Using Maps to Teach History


I like to use physical two-dimensional maps with students. I think they can be very useful to show the movements and changes in a place like the United States that has changed quite a bit since Europeans began coming en masse since the 1500s.

I recently used his map from National Geographic in my third grade class. There are a number of maps overlaying Native American groups (by tribe, language, culture, etc.) that have started to appear online in the last few years. My students’ textbooks have a California map similar to this one.

The problem with showing a map with political boundaries (the present day California) rather than the whole continent is that it centers the current day boundaries, which are often arbitrary. What I talked about with my students was how these tribes and groups did not stop at the present-day border. Next week they will be studying about the Kumeyaay, a tribe with members on both sides of the California and Mexico border. We also discussed the Yurok, who have a very different lifestyle, etc. and have a lot more in common with tribes going up along the coast now in Oregon. I want them to think out side these borders, and understand they don’t have much to do with how these groups lived for millennia before Europeans invaded.

Image source: North American Indian Cultures Wall Map from National Geographic


Lesson Plan: Rhyme and Rhythm in Poetry


I’ve started a recent unit on poetry with my class. I’m not a poet, and I’m not a poetry fan (I don’t hate it, but I’m a prose gal), so this makes it harder for me to teach than many other parts of the curriculum. One resource that’s been invaluable is, which, I got from the redoubtable Larry Ferlazzo. Some resources I found are worth sharing so I thought I’d do that. The lesson doesn’t go in the narrative order that I came up with it, but there you have it.

Small Thing Big Idea: How Jump Rope Got Its Rhythm 

This popped up in my Facebook feed, which I guess is an argument in favor of the algorithm, because I wouldn’t have found it otherwise. It’s about the culture of jumprope/handclap rhymes, and their influence on rap music, etc. I wanted them to appreciate the rhymes they already know, and also it emphasizes beat, etc. My only beef is that it’s a Facebook video, which is really problematic to show in school, etc. I had to hook up my phone to the projector. Not everyone has the tech chops to do that.

We then watched the video for Double Dutch Bus, to show an early rap song with clear influences from playground rhymes.

Maya Angelou – Harlem Hopscotch | Genius

Next up, we looked at this phenomenal dance video based on Maya Angelou’s “Harlem Hopscotch”. Once again, it’s a poem/lyric based on playground rhyme.

Gwendolyn Brooks – Poet | Academy of American Poets

Finally we went to Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool” which while not her best, or deepest, fits in well with the rest as a short example of rhythm and rhyme. We talked about syllables/beats, etc.

There are loads of other resources available, which I’ll be using as the unit progresses.
Photo Credit: “Hopscotch” by Skip on Flickr

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Bad Hair Day


It’s winter time. It’s cold — okay, not for anyone outside California and Florida, but still — I’m wearing hats in the morning. Lovely knitted hats that I’ve made. This results in a lot of “bad hair days”. I keep a comb, but my follicles, they want to be free! The other day it came in handy…

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Some thoughts on the Internment of the Japanese


One of the first dates I had with my husband, was a trip to see Min Yasui, one of the plaintiffs in a suit related to the Korematsu case trying to fight the internment of the Japanese by the U.S. government during World War II. I was young, maybe still 18 at the time. I knew a bit about the history of the internment, but not a lot. Mr. Yasui was impressive. Even in advanced age, his personality crackled. It was a good lesson for me on the failure of stereo-typing, as he was a firebrand, fitting with his occupation as a lawyer.

Why do I bring this up? Well, recent news has someone close to the Trump campaign (but not in his transition) citing Korematsu as precedent, which drew a gasp from Megyn Kelly. This is not surprising, as currently, the case is generally felt to be embarrassing, and a mistake. Don’t believe me? Here’s quote showing how far the idea that Korematsu was a bad decision has penetrated legal circles:

Justice Antonin Scalia has ranked Korematsu alongside Dred Scott, the 1857 decision that black slaves were property and not citizens, as among the court’s most shameful blunders.

That was recognized in 1983 shortly before I heard Mr. Yasui speaking. I remember at the time they were discussing the fact that the Korematsu had gotten his original conviction overturned, but since it was only at the appellate level, the original ruling still stood at the Supreme Court level. They actually wanted the case to advance, because they felt the time was ripe to have it overturned. It didn’t, so it’s still sitting out there are precedent. This article explains some of the legal niceties, and includes this surprising quote about Scalia above.

I remember as I was in my 20s running into folks in my grandmother’s generation, who would still defend the Internment. Heck, my grandmother herself made a number of embarrassing statements on the subject in my teens. In my late twenties, I was editor of the local Friends of the Library newsletter, and wrote a piece on materials on the Internment available through the Oakland Public Libraries Asian branch. I got a letter from an older member who tried to explain that I didn’t understand. Since he was a member, I couldn’t call him a deluded racist, but stood my ground explaining that history has taught us to view the events differently, and I thought it had.

A recent article in Time puts this point of view succinctly….

As TIME pointed out, the Supreme Court precedent would still stand, but the judge who cleared Korematsu’s conviction declared in her ruling that, in the words of the report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation, “Korematsu lies overruled in the court of history.”

But what if that’s wrong? What if the court of history is reconvening? Think about a case that even Antonin Scalia thought was wrong is being relied on for policy by folks in the President-elect’s orbit.

On the upcoming election of the first woman president…


Yes we can!

In many ways this has been a disheartening election. To see people make excuses for a candidate bragging about sexual assault (which was followed up by victims saying, “Yes he did.”) well, that’s almost sadder than the assault in the first instance. And all the racism, and xenophobia that preceded it was just as ugly.

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