Monday, October 17, 2016

A Moral Dilemma

The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, spy, unlikely hero by Patricia McCormick tells an important and lesser known story about one of a group of men who risked their lives to assassinate one of the most diabolical dictators. A better known co-conspirator is Claus Schenk Graf Von Stauffenberg.

But this book focuses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We learn about his life, of his privileged childhood from a large, loving German family, of being quiet and introspective from an early age and that eventually he was drawn to theology and ordained as a minister. His academic work about the role of the church in the lives of ordinary people as a force of good was well respected.  Experiences working with the poor and underprivileged children in Barcelona, Harlem, New York and Berlin became defining periods in his life.

While Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in New York he meet Martin Luther King Jr. and others who later became leaders in the American civil rights movement and became aware of segregation. He saw firsthand how “separate but equal” played out in the lives of African Americans.

When he returned to Berlin in 1931, support for the Nazi party was growing and Bonhoeffer could see parallels between the anti-Jewish sentiments of Nazi supporters and the Jim Crow laws in America. He was concerned enough to speak out against the Nazis. In 1933, after Hitler became chancellor, Bonhoeffer is told by his brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, the Nazis were about to increase and implement a more active exclusion of Jews from German society.

Bonhoeffer felt that the clergy had an obligation to help those in need including those being persecuted by the Nazis. He did not have the support of most of his fellow clergymen as the Nazis had already approached them with offers of political influence and standing in return for their allegiance to Hitler. To speak out against the Nazis and Hitler was treason.

During the mid-1930s he travelled to other European countries attempting to convince church leaders to try and protest against the Nazis with no takers. By the early 1940s, while working as a double agent, Bonhoeffer tries to get information out to Great Britain and other European countries about the atrocities perpetuated by the Nazis hoping to gain support for the conspiracy to kill Hitler.

In the author’s note, Patricia McCormick tells us of her interest in this story because of the paradox of a pacifist clergyman who would become involved in a conspiracy to kill.  She asks, “How could a man of faith justify murder?” This is an interesting element to the story. For Bonhoeffer and a few others involved in the conspiracy, it presented a moral dilemma. Is treason a sin? How does a person appease their conscience when they are about to commit a mortal sin?

This well researched biography helps us understand the path that led Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his decision to act against the state, Hitler, church and his own peace-loving beliefs. It includes a timeline, references, bibliography, index, photos and sidebars with supplemental materials. I recommend this for grades 6 and up.

This book would pair well with other books about others who resisted the Nazis and sought to aid those who were persecuted, such as

His Name was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden – recommended for middle grades
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose – recommended for grades 9 and up.
The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix] – for middle grades

In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke – recommended for grades 8-12

Monday, October 10, 2016

Terrific math concept book

I’m loving How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh?by Alison Limentani.

This is a picture book for the primary grades best used in math lessons about measurement, size, counting and even patterns, to some extent.

Based on the weight of an average healthy animal, each set of pages leads us from a small animal to a slightly larger one, comparing how many of the smaller animals it takes to weigh the same as the larger animal.  For example 10 ants weigh the same as 1 ladybug. Nine ladybugs weigh the same as 1 grasshopper. Eight grasshoppers weigh the same as 1 stickleback fish. And so on until the author circles back to comparing the weight of 1 swan to 362,880 ladybugs.

The countdown has been cleverly executed and I imagine it took some research to find the animals to fit within this pattern. The end pages tell us the weights of each creature so that we too can do our own calculations. The one down side is the weights are only in imperial units and not metric.

The illustrations are attractive with bold colours and lino cut prints.

I recommend checking it out.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sense and Perceptions (a lost manuscript by Jane Austen – just kidding)

by Brendan Wenzel is a new favourite of mine.

What an interesting way to explore perception, senses and even identity.

So, we start with an intrepid cat who engages with the world with those parts of its body that help it sense what is around; its whiskers, ears and paws but not, funnily enough, its eyes.

But what about how other creatures perceive this cat?  This is what the book is really about.

There is the child who sees a friendly, smiling creature with big eyes and a heart-shaped nose with invitingly, touchable soft fur. However, the dog sees a cat as a skinny, slinking, sneaking creature with narrowed eyes and a too large bell hanging from its neck (all the better to hear it coming, I suppose). 

My favorite image is how the goldfish perceives the cat through the glass of his bowl: large and looming, a fuzzy, grey lump with huge yellow eyes peering intently at him.

Some of the images seem to convey a more of the feeling a creature might have when encountering a cat such as in the case of the mouse. This double-page spread displays a ferocious beast that is all tooth and claw with a whip-like tail and body against a vibrant, danger –signaling red background.  A teeny tiny mouse would be overwhelmed with fright.

Looking at this cat from the perspective of a bee, a snake, a bat, and a worm gives us unique ways of ‘seeing’. The bee’s multifaceted composite eye constructs a multicoloured mosaic whereas a worm’s perception is based on vibrations. The snake differs yet again as it sees the cat in infrared in a vibrant, somewhat lurid shade of yellow with glowing red eyes. A bat uses echolocation to ‘see’ the cat.

The illustrations are terrific at capturing the various ways all the animals perceive this cat.  Sometimes bright colours or muted shades in a range of mediums (“in almost everything imaginable” – author’s words) are used to aptly create the perceived image of the cat or to convey a feeling.  A single image sometimes fills two pages or might only be on one page but be juxtaposed with the image on the opposite page such as between the worm and the bat. Sometimes Wenzel uses zig-zag lines (vibrations) or dots (mosaic) to represent the cat.

I would recommend this book for elementary grades especially in grade 1 science for senses. There might be some use for this title in grade 2, science for the small crawling and flying animals unit. For the older grades I would look at the cadence of the language which reads almost like a poem making it great for a read-aloud. Co-worker Paula (and sometime guest blogger) suggested this as a writing prompt for the older grades, too. 

Pairing this with the Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin would make for an interesting combo for looking at perception. Both books take an unusual look at a ‘thing’, one a cat and the other colour in atypical ways.

Highly recommended.

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.

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