Friday, March 27, 2015

The Thinking Machine circa 1961

This film is very late 50s, early 60s. Black and white, there's an actor talking to an MIT Professor about digital computers about these new "thinking" machines. The words computer and digital were very exotic at that point.

It's from the “Tomorrow” television series produced by CBS for MIT for MIT’s Centennial in 1961.  Film courtesy of

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Poky Little Puppy

Poky Little Puppy Golden Book
The Poky Little Puppy Golden Book
When I was little, my mom would read me this story or sometimes, she would put on the record of the Poky Little Puppy. I remember it as a gem of a book.

As  look around the web, I realize that this little book is extremely well-known.  Many sites include this same phrase:

One of the original 12 Little Golden Books published in 1942, The Poky Little Puppy has sold nearly 15 million copies since 1942, making it one of the most popular children’s books of all time. Now this curious little puppy is ready to win the hearts and minds of a new generation of kids...It written by   Janette Sebring Lowrey and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren.
"Don't Ever Dig Holes Under this Fence"  from The Poky Little Puppy
"Don't Ever Dig Holes Under this Fence"
from The Poky Little Puppy

My memory of parts of the book runs deep:

And when they got to the top fo the hill, they counted themselves: one, two, three, four. One little puppy wasn't there...

"Now where in the world is that poky little puppy?" they wondered. For he certainly wasn't on top of the hill....

And down they went to see, roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble, till they came to the green grass...

"So you're the little puppies who dig holes under fences!" she said. "No rise pudding tonight!" And she made them go straight to bed."

See related articles on Little Golden Books and Big Little Books.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Vintage School Desks

We all went to school and we all sat at school desks.   We sat at school desks for hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks, months and months, and years and years.

We started sitting at school desks in kindergarten and sat at them for the thirteen years of K-12. I added four more years sitting at school desks for college and then two more for grad school.

Schools desks come in many shapes and sizes.  An amazing moment for many adults is when they visit a kindergarten and they see the teeny tiny little desks. It's hard to imagine how tiny we once were.

One thing that all the school desks seem to have in common is how industrial strength they were.  Strong enough to stand up to years of leaning and banging.  In the old days, they were attached to the floor. I have several in which the back of one row of school desk is the desk for the row behind them.

Contemporary School Desk
When I think about school desks, I remember an odd but true story.

Rural Classroom in Sangmelima, Cameroon, Africa
When I was in my early 20s, I lived in a small town in Southern Cameroon called Sangmelima. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  There was another volunteer in my town who was friends with a local carpenter who we called "Uncle."  Uncle was a little less than responsible and he had a few kids and a wife with a very sharp tongue. One day as we stopped by, we heard her chewing him out for failing to come up with the money for the school fees, apparently their boy had just been sent home from school since the fees were overdue.

Vintage School Desk
Vintage School Desk 
The other volunteer and I quickly loaned him money for the fees and walked with him and his son back to the school to sort things out.

It turns out the problem wasn't just the fees but as the teacher explained and pointed out, she had thirty desks and thirty students. Although he now had the cash, the seats were quite literally, all full.  So Uncle turned on the charm and she finally agreed that if she had more desks and chairs, she would accept the boy back into school. So we went back to Uncles house and it only took him a few hours to build another four school desks. We marched them over to school, set them up, and she accepted him back into school.

When I was young, I went to school  in London and one of our subjects was penmanship.  We had fountain pens that we would fill up with ink from the ink wells and try to carefully copy over our lessons. I was terrible. Ink would blot, I'd have ink all over my hands and sometimes on my desk and clothes. And that was on the days when I was trying not to make a mess, not counting the moments when they would leave us alone and we would flick ink at each other.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

School: a noun and verb but not an adjective?

I've spent a lot of time recently thinking and talking about the word 'school.'  In a meeting (BTW, I run VocabularySpellingCity), I insisted that the word 'school' could be used as an adjective.
What sort of bus? What describes the bus?

I was in disagreement with a language arts teacher with close to three decades of teaching experience who was arguing it could only be a noun.

I spoke with some confidence: "What about school days, school bus, school boy, school books? What sorts of books would these be? They are school books. And besides, lets pull up Merriam Webster and I'll show you....Wow, I'll be....Merriam Webster lists 'school" as a noun and a verb but not as an adjective!  OK, lets try another..."  The same thing!  I was stupified, stumped, flummoxed, and dumbfounded.

The first two dictionaries that I pulled up online both listed 'school" as a noun or a verb, (ie "Would you like to be schooled in the use of dictonaries?); but neither acknowledged the use of 'school' as an adjective. Entry

Finally, I found which mentions the use of school in three ways: noun, adjective, and verb.  This seemed obvious to me but I was now aware that there was room for disagreement.

What to make of Merriam Webster? What do they think about the 'school bus'?

Merriam lists 'school bus' as a noun. ("School Bus." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2014. < bus>). In this format, they presumably consider it to be an open form compound word. Open Form Compound Word? VocabularySpellingCity explains half-way down the compound word page (BTW, I might have had a hand in writing the page, I don't really remember): 

Open form Compound Word: The words are open but when read together, a new meaning is formed. EXAMPLES: post office, real estate, full moon, half sister.

Which brings me to the point: 

When is a word a compound word and when is it just an adjective with a noun?  
School Desk, a type of desk?

The answer lies in this concept of whether a new meaning has been formed.

Real estate. I would agree that real when used with estate forms a new meaning that is not clear from just thinking of real as an adjective.

Post office is not really a type of office at all, it's a type of retail outlet so it's clearly a compound word and not an adjective noun combination. 

Full Moon?  But could full be an adjective describing the moon?  For me, the answer is no since the moon does not fill up at all like a glass or gas tank. Fullness, in this case, is a weird metaphor so for me, there's a new meaning when the words are combined. Hence, full moon is a compound word. Still, this one is a little gray since there are degrees of fullness of the moon which in my mind, tilts it back towards being an adjective with a noun.


So, back to school:

Is a school bus just a type of bus?  IMHO Yes.
Is a school book just a type of book?  IMHO Yes.
What about a school desk, is it a type of desk?   IMHO, Yes.
Is school work just a type of work?  IMHO Maybe.
Is a school house just a type of house? IMHO NO, it's not a house at all. 
Is a school boy or a school girl (btw, that's one of the most searched terms on the internet....don't ask...uhg) just a type of boy or girl?  IMHO Maybe.
School day? A type of day? Maybe
School half day? This is an expression we throw around. Is Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a school half day?  Is half day a single open form compound word? What about school half day?

So there's some black and white cases of school being used as an adjective such as with bus or book. There's some definite compound words made with the word school such as school house. And there are some gray areas where I'm not sure and I'd have to consult greater authorities.  But, if Merriam Webster is unwilling to acknowledge that school could ever be used as an adjective then I (the Mayor of VocabularySpellingCity) am getting a little unsure of who this greater authority will be.  Maybe my Mom or brothers, all of whom seem to know grammar so much better than me. 

Of course, none of this matters. As the Common Core implies, students can become great writers and readers without knowing how to categorize parts of speech or diagram sentences.  And since teaching semantics and grammar does not really seem to be lighting up the student population or improving literacy, lets try de-emphasizing it. I'd agree that only the word nerds among us would care about the above discussion and so trying to teach it and get students to care about it is not the future of education.    

Or...maybe...there's other views.  Anyone?

About this blog. This blog is a personal blog of John, the founder of VocabularySpellingCity. Currently, this blog highlights vintage educational technology which have been collected in the VocabularySpellingCity office such as school desks, Golden Books, Dictionaries and Encyclopedias,  mimeograph machines, and film strips (is it just me or does every title in that list taunt me to classify it as to whether it's a compound word or not).  This post is a throwback to an earlier era on this blog when Miss Suzy, a colleague wrote about language with popular article such as:  S.O.S. -- Abrasion vs. Cut vs. ScratchAre you Prominent, Eminent or Either or Neither?Estimate and Esteem, and Clean Up Your Use of Guest.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Big Little Books

I was given this Big Little Book years ago by my mother.  But I only learned last week what it was.

I learned about Big Little Books thanks to Larry Lowery. He is a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. He is affiliated with the Graduate School of Education for his research and with the Lawrence Hall of Science for his curriculum products. As luck would have it, he was next to me in the registration line at the recent NSTA show. We started chatting. I told him about Science4Us, he told me about FOSS.  We did some card tricks.

All of the material on this post is from Larry's website:

Dick Tracy In 1932 the seemingly paradoxical term Big Little Book® was given to certain books published by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. The term promised the buyer a great amount of reading material and pleasure (BIG) within a small and compact (LITTLE) book. These Whitman books set the standards for similar books, and Whitman's copyrighted description has become popularized in a generic way to umbrella similar books.

The Whitman BLBs look like a four-inch block sawed off the end of a two-by-four. They were 3 5/8" x 4 1/2" x 1 1/2" in size and 432 pages in length. The outstanding feature of the books was the captioned picture opposite each page of text. The books originally sold for a dime (later 15¢).

Many children learned to read and have an appreciation for all books because of their experiences with BLBs. The source material for the books was drawn mostly from radio, comic strips, and motion pictures.

Larry's website categorizes the history in three periods (Golden, 1932-38; Silver, 1938-49; Modern 1950 to present), lists collectors and clubs, and has a host of articles about Big Little Books. Check it out at

On a related book, this blog also has an article about the Little Golden Books.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Super Cool '70s Spelling Tech

Before SpellingCity, there was Speak N Spell
Thirty years before was launched, spelling, for most kids, was not F-U-N.

The fun revolution started  in1978 with the introduction of Texas Instruments' innovative educational electronic toy, Speak & Spell.

Speak N SpellI was eight years old the Christmas that Speak & Spell made an appearance on many-a-list to Santa. Always a "word nerd," my parents apparently didn't think I needed any extra help with spelling, so instead of Speak & Spell, I got a Little Professor from Santa instead. (math was never my strong suit).

 My friend, Jennifer, however, got a Speak & Spell...and it was awesome! Its computerized voice made it sound like a futuristic robot. We used it not only to play spelling games ourselves, but as a giant game show board for our Barbies, a la "Wheel of Fortune." Ahhhh...memories.

Despite references to it in movies like "Toy Story" over the years, I had all but forgotten about Speak & Spell. Several weeks ago, however, I came across a post on Facebook about the toy and  nostalgis hit big time.

I knew that other children of the '70s and '80s could relate, so I shared a photo of the original Speak & Spell on SpellingCity's Facebook page. The post was a hit, drawing nearly 2,000 likes, 250 shares and 95 comments!

Upon seeing my post about Speak & Spell, John (a.k.a. the Mayor of SpellingCity) asked where he could get one for his retro ed tech collection. In his teens when Speak & Spell was released, John wasn't familiar with the SpellingCity of the 1970s. He was thrilled to receive not only an original Speak & Spell as a Hanukkah gift, but a Speak & Math as well!

Technology has changed a whole lot in the past 35 years. recently introduced five new games, bringing our total offering up to 30 games (with full graphics and feedback)! But, then again we all like to wax nostalgic once in a while don't we?

Just think, some day our children will be saying, "Hey, remember That was a lot of fun, wasn't it?"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Elementary School Audio Visual Crew: Few and Proud

One of the great online journalists of our time has a secret. 

Before he became famous and way before being geeky was considered cool, he was already being pulled by the force into the technology world!

I'll be plain: Back in Somerset Elementary school in the late 60s and early 70s, he was a proud member of the Somerset Elementary School A/V [audio visual] crew!

They had special privileges and responsibilities.

While the rest of us were kept in our classroom, they could roam the halls looking for the green carts of AV equipment.

While I would have had to break my leg to be allowed to go in the school elevator, they routinely rode up and down with their cargo.

Film strip projectors, overhead projectors, and 16" film projectors; they could do it all. He writes:

I Got very nostalgic about film strips & being a member of the Somerset AV crew (I got to go into different classrooms & thread the 16mm projector). & one of my very first pieces of writing for hire: How to pre-master a videodisc. Exciting stuff.

Did your school have a special AV crew of students? Were you one of them?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Many Bridges Crossed, Miles to Go Before We Sleep

Most of this content is reprinted from a blog  (with permission) by Miles MacFarlane. His original title was "20+ Years of EdTech."  He has taught for twenty years. I've always liked Frost's poem and somehow, it became the subject of this post. Mr. MacFarlane wrote:

I have used every one of these devices in fulfillment of my duties as a classroom teacher. These were the tools available to me since I became an educator. It makes me feel rather old, but proud nonetheless, to have mastered these valuable communication technologies for teaching and learning.

And some say today's technology is too complicated.

Want to talk about that?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Educational Technology Promises Joy and Faster Learning

Ed Tech Advertisement, circa ~1963
Larry Cuban, a Stanford professor, pulled together a great article which looks at the promise and attitudes towards new educational technology as revealed in the advertising.

Published on the Education Week site, it says:

For more than a century, educational technology ads have glistened with hope. Newly invented devices from the typewriter to film projectors, from the overhead projector to instructional television, from the Apple IIe to the iPad, have painted pictures of engaged students who will learn more, faster, and better. They have pictured teachers using new technologies to teach effectively. Of course, it is the nature of advertising to promise a rosier future, appealing to what policymakers, administrators, and, yes, parents yearn for ... a better, easier, and even enjoyable way for teachers and students to teach and learn. And that is what these ads do. They assure readers that both teachers and students will be better off using these machines.

Great article, well done Larry.  Note to self, need to secure an overhead projector and an Apple IIe

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Encyclopedia and Dictionary

I grew up in a house with a big dictionary on a stand and a complete set of the 1962 World Book Encyclopedia.  The actual dictionary and stand are pictured below (that's not actually me or my old house, it's my nephew at my Mom's new condo).  I recently acquired a complete World Book Encyclopedia set identical to the one that I grew up with.

When I was in school, one of the key ingredients of every classroom was a dictionary and every school library was built around its encyclopedia, atlas, and other reference works.  To this day, the accrediting institutions still list the library with its book collection and reference materials as a key issue.

With a sweet sense of irony, I just looked up "encyclopedia" on Wikipedia and found:

...The beginnings of the modern idea of the general-purpose, widely distributed printed encyclopedia precede the 18th century encyclopedists. However, Chambers' Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1728), and the Encyclop√©die of Diderot and D'Alembert (1751 onwards), as well as Encyclop√¶dia Britannica and the Conversations-Lexikon, were the first to realize the form we would recognize today, with a comprehensive scope of topics, discussed in depth and organized in an accessible, systematic method... 

In the United States, the 1950s and 1960s saw the introduction of several large popular encyclopedias, often sold on installment plans. The best known of these were World Book and Funk and Wagnalls... By the late 20th century, encyclopedias were being published on CD-ROMs for use with personal computers. Microsoft's Encarta, launched in 1993...The 21st century has seen the dominance of wikis as popular encyclopedias, including Wikipedia among many others.

Another memorable aspect of the encyclopedia era was the door-to-door salesman who sold them.  A suprising number of people of my generation spent some time selling them.   Encyclopedia Britannica  -- at its peak, had around 2,300 in the sales force....A year ago this week, the last salesman for Britannica, Myron Taxman, retired.  He was 66. He began selling the encyclopedia at the age of 22, when he was still in college in Chicago. He sold the volumes for 28 years: to farmers and to new parents without much money, to a Bears quarterback and to film director John Hughes.  (Encyclopedia Britannica Salesman Mourns End Of Print Edition)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Little Golden Books

Little Golden Book, Chimpmunks' Christmas , Richard Scarry
Little Golden Books - The Chipmunks' Merry Christmas
I was sitting in my office, more or less minding my own business, when a office visitor, actually someone from an insurance company checking on our fire extinguishers and such,  mentioned that she liked my collection, especially the Little Golden Books.

 In fact, she (Beth Aroyo-Mirowsky) said that she had a collection of Little Golden Books!    It turns out that there is a whole subculture of people collecting Golden Books such as Little Golden Book Collector and  The Santis,  Like many collections, the value seems to be that for many people, it reminds them of their youth and appeals to their nostalgia for happy days when their paretns read to them..

Once I pulled my jaw back into place, I tookthe opportunity to pick her brain about the Little Golden Books.

Little Golden Book 1981
Western Publishing Company
We have about 50 Golden Books in my educational collection which she looked through.  There were five that she said were noteworthy and collectible.  For instance, I have a Little Golden Book called: "The Chipmunks' Merry Christmas" which is dated 1959.

Little Golden Book 1982
Western Publishing Company
This book seems to be noteworthy for a few reasons.  It is an early appearance of the Chipmunks (See their sweaters? Alvin, S? and T?). The price tag was $0.29.  And the book was illustrated by Richard Scarry!

Richard Scarry,  in case you don't know, became a well-known children's author and illustrator best kown for Busy Town. He peaked in popularity in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  I think in the 50's he was still relatively unknown although he was already 40 in 1959.

Little Golden Books 1974
25th Printing - Walt Disney
I continued to look through my collection of Little Golden Books and I became intrigued by the elaborate artwork on the back covers. They are amazing in a few ways including the breadth of characters represented. I see Big Bird from Sesame Street Productions; Mickey Mouse, Bambi, and Donald Ducks from Walt Disney; Bugs Bunny from Warner Brothers; and Smokey the Bear from....(Gosh, who owns Smokey, the US Park Service)? Here's a few different Golden Book back covers.

Golden Books was founded in 1942 and was led by the Bank Street Writer's Association which later evolved in the Bank Street School of Education.

Golden Books are still published today and greatly resemble the originals. They belong to Random House.

This blog also has an article about the Big Little Books, a type of book introduced in the early 1930s. And there's an article about Encyclopedias and Dictionaries (especially the World Book Encyclopedia).

Little Golden Book 1972
Western Publishing

Golden Book - Golden Press 1959
Copyright Monarch Music 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Polaroid Instant Camera

I'm of a certain age (mid50's!) and so I remember using Polaroids back when they were very high tech.  The excitement was that you could take a picture and look at it right away!

Somethings never change, right?  Think today's cell phones, Instagram, Twitter, and hordes of other instant tools for sharing images.

Back then, the image would slowly appear over around 90 seconds (as best I can remember) after you yanked out the paper from the camera.  It came with a four tube that had a spond in it drenched in some sort of "fixed" which we would rub over the picture once it had finished developing.  It felt very technical, high tech, and exciting.

Edward Land started the camera reportedly inspired by  his daughter who .."wanted to see the picture NOW!"  The camera and company's highlights were in the 1960-80s when it was lauded as an example of American technological and entrepreneurial prowess.  Wikipedia summarizes it as:

Polaroid Corporation is an American-based international consumer electronics and eyewear company, originally founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land. It is most famous for its instant film cameras, which reached the market in 1948, and continued to be the company's flagship product line until the February 2008 decision to cease all production in favor of digital photography products.

Educational Technology: 2012 or 1972?

This blog of old educational technology documents my office collection of previous educational technology "revolutions."  It is both for fun and to avoid any hubris thinking that our revolution in ed tech is the one that's really going to make the difference.
Dan Meyer posted an interesting article called: Is This Press Release From 2012 or 1972?
And I quote/paraphrase:
Here are five quotes, some from 2012 others from 1972. Can you tell them apart?
#1 Educators and parents across the country seem to agree that a system of individualized instruction is much needed in our schools today. This has been evident to any parent who has raised more than one child and to every teacher who has stood in front of a class.
#2 [This product] allows the teacher to monitor the child's progress but more important it allows each child to monitor his own behavior in a particular subject.
#3 The objectives of the system are to permit student mastery of instructional content at individual learning rates and ensure active student involvement in the learning process.

#4 This is a step towards the superior classroom, because the system includes material that can be used independently, allowing each child to learn at his own rate and realize success.
#5 The technology, training program, and management technique give the teacher tools for assessment, mastery measurement, and specified management techniques.
Okay, they're all from 1972, from a piece called "Do Schools Need IPI? Yes!
For the rest of the article, you'll need to go to Dan's blog post:  Is This Press Release From 2012 or 1972?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Instamatic Camera

An Instamatic Camera
The Kodak Instamatic
I added an Instamatic from Kodak to my collection this week.

It is the not the first Instamatic that I ever owned. I think I was given one when I was about 12, in 1970. I remember it as the first quality inexpensive no-focus required camera. Everyone had them.

Later, I was given a more modern one which used the square lightbulbs (see below - And thanks to Wikipedia for the picture of the Instamatic in its case with the flash bulbs).

Thursday, November 22, 2012