App Review: Topps Pennant

When my youngest son started his recent fascination with baseball cards, I figured there must be some cool apps for the iPad that could give him some more information about collecting and information on players. I haven’t found that App yet, but I did stumble upon this pretty nifty App from Topps called Pennant. It allows you to choose a team, and with a very interesting visual, infographic-style interface, you can see all the stats from every game from 1952 to 2012.

There are a couple of ways to look at the data. A timeline view allows you toggle through the years. A spinning wheel for each game allows you to view every inning, and every play. Other elements take you into a view of the entire season of a team, and even the winners and losers of divisions over the years. A map of the country allows you to find team to examine, and there are more features here than we have explored.

This Topps Pennant App really is what they say it is: “…the modern box score” document. It costs 99 cents, but it was worth it for our family of baseball fanatics.

Peace (in the history),

PS — here is a video overview:

Topps Pennant Full Trailer from Topps Digital on Vimeo.



Picture Book Review: Brothers At Bat

Our house is gearing up for baseball, with all three boys playing in three different leagues (the oldest just made his high school team last week and the other two had Little League evaluations on Saturday). So, at the library, we’ve been bringing home all sorts of baseball-themed books. Brothers at Bat: The Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick is a perfect companion to all the stats books and baseball cards, and resonated in our house of three athletic boys. The book centers on the Acerra family from New Jersey, and the boatload of kids they had (12 brothers and four sisters).

They not only literally had enough kids to field a team. They did. In the 1930s, there were more opportunities to create your own semi-pro baseball teams and hit the circuit, and the Acerra boys did that. This true story of the band of brothers playing baseball — with interruptions for military service and other factors of life — is nicely done, and Vernick did her own research by interviewing one of the surviving brothers. She really captures the spirit of family and the spirit of sports. And the illustrations by Steven Salerno were spot on, too.

Brothers at Bat is a book I would highly recommend for the start of Spring Training.

Peace (on the plate),

PS — Vernick shared some silent footage of the brothers on her YouTube account. Interesting.



Meta-Slice of Life: My Daily Routine

Slice of Life Composing Process
This is for Slice of Life. I was thinking about the ways I write and share my daily slices of life, and I decided to create this “napkin graphic” to show what goes on under the hood, so to speak.
Peace (in the steps),

Book Series Review: The Baseball Card Adventures

Given our boys’ interest in baseball, I am not sure why it has taken me so long to discover Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventure series of books (which begins with Honus & Me). You’d think this series would have been a natural read-aloud fit for me over the years. My middle son has read a few, but it with my youngest son (8) that we have really dove into the series with great gusto and interest. In less than three weeks, we have devoured Honus & Me, Jackie & Me, Babe & Me,  Shoeless Joe & Me, and Mickey & Me. Next up: Abner & Me.

The stories revolve around a boy, Joe Shoshack, who discovers that he can use baseball cards to travel back in time, and begins a series of adventures to meet famous players and/or attempt to change history. The structure of the books is fairly consistent throughout the series, which is great for discussing writing a novel with my youngest, and Gutman does a nice job of bringing those old ballplayers to life for us. I really have appreciated the Reader’s Note that Gutman leaves at the end of the books, where he talks about his research and about the lines he has drawn between fiction and non-fiction.

I am also enjoying how YouTube is part of our reading experience. When we were reading about Honus Wagner’s famous baseball card, we gathered up some information about the auction that brought in so much money for the rare piece of baseball memorabilia history. When we read about Jackie Robinson and racism, we watched  a short documentary about the legendary ball player who changed history. When we were thinking about Babe Ruth’s “called shot,” we pulled up television footage to actually watch Babe in action at the plate as he hit that homerun (the results were inconclusive, we agreed.) And I now have Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary in our Netflix streamining account, ready to go.

I might soon tire of Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventure series, but my son is fully intrigued. And he is considering entering a local writing contest, where the prompt has them imagine going back in time 50 years. He has this idea now to use the Gutman books for the model for his story, finding a famous ballplayer from 1963 and writing about using one of his baseball cards to travel back to meet him. I love that.

Peace (on the ball),
PS — here is a cool video of Gutman being interviewed by a kid.



Slice of Life: Teachers vs Principal

This is for Slice of Life. It’s not about my school, where I work, but about a school in my hometown where my son goes. The teachers there are apparently up in arms against principal, and we are mixed on the reasons, and worried about what it all means for our son’s education.

Peace (in the vote),


TFK: The Future of Testing

tfk testing
How timely is this? The cover story to Time for Kids magazine this week is all about the shifts coming around Common Core testing (either PARCC or Smarter Balance.) We have our own Massachusetts state reading assessments next week (with Math in May). So, testing is on our minds, as much as I would not like it to be. I’ve talked to my students about the changes in our state’s expectations (ie, Common Core) and the changes that are coming down the pike with testing. The TFK cover story, however, provided a solid overview of what they can expect to see happening in the next two to three years.

The article sparked some great discussions and also generated some pertinent questions, such as:

  • Will students HAVE to use the computer or will they have a choice to use paper?
  • What if a school doesn’t have enough technology? How will students take the test?
  • How long will this test take to do?
  • What if you don’t have good typing skills?
  • How will the test be introduced? (ie, Will there be a practice year?)
  • Could someone cheat by using the computer to find information online?
  • For the tests that are “computer adaptive,” does that mean that students who answer incorrectly will have more questions to answer than those who answer correctly? (Computer adaptive tests move the student forward in different directions, depending on the previous answer).
  • Why is there more writing?
  • My mom/dad says this new test is coming because too many teachers are teaching to the (current test). Is that true?

I didn’t have the answers to all these queries, because so much of what is going to happen remains unclear and muddled.

As for that last question (which was asked by three different students in three different classrooms, by the way), I tried to explain that while that may be happening in some classrooms in some schools, and it may be a worthy complaint, I did not feel that we were doing that. However, I acknowledged that the kinds of teaching we are doing now, and the levels and kinds of expectations that we have for students now, has changed over the past three years (more evidence-based writing; more research activities; more non-fiction, argumentative, expository pieces) due to the shifts.

And then we started to talk about strategies for next week’s state reading test. So maybe the complaint about time spent teaching to the test is valid, after all. Sigh.

Peace (in the testing),