Monday, June 30, 2008

General Excellence Award: Chuck Estep

Meris Stansbury, assistant editor of eSchool News, reports on the ten educators and three policy makers who were honored by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Cable in the Classroom (CIC). The 13 were honored for advancing 21st century teaching and learning. One of the honorees, Chuck Estep, was featured for his work with Virtual Field Trips (VFTs).

Estep is the curriculum resource consultant for the Monroe County Intermediate School District in Michigan. He won the General Excellence Award for his Virtual Field Trips. Estep and fellow teachers worked closely with local historians and the Monroe County Historical Museum to craft lesson plans that adhered to state curricula. He started with a VFT of the battlefields of the War of 1812. So far, 70 classes and 2,300 students have toured these battle sites "through cable TV for a lesson in the region's history through movie trailers, film footage, music, animated presentations, short video vignettes, and a dynamic presenter."

Estep feels strongly about the value of integrating technology into teaching: "When we make technology a part of our methodology, our students are engaged in ways that otherwise would nearly be impossible. We have a responsibility to provide students with the opportunities to access, utilize, create, and learn using technology. It's malpractice to do otherwise."

In the future, VFTs could include a visit to an operating room. Estep also wants to create "on demand" VFTs so teachers outside the school network can use the trips anytime. The school's spelling bee and Quiz Bowl will also be streamed out through the Web.

Estep's cash prize will go toward more equipment to improve the Virtual Field Trips and other work being done by him and his colleagues to use technology to stimulate and teach. Congratulations, Chuck!

SOURCE: "Cable industry honors visionary educators" 06/23/08
photo courtesy of emilywjones, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, June 27, 2008

The American Revolution Online

Looking for some sites to enrich your teaching of the American Revolution or celebration of Independence Day? Walter McKenzie at Education World highlights 5 top sites for teaching students about the Revolution. And just in time for the Fourth of July!

The first site McKenzie highlights is The Federalist Papers. All 85 essays are at the website. These essays are often used to help us understand what the Founders meant when they created the Constitution. The site has a great search engine that lets you hunt for exact phrases or words.

The Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention is sponsored by the Library of Congress. Here, students can see the primary documents of the Congress and Convention. It is listed as great for secondary school and even college-level research but it can also be useful in middle school or with gifted students in social studies.

America Rock has all those great Schoolhouse Rock songs that some of us remember seeing on Saturday mornings. Some of the Schoolhouse Rock songs related to the Revolution included at the site are "No More Kings," "Fireworks," "The Shot Heard Round the World," and "The Preamble." McKenzie says adults might find them "silly" but I bet they are too catchy and useful to dismiss. I know that I remember a lot of Schoolhouse Rock almost 30 years later.

Liberty! The American Revolution is a companion website for the PBS special about the American Revolution. It has a lot of great resources for the classroom, including the game The Road to Revolution. This game uses interactive quizzes and fictionalized news articles to engage and teach students.

Independence Day on the Net is a "comprehensive celebration of the history, legends, and traditions of this most American of holidays." The site has music, fireworks, and tons of information on the origins of the Fourth of July and the customs surrounding that day. This site seems suited more for elementary school or the beginning of middle school but can be fun anytime. It's a great idea for your own kids sitting at home who may want to get revved up for this year's holiday.

Little Known Facts about the American Revolutionary War is also a fascinating site with answers that are off the beaten path, like the fact that women fought in the Continental Army and there were actually two Boston Tea Parties. This collection of little-known facts will appeal to kids and adults alike. The host of the site is the state of Delaware.

Happy Fourth of July 2008!

SOURCE: "The American Revolution" 06/03/08
photo courtesy of babasteve, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher

We hear anecdotes and read news articles sounding the alarm for boys in our schools. Are they being left behind? Why do their scores drop in middle school, especially their writing scores, when compared to girls. A recent book by Ralph Fletcher tries to address these questions and offer some tools and tips for helping boys as writers.

Fletcher is a respected staff developer and children's book author. His books on teaching writing and using the writing workshop, such as Live Writing: Breathing Life Into Your Words and What a Writer Needs, are widely read and valued by teachers of writing. In Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, he tries to show teachers what the classroom and writing workshop are like from the perspective of boys. And it's not good. Boy writers often feel rejected by teachers when the topics they choose or like most, such as war or bathroom humor, are disapproved of or received with no enthusiasm. Some teachers emphasize handwriting which hampers some boys (and girls) and makes writing a chore at which they are sure to fail. Regardless of the exact whys, many teachers find themselves struggling to reach boys and help them develop as writers, especially as they move into the middle school grades.

The chapters discuss various topics like "The Gender Filter," "Rules of (Dis)Engagement," "Drawn to the Page," and "Boy-Friendly Territory." Each chapter ends with a section called "What can I do in my classroom?" with practical tips and options to try with male students. At the Stenhouse Publishers' website, you can see the table of contents and read the first chapter, "The Trouble with Boys," in PDF format.

In that chapter, Fletcher discusses what he's seen as a writing workshop consultant and what he has heard from some writing teachers. He also outlines what he learned from Tom Newkirk's book Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture, published in 2002. What Fletcher got from Newkirk is that "we don't really understand the boys in our classrooms. We misunderstand their crude humor. Especially after the tragic shootings at Columbine High School, we fear their apparent thirst for violence, which is reflected in what they choose to read and write. Instead of trying to understand these boys we treat them as a problem to be managed." No wonder some boys are sullenly disengaged from the classroom.

Fletcher hopes that his book will help break down the barriers between boys, their writing voices and their teachers. Hopefully, with his guidance, we can inspire boys and "widen the circle" of writing workshop to make them feel welcome and ready to take a chance and participate at all ages.

SOURCE: "Stenhouse Publishers: Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices" 2008
photo courtesy of GypsyRock, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More with Google: Lit Trips

Suzie Boss reports in Edutopia about one teacher's blending of literary "road trips" with Google Earth to enhance his literature teaching. Though he teaches and uses his Google lit trips in high school, they can certainly be adapted for middle schoolers.

Jerome Berg is an English teacher and technology-integration coordinator at Granada High School in California. His site, Google Lit Trips, features ready-made "lit trips" that can be downloaded and used with Google Earth. The trips are interactive and multimedia by nature. To start, you'll need to download Google Earth and spend a few minutes getting used to the navigation tools. They're relatively easy but if you prefer formal guidance, you can use the Google Earth tutorial.

With the interactive tools, students can follow the journey a literary character or non-fiction author takes or describes in a text. At Berg's site, you can see the potential of these lit trips with the one he created for The Kite Runner. The KMZ file, what Google Earth files are called, has placemarks in key locations, color coded to link them to exact chapters in the book. Students can zoom in to see terrain or buildings. They can also "fly" virtually from Afghanistan to California and back just as the character Amir did.

The placemarks also include embedded supplementary information on the Pashtun people, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and other details to enhance students' understanding or enjoyment of the book. Some of Berg's popups feature questions to encourage students to think about the story, characters or issues raised. Students can add placemarks themselves that help them relate to or better understand the story.

At the end of the article, Boss gives instructions on how to make your own lit trip and offers examples of ones made by middle school and elementary school teachers, both of which can be seen at the Google Lit Trips site. Students can also create their own lit trips. You can see a lit trip created by 2 seventh-graders for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants at Berg's site. A lit trip can be a great supplement to studying a text or can serve as an engaging end-of-term project.

SOURCE: "Google Lit Trips: Bringing Travel Tales to Life" 06/12/08
photo: screencapture of the Google Lit Trips homepage

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Diane Heitzenrater: Finalist for PA Teacher of the Year!

Rich Pietras reports for The Intelligencer that one of the 12 finalists for Pennsylvania's Teacher of the Year is from Keith Valley Middle School in the Hatboro-Horsham School District. Diane Heitzenrater has taught technology to sixth, seventh, and eight graders for the past 8 years and if the praise from her peers is any indication, she has a great chance of winning.

Heitzenrater incorporates technology into middle school studies to show students how these tools can help them learn and make learning more fun. She really enjoys middle school: "I especially love teaching middle-school students. At that age they are all about changing. They are very exploratory and very clever. They are really starting to find out what their interests are."

Heitzenrater was nominated by fellow teachers, parents, community members and students. A committee of former finalists and PA Teachers of the Year chose 30 semifinalists then the 12 finalists, including Heitzenrater. She says she was "honored and thrilled" to make it through the process. It's no cakewalk -- the committee takes several months to make its decisions.

The principal of Keith Valley, Jonathan Kircher, calls Heitzenrater "an outstanding, student-centered educator" and a "teacher leader" who "works hard to help students be successful in their learning." He praised Heitzenrater and the whole technology department at Keith Valley for the help they have given teachers and students over the past four years to integrate technology into the curriculum.

The Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year will be announced in October at a celebration ceremony in Harrisburg. The winner will be the state's nominee for the national Teacher of the Year. The winner will also serve as a spokesperson for fellow teachers in PA.

Break a leg, Diane!

SOURCE: "Keith Valley teacher finalist for state's top honor" 06/19/08
photo courtesy of Wesley Fryer, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Virtual Experience of China

Mike Wendland reports for the Detroit Free Press on a new interactive game that teaches students of all ages Chinese language and culture. Zon/New Chengo teaches through fun, interactive activities and can be used alone or in a classroom setting.

Yong Zhao, a distinguished professor of educational psychology and technology at Michigan State University, is also a respected researcher in Chinese education. He is originally from a poor area in the Sichuan Province. Zhao started working on the game in 2001, intending it to be "fun and educational" and to give players "a vicarious, virtual experience of China."

Zon/New Chengo is a multiplayer role-playing game that gets players to move up through Chinese society from "tourist" to "citizen." At each stage of the play, quests and challenges are encountered. Players also have access to educational material, including tutors in Chinese, and can create and join in social activities. The game is Web-based so nothing needs to be downloaded. It is free for now but in the future, Zhao plans for there to be a small monthly fee.

Zhao hopes to create future editions aimed at specific audiences or groups, like business people, students at varying levels, travelers, and more. To play Zon/New Chengo, go to the game website and register. Once you enter your information and create an avatar, your avatar will appear in the Beijing airport and your first quest will begin. This is a great game for students interested in Chinese language and culture, especially after the dreadful earthquakes in Sichuan and before the coming Beijing Olympics.

SOURCE: "MSU professor creates online game to teach Chinese culture, language" 06/16/08
photo courtesy of McPig, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, June 20, 2008

Middle School | Second Life

Virtual worlds like Second Life have grown a lot in recent years and educators are participating in larger and larger numbers. Andrew Trotter reports in Education Week that though many of the current educational users are at the university level, more and more K-12 educators are tuning into to Second Life and its safer portal for teens, Teen Second Life or "Teen Grid."

Education is important to Linden Research, Inc., the company that owns Second Life. Educators are offered a discounted price. Linden Research has also started a listserv for Second Life in Education where educators can share ideas and methods.

Second Life is not an easy thing to start, though. There is a steep learning curve. Fortunately, there are places to get help inside and outside Second Life. Kevin Jarrett, who teaches in the K-4 computer lab at Northfield Community School, in Northfield, NJ, took a six-month sabbatical to explore the potential of Second Life for educators and now volunteers his time at an "island" in Second Life to help newbies. Other obstacles for many K-12 educators include the inability to transfer anything from another virtual world into Second Life and the technology required. Second Life also needs a lot of video processing capabilities that some school networks or computers simply do not have.

But there is a lot of potential in Second Life for educators, for classroom use and professional development. Some educators are using islands in Second Life to give lectures and seminars and more informal gatherings like coffeehouse chats and balls. K-12 schools are using the more restricted Teen Second Life to create "walled-in private 'estates'" for exclusive use by their school's staff and students. Some of the things being done with Teen Second Life:
  • Creating virtual structures that mimic real-life spaces and buildings
  • Conducting virtual science experiments
  • Making short videos, called "machinima," in which students write scripts and shoot at virtual locations
  • Talking to peers in other countries
  • Constructing working volcanoes and avalanches
  • Purchasing virtual land or other items to learn "market math"
  • Service projects, like raising money for humanitarian aid in Sudan
Aaron E. Walsh, director of the Immersive Education Initiative of the Grid Institute, a Boston-based company that focuses on virtual worlds, believes that schools will only use virtual worlds extensively when they can host them on their own servers to increase safety and performance. There's also the problem of the expense, a tough thing for many schools right now. Another potential problem is using Second Life at random, as if anything will be better if it is done virtually. The advice for educators is to proceed slowly and thoughtfully to use the best of what virtual worlds can offer.

SOURCE: "Educators Get a ‘Second Life’ " 06/18/08
photo courtesy of HVX Silverstar, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Great Sites for American History

Hazel Jobe at Education World wrote about some of the best sites in their archives for American history. These sites are reliable stopping points for enriching American history or any related social studies lesson or curriculum.

Of several sites, Jobe chooses the top five then lists other useful sites. The top five:
  • Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids is produced by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office. It has resources for learning about the workings of government for students, parents and teachers.
  • History Detectives is a companion site for a PBS series of the same name. Here, students can access interactive features and activities that help them learn about investigating historical mysteries. The site also has lesson plans for middle and high school.
  • History Wired is a virtual tour of selections from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
  • The Underground Railroad is a site produced by National Geographic Online that uses multimedia and interactive features to explore the stories and history of the Underground Railroad.
  • Teaching with Historic Places has lesson plans and other resources for teaching American history. The focus is on properties listed in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places. There are also professional development opportunities for teachers.
Links in the article send you to Education World site reviews from the archive that address content, organization of the website, and aesthetics along with a review that highlights main and especially notable features.

At the end of the article, Jobe lists other sites from the archive worth mentioning, such as the National Constitution Center; American Notes: Travel in America, 1750-1920; and History and Politics Out Loud, an archive of "politically significant audio materials for scholars, teachers, and students." The article was last updated in 2005 so watch out for broken or moved links.

SOURCE: "Sites to See: American History" 05/25/05
photo courtesy of Weaselmcfee, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #9: Rise of the Golden Cobra

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #9:
"Egyptian History"

Subject: World History
Age Range: 11-15
Grade Level: 6-10

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"A Traitor in the Temple at Thebes"
an excerpt from the book
by Henry T. Aubin
Published by Annick Press
Reprinted here with permission.

~ Introduction ~

In the excerpt, below, teenage Nebi survived an attack from the traitorous Lord Nimlot, who had joined the enemies of Egypt's throne, the northern Mesh. At the time -- 734 BCE -- South Egypt was ruled by King Piankhy from the southern Kingdom of Kush. Piankhy's sister, Amonirdis, reigned over South Egypt from the temple at Thebes. As the excerpt opens, Nebi, found barely alive after crossing the desert, is taken by goatherders across the Nile River to the temple at Thebes. He carries a message for princess Amonirdis, "the Divine Adoratrice."

~ The Road to the Temple ~

Nebi took in the spectacle through half-closed, feverish eyes.

Thebes had few fortifications, yet its appearance from midriver awed him even more than North Egypt's capital, high-walled Memphis, which he had sailed past with Master Setka.

Here, signs of great wealth were spread everywhere. Estates and villas spread out from the city. Obelisks towered over the center. As the Temple of Amon at Karnak came into view, his eyes widened. It was said to be the biggest building anywhere. Monumental pylons rose above a protective wall. In the rich afternoon light, the yellow stone looked golden.

The villagers lugged the boy through streets lined with open-air stalls and teeming with farmers, slaves, civil servants, and children. Nebi's deprived senses sprang back to life. Aromas of spices and flowers filled his nostrils. He bathed in the sounds -- snatches of animated banter, the cries of vendors, and the giggling of girls.

From knee level, he could see swirling about him tan Egyptians, black Kushites, pale traders from the Middle East, and, here and there, still paler traders such as he had seen in the Delta. He had heard they came from a thickly forested area emerging from barbarism -- Europe.

~ The Captain of the Guard ~

The peasants wove their way up an avenue lined with stone sphinxes the size of horses. It led to the entrance of the Karnak temple's outer walls. Carved in limestone above the gate was one of the symbols of the faith, the disk of the sun carried on two great wings.

Guarding the immense bronze doors were a few bare-chested soldiers in red kilts, their number evenly divided between Kushites and Egyptians. At the ends of the tall pikes they held upright, red pennants drooped in the breezeless heat.

The villagers set Nebi on the dusty ground. Bowing and stuttering, the goatherd timidly asked for the captain of the guard.

It took so long for the Kushite officer to emerge from his little office that Nebi wondered if he had to be awakened. But he was a striking, large-boned man, fully a head taller than his soldiers, and broad-shouldered as well.

The captain wore an officer's standard kilt of white pleated linen; two red stripes down each side denoted his rank. His eyes turned downward at the outer corners, giving him a melancholy expression.

Hands on hips, the big man examined the humble trio but said nothing.

Nebi propped himself on an elbow. "Please, sir, get word to Her Holiness the Divine Adoratrice that a messenger from His Excellency Setka is here to see her."

The captain cocked a skeptical eyebrow at the scrawny, blistered speaker. To be a messenger, and particularly a messenger for the royal family, was as prestigious as it was demanding. It was not a job for a ragamuffin.

"Setka?" drawled the captain. "Who is Setka?"

"Her Holiness will know."

The captain looked him in the eye. Nebi held his stare. And held it.

"I'll see," the captain finally said.

When the lanky office returned, he was striding quickly. He clapped for the guards. "Pick him up and follow me," he told two of them.

Nebi put one bony arm over each guard's shoulders. When he turned to thank the goatherd and his neighbor, their mouths were wide open with astonishment. The guards followed the captain through the gate.

~ The Temple of Anon at Karnak ~

Inside the walls, it was Nebi's turn to gape. After passing through courtyards and corridors, they entered a hall into which his whole village of 80 houses could have fit. Here, all was dim, cool, and restful.

The guards followed the captain through a forest of pillars, each adorned with colorfully painted carvings of gods, lions, lotuses, and past pharaohs. Nebi craned his neck to look up. Each of the pillars was the equivalent of seven stories high. The sweet haze of incense made this colossal scale seem dreamlike.

They entered a smaller, ornate chamber off to one side. On a raised platform in the room's center, a woman sat on a throne. Next to the platform, with their backs to Nebi, stood three men and two women. A shaft of sunlight angled down on them.

The guards halted in front of the seated princess. She was middle-aged and sturdy, with earnest eyes. Hand cupping her chin, she was presiding over a discussion of some affair of state. A bejeweled collar of many colors spanned her shoulders, and a blue sheath dress left her ebony arms bare. But what caught Nebi's eye was a peculiar gold ornament over her forehead that glinted in the sun shaft. Attached to the gold band encircling her head, it looked rather like a curled index finger.

The guards placed Nebi in a chair in front of the princess. Desiring privacy, she waited until both guards and their captain had departed. Then she said, "What is this about Setka?"

~ The Interrogation of Nebi by Princess Amonirdis ~

"Most Holy One," Nebi Said, "His Excellency Setka's last words were that I should see King Piankhy."

"Last words?" she said. "Tell me what has happened to the king's oldest friend!"

"Your Holiness, my master was killed by a traitor after his real mission was discovered."

She leaned forward. "We can trust my advisors and courtiers," she told the youth, gesturing to those on either side of her. "I knew of Setka's mission, but I need to know much more. Explain to me who you are and why you have come to me." Her voice was kind but commanding.

"My name is Nebamon. I am from North Egypt -- from Damanhur, a village in the Delta. My father was Egyptian, a farmer, and my mother is Mesh. I worked for His Excellency."

"In what capacity?" she asked.

"I was his servant -- at first. I felt from the beginning that my master was more than just a merchant from Kush exploring trade possibilities. He came to trust me, and he told me that King Piankhy had commissioned him to uncover what was really happening in North Egypt."

A murmur of interest came from Amonirdis's entourage.

"I know the Delta and its dialect, so I began to act as his guide and interpreter," said Nebi. "I would take him from village to village. He learned that Lord Tefnakht was quietly drafting young men into a large new army."

The princess's eyes widened.

Nebi went on: "Master Setka heard that Tefnakht was meeting other Delta warlords, some of whom had been Tefnakht's enemies until then. He learned that these new allies had amassed a fleet of ships with which they planned to invade the south. In the evening, he would dictate to me his notes for a report intended for the king."

"You can write?" she asked.

"I have received training as a scribe at Sais, Your Holiness. Events kept me from completing my studies."

Amonirdis nodded. "Yes, I thought you sounded well-spoken for a peasant." She looked at him with respect.

Only one of every hundred Egyptians could read and write. Almost all scribes were from privileged backgrounds; they were an elite group who looked after records, one of the most precious things for any administration. No profession was more exalted -- or more challenging. Scribes had to memorize more than a thousand hieroglyphic and cursive characters. Even the powerful "viziers," who ran each Egyptian domain on behalf of its ruler, always came up through the scribal ranks.

"Master Setka's report was for King Piankhy himself. He was murdered so that it could never reach the king."

"Who slew him?"

"The Mesh. They attacked him as he was preparing to return to Napata to give King Piankhy his report. The other witnesses were killed, including the police chief of Khmun and his wife."

The princess glowered.

Nebi plunged on. "Lord Tefnakht has North Egypt's lords on his side, and now he has made one major ally in South Egypt."

"Who?" said Amonirdis with alarm.

"Count Nimlot of Khmun." Nebi did not try to hide his bitterness as he almost spat out the name. "He has abandoned King Piankhy and joined Tefnakht. The person leading the Mesh thugs who murdered Master Setka and his companions was Nimlot himself."

A hush fell over the group on the platform. After a moment a loud sound erupted from among them -- a confident, sarcastic cackle.

The source of the laughter had been standing out of the light and behind the others, so that Nebi had been hardly aware of him.

Now this slender figure strode forward, hands on hips. A cape embroidered in his family colors, brilliant stripes of yellow and green, hung from his shoulders.

It was Nimlot.

# # #

Copyright 2007 by Henry T. Aubin. Excerpted from the book, Rise of the Golden Cobra. Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554510603 (library binding), ISBN 9781554510597 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


"Family Tree"

Henry T. Aubin, author of RISE OF THE GOLDEN COBRA, was inspired to write about the Kush civilization by his adopted son. Henry is Caucasian and one of his four children is Black. A Harvard-educated journalist, former reporter for The Washington Post, and currently a columnist for The Montreal Gazette, Aubin put his research skills to work looking for historic role models for his adopted son.

What Aubin found was an advanced civilization living along the Nile River in Africa that has been nearly forgotten by history books. Kush was known for racial tolerance and advancements in government, the arts, and the sciences. The greatest of all Kush rulers, King Piankhy, was Black, as were most Kushites.

Your assignment is to research your own family's history and tell us about someone you discover who has an interesting story. You don't have to become a genealogist -- chasing down birth and death records -- if you don't feel like it. You can find the story of someone with your same family name and tell their story -- even if they're not related to you.

Who did you find? What kind of life did they lead? What are the most interesting facts you uncovered about him or her? Does learning about this person's life inspire you to try something new? What? Did you discover any other interesting people or family facts during your investigation?


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will also be revealed during LIVEbrary chats and made a part of chat transcripts.

1) Which word, below, most closely matches the definition of the word, "vizier," as used in the reading?

A. Vizier = a seer, one with clear vision into the future
B. Vizier = an "advisor," one who analyses and reports to the king
C. Vizier = a member of royalty, descended from Amon
D. Vizier = a goatherder

2) Multiple Choice: What race was princess Amonirdis?

A. "White" -- most likely European
B. "Light" -- most likely from North Africa or Arabia
C. "Brown" -- most likely Egyptian
D. "Black" -- most likely from Kush

3) Multiple Choice: Where is Thebes, in relation to Memphis and Napata?

A. Thebes is south of Memphis and north of Napata
B. Thebes is south of both Napata and Memphis
C. Thebes is north of both Memphis and Napata
D. Thebes is north of Memphis and south of Napata

4) Multiple Choice: Can you guess the meaning of the word "Amon" from close examination of the reading?

A. Amon = King, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kush
B. Amon = Priestess. Amonirdis = "high priestess"
C. Amon = Prince. Prince Shebitku is the Amon of Kush
D. Amon = The god who gives the King the right to rule

5) Multiple Choice: What race are the Mesh?

A. "White" -- most likely European
B. "Light" -- most likely from North Africa or Arabia
C. "Brown" -- most likely Egyptian
D. "Black" -- most likely from Kush

  • Amonirdis ruled South Egypt from the temple at Thebes. She was a Kushite -- a black woman. It was not uncommon to have women holding positions of power in Kush society. Can you name some countries that have had female heads of state? How about Black heads of state? How many can you name?

  • In the reading, 14-year-old Nebi is taken to Princess Amonirdis to tell his story. He is called a liar by Count Nimlot -- a member of the royal family. Has anyone accused you of lying when you know you didn't? How did you defend yourself? How did it work out? What advice do you have for Nebi, who must convince the Princess he is telling the truth? His life depends on it.

  • In the reading, Nebi says the ruling class of "viziers," or advisors, were drawn from the class of scribes -- those who know how to read and write. Don't you think it's unusual that the rulers were chosen from scribes rather than from military officers, priests or clergy, or blood relations of the current rulers? What profession do most world leaders come from today: teachers, clergy, military, business, lawyers? What's your guess? How can you find out?

  • In the reading, Nebi is carried to Thebes by goatherders. Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw a really big city or gigantic skyscraper? How did you get there? What did it feel like? Have you ever been on a working farm where someone tended livestock, such as goats, cows, or chickens? What was that like? If you had to choose between living on a farm or living in a skyscraper, which would you choose? Why?

  • In the reading, when Nebi is laid at the temple gates, the people who brought him are silent. Nebi must speak up and ask to see the Princess, even though it's a preposterous request, before the Captain of the Guard retreats back behind the temple gates. Can you remember a time when you did not want to speak up but you had to find the courage to say something, even though you were scared to death? Did you speak up? What happened next? Did it work out okay for you?

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.

The Empowered Education Awards Finalists!

To make the case for educational technology to skeptics in Congress and elsewhere, eSchool News joined with leading experts to create the Empowered Education Awards (EEA). Meris Stansbury reports for eSchool News on this contest which asks those most affected by educational technology -- students -- to make the case for it.

EEA, with funding from the Pearson Foundation, challenged elementary, middle and high school students to create three- to seven-minute videos on "How Technology Helps Me Learn," a theme meant to show how schools are using technology to complement and enhance student learning. The winners from each grade category, plus their teachers, get free trips to Washington, D. C., with guided tours in D. C., recognition at an awards ceremony, prizes for the winners and their schools, and more. The biggest part of the prize is getting a chance to meet with state representatives and senators on the importance of technology in education and its boon to learning.

The entries have been narrowed down to three finalists in each category: elementary, middle and high school. In the middle school category the finalists are:
  • "Satellites and Us" from Yokota Middle School, Tokyo, Japan -- "Student reporters from Japan give a glimpse into the world of satellites at the Miraikan Museum of Innovative Science and Technology."
  • "One Pretty Cool Movie" from Creative Connections Art Academy, CA -- This video"shows how students in California use technology to create classroom magic."
  • "How We Use Technology to Learn" From Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, VT -- "Reporters for South Burlington Network News (SBNN) travel back in time to 1983 to show the differences technology has made in the classroom."
You can see the middle school finalists, plus the finalists for the elementary and high school categories, at the EEA webpage. You can also rate them and help eSchool News decide on the winners. The winners will be chosen and announced in September.

SOURCE: "Student videos demonstrate ed-tech's value" 06/13/08
photo courtesy of brockvicky, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Writing Matters for Middle School

There's been recent concern about middle schoolers and writing, especially boys, and what schools can do under some of the real and difficult conditions they face. One nonprofit has created a program it thinks will help middle schoolers, especially boys, with writing and teachers with the teaching of writing. Writing Matters promises an engaging interactive curriculum that uses humor and models to help middle schoolers with their writing and professional development for teachers to help schools keep up a consistent program of best practices even under difficult conditions.

At the Writing Matters website, you can take a guided tour through the features. The program is based on three specific challenges in education: how to engage middle schoolers at a time when performance tends to drop; how to engage boys in writing, especially as boys continue to be less likely to meet state writing standards than girls; and how to prepare teachers to effectively teach writing especially as schools experience rapid teacher turnover. An important part of using Writing Matters is the professional development offered. Teachers are offered a one-day workshop that addresses the writing process and the most effective use of Writing Matters in the classroom. Literacy specialists and coaches take a multi-day workshop.

Writing Matters basically has four components:
  • Eight writing genre study units that are research-based and address specific genres of writing, like editorials, test prep, and responding to literature. The units are "developed by nationally-recognized author-educators," like Georgia Heard for poetry and Heather Latimer for short fiction and memoir. Each genre contains multiple mini-lessons on craft and mechanics specific to the genre and the writing process in general.
  • Animated Story-Based Lessons are a second component. These are meant to make the abstractions of the writing process more concrete through modeling and humor. Two students, DD and JT, model the thinking process and ways to approach writing projects, specific challenges and concepts.
  • The Interactive Online Writing Room is a place where student writers at any part of their process can get peer and teacher feedback. Each student can develop a portfolio that can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. It's a collaborative environment also and includes tools for teachers to track student progress.
  • The Class Publishing Tool is a class e-zine where student writing can be published. Teachers design the e-zine and decide whether to keep it private or allow other classes to also access the e-zine.
There's a guided tour at the Writing Matters website but it has no controls, so you can't pause, rewind or fast forward. The Program Overview page is pretty informative and has links to demo lessons and clips of animated lessons.

I'd love to hear from teachers using Writing Matters or who have experience with it.

SOURCE: "Program Overview" 2007
SOURCE: "Guided Tour" 2007
photo: screencapture from the Writing Matter's Guided Tour

Monday, June 16, 2008

Marshall Space Flight Center Comes to Nevada

Amanda Sanchez of 13 Action News in Las Vegas reported on an interactive videoconference between a middle school and NASA late last month. It was a dream come true for many of the students who got to attend.

Thirty-seven sixth-graders in a computer literacy class were able to take part. The lesson was led by a staff member at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and took students through a general overview of what happens at NASA. It ranged from space science to astronauts and rockets. Video, graphics and other tools were used in the lesson.

Students loved the experience:
  • "It was a great experience especially for sixth graders, I know that probably not even students in high school could do this back then."
  • "I liked that we got to learn about what people do at NASA, it is pretty cool."
  • "I am really into space stuff, because I like to float."
The Wells Fargo "Grant A Wish For Your School" Program and the Nevada Public Education Foundation paid for the videoconference and this amazing chance to get close to the goings-on at NASA. There's hope that this program and others in the future will help students make future choices that will benefit them and the world around them. It's also another great example of what NASA offers to students wherever and however it can reach them.

SOURCE: "Valley Middle School Students Video Conference With NASA" 05/27/08
photo courtesy of jurvetson, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, June 13, 2008


Emilie Doolittle reports in The Mercury News on a new site for teens that mixes social networking with learning in a secure space. The goal is to teach teens more about business and technology. And it's a nonprofit, so the site is free.

Dale Ferraro of Saratoga, CA, came up with FreshBrain for teens 13-18 years old. He wanted to help teens learn about new technology and to help schools keep up with all the rapid changes. Ferraro worked for Sun Microsystems for 20 years and when "he told them he was quitting to start a nonprofit...Sun offered to help him out and is currently one of FreshBrain's leading partners."

Kids can register for FreshBrain by entering their birthdate and making up a profile. Then they can try out activities and projects on the site and compete in contests. Parents have to complete a form that is emailed, faxed, or mailed back to FreshBrain before students can participate in any project or contest. Once registered and approved, kids can find activities and projects in several categories: Eco/Green, Gaming, Graphic Design, Music, Videos/Movies, Web, and Development. Projects are featured every week on the homepage. Users rate projects and activities and can even create their own projects.

On June 9, FreshBrain started its roster of summer activities and projects called Summer Splash 2008. Contests challenge students to create the best Facebook application or the funniest YouTube video or to design headphones. This is a great site for your project-oriented and gifted/talented students for the summer.

SOURCE: "Saratoga man's networking Web site enhances education" 06/09/08
photo courtesy of technochick, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Collaborative Word Processing: 4 Tools

Julia VanderMolen has a great article in techLearning on four Web 2.0 tools that make collaborative writing easier. They can be used by students in different locations or countries or can give students in the same class access to a shared document anytime, anywhere.

Google Docs handles word processing and spreadsheets. Nothing needs to be installed. And documents can be password protected. Google Docs is similar in look and feel to Microsoft Word and Excel versions up to 2003. It's pretty simple to use. VanderMolen offers screenshots and some basics to get you and your middle schoolers started.

Zoho Writer is a Web-based word processor that also lets you post to a blog and import and export documents in lots of formats -- Word, PDF, RTF, HTML, SXW and others. You can also lock your documents. To use Zoho Writer, register at the website. Zoho Writer has a Template Library with basic formats for documents like newsletters and quizzes. You can find other Zoho products like spreadsheets, chats, organizing tools and presentation tools.

Writeboard works as a collaborative writing tool. To use it, just log on. Documents are called "writeboards" and are password protected and, therefore, all private. Unfortunately, there's no WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor and no toolbars like in Google Docs or Zoho Writer. Writeboard gives students a basic text area. Formatting text is done with codes. VanderMolen writes, "You will find it easy and fairly intuitive to use."

VanderMolen calls ThinkFree "Office without the Microsoft." ThinkFree offers applications that have most of the features of Word, PowerPoint and Excel. You get 1 GB of free online storage. Online collaboration is just as easy as with Google Docs and Zoho Writer. Once you create an account, you can use the Write, Calc, or Show components. The site is supported by banner ads and search ads. There's a premium service that offers more storage and no ads for a fee. ThinkFree also has a link that tells you ways teacher and others are currently using it.

VanderMolen includes helpful screenshots and a comparison chart at the end of the article that gives a quick overview of the features of all four tools. I can see using one of these tools for peer editing and group work, making it easier for on- and off-campus students to complete projects and share ideas.

SOURCE: "Four Web 2.0 Collaborative-Writing Tools" 06/01/08
photo courtesy of Zesmerelda, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kansas on the Cutting Edge

Thanks to an "aggressive technology program" in the state of Kansas, students can almost regularly communicate with peers around the world. Marjorie Landwehr-Brown of Douglass Public Schools writes in T.H.E. Journal about the Global Learning Program she created with Jim Keller, the superintendent of Douglass Schools. The program started in the elementary school, expanded to the middle school, and will be used in Douglass High School this fall.

The Global Learning Program brings Kansas students together with international peers to work together on projects. At each level, the projects differ according to grade level; in middle school, the projects focus on music, science and art. Landwehr-Brown writes that teachers in the schools "introduce students to the technology fairly slowly, and...give students across the world a chance to get to know each other before starting the heavier conversations or more elaborate projects."

In a December 2007 exchange between middle school students in Kansas and Cairo, for example, students discussed their divergent definitions of the word "jihad." No matter the project, students on both sides of the ocean were changed by the dialogue between them. Another great example comes from a project with fourth and fifth graders in Hong Kong and Kansas on rain forests:
The kids were responsible not only for producing a report, but for explaining the guest mural, from the cultural context of whoever created it. My kids had to explain why Hong Kong kids draw faces on trees and that trees in Hong Kong have a whole different historical reference than they do in the United Sates. [sic] Because there are good and bad spirits in trees, according to Chinese culture, and our kids have to know that.
Part of the inspiration for the Global Learning Program came through Landwehr-Brown's and Keller’s conversations with businesses in the area. Representatives of companies like Coca-Cola, Cessna, Learjet, and Boeing said over and over that they wanted workers who could "not only...communicate with different cultures but...go a step further and be able to create a product with them." With help from Kay Gibson and Glyn Remington from Wichita State University, a curriculum was created to bring students and technology together for collaborative projects in art, music, math, science and language arts.

Landwehr-Brown's article gives more great detail on the programs and partners used. There's great advice and more examples. And there are the details of the high-definition conferencing equipment partly underwritten by Conference Technologies Inc. (CTI), "a LifeSize high-definition conferencing codec, two cameras, two 60-inch plasma displays, touch-panel controls, and an installed sound system." There's a picture on the article; it looks really cool.

SOURCE: "Global Learning Initiative Helps Kansas Students Collaborate with Peers Around the World" 06/09/08
photo courtesy of hive, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Do Virtual Field Trips Cheat Your Students?

Previous posts have mentioned available virtual tours and lists of links but not how specific schools are using them or the controversy involved. Ben Arnoldy reports in The Christan Science Monitor that as more and more schools see virtual field trips as options, educators are asking themselves if this is this a good thing for students or if it shortchanges them.

The state park system in California reaches almost 20,000 students every year through virtual field trips. Students at Marshall Middle School, for example, teleconferenced with a state park guide on the CA coast to see and learn more about elephant seals. The park system uses these virtual tours as a way to engage a new generation and increase visits to and investment in state parks.

A third grade class in Citrus Heights, CA, had a teleconference with a NASA educator when Pluto was deemed not a planet. Students can go places that were impossible before or with far more focus than is possible in a real field trip. "Take the kids to the zoo and they are all over the place. Take them the Bronx Zoo, virtually, and they can go behind the scenes and see the hairs in a buffalo's nose," says Ruth Blankenbaker, executive director of the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), which helps organize virtual fields trips through its website.

The current growth in virtual field trips or virtual tours is fueled by costs. Gas is $4 or more a gallon across the country and the cost is a strain for school systems. According to Ryan Gray, who edits School Transportation News, about 40 states will have a deficit in their transportation budgets when the 2008-2009 school year starts. Other factors encouraging virtual field trips are the wider availability of broadband, an increase in virtual field trip options, and a reduction in costs for teleconferencing equipment. And with virtual field trips, far-flung visits like to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia become possible regardless of student family income or district wealth or poverty.

But there are objections to the use of virtual field trips. Some fear that the free or near-free virtual field trips will replace all field trips as schools face higher costs and reduced budgets. What students really need, according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, is "the hands-dirty, feet-wet experience in nature." Some educators are being judicious and using teleconferencing and virtual field trips to prepare students for real-life field trips or to interact with experts in a controlled way before or after a real visit.

How have you used virtual tours or field trips this school year? How will you use them next year? Will you, like some teachers in the article, not reduce the number of real field trips at all and simply add virtual field trips as supplements? Or will you face a slashed budget and have fewer options other than virtual field trips? What about in poorer school districts -- how are virtual field trips being used?

SOURCE: "Now students take field trips online" 06/06/08
photo courtesy of elemenous, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, June 9, 2008

Introducing Henry Aubin

Henry Aubin was born in New Jersey. He spent his childhood there, as well as in France and Malta. As a child, he was fascinated by the Egyptian and Assyrian exhibitions at New York's Metropolitan Museum. Later, as a teenager, he was exposed to Mediterranean antiquity.

After graduating from Harvard with a degree in English, he worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Washington Post. In 1973, he and his wife moved to Montreal, where he went to work for the Gazette. He still works there today as a columnist.

Henry's exploration of Egypt's 25th Dynasty began when he was telling his eight-year-old son about African history. (Two of his four children are adopted, and one is of African-Canadian origin.) The astonishing but little-known story of Egypt's 25th Dynasty, and its subsequent exploits in the Middle East, revived his long-dormant interest in ancient history. After writing a non-fiction book on the topic, Henry wrote Rise of the Golden Cobra (Spring 2007) so that he could share his fascination with young audiences.

Future plans include writing sequels to Rise of the Golden Cobra, which will focus on the next two generations of the 25th Dynasty's pharaohs.

The Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor's...Video Game?

More and more, educators and game designers are seeing the benefits of using the games middle schoolers love as teaching tools. Students have fun and can mix different skills and subjects in a way that feels more true to life and sometimes masks the immense amount of learning and work going on. Claudia Parsons reports for Reuters at on the involvement of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with a project that will soon release free online games for middle schoolers.

Surprised? Probably as surprised as O'Connor to find herself addressing a digital gaming conference, Games For Change. But her involvement in the Our Courts project stemmed from her concern over public views of and growing hostility toward the judiciary system. From "vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress, some members of state legislatures and various private interest groups," to Senators vetting Supreme Court nominees on their possible decisions in court cases, to special interest involvement in state judicial elections, O'Connor has seen a deteriorating atmosphere for "fair and impartial judgments from the judges who are serving." The only way to preserve an independent judiciary and blunt the growing hostility is to better educate the public about all three branches of government, their roles and relationships to each other.

The first part of the Our Courts project will be an interactive online civics program for grades 7-9. It's meant to stand alone or be part of a curriculum or unit of study. The game will feature scenarios that reflect real-life legal issues and encourage students to debate and come to a decision on matters like First Amendment rights or freedom of the press. Some initial materials will be available in September at The second part of the project will be a game that engages students in their spare time and aims to "get them thinking about government and civic engagement rather than playing shoot-'em-up video games." Both components should be fully operational by September 2009. And free.

O'Connor saw the educational potential of technology while watching her grandchildren engage with it. But, she said, "I don't play videogames. Sorry."

SOURCE: "Retired justice O'Connor unveils video game" 06/04/08
photo courtesy of dipfan, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, June 6, 2008

What Can You Find Online for Your Gifted/Talented Middle Schoolers? A Lot.

Often, slower or needier learners get the focus of teachers' and school districts' interventions and budgets while gifted and talented students are overlooked, to the detriment of those easily-bored students and their teachers. Rachele Hall and Wendy Meunier write in techLearning about online resources that offer differentiated learning and more challenge and stimulation for your G/T middle schoolers.

Hall and Meunier divide the available resources into three categories: WebQuests, online projects, and virtual field trips. WebQuests offer real-world problems that require higher order thinking to solve and can be individual or group projects. Five links are provided that give details about WebQuests in general and how to incorporate them into your teaching. There are also lists of available WebQuests divided by grade level and subject. The site WebQuests seems to be the most comprehensive and may be the best place to start your search.

Virtual field trips are easy to incorporate into a curriculum for the whole class or a few select learners. Hall and Meunier provide a great list of links to start your search, including Tramline, which has resources, a book on virtual field trips, and a for-fee software that lets users build their own virtual field trips, which could be a great capstone project for a student or group. Other links provide lesson plans and links to museums. You can also find more virtual field trips in this post from April.

Online projects are also great for differentiated learning. Hall and Meunier describe the best online projects as beginning with a question that leads students "through a series of steps using the Internet to find answers." That search for answers should also offer "opportunities to communicate with students and professionals from other parts of the world." The culminating multimedia project can be presented to parents, peers and/or teachers or published on a website for general viewing. Six of the links lead to more information on how to use or find projects and to lists of available projects and their sponsors. Two of the best known hosts of online projects are iEARN and GlobalSchoolNet. iEARN has been at it 20 years and has projects that focus on science, the environment, and social studies.

The brief descriptions under the links make it easy to narrow in on a few links per category worth investigating. There's also a great list of online resources for teachers, parents and G/T students themselves that offer activities, details on state laws, camps, organizations for the gifted, and the California Virtual Academies, a public, free, online distance-learning program for K-12 students.

SOURCE: "Resources for Teaching the Gifted and Talented" 06/01/08
photo courtesy of, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 5, 2008

From WV to Rome: Challenger Learning Center e-Missions reports on an e-Mission that just finished up yesterday. It linked English-speaking students in Rome with the Challenger Learning Center at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia through interactive videoconferencing.

The Challenger Learning Center is just one of 51 centers created by the Challenger Center for Space Science to honor the crew of the Challenger space shuttle. At the Wheeling, WV, center, about 40,000 students a year take e-Missions either in person at the center or through the Internet, like the students in Rome. The missions are meant to get students to "apply their math, science, and teamwork skills." The WV Center serves the most students of all the centers and has been honored for just that the past 9 years.

Middle school students at the Ambrit-Rome International School did an e-Mission on June 3 and 4. The Ambrit-Rome students took part in Operation Montserrat in which they had to "decide how to save the residents of the small Caribbean island of Montserrat as a volcano erupts and a hurricane approaches." It's a scenario based on something that actually happened in Montserrat some years ago.

The Challenger Learning Center is increasing its international reach. Missions were conducted this past year with teachers in Korea and Northern Ireland and students in Canada. Some of the missions also come in Spanish with potential to reach Spanish-speaking nations or be incorporated in Spanish language classes. Any school or class with videoconferencing capabilities can sign up for an e-Mission. There's a contact link on the Challenger Learning Center Simulations webpage and links where you can find out more about specific e-Missions and sign up for free teacher training.

SOURCE: "Rome Students Connect to WJU Program" 06/03/08
photo courtesy of dbking, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #11: The Apprentice's Masterpiece

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #11:
"Teen Life in the Inquisition"

Subject: World History
Age Range: 12-17
Grade Level: 7-12

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"Teen Life in the Inquisition"
an excerpt from the book
A Story of Medieval Spain

by Melanie Little
Published by Annick Press.
Reprinted here with permission.

Editor's Note: This reading contains the forward from the book, placing the story in context, and two poems from the book, "Break" and "The Apprentice's Masterpiece."

Spain has always been a place of stories. In fact, the first great novel, Don Quixote, came from Spain. Medieval Spaniards were enchanted by tales of knights and ladies, and even the kings and nobles loved the rather far-fetched story of their origin from the Greek demigod Hercules. But sometimes this fondness for storytelling had a dangerous side.

In the years leading up to what history books call the Golden Age of Spain, the country was divided into three separate kingdoms: Christian Castile in the center, Christian Aragon to the east, and the small but important Granada, ruled by the Muslim dynasty of the Nazrids, at the southern tip. On October 19, 1469, Prince Fernando, heir to the throne of Aragon, married Princess Isabella, heiress to the throne of Castile. The first stone on the road to the great dream of "One Spain" had been set.

But Spain had already had a Golden Age. From 711 A.D. until the twelfth century, it was known as the kingdom of al-Andalus, ruled by Muslims who had come from Damascus in Syria. The Muslim's holy book, the Koran, taught them to respect other religions -- particularly those of the other "peoples of the book," Christians and Jews. The conquered Christians of al-Andalus were allowed to practice their own faith and speak their own language; so, too, were the Jews, who had been settled in Spain since Roman times. Yet many chose to learn Arabic, and a great society of culture, learning, and coexistence (often called "convivencia") flourished.

For more than hundred years, the Spanish city of Cordoba was the seat of the caliphs -- the supreme leaders of the Muslim world. Because of them, important books on medicine, science, and philosophy were brought to Europe. Cordoba's libraries grew to contain nearly half a million volumes.

With the gradual Christian "reconquest" of Spain, Muslims and Jews were at first treated with similar respect. The three cultures continued to live side by side. Muslims and Jews were still relatively free to practice their faiths. But they were subject to heavy taxes unless they converted to Christianity.

Both Mudejares -- Muslims living under Christian rule -- and Jews were encouraged, and often forced, to remain in sections of cities enclosed by walls and guarded gates. New laws barred them from certain kinds of work, from marrying or employing Christians, from wearing fine clothes, and even from leaving their quarters on Christian holy days. They had to wear badges -- in Castile, yellow for Jews, red for Muslims -- so Christians would know "what" they were and be warned. The Crown and the Church claimed that Jews were constantly trying to convert Christians to Judaism, though there is no historical evidence to support this. In 1483, Jews were expelled from Southern Spain.

Cordoba became a place of fear. It was now home to large populations of conversos: Jews who had converted to Christianity. Many had been forced to convert against their will -- some upon pain of death. Others had chosen to convert for their own reasons, especially to stay in Spain. Spain -- called "Sepharhad" in Ladino, the Spanish-Jewish language -- was their new Jerusalem, their beloved home.

Encouraged by the Church, people began to turn against the coversos. A wild story spread that a coverso girl had poured urine from a window onto an image of Holy Mary in the street below. In supposed retaliation, hundreds of conversos were massacred. After that, the lives of the remaining Spanish conversos got much worse. They faced discrimination in their business and professions, in church, and in their everyday lives. They were often harassed or assaulted in the street.

Increasingly, the remaining Jews, conversos, and Mudejares were considered non-Spanish. The Crown and the Church, once seemingly motivated by a genuine desire to spread the Christian faith, now became obsessed with what they called "pure" Christian blood.

In 1481, the Holy Office of the Spanish Inquisition was born. Its purpose? To ferret out heresy against the Catholic faith. (Heresy is defined as a practice, or even an opinion, that doesn't conform to orthodox teachings.) Its practice? To arrest, torture and punish every Spanish Christian even suspected of such heresy. It seemed the converted Jews had fallen into a trap. Now that they were legally Christians, the Inquisition could put them on trial them for not being Christian enough.

"Edicts of Faith" encouraged people to accuse their friends, relatives, and neighbors of heresy. "Familiars" were chosen from the populace and appointed to spy and report on their fellow citizens. "Transgressions" as simple as refusing to eat pork (a Jewish dietary restriction) could get a person -- and especially a converso -- arrested. Thousands of people were burned at the stake at huge spectacles called "autos-da-fe." And the Office's judges did not usually require proof. Those who held grudges could denounce their enemies for offenses that may never have happened.

So far, the Mudejar subjects had not suffered the same persecutions, perhaps because there were powerful Muslim kingdoms to the south and east that might rush to the Spanish Muslims' defense. But the Inquisition, which confiscated the wealth of its prisoners, had made Castile rich. It could now afford to attack Muslim Grenada, the third kingdom of the Spanish peninsula. It was the final piece of the puzzle in Isabella and Fernando's quest for a unified Christian Spain under their rule. The "Spain of the three cultures" was over. The war of the Holy Reconquest, as they called, held the day.

~ The Apprentice's Masterpiece ~
by Ramon the Scribe (Cordoba, 1485)

Papa wanted to keep the line going.
He had only one child, one son -- what else
should he be but a scribe?

Most families send out their sons
when they're seven or eight.
They live and apprentice with other
men, in other trades.
In exchange, the boy's parents
get a good little sum.

Well, I stayed home. I was glad.
What better teacher is there than Papa?

From every successful apprentice
a master is made.
To prove his mettle, the new master
must create -- well, what else?
A masterpiece.

Papa wouldn't exempt me.
But he found me a book
that he knew I would love.

"The Twelve Works of Hercules."
The stories are full of adventure
and places that I've never been.
Best of all, Enrique de Villena,
the man who composed it,
is Cordoba's very own son.

Each day, after closing the shop,
I copied till Mama insisted I stop
to eat dinner. It was always too soon.
The words seemed to fly from my fingers.
The work wasn't work.

At the end of a year, I had my
masterpiece. Its pages were perfect.
My quill never slipped.

I was so proud.
I couldn't stop turning its pages.
Admiring the slant of my letters,
the fine, feathered strokes
of the ink.

And now it's been almost
two years since I've touched it.

What if I sold "Hercules?"

Here it sits, worthless, under my bed.
Shouldn't it feed my family
instead of just fleas and rats?

~ Break ~
by Amir the Slave (Cordoba, 1485)

You're not supposed to speak up.

For centuries the emirs of Grenada
-- Muslim kings -- kept their bitter mouths shut.

They paid for the privilege of staying
in al-Andalus, the land they once proudly
called theirs.

When the collectors came calling from up in Castile,
the proud southern Muslims paid up.

But every such story must end
with a change.

Our break in the chain was Abu al-Hassan.
When the King's envoy came to him for the tax,
al-Hassan sent him away.

"We do have a mint here," smiled the emir.
"But the weaklings who used it
to make coins for Christians are all dead and gone.
Today our mint makes only
scimitars' blades."

Since then, war's been brewing.
The Christian army --
led by Fernando, the King --
has many new toys and is eager to play.

I bet, were I the emir,
I'd have paid peace's price.

Watch how I'll be with Ramon, in a day:
all too glad to forgive and make nice.

# # #

Copyright 2008 by Melanie Little. Excerpted from the book, THE APPRENTICE'S MASTERPIECE: A Story of Medieval Spain, by Melanie Little. Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554511174 (library binding). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit Thank you.


Making a Masterpiece

You can get in trouble in school for copying someone else's work, but there was a time when copying *was* school: Children like Ramon learned to read and write by copying from documents or books in their own hand.

Until Gutenberg's clever printing press (invented in 1436) spread throughout Europe, the only way to make a copy of a book was to copy it yourself or hire a scribe like Ramon to copy it for you.

In The Apprentice's Masterpiece, Ramon describes what today we call an "illuminated manuscript," a hand-made book often found in museums:

I've heard of a Bible, in Latin,
taking fifty-three masters a winter
to make it. (It was for the Queen.)

Ten illuminators
just to draw and ink in
the gold-covered letters
beginning each page.

Your assignment is to create an Illuminated Manuscript. Break the class into teams and split up the tasks or each student can produce their own masterpiece. Here are the tasks.

1. Find a passage to use for your Illuminated Manuscript. It should be at least four lines long, but no longer than one paragraph. Take any favorite passage from a favorite book. It doesn't have to be a poem. You can use the lyrics of a song you like or part of a famous speech or even dialogue from a play or movie.

2. Once you settle on a passage, next try to break the lines. One team member should try to write the passage out by hand and see how the lines naturally break.

Have you noticed
just by breaking lines
words take on new meaning?

How does it change the look and sound of the passage when you break the lines differently? If you want, each team member can try their hand at breaking the lines and you can all choose the version you like best.

3. Next, pick one team member to be the scribe, one to be the artist, and one to be the colorist. If you have enough team members, you can have several scribes, artists, and colorists who all work together. At this point you can all discuss the layout of your Illuminated Manuscript, or you can just get started and see what happens.

4. The scribes on your team use their finest handwriting to write out the passage with the line breaks the team liked best. The hardest part is to remember to *leave off the first letter* for the artists to draw ("the gold colored letters/at the beginning of each page"). You can white-out or erase the first letter if you forget, but a true scribe would start over.

5. The artists then add the initial letter -- usually an ornate, jumbo-sized capital. The artists add other touches to the manuscript -- a little symbol at the end, or borders on the sides.

6. Finally, the colorists fill in the initial capital letter and add color to whatever borders or symbols the artists have drawn. Many Illuminated Manuscripts were colored with gold leaf but you may use paints, markers, or crayons.

When you are finished, share your masterpiece with the rest of the class. You might want to ask a team member to read your team's Illuminated Manuscript out loud so people can hear the breaks.

See if you can guess the source of each other's passages: a book, a movie, a song? Note the interesting ways the artists and colorists accomplish their tasks. Does the way each manuscript look affect the meaning of the words?


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from Quiz answers will be revealed during the LIVEbrary chats and made a part of chat transcripts.

1) Multiple Choice: What is a "Mudejar?"

A. A Jew who has converted to Christianity
B. A Christian who has converted to Islam
C. A Muslim living under Christian rule
D. A Christian who harbors unconverted Jews or Muslims

2) Multiple Choice: What is a "converso"?

A. A Muslim who has converted to Christianity
B. A Christian who has converted to Judaism
C. A Jew who has converted to Christianity
D. A Christian who has converted to Islam

3) Multiple Choice: Pick the best definition for the word, "convivencia"

A. A friendly conversation
B. A jail where female prisoners are held
C. A place where girls study to become nuns
D. A time of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians

4) Multiple Choice: What is a "scimitar"?

A. A stringed instrument from India
B. A curved dagger from the Middle East
C. A Spanish dish of rice and meat
D. A Jewish candelabra used during Hanukkah

5) Multiple Choice: What is best definition for The Inquisition?

A. Period in history when the Catholic Church in Spain waged a war against non-believers in its territories
B. Period at the end of the school year when teachers torment their students with exams
B. Period after you get home late when parents or guardians assess your reasons for not being on time
D. This quiz

  • Have you ever been an apprentice? Do you know how to fix your own bike? How did you learn? Do you know how to wash clothes? Who taught you? Have you changed a diaper? Not the most fun thing to learn. Who taught you how to use a computer? Have you been a volunteer apprentice or a paid apprentice?

  • In Medieval times, teens didn't go to school -- they went to work, often as apprentices. How would your life be different if instead of high school teens were assigned to employers and became apprentices? Do you think it would be better to skip high school and go to work instead? What are the benefits and drawbacks of spending your teenage years either way, in school or at work?

  • The Apprentice's Masterpiece is written in verse. How is writing in verse different from standard narrative writing? Does writing in verse make books harder or easier for you to read? How does writing in verse affect the meaning of the words? Do you like this style of story telling? Why or why not?

  • During The Apprentice's Masterpiece, Ramon is tempted to trade his illuminated manuscript of Hercules for food for his starving family. Later in the book he considers giving it to his girlfriend or using it to get a job with the Inquisitors to protect his family from persecution. Do you have something that is very precious to you? What would you trade it for? Are their circumstances where you would give up your precious thing to help someone else?

  • In The Apprentice's Masterpiece, Ramon's life is upset when the family is given Amir, a boy his age, as a slave. Ramon must now share his room, his food, and his parents' attention with this strange kid. How would you feel if your parents or guardians suddenly adopted someone your age and made you share your room and everything else with him or her? What if the newcomer had to obey you and you could make them pick up your room or help you with your homework? How would that make you feel?

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.