An Alternative Approach to Journal Writing

For the past five years, I have used an alternative to the now accepted practice of journal writing. I had found journals to be a wonderful way of motivating writing, but there were some problems in the actual implementation of journals that I had found aggravating. My solution was the 15 Minute Writing.

Journals have two main problems. First they are terribly bulky and difficult to carry. 125-150 journals carried home on a weekly basis represent an enormous burden. I found myself avoiding them just because of the logistical difficulties. In addition, the students I most needed to motivate were the ones who wrote almost nothing if at all. I had no way to follow them home and insist that they attempt this activity.

I created the concept of the 15 Minute Writing in response to these problems. A 15 Minute Writing is just what the name implies. I allocate an exactly timed 15 minute period of time for my students to write. They are given a suggested topic or idea on which to write as a way of starting them out, but they are never limited to that topic. They may write on that idea for a few lines, the whole time, or not at all. They may change topics as often as they like as long as they writing.

Some of my topics over the years have covered recent events such as the firing of a coach, personal questions about themselves, thought provoking questions such as it is your classroom or mine, and the perennial how was your summer vacation. I find that it is essential to give them such starts, but they never seem to feel constrained by them. They treat these writings very much as I have had students treat journals. I receive poems, stories, nonsense, personal thoughts and predicaments, and gripes about cafeteria food. However, I always get something which was not always the case with journals.

Grading is easy and straightforward because I grade on the actual quantity. I count the number of pages to determine their grade. Most students are pressed to write four pages so I give a 95 for that much. The others follow that pattern. 4=95, 3=85, 2=75, 1 =65. If the student has written to the maximum and completely filled up the page without getting onto the next, I allocate an additional five points so 1 +=70, 2+=80, 3+=90, and 4+=1 00. Students know in advance exactly what determines the grade, and as the year passes, they frequently push themselves trying to beat their own best grade.

At the beginning of the year, I have students bring a folder with brads to use just for these writings. When I return the read and graded manuscript, I have them put the writing into this folder so that at the end of the year they have a complete set. This means I only need to carry home a set of papers instead of a load of arm-eating spirals. Yet my students have a record of their year’s writing.

The limitation to this plan is that handwriting and time for reflection suffer. Nevertheless, I have found this workable. Most students write much more and seem to find enough time to think as they write. They learn to “think on their feet” and to write on a moment’s notice. It takes them only a few such writings to develop a voice and use it.

Originally published in Notes Plus, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English

Urbana, Illinois 1987

An Answer to the Overloaded File Cabinet: The Unit Box

We all get great ideas from many sources: the English Journal, teacher conferences, and our co-workers. Frequently, however, we don’t need those ideas right at that moment. What can you do with the perfect idea that you don’t need right now? Also, after having taught a few hundred years or days, each of us has acquired scraps of notes, copies of handouts, and of course, unit and lesson plans. Trying to keep up with all of this can overwhelm even the most organized person with time on his or her hands.

Dianne Robinson offered a suggestion which was printed in the November, 1983 issue of Notes Plus which is a start. For several years now I have done just what she suggested: that is to put all my information into notebooks. While this works quite well and I highly recommend it, I have a suggestion to make which goes one more step.

The solution is what I call a unit box. It consists of nothing more than a heavy cardboard box (I find that the boxes which hold 10 reams of paper are ideal and readily available around a school). Into this box I deposit everything that I will need for a single unit.

In my classes I have seven units which are broken into literary units consisting of the short story, novel, modern drama, Shakespeare, poetry, and skills units consisting of writing instruction and the research paper. In past years I have used notebooks for papers and then stored all the other materiel in drawers, closets, and wherever I could find a cubbyhole. Frequently, I would forget about a wonderful tape or photocopied story because it was out of sight/out of mind.

This year I gathered up everything and dumped this material into a box labeled according to the unit. Into my short story box I placed the following:

  • photocopied short stories not found in our text
  • photocopied handouts which had been used as class copies
  • books on teaching the short story
  • pamphlets
  • cassettes of taped short stories
  • video cassettes of short stories
  • interest items such as a purple rabbit’s foot for “The Monkey’s Paw”
  • transparencies explaining elements of a short story
  • •bulletin board materials (all the letters, pictures, etc. necessary plus a photograph of the completed display)
  • an idea notebook which contains everything that I’m not currently using even if I don’t think I ever will (life always has surprises for us)
  • a course notebook which contains specific content material for each class (I photocopy all my short stories), notes for each story, as well as both daily and major tests
  • a major notebook which contains everything needed to teach the unit including unit plans, daily plans, notes on films, handout masters, master of photocopied stories, notes on all input, and a list of all available A.V. in the library or service center

One question you may have is over the notebooks. At present I have three notebooks in my file which will soon expend to four. I’ll admit that soon gets to be quite an expense. No, I don’t spend all my raise on them. Instead I scrounge. I watch when a kid throws away one. Very often a little tape on the binding will make it usable. At the end of the year, students frequently leave theirs in their locker for the janitors to dispose of. I also have found that large corporations distribute information in wonderfully expensive ones. When the period of exposure is over, the company representative no longer has a need for the folder. And if I can’t get them any other way, I buy them at the beginning of the school year when the price is lower.

The nicest part about the unit box is that as the year progresses, if I come across something (perhaps I videotape a good production of one the stories from our text or even get an idea from a generous source), I just drop it into the box. I make no attempt to file it at that time. When I get ready to teach the unit, I go through everything in the box and sort and file. I then can make up my unit knowing that I hove considered all my possible sources. Another advantage is that the box is easy to store and to carry home when I need to work on it. It seems to take up much less space than those boxes I previously had to store wherever I could find space.

One lost thought. If you are like me, you read the various journals and wish that you could utilize the marvelous suggestions. With this plan, it is now possible. As I come across one too good to pass up, I make a photocopy for my box. I make sure that the source is noted and then really “wow” my curriculum supervisor by citing it in my unit plans as an aspect of my teaching plans.

The hardest port of this plan is just doing it. But don’t try to convert everything at once. Instead, just do one unit at a time. As you teach each unit this year, begin to gather up and drop everything into a box. By the end of the year, most of your work will have been done. Then you won’t have to promise yourself that this is the year you’ll get organized.

originally published in Notes Plus, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English    Urbana, Illinois 1987

The Vanilla Wafer Caper

Teaching students the difference between descriptive, expository, and narrative compositions is difficult because of the gap between each instructional period. Initially, I teach separately each of the three writing forms, with appropriate writing assignments. After I feel confident that my students can handle each form, I use a single classroom period to cinch the understanding of how they relate to each other with a final “mastery” activity: the “Vanilla Wafer Caper.” It’s fun, easy, and successful.

You will need one to two boxes of vanilla wafers (a box contains about 100). Actually, crackers of any kind (I stole this from a demonstration using Ritz) will work, but the “cookieness” of vanilla wafers appealed to me. Warn your students in advance not to eat them as you hand them out. I even go so far as to imply that they are specially treated and dangerous to eat.

My opening consists of a quick review of the three types of writing already studied. Then I set them to the first task. They must carefully observe their cookie and list at least ten features. I suggest a topic sentence such as “My vanilla wafer is like no other” and then have them use their list to write a paragraph describing it. This should take about ten minutes. They understand that it is a rough draft, but one that must be readable.

They then put their cookies together on a desk. I found it was quicker and just as effective to let them work in groups of five rather than as a whole class. They exchange paragraphs, and the other person must find the match. Initially, they do not believe this is possible, but within five minutes each cookie has returned to its owner thanks to a descriptive paragraph.

By now, students have begun to take a real interest in the personalities of their wafer. The next activity encourages that. They are to write a narrative paragraph using the wafer as the main character in a short tale. Again this should take about ten minutes.

The final activity of the day is to write a one paragraph exposition on all the ways one could use a vanilla wafer except to eat it. The student’s creativity will amaze you and themselves.

Closure is generally rather raucous, but I take the final minutes to point out that one subject has been handled in three different forms. A check for understanding is quick and easy. They place their narratives on one comer of their desk, exposition on another, and descriptive under their wafer. A glance as I walk down the row proves that they know the difference.

Now with no desire to eat them, most want to take home their wafer friends. I go home hoping that each time they see one they will remember the day’s lesson.

Déjà Vu

She came awake as the first ring ended. Even before she picked it up, Claire knew what was coming. The anxiety made her teeth grit.

“It’s me, Mom,” Ben croaked with dry mouth excitement. “We’re on our way.”

So it’s finally here, she thought as she reached to turn on the light. I wish Tom were with me, but he wasn’t there that other time either

For months, her daughter Paige had talked excitedly about natural labor and breast feeding and Lamaze and birthing chairs. Whenever it had come up, Claire had changed the subject. She knew Paige was hurt that she didn’t seem at all excited about this baby. But she couldn’t tell her.

As Claire dressed, she tried to tell herself that there was plenty of time. After all, this is her first. That’s what they told me at that army hospital long ago. And it had taken such a long time.

Tom had been away on maneuvers. The Red Cross reached him, but not until it was over – at least the delivery. It hadn’t really been over for nearly a month. A month of hope and despair and sympathy and tears.

She’d been so young – too young to cope or understand. Only 19, living far from home at a God-forsaken army camp, pregnant and poor. She’d never even thought about what might be. She’d only been married a few months when she learned she was pregnant. She hadn’t been surprised. That’s what had been happening to all the other young brides around her.

One by one they had their babies. They called each other to pass on the news of sex and hours in labor. Of course, there wasn’t time and it was too far for family to arrive, so they acted like family to each other. Casseroles mixed with care seemed enough. They were young and resilient, so their bodies bounced back like pioneers. Soon their babies became toddlers, and they were pregnant again.

She had awakened when her water broke. She didn’t know what it was at first. Then it dawned on her what her friends had meant during all those postpartum discussions. Today mothers go to classes, she thought, but those conversations served the same purpose.

Sam and Jenny next door had said, “If Tom’s away, you call.” They’d been so good to her during those months. Full of excitement, they’d driven her to the base hospital. It hadn’t been too bad; the contractions didn’t start until they were on the way.

She’d been so scared though. It wasn’t with any sense of foreboding, just with not knowing. Everyone talked about the first moment of the baby’s coming, but other than “It took seven hours,” they never seemed to fill in details.

She had arrived at the base hospital, checked in, and been quickly added to the ward of six other women in various stages of waiting. The enema, the shaving, the impersonality of doctors and nurses, and the physical exam had added to her fright.

Sam had left to contact someone about finding Tom. Even if he could have come in time, she hadn’t wanted him to see her – not like that. He would have waited with the other fathers, wondering.

Hours had passed. It had been hot even with the fans trying to blow away the summer humidity. She had cried out. She had been too scared, and she had hurt too much. She had begun to wonder why – why she was here – why she was doing this. She’d never asked for a baby. She’d only pretended to be glad.

Jenny had come in, but the ward was too small. Besides she hadn’t been able to help. Their time as friends had been too short to support the strain. Claire had eventually pulled away from Jenny’s efforts to comfort her.

As the time came nearer, she had cried out more and more. Finally a nurse came over. “Shut up. You think you’re the only one who’s ever had a baby.” It had made her quiet for a minute, but it had soon become too much to bear.

A doctor, hurried and impatient, had come in to check her again. They had never waited for a moment when it wasn’t too bad. They had thrust their searching fingers high into her. “Please quit,” she had cried out.

As he had hurried out, she heard him say, “‘This one’s almost ready – 8 cm.” She knew he didn’t even know her name.

They had come and pulled/pushed her onto a rolling table seemingly unaware that she hurt.

The delivery had come quickly. It was an end to 36 hours of heat, pain, and confusion. The baby had cried, the cord was cut, and she hadn’t known enough to realize that impersonal doctors and nurses usually allowed a moment of their lives to reflect the joy of new life. She had been so used to their brusqueness that the toneless, “It’s a boy” seemed natural.

She hadn’t expected to be given the baby. They had wrapped him and taken him away. The placenta was delivered, and she had been taken back to the ward, exhausted. She hadn’t known there should be joy and elation. All she had wanted was to sleep.

She had awakened to Tom standing over her looking forlorn but stoic. “Honey, how do you feel?”

“Okay, I guess. I’m hungry.”

“Was it too bad?”

She hadn’t known how to tell him, so she hadn’t answered. She had realized she was still in a delivery gown and colorless and unbrushed. Her search for lipstick had stopped when Tom said, “Have you seen the baby?”

That had made her aware that her breasts hurt; they felt hot and full. That’s probably what had awakened me. She began to understand why the ice bag had always been near the beds of the other mothers she had visited as each baby came in its turn.

“No,” she answered. “I just woke up.”

“I’m afraid there’s a little trouble.”

‘With what?” she had asked not even realizing he had meant the baby. She had immediately thought of money, T.D.Y’s or the record he tried so hard to keep clean.

“The baby’s not quite normal. It’s his arms.” He had stopped with that. She had never seen so much unhappiness in him. She hadn’t even known there was anything which could affect him this way.

He had been overjoyed when he had learned she was pregnant. They had talked of names and plans. She hadn’t cared that much and had quickly agreed to name the baby after him if it were a boy or after his mother if it were a girl.

‘The doctors have a technical term for it, but it means he doesn’t have complete arms. They have called in an orthopedic specialist. We’ll know more tomorrow.” The words had come out one at a time as if he had to think about each before he could say it.

“Have you seen him?” Claire asked.

“Yes, they have him in a room apart from the others. I saw him a little while ago.”

They had soon brought him into her room. The nurse had been nicer than those she had met during delivery. She had brought him in all bundled up. You couldn’t even tell there was anything wrong. The nurse had been full of bustling cheer as she had handed him to her. “Well, this boy is ready for breakfast.” She had a bottle tucked in beside him and handed it to Claire after the baby had been placed in the crook of her left arm. Claire had fed enough of her friend’s babies to know how to begin, but this baby seemed so little. He had started to suck, though, as soon as the nipple touched his lips.

Claire hadn’t been able take her eyes off the baby’s face. He had a shock of dark brown hair and a round little face. She hadn’t been able to see the color of his eyes. They had been scrunched tight from pleasure.

She had realized she was grinding her teeth as emotions washed over her. He had been so much more wonderful than she had expected. He had seemed so perfect, so perfectly wonderful. Tom must have exaggerated. How could there be anything too wrong? Why, this was HER baby. She had pulled him tightly to her with feelings of protectiveness and pride.

As the baby had stopped his greedy enjoyment to catch his breath, the nurse had arrived at her side to show her how to burp him. Claire had looked up. “Isn’t he beautiful?” she said as the nurse had placed him upon Claire’s shoulder. The nurse’s eyes had darkened and then smiled with an understanding that went beyond medical knowledge.

“Yes, he’s a fine boy.”

But the moment of bonding had passed, and as the nurse took the baby away, she had said, “Dr. Harris will be in to see you.”

Tom had come in soon after that. Maybe he had been waiting for the babies to leave. He had looked tired, but tried to smile as he came over. “I’ve sent telegrams to everyone. I said there were a few problems, and we would tell them more when we know. My C.O. has put me on temporary emergency leave, so I’ll have a few days.”

A white coated very official looking man pulled a curtain between them and the others on the ward. “Hello, I’m the orthopedist in charge of your son. I’ve examined the baby carefully. He has a classic foreshortening which should cause no major problems in later life. Some plastic surgery may be needed, but right now you may take him home.” He had smiled at them both as he left the room.

She had taken him at his word, and when the baby had been brought to her the next time, she had carefully unwrapped him to find two chubby little arms which seemed strange but not grotesque. He had become her baby.

They had been discharged in a few days to go home to encouraging friends. She remembered that there had been a casserole waiting and letters of comfort from her father. Of course, no one had come. With the war, travel was restricted, but there had been baby presents from her mother-in-law and aunt.

But it had been hard. The greedy baby hadn’t grown well. He had cried a lot which could be heard by the neighbors. She had known he disturbed them, but she hadn’t been able to do anything about it. Jenny had reassured her, “He’s just a little colicky. Don’t worry, it will get better.” She had tried all the remedies suggested by friends – the teaspoon of whiskey, the hot water bottle, and extra careful burping.

She had taken him to the base doctor. The morning’s wait until their turn had lasted forever. All he had told her was that some babies didn’t gain as fast as others, and nervous mothers needed to relax. But she hadn’t been a nervous mother. She had taken each new stage as it came-not expecting it, but not surprised either. The baby’s face had become gaunt and his eyes seemed large in his face. He had continued to cry nearly all the time, but it was no longer loud enough to disturb the neighbors. Instead, it had sounded like the mewing of a hungry kitten.

Tom kept saying, “Are you sure he’s okay?” She didn’t know. All she did know was that she spent her days feeding, bathing, and changing him. His little arms she had learned to take for granted just as she did his crying.

Finally, Tom had insisted that she once again spend the morning waiting at the clinic. Only that time, when the doctor saw the baby, he hadn’t called her a nervous mother. No, he had put little Tom back into the base hospital.

It had taken the whole week for the baby to die. Once again Tom was placed on emergency leave. He had again sent out telegrams. It had passed over her, though. For there had been men dying everywhere. This baby, her baby, was just part of the casualty list. She hadn’t even been surprised at the little box placed in the ground with the small engraving, Thomas Robert Johnson, II.

Soon Tom had been shipped overseas. She had worked during the day and played at night with nobody to interfere. Friends had commented on how well she handled the loss.

Time had passed quickly. Tom had come home, and they went to live in oil camps with roaches and rats. When she had once again become pregnant, she had been far from a hospital. They had made the hour long trip together. That time Tom had been there. That time she had known what to expect except that there had been nuns who treated her kindly. That time there had been joy in the room as the baby was delivered. She had been surprised when they gave her the baby to hold. That time there had been no look of sorrow on Tom’s face; instead, he had been enraptured by his perfect little daughter. This baby had eaten and cried, but mostly slept. At each visit to the doctor, he had admired her progress. And the baby’s shock of dark brown hair had turned curly, and her blue eyes learned to crinkle in laughter.

As Claire drove to the hospital, she thought of all she had wanted to say to Paige. Be asleep, don’t invest yourself in this baby. Babies die. But instead, she had joked with Ben and Paige about not being old enough to be a grandmother. Paige had drawn away as the day got closer. That was probably why Ben had been the one to call.

How do you tell someone that they are living your nightmare? A nightmare that 40 years ago you tucked away as a part of life too painful to talk about. The drive ended at the hospital’s visitor parking lot. She walked slowly up the stairs, got on the elevator, and pushed 3rd floor maternity. As the door opened, she could see the rows of newborns lined up behind protecting glass. She wondered where they put the imperfect ones. These were all beautiful and whole. A smile of joy and release began to spread across Claire’s face as she hurried toward her waiting grandchild.

What They Don’t Know . . .

“Danny, I’ll be fine. Don’t go worrying about me like I’m some child.”

“It’s just the layover in Dallas. What will you do for two hours?”

“I’ll get a cup of tea and read a magazine. I’ll ride one of those little carts. I haven’t lived for 67 years and not learned something.”

“It’s just your heart, Mom. I don’t want you to get too tired.”

“I won’t. Now it’s time to get on this plane. Give me a kiss.”

“Call when you get home.”

Mrs. Pal hugged her purse close to her body and moved down the hall to the plane. She shook her head. How boys do worry, she thought to herself.

She sat next to a nice young girl. She showed her the pictures of Dan’s boys. They had a nice chat. The child was in school and had books to study. Dorothy took a little nap until it was time for the plane to land.

When she got into the airport, she went to the phones. Her best friend Alice had lived in Dallas for years. They did not talk often. It cost too much. She had looked forward to a chance for a nice long talk. She hadn’t told Dan that. It wasn’t his business what she did while she waited for the plane.

She took the coin out of her wallet. It took a minute, but she got it out of the zipper pocket on the side. She dialed the number. She was worried. Alice might not answer. But she did. They talked about the children. Alice talked a long time about her Sally Sue’s dance program at school. Dorothy told about Dan’s new job. It was fun. Dorothy hated to hang up.

When they finished, Dorothy looked at the clock on the wall above her. She still had time to drink a cup of tea. She moved slowly along the hall looking for a coffee shop. She found one a little way from the phone. It was near to the desk where she would go for her next flight.

She saw the young girl from the plane. Dorothy waved. The girl smiled and called for her to sit at the table with her. Dorothy was having a wonderful time. Dan should not have worried. She could take care of herself.

She ordered just a cup of tea. She was too excited to be hungry. She and the girl talked as they sipped the drinks. Dorothy remembered her name. It was Nan. It’s a nice name, she thought.

“Mrs. Pal, what time will you get home?” The girl smiled a pretty smile.

“Oh, about five or six. It will depend on the traffic. My son will start to worry about 5. I wish he wouldn’t.”

“I know. My mom’s the same way. I didn’t tell her I was leaving town. That way she can’t worry.”

Dorothy looked at her watch. She had plenty of time, but she didn’t want to be late. It would be so awful to miss the plane. Then Dan would have a reason to worry. She gathered up her purse. She took a last sip of the tea. She reached into her big blue bag. It was full. She had put her magazine in it. It also had lemon drops and gum.

She reached deep into it. She pushed around the lemon drops. She pulled out the Kleenex. Her heart began to beat harder.

“It’s not here.” She just whispered the words. She was afraid to say them aloud.

She turned the purse over and shook it. She looked again. It still wasn’t there.

“What’s wrong.” Nan could see the panic on Dorothy’s face.

“It’s not here. I can’t find it. I must have left it.”

As she said the words, Dorothy knew. Her wallet was still on the ledge with the phones. She started up to run back.

She stopped. She must pay for the tea. How would she pay for the tea? Once again she clawed through her purse. Maybe there were some coins at the bottom.

There was nothing. Her brain was starting to scramble. What will I do? How will I pay? What will I do? How can this happen?

“Mrs. Pal. It’s O.K. I’ll pay for the tea. Really, it will be fine.” The child had already started to take money out.

“Oh, I can’t let you do that. My, no. That’s not right.” She wanted to cry. But that would only prove that Dan was right. That she couldn’t take care of herself. Suddenly, she knew. “Yes, would you please pay. I hate to ask but that is the only thing I can do. I am so sorry.” She pulled out a small piece of paper and a pencil. “Just write your address here. I’ll return the money to you.”

“Really, that’s O.K. It’s not necessary. It’s not that much.”

“But that is what I want to do. I need your help.”

Nan smiled with a look that said she understood. She took the pencil and wrote in big block letters her name and her address. Mrs. Pal carefully folded it and placed it inside a zipper pocket in her bag.

“Now, let us pay for this.” She picked up the ticket. My how proud they are of a little cup of tea. 78¢ seems a lot for such a small thing. She shook her head and reminded herself that she had more important worries.

With a smile and a look of determination, she reached for Nan’s hand. She squeezed it with gratitude. “Thank you so much for this kindness. Now I must go look for my wallet. The plane will leave soon.”

“Are you sure you will be all right? Can I help?”

“No, you have done enough. Do not worry. I will manage.” Mrs. Pal gathered her purse close to her body and waved as she got to the door.

She went back to the phones. But as she feared, the little purse was not there. She looked at all the shelves with all the phones. She thought maybe she had forgotten which she used. It was not there. She stood a little straighter and looked around. There was a lady at a desk. She didn’t seem busy. “Excuse me miss. Is there a lost and found?”

The lady was dressed in a blue uniform and looked very helpful. She was surprised at the question. “Well, yes. It is in the luggage claim area. It is for people whose luggage doesn’t arrive on time.”

“You see miss, I have lost my wallet. I left it right over there.” She pointed toward the phones. “I was hoping someone might have turned it in. Is it far to the lost and found? My plane will leave soon.”

“It’s through those doors and will take you a while.” The lady in blue bit on her lip a moment. “I’ll tell you what. Let me make a call.” She reached for the phone and was soon talking to someone. “Harry, I have a woman here who has lost her wallet. Has anyone turned one in?”

The lady covered the phone with her hand and turned to Mrs. Pal. “What color was it?”

“It’s a small grey imitation leather one. My granddaughter gave it to me last year on Mother’s Day. It has my money and my driver’s license in it. Let’s see there’s also my social security card and . . .”

The woman at the desk stopped her. She uncovered the phone. “Nothing huh. O.K. I’ll get the information. Thanks.” She hung up the phone and took a piece of paper from a drawer. “Ma’am, please write down your name and a description. I’ll turn in a complaint for you.”

“Oh, I’m not complaining. It wasn’t your fault. It was mine. You have been lovely.”

“That’s sweet of you to say. All I meant was that I would turn in your loss.”

Mrs. Pal carefully wrote down the information. She didn’t have any hope that she would ever see that purse again. She was already trying to decide what to do next. “Thank you so much for your help. You have been very kind.”

She gathered her big blue bag close to her body and moved toward the place where her plane would leave. At least I haven’t lost my ticket. I can get home. I’ll figure out what to tell Dan when I call tonight.

It was soon time to get on the plane. It wasn’t until she settled into her seat that she thought of her real problem. How was she going to get home? She had no money for the taxi. She had no money to call one of her friends. Besides most of them didn’t drive at night.

She couldn’t even take a nap with the worry. She told the young lady who asked that she didn’t want anything to drink. It would only remind her of her problem. I’ve got myself in quite a pickle. That’s what I have. Now how am I going to get out? she thought.

When the plane landed, she still didn’t know what she was going to do. Mrs. Pal waited quietly for her luggage. Her brown suitcase finally appeared on the chute. It was one that Dan had given her. He had been going to throw it away. It was still perfectly good.

She walked to the doors leading to the outside. She held her blue bag close to her and carried the suitcase with some trouble. She was beginning to get tired. The strain showed on her face. A piece of hair hung down beside her ear. It had been tucked neatly away for most of the day. Now it had escaped.

She finally reached outside. She had stopped several times to put the bag down. Now she looked around hoping she might see someone she knew. There was a taxi, but no friend. It was going to be dark soon. She wanted to be home soon. Suddenly, she straightened up and pushed the piece of hair back behind her ear. She picked up the suitcase and marched toward the cab. She opened the door and got in. “Where to, Lady?”

“Sir, I have a problem. Perhaps you will help. If you cannot, I will understand.”

The cab driver looked at her with a lowered eyebrow. “Yeah, what kind of problem?”

“I have lost my wallet. I have no cash with me. I must get home as it is getting late.”

“O.K. lady. So when we get there, you can get someone to pay. That’s fine.” The driver did not look very friendly.

“But, sir, that is part of the problem. I have no one at home waiting to do that. I have no cash there either. I will go to the bank tomorrow. But that is not a help today. Do you have any suggestions?”

She thought he might suggest that she get out. If he did, she would find another way. “I could leave my suitcase with you. Then when I return your money, you can return it to me.”

The cabby looked down at the brown case scratched from many trips. He looked at her again. The eyebrow went back into place. “Where’s your family? Why aren’t they here to help?”

Mrs. Pal laughed a little embarrassed chuckle. “I’ve just left my son. I was visiting there. He’s going to be so angry with me. He didn’t think I could manage. Maybe he was right. But I’m not a careless person. These things just happen. By the way, my name is Mrs. Pal.”

“Well, Mrs. Pal, you’re right. These things do happen.” He looked like he was beginning to understand. “What’s the address?”

“Oh, you will take me?”

“Look, I’ve got a mother. She’s always locking herself out of her car. The neighbors finally just kept a key. They’re always having to go to the mall or the beauty shop to unlock it. She lives in Cleveland. I’ve offered to pay them. They just say that they don’t mind. I feel terrible that they have to take care of her for me.”

“Oh, I know they understand and so does your mother. I’ll bet she would rather ask them anyway. At least they’re not family.”

The cab driver looked at her with another smile. “Maybe you’re right. I remember once when I was a kid. . . So what’s that address?”

He moved the taxi smoothly out into the traffic lane. Mrs. Pal sat back in the seat. The cover was rather dirty and torn in places. But it was a nice place to be. She’d call Dan as soon as she got home. Tomorrow she would get a new drivers license.

“So Mrs. Pal, how long did you visit your son?”

And Then Sometimes They Don’t ..

Folks just show no gratitude. That’s what it is – no gratitude. Why one or the other of us had been on that council for the last 20 years. Except, of course. Arthur Stroud. He wasn’t really one of us. He’d only moved here a few months before although his momma came from over near Yoakum County. But we liked him well enough. He understood our point of view.

We used to drop by his business for coffee. It was free, and we liked to look at his secretary. He didn’t seem to mind. He spent most of his time on the phone. It was kind of hard to get more than a short conversation in before it would ring. He’d just answer the phone and wave us over to the pot in the corner. He’d smile real friendly, shrug his shoulders, and look like it was such a bother to let the calls interrupt us.

We could tell he liked being included in what we were doing. Besides, sometimes he had a good idea. You know – like that one about the music director.

That woman had gotten real uppity. Why, she’d even told Myra, Ed Johnson’s daughter, that she couldn’t stay in the bell choir if she didn’t behave.

Now Myra was a handful. We’d all talked about how Ed needed to take her in hand, but that wasn’t the choir director’s place. Besides all Myra did was say she wouldn’t play some silly song. It seemed like she ought to have a right to choose something like that.

So we decided. Next council meeting she would be gone. We just wouldn’t tolerate that in this church. It wasn’t right.

It had been kind of exciting. We saw each other at least a couple of times a day. There was lots to talk about. We’d had to get it all straight, about how to go about getting rid of her. Those things aren’t decided quick. Why that week before the council meeting, we must have drunk twenty pots of Stroud’s coffee.

Pastor had been a little upset. He’d talked about her nine years of service, but Stroud had it right. We’d told the preacher that he’d better watch out.

Of course, we hadn’t done it because it was fun. We knew how important all this was. We were elected to make decisions. People expected us to take the right action. Why, even Stroud had said that. That’s why we knew we had to take a stand about this. People were counting on us.

Sure, we’d have to “break a few eggs,” but that was just how it was. It’s important to make sure people who work for you know they have to toe the line. They’d just take advantage otherwise.

Stroud sure knew about that. One day his secretary had come back from lunch fifteen minutes late. He’d been quiet when she walked in. She looked over at him and started to apologize as she put her purse away. It had been something about taking her daughter’s migraine medicine to her. Well, he never raised his voice. Quiet as could be, he really dressed her down. Told her that she knew what he expected. Told her that being punctual was one of the rules. Told her that he would not tolerate it again. Fred said it had even made him a little nervous, and he had hurried back to the garage.

But you know it was funny. It seemed like as soon as one problem was out of the way, another was there in its place. The next time it had been the church secretary. She’d been talking to folks. She’d been saying that we had no right to get rid of that organist.

Well, Stroud was right. If you can’t expect loyalty, what can you expect? We warned the preacher. Told him to tell her that she had to stop that kind of talk. He got kind of miffed. Said he’d discuss it with her. He knew he’d better. We won’t put up with a preacher who bucks us.

Everything kind of quieted down after that. Although, lots of folks stopped talking when we walked up. Course, in a town like this, gossip’s something the women do all the time. I guess it gives them something to keep them happy.

But then that pastor started becoming a real problem. First it was saying we shouldn’t get rid of that organ player. Then it was siding with that secretary of his. It was clear as can be that the only way to set things right was to get us a new preacher boy. This one was just going to drag us down. We needed a new Sunday School wing. If he stayed, why nobody would give enough to pay the light bill. A new guy, one who could work with us, would see that people did what was right. They’d give enough so we’d have that addition paid for in a year.

We were spending lots of time at Stroud’s now. It was time for the preacher’s yearly review. Usually, we just said. “Doin’ a good job. preach. Here’s a little raise.” But this time there’d be no raise. The only problem was we couldn’t just tell him to leave. Seems like there’s some rule about it. Course, rules were made to be broken. We were looking into that. Stroud had some friend who knew a church that had gotten rid of theirs.

People were beginning to talk a little. Some of us had gotten calls. There’s always a few who want to stand in the way of progress. But the rest of the church knew what was right. You just can’t let a man like that keep on getting his own way. What’s right is right. If we let him get away with this, we might as well not run for council again.

Well, he got kind of upset. That man is not suited to the ministry. The council just told him what we all knew. He wasn’t doing us a good job. He wasn’t bringing in money for that new wing. His sermons have been a little weak too. We told him maybe he’d be happier somewhere else. We also said that if he stayed, we wanted a list every Sunday of what he’d done that week. If one of us wasn’t there, he should take it over to Stroud’s on Monday. He showed his true self then. Said we couldn’t expect that and he wouldn’t do it. Stroud told him to think over seriously what he had just said. Then he said we’d meet again next week to see if he had reconsidered his position.

You could tell from the look in that guy’s eyes he knew we meant business. He wouldn’t be giving us any more trouble. We probably wouldn’t even have to have the next meeting. He’d just up and quit.

By the middle of the week we’d all gotten a few more phone calls. But we knew that we were doing what was best. We were just trying to take care of a little problem. That’s why those folks elected us. You couldn’t just ignore those kinds of things. You know, we’ve been running things just fine for lots of years. We hold our meetings once a month just like we’re supposed to. We all complain about giving up Sunday football, but we know our duty. Course, some of us go hunting in October and miss that month’s meeting. And I sometimes have to miss for family business. The others, well, I’d say we all get there most of the time. We haven’t had to call off a meeting since last March because not enough of us were there.

Folks knew they could trust us. The rules say anyone can come to the meetings, but no one ever did. Maybe once a year, the women would come to talk about that new kitchen. We’d listen and then one of us would move to table the item till we saw what kind of money we had. It’s funny. Those women have asked for that new kitchen every year I can remember.

All of a sudden, people were asking when the meeting was and could anyone come. Well, we knew who was stirring things up. Some of us went to see him and told him to quit causing trouble. We’d always been a quiet peaceful congregation till he started this talk. He knew what was right, but you could tell he had the bit in his teeth. He wasn’t about to listen to us. It was then we knew we had to do something.

Well, we couldn’t believe it. We had to move into the sanctuary for the meeting. You never saw so many people. You’d have thought we was having a pot luck. Stroud came up with a good idea. We all kind of got together right before that meeting started. Decided we’d just set up a committee to study allegations against the pastor. That way we’d get those people settled down. That preacher would learn not to mess with us.

And it went just like it was supposed to. Everyone went on home. I even heard some of them saying, “I told you it was nothin’.” We decided on Monday that we’d have the next meeting Saturday morning. The Oilers were playing on Sunday and it was just more convenient.

I don’t know how the word got around so fast. You’d have thought we had done something wrong. I had people calling all the time. I kept trying to tell them about the Oilers game. They kept saying, “We’ll be there.” We couldn’t understand what all the ruckus was about. That pastor wasn’t doing us a good job. All we were trying to do was take care of things just like we’d always done.

We knew that all that talk about folks showing up was just that. We’d be able to do what was necessary. Then we could get on with the rest of what we were called to do, seeing that the new wing got built. A few of us had already talked to a couple of people. We had sort of a drawing that showed what we wanted. It wasn’t going to be fancy, just something that would be good for the church. Those people who were upset now would see pretty soon that what we had done would be for the best.

We had our meeting. We all got there about 9:30. It seemed kind of silly to even bother going to the church. We could have just met at Stroud’s. Coffee would have been the same there. Well, that parking lot was full. Couldn’t believe it. There were cars all over. I wondered if maybe some committee was having another meeting. I didn’t recall hearing anything, but the ladies hold things all the time that I don’t pay attention to.

We usually meet in one of the smaller classrooms. Not one for the real little kids but one that has regular size chairs. We’ve talked about needing a room in that new wing for our meetings. It wouldn’t have to be big, just one that is a little nicer. We could use it for lots of things. Committee meetings and stuff like that.

This time, though, we had to move back to the sanctuary again. I can tell you, we were getting pretty sick of having to put up with this sort of thing. We didn’t need all those people. We were elected to make decisions. They should just let us do our work and get on with their own business. We didn’t try to tell them what they could or could not do.

That preacher was sure quiet. You’d have thought he would feel real bad about causing all this trouble. If it hadn’t been for him, none of this would have been necessary. After all these years, years when we gave him raises and supported him, you’d think he’d be more grateful. You’d think he’d not be stirring up all these folks. Cause we knew who was behind all this, and we were going to do something about it.

It was kind of surprising. That meeting didn’t turn out at all like we’d expected. We figured we’d let them blow off some steam, give them a chance to say their piece. Maybe give everyone a few minutes. Probably most people were just there to see what was happening. They wouldn’t want to say anything. After that, we’d just let them leave. Then we’d discuss with the pastor his problem. Maybe he’d just go ahead and turn in his resignation. For the good of church unity and all.

It was mostly the women. They were mad as could be. One after another they stood up and gave us “what for.” Even our wives were there. You’d have thought they would have understood. They should have known we was only doing what was right. But they was as mad as the rest. Said terrible things to us. Things like trying to railroad their pastor out of town. Things like we were a bunch of sheep being led about by Arthur Stroud. Now that wasn’t right. Stroud never had nothing to do with all this. This was all our doing. We knew what needed to be done.

Then Stroud’s momma stood up. I’d never met the lady, just seen her with Stroud and his family on Christmas, things like that. Guess she must have driven here just for this. Boy, Stroud didn’t look too happy to see her. I suppose he didn’t know she was coming. She was even worse than our wives. Told Stroud he’d been too big for his britches for years. Said he’d better drop this nonsense and leave alone what he didn’t need to be messin’ in.

Stroud just set there looking unhappy.

After that, we decided that we needed to let everyone calm down some. It wasn’t right to make decisions like this when folks were so upset. We’d take care of this problem later. So we went on home to mow our yards and wash our cars. My wife was still pretty mad, but she’d get over that. After all, this was just church business.

We never did take any action on that pastor thing. A couple of us decided in December that we needed to give a little more time to our businesses. Stroud sold his office and moved to a town east of here. I hear he’s on the council there. He’s a good man. Folks like him always rise to the top. The ladies are getting their new kitchen. It’s gonna be real nice. We’ve already got the plans and talked to a few folks about cabinets and such. Things are pretty quiet now.

Sometimes, though. I sure do miss coffee over at Stroud’s.

EMail Etiquette and the Business World

How many of us remember from our junior high years the single sheet of notebook paper folded countless times with the outside edges tucked in to form a neat package? On the outside was printed, perhaps in “puffy letters,” your best friend’s name. That tiny package was passed along on your way to or from class. The package was, of course, a note. It was an important means of communication, a way to share information.

Our lives have changed since those junior high years, but we still communicate in writing. Today, however, instead of an origami note, we use e-mail, and so do our students. We assume that they know all there is to know about this form of communication technology. While many of our students are adept at using e-mail to communicate with their friends, they do not understand the rules that apply to business e-mail.

To ensure that students understand the difference between the world of junior high notes and professional correspondence, e-mail skills need to be taught in the controlled environment of a classroom. Fortunately this is not difficult, for if everything we needed to know about life we learned in kindergarten, everything we need to know about business e-mail we learned in junior high.

The first rule to teach your students is that they should respond quickly to business correspondence. If they can’t answer promptly, they should send back a brief explanation. Remember the “No time to write now. Teacher’s watching.” message that you got in seventh grade? Teach your students to use the same courtesy. There is nothing more frustrating than sending an important message and not getting a timely response.

Make sure students understand that they must be careful what they write. How many adolescents have discovered this too late as they heard their intercepted message read aloud by the teacher or posted on the bulletin board? In today’s e-mail world, a message could find a much broader audience than 8th-grade English class and be more incriminating than a comment about a teacher’s new hair style.

Teach your students to proofread what they write and to use a spelling checker. I remember one nasty fight between two best friends over a missing word in a message. Losing a best friend might not be a business concern, but losing credibility through careless e-mail messages can be far more serious.

Help your students to learn that they should not stockpile their e-mail. There will be plenty more messages tomorrow. Teach them to read and delete. Unlike Jenny Sue, who kept every note she ever received, they won’t be voted most popular if their mailbox has more mail than anyone else’s. They might be voted most likely to lose or misfile a critical piece of mail. If students must keep their messages, show them how to create folders in which to save them. That way, their incoming mailboxes will remain uncluttered. In addition, learning to filter mail so it goes directly into folders will benefit them now and in their professional lives.

Remember “SWAK”? We all knew that it meant “sealed with a kiss.” Today’s equivalent includes not only abbreviations, but also emoticons (keyboard shortcuts used to reproduce facial expressions such as smily faces :). Advise students to avoid such communication shortcuts. They may work in junior high, but they are inappropriate in the business world. Other forms of shorthand that proliferated in the early years of the Internet should be avoided as well. For example, the abbreviation “BTW” could mean “by the way” or “but that’s why.” Unless students know their audience will understand an abbreviation, have them get used to writing out the words.

What we have today that we would have loved in junior high are e-mail address books. Teach your students to keep theirs up-to-date by reviewing them frequently and deleting entries that are no longer valid. Make sure they understand that just because they can send a note to everyone on a mailing list, they should resist the urge. Have them ask themselves if the recipient really wants to have a copy of a memo sent to another person? Often they don’t.

Remember the name found on the front of the folded note? It wasn’t just to clarify who the note was for. It was a courtesy, a way to personalize the exchange. Have your students use the same good manners when they e-mail. They should take the time to include a salutation and a closing, even if they simply begin with the person’s name and end with theirs. Have students experiment with the signature options found in most e-mail software. For example, they can end their notes automatically with business card information.

Most of us have come to take for granted the ability of students to use the latest technology. What we forget is that they still need to be taught how to use these tools in a professionally acceptable manner. Teaching business e-mail is an important task, but one of the easiest. Teach your students to use the skills that were developed long ago, and they won’t go wrong in today’s world.

Concepts — not Cookbooks: Business Education in the 21st Century

Long long ago, educators had certain expectations. One of them was that business teachers taught skills such as proper forms of business letters and reports as well as bookkeeping, good typing posture, and telephone etiquette. We prepared students for the business world primarily to be effective secretaries, and we were good at it. We knew what concepts students had to master to succeed in the career of their choice. We used textbooks that reinforced the knowledge we already had.

Then our lives changed. Computers took over and we had to teach new things for which we had no preparation, so we used books that taught the topics we did not know. The books provided us with a way to teach skills such as how to open and save a file, how to change a font, how to insert an image, and how to mail merge a series of addresses.

The books we used looked more like cookbooks than textbooks. One could almost imagine the list of ingredients, followed by the steps, and then the instructions to bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes for a perfect newsletter. The skills our students acquired with these recipes made it possible for them to learn to use a computer and business software. We were satisfied that we were meeting the needs of our students.

However, along the way we lost something. We lost the idea that we should teach concepts and not just instructions. We lost this idea because we were so inundated with the need to learn new and unfamiliar skills that we had no time to worry about concepts. We did what we had to do.

But the world has changed again. We now know how to make text bold, how to add a table to a document, and how to create a bulleted list. Our cookbooks are still useful, but they should no longer be our only instructional choice.

Today  our focus must return to concepts, but not the concepts of the past. Templates for business letters reduce the need to have students carefully measure margins. E-mail etiquette is now at least as important as telephone etiquette. Spreadsheets have altered bookkeeping. And secretaries are now administrative assistants.

In today’s world we must teach students a whole new set of concepts. For example, in a business multimedia class, we must address the qualities of a good digital photograph not just how to take a digital photograph. We must discuss what constitutes a professional PowerPoint design not just how to add images to a slide show. We must address issues such as what typography can do for a sales proposal instead of limiting our instruction to ways of changing fonts.

As a result, our task has become even more challenging. Instead of relying on cookbook textbooks alone, now we must choose textbooks and materials that respond to this new set of needs. So the next time you are previewing a textbook, look for the concepts it includes. Ask yourself, “Is this book just a series of recipes or does it provide my students with significant concepts that will prepare them for all the changes they are to encounter in their careers?” Only when we can assure ourselves that the books we choose are concept driven will we know that once again we are meeting the needs of our students.

Electronic Books for the 21st Century

It was 1971 when Michael Hart began with the U.S. Declaration of Independence and then moved on to the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, individual books of the Bible and then finally Shakespearean plays (one at a time). No, he hadn’t set a course designed to educate himself in the great works of the western world, although he surely must have developed a finer appreciation for them. Instead, Hart wanted to allow each of us access to these works using technology not available to the general population at that time. His goal was to ensure that the world’s great literature and other important documents would never be lost or become unavailable to the general population. His idea was to do this by copying these works to a computer system and then offer them free of charge to anyone who wanted them. His vision over thirty years ago has grown today into an extraordinary library of over 4000 works with approximately one new work being added each day.

Project Gutenberg

Hart named this ambitious endeavor Project Gutenberg after the inventor of moveable type who made mass production of books such as the Bible possible in the 15th century. Project Gutenberg was designed to make available the Bible as well as many other books using the emerging technology of the 20th century. The process which continues even today requires volunteers to convert printed text that has entered the public domain (currently works published before 1923) into a digital format.

Originally, these works were laboriously keyed from printed texts, but the use of scanners has replaced this process making it easier, faster, and more accurate. Once the text has been entered and verified, it is saved into an electronic text format (ASCII) that allows it to be read by any computer.

Once completed, these works are saved to the Project Gutenberg web site ( shown in Figure 1 where they can be downloaded by anyone who wants to read them or use them for research. Actually, you can use them for anything you want because they are considered to be in the public domain. This includes posting them to your web site for others to use, printing them for use by yourself or others, distributing them in any way you want, and even including them on CDs.

The works fall into three basic categories: light literature such as Peter Pan (one of the earliest works added to the list), heavy literature such as Moby Dick, and references such as dictionaries. The majority of these works are in the public domain. A few are modern works that are still under copyright protection, but these have similar unrestricted rights of use.

Using the Gutenberg Web Site

Once you are at the Project Gutenberg site, it is easy to find the work you want by searching by author or title using the search box (shown in Figure 2) that is found on the opening Gutenberg page. Selecting the Advanced Search link takes you to a more detailed search engine (shown in Figure 3), which allows you to select options such as languages or subjects.

Once you have located the book you want, you have a choice of downloading a text version that can be read immediately or selecting a zipped version (notice the arrow in Figure 4). A zipped version loads faster but must be unzipped first using software such as WinZip ( before you can use the file. If you select the text option, the text will appear on screen as soon as it downloads. Once that occurs, you will need to select File > Save As. If you select the zip option, you will be given a dialogue box asking if you want to save or to open the document. Generally, the best choice is to save first and unzip after you have the file saved. The files are originally saved on the Gutenberg site using abbreviated names. It is easier to keep track of your downloaded books if you save them using a more descriptive name.

Uses of Project Gutenberg

Once you have downloaded a copy of the book you want, what can you do with it? One enterprising person has used the resource to do an in depth study of the vocabulary associated with a wide selection of works. You can see the results of his efforts by accessing

A more obvious choice is to read the work for pleasure or knowledge. Because the files are saved in an ASCII or text format, they can be printed or read on a desktop or laptop computer using any word processing program such as Word, Works, or AppleWorks. The easiest way to access the text is to first open your word processing program and then open the recently saved text. The opening pages will begin with Project Gutenberg information as shown in Figure 5. After the initial Gutenberg information, the text will begin. It may be necessary to scroll several pages before you reach the beginning.

Because of the nature of ASCII text, the lines may break so that the entire screen is not used (Figure 6). The paragraph symbols shown in Figure 7 demonstrate the intentional breaks that make the lines shorter than necessary. If you are reading from the computer screen, this may not be an issue, but if you are printing or using the text in another environment, you may want to utilize the full screen. One solution is to use the Find and Replace feature of your word processing software to remove the intentional line breaks. The following steps allow this using Microsoft Word:

  1. Go to Edit > Replace
  2. Click the More button.
  3. Click the Special button.
  4. Select the Paragraph Mark TWICE (Figure 8).
  5. Click in the Replace with box and key in the # symbol.
  6. Click on the Replace All button. (This will allow the “real” paragraphs to be saved.)
  7. Once paragraph designations have been replaced, delete the second Paragraph Mark symbol and delete the # symbol replacing it with a single space (you won’t be able to see any marks). See Figure 9 for an example.
  8. Click on the Replace All button again.
  9. Once the end of lines have been replaced with spaces, change the Find What box to a # symbol. In the Replace with box, place a Paragraph Mark. Click Replace All. This will re-create paragraphs.
  10. To remove any unnecessary spaces, in the Find what box  delete the # symbol and space twice. In the Replace with box, replace the paragraph symbol with a single space. Click on Replace all until no more extra spaces are found.
  11. Go to Edit > Select All.
  12. To separate paragraphs visually, go to Format > Paragraph and choose 6 or 12 points from the Spacing after box.
  13. Add headers with page numbers using View > Header and Footer > Insert Page Number icon.
  14. If you want to have line designations visible, go to File > Page Setup > Layout tab > Line Numbers button.

Many people, however, find that reading on a computer is inconvenient and prefer to read using a more portable format. One option is to convert the text file to a document that can be read by a PDA such as a Palm Pilot. This is possible using software (freeware) such as MakeDoc that can be downloaded from sites such as Figure 10 is an example of a MakeDoc option window used to convert the file. Once the work has been converted to a PDA readable format, it can be installed on a PDA just as you would an application. From that point on, you can read the book at your leisure. The file sizes are small enough that generally you can load several books on a PDA without running out of room. Before using MakeDoc, it is often helpful to first remove line breaks and extra spaces by using the steps above.

Classroom Use

Books such as those available on the Project Gutenberg site have a wide variety of uses within a school. Classroom copies of frequently selected books such as The Red Badge of Courage or The Scarlet Letter can be downloaded by students, teachers, and parents eliminating the cost associated with purchase of these works. Because everyone is using the same “edition,” there are no issues with page numbers when a teacher makes an assignment.  It is not even necessary for students to access the Gutenberg site, because teachers can distribute the works on disks or place them on a school’s Web site.

Unlike printed texts used as class copies, students can be encouraged to highlight and annotate texts. Using a word processing program such as Microsoft Word, students can add electronic notations to the pages and then submit them to the teacher for review. Students can use the search capabilities of the software to locate specific points in the text as assigned by the teacher. Passages can be copied easily encouraging accurate citations. The possibilities are endless and are only limited by a teacher’s ingenuity.

Librarians can be a valuable conduit for this resource helping teachers to know that the site is available and guiding them in ways to use the texts. Distributing a printed list similar to the one below can be a place to start. Creating an instructional guide for converting from ASCII text to a friendlier format (using the steps listed above) is another way to help teachers use this tool. In today’s world of shrinking financial resources for schools, Gutenberg texts can be a way to save important dollars and to open up a wide range of resources to students and teachers. Librarians can be the key to making this happen.

Originally published in Library Media Connection Mar2003, Vol. 21 Issue 6, p53

Maps in the Classroom

Do you remember geography classes in the days of yore? Each classroom had huge maps rolled up in sets of six or eight hanging from the hooks above the chalkboard. If a window shade blocked out the world, these shades were our window to the world. To reach a map, teachers had to perform the Olympic task of pulling down the set of maps while separating from the others exactly the right one. Students enjoyed the performance since we always wondered if the spring loaded maps would snap back before the teacher could coerce into place the one she wanted.

As a teacher, this event was not a favorite sport. How to manage these contraptions was not taught in teacher school, and first year social studies teachers were known to do without maps rather than fight the beast on the wall. Teachers in other curriculums such as language arts never even considered using maps; they’d seen what it took and weren’t interested. They had their own challenges.

Technology has transformed all that. No longer are maps on the wall. No longer does the change of a country’s name make a teacher’s maps obsolete. No longer must the teacher be limited to handing out to students black and white approximations of the world on which to write or color. Maps are now on the computer screen and available to every curriculum area.

Mapping software is easy to use and offers countless possibilities. The software lets students configure maps of exactly the area being studied. Students can measure distances, see terrains, determine latitude/longitude, check populations, and even compute the time and cost related to travel. Teachers in every area of study can now use maps to teach a variety of skills.


Microsoft MapPoint 2002 is an excellent choice for school mapping software. MapPoint is similar to Microsoft mapping software such as Streets and Trips which you may have used before to plan a personal trip. For an excellent survey of the software design with links to other mapping options, go to Even though the software is designed for businesses with features that will appeal to sales and marketing staff, it has tools that make it work just as well for teachers and librarians. In addition, Microsoft offers educational pricing for this software with a discount that is impressive. If you want to try out the package, there is a 60 trial version available for $9.95.

MapPoint comes in two versions: one for North America and the other for Europe. Both have extensive databases associated with them that provide information on populations and related demographics. Other maps such as for Japanand Australia are not yet available, but surely Microsoft won’t ignore that market for long.

While there are free online mapping sites, MapPoint has a number of advantages. Often map sites are filled with advertising to pay for the service; MapPoint is ad free. Another point is that because it is a CD driven rather than online (although updates to the data can be downloaded online), teachers and librarians have control over what the students are seeing. There’s also no perennial cry of despair “The Internet isn’t working.” No Web access is required at all which can be an advantage.

An unusual but extremely valuable resource is an online MapPoint magazine ( which is filled with a wealth of tips and ideas that you might not think about. Many of the articles are for the “hard core” user, but some of the information such as the technique used to develop a grid over Iraq ( might appeal to advanced users. Maps such as the one showing the incidence of SARS in the United States provide teachers with a visual means of discussing a current subject without having to develop their own resources. Other features at the site include data submitted by others such as the 1999 Spending on Leisure Goods / Services Per Household which could be converted to classroom activity.

Learning the Software

Learning to use the software is easy, but in addition there is an online tutorial at the Microsoft Education site ( The tutorial consists of both a Microsoft Word document as well as a Microsoft PowerPoint to go along with the print document. It makes for a quick way for adults to become familiar with the available tools and can be used as a teaching tool in the classroom or library.

There is a tutorial under the Help menu that comes with MapPoint. While these exercises are described in business terms (see below), they make it easy to pick up the skills that can be transferred to a classroom. Don’t let the comments about sales figures and customers drive you away.

MapPoint Tutorial Exercises

  • Exercise 1: Set up your data – Make your business information easy to work with in MapPoint.
    Exercise 2: View your current sales figures – Monitor your success in different locations.
    Exercise 3: Find out where your target customers are – Identify areas for potential growth.
    Exercise 4: Plan a business trip – Identify important clients and create a route for meeting with them.
    Exercise 5: Track your inventory – Analyze where your distribution channels need adjustments.
    Exercise 6: See how your business has performed over time -Identify business trends in different areas.
    Exercise 7: Map your sales territories – View your salespeople’s coverage areas.

For those teacher and librarians who like to learn from a book, a library purchase might be MapPoint 2002 for Dummies(With CD-ROM) by B.J. Holtgrewe and Jill T. Freeze (ISBN: 076451623X).


Opening MapPoint reveals a screen similar to the one in Figure 1. At the top is a standard menu bar and below that a toolbar with the essential buttons for MapPoint. Other than the standard ones such as open and save, these include the following:

  • Show/Hide Legend and Overview (appears left of map)
  • Create Territories Wizard
  • Show/Hide Nearby Locations- restaurants and places  (appears left of map)
  • Show/Hide Route Planner (appears left of map)
  • Show/Hide Directions (appears above map) – options set driving speeds and fuel costs
  • Data Mapping Wizard
  • Show/Hide Drawing Toolbar (appears at bottom of screen) – provides easy customization of any map with stickpins, highlighter which shows distances, and radius tool
  • Show/Hide Location and Scale (appears above map) – buttons zoom to selected size

A second toolbar provides you with arrows to move back and forth between map choices. In addition there is a Find a Location box, a moveable scale to zoom in/out, a selection cursor, a hand to move around with, and a drop down box for map styles. Styles consist of the following:

  • Road Map
  • Road and Data Map
  • Data Map
  • Terrain Map
  • Political Map

Under the Tools menu, you can choose to measure distances and check longitude and latitude (Location Sensor).

An important point to remember is that MapPoint can print out its maps and directions, but teachers may want to insert a map into a document as a graphic. By pressing the “print screen” key, a copy of the map is transferred to the clipboard. This image can then be pasted into a word processing document or into a graphics program and then saved.

Once these simple tools are mastered, you will find it easy to put this mapping software to use. Librarians/Media Specialists can be the means of bringing this tool to teachers just as in the past they brought atlases and gazetteers to the classroom.

Teacher Tools

The ways in which schools can use this resource are subject only to a teacher’s imagination

Language arts teachers can have students find locations mentioned in literature. They can figure the distance between two towns or see how close to the coast a character lives. With the zoom feature, even the tiniest details are visible. Students can write essays in which they quote facts and figures about populations or terrain rather than making guesses.

Math teachers can use the functions that allow the user to change the cost of fuel comparing the cost of a trip based upon different prices. Students can determine distances and speeds necessary to reach a location at a specific time. Teaching students who are used to measurements in miles rather than kilometers is always difficult. With the option in MapPoint to switch between the two types of measurement, students can “see” how the two compare.

Social studies teachers can have students check longitude and latitudes moving from one location to another. This action provides students with a tactile means of seeing how the numbers change based upon east/west and north/south directions. Concrete examples such as this make it easier for students to grasp an idea that is often hard to convey with words. One of the real benefits of mapping software is that students can take “trips” moving from one location to another. Seeing the names of towns pass by and highways change numbers makes places they have never visited seem more real. Using the data map wizard, teachers can show their classes how to compare census information from one decade to another and even demonstrate projected figures. The option to assign names to territories means that when students are assigned to study a particular parts of the country or a state, the child’s name can be displayed neatly in a printout.

Art teachers can use MapPoint to teach color theory. They can demonstrate how choices for maps and data colors are made based upon the color wheel.

Computer teachers will find it easier to teach databases when students realize that the data in MapPoint has been gathered into specific fields. They can also have students create their own database of information that is imported into MapPoint.

Regardless of the curriculum, classes can use MapPoint to draw conclusions based upon questions such as these:

  • Why are some restaurants listed in the nearby locations and others are not? Students can use the Internet to find out the criteria for inclusion by Microsoft.
  • Is the street information provided by MapPoint always the best ones (particularly in rural areas)? What should they learn from this?
  • In trip planning, why are longer routes sometimes shown instead of shorter ones? Students can compare driving instructions based upon their own experience.
  • Using the population figures, where is the greatest concentration of 14 year old boys (and who said we couldn’t interest girls in technology)? Why would there be more in that location?

Using mapping software is truly a life skill. No matter what class it is used in students will find it valuable in every phase of life whether they are finding directions to visit a friend in a strange city, choosing a location to live based upon demographics and shopping choices, or trying to find a hotel in a city they plan to travel through on vacation. These choices don’t even take into consideration the growing use of GPS systems in automobiles which can be integrated with MapPoint.

Bring mapping software such as MapPoint to your school and prove to your teachers that teaching with maps is no longer physically challenging. Show them that while it may no longer be an Olympic sport, computer mapping can be a valuable addition to your school’s curriculum.

Originally published in Library Media Connection, V22 N5 P52 Feb 2004