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Another Nixon Book

I am just starting to read One Man Against the World by Tim Weiner. Nixon is an interesting man. He was perhaps one of the most hated and despised Presidents of the United States. You may be interested to know that Nixon often ate cottage cheese with ketchup on it for lunch. I tried it just to see if it was good. It was the first and last time I ate it.

I’ll keep you up on my reading as I move along. I hope this is a good book. It had 4.5 stars in amazon.

January 17, 2017

I am about halfway through the book. I was surprised how much President Nixon drank. His drink of choice was martini’s. He drank so much that an aid said he wouldn’t work with Nixon unless he quit drinking so much. Also, Nixon might have been addicted to commercial drugs.

The other thing that I didn’t understand is how the President and his staff planned military action without the consent of the military.

President Nixon: Alone in the White House

I was just starting my second year of teaching when Richard Nixon was elected president. So This book brought back a lot of memories of the War in Vietnam and Watergate. Reading this years later gave me a revised view of what took place during those years. Richard Nixon lied about the smallest things For example he would tell people he worked more hours than he did. He also felt everyone was out to get him. Combine the two and you have a very emotionally ill person.

The book doesn’t cover all of Nixon’s life, just his time as president.

Richard Reeves does an outstanding job telling this story. Well worth taking your time to read it.

President Nixon by Richard Reeves.




Presidential Trivia

I just finished reading Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia. Great book! It is fun, informative and great for grades 4-12. Great gift for your favorite student or teacher.

The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia is full of fun facts about U.S. Presidents. Both adults and children will enjoy this easy to read book. It is a great addition for school and classroom libraries. The book is formatted in a series of questions and answers. For example: “Which battle-tested president was sickened by the sight of blood?”

There are over 300 questions that teachers could use for class warm-up activities or for those five minutes at the end of class when you want to keep your students thinking. You could also divide your students into teams to see which team could get five questions answered first.

One of the things that is unique about this book is that the questions also have a photo from the Smithsonian Collection. I think I know a lot of trivia about presidents, but I was stumped by some of the questions. This might help make your students curious about history.

Let’s get back to the question about blood. We know that it must be a president who was in battle. You know that the bloodiest war in U.S. History was the Civil War. So if you guessed President Grant you would be right.



Calvin Coolidge

I just finished a book about Calvin Coolidge. (Coolidge, An American Enigma) It was a good book and for me a great book. I never learned much about Coolidge in school except that he was a very quite man. What little I heard was negative. After reading about him I think he was very intelligent. His biggest failure is that he had a hard time with social occasions when he met new people. If you set that aside he was a very smart, determined and hard working person. He was also very loyal to his family.

He served in numerous positions in the State of Massachusetts. He rose to the rank of Governor of the state and then was chosen to to be vice president. When Harding died he became president and then ran for another term and won easily. The only election he ever lost was for the School Board in Northamton. He most likely lost that because some people voted against him because he didn’t have children in the schools.

Coolidge’s opinion of being president, governor, or any administration was that the person should carry out and enact the laws. He didn’t think we always needed new laws, in fact he thought some should be taken off the books. He felt leaders need time to implement the laws that were already passed and suggest improvements if needed.

He had a strong position on the separation of the three branches of government. But most importantly he was loved by the American people. Even when he turn down running for a second full term, people wanted to draft him for the presidency. The economy was prosperous and we were at peace.

He wasn’t an inspirational president. But he was good at running the government and delegating responsibilities to his appointees.

Overall, I would rank him in the upper half of U.S. Presidents. You may wish to read his biography and form your own opinion.


Back Again

I haven’t written on my blog for a long time. I hope to start posting on a regular basis. Wish me luck.

 Woodrow Wilson by John Cooper, Jr.


The first thing I found interesting is that Woodrow Wilson was named Thomas Woodrow Wilson. He was called Tommy as a boy. He started using Woodrow when he was studying the law at the University of Virginia. The second is that he was a poor reader. He didn’t learn his “letters” until he was nine and he learned to read at twelve. This problem might have been due to his eyesight or dyslexia.

In 1883, he paid $87 for a typewriter. That was a lot of money at that time. Typewriters did not have set keyboards at that time. Also, not all typewriters had the same keyboard. Wilson typed with two fingers using the popular hunt and peck method.

All of that is interesting. Reading this book and others books about U.S. Presidents has started me thinking about how do you rate a president. What or who is a good president and why. Who is a bad president and why.

The tough part is that some presidents came in to office during troubled times and solved the problems. Others had prosperous times that they didn’t create that hurt their term in office. Some had the support of the House and Senate and could pass legislation and others had the House and Senate controlled by the other party and couldn’t do anything.

My question is what do you think makes a good president? And who during your life time has been the best president?



Choice – Drive: Time, Technique and Team

I am fascinated by Daniel Pink’s new book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates  Us. The book is about what motivates people to improve the quality and quantity of their work. I won’t do justice to the concepts and the big picture that Pink paints in his book, but  I would encourage you to read the book.

When we give students choices we will obtain better results. Daniel Pink gives several business examples where choice of time, technique and team has motivated employees to be more creative and to do better work. However, I would like to focus on how choice empowers and motivates students.  Choice in technique is the easiest of the three to implement in the classroom.

In very basic terms, technique is how students do their work or assignments. Technique is the action the student performs to demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the objective or standard. The goal/standard remains the same but how you reach the goal may be very different. In a typical classroom the teacher defines the goal (objective), the time in which it will be done and assigns the task to be accomplished. For example, after reading a novel an English teacher might give their students the assignment of writing an essay (task) analyzing the two major characters in the book (goal/objective). The assignment might be due in a week from the day it was given (time).

The goal/objective is based on state or national standards. The time may fit within the grading cycle and the amount of time the teacher has to work on that objective or standard. The ultimate goal is for the student to show he/she can analyze how and why the characters act in a certain way and how that relates to the real world and real people.

One way of motivating students to be more creative and to meet the objective is to allow students a choice in how they demonstrate they know how to analyze characters. One choice might still be to write an essay. Some students love to write and are excellent at writing essays. However, other students may not be as proficient in writing or enjoy writing as much as the other student. This is where choice of technique comes into play. Remember the goal was character analysis, not writing proficiency.

Students might be able to analyze the characters in one of several ways:

  • Creating a skit that exaggerates the traits of the characters. (Satire)
  • Build a web site that the characters might create about themselves.
  • Write a resume the characters might submit to an employer.
  • Create a movie about the characters’ lives.
  • Using the Twitter format of a 140 character message, create Tweets covering the major events in the story.
  • Create a simulated Facebook page for the characters. What would be posted on their wall? Who would be their friends? What images would they post etc.
  • Use Prezi to develop a time line showing the major actions and decisions made by the characters.
  • Create a podcast with a classmate. One person would be the host and the other the characters. The host would interview the characters and bring out the traits and values of the characters.

These are a few random ideas of ways I think students might accomplish the goal. The motivation is that they can now choose how they wish to express themselves. The teacher’s task would be to evaluate how well they met that goal. Evaluation might be based on a rubric that would be applied to all of these assignments. Involving students in the development of the rubric may also help motivate their desire to do the assignment.

Readers may think this sounds good, but would it work in a real classroom? My answer is yes it will. First, I have given assignments like those described above to my students when I was teaching. Second, I just finished a visit to one of the most highly rated private schools in Canada. The students had just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird. The teacher had given them some typical writing assignments, and then concluded the section on character analysis by allowing her students to make choices as to how they could show their understanding and analysis of the characters. I wasn’t able to stay for all of the presentations, but I was able to see three groups present..

Group One: created a “Coke” commercial with the characters being analyzed as the featured characters in the commercial.

Group Two: created a “Jeopardy” game that engaged the entire class in determining which character was the answer to each question. They learned as did the entire class!

Group Three: made a movie of the “Ellen Degenerus” show with Ellen interviewing the characters in the story. I had to leave before I saw if she had them get up and dance.

The amazing thing about this example is that the teacher didn’t know how to use any of the technologies that the students used to create their projects. Her role was to set the goal and objectives and to evaluate the results. I’d like to also note that this was a teacher with numerous years of experience in teaching. She was still willing to both challenge, trust, and allow her students to use technology to demonstrate their learning. Bravo!

To me, this is an excellent illustration of what Daniel Pink means when he writes about motivation based on choice of technique.

Top Ten Reasons Daniel Pink Should Follow Jimwenz on Twitter!

This is a shameless attempt to get Daniel Pink to follow me on Twitter. This effort started because my good friend, Tom Daccord (@thomasDacord), said that Mr. Pink is following him on Twitter. I am a huge fan of Mr. Pink’s books and have posted about them my blog and on Twitter. As a fan, I would like to share my thoughts and ideas with Mr. Pink. (And I thought this might get a few laughs from my friends. Also, I will take Tom’s bragging rights away from him!)
Please retweet this message.

10. He talks so much about A Whole New Mind that co-workers drove from Michigan to Pennsylvania to hear Dan speak.

9. He is helping Dan Pink send his children to college by buying his books and telling his friends and co-workers to buy them.

8. Jim loves to tell “stories.” ( A Whole New Mind).

7. He focuses on “Strengths Not Weaknesses” (Johnny Bunko).
6. Jim has been a subscriber to Wired since the first year it was published. (Dan has contributed numerous articles to Wired and is a contributing editor).

5. Today Jim is better than he was yesterday! (Drive – http://www.danpink.com/archives/2010/01/2questionsvideo)

4. Jim thinks that Al Gore’s speeches as Vice President were outstanding. )See Dan’s bio http://www.danpink.com.

3. Jim started his fourth career when he was 62 years old because there is “No Plan” (Johnny Bunko).

2. He thinks Dan is the greatest artist ever. See page 129 A Whole New Mind.
And the number one reason is:

1. He has “Drive”!

All kidding aside, if you haven’t read A Whole New Mind, Johnny Bunko, or Drive, you should add them to your reading list.

So I am asking all of my friends to re-tweet or link to this post. I know it is a shameless promotion but I had to do it. I’ll let you know what happens.

Jim (Twitter- jimwenz)

Stealing Lincoln’s Body

I really enjoyed reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It was an outstanding book. Towards the end of the book, the author mentioned that there had been an attempt to steal Lincoln’s body and that his body had been moved several times. He also mentioned that when they moved his casket, they had opened his casket to view Lincoln’s face. I had never heard that fascinating story before I read Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Later I came across the book Stealing Lincoln’s Body by Thomas Craughwell. I knew I had to read it.

This morning I finished the book. I’m glad I read it. I learned a lot of details about the attempt to steal his body. The grave robbers wanted to steal Lincoln’s body to get their friend, who was in jail for counterfeiting, released from prison. They were also going to demand a $200,000.00 ransom for the return of the body. The good news is they were bad thieves. They did get into the tomb and close to the casket, but their plans were foiled by the Secret Service.

That attempt lead to the formation of a private secret society call “The Lincoln Guard of Honor.” Their goals were to protect Lincoln’s body and honor him on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. To protect his body from grave robbers, they moved his body to the cellar of the tomb, There they buried his casket in a shallow unmarked grave.

You can read the book to learn more about then next two times his body was moved and the casket opened. I was surprised to learn that the last living person to view Lincoln’s body died in 1963,

Stealing Lincoln’s Body is a good book. I thought the author dragged out the story with details about counterfeiting and the crime life in Chicago. Both played into the story but I thought the sections were a little long. While students would enjoy this story, they would find the book a little dry. Adults with an interest in history will find it an interesting story. I’d love to hear your opinion of the book.



Scat is the “solid waste, or droppings, of carnivorous animals.”* It is also a book by Carl Hiaasen rated for ages 9-12. When my son was much younger we used to go on a lot of backpacking trips. I think we have slept in a tent in over twenty states. We always use to carry guides to plants, animals, birds, trees, and you guessed it scat. I used to joke with him that when he grew up he was going to become a “scatologist.” That’s why when I saw Carl Hiaasen’s latest book Scat I had to buy it.

I’m glad I did. I had enjoyed his book Hoot and Scatis just as good if not better. Like Hoot it has a story built around an environmental issue. In this case an endangered animal. Hiaasen also brings the Iraq War into the book. Nick is the main character in the book. His father is in Iraq and days go by that Nick doesn’t hear from his dad and is worried that something must be wrong.

The book has some great humor in it including an incident with a Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil. Those of you who had read Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis will remember the Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil from that story. This one is just as good. I think middle school students will like this book. It moves fast, contains mystery, and has some humorous moments. In fact I bet teachers would like it also.


Student Storybooks

Student publishing and writing for an authentic audience has been a theme of many of my blog posts and my presentations. That’s why I was excited when I discovered Tikatok.com. The lead sentence on their web site is “Tikatok™ is where kids channel their imagination into stories – and publish those stories into books for you to share and treasure with friends and family.” I looked at some of the books and they were lovely. They are short stories illustrated with crayon and pencil drawings and some photos. The image below shows two pages of a book from their site. I thought this was a great concept and wanted to learn more.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking to Katie Cowan Porro from Tikatok, Inc. about their website. She is the VP of Marketing and School Programs at Tikatok.com. Tikatok is a web site that helps students create storybooks. They have over 800 elementary teachers registered for their site and the company is only a year old. Their main audience is classes in grades 2-6. However, any level could create a book. You can use their site for free to create stories and publish an online book. Parents or the school can purchase printed copies. Katie indicated they do give discounts if you are ordering multiple books.

As Katie explained the process to me, it sounds fairly simple. The teacher signs up his/her class on the site. Then will get a temporary username and password to share with your students. The students then log in and create an individual username and password. They will use their personal account to create their book. All of the student accounts are linked to the teacher account so the teacher can view their work and decide when the book is ready for publishing. Once the book is published parents, friends, and relatives can view the book online or purchase a print copy of the book. I can imagine the excitement in a classroom on the day all the books are published and students could read each others books online. It would be a fun day.

I fell in love with the drawings and the stories that I read on their site. What a great way to engage students in writing at an early age. Let me know if your students publish books on Tikatok. I would be glad to send them a review.