Monday, September 19, 2016

Potential beyond imagining


Ada’s Violon: the story of the recycled Orchestra of Paraguayby Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport is a book I’ve been waiting for ever since I first heard and watched a video about this orchestra.






The Landfill Orchestra


What an amazing concept!

It works on so many levels. An extremely poor community in Paraguay is built around the recycling of garbage taken from a local landfill. As both the video and book explain, to own a valuable instrument is impossible because of the risk of theft. Because instruments are expensive to buy, it’s difficult for everyone to have an instrument of their own to play. The solution is to construct instruments from recycled materials, again derived from the landfill, instead.

The book provides more backstory than the video. It focuses on Ada Rios (shown in the video) and her family of recyclers giving us a sense of what the community is like: very poor with few opportunities of a better life and the threat of gang life as a way out. Though she does go to school, there aren’t many opportunities to go beyond the boundaries of her community, until the day her grandmother sees a sign advertising music lessons and encourages Ada to go. Immediately, Ada selects the violin as her instrument of choice.

The story continues with how the instruments were constructed and it’s fascinating to see them in the video. Paint cans, oil drums, forks, pipes and packing crates are all used to fashion these beautiful music makers.

With lots of practice, these novice musicians become good enough to perform in front of local audiences. Word spreads and they hold concerts for international audiences in other countries.

What a success story.

In terms of classroom connections, this kind of story has so many possibilities. There’s the grade 4 science unit on waste and our world which often ties into recycling. There’s the grade 3 social studies unit about quality of life that would work well with this story.  This would make an interesting book to bring into a fine arts classroom. I can see connections to the STEM/STEAM and maker movements, too. Or even a story from which to draw inspiration for activism at local levels.


This would definitely work across the elementary grades. Highly recommended.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Getting the word out

A new crop of undergraduate student-teachers start classes today. The energy is most palpable at the moment.

So with lots of new faces in mind, I thought I’d go over a few of the ways we in the Doucette Library try to convey information about resources.

Workshops: We do workshops – lots and lots. We should rename ourselves Workshops-R-Us, in fact. These are not your typical library workshops that review research strategies or searching databases or catalogues. We promote the resources that can be found in the Doucette and also illustrate our workshops with the very resources that student-teachers can also use in their work as both students and teachers. We often teach about how to think about the resources: why would I use this? how would I use this? what do I hope to provoke from the students with this? is this the best resources to accomplish my objectives? etc. These sessions are challenging but really fun to do – almost like playing, really. We offer these workshops through classes, the Education Student Association and on our own in something called Black Chair Sessions. The BCS sessions are 20-30 minutes and super focused on a very narrow topic. Bing. Bang. Boom. You’re in. You’re out. You’re better informed.

Library/Subject/Research Guides: Whatever you want to call them, these are incredibly rich resources that the staff in the Doucette Library have created that again direct student-teachers to materials that will help them with their own school work, when they’re out on practicums or even once they’ve become teachers. We organize them around topics that are centred around lesson planning, teaching specific curriculum topics such as social studies, science, or fine arts, specific areas of importance in teaching K-12 grades such as children’s literature, English language learners, technology, interdisciplinary teaching, early childhood education and so on. We recommend web resources, online journal articles and Doucette Library books and kits, of course. It’s about finding information even when you’re not on campus.

Blogs: Well, if you’re reading this you know that I blog in the name of the Doucette Library. But you may not be aware that a colleague, Paula Hollohan, also writes a blog about using technology in the classroom. Doucette Ed Tech reviews many types of resources including apps, gadgets, and trends. It’s a great place to start with getting a grasp on the Maker movement or design thinking, for example.

Pinterest:  Both Paula and I have created Pinterest boards that are filled with resources (again, mostly from the Doucette Library) specific to topics relevant to curriculum or classroom practice. My boards (found as Doucette Library) are really focused on the Alberta program of studies and there are boards for elementary social studies, science and math. Every topic in very grade level has a board dedicated to listing mostly juvenile resources appropriate for classroom use.  Paula has boards related to educational technology.

Goodreads: Again, this is something both Paula and I have joined to help us keep track of the books we read. It also allows student-teachers or anyone else for that matter to see what we’re reading. I’ve made a link from this blog to get to my account and welcome you to ‘friend’ me if you wish to join in.

Litsy: This is brand new for us. Recently, Paula and I have been struggling with trying to revamp a book club that we use to run for student-teachers. This wasn’t the kind of book club that required everyone to read the same book and then discuss it. It was a way for Paula and me to recommend fiction and nonfiction with curriculum tie-ins to students. We also encouraged students to talk about the books they were using or seeing in the classrooms when they were on practicum. But with program changes, there has been a real time crunch for students and we haven’t been able to run it. This year we thought we’d try something new with a new social media-type app. It’s being described as: if Goodreads and Instagram had a baby it would look like Litsy. So Litsy lets us (and you) list the books you’re reading (or have read) plus add pictures and comments much like what you’d see on Instagram. It is easy to use and I’d recommend you stop by for a look and perhaps sign up.
And that’s about it – at least, for now.  We’re always looking for ways to share our expertise and recommend the resources that will help student-teachers excel and enrich their own teaching practices.


Monday, September 5, 2016

Guest Blogger - Picture Books that Promote Curiosity, Imagination and General Wondering

 Today's blog is contributed by Paula Hollohan, writer of the Doucette Ed Tech blog. Here at the Doucette Library, she's responsible for being conversant on all things related to technology in the classroom but sometimes her passion for children's literature gets the better of her and she has just gotta share. The following list is a terrific collection of titles mostly for elementary students that promotes deeper thinking in conjunction with curiosity.


And before I let you delve into Paula’s list I would highly recommend a book I read over this summer, Curious : the desire to know and why your future depends on it by Ian Leslie. It, too, outlines the importance of being curious for children and adults about wide-ranging topics for one's entire life. It touches on many facets of human development some of which have implications for the field of education. As Paula says, "Igniting curiosity is a game changer."


Now, here's Paula:

In a departure from the usual technology analysis, I will spend today looking at some new picture books that can be resources and browsers in a K-4 classroom to get kids wondering about the world around them. 

These picks are from some recent arrivals in the library and are chosen for high interest and engagement.

What Do You Do With an Idea? and What Do You Do With a Problem? Both by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom.  Interesting juxtaposition of two great concepts – things you need to wonder about. An idea looks like an egg with a crown.  A problem looks like a big swirly, dark cloud.  Is an idea good? Does a problem present an opportunity?


Ideas Are All Around? by Philip C. Stead. How do you begin to write something? Taking a walk with your dog gives you many experiences. Are they worth writing about? What do you notice? Stop War – now there is a good idea.

The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Matthew Cordell.  “Know this: there is magic around but it hides.” “Be open to it.” Hone your powers of observation, around you, above you, near you.  Allow your feet to determine where you may journey and notice all there is to explore.

City Shapes by Diana Murray, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Notice all that is around you and tie it to some of your knowledge.  Recognize shapes in your environment as a beginning understanding of your world. This book would be a great provocation for a grade 1 photography project.  A way for students to study their community through the lens of a camera or an iPad.

Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Brian Won.  S.A.M. (get it?) has a unique view of the world and all the adventures that are to be had.  Discover a unique perspective on shoe shopping by one imaginative boy.

Use Your Imagination (but be careful what you wish for!) by Nicola O’Bryne.  A typical fairy tale re-telling becomes a whole new story with a little imagination.  Can you change other stories? What would be a more unexpected twist or turn in the stories you are reading?

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  True to life, people in a grey neighbourhood re-imagine it with colourful murals and paintings.  The entire neighbourhood joins in and life is forever changed.  Art changes people.  One person can change a neighbourhood or their school or city or country or the world.

These are a few picks to invigorate your current classroom library and to engage students in a deeper thinking process.  Igniting curiosity is a game changer.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Living Your Dream

It takes courage to follow your own path and ignore those who try to dissuade you from pursuing your dreams.

This thought really hit home last week when I was listening to CBC reporters recalling their favourite moments from the Olympic Games in Rio.

Paul Hunter was describing the impact of swimmer Kylie Moss' (bronze medal winner) comments about wanting to inspire other young Canadians to follow their dreams, to ignore those who say you can't win an Olympic medal. That really resonated with him. That’s when it struck me about how much gumption it takes to just keep on going when you’ve taken on such a huge challenge. That takes a lot of courage, in my opinion.

So here are a few recommendations of books with characters (real and otherwise) who do have the courage to achieve their dreams:

Junior is an American Indian growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. With encouragement from one of his teachers he decides to go to an all-white school off of the rez. This takes tremendous courage as he receives little support from those on the reservation who see him as a traitor nor those at the school in town who see him as if he was “Bigfoot or a UFO”. This is an opportunity to make a better life for himself but it isn’t easy. Recommended for grades 9 and up.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
A little girl who loves to act is excited to take on the role of Peter Pan in a school play. But she’s told that because she’s a girl she can’t be Peter Pan. Then she’s told that because she’s black she can’t be Peter Pan. But with some help from her Nana she puts her mind to doing the best she can in auditions and is given the part. Recommended for grades 1 to 3.

Echo by Pam Munzo Ryan
I so enjoyed this book of three different characters in three different places from slightly different but contiguous time periods. Each of the children in these stories have musical ability with ‘potential’ to be great. But their circumstances (wartime Germany, homeless orphans in America, and migrant workers in California) don’t easily allow them to pursue them. However, due to their own tenacious characters (plus some lucky breaks) their futures do result in opportunities allowing them to live their passion. Recommended for middle grades.

Firebird by Misty Copeland
A young girl dreams of becoming a ballerina and Misty Copeland, a real-life African-America ballerina encourages her to follow her heart and shows that hard work and determination can make it happen. Recommended for grades 1-4.

Malala Yousafzai is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Her persistent canvasing for the rights of children, especially girls, to education put her life in great danger. Despite being shot by Taliban supporters because she refused to quit school and spoke out against the Taliban, she continues endorsing and fighting for children to go to school. Recommended for grades 3 to 6.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
This graphic novel is about a wanna-be super hero. Well, he’s a reluctant wanna-be at best as it’s his mother who really pushes him to step up to the plate. But eventually Hank grows in to the role of “The Golden Man of Bravery”. This one really connects persistence, ability and courage with pursuing your dreams. Lots of wry humour, too. Recommended for grades 7 and up.




Monday, August 22, 2016

Coming together

A new school year is just around the corner and for those of us who view real-life through the lens of picture books then I bet you’re looking for a few titles that will help set the tone in your classroom come September.

When I think about those first few days of a school year I think about how I would want the class to gel as a community.  That –

-“we’re all in this together”;
-“we all have something to contribute”;
-we must be respectful, kind and helpful with each other;
-being different is ok and we all have a place here;
-we need to be ‘open’ to the experience of being in a new class.

You get the idea.  It’s all about being full to the brim with positivity and potential.

So here are some books that I think fit with this theme:

You’re Finally Here! by Melanie Watts
Great at conveying the excitment and anticipation of meeting new people. It also offers the opportunity to discuss how to behave when you’re in a group. Things like not interrupting, being patient, what being polite looks like and trying not to keep others waiting. It’s typical Melanie Watts fair with lots of humour and zaniness. (For K - Gr. 2/3)

Exclamation mark by Any Krouse Rosenthal
This one really speaks to appreciating differences and that we all have something to offer. Fitting in is important but also knowing who you are is just as crucial. See also, Red:a crayon’s story by Michael Hall. (For grades K. - Gr. 2/3)


Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds

This one also tells the story of how the title character, Nerdy Birdy comes to realize that there are more nerdy-birdy-type birds than “cool birdies” and this means you can always find a friend who will be very much like you. The book does a terrific job going beyond this idea though. When Nerdy Birdy becomes friends with vulture who doesn’t really fit with either the nerd-birds or the cool-birds, he learns that even though they’re not alike and have many differences, this is just fine. I love the illustrations by Matt Davies, too. You can pair this with Be A Friend by Salina Yoon and Friendshape by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. (For grades 1-3)



Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
A good one for older kids about a class of students with learning challenges. The notions of “being in this together” and “we all have something to contribute” really shine through in this book. This is a class that has definitely gelled.  (For grades 3-6)



The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

A lovely, philosophical kind of book that encourages children to being open to new experiences; to follow unknown paths, to be curious, playful and adventurous, to discover who you are and want to be, learn from your experiences and from this to trust yourself and finally, to take comfort in the constant things in your life.  This book is a terrific for either starting off a school year or finishing the school year. (All ages)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wrap up for Picture Books Top 10 on the 10th

Last week I took on the challenge of listing my top 10 picture books in the meme Picture Book Top 10 for 10th Event. I encourage you to pop by and browse through some of these lists. It's good fun to see what makes these lists and how creative educators are.

As always, I struggled to list only 10 and decided to focus on a theme versus just my favourites. The theme focused on some of my favourite Canadian authors and illustrators instead was sort of a compromise. Only 10 writers but I sometimes included more than one of their books. I guess that might be considered cheating rather than a compromise -- but really who's counting? 

But taking part in this meme is a really fantastic endeavor as I'm able to glean a number of titles of picture books that are favourites of other teachers and librarians. They are often generous enough to include bits of information about how they use these titles, too.

I wanted to wrap up this experience by listing a few of these new titles that I'm now eager to bring into the Doucette Library for the upcoming year.

Here are my top 10 choices: 

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty







They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel










The Whale by Vita Murrow







The Stick by Clay Rice








Octicorn by Kevin Diller












Explorers of the wild by Cale Atkinson




What to do with a box by Jane Yolen









There by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick











Running the Road to ABC by Denize Lature













More-igami by Dori Kleber











Okay, one more to keep the cheating even:


Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier

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