High School Swim Team

High School Swim Team

Our high school swim team was about to head off to a major competition. I was in grade 12 and seated in the auditorium with a number of my football teammates. This particular school assembly was to serve as a pep rally for the members of swim team. There were over 800 students at this assembly.

The female coach of the team walked up to the microphone. She called to the athletes, and the swimmers came out from behind the curtain. My buddies and I were disappointed that they didn’t come out in their swimsuits; you see, except for one guy, the assembled team was entirely female (and we were 17-year-old boys).

Now the lone fellow on stage was also also a football player. Football season was over; but still, he was one of us and there he was standing amongst a dozen females. We were jealous.

The coach talked about the upcoming meet and about the team in general. She then introduced each member. When the individual names were said, that student would step forward, we would cheer and the coach would state that person’s swimming style.

She was introducing the students from left to right. She finally came to Ed.

Next we have Ed Smith. Ed is a breast-stroker.”

OMG, did she really say that? The whoops began.

Ed, you are the man!”

But does he do any swimming?”

Looks like you have your hands full, Ed.”

The are some things that need to be carefully worded when presenting to a group of trans-pubescent boys.

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An Early Christmas Gift

An Early Christmas Gift

For the longest time, I never told anyone this story; well, except for two people. I think enough time has passed that I can share it now.

During my time as a principal there was a government grant program that hired people who were on Social Assistance (a provincial program) and gave them enough weeks employment to qualify for Employment Insurance (a federal program). If you were on Employment Insurance (EI), then you also qualified for additional assistance if you went back to school. The intent of the program was to give the unemployed some valuable work experience. The fact that those fortunate enough to be granted such a placement ended up being transferred from the provincial to the federal books would have been a secondary bonus for the province (I wonder if that wasn’t the primary objective). In elementary schools, these workers were employed as assistants in the kindergarten classes.

In most cases, these workers proved to be a valuable part of the team. Imagine being a teacher, alone in a kindergarten class with twenty students. Now imagine having another caring and competent adult in that room whose job it was to assist you with the running of your daily routine; in a word, invaluable.

By my third or fourth year as principal the criteria of the program changed. Either the length of the program was shortened or the amount of time to qualify for EI was lengthened (perhaps it was a combination of the two). Anyway, the workers simply returned to social assistance and, in many cases, awaited the next opportunity to participate.

It was mid December when Christa entered my office. It was at the end of the day. She was on the grant program for the second time and was being shared between two kindergarten classes. She was lamenting the fact that her time was coming to an end.

Mr. Caines, is there any way that my time can be extended by six weeks? If so, I could qualify for EI and, hopefully, get financial assistance to go back to school. I would like to go to college and train to become a teacher’s assistant.”

I told her that I would make some calls and see what I could find out. I would let her know when I had an answer. I figured I already knew the answer but didn’t want to say.

The next day I called and spoke to the person responsible for coordinating the program in our area schools. I was told that there was nothing that could be done to get Christa six additional weeks. I went one step further up the ladder and asked the same question. I was given the same answer. At this point it occured to me that I could simply tell Christa that nothing could be done and that I had done all that I could do. I wasn’t prepared to do that. I then asked the following question.

Somewhere between you and the premier of the province is the person who has the authority to make this this happen. Can you tell me who that person is?”

He gave me a name of an official in the Department of Education. He also said, “Don’t tell him I gave you his name.”

I called and managed to get this person on the phone. I explained the situation and pointed out that here was a worker who wanted to get off welfare and go back to school. I said that if the pot of money from which this program is funded has surplus funds then we had an opportunity to make a real difference in the life of this young woman. I pointed out that the additional six weeks did not have to be spent at our school. Perhaps she could be placed at an area church to work the additional time. This wasn’t about helping our school, it was about helping a person.

The official I spoke to confirmed that he was the one who could make this happen. He also confirmed that there were funds that had yet to be assigned.

I asked, “What do you need from me to make this happen?”

Just leave this with me and I will get back to you within a few days.”

It was just before the Christmas break when he called back. He told me that the money was in place to extend Christa’s work-term; in fact, she would be extended right through to June. She could also stay in our school.

This was great news. Not only were we about to do something wonderful for this woman, it meant that we were going to have two assistants in the kindergarten. The person who was scheduled to replace Christa and, of course, Christa herself. This would see each of the classes having their own assistant. This was a win on so many levels.

I asked Christa to stop in my office at the end of the day. When she did I gave her the news. Needless to say, she was over the moon. She wanted to know who to thank. I told her that the person who went to bat for her wished to remain anonymous but that I would pass her thanks on. Just seeing her reaction was reward enough for me.

Two years later I called the official in Fredericton. I explained that Christa had indeed gone back to college and had became a teacher’s assistant. She now had full-time employment at another school and was getting on with her life.

I hope he felt as good about this as I did.


There is difference between saying, I have done all that I can do, and, I have done all that I am willing to do.

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The Tinsel’s Silver Glow

The Tinsel’s Silver Glow

Before I returned to university to complete my BEd degree I was employed as a Youth Counsellor at a juvenile detention centre. Essentially, I was a guard. It was a casual, six month position after which I was laid off. That suited me just fine.

It was a few days before Christmas and I was working with the older boys. As I recall, there were 18-20 boys in the dorm. My eight hour shift was spent ensuring that they were following the routines and not fighting with each other.

Hey, Mr. Caines, watch this.”

The fellow who gained my attention was now standing before me and had his hands cupped beneath his nose. We were next to the Christmas tree that had been decorated several days earlier.

I wasn’t sure what he was up to but his actions were accentuated with a combination of coughs, snorts and gags. He certainly had my attention.

He then dropped one of his hands and at this point I could see a strand of tinsel hanging from his right nostril. He then reached into his mouth and, after another series of coughs and gags, pulled the other end of the tinsel out of his mouth. I was dumbfounded.

Watch this”, he said.

He then proceeded to alternately pull on opposite ends of the tinsel. It looked like he was flossing his nasal passage.

He smiled, “Isn’t this cool?”. I think if I had just eaten I would have thrown up.

Honestly, I wanted to laugh but I didn’t want to encourage him. I told him to stop and to remove the tinsel from his head. I thanked him for helping me to find the spirit of the season. I also suggested that he not put the tinsel back on the tree.

This is a gimmick that I will definitely NOT be teaching my grandson.

Merry Christmas to you and yours

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A Good One-Liner

A Good One-Liner

It was a year ago, mid-December, and I had stopped by my old school. I had some things to drop off, and I made a point of popping by the staffroom to say hello to former colleagues. One of the teachers I chatted with was responsible for the Co-op Program which saw grade 12 students carrying out a work-term with area employers.

About ten minutes later I went to the local gym and ran into that same teacher. She was spending the morning checking in on her students. I next saw her at the local pharmacy about ninety minutes later.

Jokingly, she said,“Why Mr. Caines, I do believe you are following me.”

I replied, “Just consider yourself part of my Christmas stalking.”

I was rather proud of that one.

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Lost in Translation – Part 2

Lost in Translation – Part 2

……….. continued

I took Ji-hu aside and explained to him the significance of saying, Jesus. I told him that many would find it offensive and suggested that he not say it. His jaw dropped. He apologized several times.

You know, Ji-hu, there is another expression that kind of means the same thing but is not offensive.”

Ah, what is that?”

In a circumstance like this, many might say Jeepers Creepers.’”

Ah, Jeepers Creepers.”

As soon as he spoke the words I realized that I made a mistake going down this road. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Actually, Ji-hu, the more I think about it, that is more of a little boy expression. It is probably not a good choice. Please forget I said that.”

Several weeks later arrangements were made to take the grade 11 and 12 students to a post-secondary symposium in the city. Students would board buses after home-room and would be gone for most of the day. The day before the symposium Ji-hu approached me and asked if he could take his mother’s car and drive directly from home to the symposium. His home was significantly closer to the symposium site than the school. He was of the impression that the event was for the entire day.

I asked, “If you were to do that, would you drive back here for period 5?”

Is it not for the entire day?”, he asked.

No. The intention is to have everyone back here for their last class.”

This obviously caught him off-guard. His hope was to simply return home after the symposium was over. He looked down at the symposium schedule he was holding in his hands. It confirmed that its duration was not for the entire school day.

He looked up at me, “Ah, Jeepers Creepers.”

Oh no, I thought to myself. What had I created?

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Lost in Translation – Part 1

Lost in Translation – Part 1

Opening Night for our December theatrical performance was drawing near and we were in the early stages of the technical rehearsal. We were in the process of fine-tuning the sound cues and we had two students on the sound board. One was a grade 12 student who was well familiar with how long and drawn out the day was going to be. The other student was relatively new to the school. He was from Asia, and English was not his first language. Ji-hu also happened to in my homeroom class. He would be in my top-10 list of all-time for students who were polite, respectful, cooperative and keen.

We were going through each cue in order, and the director was deciding exactly what he wanted. It was my job to interpret his wishes for the guys on the board which was located at the back of the theatre. Some changes were called back from the middle of the theatre. In this instance I walked back to be nearer the two students.

OK, fellows, for cue 7 bring the volume up 10% and for a total time of 8 seconds. Start the fade after 2 seconds.”

OK. Shay’s-us”, said Ji-hu.

I looked at him, uncertain what it was he had said, but it sounded more like an acknowledgement than a question. I carried on.

A short while after I said to the guys, “For sound cue 8 let’s trying shortening it by 2 seconds and see how that works.”

The change was made and the director listened. He decided he wanted something different.

Let’s try taking off another 2 seconds but bring the volume up about 5%.”

The director listened then made another decision. I walked back to the board, “Guys, let’s go with that but leave the volume as it was.”

OK. Shay’s-us”, said Ji-hu. He then made the change under the watchful eye of the other student.

I looked at him. “Ji-hu, did you just say Jesus?”

In a heavy accent he replied, “Yes. It’s what you say when you make a change.”

It took me a moment to figure out what was going on. Each time the director changed his mind and the cue needed to be reprogrammed, the grade 12 student would mutter, Jay-sus. Ji-hu thought that this was a working expression and an acknowledgement that the message was understood. Rather than say Roger, Wilco or Message Received he would nod and say Shay’s-us.

to be continued …………………………………

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Cheaper by the Dozen

Cheaper By the Dozen

During the year I spent at the District Office I had the good fortune of driving by a newly opened bagel store each day. I knew the owner, he was actually the principal of one of the nearby high schools. I would often stop in on my way home to pick up fresh bagels.

On this particular day I made an unscheduled stop. There was a new face behind the counter. She told me that she was a high school student and that this was her part-time job.

I didn’t have a lot of cash with me. After I looked in my wallet I counted my change. I didn’t see any prices displayed. I looked up at the young lady.

How much would half a dozen be?”

Six”, she answered without any hesitation.

I looked at her. I was waiting for her to laugh and to actually answer my question, but she just stared back at me. She actually thought that I didn’t know what a half dozen was.

Really? Here I was wearing a jacket and tie and I easily had 25 years on her. For her to think that I had made it this far along not knowing that a half dozen was 6 seemed rather unbelievable. I then thought to myself, What makes for a better story?

I asked, “So then, a dozen would be 12?”

That’s right”, she answered.

A week later I saw the owner at a principals’ meeting. I told him the story, and after he finished laughing he told me that the young lady was actually a student at his high school. He was fairly certain that in her response she was not trying to be flippant at all.

That principal and I are both retired now but we occasionally run into each other. When we do there is a better than 50% chance that he will say, “Hey, how much is half a dozen?”

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How to Annotate – Close Reading

Is it enough for students to simply comprehend their school readings? While reading comprehension is necessary for doing well in school, in order to experience success in current and future schooling, students will be required to go beyond what they see on the surface and dig deeper into the text.

This is where the process of close reading can make all the difference.  Close reading is when we slow down and think about what we are reading.  An important step in close reading is to annotate, as this allows for greater focus and attention to detail. Keep reading to learn how to annotate when you are practicing the art of close reading.

Comprehension of Key Ideas and Details

Unfamiliar Vocabulary

To help yourself determine the meaning of the vocabulary word, find context clues.  If necessary use a dictionary.

Main Ideas

Take notes on the central themes, clues or details that back up the main idea and themes.

Confusing Parts

Find unfamiliar details that you might need to clarify through re-reading, summarizing, discussion or research.

Questions to Ask

Who are the main characters?

What is the setting?

What is the main conflict?



Analyze the Text for Craft and Structure

Repeated Themes or Ideas

Think about the genre of the work and the ideas, use of language, and any lesson or moral.

Character or Author’s Feelings

For fiction, take note of how the author uses dialogue, descriptions, things the character says, does, etc. to develop character.

When it comes to non-fiction, pay attention to how the author talks about the subject to determine his or her feelings about the topic.

Note the Narrator’s Point of View

Determine how the point of view contributes to the story.

Questions to Ask

Why do characters behave as they do?

How do their actions advance the plot?

How does the author’s word choice affect the story’s tone?



Integrate Your Knowledge


Compare and contrast this work with other works you have read, information you already know, and ways in which you can relate to the story.

Deeper Meaning

Find the important images and symbols to analyze their deeper meaning.

Effective Writing

Look for literary devices, figurative language, powerful sentences, etc.

 Questions to Ask

How has this work increased my knowledge of a subject or author?

What is surprising about the story’s outcome?

What did I appreciate about the author’s style?



Tools for Annotation

Make your annotation system your own, use colored pens, highlighters or symbols to annotate for the above list of items.

This process of annotation will help you read more closely and allow you to dig deeper to find more significance in the texts you are reading.  This will not only provide more depth to your schooling, but will also be an influence on your life. ­­­­­­

How to Annotate - Close Reading Icon.png

A Shirt by any Other Name

A Shirt by any Other Name

My brother Ron first introduced me to curling. I was 14 at the time. I was in my late 30’s before I started taking it seriously. When I was 43 my rugby team made it to the Maritime Championship which was played on the first Saturday in November. The following Wednesday was the first night of that winter’s curling season. That night I overheard someone say, “Who’s the young fella?” I looked around and then realized that he was referring to me. I went from being the oldest guy on the rugby pitch to the youngest guy in the curling rink. It was good for my self-esteem.

This story took place several years later. Our kids had moved out and my wife and I were empty-nesters. On this particular Wednesday night I was getting my curling gear together. I would always wear a sleeveless t-shirt under my golf shirt. I grabbed a t-shirt from the clean laundry basket. I put it on but found it to be really tight; however, I had recently finished rugby season and knew that my upper body was bulked up more than usual BUT this one was really tight. Oh well, it was getting late and I needed to get on the road.

After my team took the ice, I got down in the hack to prepare my first stone. As I did so, I could feel my t-shirt moving up the small of my back. It was rather uncomfortable. I tried tucking it back down but it kept riding up. Oh well, I would have to ignore it. When I returned home later that night I tossed my curling gear in with the dirty laundry.

Several days later my wife met me in the hallway outside the laundry room. She was holding the same white, sleeveless t-shirt out for me to see.

Whose shirt is this?”

Isn’t that one of my undershirts?”

This is a ladies tank-top.”

Really? How can you tell?

Just look at it.”

It still looked like a regular t-shirt to me. “Then it must be yours.”

No. It’s … not … mine.”

Huh. I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I own any ladies tank-tops.”

The mystery was solved shortly thereafter. We had been away a few weeks earlier and our daughter had been house/dog sitting for us. She left one of her tank-tops behind and it was the one I had worn. I returned it to her but she made some reference to it being stretched out of shape. I apologized.

I realized that this made for a funny story so I started telling it. Teachers at work had a good laugh, and a few days later I overheard a colleague retelling the tale. When she did she used the word camisole rather than tank-top. Without thinking I just assumed that camisole and tank-top meant the same thing, so I would often use the term when sharing the story.

Several retellings later a fellow teacher asked me how it was that I couldn’t tell the difference between a camisole and a t-shirt.

Well, they look identical”, I answered.

No they don’t. A camisole has decorative trim; you know, frilly stuff. Are you sure it wasn’t a tank-top.”

Yeah, that’s exactly what is was, a tank-top. Tank-top and camisole are not synonymous?”

No, they are not the same thing. If you tell people that it was a camisole then you appear to be an even bigger idiot.”

For the record, it was a tank-top.

Oh, and I now know what a camisole is.

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The Good, the Bad, the Not-so-Bad

The Good, the Bad, the Not-so-Bad

First a bit of background:

After I graduated with my science degree I spent six months with the Naval Reserve. After that, I accepted a six month job as a youth counselor (essentially a guard) at a youth detention facility. It was a casual position which meant that I would be laid off after completing 120 shifts. I was OK with that as I had already planned to go back to university to complete a BEd. The detention centre was not designed for violent offenders but there was no other facility in which to place boys awaiting trial. While I was there, two boys were detained and awaiting trial for murder. As they were both segrated from the rest of the population, I actually spent a lot of shifts supervising them, one-on-one. 

And now the story …..

While enrolled in the BEd programme my second student-teaching placement was at a junior high school. My cooperating teacher taught grade 8 and 9 math and science. There were two classes at each grade level. The two grade 8 classes were noticeably different, and among the staff they were referred to as the good grade 8’s and the bad grade 8’s. The students knew that they had been labelled.

During the first days of my first week, I simply observed the classes. By the end of the week I started teaching while being monitored by my cooperating teacher. At the end of each day he would offer feedback and suggestions. Midway through the second week, he told me that he was comfortable leaving me alone and that I would be taking over his classes. If I needed him he would be just down the hall. I was good with that.

Just prior to my first class alone with the bad grade 8’s a student approached my desk. He leaned ahead and spoke.

Do you know, Mr. Caines, that we are the bad grade 8’s? Do you think you can handle us?” His body language suggested that he was trying to increase my anxiety level.

Really?”, I answered. “What makes you bad?”

Well, we often don’t do what we are told, and we talk when we should be listening.”

Wow, really? Anything else?”

Ah … sometimes we throw things around the room.”

Hmmm … well thanks for the heads-up.” I leaned closer to him. “You know, I just finished working at the Youth Detention Centre. I worked with a 15-year-old boy who shot his parents. I worked with another young fellow who stabbed an 81-year-old woman to death during a botched break-and-enter. I worked with boys who, if they had the opportunity, could tear you apart. I have experienced bad and you’re not it. So why don’t you go back to your desk and get ready for class.”

He quietly turned and returned to his seat. He looked like he had been deflated.

Yeah, collectively they weren’t as cooperative as the other grade 8 class, but in the grand scheme of things, and on the bad-scale, they hardly registered.

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Pick of the Litter

Pick of the Litter

Many years ago I set a small goal for myself, to pick up one piece of litter every day. While I was still teaching there were few days when I didn’t pass by garbage walking from my car to the school. I would often gather up two or three items – this would make up for the weekends when, perhaps, I wasn’t in a litter zone. Now that I am retired I usually carry out my one-a-day ritual when in the city. I figure if one in ten people picked up a piece of garbage every tenth day then we would be close to having litter-free communities.

Last weekend I was in the city and had a number of stops to make. As I was nearing a parking spot outside a mall I noticed a man walking across the lot. At one point he stopped, bent down and pick up a cardboard coffee tray that had been discarded. I rolled my window down and thanked him for doing so. We both agreed that this world would be a better place if people were more considerate. This reminded me of an incident that took place ten years earlier.

I had been awarded an educational leave (sabbatical). I would be participating in a French Immersion course in the north of the province. In anticipation of this I enrolled in a conversational French class at the local college. I was hoping to recapture some of the language skills I had learned when in high school. Classes were once a week.

Each night on my way to class I would stop at a coffee shop not far from the college. On this particular evening I saw something that was rather upsetting. As my car was approaching a parking spot I noticed am arm extend from a vehicle and a cardboard coffee tray and paper bag were dropped on the ground. I couldn’t believe it. By the time I pulled up beside the car the window had been closed. I decided to be part of the solution.

Now I must admit that when I looked over at the vehicle I expected to see some teenagers (sorry teenagers – I admit that I was stereotyping). To my surprise I saw an elderly couple in the car. I rolled my window down and pointed to the ground.

You dropped something. Something fell out of your car.”

The woman looked at me. She turned to the man seated in the driver’s seat. He leaned ahead and looked at me.

Something fell out of your car”, I repeated.

The window was lowered. I again pointed to the ground, “Something fell out of your car.”

They looked at each other. By this time I had stepped out of my vehicle.

The woman said, “It’s garbage. I meant to toss it.”

I stood still. I gave them the best basset hound face I could muster. “You mean, you meant to litter?”

……… YES”, she replied in a rather stern voice.

The man looked like he wanted to punch me; but hey, I didn’t do anything wrong. I was playing the good guy.

How about this. I’ll pick it up for you and place it in the garbage can over there.”

She hesitated. In the same voice she said, “OK.”

As I picked up the tray and bag they drove off. I watched them leave then disposed of the garbage.

By doing so I had met my litter picking quota for the next two days. I felt pretty good.

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ACT vs. SAT Reading Passages

There are many factors that can help a student determine which test they should take – the ACT or the SAT. Variables such as strengths, weaknesses, timing, or style can all play a role in making this important decision.

Perhaps you are a student who feels confident in your math skills, so you can handle whatever math questions these tests throw at you.  However, your reading is an area in which you could use some additional help.  The reading passages will be the issue that justifies your choice.

If that is the case then this post should prove beneficial.  We are going to breakdown the differences between the ACT and SAT reading passages in order to help you make the difficult decision of which test is the right test for you.

Number of Passages

The SAT has 5 reading passages while the ACT has 4 reading passages.


Number of Questions

Every test you take for the ACT will have a total of 40 questions with 10 questions per passage.

While overall, the SAT will always have 52 questions, the amount of questions per passage will vary.



How much time will you have to tackle the reading passages?

Overall, for the SAT you will have 65 minutes, which breaks down to 13 minutes per passage.

You will have 35 minutes for the ACT passage, which means 8 minutes and 24 seconds per passage.


Passage Types

On the ACT, the reading passages will include one of each of the following: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science.   The Social Science and Natural Science passages tend to be more straightforward, and therefore less challenging.  While the Humanities and Prose Fiction passages require more analysis which lends towards more difficulty when reading these passages.  On occasion, one of these reading passages will be a paired passage.

On the SAT, the reading passages have one Literature passage, one History passage, one Social Studies passage (economics, Sociology, Psychology or another Social Studies passage), and two Science passages (there is a possibility that one of them will be a paired passage).  The difficulty level varies and very much depends on your familiarity with the subject and the complexity of the topic.


Question Types

The question types on the ACT will be the following: detail, words in context, generalization, cause and effect, inference, main idea, point of view, and except questions.

For the SAT, expect these question types: evidence, arguments, words in context, and synthesis (questions based on analyzing a graph).



For the most part the reading passages you encounter on the ACT test are going to be more about what is actually in the passage.  However, this does mean that the reading passages in the ACT are going to be a little drier.

On the SAT test, the reading passages discuss more interesting topics.  But it will require that you dig deeper and analyze the passage for what the author is attempting to say rather than just what he is saying.



The challenge with the ACT is time.  While the questions are more straightforward and the passages are more direct than the SAT test, you have significantly less time to read and answer the questions.  So if you struggle to read quickly, consider trying the SAT.

The struggle with the SAT is the level of critical thinking skills required to answer the reading passage questions.  If analysis is something that you find to be tough, try a practice ACT first to see if it fits your strengths.



Overall, both present their own unique set of challenges.  It really comes down to what type of student you are and an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.

Still not sure which test is for you?  Sign up for a diagnostic SAT and ACT test to get a breakdown of your score.  We will even set up a consultation with our SAT and ACT experts to help you figure out which test is the best fit for you.


Cristopher Tolkien Makes an Appearance

I’m always a bit leery but also drawn in when a famous writer’s offspring attempts to ride a progenitor’s coattails to fame, fortune and probably an enlarged bank account.


Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson expand Frank Herbert’s Dune Universe.

Brian Herbert’s attempts to expand his father’s Dune universe are a typical case in point.  They are interesting science fiction books in a familiar universe but… but they break no new ground.  This is probably the biggest attack on his father’s legacy that was committed here because the original Dune books were beloved precisely because they were new and fresh. Core fans will read them, of course, bit I doubt they’ll be considered part of the canon anytime soon (at least not by me).

But Herbert’s books (with an assist from Anderson, clearly) aren’t bad.  If it wasn’t for the legacy, we’d all have liked them without further comment.  Much worse was the disastrous attempt at authoring an epic Fantasy by Nicolai Tolstoy (grandson of Leo), which resulted in the only time I have ever voluntarily abandoned a book in the middle of it in the last 30 years.

So it was with mixed feelings that I picked up the Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth series some years ago.  That first book was a difficult read, but I was fascinated by the textual history that Tolkien Jr had managed to piece together from his fathers papers.  It is a stunning piece of academic research taken on by probably the only person with both the access and motivation to succeed in it.

I’ve since read the six books that followed which brings us all the way through the history of the writing of the tales that eventually became the Silmarillion to the text of the Lord of the Rings.  The book which prompted this post, and which I’ll be concentrating on here, is the seventh, The Treason of Isengard.


The Treason of Isengard, Book 7 of the History of Middle Earth and Book 2 of the History of the Lord of the Rings

Like its predecessors, this volume presents older drafts of the material with commentary on when changes were likely made, and when names evolved into the current versions that everyone knows and loves.

As a writer, I find JRR Tolkien’s process mesmerizing and terrifying.  Mesmerizing because watching text evolve so methodically is an education in and of itself and Terrifying because the man spent his entire adult life continuously tweaking his text.  Were it not for editorial pressure and deadlines, he probably would have kept toying with the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings until the day he died, much like he did with Silmarillion.

The reason to read this series isn’t because it will bring you a new appreciation of LotR – we all know it and love it (or despise it) for our own reasons, and this won’t change it, but it will bring you a type of writing process that will feel very alien to nearly every one of us.

If I wrote my books like that, I’d simply go insane, but it’s undeniably effective.  The layers of myth upon myth back through the ages that shine through in the Lord of the Rings are there because Tolkien actually wrote them, and rewrote them and wrote them yet again as he composed the Silmarillion and the associated poems.

In this particular case, I don’t begrudge the son a single cent, and actually prefer that his series exists instead of having original writing from Christopher.


Not the Greatest French Film of All Time, Interesting Nonetheless


Les Enfants du Paradis Movie Poster

As we continue our slow journey through the 1001 Films one must supposedly watch before one dies (maybe if we never finish the list we’ll live forever?) we encounter a bunch of films which are reputed to be or voted as the greatest something or other.   The major conclusion one can immediately take from these is that an amazing number of important-sounding institutions exist which seem dedicated to choosing the greatest films of whatever country, and none of them can agree on which one it is.

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) was voted the greatest film ever in one poll of French film industry people.  Yes, I know that it was obvious that the French would select a French film for the honor, but it’s pretty amazing that they happened to select this one.  It isn’t.

It’s also been called the French equivalent of Gone with the Wind.  It also isn’t.

What it is is an interesting flick with a fascinating production history.

The plot is noteworthy .  Everyone is in love with the girl, but no one gets her.  Additional interest is given to it by having her suitors span the social range from a mime and a criminal to a count.  Loads of fun and hijinks and melodrama ensue, and the film does entertain.  The ending is also worth waiting for, as it is neither a conventional happy ending or a typical tragic one.  The only person who dies richly deserves it.

The most noteworthy thing about it, however, is that it was produced in Vichy France under the strict and watchful eye of the German censors with a cast and crew that mixed resistance elements with collaborators in what must have been the ultimate example of workplace politics.

Imagine attempting to shoot a large-scale film in a country ravaged by war, with Nazis telling you what to cut out of it and a director, Marcel Carné, who tries to sneak a lot of the stuff that is supposedly forbidden back in, in a different guise.  The sets were a shambles, which was a drawback for a film with a lot of outdoors street scenes, and one can only imagine what kind of scarcity conditions they had to operate under as the allies advanced.


Robert Le Vigan – French actor convicted of collaborating with the Nazis in Vichy France.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the film are the story of Robert Le Vigan who was removed from the production, accused of being a collaborator and disappeared.  He was later tried and sent to prison, but in the meantime they needed a replacement for him, and chose one of the Renoir brothers (yes, the son of the painter).

Collaborators, of course, weren’t tried under the Vichy régime, so you are correct in guessing that the movie wasn’t finished until the allies liberated France.  It is speculated that Carné himself created production delays that ensured the film would only be released in a free France.  Whether that is true or a product of Carné’s propaganda is open to debate, but it does cement the legend.

So, perhaps it’s not the film itself but the context and symbolism which engendered the French industry’s fascination with it.  It’s both understandable and forgivable, and the film isn’t bad either.

ACT vs. SAT Math Sections

Whether you are an interested parent or prospective student, there have been many changes to the SAT and ACT tests, so it can be difficult to keep track of it all.  As the ACT and SAT Director for Oxford Tutoring, I want to break it down the differences between the ACT and SAT math sections to help you determine which test is right for you.  Without further delay, let’s begin!



The ACT has 60 questions but the source of these questions comes from more areas of math.  Here is a chart for the ACT:


The SAT has 58 questions and more than half of it is focused on algebra-based concepts.  Here is a chart of what percentage of each math subject can be found on the SAT.sat-math-chart


The ACT has one big section with 60 questions and 60 minutes.  That means, to get it all done, on average, you only have 1 minute per question. This is quite a bit less than what you have on the SAT.

The SAT is divided into two math sections.  The first section requires you to complete 20 questions in 25 minutes, and the second section contains 38 questions to be finished in 55 minutes.  This gives you 1 minute and 15 seconds per question for the first section, and 1 minute and 30 seconds per question for the second section.

Order of Difficulty

The ACT always has the first 20 questions as easy, the next 20 are medium, and the last 20 are considered difficult.  Their questions are a lot more direct, and will look more similar to math questions seen in school.

The SAT, on the other hand, somewhat follows a pattern of difficulty with questions in the beginning generally, but not always, being easier than the questions at the end.  The majority of the questions on the SAT require strong reading and analysis skills, and then once you have figured out what the question is asking, then you can proceed to solve the problem.

Although the difficulty does not directly affect the scoring, it does help people plan on how much time to spend on a question.

Calculator Usage

For the ACT, you will be able to use your calculator for the entire math section.   So there will be some questions that require use of a calculator, but it is useful to remember that not every question will need it.

One of the reasons the SAT has two math sections is that the first one is a non-calculator section and the second one allows calculator utilization.  So, strong arithmetic and mental math skills are very helpful with this section since you cannot check your answers with a calculator.   It also requires you to manipulate formulas to make the mental math easier.

Answer Options

The ACT will always have 5 multiple choice options to choose from when answering.

The SAT has either 4 multiple choice options or free response where the student must write on the answer.


The SAT also has few formulas given in the beginning of each math section, whereas the ACT does not provide any formulas.

Guessing Penalty

There is no guessing penalty for either test.

Final Verdict

Overall, students who are good problem solvers usually prefer the SAT compared to the ACT.  For them, it is easier to quickly solve the problem and it is less strain of a strain than the ACT.

An ideal candidate for the SAT will have covered math through Algebra 2, and likes riddles, or games like Sudoku.

Students who prefer more common math problems and have a diverse math background prefer the ACT because the questions are easier to process, and require more of the math skills than analytical skills.

An ideal candidate for the ACT will have covered math through Pre-calculus, and can recall formulas from previous math classes.

Want to make sure you find the test that is right for you?  Take a ACT or SAT diagnostic test at Oxford Tutoring.  (949) 681-0388.


David Lord


Meet the author: David Lord is the SAT and ACT Director and Math and Science Instructor at Oxford Tutoring Center in Orange County, California. He has helped hundreds of students achieve the SAT and ACT test scores they want and accepted into their desired college. He reaches his students through challenging them and asking questions to make sure they are absorbing the material they are being taught.

Spotlight on Tom Beeman – Oxford Tutoring Tutor

written by Tom Beeman – Spanish tutor at Oxford Tutoring

Tutoring is a great experience for everyone involved in it.  For the student, it gives them the added help they need either to close the learning gaps or to further their knowledge outside of what is provided in the classroom.  But the positivity that comes from tutoring also applies to the tutor as well.  Having been a tutor at Oxford for almost 3 years I have experienced these joys first-hand.

As a high school teacher, I do my best to reach all my students, but with the large numbers in each class, it is difficult to meet the individual needs to each student.  However, tutoring gives me a great opportunity to spend a full hour just with one student focusing on the needs of only that student.  Tutoring Spanish gives me the opportunity not just to assist with completing any assignments the student has, but it gives me an opportunity to re-teach the material to increase long-term retention and application of the language outside the classroom.  It also allows me to provide additional resources for the student to use independently when he/she doesn’t have access to a teacher or tutor.

While I enjoy working with the student who comes in for a one-time session, my biggest satisfaction as a tutor comes from working with long-term students.  This gives me time to assess the students’ skills as well as their needs to be able to help them reach their end goal.  I’ve been fortunate to have a few students who I have been able to tutor over multiple school years.  This long-term tutoring has allowed me to get to know my students’ learning style to better cater my tutoring to meet their needs.  I have had the pleasure of seeing my students grow in their knowledge in the language and comfort level of using it as well.  It’s great when I see a student engaging in the target language without being prompted.  One example has to do with the difference between tennis vs. tennis shoes in Spanish.  The difference between the two is minimal and the first time I taught this to one of my students, it was a serious learning moment.  But over the course of time, it then became an inside joke between the two of us and one of us would bring it up any time sports-related vocabulary would appear.

But to me, being a tutor is not just about helping students with their academics.  It’s also about building a professional rapport with them to help with the whole person.  You get to know their favorite subjects, extracurricular activities they participate in at school, their college and career goals, etc.  Understanding their personalities allows me tailor how I tutor them so that they are learning in a way in which they understand best and they feel like they are being heard.  By helping them with their long-term goals, they become more enthusiastic about tutoring and are more likely to succeed.  It’s great when these students come back after they no longer need tutoring or have graduated from school and tell stories about how they were in a situation where they are able to communicate in Spanish.

For me, tutoring is a natural extension of my career as a teacher. I enjoy working with my tutoring students and seeing them grow as much as I do my classroom students.  One day, I hope they will see the value of tutoring and will become tutors themselves so that they can help others just as I have helped them.

About the Author: A credentialed teacher, Tom Beeman tutors Spanish 1 -3 and Spanish AP. He enjoys working one-on-one with his students to help them learn that it is possible to become fluent in a second language.  When he is not tutoring, he enjoys spending time with his friends and attending teacher conferences to improve his skills as a teacher and a tutor.

Students Ask the Darnedest Things

In the last few minutes of a session, I had a student hit me with this question, just out of the blue:

Does anyone have one googol dollars?

For those who aren’t familiar with “googol”, it’s actually not a misspelling of everyone’s favorite verbed search engine. It’s this very large number:
… or, with commas:
… because those commas, of course, make all the difference.

It’s probably for the better I wasn’t taking a sip of water when this question came up, since I almost did the dry version of the classic spit-take, but I caught myself in time, paused, and instead said, “… Ok, well, let’s have some fun with this.”

Hint? You’re going to have about as much luck cashing one of these…

The average dollar bill weighs 1 gram. For ease of transport, dollar bills come in “straps”, or bundles of 100. We’re going to do ourselves a couple favors and say (1) that we’re only going to use $100 bills, to minimize the number of dollar bills we will have to create, and (2) the paper strips holding the straps magically have no mass. Sure, this is entirely wrong, but, trust me, we’re going to need all the mass we can have available for $100 bills.


According to the US Federal Reserve, there were 38.1 billion currency notes in circulation in 2015. While this doesn’t just mean dollar bills (it could include other valid notes of value), this provides us our first estimate: If we convert all of these notes up to $100… we’re nowhere close. That would give us $3.81 trillion, which gets us a paltry 3.81 x 10^-88 percent of the way there. In numbers?

This clearly won’t do, not if we’re trying to become the richest person ever known, and quite possibly in past, present, and future, at that. So, let’s do something mathemagical here.

Our home, good old Planet Earth, has a mass of 5.972 × 10^24 kg, or in grams like our money, 5.972 × 10^27 g. I’ll spare you writing out the big number, but that number, in grams, is also exatcly how many $100 bills we could have if we could turn every single atom of the Earth into $100 bills (this is where we put the “magic” in “mathemagical” – this would take ridiculous amounts of energy that we’re going to magically ignore the need for right now). By doing so, we get a grand total of $5.972 × 10^29. We also now lack for a place to store all of these $100 bills (one of the downsides of no longer having a planet), but I’m sure we can just grab a spare black hole for a wallet. Unfortunately, we need 70-and-a-half more zeroes, so we’re going to need some more mass…

… so we’re going to use the entire Solar System!

But it turns out this doesn’t actually help too much more. The Sun, all the planets, every moon, and all sorts of other objects like asteroids and comets and other items (oh my!) comes to a collective mass of 1.991 x 10^33 grams, or $1.991 x 10^35 dollars, and we’re still just under 65 zeroes too short. Can we go bigger?

Of course! Our Solar System isn’t just floating around in space. It sits on a far arm of the Milky Way galaxy, which has a mass of 1.153 x 10^45 grams. I’m going to guess now though, my savvy reader, that you’ve caught on to the pattern – the number of dollars is two more than the number on 10^##. At $1.153 x 10^47 dollars, we’re just under half the number of digits!

And this is where we reach the point of impossibility. Best estimates state that there are on the order of 100 billion galaxies, and even if we take all of these into account, we’re going to need some of that as-yet-undiscovered dark matter to get things to work – converting every single galaxy, with generous estimates, only gets us to approximately $1.153 x 10^58 dollars. To put this titanic number into perspective, compared to our $1 googol? Halfway to $1 googol would be $5 x 10^99.

At this point, it’s safe to say we’re not going to get $1 googol. If we somehow could get this to work though, we wouldn’t have a planet to put it on. We might be able, somehow, to arrange in space, but this much money just might make for the strangest galaxy of them all…

Money Galaxy.png
Money Galaxy


About the Author: Jason Orens – a Math and Computer Science Instructor, has been tutoring with Oxford Tutoring for over nine years.  Utilizing the student’s existing knowledge and a touch of humor, Jason strives to remove students mental barriers between themselves and the difficult, technical materials.  He combines his years of tutoring experience and expertise in the fields of Math and Computer Science to give his students the tools they need to succeed in these challenging classes.

Thank You, Jim Trelease! – The Power of Reading Aloud to Children

Picture copy.jpg
My son, Matt, reading to my four grandchildren.

Reading aloud to my four children is one of the fondest memories I have of their growing up years.  They are all adults now with their own families and busy lives, but I have wonderful memories of cuddling on the couch with them, reading stories together, watching their eyes light up as we traveled to other lands and other times through story.

As a teacher, reading to my children seemed a natural part of the parenting process.  Even when they were babies, they would sit on my lap as we enjoyed books like Pat the Bunny.  As they grew older, we graduated to story books.  Some were fairy tales, some were Bible stories, but all were chances to bond together over printed word. They had their favorites that they asked to be read to them over and over and over. We went to our local library’s story time and listened to books read aloud that we would then books that we checked out to take home to enjoy again and again.

However, it’s a common belief that when a child begins reading on his or her own, there is no longer a need for parents to read aloud to their children.  I confess that I held that same view until I met Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook. He was advertised as a guest speaker at our local library.  The title of his book sounded intriguing, so I went to hear what he had to say.

I am so glad that I did.

Jim Trelease’s idea that reading aloud can and should continue long after a child is an independent reader powerfully impacted both my parenting approach to reading as well as my own teaching  philosophy.  His belief was that children will be excited about reading if we are excited about reading.  They will think it’s fun if we think it’s fun. That evening, Trelease read aloud to us, an adult audience, the Bernard Waber classic, Ira Sleeps Over. He read it with energy, enthusiasm and wonderful vocal animation.  That’s all it took.  I was hooked!

Read-alouds became a fixed part of our family routine.  We cried together through books like Where the Red Fern Grows, laughed together through books like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and experienced the  thrills and adventure of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.  I am happy to report that I have raised children who love to read.

Now, as a grandmother, I am enjoying reading some of those same familiar stories to my six grandchildren.  What is even more rewarding to me is that my children are reading to their children; the torch has been passed!

I have never forgotten the way Jim Trelease closed his evening talk, reading from a poem by Stickland Gillian, titled “The Reading Mother.”

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.

About the Author: Kathy H. is a tutor at Oxford Tutoring who enjoys tutors because she can make a difference in the lives of her students.  Her goal is to make learning fun by teaching to each student’s unique method of learning.  For fun, she likes to read, binge-watch TV shows on Netflix, serve at her church, and spend time with her grandchildren.