists.)

But the situation could not last. When a republican pilot flew a small plane over the Forbidden City and dropped three bombs, Puyi's attendants hustled him into his bedroom for safety. The bombing didn't do much damage, and only one eunuch was hurt, but it signaled the end of Puyi's brief return to the throne. The republicans took over the country again, people threw away their false pigtails, and the Forbidden City returned to its sleepy routines.

~ The Johnston Era ~

Puyi's life was shaken up two years later with the arrival of a messenger from the outside world. Reginald Johnston, a Scotsman who had spent 20 years in Asia, had been hired to teach Puyi English, but he ended up giving the boy a crash course on life beyond China's borders, with an emphasis on the British Empire. As a result, Puyi developed a mad crush on everything British, from clothes to afternoon tea. Using Johnston as his model, he transformed himself into a proper little English gentleman, complete with waistcoat, tie, and cufflinks. Puyi chose an English name, Henry, after one of his heroes, King Henry VIII. He gave his brother and sister English names too-William and Lily-and began speaking a strange mixture of Chinese and English, which annoyed his Chinese tutors.

Before he met Johnston, Puyi had harbored a deep-seated fear of white people. He found it strange and spooky that, instead of black, their hair and eyes could be any of various colors. The eunuchs didn't help, telling him that white people carried canes to beat people with and that their trousers were pleated because they couldn't bend their legs. When Puyi first met Johnston, with his upright military bearing, gray hair and blue eyes, the boy was terrified. But his fear slowly changed to respect.

Johnston had a passion for royalty and a sincere affection for his pupil, and he became Puyi's loyal friend. He cherished a hope that some day the monarchy would be restored in China and Puyi would rule as a true emperor. In the meantime, despite his love of Chinese culture, he encouraged Puyi to take on the manners and values of an Englishman, including mastering the art of small talk and using a knife and fork instead of chopsticks.

Johnston didn't approve of the Chinese pigtail, so Puyi cut his off, much to the alarm of the dowager consorts and the entire Chinese court. Johnston insisted that Puyi wear glasses because he was half-blind without them. Although the old ladies declared that glasses would make the emperor look weak, Puyi eventually got his specs. Johnston encouraged Puyi to make occasional trips outside the Forbidden City, and he supported Puyi's desire for a telephone. Even though this request was seen as a threat to their influence, the dowager consorts finally gave in. Soon, in a spurt of juvenile glee, Puyi was making crank calls to famous actors and ordering restaurant meals to be sent to false addresses.

Johnston's influence spread to nearly every part of Puyi's life. The boy started reading newspapers voraciously and learning everything he could about politics. He tried to understand how his country worked and to figure out his place in it. When Puyi was 15, he had a power struggle with Dowager Consort Duankang. He felt it was time to become involved in hiring and firing employees, and he tried to assert himself. Duankang sent for his mother and grandmother, and gave them such a terrible scolding about Puyi's behavior that they begged Puyi to apologize. Puyi reluctantly agreed. But two days later, tragically, his mother killed herself. Some people thought it was because she was so terrified by Duankang and so full of shame about the whole affair.

The dowager consorts grew more and more concerned about Reginald Johnston's influence on Puyi. The boy was showing signs of growing into a man who would want to make his own decisions. If he left the Forbidden City, the dowager consorts would have to leave too, and so lose all their privileges. They decided it was high time that Puyi got married and produced an heir. Once Puyi was married, they reasoned, he would no longer need a tutor.

Puyi wasn't interested in girls. He dreamed of leaving China and studying at Oxford University in England, as Johnston had done. He and his brother Pujie cooked up a plot to escape, but when they asked Johnston for help, the Englishman refused, worried that his involvement might cause problems between Britain and China. Puyi was devastated. He wanted to live life as himself, not as a pretend emperor manipulated by the dowager consorts or the Chinese warlords.

But it was not to be. The consorts gave him four photographs of young women they approved of, and Puyi chose two of them: Wan Rong, a beautiful, educated young woman of 16 as his first wife, and Wen Xiu (who was rather plain and only 13) as his second wife. Both weddings took place when Puyi was 16, with celebrations that lasted five days. Many expensive gifts were given to the brides and their families, and a glorious wedding procession for the first wife wound through the city of Beijing. But Puyi hadn't wanted to get married, and he showed little interest in either of his wives. Reginald Johnston's role as his tutor officially ended, but Puyi still depended on him as a trusted advisor.

Two years after his weddings, Puyi's make-believe life as emperor of China came to an abrupt end. Feng Yuxiang, a warlord who disapproved of spending money on Puyi and his court, marched into Beijing and took control of the city. When his troops surrounded the Forbidden City, Puyi was forced to leave and find sanctuary in his father's house. He would never again live within the high red walls of the ancient city.

~ The End of the Story ~

Puyi was eager to embrace the world he had been sheltered from for so long. When he reached his father's house after leaving the Forbidden City, he said, "I had no freedom as an emperor. Now I have found my freedom." But, sadly, Puyi was destined to be a puppet all his life. The scenery would change as he moved from place to place, but he was always manipulated and always in some sort of prison.

After he left the Forbidden City, Puyi needed to find a safe haven away from the chaos of Beijing. The Japanese were planning to take control of China, and since they thought Puyi would be useful, they welcomed him into their country with open arms. A few years later they installed him as the emperor of a new state in China they dubbed "Manchukuo."

Puyi's life had taken a cruel turn. He had no real power in his new role, and he was being used by China's enemies to oppress his own people. For the next 16 years he had all the trappings of an emperor: the title, a mansion, a luxurious lifestyle. But the majority of Chinese people considered Puyi a traitor. Wan Rong, his first wife, became addicted to opium and died in prison many years later. Wen Xiu, his second wife, divorced him.

When the Japanese were defeated in the Second World War, Puyi was imprisoned for five years in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China's neighbor to the north. Chinese Communists took control of China in 1949, and Puyi was shipped back to his homeland. He expected to be executed, but the Communists had something else in mind. Puyi's extravagant life as emperor had made him public enemy number one. If the Communists now running China could reform him, it would be a triumph for their cause. Puyi was taken to a prison where those who were deemed to be wrong-thinking citizens were subjected to endless lessons on what it meant to be a good Communist.

For the first time in his life, Puyi had to learn to live with other people as an equal. He never was much good at looking after himself-all those years of being carried around the Forbidden City and waited on hand and foot had left their mark. He was always the last to be dressed, he dropped things, he misplaced his belongings, and he could never quite get organized. But he did what his captors wanted of him: he said he regretted his former life and was sorry for all the terrible things he had done. Puyi became a model Communist citizen, eager to humble himself at any opportunity and to obey all the rules of the Chinese Communist Party.

After nine years in prison, Puyi was released. The Communists were pleased with their transformation of the evil emperor into a responsible citizen. One of the first things he did after being released was to take his fellow prisoners on a tour of the Forbidden City, which had been made into a museum. Puyi dutifully showed them the palaces and courtyards where he had lived for so many years in his make-believe kingdom.

Puyi was given a job at the Botanical Gardens in Beijing, and he puttered around doing some light gardening in the mornings. In the afternoons, he worked on his memoirs. With the help of another writer, he eventually completed the story of his life, and it was published and widely read. Puyi married again, this time to a Communist Party member. He died from cancer at the age of 61.

Nearly 30 years after Puyi was cremated, his widow obtained permission to have his ashes buried at a cemetery near the Qing dynasty tombs south of Beijing. Four former emperors were buried there, along with many other members of the royal family. Puyi had joined his ancestors. He would always be remembered not as the strongest, or the wisest, or the most powerful emperor of China, but as the last.

# # #

Copyright 2007 by Charis Cotter. Excerpted from the book, KIDS WHO RULE: The Remarkable Lives Of Five Child Monarchs. Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554510627 (library binding), ISBN 9781554510610 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


King or Queen for a Day

Imagine that you are made King or Queen of your school and have absolute authority over how things are to be done at your school. How would you change things? Please describe changes you might make in each of these areas:
  • School Hours. What hours of the day or days of the week would your school operate?
  • Subjects Taught. What subjects of study will be offered in your school. Would you offer math, science, history, language? Or maybe something a little more unusual?
  • The Food. The food in the cafeteria or in the vending machines. What food options would you offer?
  • The Dress Code. If you had a dress code, what would it be? What colors or patterns would your uniforms have?
  • Extracurricular Activities. What sports activities would your school offer? What about clubs or other organizations -- what groups could expect support from Your Highness?
If you knew that students or teachers or parents could revolt against your rule and imprison you for 15 years, would it change the way you rule the school? How so? Do you think students or teachers or parents would revolt against your rule? Why or why not?


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will be revealed during the live Skype Chats and made a part of the Skype Chat Transcripts.

1) Multiple Choice. What is a "consort"?

A. A musical show held in an auditorium.
B. A close friend you seek advice from.
C. The process of separating prisoners by gender.
D. Title of an emperor's lower-ranking wives.

2) Multiple Choice. In the reading selection, what activity was performed in the Palace of the Cultivation of Happiness?

A. Eating.
B. Going to school.
C. Playing games.
D. Dancing.

3. Multiple Choice. Which letter corresponds best to the definition of "Manchukuo"?

A. Region of China once ruled by Puyi.
B. One of the martial arts.
C. Name of a Chinese dynasty.
D. A hearty stew made with beef.

4. Multiple Choice. Why didn't the communist government execute Emperor Puyi when the communists came to power in 1949?

A. They considered Puyi to be their true and rightful leader.
B. The Emperor is seen as a god and above politics.
C. They were unable to capture Puyi, who went into hiding when the communists took over.
D. They wanted to reform Puyi rather than kill him.

5. Multiple Choice. Why was Puyi picked to be Emperor of China?

A. He was the son of the previous Emperor, who died.
B. He was too young to be a threat to the Dowager Empress.
C. Even at a young age, he Puyi showed the calm temper and regal bearing of an emperor.
D. His name, "Puyi," means "born to rule."

  • Henry Puyi had a love for writing and illustrating stories, but his teachers considered such activities frivolous and didn't encourage them. Do you have a natural born talent that no one seems to notice? What is it?
  • Emperor Puyi came under the influence of a man named Johnston and decided to take an English name for himself: "Henry," after King Henry VIII of England. If you were to pick a Chinese name for yourself, what name would you pick and why?
  • If you were an Emperor, what shade would you pick as your official color? Why?
  • When the young Emperor Puyi misbehaved, other children were spanked in his place, since you could not spank the Emperor. Have you ever been punished falsely? What did you do about it?
  • Emperor Puyi's official seal was the five-toed dragon. If you were Emperor, what would your official seal be? Why?

Copyright 2008 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

More and More keeps growing and the most recent growth has been in education, with teachers and librarians from K-12 to college. is the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies' number one tool of 2008. In a post on the blog, Britta Gustafson shares her favorite bookmarks on the use of in education:
  • In a Library Journal article from 2007, Melissa Rethlefsen writes of librarians using to "bridge the gap between the library's need to offer authoritative, well-organized information and their patrons' web experience." Often, librarians turn to and similar tools to guide library users to quality sources on the Web and away from what one librarian called "unedited and ill-founded and repetitive single-page resources." Some librarians use tag clouds as replacements for subject guides, making it easier for less computer-savvy librarians to participate in highlighting library collections and resources. links can also be centered around current news topics or items for an in-class or homework project. "Task tagging" allows librarians or teachers to bundle tags for particular classes, topics or projects. Many of these ideas and uses are great for middle school classrooms and libraries. And because it is Web-based, teachers, students, and librarians can have access to their bookmarks wherever they are.
  • In "Tag--You're Delicious!," posted at, Andy Carvin gives a rundown for newbies what is, how it works and what you can do with it. He discusses the portability and the power of tagging for personal use and networking, using his blog and account links as examples.
  • Classroom 2.0 has a wiki on social bookmarking. One link will bring you to an ongoing Classroom 2.0 discussion board on using social bookmarking in teaching. Lesson plans are available to show how can be used with students, including guidance on teaching them personal safety and privacy. There's also a list of links to social bookmarking sites other than, including Edutagger, made specifically for K-12 use. A list of links offers up articles and blog posts on how and why to use social bookmarking with your classes. also has a recommended wiki page on using (It is temporarily unavailable.) With the openness and potential of social bookmarking, we can show students that learning is not confined to four walls or childhood and that expert opinions can be found in typical and not-so-typical places. And it has excellent homeschooling or summer use.

How do you use social bookmarking? Do you prefer over other options like Furl or Mag.nolia? What about Diigo, which combines social bookmarking with highlighting and sticky notes?

SOURCE: "Who says librarians (and teachers) don't like tags?" 3/12/08
SOURCE: "Tags Help Make Libraries" 9/15/07
photo: screencapture of the homepage

Introducing Charis Cotter

Charis Cotter is the author of KIDS WHO RULE: The Remarkable Lives of Five Child Monarchs, published by Annick Press. She's also in the LIVEbrary On Demand program, which means you can invite her to your school or library for an Online Classroom Visit. And we've just released a LIVEbrary Lesson Plan to go with Charis's visit. The plan is designed for World History students at the middle school and junior high school level. Check it out when you have a chance. In the meantime, here's a little background on Charis Cotter.

Charis has always loved books and reading. Her favorite present as a child was a dusty box of second-hand Bobbsey Twins books her mother found at a rummage sale. She grew up in Cabbagetown and Parkdale in downtown Toronto, and she lived for the summers when she would go to camp and live in a tent. She enjoyed singing by the campfire and acting in plays at camp and at her local library.

Her family lived in a small house that was overflowing with children, dogs, cats, grandmothers, and parents. At one point, eleven people lived there! Charis liked making up stories in her head and daydreaming. She would crawl into a cupboard in the basement and sit among blankets and winter coats, eating crackers and reading her Bobbsey Twins books. She also had a stash of Trixie Belden books and lots of fairy tales. When Charis was nine, she discovered J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, which became her favorite book for life.

Charis wrote plays and produced them at school and at camp. She also wrote stories and poems. Her mother, who taught creative writing, helped Charis learn to write well. Charis studied English at university because it allowed her to read a lot of books. Then she went to acting school in Toronto and England. She worked in theater in Toronto for a few years; her favorite role was as the killer on a murder mystery train that went across Canada.

To earn a living in between acting jobs, Charis worked in a variety of places, including a bookstore, a film company, a vegetarian restaurant, a flea market, and a kindergarten. In her most ladylike job, she wrote invitations by hand for the Ontario Lieutenant-Governor's Office.

When Charis had her daughter, Zoe, she changed careers and started doing freelance editing and writing. This gave her the opportunity to read a lot more books on fascinating subjects: astronomy, canoes, gardening, cooking, human evolution, and history. She soon found herself writing about history, and she got hooked on the past. She wrote a book about Toronto in the 1920s and 1930s, illustrated with photographs from that time. Toronto Between the Wars: Life in the City 1919-1939 won the Heritage Toronto Award of Excellence in 2005.

Today, Charis works at home in downtown Toronto, writing books in a room with beautiful trees painted on the walls. She lives with her 14-year-old daughter Zoe and two imperious cats. Zoe has been a great inspiration for Charis. When Zoe was one, she got her first library card and the two of them would read piles of books every day. Now Zoe helps Charis get ideas for books, and helps keep her in touch with what children like to read.

Charis and Zoe both love reading about kings and queens, and that's how Charis came up with the idea for KIDS WHO RULE. Charis thinks the most important thing for aspiring writers to do is spend a lot of time daydreaming. Reading lots of books is a good idea too, but nothing beats letting your imagination wander.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Top Tools for Connecting and Collaborating

The Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies has released a list of their Top 100 Tools for Learning for Spring 2008. For educators and collaborators looking for good tools, or just wondering if there is something better, cheaper or easier that what they are already using, the list provides brief reviews and links to websites in addition to the rankings.

Tools that can connect students to the community or world outside the classroom walls also pop up on the list. The highest ranking is Skype, which comes in at number 4. Ning and Twitter, a microblogging and social networking tool, come in a three-way tie (with YouTube) at number 17. Voicethread, with its collaborative media albums, comes in at 24 (tied with RSS feeder Bloglines).

Adobe Connect ranks 52, up from 72 last year. Formerly Macromedia Breeze Meeting, Adobe Connect contains modules that allow multiple educational uses. For K-12, Adobe offers a package with 3 modules that support the creation of "eLearning content," such as documents, animation, audio files or other media, and synchronous and asynchronous communication. The package also contains teacher tools like quiz makers and gradebooks. The Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional module adds live conferencing capabilities with recording and playback options. It uses Flash player which should make it easy to use regardless of who you are connecting to or how far away. Unlike Skype, Ning and many of the other tools listed, it is not free. The site offers pricing options for schools and districts.

Other tools for connecting and collaborating that show up in the Top 100 include Elluminate (64), a favorite of the Horizons 2008 Project;; and Yugma. Both Yugma and have been mentioned on this blog in the past. Though there aren't many tools listed for interactive videoconferencing or other synchronous communication between students and remote experts, the list is an excellent find for those looking for tested, reliable and largely free options for building their own Classrooms 2.0.

SOURCE: " Top 100 Tools for Learning Spring 2008" 3/31/08
photo courtesy of iowa spirit walker, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dave Powers: Algebra 2.0

As middle school teachers and librarians integrate technology across the curriculum, challengers are presented in re-visualizing or reorganizing how content is delivered, reinforced and used by students and teachers. Dave Powers, math teacher at Wydown Middle School in Manchester, MO, is ready to push secondary math instruction into the School 2.0 era by actively trying to create a flat algebra classroom for the 2008-2009 school year.

Powers blogs at Do the Math where he explores "21st century teaching, 21st century learning, and 21st century math and science." In his recent post "Re-Organizing the Classes of School 2.0," Powers discusses a dilemma he faced in trying to create an online Algebra I text. It wasn't just a matter of how to organize the text, as in what came in what order on what page, but how to re-vision math instruction: "As I was brainstorming, I realized that this organization structure does not fit the new school 2.0 movement." The crux of his dilemma was finding free, quality algebra resources online. His proposal: to "universalize the organization of our school 2.0 content" with a flat-classroom-style project for algebra.

He has started a Flat Algebra I Classroom Textbook page (currently unavailable) and a Flat Algebra I Classroom Project wiki and discussions on his Classroom 2.0 page. The project is openly inspired by Vicki Davis' and Julie Lindsay's Flat Classroom Project. The unifying principle for The Flat Algebra I Classroom is that millions across the world are being taught or studying algebra at any moment which creates an incredible potential for collaboration and School 2.0 learning.

The initial steps are ongoing -- to recruit participating schools and teachers and then to create an idea for a project. The wiki page only started a month ago so only Powers' school is signed up right now. It will be exciting to track the progress of this project.

Is anyone else interested in flattening his or her algebra classroom? Would Powers be interested in collaborating with homeschoolers? I also wonder what Web 2.0 tools and technology Powers and his collaborators will use to bring their students and content together over the Web.

SOURCE: "Re-Organizing the Classes of School 2.0" 4/4/08
photo courtesy of .raindrops., used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Virtual Touring

Field trips cost money and require planning, class time and chaperones, which can be hard to come by when most parents work full-time. Plus, leaving for a day or half-day separates students from resources in the classroom and you have to rely on them remembering enough of what you feel is the important stuff for it all to come together in class. Virtual tours can help with all of that. They are free, can be integrated into a lesson plan or unit, require no extra people to keep middle schoolers within bounds, and can be returned to again and again with no extra expense or planning. At Michigan Reach Out!, below a list of real-life tours, you can find a list of virtual tours that students anywhere can "take" in or out of class:
  • Remember the Los Angeles River? Me neither. The Target Science Los Angeles River Virtual Tour allows students to follow the river digitally from the San Fernando Valley headwaters to the end at Long Beach. The tour stop at 12 different points along the river with pictures of and text on the history, plants, animals and architecture along the river.
  • Texas A&M University's Department of Geology offers a virtual hike in Big Bend National Park. (The home page has lots of other options, like a page on the changes in Big Bend over time.) This tour also features pictures of flora that can be enlarged for closer viewing. One picture shows biological erosion caused by lichen. For students from very different climates and regions, this can be eye-opening and a very cool supplement to any paper lesson or textbook.
  • The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, FL, offers a virtual tour plus information on wildlife, science, and land management. The virtual tour follows the 2.25 mile boardwalk trail in the sanctuary. The trail "takes visitors through several distinct habitats found within the 11,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, including the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in North America." The text is very readable but the pictures can't be enlarged for closer viewing or for students with sight problems. Like other virtual tours, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary tour's strength is in giving students pictures to go along with the names of areas, ecosystems, flora and fauna.
  • Journey through Tikal, sponsored by Studio360, moves students through the ancient ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala. This is a great chance to see some of a top tourist attraction. Quicktime is needed to see the pictures. Students can go through the tour using navigation tabs or can click "hotspots" on maps located on each page. Clicking on a hotspot reveals a picture and some text about the particular building or area of the city. The pictures have zoom capabilities so students can "get closer." At the page for the Great Plaza, for example, sounds of howling monkeys give a taste of what the jungle surrounding the city sounded like in ancient times and even today.
  • The Virtual Cave features four different virtual cave tours--the original Virtual Cave, a Lava Tube cave, a Sea Cave, and Erosional and Glacier Caves. The cave pages are packed with pictures and informative text. Each page also emphasises safe exploring of any real cave and offers links for more information or detail, such as a map of Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island, CA.
  • The Yerkes Observatory Virtual Tour offers pictures that can be enlarged for closer viewing and links to see the outside of the observatory as well as the interior. Students can also see pictures of labs and instruments being used for research right now. They can also see the skylight in the rotunda near the main doors, read about the telescopes on site, and learn about past research at Yerkes, including work by Sherburne Burnham and Gerard Kuiper. The page on current research at Yerkes hasn't been updated since 1998. That could be a great challenge for a class, to research what is currently going on at Yerkes. The site also has a link for you to find other observatory virtual tours.
Even though most of these tours lack the kind of interactivity that is guaranteed to draw even reluctant students in, the chance to see far-flung places even in 2-D is exciting. These tours offer specialized information that can supplement classroom or home study. Are there virtual tours that you've had particular success with? Or any to avoid?

SOURCE: "Listing of Tours in the Southeastern Michigan Area" 3/22/08
photo courtesy of CarbonNYC, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Making a Second Language Real

On her Education World blog, columnist Brenda Dyck reports on the explosion of web-based tools for learning and practicing a foreign or second language. These tools increase the ability to use a language and learn vocabulary by offering "more authentic environments" for language practice.

Not all the tools are new. Many Web 2.0 tools are perfect for this kind of learning. Students can connect with native speakers through ePals, international pen pal sites or collaboration on blogs and wikis. Skype and other interactive videoconferencing tools can create more opportunities for conversation and vocabulary acquisition. According to research Dyck quotes, videoconferencing "gives not only immediacy when communicating with a real person but also visual cues, such as facial expressions, making such communication more authentic." Just as when they are used in other disciplines like social studies or language arts, Web 2.0 tools give students a wider audience than the teacher and offers great incentives to learn and perform at a high level. As long as these tools are used for creation, such as making videos or even just writing emails, the learning is enhanced far beyond the old drill-and-repeat method.

Dyck lists programs and tools for particular uses and needs, some already familiar from other discussions of Web 2.0 tools, others which are new or open source:
  • Blogger, Google Docs, Zoho or any word processing program can be a first step to allow students to "communicate, collaborate and create" in the foreign/second-language classroom.
  • Gliffy, Mindmeister and Mindomo offer mapping tools to aid "grammatical competence."
  • Voice communication through Google, ePals, Skype, Friendship through Education, or any program or tool that allows synchronous or asynchronous talk helps hone conversation skills and comprehension.
  • G-Cast, Podomatic and Odeo are podcasting tools; podcasts are another way for students to converse and collaborate asynchronously in a particular language.
  • Audio available online can help with pronunciation, mostly by providing proper models. Dyck mentions Mango, SpeakShop, and SpanishPod.
  • Tandem and BookBox allow collaboration via telephone, email or other means. (The Tandem link in Dyck's post appears to be broken.)
  • Tools like VoiceThread, Sketchcast and StoryTools allow for participation in a Reader's Theatre or creation of an ad. These can help model correct pronunciation, too.
  • Natural Reader is a text-to-speech tool.
  • Presentation tools such as SlideShare can also be useful.
  • Videos can be found at YouTube and TeacherTube. Videos can be annotated with BubblePly in whatever language you're studying.
Many resources listed focus on Spanish, but others can be found. The best tools are those that get students to use and practice the language being taught.

How do you use the Internet or Web 2.0 tools in your language lasses? Are any of the tools listed above big hits with your middle school students? What tools are your favorites?

SOURCE: "Using Technology to Bridge Understanding For Foreign- and Second-Language Learners" 4/11/08
photo courtesy of sanbeiji, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, April 14, 2008

Still More Ways to Connect: Talkshoe, Wimba, and Zimbra

Previous posts have looked at some of the programs and options teachers can use to connect their students with the world outside the classroom walls, such as MeBeam, Moodle, Coccinella, WebEx, WiZiQ and others. A few other options are worth mentioning, like Talkshoe, Wimba, and Zimbra.

Talkshoe offers community calls that can be joined in by phone or computer, allowing synchronous discussions. These discussions are automatically archived as podcasts that can be listened to later or downloaded and edited. Users can also use text-only synchronous chats. It wasn't clear from the FAQs if voice and chat can be used together, as in MeBeam and some other tools.

Talkshoe provides the software, Shoe Phone, chat rooms, players for podcasts, widgets, storage, bandwidth, directory listing and technical support all for free. If you have previous podcasts from a collaboration, those can be uploaded. There's no limit on recording. Talkshoe Live! Pro software can be downloaded and offers more options like community call host control of the users, see-who's-talking indicators, access through Skype or VOIP, and the ability to handle up to 250 talkers in a call with the potential for thousands to listen.

If you have a class Ning or blog, a Talkshoe embed code can be placed on it. Community calls can be public or unlisted. Unlisted Group Calls only allow invited users to participate or listen, a good feature for teachers concerned about privacy or potential distractions. As a host, you can also control who gets to chat or talk and you can even remove users from the Request-to-talk queue.

Wimba Collaboration Suite can stand alone or be integrated into a course management system (CMS) like Blackboard, Moodle or WebCT. The Suite adds collaborative tools to CMS that do not have them or have limited tools. The Suite offers:
  • Wimba Classroom, a live virtual classroom that incorporates video, audio, and application sharing.
  • Wimba Pronto, an instant messaging system and voice chat tool for synchronous communication. If you are using it with a CMS, Pronto will automatically add students in a class to a joint list that they can access with ease.
  • Wimba Voice which allows live discussions between teachers and students. It is promoted as a great tool for language instruction because it combines oral and written work like an in-the-flesh learning environment.
  • Wimba Create, a tool that converts Microsoft Word documents into online content and includes interactive features for the online content like hyperlinks, self-test questions, tables of content and streaming of audio and video.
Wimba is not free but if a school or district is already using a CMS, Wimba can extend the uses of that system to allow more and broader collaboration.

Zimbra offers a Collaboration Suite for educators, too. The Suite includes email, address books, calendars, document sharing and other collaborative tools like VOIP, tags and RSS in an easy-to-use system. Documents can be collaboratively written and edited. Another great feature of Zimbra is its adaptability; it can be used with email programs teachers and schools may already be using like Outlook, Eudora, Apple Mail or Thunderbird. An open source edition is available, as is a version for Blackberries. Zimbra allows administrators to customize the Suite, control spam and viruses, store information more efficiently and economically, and has "favorable educational pricing."

At the Zimbra site, you can find Flash tours of the features. The Flash demos mostly point out business uses, like incorporating orders and meetings via email and a shared calendar. A PDF lists all available options and the packages in which they come.

So what tools do you use with your students?

SOURCE: "Frequently Asked Questions" 2008
SOURCE: "New to Talkshoe?" 2008
SOURCE: "Wimba Collaboration Suite" 2008
SOURCE: "Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.0" 2008
SOURCE: "Zimbra for Education" 2008

photo courtesy of Larsz, used under this Creative Commons license