The Point: And Other Stories by Charles D’Ambrosio

I enjoyed reading this collection of short stories. Charles D’Ambrosio has a way of immersing the reader into his stories with the most evocative of narratives while using the most simplest of words. His stories are of a genre called “Slice of Life Realism.” I can feel these stories and the characters within them and they stay with me. My favorites in this collection are “Her Real Name” and “Open House.” If you are looking for a short story collection, I recommend you give this one a try. ()

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

An incredibly wonderful/beautiful story of a young girl living and growing up in Nazi Germany that celebrates the Human Spirit. While the story is not the happiest at times, the author Mark Zusak works a very unique narrative that leaves you incredibly fulfilled and inspired. He uses the idea of books and words to play an important part in telling this amazing story. I especially enjoyed the unique ways the author presented it. For example, it was narrated by “Death”. You might think that would give the story a very dark feel, but the story was actually made more sensitive, and more human by this approach. Mark also used PowerPoint type call outs of background information within the narrative which helped shift modes and provided a smother flow. Another unique feature was when the author gave the reader a glimpse on what the future of some of the characters would be, before the story-line arrived at that point. This worked extremely well and I had never seen it done before. I think this is a five star book and it is now on my top ten list of books I’ve ever read. This book has my highest recommendation. (  )

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The Whole-Brain Path to Peace: The Role of Left-and Right-Brain Dominance by James Olson

A fascinating read! In this work James Olson explores the differences in mental processing using our right and left brain hemispheres and shows the consequences of dominate hemispheric thinking on our individual and collective lives. He develops his highly interdisciplinary ideas in a very thoughtful and easy to understand structure. Each chapter clearly summizes the main points that it features with the cumulative ensemble of ideas being integrated and clearly explained through out the book. Mr. Olson’s work is also well documented and he introduces the reader to several fascinating new ideas like Sacred Geometry. A case history using the Drug War in the US is used to illustrate the differences in hemispheric preferences for solution. Mr. Olson also suggests positive actions that can be taken in alleviating the the world and creating a more peaceful environment. Some developments I would like to have seen more of in the book was the role of dominate hemispheric in the development of science and also what might be the affects of today’s technology on dominate hemispheric thinking. I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in understanding the workings of the brain and how a different approach in our perspective and perception could make all the difference. (  )

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Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove

A fun read and very a typical “Turtledove” novel. The Alternative History pviot point for this book is that Hitler starts WWII earlier then in our timeline. Here the war starts with an invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 as opposed to a free walk-in occupation of Czechoslovakia and a subsequent invasion of Poland in 1939. For some this may seem like a trivial change but this book the first of a series, shows that the geopolitics could be very different. If you have never read Turtledove before, his style is to create his story by moving his dialogues from one setting with a given set of characters to another. This book seems to have a larger set then usually of these setting, so it did take some effort before I felt comfortable recalling the dramas and characters and putting them together in a complete story picture. That said I did very much enjoy Harry Turtledove’s history changing ideas in this Alternate History and look forward to reading the next book in the series. The only suggestion I have is that I thought a couple of the settings with respective characters should have been made up of major decision makers (i.e. FDR) to better understand the unfolding of this conflict from a more strategic level. I strongly recommend to all Alternate History fans, History buffs, especial Military History buffs. (  )

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The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

An excellent book for self-reflecting, healing, and positive actions. Readers can take what Mr. Zukav writes as truths (which I believe is his intention) or view it as a more metaphorical structure in which to view their life. I personally believe there is truth in this work. In The Seat of the Soul, Mr. Zukav paints a beautiful picture of our most profound center of who we are…the Soul and the context/process of which it exists. I found his engaging and descriptive narrative very helpful and hopeful in dealing with my own journey of life. His work is prescriptive, in that the ideas put fourth can be used to move toward more positive outcomes in ones life. My reading of “The Seat of the Soul” also guided me in putting episodes of my life into a more favorable and hopeful structure where growth and development to more positive states are possible. This book of New Age ideas can be a wonderful augmentation to other theological belief structures that readers may have. If you are open and looking for more meaning in your life I highly recommend this work. I plan to read others he has written. (  )

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The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific by Jeff Shaara

Jeff Shaara’s recent novel The Final Storm (A Novel of the War in The Pacific) is more then just an Historical Novel, it is a Novel of History. A Novel of History being a story that centers around a real event that might include real life characters. While I haven’t read the first three books of this series of World War II, I found this the final book in the series, to provide an immersing understanding of these world changing events. This book tells the story of the taking of Okinawa and the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Japan. Mr. Shaara does this wonderfully by giving the reader several vantage points of these historical moments. For example, he takes you into the minds and hearts of the commanders and leaders who must wrestle with the most difficult of decisions in conducting the war. His story also allows you to feel and touch the horrendous moments of a US Marine engaged in combat. Several haunting scenes crafted by the narrative will stay with me forever. A engaging story with memorable characters, that touched me and increased my appreciation, of all who have made incredible sacrifices in the defense of their country. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history, especially military history. (  )

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Convergence (The Ordinals) by Joseph Gellene

A good first novel! I enjoyed it. It reminded me of the Robert Heinlein short story “By His Bootstraps” and the novel “The Man Who Folded Himself” by David Gerrold. I found the characters interesting enough and the plot very engaging so that I read the novel in just two days. The work features an action, adventure, mystery with all the features of a good time travel story. Mr. Gellene entertains by showing the unusually problems of time travelers in his story and hints of an overarching organization that keeps history coherent. I hope this might be the first of a series of stories so we can learn about the general background of this time traveling universe. I recommend this work to all science fiction readers, and especially to time travel wonks like me. (  )

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Zero Day: A Novel by Mark Russinovich

Entertaining and educational, this techno thriller is Mr. Russinovich’s first novel and it sends home a very eye opening and unsettling message. He has an extensive background in computers and networks and has been an esteemed Technical Fellow at Microsoft. In his story he presents a very vivid picture of the vulnerabilities and devastating outcomes that are possible in a cyber attack on the US and Europe. The story starts out slowly with an investigation into the mysterious failures and anomalies of a number of major computer systems. The technical aspects are well researched and clearly presented and developed for the reader. In the second half the pieces come together and fast paced action to avert the impending cyber attack, becomes more dominant. I found the story and characters interesting, but the best part of this book is the depiction of the vulnerabilities of our way of life in our increasingly computer/network relevant world. Especially recommended for inquiring minds on what can only be one of the major emerging issues of new age. (3 out of 5 stars)

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The Small Size Concept, that Achieves Big Results

 In business or the public sector, the size of an organization can make all the difference in how quickly it can change and adapt new ideas to an incredibly dynamic world. I believe that in educating students with diverse abilities and backgrounds, small can also be better. At the Concept School (TCS) just such a dynamic school exists—small classes, student leadership/mentoring opportunities between middle school and high school, and a highly integrated interdisciplinary program. As a teacher at The Concept School, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to both witness and contribute in the effectiveness of the Small Size Concept.

Often students attend large schools where classrooms can number 20 to 30 or even more students. The ability of a teacher to understand a student and adapt a lesson for that specific student is difficult, with high classroom numbers. The teacher of a classroom with a large number of students is hard pressed to continuously access and provide feedback to their students at a tempo that enhances a students learning.

A TCS classroom size averages a ratio of eight students to one teacher. This small ratio allows a TCS teacher the opportunity to focus and understand their individual student’s motivations, abilities and learning preferences—thus enabling the development of specifically targeted lesson plans. This small classroom size also allows time, on a regular basis , to work one-on-one with a student —accessing their understanding and giving them continuous and timely specific feedback on their progress.

The small size of my math classes has allowed me to tightly track, access and guide my students in a way that would be much more challenging in a larger size class. Much of my time in class is spent guiding and coaching students as they engage math problems or activities. Time with lecturing and instructing to the class is minimized and a student’s actual experience with addressing the math is maximized. Students are also engaged in checking and correcting their answers. This serves to increase their accountability and role in addressing their learning style. A quiz is given for each skill mastered (usually a textbook section.) So a chapter with five to ten sections would yield five to ten short quiz assessments of the students. This high frequency of quizzes might prove labor intensive for a larger classroom, but is very manageable in the small classes of TCS. It gives students a quick/high rate of feedback on their understanding of the material. This has increased their confidence and allowed learning issues to be addressed quickly and comprehensively.

A low student to teacher ratio also allows a teacher to take advantage of the special interests and creative ideas of students. For example in a Computer class I had students work on individual spreadsheet projects that connected to their specific interests, like roller coasters and baseball. The TCS small class size also allows a spontaneous redirection in a lesson plan when a new idea or learning opportunity arises. Case in point, after working on a internet based research project on computer pioneers, one of my students had the idea of creating a set of computer pioneer trading cards using graphics software with information from the internet. With a large class, redirecting an assignment and providing new guidance and instruction on the fly would be a Herculean effort. The small class size of TCS made it easy.

TCS is also a fertile ground to foster leadership and mentoring opportunities for students because of her overall size and small classrooms. The small size of TCS classes and their close proximity, allows TCS to match younger students with older student mentors. This relationship can give the younger student a successful model to emulate and strategies to better develop their learning styles. Leadership opportunities exist at TCS on the classroom level as well.

A class-to-class leadership approach in instructing has been very successful. My high school chemistry class recently developed and taught a practical hands on lesson showing the growing of crystals by way of a supersaturated liquid to our middle school science class. The middle school students enjoyed the lab and instruction created by their upper school classmates. For the high school students, the lesson execution not only reinforced their chemistry understanding, but provided an opportunity for the development of their leadership skills. A separate middle and high school, which most public schools operate would make such a joint venture more challenging and time consuming.

The small size concept may be most effective in our school’s ability to have a truly integrated staff—administration and teachers from all disciplines. While working in a larger more traditional school it was not uncommon for me to deal exclusively with other math teachers. I hardly ever talked with school administration or teachers from other disciplines (e.g. English, Social Studies, etc.) Such “stove-piping” can create blind-spots in a teacher’s knowledge of their students. At TCS, the “whole school” is the student’s team. A student’s progress and development is discussed among the staff on a daily basis. This enables the staff to not only keep current on a specific student’s progress, but to address significant student issues in a consistent and timely manner.

A small integrated staff also allows material to be connected from different disciplines with much greater ease than a larger school. For example special classes have been organized and effectively run through team-teaching. This approach is easily organized because of the small size and close proximity of the staff. Classes in anthropology, and criminal justice, both taught by social studies and science teachers, is an example of this type of classe taught at TCS. Students greatly benefit from this dual perspective teaching. Their attention is held from the variety of teaching approaches and they begin to understand that subject areas can span over more then one discipline. These cross-discipline connections can be identified and developed because of the daily teacher interchange.

Perhaps the biggest success of TCS’s inter-disciplinary approach is the school wide participation once or twice a year, in putting on a theatrical performance. This past year two such productions were successfully performed. Scenes from “A Midsummer Nights Dream” by Shakespeare and “The Wizard of OZ” by Frank Baum were produced by a school wide production team of student performers and stage designers. These productions transformed the entire school through action and appearance in reflecting the themes of the production (i.e. Our school performance room was transformed into Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.) Students, facility, and parents came together in a strong community building exercise. Students experienced history, art, engineering, and real life problem solving. They develop pride in their school and own efforts and learn to work cooperatively as a team.

The small size concept with small classes within a small school setting can significantly improve the learning environment for all students. Smaller classes give teachers time and space needed to establish a relationship in which specific lesson activities can offered to a given student with continuous and timely feedback. A small school also provides positive connections between the middle and high school students. Students in leadership and mentor roles can help other students as well as themselves. A small, highly integrated staff enables the whole school to act on behalf of a given student and provide consistent and timely support. A small school can also foster interdisciplinary connections and bring the learning community together through individual and group efforts in developing and executing school projects such as theatrical performances. The “Small size concept that achieves big results” is an approach worthy of serious consideration for all students.

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Threads West: An American Saga by Reid Lance Rosenthal

A fun read! This book is the first of a six book series about the trials and trbulations of a group of men and women during the great Westward expansion of the United States. I found Rosenthal’s work easy, but descriptive and evocative style very enjoyable. His story is well researched and his words appear to come from first hand experiences. As I read I felt the imagery he weaved with his narrative and I must say his stories are akin to time traveling. The characters are interesting and the story captivating. This is what reading a good story is supposed to be about. Do you love a good historical romp through the old west? Do you want to feel like a western pioneer in the mid 1800’s? Do you love adventure, romance, and/or mystery? I encourage you to check out this book and its series. (  out of 5 stars)

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