Bean's Books and Beyond

Sharing thoughts on books–and sometimes on education and life

Phones in the classroom January 23, 2018

Filed under: Articles and Issues — Bean's Book Blog: books and beyond @ 3:32 am
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I’m back on educational technology, and specifically phones in the classroom.  I’ll get back to book reviews soon (I’m reading a great wolf book and can’t wait to blog about it), but I saw this article posted by former colleague and Latin teacher extraordinaire, Steve Prince: How to Eliminate Cell Phone Use in the Classroom.

We just need to be done with phones in the classroom for several reasons:

  1.  Our students are addicted to their phones–literally addicted.  Students are anxious if they have to go an hour (or 5 minutes) without checking updates–whether that be social media, texts, or even news.
  2. They’re a distraction to learning.  Even when students are not using/have access to a phone, they’re thinking about it–which means they’re not thinking about whatever task they should be engaged with.
  3. They’ve come to think of any moment of “down time” in the classroom—even a 30 second break to stretch, talk to another student, notice the sunshine streaming in the windows—as “legit” time to check their phone. So they miss a conversation with a classmate, they miss the sunshine, they miss an opportunity to give their bodies, minds, and eyes a needed break. So much learning can happen through casual conversation, but currently, if there is no specific task using every minute, students go straight to their phone.
  4. We do not need them as learning tools.  Can they be helpful at times? Yes. Quicker than a computer for simple tasks? Yes.  But as soon as we give in to this, it’s one blurry line. And when the yes/no cell phone policy is a blurry one, teachers will say “please put your phone away” over and over and over every day. Simply counting the number of times we either say this to an individual student, remind the whole class, or actually ask a student for his/her phone would likely yield surprising results in lost learning time.
  5. As long as schools have a policy of “classroom by classroom,” there will never be a clear expectation for student behavior. I used to be a fan of letting each teacher decide what works best in his/her classroom, but I’m over that. I’m tired of monitoring, tired of politely reminding, and tired of watching student anxiety levels increase. We have to set the limits for them because they cannot do this on their own.

Have thoughts? Please share them.


I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb (2013) December 28, 2015

Filed under: book reviews,Memoir,Non-fiction — Bean's Book Blog: books and beyond @ 9:59 pm
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Several of my students have read this book that’s been on my to read list for a long time, and I finally picked it up this winter break.


While Trump is calling for a deportation of all Muslims and other Republican candidates and governors are pushing to “close” their state to all refugees, I thought it would be a good time to read Malala’s story, an inspiring story of one Muslim girl’s willingness to speak out and fight for the education of girls in Pakistan, her country, as well as in other Islamic countries, and the price she paid for her outspokenness.  I cannot imagine any readers do not know who Malala is, but as a short reminder, at 15, she was shot in the head by the Taliban while riding home from school.  She was eventually flown to England for treatment and rehab where she continues to reside today (at least, I think she does).  She has become a world-wide symbol for peaceful protest of girls’ denial of education, and she was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at age 17.  According to Wikipedia, “on her 18th birthday, Yousafzai opened a school in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, near the Syrian border, for Syrian refugees. The school, funded by the not-for-profit Malala Fund, offers education and training to girls aged 14 to 18 years. Yousafzai called on world leaders to invest in ‘books, not bullets.'”

As I read this book, I was struck by so many details that I had either forgotten or never known.  Here are a few that stood out:

  • Pakistan is only 68 years old, created in 1947 when British India was divided into two countries: Pakistan, an independent Muslim state and India.
  • Like almost all Muslim populations, Pakistan is made of up Sunni and Shias and within each of those groups there are a bazillion sub groups, sects, clans, tribes, etc., many of whom have fought over power, land, religion, government for years–or centuries.
  • Pakistan has had a history of revolving governments ranging from secular Democracy to corrupt tribalism to fundamentalist sectarian or some combination of all of them.  The rise of the Taliban can be traced to various fundamentalist leaders who, among other things, rid the country of all modern devices and blamed an earthquake on the people’s sinful behavior (sins such as dancing and watching Western TV). For an uneducated, highly religious people, this type of brainwashing can easily succeed–especially when the Taliban and its supporters helped with the earthquake clean-up effort whereas the inept Pakistani government did little.
  • Once the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley–a once independent culture and people of Northwest Pakistan–they essentially erased the culture and history, taking it back to a time and place of religious, male domination.

And through this turmoil, Malala spoke out and fought for girls to continue their education.

It is easy to see the parallels between what the Taliban did to the Swat Valley and other areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan and what ISIS is doing now: recruiting people through propaganda; preying on people’s fear, religious beliefs, and lack of education; and offering them false power  and promise of a better life.  It’s a complicated mess, and though I do not see Malala as a wholly unbiased reporter of this experience, through her story we can certainly see how incredibly difficult it is to develop a successful strategy to deal with an area and a history that few understand.

The recently released documentary about Malala’s experience with the Taliban and her fight for women’s rights is called He Named Me Malala, directed by Davis Guggenheim.  Link to movie trailer.


**The Best American Essays 2012 ed. by David Brooks June 18, 2013

essays-homeThough it appears as if I haven’t ready anything since early April, I have read a few books, but I haven’t had any quiet time to ponder them long enough to write anything.  My last entry came at spring break, and now the school year has ended.  Finally.  I’m sitting on my screen porch, gentle rain falling outside, and I don’t have papers to grade or research articles to check in or parents to call.  Peaceful writing time.

I love the Best American Essays series–they’re some of the most interesting, well-researched pieces of nonfiction I come across.  They’ve all been previously published, but the beauty of these books is that all the essays are in one place where someone else has gathered the best of the best (in this book, it’s David Brooks, a favorite NYT columnist, who did the final selecting).

Some favorite pieces in this collection:

“The Crazy State of Psychiatry” (from the NY Review of Books) in which Marcia Angell analyzes the epidemic of mental illness today.

“Who Are You and What are You Doing Here?” (from The Oxford American) in which Marc Edmundson speaks directly to college freshmen about what they should–and shouldn’t–be doing in college (be assertive, learn as much as you can, find what you love; don’t look at college as a ticket to a job, especially when that job may not be your own dream).

In “Creation Myth” by Malcolm Gladwell (from The New Yorker), we learn about Steve Jobs’ first visit to Xerox PARC, including what he learned and how he used it; Gladwell distinguishes stealing an idea from building upon an idea.  It’s an interesting discussion of intellectual property as well as industry philosophies.

Lots of other great essays, from teaching to pharmacy to suicide as a way of short-cutting terminal illness.  As well, an essay by Jonathan Franzen about coping with his dear friend, David Foster Wallace’s, suicide and finding closure.  Throughout this book you’ll find excellent writing and excellent variety of issues–personal, medical, social, and political. Put it on your night stand and savor one essay at a time.



**Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell (2009/1999) October 21, 2009

Filed under: book reviews,Memoir — Bean's Book Blog: books and beyond @ 1:54 am
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educating esmeBook Review: I really enjoyed this book, written in diary form, by a 5th grade teacher who chronicles her first year in a Chicago public school.  Esme hides nothing: she tells us about the creepy principal, the mother who beats her child in front of her, the misbehaved boy who turns  his behavior around after being assigned to teach the class for one whole day, the mesmerized students who adore being read to, the crying episodes at the end of a frustrating day, the huge increase in student test scores, the successful visit by an author, the battle over using Madame Esme instead of Ms. Codell.  She experiences highs and lows and everything in between.  And she pulls it off with the very energy with which she teaches her class: lots of great imagery and a strong voice which pulls the reader right into her world.  Since I spent my first three years teaching in a Chicago public school as well, there was much I could intentify with in her narrative.  And though I currently teach in a middle class high school, her insights still offer much to me and to any teacher of any grade.  Above all, passion for teaching and learning will benefit students more than any mandated curriculum or state standards ever will.  I have always subscribed to that philosophy, and I hope I will always practice it.  (memoir)


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