Monday, February 28, 2011

WBD Survey 10

World Book Day 2011 is on Thursday - lots of recommendations are coming in via our survey, which you can contribute to here. It looks as if there will be many more posts on 'If I had to recommend one book, it would be ...' Here are five more such recommendations:

woodrowbound: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I loved the characters in this story, the historical context, the bigotry from both black and white women and the sense of justice was a cracking read and now being turned into a film. Set in the 1960s, around the time of racial discontent, Dr Martin Luther King and the KKK, it tells the story of African -American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi.

The novel is told from the perspective of three characters: Aibileen Clark, a middle-aged African-American maid who has spent her life raising white children and has recently lost her only son; Minny Jackson, an African-American maid who has often offended her employers despite her family's struggles with money and her desperate need for jobs; and Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a young white woman who has recently moved back home after graduating college to find out her childhood maid has mysteriously disappeared. These three stories intertwine to explain how life in Jackson, Mississippi revolves around "the help"; yet they are always kept at a certain distance because of racial lines.

Patricia: The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
A paean to life, love and loss, it made me glad to be alive.

Adam: Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Martial Art Maths Monks who save the future!  This book changed how I thought about fiction. It is an amazing story, a fantastic adventure, a sprawling, epic science fiction story. The discovery of the plot, along with the characters, makes the actual book a fascinating look at maths. Along with many world theory, quantum mechanics … Also - Martial Art Maths Monks who save the future! What else do you need to know?

halfajack: Orlando by Virginia Woolf
It's probably the most accessible of Woolf's novels.  It is a wonderful piece of fantasy exploring gender roles and expectations.  

@ebd35 : To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of the books which should be on everyone's must-read list!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

WBD Survey 9

More recommendations from the World Book Day 2011 survey.

George: The Rabbit Quartet, by John Updike
Outstanding writing, believable characters and memorable scenes.  This is an accessible and absorbing quartet which is highly recommended.

Anon: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
A brilliant insight into the caste system in India - taking the reader from rural India into the city through the eyes of two leather workers who try to buck the system. Their fate is hanging in a very fine balance.

TREE - Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
It is an amalgam of so many different genres and from beginning to end is as enigmatic as the eponymous 'heroine'. A superb read.

Anon - Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Just finished this book.  Very good.  Have started to read it all over again!  Story of twins from the time their mother arrived in Africa till their 50th birthday.  Very interesting with some history thrown in (though not very accurate dates).  

Friday, February 25, 2011

WBD Survey 8

More recommendations from the World Book Day 2011 survey.
Laura Nicosia: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
This is one of the best series I've EVER read- it is written with a craftsman's hand and pushes the boundaries of YA and dystopian fiction in ways that engage all readers and touch lives.

Tristan Clarke: Talk to the Snail (e.g.) by Stephen Clarke
He writes about modern France and its relations to the wider world from a froeign, specifically british, point of view. His writing is accurate but hilarious. It rekindles an interest in French culture that may have been quashed through grammar exercises and French politics!

Kel: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
The protagonist is a kick-butt teenager named Astrid who fights killer unicorns and finds herself in the process. I'm always looking for a good literary role model for my female high school students.

Michael: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Anne Barrow
It has history, biography and it is a very human book!

emmao: A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
Simple, easy read, inspiring, contemporary

Thursday, February 24, 2011

WBD Survey 7

More recommendations from the World Book Day 2011 survey.

Ms Smith: Death and Nightingales by Eugene McCabe
This isn't strictly my favourite book - but a book I think anyone who is familiar with the Irish landscape should read. Its story startles and moves, and the characters are simply unforgettable: I have the feeling that they're lurking low in the ditches of Fermanagh right now.

Neil : Old School, by Tobias Wolff
This novel is a book about the joys of reading and writing, the story it tells is simple yet profound, and its spare style means that it seems there is a not a word in it that is wasted.

@NL_84 : The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick
The most "different" book I've read in quite a while! It's not too often that a book grabs me and refuses to let go, but that's what happened with this delightful novel. Get it, read it, you won't be disappointed.

healigan: Beowulf
Perfect, intoxicating, authentic, powerful. Just one of my all-time favorite stories. I want to BE Beowulf. I love that he does not waste time talking, and he is confident without being arrogant. He is not afraid, NOT AFRAID, ever. He never hesitates. He know what needs to be done and does it. Life is never that simple now. He is sure, loyal, and invincible: and he uses his gifts to protect and serve others. If ever the world needed an example of what it means to be a hero, this is the time.  And Beowulf is the hero.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

WBD Survey 6

An open invitation to all visitors to SCC English: fill in our World Book Day 2011 survey here. Below are some recommendations already in...

dippy dwynwen : The Crucible by Arthur Miller It's perfect! Exquisite language, fabulous characters, weighty themes. Plot and drama all cooked up in a hot, hot crucible.

Jonesey (SCC Staff) : A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson It's an excellent read that looks at the history of scientific discovery as well as the history of the universe. It's eminently readable and enjoyable. There is also a children's version of the book; both versions are available in our library!

CarolKW: A Family Affair, by Tony Parsons
Good modern day fiction about the trials and tribulations of three sisters in Britain today.

Anseo a Mhuinteoir : Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
It's an old classic that as a child I loved and would recommend to anyone in that coming of age stage. There is not a single character who can come close to Anne Shirley and not a book in the world can compare in regards to character development, story line and enjoyment to any young reader or readers reliving their youth!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WBD Survey 5

Four more recommendations from our World Book Day survey. You can contribute here.

boscolib : The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do
Why? Because it's a reminder to us that we share a common humanity and we should all be a little kinder. It's written by an Australian comedian who was also a "boat person". His brother became Young Australian of the Year. Their journey from Vietnamese refugees to successful Australians wasn't easy, but Anh tells the story with humour and hope. I'm not sure if will hit the bookstores in Ireland. I enjoy your tweets - inspiring stuff!

Anonymous (SCC Pupil) : The Alchemist, by Michael Scott
Yeah it's a great book and I recommend it to peoples of all ages!

Anne: anything by Alexander McCall Smith
Life-affirming gentle humour.

AnaT : Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult
It has everything...tension, believable characters you can relate to, a familiar school setting, and above all it gives a true insight into the minds of teenagers and what motivates them to act the way they do. The narrative is pacy and the situations simply cannot help but keep turning the pages on! I missed that one when I finished it!

Monday, February 21, 2011

WBD Survey 4

More recommendations from our World Book Day survey - hop on board here....

Dana Huff: Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly
I haven't read a book lately that grabbed me so quickly and wouldn't let go like Revolution. It's a great story with great pop culture references, a smart heroine, and interesting locales.

Eloise-Louise: How To Live: A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell
The title is, I assume humorous. How to Cook, How to Play Cribbage, How to Live to a Hundred...  How to Live is based on the life and writings of the 16th century essayist Michel de Montaigne.  Montaigne, his life, his times and the philosophy of his Essays are explored by Sarah Bakewell in  a witty and readable way. This book is highly entertaining and quite persuasive about the big questions. Montaigne loved to think about how to die - ironic in terms of the title! This was my favourite part of the book. It seems he was the first person to write about everyday life and his own feelings in an intimate way.

@fboss: A Teaspoon and an Open Mind - The Science of Dr. Who by Michael White

Great combination of fact-based science and thoughts on what might be - and you can't top the Dr.

Friday, February 18, 2011

WBD Survey 3

Half-term begins today; we resume term on Monday 28th February. Meanwhile, we'll continue to post the many book recommendations we're getting through our World Book Day survey, leading up the day itself on Thursday 3rd March. Here are four more:

Mags: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
It lets me know where I stand in the universe. I read it again every year once now, and feel better each time - even though I promptly forget most of the details. The scientific explanations are accessible and told with gentle irony. I love it.

Scotty : Kensuke's Kingdom, by Michael Morpurgo

This book was inspiring to read at a young age. It is a true story about a boy left in the wilderness. I recommend it to anyone, for this book looks at the lives that other people live and the huge differences to ours.

tse : Of Marriageable Age, by Scott Maas

There are 3 story lines in this that you can't quite connect until 3/4 of the way through.
When one character finally catches a glimpse of one of the other characters you know and love, it's just pure magic!

@fellfromatree: No Time For Goodbyes by Linwood Barclay

The book has a very intricate plot line, and so many twists and turns that I couldn't bring myself to put it down...I just HAD to know what was coming next!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WBD Survey 2

More recommendations from our World Book Day 2011 Survey:

CIC: The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Ogawa Yoko
A simple story, beautifully told, about love, loss... and maths!

David - : Persona Non Grata, by Jorge Edwards
In 1970 Jorge Edwards was sent by socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende as his country's first envoy to break the diplomatic blockade that had sealed Cuba for over a decade.
His arrival coincided with the turning point of the Revolution, when Castro began to repress the very intellectuals he once courted. In Kafkaesque detail, Edwards records the four explosive months he spent in Havana trying to open a Chilean embassy and his disenchantment with the revolution. Jorge Edwards will be in Dublin, the 3rd of March at the Instituto Cervantes and the 4rd of March at the Dublin Book Festival.

carlaleeB : To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (which we're currently studying with our Transition Year)
This book changed my life as a very young person. As a classic it has been loved by many over the decades but for me it is timeless. It made me aware of injustice and the power of love and friendship on a global level. It tweaked my interest in and love for both History and English. The characters wove a spell over me that has not been broken to this day. I have re-read it many times and secretly cherish the moments when a pupil I teach discovers its magic. I have some wonderful artistic representations of the novel and its many themes that were created by students adorning my classroom wall. Students always ask about the book. There are many truly great books in the world but for me it's this one from my childhood that lingers still.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

WBD Survey 1

We're marking World Book Day 2011 (Thursday 3rd March) partly by conducting a survey of readers to this blog, including pupils, staff, parents and other visitors from around the world. We'd be delighted if you filled it in here - it'll only take a couple of minutes.

Here's the first post on recommendations from this survey, and more will appear regularly in the coming weeks. Some respondents are leaving their real name, or a Twitter name, or a nickname. Others are anonymous. Do join in!

1. Vicky Loras : Istanbul, by Orhan Pamuk
I love this book for the reason that Pamuk does not only describe the city as if you would only go to travel there. He describes his whole life there, the history, the customs and mentality. I fell in love with this city just by reading the book!

2. Naomi : The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norman Jester
I loved this when I was growing up. I enjoyed this book so much with my own boys and read it a few times on my own. A combination of “delicious” use of language and ideas that are so true, relate to life so well!  One example: a child who grows from top down, and wonders how we do it our way! The older you get you keep seeing things from a different perspective when you grow UP but when you grow DOWN your perspective doesn’t change. What a great discussion-opener with children!

3. Anonymous : The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger.
It's the ultimate coming-of-age novel that every teenager should read. At first it may seem dated but it deals with the anxieties associated with growing up and finding one's identity and there is something in Holden that everyone can relate to, regardless of era and geography.

'Gizmo' review

Cast of 'Gizmo'
Last weekend's Junior Play production of Gizmo by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Mr Jameson and Dr Stone, was a great success, and here Kezia Wright of Transition Year (she took a leading part in last year's play) reviews it: 

The 2011 Junior Play, Gizmo, was a production that displayed hard work, dedication, skill and at the same time was extremely humorous. Gizmo by English playwright Alan Ayckbourn is a one-act play, telling the story of Ben Mason, who, having been paralysed from witnessing a shooting, is aided by a new technological device called “Gizmo”. This Gizmo comes in the form of a rather chunky wrist-watch, yet this gadget enables Ben to move. However, he can only move in sync with the wearer of the wristwatch. Thus trouble comes about, as the wrist-watch falls into the wrong hands and is misused; poor Ben is at its mercy.

The play was a challenging one as the blocking was extremely technical, due to the synchronisation of movements being central to the plot. I think that it is a great tribute to the actors to have been able to convey both the humorous nature of the play yet still have performed with such great skill.

Read Kezia's full review here, and see a slide-show of photos here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

General Election Manifestos via Wordle

We've started using Wordle to examine public speeches and documents; these are useful for many subjects. In English, they're a fine way of starting to examine public rhetoric, and 'official' language. Look previously at President Obama's Tucson speech (compared to Sarah Palin), the 2010 Irish budget, and the Irish 'Four Year Plan'.

Fine Gael have just published their 2011 Irish General Election manifesto, completing the party line-up of documents. So here are the manifestos of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party, and Sinn Féin for comparison (looking for The Socialist Party one still). As always, click on the images for larger views. The larger the word, the more it is used in the document. Some might be interested in the relative smallness of 'Fianna Fáil' in that party's manifesto. Comments welcome below the post (moderated).
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Labour Party
Sinn Féin
The Green Party

Monday, February 14, 2011

World Book Day 2011 survey

World Book Day this year on Thursday 3rd March, and as usual we'll be marking it at St Columba's in a variety of ways. One of these is a survey of reading habits of pupils, staff, parents, and other visitors to this blog, so in the weeks leading up to the day itself, we're encouraging as many people as possible to contribute.

Just go to the form embedded below, or here, or at the top of the right-hand column, and take a few minutes. We'll report on recommendations over the next three weeks, and afterwards produce some statistics. You can leave your real name, or a nickname, or neither. Thanks!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our TinyLetter

Roses are red, violets are blue, and our second 'TinyLetter' e-newsletter will go out to you... on Monday, Valentine's Day. Blog news, department news, books, technology and more.

Still time to sign up, here.

Professor Terry Dolan with Marion Finucane

A week ago our friend Professor Terry Dolan gave a powerful and moving interview with Marion Finucane on her RTÉ Radio 1 programme about the stroke he suffered three years ago. Click here to listen. Terry has given talks to generations of Columbans on subjects such as Hiberno-English, American English and slang.

And two more links: Terry's discussion of the great poet Geoffrey Chaucer on one of our podcasts and Stroke Ireland's site (including the F.A.S.T. campaign).

Friday, February 11, 2011

CESI 2011

Last Saturday SCC English and The Frog Blog travelled to Portlaoise for the annual CESI conference. Click here for our joint presentation. Today, an article in the Irish Times by Marie Boran features both blogs, and Humphrey Jones has just written a post about the conference in his blog More Stress Less Success.

'Gizmo', the 2011 Junior Play

This year's Junior Play, Gizmo by Alan Ayckbourn, will be performed tonight and tomorrow night at 7pm in the Big Schoolroom. Originally written for youth performances, "set in the near future, it is about an amazing device which when fitted allows a body to be controlled by someone else - it is intended as a medical device for paralyzed people. Naturally, the controller falls into the wrong hands and the device is used for criminal purposes - with an unwitting host in tow."

Our production is directed by Jeremy Stone and Evan Jameson, and features Mark Agar as the paralyzed Ben, as well as Eleanor Dolphin, Catie McGonagle, Zach Stephenson, Marta Perez-Pla, Jamie Boyd, Hugo Hollis, Annika Franz, Rachel Rogers, Ugo Onwurah, Ben Traill, Ludo Stewart, Siobhan Brady, Molly Dunne, John Clarke, Samuel Clarke and Brendan Dickerson.

We will post a review by a Transition Year pupil here next week.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

10 Characters from 'Hamlet': 4,5: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

The fourth and fifth characters in our series dealing with relatively minor characters in Hamlet are the inseparable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the Laurel and Hardy of Elsinore Castle.

Get our Audioboos as podcasts on iTunes here. Our Audioboo page is here. Listen to today's talk via the player below.

Friday, February 04, 2011

CESI Conference 2011

Tomorrow, SCC English and The Frog Blog will be giving a joint presentation at the CESI annual conference in Portlaoise, called 'Building and Growing a Subject Blog'. Our Prezi can be seen embedded below, and you can click here for a handy sheet of links which we'll be referring to in our talk.

Click here for the conference's programme. As usual, the CESI committee have lined up lots of really interesting talks and workshops for those interested in technology's applications in Irish education.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

CESI Conference Programme 2011

Tomorrow, we'll post our Prezi presentation and a sheet of information here related to our joint appearance with the Frog Blog at the Computers in Education Society of Ireland annual conference in Portlaoise on Saturday. Meanwhile, here's the programme, below, via Issuu.


Alex Barnes-Auld from Mr Canning's II form set wrote a tense story called 'Shadows' in prep. It starts:

Walking down a dimly light road in the middle of a city with not a soul in sight does kind of scare me a little. The black tarmac with long gashes stripping it of smoothness and replacing it with holes and dips. The massive skyscrapers reaching out into the clouds like a hand reaching for the jar at the top of the shelf. That last office light clicking for the last time until the next morning. The silence is louder than a bustling crowd. The moon sitting comfortably in the sky. A massive eye watching us during the night...

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Looking Back at the Celtic Tiger

VI formers are currently preparing for their Mock exams. Part of this preparation is thinking about their composition topics, and practising writing on these. It seems particularly appropriate, given the circumstances which have led up to the calling of a General Election today, to post now Sebastian McAteer’s take on the Celtic Tiger.

This essay was written on the topic “… my take on recent history …” Write a personal essay in which you discuss your views on a recent event or series of
events in the world, which was one of the Higher Level questions in 2005.

I feel that the Celtic Tiger is one of the most remarkable features of recent European history. In a period of extraordinary economic growth, Ireland transformed from an underachieving, backwards, theocratic, agricultural nation into the economic jewel of Western Europe. This economic boom had a tumultuous effect on Irish society and the change in the structure of the Irish social hierarchy was simply fascinating.

For the majority of the 20th century, Ireland was a backwater. The promised land of political independence had been reached but this finally-sovereign state experienced serious economic stagnation and extreme religious piety. Ireland remained on the geographical and political fringes of Europe and the only remarkable thing about the island was the huge number of people who didn’t want to live on it, as illustrated by the remarkably high emigration rate.

For a country that had been founded on such high ideals and with such hope for the future, it seemed destined to remain economically and socially stagnant. However this was soon to change and this change came about by the passing of one law. During the early 1990’s, Irish corporation tax was 35%, the European average. However, in the 1998 Budget, Fianna Fail made the momentous decision to reduce it to a much more internationally competitive rate of 12.5% and in doing so, changed the fate of Ireland forever.

The reduction of this tax caused the multinational companies of the world to stop work and stare greedily at Ireland. They moved quickly: the word was spreading fast, that Ireland, with its low taxes, educated, English-speaking workforce and the perfect springboard location for an assault on the European markets was the new investment destination. Ireland welcomed them with open arms.

The effect was instantaneous. Irish tax revenue exploded, ballooning into billions of euro as the multinationals arrived, set up camp and started employing hundreds of thousands of people to build computers, Swedish furniture and answer phones. Economic prosperity caused the population to explode as people finally felt the necessary financial security to have another child. After seventy years of near poverty and frugality, the Irish people embraced their newly inflated pay cheques whole-heartedly and started spending. Handbags, cars, wallpaper and houses, especially houses.

Now, it could be expected that, considering the huge injection of cash into the country, Ireland’s famously corrupt political classes would be able to wean themselves off dipping into the state’s coffers as the period was characterized by TD’s passing laws to give themselves pay rises. Alas no. It got worse. Fianna Fail took the philosophy that since there was so much more of the Irish taxpayer’s money floating about, that it would be less likely to be missed when they used it to buy their second newly-constructed home in Ballsbridge.

In the midst of this hysterical consumer spending and blatant political corruption, the economy began to slow down. In 2002, after almost ten years of constant growth, the Irish economy gave a small hiccup. However, this hiccup was heard throughout the country as government ministers paused from piling gold bars into the trunks of their brand new cars to listen. It would also be reasonable to expect that now, after a good, long run, the politicians of Ireland would accept that the good times were over and would begin to curb spending so as to return the economy to safe, sustainable growth.

This did not happen. Obviously worried about how they would pay the charges on their multiple offshore bank accounts, the government slashed interest rates to encourage lending and the Irish economy entered into a frantic, unhealthy overdrive. The banks were finally free to pursue the same level of profits that had been granted to the multinationals almost ten years previously and they seized the opportunity.

The frantic spending of the early noughties was to be remembered fondly compared to the cloud of hysteria that infected Irish consumers after this. Loans from the freed banks to the construction sector caused the price of houses to sky-rocket which in turn created a new class of nouveau-riche property developers who seized the social status long vacated by the priesthood, the Irish upper classes. They took advantage of the next fad in Irish consumerism as banks began to hand out 110% mortgages, desperate to secure a quarterly profit. Ireland became a country of the crane and the immigrant electrician, the rural housing estate and the interior designer. Houses were appearing around the country like bamboo forests as the banks poured money into the economy.

The Irish public tried to keep up with demand but the houses were coming too fast. All around the country was the news that your roommate from college had just bought a twelve-bedroom Georgian palace in Kilkenny or your eastern European maid had purchased a semi-detached in Drumcondra. Property was the new poker and everyone was playing.

Then, in 2008, the US sub-prime mortgage situation unravelled and the supply of foreign money into Anglo-Irish Bank dried up. The boom was over. People were shocked. They looked to the politicians and cried accusingly, “You said it would be a soft landing! I have a €400,000 mortgage and I’m signing on for the dole. What do I do?” In reply, the politicians retreated silently to their Southside mansions, also mourning the loss of the boom and considering how this unfortunate loss of growth would affect their Christmas bonus. The Celtic Tiger had died a true death and there was no way it could be resurrected.

What are we left with? A spiralling budget deficit as the government struggle to cope with paying off the 110% mortgages that Anglo-Irish were so fond of. A political class who are scratching their head and wondering what they did wrong. A desperate unemployment situation. Negative equity. Debt.

These are the souvenirs of the Celtic Tiger but surely there are positives? Did the government use their astronomical budget surplus in 2004 to invest in state of the art health and education systems? World-class infrastructure?

No. The money that could have prevented children being taught in portacabins or stopped pensioners lying on hospital gurneys for days on end is either tied up in worthless property, being used to bail out greedy bankers or is otherwise unaccounted for.

This is the legacy of the Celtic Tiger. It revolutionized Ireland. It gave the Irish people disposable income and the consumer goods to spend it on. It raised them out of poverty and into newly built homes. It gave them hope for a better future and improved lifestyle. Then, the economy collapsed, we were thrown out of the newly-built homes and can we honestly say we benefitted from those ten years of constant economic growth? I certainly don’t think so.