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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Book Review: The True Story of Fala


Photo Courtesy of: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Becoming an educator is about finding balance within your classroom. In order to successfully reach out to your students, you must be able to find the balance between education and excitement. Once we lose our students due to lack of interest, it becomes very difficult to pull them back in.

            As I spent the past few weeks at the Teaching the Hudson Valley 2015 Institute at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, I began to question how to always keep my students interested in subjects that may come across as “boring” to them, such as history. I firmly believe boredom strikes as soon as children feel that they cannot relate to some of the events that occurred throughout history. But one thing that young students can relate to are peaked areas of interest, such as animals or various hobbies. As I strolled through the Presidential Library, I came across an exhibit of F.D.R.’s beloved companion, Fala. As I read the various descriptions of objects in the exhibit, it occurred to me that Fala is a great way to get children engaged in learning about Franklin D. Roosevelt and his legacy.

I came across The True Story of Fala in the New Deal Bookstore during the 2015 Teaching the Hudson Valley Summer Institute. As I scanned through the book, I noticed it was very detailed, with many high-quality, authentic photographs taken of Fala alongside many beautiful drawings. Also, I noted that the short length of a novel is great to keep the attention of a younger audience.

The book follows a timeline of Fala’s life, from when he was brought to F.D.R. by Margaret Suckley, better known as ‘Daisy,’ all the way to the First Washington Conference in 1941. It tells the true story of how Fala was not just given the role of ‘The Informer’ by the Secret Service, but how he had to earn it by being broken into his role of ‘Presidential Dog.’ It also documents the many journeys of F.D.R. during his Presidency with Fala by his side the whole way during some of the most important meetings of F.D.R.’s time in office.

To many, Fala was simply the faithful companion of F.D.R. However, Fala, too, had many admirers, some of whom even wrote him fan letters after he became a part of “Barkers for Britain,” which was created to collect supplies for the U.K. After, the fan letters started coming to him rapidly, some of which are featured in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library in Hyde Park. As a treat to his fans, Fala would personally stamp the reply letter with his paw.

Over the years as F.D.R.’s fame skyrocketed, many famous figures would visit with the President at the White House or his home in Hyde Park. Of course, Fala was always right by his side entertaining everyone with his various tricks and his friendly personality. Within The True Story of Fala, we are able to see photographs of Fala’s time spent with some of the President’s infamous visitors of the White House and Springwood.

Courtesy of Black Dome Press and Wilderstein, The True Story of Fala provides all audiences with a different view of history. It provides detailed dialogue and a short length, factual novel to enthuse young readers of the subject, and high-quality photographs of what we now know to be the journey through the great legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lastly, courtesy of Margaret Suckley, we are lucky to know the true story of Fala.

-Kimberly Gomez

My Day at THV – Emily Lombardo

My day at THV… July 28, 2015 –Emily Lombardo

Teaching the Hudson Valley (THV), launched in 2003 and with the mission of helping, “explore and share the region’s natural, historic, and cultural treasures with children and youth while fostering collaboration between schools and informal learning places such as museums, historic sites, and parks”.  On the morning of July 28th museum personnel, students, educators (with varying specialties and grade level associations), individuals from libraries and history organizations, along with environmental societies and lifelong learners gathered in the Henry A. Wallace visitor and education center at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

The conference this year was titled, “Teaching for Engagement in the Hudson Valley, The Next 100 Years Depend on It: Discovering the tools to understanding culture, environment, and history.”  The first day of the conference consisted of two keynote speakers (Philip Yenawine speaking on Visual Thinking Strategies, and Jimmy Karlan speaking on Plot Based Science Education).  A variety of workshops were offered with topics including, Eleanor Roosevelt, Climate Change, Community Engagement, and Civic Literacy Projects. The collection of workshops allowed for diverse group of attendees to choose topics, which best related to their fields.

The first of the two keynote presentations for the day was given by Philip Yenawine, co-founder, Visual Thinking Strategies, and author of Key Art Terms for Beginners as well as his latest book titled Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a research based method ( focused on teacher-facilitated discussions of art images.  The strategy addresses the Common Core Standards of oral and written language literacy and visual literacy along with improving critical thinking skills.  Yenawine provided the audience of learners with an example of how the strategy operates with the group acting ass students and he as the teacher.  He displayed the following image on the projector and without giving the title or providing any background information, asking only the following prompt: “What’s going on in this picture?”

“David Johnson, “View from Garrison, West Point, New York,” 1870, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Patsy Lacy Griffith Collection, gift of Patsy Lacy Griffith by exchange, and General Acquisitions Fund, 2012.6”


The audience responded to the prompt with general responses such as serenity and comparing the image to the Hudson River Valley.  After each response Yenawine challenged the individual participant to justify his or her response rather than simply confirming.  The discussion was open ended and the audience developed a comfort level with the strategy.  There was a sense of security and lack of pressure in that there was no wrong answer as long as an opinion could be supported with evidence. Yenawine concluded his discussion by asking for feedback and offering the following quote about the strategy: “You can’t learn to think unless you are allowed to do it.” The VTS strategy is already differentiated and learners are still active and engaged from their seats, offering natural engagement and scaffolding. The goal of the strategy is to develop critical thinking skills and for students to learn how to think.  VTS can easily be adapted in a variety of subject areas, as a “do now”, a closure activity or a longer engagement activity during a lesson.

                  The workshop I attended in the first session of the day was, Community Engagement: Partnership and Participation led by Mary Liz Stewart a founder of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, in Albany.  Mary Liz Stewart began her presentation by displaying the following quote on the projector, “Learn the Past, Be the Present, Create the Future.”  She told the group about how her dream of preservation added to the betterment of her community. The Stephen Myers residence in Albany, built in 1847, was restored in 2004 by the organization Stewart and her husband started. She told her audience the story of how she was captivated by the hidden history in her backyard and felt compelled and responsible to share the public history.  She expressed the importance of being present within the community, sharing stories of asking and accepting volunteers of all ages that has improved the community and allowed the local youth to engage with a historic site.  One example of community engagement was the student derived project to plant heritage gardens reflective of the original blueprint of the Johnson house in the lot adjacent to the Myers residence in Albany. The following is a link to the website associated with the organization and their youth outreach programs:

Plot based science image

The second keynote speaker was Jimmy Karlan, director, Science Teacher Certification, Antioch New England, and senior project manager, Wild Treasures: Sustainability, Naturally, spoke on teaching science using a plot based method, with a talk entitled “Science Education Must Have a Plot!” Karlan compared this method to a PBL (Project Based Learning) strategy, by offering more questions than answers to students.  After teaching the audience about this strategy he provided the following handout to breakdown the methodology.

After conveying the strategy Karlan had each table in the multipurpose room create our own plot based science idea, using an assigned grade level, and disciplinary core idea. The table I was seated at was responsible for creating a plot based science idea on energy for grades 3-5.  As for someone without a higher education background in science I benefitted from the interactive discussion on how this strategy was adopted into a science curriculum.  Upon reflection this strategy could be adapted into a variety of content areas to improve student engagement.

The Advocating for Social Change through Civil Literacy Projects workshop led by the enthusiastic Shira Eve Epstein, author and professor, Dept. of Secondary Education, City University of New York and author of Teaching Civic Literacy Projects: Students Engagement with Social Problem s, Grades 4-12. She discussed her experiences practicing the strategy along with sharing studies of other teachers who also adopted the strategy in their own classrooms. The strategy has three key phases: Phase 1 is problem identification, phase 2 is exploration and research of the selected problem, phase 3 is the action phase where students publicly address the problem seeking to ameliorate it.  The idea is for students to choose a public problem or an issue that they feel effected by to address.  Students then research and attempt to solve or go through the steps of the Civic Literacy Project model learning more about how to solve the particular problem addressed. The discussion was fascinating in the adaptability of the strategy and the student centered learning focus.  The audience brought up the sensitivity of teaching controversial issues in the classroom as they may arise during this learning model. Epstein offered the following book on the subject as a helpful read to teachers who would like more information on teaching controversial or sensitive subjects in the classroom: Controversy in the Classroom by Diana Hess.

My experience this year at THV was overwhelmingly positive in that the information I gained was vast in its subject matter and detailed in their content depth. I enjoyed the variety of course options that allowed me to increase my knowledge that pertained to my individual interests as a future teacher. Locals, professionals, and learners would enjoy this experience and the resources and knowledge it provides.

Teaching the Hudson Valley 2015 Summer Institute

There are many reasons as to why this summer has been one of the best that I have ever had. One of my highlights of this summer was being able to attend this year’s Teaching the Hudson Valley Institute at the beautiful Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Library in historic Hyde Park. If I do say so myself, this year’s program was, by far, the best one I have attended so far due to how relatable it was for me, as both a future teacher and a student.

The opening workshop’s theme of getting students to think critically while engaging in conversation struck me in many ways, as I could relate to it from my childhood experiences in school. Philip Yenawine, co-founder of Visual Thinking Strategies, introduced multiple paintings of different aspects of the Hudson River Valley. After he went around the room asking for the various perspectives, he introduced his reasoning for conducting the activity. In the classroom, teachers need to create an open space for children to speak freely without immediately being told that their opinions are incorrect. Children should have an open space to voice their opinions in various ways and, over time, learn how to think critically about why authors and artists have created a certain perspective.

Being able to relate to this theme of “free conversation” and the benefits it provides to students is a critical aspect of understanding your role as a teacher. A teacher should never put down a student who doesn’t share his or her’s same opinion. Rather, the teacher should ask the students open-ended questions to allow room for critical thinking and opinions, despite being right or wrong. The moment we lose our students to fear of answering, we have a much harder time pulling them back in and hearing an opinion again. As a student, I constantly struggle with being afraid to speak up. I would write down my opinion, but never say it out loud. I was always shot down by other students or a teacher who would assume that I would have the wrong answer. As a future teacher, I vow to always allow room for my children to speak freely without overshadowing their fears by being prepared to tell them they are wrong. I vow to never silence my students’ voices from such fears.

Last but not least, as I was walking around the F.D.R. property, I couldn’t help but feel tempted to go on the Springwood  tour and look around the Presidential Library and Museum as soon as the program was finished for the day. Luckily, I was able to go on multiple tours courtesy of Jeff Urbin and one of his workshops, “Finding Eleanor in the Presidential Museum.”
During “Finding Eleanor in the Presidential Museum,” we not only learned about the partnership between Eleanor and Franklin, but we learned about how Eleanor related to the theme of this year’s institute. Eleanor Roosevelt was like a teacher in many ways. As she traveled around the world for F.D.R., she wanted to see the world for what it really was. She asked the people to tell her what they saw, so she could see things from another perspective without the bias of what she had already seen. Lastly, she wanted everyone to feel special during her time with them. As they talk, she listened. She never interrupted them or told them what she wanted them to believe or think. After Jeff Urbin’s workshop, we were able to walk around the museum and see this for ourselves. Within the museum, there are many exhibits that prove the similarities between a teacher and Eleanor Roosevelt. As a future teacher, she is someone I look up to. I want to view my students in their world and be able to provide the comfort that Eleanor provided to so many others as a leader.

Thank you to everyone from Teaching the Hudson Valley for putting together yet another spectacular summer institute! This truly is a wonderful program that I look forward to every year and learn so much about what it truly means to be asuccessful educator. -Kimberly Gomez

(Photos Courtesy of Bill Urbin, National Park Service)