Monthly Archives: March 2016

Edgar Allan Poe Had a Time Machine

Check out this fantastic review of some of Poe’s lesser known stories and the eerie parallels to real-life occurrences.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe

The Businessman by Edgar Allen Poe

Eureka by Edgar Allen Poe

Could Edgar Allen Poe truly be a time-traveler?


Source: Edgar Allan Poe Had a Time Machine and I Can Prove it


Common Core Writing and ELLs | Edutopia

The first in a three part series, this article guides you through applying three key elements of the CCSS writing standards, with a particular focus on ELL Students.

Learn about what it means to apply three key elements of the CCSS writing standards — argument, informative/explanatory, and narrative — when teaching English-language learners.

Source: Common Core Writing and ELLs | Edutopia

High School Science title: “Seeds of Change: Five Plants That Transformed Mankind” by Henry Hobhouse (1986)

When I was in ninth grade, I went on a long road trip with my parents.  Even though I was the youngest of four children, I was the only one living at home that year (my two oldest brothers were off at college, and my sister was spending a year abroad through a foreign exchange program), so I was also alone with my parents for the trip.  My mother had borrowed a book-tape (fast forward to the 21st century and she would have downloaded an audiobook) from our local library for the trip’s entertainment.  She selected Seeds of Change: Five Plants That Transformed Mankind by Henry Hobhouse (1986).  This title proved to be an absolute revelation to me.  I was enthralled by the layers of cause-and-effect; by what appears to be inconsequential yet has enormous impact on the world.  The stories of man, mixed with the science of plants, changed the way I thought about the world around me.  I have reread and revisited Hobhouse’s work several times since then, each time building on new knowledge, experiences, and understandings.

At A Glance: Things to Know

  • Hobhouse, H. (1986). Seeds of change: Five plants that transformed mankind. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Lexile 989, ATOS 6.6  (recommended ATOS 8.5 due to background knowledge needs)
  • 255 pages
  • Basic background knowledge of world history recommended
  • Cross-discipline History and Science
  • Exceptional Annotated Index and Bibliography
  • Best presented in topical sections
  • Common language, witty, engaging


Seeds of Change: Five Plants that Transformed Mankind by Henry Hobhouse (1986) Lexile 989 Retrieved from

Seeds of Change: Five Plants that Transformed Mankind by Henry Hobhouse (1986) Lexile 989, ATOS 6.6 Retrieved from

Seeds of Change is a collection of succinct historical reviews that focus on five plants – quinine, sugar cane, tea, cotton, and the potato – that have had, as Hobhouse argues, a transformative relationship with human kind as we have progressed to this point in time.  While the topic might seem more applicable to history, the depth to which Hobhouse investigates the facts of each plant launches his work into the realm of natural science, environmental science, horticulture, pharmacology, nutrition and health, social science, and economics.

Without revealing some of the more interesting details presented by Hobhouse, a brief synopsis of the five plants that transformed mankind is as follows:

  • Quinine, derived from the bark of a cinchona tree discovered in South America in the early 19th century, was used to treat the symptoms of malaria, allowing for unlivable areas of the world be populated without fear of malarial epidemic.
  • Sugar cane’s addictive by-product refined sugar has had tremendous health effects on the world population, as well as fueled the international economy, including (but not exclusively) the slave trade.
  • Tea impacted the European peoples from its introduction as a beverage that, paired with the need to boil water before consuming, became extraordinarily addictive due to its caffeine content.  This in turn, like sugar cane, fueled economies and imperialistic growth world wide.
  • Before the American Civil War, cotton fueled the slave trade in the American south, and the trade economy in the American north.  The Industrial Revolution and Great Britain’s rule over India (where cotton could be grown and harvested cheaply), caused the cotton-driven economy of the US to fail pushing for new industries to develop.
  • Potatoes, originally a New World crop, afforded Irish an inexpensive and near-effortless food crop to sustain the poor even under siege by a treacherous British monarchy.  While an excellent high calorie food crop, the manner in which the Irish managed potato crops ultimately added  to the cause of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.  And in turn, the Irish flooded the US, stimulating a tremendous influx of immigrants to the US from all over impoverished European countries.

Seeds of Change challenges higher level thinking, but is not a struggle to read

Seeds of Change is a pleasurable read, intended for the layperson, yet filled with well documented research that sometimes can prove to be more titillating than the leads chosen for the main argument (check out the rich index and footnote sections).  With a Lexile of 989/ ATOS of 6.6, and 255 pages (including an extensive index and bibliography), this title is an excellent choice to supplement typical high school science curriculum.  While much of the discussion deals more extensively with cause-and-effect of an historical nature, the background for the cause-and-effect arguments lay heavily in the realm of science.

The quantitative scoring of Seeds of Change suggests a much younger audience than the high school level, and might concern high school instructors that it is lacking in challenge.  However, while the Lexile and ATOS are scored fairly low (late sixth grade level), the subject matter is more suited to the background knowledge and critical thinking skills of high school students.  Middle school social science curriculum introduces world history, ancient history, and American history, all of which are necessary to grasp the bigger picture presented in Seeds of Change.  The complexity of the argument paired with abundant evidence makes this a challenging read despite the lower Lexile rating.  Furthermore, the high level thinking needed to understand causal relationships on a global scale is significantly beyond the capabilities of the typical 6th or 7th grader.  That being said, the ATOS score should be raised to 8.5.  Because this was written by a former journalist for the consumption of the layperson, the  vocabulary and sentence structure are less complex than what might be expected of a more academic text.  However, the ease of the common speech and the wit Hobhouse uses to make his argument does not interfere with the quality of the science, but instead makes it more digestible for the typical high school student.

Incorporating Seeds of Change into Your Curriculum

Seeds of Change: Six Plants that Transformed Mankind by Henry Hobhouse (2005) Retrieved from

Seeds of Change: Six Plants that Transformed Mankind by Henry Hobhouse (2005) Retrieved from

Exploration of the importance of biodiversity in the rain forest (quinine), the effects of single crop agriculture (potatoes), the chemical transmutations and effects on the human body (sugar, tea), the life cycle of mega crops (cotton), and the importance of clean water and dry land for human habitats (quinine) can all be found in this gripping “tale” of five plants.  While the entire book is meant to be read as a whole, each chapter can be effectively read alone and paired with the focal curriculum.  Nesting the scientific nature of plants and the environment within the engaging story of man and his civilization gives relevance to a topic that often “disengages” students when approached in a more clinical manner.


For suggestions on lesson plans where Seeds of Change might be incorporated, check out the following links:

In 1991, the Smithsonian Institute put out a publication loosely following a similar edict as Hobhouse’s research: Seeds of Change: a Quincentennial Commemoration is concerned with the New World plants that impacted the world.  While it is no longer being published, you can find inexpensive used copies here.  This would be another excellent supplement to the exploration of science curriculum, especially on topics of biodiversity and environmental impacts of agriculture.


In 2005, Henry Hobhouse added an additional plant – cocoa – to the original five, and republished with a new title Seeds of Change: Six Plants that Transformed Mankind.  I have not read the additional content, so cannot comment on it.  However, it might be a worthwhile addition for students, and provide some added relevancy – I mean what kid doesn’t love chocolate!



For reviews of the original publication Seeds of Change: Five Plants that Transformed Mankind (1986), check out the following:

  • Allen, D. E. (1986). Henry Hobhouse, Seeds of change. Five plants that transformed mankind, London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985, 8vo, pp. X, 245, illus. Medical History, 30(04), 483. doi:10.1017/S0025727300046172
  • Kiple, K. F. (1988). Henry Hobhouse. Seeds of change: Five plants that transformed mankind. New York: Harper and row. 1986. Pp. Xv, 252. The American Historical Review, 93(4), 1022–1023. doi:10.1086/ahr/93.4.1022

Curriculum Standards

AASL: 2.2.1 Demonstrate flexibility in the use of resources by adapting information strategies and by seeking additional resources when clear conclusions cannot be made.  2.3.2 Consider diverse and global perspectives in drawing conclusions.

CCSS:  CC11-12RH/SS6 Evaluate author’s differing points of view on the same event or issue by assessing the author’s claims, reasoning, and evidence.  CC11-12RH/SS8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other evidence.

NGSS:  Middle School and High School Life Science storyline:  MS-LS2 Ecosystems  MS-LS3 Heredity MS-LS4 Biological Evolution HS-LS2 Ecosystems HS-LS3 Heredity HS-LS4 Biological Evolution


Achieve. (2013). DCI arrangements of the next generation science standards. Retrieved from

American (2011). Crosswalk of the common core standards and the standards for the 21st-century Learner reading standards in history all AASL standards common core crosswalk. Huron St. Retrieved from

Hobhouse, H. (1986). Seeds of change: Five plants that transformed mankind. New York: Harper & Row.

Hobhouse, H. (2005). Seeds of change: Six plants that transformed mankind. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard.

Reading is a window to the world. (2007). . Retrieved from


Historical Fiction: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

If you are a middle school or high school teacher, you have probably taught To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) dozens of times, and probably you are thinking this is a gratuitous post – more of the same. And perhaps you are right.  However, Harper Lee’s story provides a platform for experiencing literature, rich in authenticity and the complexity of genuine life experiences, that it would be a shame not to promote To Kill a Mockingbird one more time.

At A Glance: Things to Know

  • Lee, H. (1960). To kill a mockingbird. Philadelphia: Lippincott.
  • Lexile 890, ATOS 5.7 (recommended ATOS 6.5 due to background knowledge needs, as well as content requiring more mature social awareness)
  • 324 pages
  • Background knowledge recommended in American History: the pre-Civil Rights Movement American South, Jim Crow Laws, Racial Segregation, Great Depression Era
  • Cross-discipline English Language Arts and American History
  • Historical Fiction, narrative
  • Deep textual layers, emotionally intense storyline, excellent character development
  • Excellent choice for classrooms with a broad range of reading abilities
  • Excellent title to supplement American History of Pre-Civil Rights Movement American South
  • Excellent title to discuss social impacts of abject poverty
  • Excellent title to explore concepts of sympathy, empathy, and mercy


Original publication cover design of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Price winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) Retrieved from

Original publication cover design of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Price winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)   Lexile 890 ATOS 5.7  Retrieved from

Written as a narrative of the now-grown main character Jean Louise Finch (Scout), To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of the pivotal circumstances, events, people, and experiences that inspired her fundamental and deep understanding of the human condition.  Guided by her sober-minded and even-tempered father, Atticus Finch, Scout navigates a period of nearly three years of her childhood, filled with scrapes and trials, that ultimately lead to understanding the complexities of human experience, but not without tears, bruises, and unmitigated injustices.  Along with her older brother Jem, and beloved albeit transient best friend Dill, Scout explores her world which seems to be dominated by the rules of adults and the peculiarities of adult logic that is sometimes difficult for a child to comprehend.  Set during the Depression (1933 – 1935) in a small town in Alabama, the story approaches topics like abject poverty, racism, and bigotry from the perspective of a child’s observant and (somewhat) innocent eye.  Through authentic discovery, Scout pieces together a pure understanding of her father’s early advice to approach others with sympathy and empathy; to walk around in another’s skin for a bit, as Atticus put it, to gain an appreciation for his point of view.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-


Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Movie poster for the 1963 movie depiction of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Note the warning "Not Suitable for Children" in the lower right side of the poster. Retrieved from

Movie poster for the 1963 movie depiction of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Note the warning “Not Suitable for Children” in the lower right side of the poster. Retrieved from

I don’t remember when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I was teenager.  I loved it.  It defined me as a reader, and maybe even more importantly, it planted a seed in my mind to become a writer.  I have since read To Kill a Mockingbird at least a half a dozen times, and I have watched the 1962 movie (starring Gregory Peck) more times than I can count.  Of course, the movie and the book are not the same: the movie is an interpretation of the book that, one might argue, was befitting the time and the audience rather than staying true to the story itself.  Reading Harper Lee’s novel and watching Robert Mulligan’s depiction of her story are two different experiences.  And, as I can now approach the two from the perspective of teacher and librarian, I would be able to easily identify those students who watched the movie in lieu of reading the novel.

The movie focuses heavily on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping and assaulting a young white woman suffering from the effects of abject poverty and ignorance.  While this is of major account in the novel, it is not by any means the focal point of Harper Lee’s story.  In fact, contrary to what many suggest, To Kill a Mockingbird is not about racism, discrimination, or the forced segregation of the pre-Civil Rights Movement in the American South.  It is about the shared experience of perceived difference, which in the end bonds us through our empathetic sensibilities.  While each of us has been shaped in unique ways – thus our differences as individuals – those experiences and circumstances that shape us are not unique to us alone; the human experience is shared, and we each have the capacity for sympathy and (hopefully) empathy for others in their struggles or fortunes.  And Harper Lee proves this through the eyes and heart of Scout, and the wisdom of Atticus Finch.

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

There is no shortage of ideas on how to incorporate this novel into the curriculum of a middle school or high school class.  With a Lexile 890 and 324 pages, this book can be covered easily over a two week period.  Because of the relatively low Lexile, classrooms with a broad range of reading abilities would have success with this novel.  However, the ATOS rating of 5.7 is lower than I would recommend due to the background knowledge required (pre-Civil Rights Movement in the American South, Racial Segregation, Jim Crow Laws, etc.), as well as some content that requires more mature social awareness than is typical of a 5th or 6th grader.  I would recommend an ATOS rating of at least 6.5.  Those with above average abilities will be challenged by the depth of character and story development, as well as the complexity of its aboutness.  Struggling readers might be challenged by the length, but the captivating story will likely make the challenge a fruitful one.  I would like to see To Kill a Mockingbird taught from the perspective of identifying and teaching empathy (using scenes like Jem’s & Scout’s relationship with Mrs. Henry Lafayette Debose, or with Walter Cunningham, or the experience going to church with Calpurnia, or even the pathetic character of Mayella Ewell).  Perhaps discussing the relationship of empathy to mercy (the mad dog comes to mind, or perhaps even the curious circumstances of the death of Tom Robinson, or the delicate nature with which Atticus treats Mayella Ewell while on the stand).  While I am not discounting the value of the great historical lesson that can be gleaned from Harper Lee’s depiction of the segregated American South, I feel very strongly To Kill a Mockingbird is far more complex and rich in textual layers, that to be singular in instructional topic would be like “killing a mockingbird.”

Here’s a short video on the difference between sympathy and empathy that might get students primed for recognizing it in literature:


Checkout these lesson plans for ideas on how to incorporate To Kill a Mockingbird in your classroom:

Curriculum Standards

AASL: 2.1.1 Use critical thinking skills applied to new information to draw conclusion and develop new knowledge.  2.1.6  Use the writing process and 21st media technology to create products and express new understanding. 2.3.1 Connect understanding to the real world.

CCSS:  CC6-8RH/SS6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal author’s POV.  CC9-10RH/SS9 Compare and contrast treatment of the same topic across multiple sources.  CC.9-10.R.L.1Key ideas and details, Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of explicit meaning and inferred meaning


American (2011). Crosswalk of the common core standards and the standards for the 21st-century Learner. Huron St. Retrieved from

American (2011). Crosswalk of the common core standards and the standards for the 21st-century Learner reading standards in history all AASL standards common core crosswalk. Huron St. Retrieved from

Lee, H. (1960). To kill a mockingbird. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Reading is a window to the world. (2007). . Retrieved from

The RSA (2013, December 10). Brené brown on empathy Retrieved from

OMG, I Can’t Even: Drama, Social Skills, and the Teenage Brain | Edutopia

Making everyday experiences a platform for learning:

Teen drama is the natural disconnect in socially and emotionally developing brains. Help them by honoring (not judging) their experience, teaching social skills, and encouraging reflection.

Source: OMG, I Can’t Even: Drama, Social Skills, and the Teenage Brain | Edutopia