Friday, June 29, 2007

Poetry Friday - Summer Rain

I am in North Carolina and it's raining, but this isn't bad. I love rain in the summer. My poem today is for just such an occasion. It is by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Before Summer Rain
All at once from the green of the park,
one can't quite say, something is taken away;
one feels it coming closer to the windows
and being silent.

Out of a grove, persistent and strong, sounds a plover,
one thinks of a Saint Jerome:
so intensely rises a solitude and fervor
out of this one voice that the downpour

shall listen. The walls of the great hall
with their paintings retreat from us
as if not allowed to hear what we say.

Reflected in the faded tapestries
is the uncertain light of afternoons
in which one as a child was so afraid.

The round up today is over at Shaken & Stirred. Head on over and check it out. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Joyful Education

Here is one more excerpt I need to share. This one comes from the summer edition of Educational Leadership Online.
Most children can't wait to start kindergarten and approach the beginning of school with awe and anticipation. Kindergartners and 1st graders often talk passionately about what they learn and do in school. Unfortunately, the current emphasis on standardized testing and rote learning encroaches upon many students' joy. In their zeal to raise test scores, too many policymakers wrongly assume that students who are laughing, interacting in groups, or being creative with art, music, or dance are not doing real academic work. The result is that some teachers feel pressure to preside over more sedate classrooms with students on the same page in the same book, sitting in straight rows, facing straight ahead.

The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage. Instead of taking pleasure from learning, students become bored, anxious, and anything but engaged. They ultimately learn to feel bad about school and lose the joy they once felt.
Read more of the article The Neuroscience of Joyful Education by Judy Willis. She has some great advice for creating a classroom environment that inspires and engages kids.

How Parents' Influence Kids' Academic Interests

Here's some information on a recent University of Michigan study.
In a study she presented recently at a campus meeting, Davis-Kean and colleagues analyzed how parents' values and attitudes affect children's math performance and later interest, and how these attitudes vary by the child's gender. They used data from a longitudinal study of more than 800 children and a large group of their parents that began in 1987 and continued through 2000.

They found that parents provided more math-supportive environments for their sons than for their daughters, including buying more math and science toys for the boys. They also spent more time on math and science activities with their sons than with their daughters.
The article goes on to say that girls' interest in math decreases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase, whereas boys' interest in math increases as their fathers' gender stereotypes increase.

You can read more here.

I've never been big on the toy aspect of this, though William and I do play a lot of thinking games (Chess, Pente, Checkers, etc.), we play and explore outside in the rain and sunshine, and we READ, READ, READ. There are many good books out there that use math and science concepts as natural (seamless?) parts of the story. This just seems to me what we should be doing with ALL kids, not just boys, and I think Moms can do this just as well as Dads.

The interesting sidebar here for me is that for years I was immersed in studying data from international math and science studies (like TIMSS). The fourth and eighth grade student data I examined included responses on a questionnaire where kids described parental education, support and attitudes. There was a direct correlation between the variables hours of study, attitudes towards subject, academic performance and parental support. Not surprisingly, parents in countries where math and science performance far outscored the US believed that gender and ability were not predictors of success, only effort. My recent trip to China only served to underscore this point. The students we met with all talked about effort being the key to their success, not natural ability.

I encourage parents and teachers alike to think about the message we send to kids regarding their ability to do well in math and science. I work hard to get my preservice teachers to embrace the notion that ALL kids, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender can do well in these subjects, and encourage them to use even the smallest means to encourage their love for them. This can be as simple as changing the name line on a handout to read mathematician or scientist. A lot can be said for the power of a child reading his or her name, day in and day out, next to one of these titles. It also means that we must teach in ways that allow kids to see the beauty of math and science, their connectedness to other areas of the curriculum and the profound value of them in our lives everyday. This may sound like a tall order, but great teachers and parents can make it happen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Could You Pass Eighth Grade Science?

Well, duh! If I scored anything less I'd be hanging my head in shame. Now go and see how you do.

Mingle2 Free Online Dating - Science Quiz

Memed Again! - The 5 Things Meme

I got tagged last week by LiteracyTeacher at Mentor Texts & More. Since I'm in procrastination mode, here goes.

Five Things I Was Doing Ten Years Ago
(I barely remember what I was doing last week, so this might be a stretch!)
  1. Entering the world of grown-up responsibilities by buying a house and taking on a mortgage.
  2. Playing second base and batting first on an awesome coed softball team.
  3. Learning HTML and embarking on the world of WebQuest construction with my preservice teachers.
  4. Repairing my own computer (a Mac, of course)
  5. Working with our chemistry department on the use of technology to improve students’ abilities to visualize and understand chemistry concepts.
Five Snacks I Enjoy
  1. Chips, Chips, Chips (Lots of salt, no flavors)
  2. Cashews
  3. Dried apricots
  4. Olives
  5. Cheese and crackers
Five Songs I Know All the Lyrics To
(This could be 50 and there wouldn't be enough room to list them all!)
  1. Somewhere Over the Rainbow
  2. The Coast Guard Hymn
  3. 50 Nifty United States (Yes, I've been able to sing the states in alphabetical order since 5th grade!)
  4. Embraceable You
  5. Goodnight Saigon
Five Things I Would Do If I Were A Millionaire
  1. Fly to see my family as often as I want or am needed.
  2. Send all my nieces and nephews to college without student loans.
  3. Start my own school, a lot like this one, right here at UR. (However, I would be a teacher, not an administrator.)
  4. Travel extensively with William so he can learn about the world through more than just books.
  5. Keep working, because I love what I do.
Five Bad Habits
  1. Drinking milk from the gallon when no one is looking.
  2. Procrastinating (duh!).
  3. Loud music--in the car, the kitchen, my headphones, you name it.
I'll let you know when I come up with 4 and 5!

Five Things I Like To Do
  1. Teach
  2. Cook
  3. Read
  4. Play games (Chess, Go, Risk, Cribbage, Pente, etc.)
  5. Listen to music
Five Things I Would Never Wear Again
  1. Braces, a retainer and headgear
  2. A poncho
  3. A uniform
  4. Clogs
  5. A bikini
Five Favorite Toys
  1. iPod
  2. MacBook Pro
  3. Six burner gas cooktop and two ovens, baby! (In stainless, of course)
  4. Lewis chess set
  5. BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS! (Can books be toys?)

Book Review - Who Likes the Sun?

The titles in the series Exploring the Elements are fold out question and answer books that address children's questions about natural phenomena. The latest edition in this series, Who Likes the Sun? focuses on the science of sunshine.

The book opens with a child asking who likes the sun? Many children answer, "I do." These children then proceed to share what they like about the sun, and then ask questions related to what they love. Questions in this volume include:
  • I wonder how the sun warms me when it's so far away.
  • I wonder how icicles are made.
  • I wonder how sunglasses work.
  • I wonder where water goes.
  • I wonder where dew comes from.
  • I wonder why I have a shadow.
  • I wonder how grapes turn into raisins.
  • I wonder why some flowers have a smell and others don't.
  • I wonder why the water sparkles.
  • I wonder how the sun makes rainbows.
  • I wonder why the sky sometimes turns red.
  • I wonder where the sun goes at night.
Based on the title, I was expecting the book to address topics like the formation of shadows, night and day, weather-related phenomena and seasons. I certainly didn't expect the questions related to light, though they do make sense in this context. However, the questions about flowers and raisins just didn't "fit" for me. I found myself wishing that the questions were linked or organized in some way so that the ideas in the text flowed a bit more smoothly. For example, though the bit about grapes didn't work for me, the process described is evaporation. Why not put this question with the one about where water goes, where readers learn about the formation of water vapor? While I'm on this, let me add that while I found the science to be very kid-friendly, I felt it could have been more specific, and should have introduced more of the scientific terminology that elementary school kids learn about. For example, here's an excerpt from the grape page.
Grapes are picked when they are juicy and sweet.

Then they are put on trays to dry in the sun. The heat of the sun makes the water in the grapes go out into the air.
This would have been the perfect place to introduce the term evaporation. The same could be said for the page on where water goes. Here's that excerpt.
When the sun comes out, it heats the water on the grass.

The heated water turns into very tiny drops of water called vapor.

The water vapor becomes part of the air.
I also wish this page had made explicit that the water droplets actually change state from liquid to gas.

The illustrations and diagrams in this book do a nice job of supporting the text. They also show kids engaged in a variety of activities and include a range of diversity not seen in many books today. Some of the answers to questions are extremely well-done and address relatively sophisticated topics, while others lack the same quality.

I wanted to like this book, but just couldn't get past the disjointedness of the questions and the unevenness of the answers. I do like the idea behind the series, so I'm not ready to give up on it entirely. I will be sure to take a look at Who Likes the Wind? and Who Likes the Snow? to see if the concepts are more coherently connected, and the science more consistent.

Book: Who Likes the Sun?
Author: Etta Kaner
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: March 10, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: K-2
ISBN-10: 1553378407
ISBN-13: 978-1553378402
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Book Review - New Clothes for New Year's Day

May was Asian Pacific Heritage month. I was hoping to have this review posted then, but my trip to China derailed those plans. Upon my return I was delighted to find a signed copy of a poetry book by Janet Wong waiting for me. Many of the poems in this volume are about Korea, so reading them reminded me about this gem of a book by Hyun-Ju Bae.

New Clothes for New Year's Day was published by Kane/Miller in March of this year. Kane/Miller specializes in bringing foreign translated books to the American market. This book represents the best of what Kane/Miller does. It is a lushly illustrated volume that is stunning in its beauty and simplicity. This lovely picture book from South Korea presents the story of a young girl as she prepares to celebrate the start of the Lunar New Year. Readers get to follow along as the girl dresses in the new clothes her mother has made her for the occasion. She carefully dresses in a crimson silk skirt, a rainbow striped jacket, socks embroidered with flowers, a hair ribbon of red and gold, and more. Here is an excerpt:
I could hardly sleep last night.

But today I finally get to wear my wonderful new clothes. Finally!

Stretch up on tiptoes to reach the hanger . . .
"Umph!"
Reading this made me reflect back on all those days of grade school when I waited anxiously to put on my "best" new outfit for that important first day. You can't help but feel the excitement of the young girl as she dresses from head to toe.

The illustrations nicely complement the text, with gorgeous interior scenes and an attention to detail that matches the young girl's dressing with care.

At the end of the book the author has included information explaining the items of clothing and their significance. Also discussed is the importance of New Year's Day in Korean culture.

This is a beautiful book that realistically captures the joy, appreciation and excitement of a young girl as she prepares for this important holiday. This is a welcome addition to the body of literature on the Lunar New Year. I highly recommend it.

Book: New Clothes for New Year's Day
Author: Hyun-Ju Bae
Publisher: Kane/Miller
Publication Date: March, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: K-3
ISBN-10: 1933605294
ISBN-13: 978-1933605296
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.

Hooking Young Readers

I am an NPR junkie. This morning I was delighted to hear Librarian Nancy Pearl and host Steve Inskeep taking about great reads for kids this summer. Here's how it began.
Well, summer vacation his here, time for kids to swim and hang with friends and go to the movies--and maybe read.
Even though Pearl had sent a stack of books to Inskeep, he hadn't read any of them, so she decided to convince him to read them by sharing great first lines. These are the books she shared.

Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson
At 6:45 one summer morning, a red London bus was crossing Waterloo bridge. . . . The bus and its passengers were never found. It was the first of the time tornadoes.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things.
(Nancy even mentions that the next two books tell the same story from different points of view, though she doesn't name them. I will! They are Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time and So Totally Emily Ebers, both awesome reads!)

Ragweed by Avi
"Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do."

Feed by M.T. Anderson
"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Wemberly worried about everything.

You can listen to the interview here. Both Steve and Nancy have a lot of fun sharing first lines and talking about these books. For even more information about all kinds of summer reads, check out NPR's Summer Books 2007.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Solstice

Yesterday was officially the first day of summer and the Northern solstice (for any readers Down Under). Today we began the slow march towards winter as the days begin to shorten. Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Here's how Jean Craighead George describes this phenomenon in her terrific book, Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here.
December 21
Dear Rebecca,
I turned on the lights to eat breakfast this morning and put on my coat to go outside.
Winter is here.
It was brought by little hands of darkness. Each little hand is a few minutes long.

In summer they began bringing winter. They pulled the night over the edges of dawn and made the days shorter. One June 21, while you were cooling off under the hose, winter began.
Summer is my least favorite season of the year, so I confess that I've always been secretly thrilled by the passing of the summer solstice and the promise of shorter and cooler days to come.

Poetry Friday - Paul Laurence Dunbar

I've been reading the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar lately. Here are two poems I particularly like.
A Starry Night
A cloud fell down from the heavens,
And broke on the mountain's brow;
It scattered the dusky fragments
All over the vale below.

The moon and the stars were anxious
To know what its fate might be;
So they rushed to the azure op'ning,
And all peered down to see.

Longing

If you could sit with me beside the sea to-day,
And whisper with me sweetest dreamings o'er and o'er;
I think I should not find the clouds so dim and gray,
And not so loud the waves complaining at the shore.

If you could sit with me upon the shore to-day,
And hold my hand in yours as in the days of old,
I think I should not mind the chill baptismal spray,
Nor find my hand and heart and all the world so cold.

If you could walk with me upon the strand to-day,
And tell me that my longing love had won your own,
I think all my sad thoughts would then be put away,
And I could give back laughter for the Ocean's moan!
If you liked these, you can read more at the Paul Laurence Dunbar Digital Collection.

The round up this week is over at A Wrung Sponge. Stop by and check out all the great entries. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Book Review - 1607: A New Look at Jamestown

When I was growing up in western New York, studying colonial America was about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock. It was not about Jamestown, even though the landing at Jamestown occurred 13 years earlier. I learned a lot about Jamestown upon moving to Virginia, and with the 400th anniversary this year, I've learned even more.

In recent years, finding text resources about Jamestown that present a true picture of colonization, warts and all, has been hard to find. This situation has changed with the publication of Karen Lange's book, 1607: A New Look at Jamestown. Lange, a journalist and writer with National Geographic Magazine, presents a brief history of the settling of Jamestown using new archaeological evidence to tell the story.

The Foreword begins in this fashion:
Many people feel that to discover the past, all you have to do is find a book, open the pages, and read a single story. That couldn't be farther from the truth. History is not static: It is not a single story. Simple discovery may only yield you one layer. To really begin to understand the multi-faceted stories that make up our past, you must dig beyond what we think we know. You must discover and then re-discover.
This volume takes these words to heart as it reveals the recent discoveries at the Jamestown archaeological site. Supported by an extensive bibliography of primary sources, Lange presents the grim reality that was the founding of this American colony. The narrative describes the settlers' struggles through the artifacts left behind. Color photographs of the dig site, found treasures, and historical reenactment scenes give readers a glimpse of what life was like for those who lived inside the Jamestown fort.

Lange does an especially good job of describing how native peoples were living when the settlers arrived, and how their arrival forever changed their way of life. Lange even highlights the response of the Paspahegh (Powhatan) descendants to the planned celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, noting:
"For the Indians, Jamestown is nothing to celebrate. To them, it meant the end of their ancestors' way of life."
I was completely enthralled by this book and found myself engaged by the remarkable, yet difficult history presented. Believe me, this is not the standard fare served up in history textbooks. Don't miss this amazing book on a bit of American history you only think you know. I highly recommend it.

Book: 1607: A New Look at Jamestown
Author: Karen Lange
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books
Publication Date: February 13, 2007
Pages: 48
Grades: 4-8
ISBN-10: 1426300123
ISBN-13: 978-1426300127
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Happiness is a New Book!

I received a wonderful gift in the mail today. Thanks to MotherReader and to Gail Gauthier. William is thrilled to have a book signed by the author. He loves to write his own stories, so he was excited by the inscription to "make up stories and games of your own." Here's my happy kid just before heading off to bed to read his new book.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Connections

I've been rereading Harry Potter (again, again, and again) in preparation for the impending release of Book 7. Lately when I read, I've been noticing thematic connections across seemingly unrelated books. Here's one that has me thinking about truth.
From Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)
“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

From The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
Therein lay the problem. Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Answering the Memes

While I was in China I got tagged for a number of memes. I had a few choice words for these folks back then, largely because I'm a sap and can't let a tag go unanswered. I'm finally getting down to it, so here are my responses to the memes. I will not, however, be tagging anyone to keep these going, as most folks have already answered.

Meme 1: Eight Things Meme
MotherReader tagged me for this one. Each player lists eight facts/habits about themselves. Hmmmmm . . . how much to reveal? That is the question!
  1. I HATE having my picture taken. Case in point, my China pictures. Unless required to pose, you will not find many pictures of me. I'd rather be behind the camera.

  2. On a good day I can put Monk to shame. I have been known to get up from reading a book to adjust a pillow that is not "sitting right," straighten a stack of magazines, or fix anything else that is slightly askew. My brother's favorite form of torment when we were kids was to come in my room and move things slightly. Yes, I noticed the minute I walked in!

  3. I love flowers, especially daisies, tulips and wildflowers. However, in the 17 years I've known my husband, I've received flowers only once--the day I defended my dissertation--and I happen to know his mother bought them! For years I dropped hints about how nice it would be to receive them, but I finally gave up. Now, whenever I see flowers that are too lovely to pass up, I buy them for myself. I no longer stand on ceremony. Life's too short.

  4. When I was in college I sang the National Anthem for the Hartford Whalers. Sadly, they no longer exist, and neither does that 20-something voice. (In any case, it's really a horrible song to sing.)

  5. Chips or chocolate? It's a toss up for me. I suppose this is why I like chocolate covered pretzels, with both the salty and sweet thing going on.

  6. I am a great cook and I love to try new recipes. However, I have a husband who eats NO VEGETABLES. Since I love to cook Moroccan, Lebanese, Greek and Italian, this is a huge problem. I have taken to calling my best friend and reading her the recipes I want to try, but know I won't be able to make! To satisfy my need to make great food, I often make two or three separate meals several days a week.

  7. I was born in Rochester, NY in 1965 to a young woman (teenager) who had been sent by her family to a home for "wayward" girls. I know nothing about her other than that she was from New England. I was adopted one week later by my absolutely amazing parents.

  8. Before my son was born, I went skydiving (more than 20 jumps), bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, rappelling and more. I got my motorcycle license on a Ninja 900. Since William came along, life is much more tame. I did, however, get a tattoo while in China. (Hey, I'd had a hep A shot, so why not?) The Chinese characters for faith, hope and love now adorn my backside. Ask me nicely and I may let you see them.

Meme 2: Summer Goals Meme
Mentor Texts and More tagged me for this one, which asks for 10-15 professional and/or personal goals that I would like to achieve over the summer. Here they are.
  1. Spend quality time with William, doing all sorts of fun things.
  2. Send at least three articles out for journal review.
  3. Read, read, read! Anything and everything. Including Book 7.
  4. Start taking yoga lessons.
  5. Spend time alone with my Mom and Dad when I go to visit.
  6. See my best friend from high school while in NY.
  7. Join/start a writing group. (Been looking, can't find one!)
  8. Finish the poetry book I've been working on.
  9. Complete the self-study we've been working on for national accreditation.
  10. Get to the Green Valley Book Fair before school starts.
  11. Develop a new syllabus for the secondary curriculum methods class I will teach this fall.
  12. Visit my sister in NJ and head into NYC for a day.
  13. Get to the eastern shore or Assateague and walk on the beach.
  14. Go for a motorcycle ride with my brother.
  15. Try to be happy every day.

Book Review - The Periodic Table

My friends call me a closet nerd. Well, let me just put all my geekiness front and center and admit that I love the periodic table. Yes, I was a biochemistry major in college and had more than a passing acquaintance with this wonderful little organizational tool, but I didn't memorize the first 36 elements and them some until I taught chemistry and middle school science. One of my favorite assignments was a scavenger hunt in which students were required to identify the first 18 elements based on a variety of clues. This was in the days before the Internet, so we used what few books I could find and lots of other materials that I created.

Were I to teach using this activity today, you can bet that The Periodic Table, a quirky little volume by Adrian Dingle, would definitely be a prime resource. Can Mendeleev's baby be cool and fun? Absolutely!

I wrote about the impending release of this book in March, after reading the Publisher's Weekly article Humor Helps Kids Brave the Elements. The article describes the work and its creators this way:
Created by artist and designer Simon Basher, who divides his time between London and Tokyo, this small-format paperback personifies each element with a whimsical image. Accompanying each of Basher's portraits is a description of the element, written in a personal-ad style by Adrian Dingle, a British native who now teaches high-school chemistry in Atlanta.
As a self-confessed lover of chemistry and all things organizational, I found this book undeniably entertaining. Basher's illustrations for each element are creatively telling (with a decidedly Japanese anime kind of flair), and nicely supported by the descriptions written by Dingle. The book opens with the periodic table as conceived by Basher. (There is also a poster of this same table attached to the inside cover of the back of the book.) Some of my favorite images from the table include titanium, copper, Einsteinium, and Mendelevium. Next readers get an introduction to the periodic table and Hydrogen, before the book launches into an overview of the elements based on group membership. Each chapter (group) introduction appears on a double page spread where it highlights the location of the group on the periodic table, provides a short narrative about them, and then shows a snapshot of each Basher image for the elements. In some chapters, a page appears for each of the group's elements, but in others, only a few of the elements receive this in-depth treatment. For example, Group II (the Boron Elements) contains 5 elements, though only the first two, Boron and Aluminum are explored.

The group descriptions are particularly well done and give a nice overview of the ways the elements are related. Here's an example.
This ragtag group of elements is the periodic table's dysfunctional family. They don't gel together--some of them aren't even the same type of substance! Lonely, odd-man-out boron is an unusual powdery nonmetal, while the rest are soft, silvery, and weak metals. At the top of the group, these metals aren't especially metallic, but the farther down the group you go, the more like metals the members get.
Elemental descriptions read like blogger profiles. Here are two of my favorites. See if you can guess the elements.
Quick and deadly, that's me. I put the "mad" in Mad Hatter, and my ability to poison the brain is legendary! A sinister, silver-colored killer, I am a strange and stealthy liquid metal that easily vaporizes into toxic fumes.

Sweetly smiling and dressed in pale yellow, I look as harmless as a lemon tart, but I have a wicked side . . . . I am a fun-loving prankster that loves to unleash bad smells. My most vile whiffs include rotten eggs and foul skunky odors.
In additional to these "self-written" descriptions, the usual facts are also include, such as symbol, atomic number, atomic weight, color, standard state, classification, density, boiling point and melting point.

So yes, I've gushed enough. I read the entire book in one sitting, and then revisited some of my favorites again while writing this review. I can't wait to share this with my students and other science loving friends. This is a great volume for the middle and high school classroom. I recommend it with enthusiasm.

Book: The Periodic Table
Author: Adrian Dingle
Publisher: Kingfisher Publications
Publication Date: May 23, 2007
Pages: 128
Grades: 7 and up
ISBN-10: 0753460858
ISBN-13: 978-0753460856
Source of Book: Copy purchased at Borders

Answers Please! - The two elements described above are Hg and S.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Poetry Friday - Faces

I mentioned in some of my China posts that I was quite taken with the faces of the people I met and saw. Here are a few that moved me, and the poem I wrote about them.


My Face
Look at me.
In my eyes,
smile,
and face,
can you read
my story?
Can you see
that I am loved?
Are my dreams
written in the
lines
and smiles?
How do you read
my furrowed brow,
guilty smile,
toothless grin,
furtive glance?
Do these tears
speak joy
or pain?
Beneath the dirt,
wrinkles,
and years,
can you not see
that we
are all
the same?
Since this is far too serious, please check out My Neighbor -- a smiley face poem. It's by one of my favorite blogging poets, Gregory K. It will make you smile.

The roundup today is at The Simple and the Ordinary. Do stop by and check out all the great posts, and if you haven't read Susan Thomsen's (of Chicken Spaghetti fame) article at the Poetry Foundation about the tradition of Poetry Friday, you'd better get there too. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

China Pics - You Know You Want to See Them!

Don't you just hate it when friends pull out photos for you to view? Nah, me neither. If you're so inclined and want to see more of my trip to China, you can head on over to my public gallery. If you are here for the science, check out the nature photos. Enjoy!

In Anticipation of Father's Day - Animal Dads

With Father's Day just around the corner, I thought this would be an appropriate time to celebrate Dads -- animal dads. Yes, believe it or not, there are many animal species where dad takes more than a passing interest in his offspring. Some of these amazing animal dads even show up in books for kids. Here are a few that might interest you.
  • Animal Dads written by Sneed B. Collard III, illustrated by Steve Jenkins - Okay, you know I'm a sucker for the work of Steve Jenkins. This book is no exception. The collages are fantastic and help to highlight animal dads that actually take on caregiver responsibilities in the wild. Included you will find the Emperor penguin, gorilla, wolves, Nile crocodile and more.
  • Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle - In this tribute to animal dads of the sea, readers meet Mr. Seahorse, who has just taken over the duty of caring for the eggs deposited in his pouch. As he moves through the sea, he meets five other fish fathers, a stickleback, tilapia, Kurtus nurseryfish, pipefish and bullhead catfish, all of whom help with prenatal care.
  • Just Us Two: Poems About Animal Dads by Joyce Sidman - I love the poetry of Joyce Sidman. This wonderful volume of appealing poems highlights such animal dads as the poison arrow frog, ostrich, and giant water bug.
  • Animal Fathers by Russell Freedman - Okay, my copy is old and worn (published in 1976), but this is a really terrific volume that discusses the child care behavior of fifteen animal fathers including the Downy Woodpecker, House Wren, White-handed Gibbon, Common Marmoset, and others. You may be able to find a copy in your local library.
You can also find some interesting resources for this topic at the following web sites.

Haiku Contest at NWF

Alright all you poetry writers out there (Wild Rose Reader, Cloudscome, Gregory K, just to name a few), it's time for you to submit your nature-themed haiku to the National Wildlife Federation for possible publication in next month's edition of Wildlife Online. Check out their site for details.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

48-Hour Book Challenge - Final Stats

Okay, here are my final stats. I did pretty well, all things considered.

Books Read: 7
  • Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire by Julius Lester
  • Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park
  • Class Matters by correspondents of the New York Times
  • Resurrection Men by T.K. Welsh
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier
  • The Second Mrs. Gioconda by E.L. Konigsburg
Pages Read: 1,686

Time Spent Reading: 21 hours

Time Spent Blogging: 1 hour

Book Challenge - Update 4

Well, it's nearly 6:30 pm and I'm throwing in the towel. I did read for another 5 and a half hours and finished two books.

Magic or Madness is a terrific first book in a trilogy. I loved Reason Cansino. Her voice is unusual, her knowledge of numbers and science and logical explanations appealed to me. The author has drawn believable pictures of both New York City and Sydney. I was intrigued from the very first page, and could not put it down. Is magic real? Is it a force for good or evil? The book moves quickly towards and ending that simply makes the reader want to continue on with the second book. Alas, Magic Lessons, must wait for tomorrow.

Since I was running out of time, the last book I finished was a bit shorter. I picked up The Second Mrs. Gioconda by E.L. Konigsburg before I left for China, but never got a chance to read it. Though a bit slow, I was drawn in by Salai, the descriptions of da Vinci, and the mystery of the Mona Lisa. This excerpt from the end of the book really moved me.
This was a woman who knew that she was not pretty and who had learned to live with that knowledge. This was a woman whose acceptance of herself made her beautiful in a deep and hidden way. A woman whose look told you that you were being sized by a measuring rod in her head; a measuring rod on which she alone had etched the units. A woman who knew how to give pleasures and how to give pain. A woman who knew how to endure. A woman of layers.

As soon as that thought came to him, Salai knew that he could persuade Leonardo to do it. He know that there was something haunting about this lady's looks, something that only Leonardo could capture in paint.
This is a fine piece of historical fiction that nicely captures the spirit of life of Italy during the late 1400s.

This challenge has been fun, but exhausting. I generally am fairly committed to reading during the summer, but find it much harder to keep up during the academic year. I suppose that's why I spend so much time reading picture books (cookbooks too!) during this time. I do need to make more time for longer selections, both YA and adult when we are actually in session. Perhaps that will be one of my goals for the upcoming year.

I've been reading the posts of some of the other contestants and am blown away by how quickly they read and how much ground they've covered. Some of them are reading machines, and I bow to their greatness. You can see what I mean by checking out the sites of Little Willow and Bookshelves of Doom.

Book Challenge - Update 3

Okay, let's weigh my choices last night -- eight hours of sleep or more time reading? Given the serious jet lag that I'm still dealing with, the choice was a relatively easy one. I did read to the boy for 45 minutes and then went to be when he did, at 8 pm. I was, however, up by about 3 am. I tried mightily to get back to sleep, but when that failed me, I got up and read. I finished another book in the nearly four hours of quiet before heading off to 8:30 mass.

Believe it or not, I had never read Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux. I suppose that some of the reviews of Edward Tulane made me a bit gun shy about this title. However, I loved the diminutive Despereaux, Princess Pea, Roscuro and Mig. And now that I've decided to embrace my inner romantic, I'll admit to being secretly thrilled by Chapter 50 and these lines.
"PRINCESS!" Despereaux shouted. "Princess, I have come to save you."
The Princess Pea heard her name. She looked up.
"Despereaux," she whispered.
And then she shouted it, "Despereaux!"
Reader, nothing is sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name.
Nothing.
For Despereaux, the sound was worth everything: his lost tail, his trip to the dungeon, and back out of it and back into it again.
For those of you keeping score, here's where I stand to date.
Books read: 5
Pages read: 272 + 288 + 208 + 240 + 214 = 1,222
Hours read: 15.5 (Okay, so I'm a slow reader!)

I have some errands to run with the boy, laundry and some cleaning, but hope to get to at least one more title before my time expires at 7 pm. Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Book Challenge - Update 2

I have just returned from birthday party drop-off and pick-up, with a short interlude in my office to try and finish my report summarizing the trip to China. I can't seem to let it go yet, which shouldn't surprise anyone who's read this post.

Since I've been away for so long, I really should be spending my time cleaning this house (it's a darn mess) and doing laundry, but instead, I'm happily reading. I've put in another 6 hours and finished these books.

Class Matters - I shouldn't have been surprised that I was so moved by this collection of essays on social class. Reading Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich forever changed my views of the working class. I must say that reading Class Matters was a bit like watching a train wreck. The view is horrific but you can't avert your eyes. The essays all pack a punch, but the one that moved me most was "The College Dropout Boom." With statements like the ones below, I found myself wondering about my University's commitment to all types of diversity, including economic.
  • Only 41% of low income students entering a four-year college managed to graduate within five years, the U.S. Department of Education found in a 2004 study, but 66 percent of high-income students did.
  • Many more students from all classes are getting four-year degrees and reaping their benefits. But those broad gains mask the fact that poor and working-class students have nevertheless been falling behind; for them, not having a degree remains the norm.
  • Opening up colleges to new kinds of students has generally meant one thing over the last generation: affirmative action. Intended to right the wrongs of years of exclusion, the programs have swelled the number of women, blacks, and Latinos on campuses. But affirmative action was never supposed to address broad economic inequities, just the ones that stem from specific kinds of discrimination.
In addition to reading the book, I got online and spent some time looking over the teacher resources. Good stuff.

I also finished Resurrection Men this afternoon. T.K. Welsh, where have you been? I loved this book! As a fan of Sherlock Holmes novels and most pieces of historical fiction set in the Victorian era, I was right at home in this work. The fact that I had recently finished Anne Roiphe's An Imperfect Lens about the cholera epidemic of 1883 in Alexandria just put me in the mood for the grisly details of Welsh's story. Victor is a worthy protagonist, and one that is not easily forgotten once the book is finished. Suffering a cruel early life, Victor witnesses the murder of his parents, is sold to a merchant, and is abused at sea and finally thrown overboard. Once he washes ashore in England, he is taken in by an elderly man who helps him recover, only to sell him to a pair of grave robbers (the "Resurrection men") who steal corpses for use in research and dissection. This is a wonderfully ghoulish story that captures the darkness of London in the mid-1800's. Pick it up and you'll find it hard to put down. Once you reach the end, you have the option of logging on to the hidden section of T.K. Welsh's web site for some added fun.

Time now to get dinner together, do bath time, play some games and read books before bedtime. Until then, Larbalestier is in the on-deck circle.

Book Challenge - Update 1

Well, I actually read for about 5 and a half hours last night. It would have been 6, but we needed to take 30 minutes to read bedtime stories. Too bad picture books don't count, as I'd have another 6 books to add to my list.

I finished two books before I went to sleep last night, Project Mulberry and Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire. I was up again at 4 am, so I turned on my book light and started title 3, Class Matters. My reading will slow significantly with this one.

After many years of studying Latin, I have a soft spot in my heart for Greek and Roman mythology. However, I do not remember ever reading the story of Cupid and Psyche. Julius Lester is a masterful storyteller and I found my self lost in the little philosophical moments interjected throughout the tale. Here are two of my favorites.
"In love, and perhaps only in love, are the finite limitations of self dissolved and we merge, not only with the beloved other, but with wonder itself. In love, whether it is love of another, of music, art, or whatever, we belong to someone or something and we are no longer alone (p. 35)."

"Love happened. Love came to show you that you could be more than you ever imagine, because love forced you out of the narrows of yourself and thrust you into a vastness that stretched from one end of time to the other (p. 185)."
Okay, this is where I tell you that I've never considered myself a romantic, let alone a hopeless one, though I suppose my yearly reading of Pride and Prejudice belies this belief. I'm also a sucker for happy endings, so, there you go.

As for Project Mulberry, I'm not sure why this book was off my radar screen for so long. I loved Julia and found her early struggle with the roots of the silkworm project to ring true. One of the topics that consumes our work in social studies is identity and how to help students living between cultures acknowledge, celebrate and feel proud of their roots. The real challenge is helping students do this while they wrestle with finding their "American" identity. I found her relationship with Patrick to be well-developed, and will continue to think about the issues raised by their interaction with Mr. Dixon. Perhaps most interesting for me was the series of ongoing dialogues between Julia and author about the writing of the book. Overall, I can't say enough good things about it. This will surely be one I consider for my next Integrated Curriculum Methods class.

Okay, between errands, fixing meals, a birthday party for two 6-year olds, and getting my glasses fixed (yes, I broke them this morning), I'm going to keep reading. It will be interesting to see how far I get.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Let the Games Begin - 48-Hour Book Challenge Is On

I just returned from the library with an armful of books. Will I get through them all? It's doubtful, but I'm sure going to try. Since I'm not yet sleeping more than 3 or 4 hours a night (unless drugged), I may as well take advantage of the time and read. As soon as I get dinner on the table, I'm starting. For the sake of argument, let's call it 7 pm Friday to 7 pm Sunday for me. My pile of books includes:
  • Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park - My trip to a silk factory in China inspired me to finally pick this one up.
  • Resurrection Men by T.K. Welsh - The only encouragement I needed to check this one out was a recommendation from someone with exquisite taste. Thanks Kelly!
  • Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire by Julius Lester - Lester is one of my favorite authors, and besides, I couldn't resist a book with flap copy that reads: "Cupid is the god of love and a tireless maker of mischief. When he breaks out his bow and quiver, nobody's safe. Sleepless nights, embarrassing poetry, nausea . . . What could be more fun? Only, perhaps, seeing the god of love humbled with a little heartache of his own."
  • Magic or Madness and Magic Lessons by Justine Larbalestier - I've been reading her blog, so I guess it's time I picked up her books!
  • Two "teacher" books I simply haven't read yet, even though my students keep recommending them: Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell (finally!) and There are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith.
  • I Am a Pencil by Sam Swope - What could be better than reading about the experience of writing poetry with kids?
  • Class Matters - This was the book for UR's "One Book, One Campus: Dialogues in Social Justice" project during the 06-07 academic year. I've been meaning to read it all year.
  • Finally, I've been saving The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak ever since I heard her interviewed on NPR. Now that I have a friend leaving for Istanbul, I'm more than inspired to read it.
I doubt I'll get through the entire list, but it will be fun trying.

Poetry Friday - Tibet

Thanks to Jonathan for the picture of the water burial site on the Bramaputra.

Sorry folks, but I'll have China on my mind for while. Here's an original for you.
Tibetan Dreams
still recovering and
needing sleep
dreaming of clear blue skies
time to
close my eyes
hear the snap of prayer flags
smell the juniper and incense
feel the wind on my face
taste the sweetest clouds
and reach to
touch the sky
Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Reflections on China

My trip to China has changed my life in ways both inconsequential (yes, I am much more proficient with chopsticks) and profound (read on). While I struggle to write a report that captures my views, I find some common themes and ideas emerging. Here are some of the thoughts that now fill me as a result of this amazing adventure.
  • Halfway around the world I was struck not by the "foreignness" of the places I came to know, but rather by the familiarity of my surroundings. How strange to find myself feeling at home in lands where life is at once so different, yet very much the same.
  • I will never again feel small and insignificant when I visit NYC. Beijing, with its population of 16 million, and Shanghai with more than 20 million people, both demonstrated what life is like when millions of people come together in one place.
  • I will appreciate every breath of fresh air I take, having spent time in a city where the pollution is a constant haze over all you see, and assaults your eyes, nose and lungs in ways unimaginable. I suppose the transition from Beijing to Lhasa was made even more stark by this contrast. Though thin, the air in Lhasa was crisp and clean. I only hope that the encroachment of continued development does not change this.
  • I rarely drive north on 95 anymore, as the traffic from D.C. northward is always constant and unnerving for me. After sitting for hours in Beijing traffic, I will think twice before complaining again about our traffic situation. There is simply no comparison. I'll add to this a new appreciation for American "rules of the road." In China it appears that traffic is governed only by the rule of "gross tonnage, " better stated as "I'm bigger than you so you'd better get out of my way."
  • While I grow weary at times by the door-to-door visits from Jehovah's witnesses and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the evangelism that dominates late night and weekend television, and the influence of the religious right in matters political, I now appreciate and feel extremely grateful that I live in a society that that gives voice and rights to the wide range of religious groups in America. As a practicing Catholic who cantors at 8:30 mass on Sunday mornings, I found Sundays to be a very strange day in China. The lack of practical faith was something I had a hard time grasping. For myself, I felt a strange void in the absence of this traditional routine.
  • William keeps asking when we are going to get him a baby brother or sister. My response is not any time soon (and probably not likely). I have never really thought much about the freedom I have to make this kind of choice in my life, but after spending time with many people who talked about the impact China's one-child policy has had on their lives, I feel incredibly lucky to know that my government does not place restrictions on the number of children women and/or families may have.
  • My colleagues and I spent a great deal of time preparing for our trip. We read both popular and academic literature, watched videos and made presentations on our areas of interest. As much as I learned in this pre-travel period, it all paled in comparison to actually being in Taiwan, China and Tibet. There simply is no substitute for immersing yourself in another world, getting your hands dirty, and exploring, to the extent possible, the worlds of others. No amount of study could ever have taught me all that I learned on this trip.
  • I have been away from home before, but never for more than 4 or 5 days. The void that filled my heart was enormous, and it grew every time I saw a child. I could never have imagined that I would miss William as much as I did. Do all mothers feel this way? Will I ever choose to be away from him this long again? Because I missed him so much, I found myself stealing glances at all the children we came across. I was particularly moved by the faces of Tibetan children.
  • I left China with a new empathy for children who struggle to read and adults who remain illiterate. I found the illiteracy rates in Tibet to be staggering. The number we were quoted was an adult illiteracy rate of 60-70%. Looking at signs in Chinese and Tibetan, where nothing every looked remotely familiar or decodable, made me recognize in myself the panic I see on the faces of youngsters who cannot read the words on the page before them. I will never again take for granted this wonderful gift that is the ability to read.
  • There were times abroad when I truly felt like the “ugly American.” Though I have five long years of Latin study under my belt, I speak no other language. This gaping hole in my personal knowledge often made me think about how poorly we prepare students in the U.S. for the world we live in. Speaking English is simply not enough anymore. Our students need to learn a second and third language in their lifetime, and they need to start sooner than middle school. Why do public schools still not recognize this need? And what can I do to help encourage language study that truly leads to fluency, not just the ability to translate the written word?
  • Can one be appreciative of something as simple as a toilet facility? I think so. God bless western style toilets. Enough said on this point.
  • Traveling in this part of the world was a feast for the senses. Almost everything around me afforded a new taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. Perhaps I should be grateful for breaking my camera. How much did I miss, or fail to see, because I was looking through the lens of the camera? I can close my eyes now and still smell the air, feel the stones beneath my feet, and taste and smell some of the most incredible foods. These are memories I will treasure.
  • Ethnic minorities in western China have seen many changes in the way they live their daily lives. One major change in recent years is the abandonment of hunting and shift to agrarian forms of subsistence as a result of gun control laws. I've thought a lot about this. I never once felt unsafe walking the city streets in any of the areas we visited. I cannot say the same for my country. Have we taken the second amendment too far? After all, haven't times changed significantly since the Bill of Rights was written? Why don't we take the safety and security of our communities more seriously? In some respects, I envy the Chinese for their commitment to this policy.
  • On the ground, the Chinese people we met looked and acted an awful lot like us. Why does the U.S. continue with the policy of China as neither friend nor foe? Can we really continue to to let ideological differences rule our policies toward this growing giant? There are no easy answers where our foreign policy is concerned, but at the local level, Chinese people seem to want many of these same things we do. Will they ever reach these aspirations?
  • I was moved by the guarded optimism of the Chinese people regarding the future of their country. The young people in particular believe their lives are better than their parents were, feel they can speak their minds (or at least said they felt this way), and eagerly look forward to full and productive futures.
  • I am as confused as ever on the issue of Taiwan. How will Taiwan deal with the fact that it is geographically, politically, socially and culturally close to China? How can we respect and support the fledgling democracy in Taiwan without stepping on the toes of the Chinese?
I suppose I now have more questions than answers. I still have much to think about. Overall, I return ever grateful for the freedoms afforded me as an American citizen. I can certainly understand the frustration with China over human rights and lack of personal freedoms, but I do believe that democratization lies ahead, though perhaps not in the very near future. I too am optimistic and believe that change will come, even if it is not at the pace we outsiders would prefer to see. I believe that this wave of economic reform will (someday) usher in both social and political reform. I only hope it happens in my lifetime. I would love to see it, both from afar and on the ground.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

48-Hour Book Challenge - Recommendations Please!

If you haven't signed up for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, head on over to MotherReader's place and sign up. Be sure to read the directions so that you will be ready to go when Friday rolls around. As incredibly tired as I am, I'm going to try and muddle through, so you should join us. You can do it!

In my quest to line up books to read, I have decided to open the comment lines for your input. I am teaching Secondary Curriculum Methods this fall and want to find several books for my students to consider using during their field experience. The class is largely filled with history majors (social studies teachers in the making), but I also have a majors in physics, Spanish and English. These students are all candidates for endorsement in grades 6-12, so middle grades, YA and adult fiction will work.

Since I need to read these books before recommending them, I am thinking of the following titles:
These are all books I have not read and would like to discover this weekend. What titles can you share that might make good additions to middle and secondary classrooms?

Learning in the Great Outdoors: Third Edition

I am woefully behind on my blog reading these days. I am, however, trying to catch up when I have a few free moments and can actually manage to stay awake! I am happy to announce (just a tad bit late) that the newest edition of Learning in the Great Outdoors is up. Once again, Terrell has done an admirable job putting this all together. Please stop by and take a look.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Final Thoughts - Thank You Friends

Any trip is what you make it. When you travel with a group, dynamics can be a funny thing. I was so privileged to share this experience with an amazing bunch of colleagues, that I must take this opportunity to remember them and thank them all publicly for making my first trip to China one I will never forget. So, for my traveling companions, this post is for you.

I'm going to begin with our fearless leader, so I'll start with the men.
Vincent W. - There simply aren't enough words to express my thanks to Vincent for planning and leading this trip. He opened doors for us all that would have been closed had it not been for his connections and tireless efforts in planning. He managed the good and the bad with courtesy and humility. We couldn't have asked for a better person to guide us.
Steve N. - Steve became known as "Old Nash" and "Nash Man" on our trip. He took the designation as most senior member in stride. I am grateful for having had Steve to talk to about music and books on many of our long drawn out bus rides.
Jonathan W. - Jonathan managed to get through a difficult situation on this trip with strength and grace. I feel lucky to have learned so much about his Mom and am glad he chose to share and celebrate her life with us.
Richard W. - Our resident museum expert was game for just about anything we threw at him. I'm so glad he joined our small group of friends on our (MY) big adventure in Beijing.

The last two men on this list were actually selected as alternates. When one of the original seminar members dropped out, both of these guys were added. I can't imagine having made this trip without them.
Andy M. - Andy was our music man who saw every performance event possible, and enjoyed the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. His quick wit kept us all laughing.
Nezih A. - Women all over China fell for Nezih and his goatee and felt this incurable urge to pull on it. (I believe we have pictures as proof!) Even though Andy was the member of our group who ate snake, we could count on Nezih to try just about anything put in front of him, like the head of a Peking duck.

Now for the women. I had the pleasure of rooming with each of these ladies, and am so grateful for having had the opportunity to get to know them better. I don't have a picture of the five of us together, so here's a picture with everyone but Carol.
Carol S. - Carol definitely raised the intellectual level of the group. She always asked thoughtful questions. However, Carol will always be remembered for her energy. Even in Lhasa when most of us were in slow motion, Carol had energy to burn.
Melissa L. - Our other resident political scientist, Melissa fueled my interest in areas well outside of my expertise with her questions about NGOs and foreign policy. She also served as our ever-patient sounding board when we needed to vent.
Miriam M. - Miriam has been living and working on the floor below me for years, but I never got to know her until this trip. She was our resident yoga expert who managed to find her way to studios in Taipei and Beijing. Miriam even practiced in Beijing at the Temple of Heaven.

I could say much more about each of these folks, but I'll end just by thanking them all one last time for making this trip so memorable. We sat for more group photos than I can recall, but I can't seem to find a picture that includes all of us. Here's one for now, minus Dana. This was taken outside the Potala Palace, where we were joined by some monks visiting the site. When I do get a decent shot of all 11 of us, I'll post it here.
Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to both Melissa and Nezih. I was very disappointed about breaking my camera in Lhasa, so they put up with all my complaints about being without it and took many pictures for me. All of my recent posts contain pictures they took and so graciously shared. Thanks, guys!

Day 18 - Shanghai Museum and the Long Road Home

We checked out of our hotel this morning, loaded our bags onto the bus, and headed to the Shanghai Museum for our final stop before the long trip home. The museum contains more than 120,000 pieces, so in a short time we were treated to some amazing cultural relics, from furniture to bronzes, coins, and the artifacts from some of China's minority populations. From here we left for the airport. Here are a few final views of Shanghai.
The trip home included a long flight from Shanghai to Chicago, long lines at O'Hare, a delayed flight to Richmond, with a landing (finally) about two hours late at 11:30 pm. I got home a bit after midnight and was greeted by a dog that wouldn't stop barking. She woke the boy, who was thrilled his Mom was home. I have to admit, I was glad to be home too.

Day 17 – Touring Shanghai

Our final day as tourists was today. We started out visiting Zhujiajiao, an ancient water town on the Yangtze River that is about one hour west of Shanghai. The town boasts well-preserved Ming and Qing architecture, stone bridges and old streets. We did some walking and shopping in this lovely town.
After our time in Zhujiajiao we had lunch and visited a silk factory to see the process of making silk from growing silkworms to the spinning process. Here are some pictures.
Our next stops included the French Concession, where some folks took in the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, while others indulged in some Starbuck's and a well-needed break. We then headed to Yu Gardens and the Bazaar for more shopping and sightseeing. Despite being a tourist mecca, the Bazaar was fun just for people watching and one of our favorite pastimes, interpreting poorly translated signs! Here is what the area around the Bazaar looked like.
After a final dinner out, we spent our last evening holed up in Melissa's room drinking beer and talking about music, our trip, and anything else that came to mind. This grand adventure is finally coming to an end, and though we are all ready to go home, I know I keep wishing for just one more day.

Day 16 - Fudan University and Other Lectures

Today was a whirlwind day of meetings and lectures. It began at Fudan University with a briefing by the Director of the Center for American Studies. He gave us an introduction to security issues in China. What I found most interesting was the conversation that ensued about the emergence of "Chinese-style" socialism and why for all intents and purposes, China is a socialist country, not a communist one.

From here we met with the Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs at Fudan and the Director for Student Exchange Programs. One of the goals of this trip is not only to help faculty think about China in ways that can expand their teaching and research, but also to cultivate relationships with institutions where we might be able to develop partner relationships for study abroad opportunities. Learning about these institutions has been fascinating, but few of them offer enough courses in English for them to be good destinations for our students. However, for those interested in language study, we have seen some programs that would make outstanding choices for them.

After lunch we met with faculty from Fudan in our respective disciplines. Since several of us had no peers to meet with, we took a quick walking tour of campus in the rain. When we returned, we had the opportunity to meet with undergraduate students for informal conversations. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Miriam and I spent close to an hour speaking with a group of young men who were not reluctant to share their views and ideas on a variety of subjects, including, but not limited to, the war in Iraq, the state of socialism/communism in China, personal freedoms, travel and more. I was very surprised by the extent of coverage the VA Tech tragedy had in China, and was shocked to realize that the students felt that America was not a safe place because of this.

After our day at Fudan we spent some time at the Institute for International Studies, where the Director shared with us his thoughts on the current state of US-China relations. After this we had time for a brief question and answer session.

Our evening ended with dinner at a fabulous restaurant on the Bund. Afterwards, we walked along the Bund and took in the sights. It was another great day.

Day 15 - Yunnan University and Travel to Shanghai

Our time in Kunming has been very short compared with other cities. The last part of our stay consisted of a morning at Kunming University where we had a brief presentation from Dr. Xiao Xian, a political scientist and the Vice President for International Exchange, followed by a lecture on ethnic minorities in China and Yunnan province by Dr. Shen Hai mei. The PRC officially recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups, with Han Chinese making up nearly 92% of China’s total population. Yunnan province is a very diverse province in China, as it is about 70% Han Chinese and 30% ethnic minorities. The last of the 56 officially recognized groups was recognized in 1980. Even though there are still groups not recognized by the government (about 730,000 people), and others that are controversially classified, there has been no movement to increase this magic number of 56 ethnic groups.

After our lecture we took a quick tour of campus with a stop off at their Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology to examine more closely some of the ethnic minorities that populate the Yunnan province. The walk through campus was lovely. We happened to be at the “old” campus, which was established in 1923. The buildings were spectacular. The campus itself was quite and very peaceful, with lots of green space and areas for students to congregate and study.

Once we finished at Yunnan we headed to lunch then made our way to the airport for the flight to Shanghai. I can honestly say that I am really tired of flying at this point. To date I have taken 9 flights. I can look forward to one really L-O-N-G flight from Shanghai to Chicago, and then a short hop to Richmond. I am having a wonderful time, but I am now more than ready to get home.

We arrived in Shanghai around 7:30 pm. We were met at the airport by our guide, Lucy. She took us our for a fantastic dinner and then for a ride on the Huangpu River to see the city at night. Here are some of the sights from that quick cruise.
We've been spending a lot of time as tourists lately, so we need to put our thinking caps on for tomorrow, as we plan to spend our entire day visiting Universities and with academics. We still have lots to learn, so it should be a good day.

Day 14 - The Stone Forest

Even though we have been in mainland China for 10 days, it feels like we have seen very little outside of city life. Today we drove to the Stone Forest, an area in Yunnan province that is marked by karst topography. Karst topography is a landscape created by groundwater dissolving sedimentary rock such as limestone. This part of Yunnan province is covered with giant limestone rocks that were once covered by the sea. Over time they have been weathered and eroded in strange and unusual forms. Here are some examples.
Once we finished our exploration of the forest, we stopped into an art studio where a master was completing painting and works of calligraphy. He created a piece for each of use that represented the year of our birth according to the Chinese zodiac. I am a snake, so the artist wrote characters on my piece that read “The snake is the dragon of the earth.”

After lunch we spent some time walking through a minority village. It was our first real taste of the countryside.
Our first and only full day in Kunming was a good one. Tomorrow we spend the morning at Yunnan University before heading to our final destination, Shanghai.