Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Seeing Things - (having nothing to do with cheap drugs, expired pharmaceuticals or booze!)

A student came to me the other day hoping to find a book I’d recommended a while back that showed microscopic organisms up close and personal.  Her class was working around the idea of ‘seeing things’ and ‘observation’.

Unfortunately, Nano nature (570.282 JON 2008) was signed out.  As was the The bizarre and incredible world of plants (580 STB 2009) (see blog posting January 19, 2010, Looking for Wow).

What we did find was Sneeze!  (612.2 SIS 2007) which also includes electron micrographs of irritants causing sneezes.

When we got a little more into her topic about ‘seeing things’ I also ended up showing her X-ray: see through the world around you (778.3 VEX 2008).  This stunning book gives us a whole new perspective about everyday ordinary things from the inside out:  flowers, clothes, the human body, objects such as lamps and light bulbs, mp3 players, a guitar, a baseball mitt, to a full-sized apartment building. An endless number of mundane things shown in unique and interesting ways.

It wasn’t until she had scooted happily back to her class that I thought of a couple of other items that also could have worked.

Stepping away from the super tiny and super close-up perspective, I thought about how seeing things from above would change one’s outlook.  Astronauts often comment on the impact of seeing the earth from space and how it changes them.

So, check out Spacecam: Photographing the final frontier from Apollo to Hubble (778.35 HoS 2005) to get really high and above it all.

Or The Past from above: Aerial photographs of archaeological sites (930.1GeP 2005) and Through the eyes of the gods: an aerial vision of Africa (960 HAT 2005) to realize the vastness of some landscapes and the long lasting impact of human civilization.

One last recommendation and something completely different from the above titles is Heartbeat by Sharon Creech (823 C8616H FIC).  This short, narrative verse novel is about the changing and variable nature of family life and friendship.  A beautiful story.  But a minor storyline is about a homework assignment Annie has been given by her art teacher, to observe and draw a picture of an apple over a period of a few months every single day.  A seemingly boring and tedious commission turns out to have surprising relevance to Annie’s story as she slowly sees subtle changes to the apple day-by-day.

All of my recommendations, besides being pleasurable, could also tie into a number of units where observing, inducing and deducing and reflecting are involved, such as science, art and language arts.

Other suggestions?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Penny for your (mathematical) thoughts

Breaking news:  MT student just reported great success using children’s picture book in a grade 5 math class about decimals!

Pennies for Elephants by Lita Judge (823 J894P PIC BK) was read out loud to the class to set up the unit.  After the initial surprise of the grade 5 students passed, the class was gripped.

The  book is based on the true story of Bostonian children in 1914 raising more than $6000 to purchase three elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo.  This  campaign inspired over 50,000 kids to work together all in the name of a good cause.  The story includes some ‘clippings’ from the newspapers of the day listing every single donation (even as small as .01) with a running total.

This math unit entailed adding the individual donations collected and recorded in the daily newspapers which became a game between classmates, to see who could get the most right.  Information was recorded on number lines demonstrating order and size of numbers.  By the end the kids had a much better understanding of the differences between decimals and whole numbers.

A short and emotionally engaging story, connecting math to the real world that makes an impression with both 10 year-olds and teachers is worth checking out .

Update: May 14, 2010 - Check out the following blog at Open Wide, Look Inside for more teaching ideas focused on economics for this title. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Power of Being Wordless

I’ve just recently had another wonderful in-class experience that gave me some new insights into a genre of books, those without words, that I frequently use in book talking children’s literature.

The focus of this short session was solely on picture books and graphic novels containing no words.  Some of the questions the instructor, Angela Rokne, posed for consideration included:
            Who reads wordless books? 
            Why is there such a genre?
            What do wordless books offer the reader?
            Is this reading?

The discussion that followed really brought home what a reader experiences when being drawn into a story.  When the book has no words it is up to the reader to create the story, to imagine the dialogue and interpret the pictures in multiple ways depending on the reader’s own life experiences.  A wordless picture book “slows everything down and forces you to really take in the story,” as one student pointed out.

Another student became so caught up with the pictures upon opening the book that she didn’t notice the lack of words.  She was busy creating her own dialogue.  (See Leaf by Stephen Michael King (823 K5972 PIC BK)).  The benefits for struggling readers became obvious as we discovered that the focus can shift to strengths that children often have for observing the world and events around them, thus enabling them to create a story.  This may be another way to engage children whose frustration with reading is turning them away from literature and literacy.

The discussion turned to focus on the depth of some stories and how each reader can place themselves into the story just as children would.  I spoke to my own similar reaction to Shaun Tan’s The Arrival  (823 T155A FIC) a wordless, graphic novel that has so many possibilities for teaching story and reading, besides opportunities for creating your own narrative.

Here are a few other wordless picture books and graphic novels to check out:

Sticks and stones by Peter Kuper (823 K964S FIC)
Sidewalk circus by Paul Fleishchman (823 F628S4 PIC BK)
I see a song by Eric Carle (823 C92I PIC BK)
Time flies by Eric Rohmann (823 R636T PIC BK)
Ben’s Bunny trouble by Daniel Wakeman (823 W138B PIC BK)
Midsummer knight by Gregory Rogers (823 R631M PIC BK)
Bow-Wow bugs a bug by Mark Newgarden (823 N45B PIC BK)
Home by Jeannie Baker (823 B174H5 PIC BK)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Super Modeling – Assumed identities

I love the potential for deepening understanding, especially in history, with students assuming an identity or role from a specific time period.

Taking on an historical identity with an authentic voice requires a tremendous amount of understanding about that time period, going way beyond clothing and other physical props.  And what does it take to get there?  No big surprise here – research.  Opportunities abound!

A colleague told me about a similar activity that had totally engaged her junior high daughter.  After reading one of the books from the Dear Canada series she had to write in diary format about her life as a newly arrived immigrant in Canada in the 1700’s.

Another example is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village (822 ScG 2007).  This book is a collection of 22 monologues in which each student assumes the identity of a person (from the poorest to the richest) living in a typical village from the Middle Ages.  This book provides a great model where students can research a specific person living in a particular time period and then construct a narrative about who they are, their roles in the village and even relationships with other villagers.  This book won the 2008 Newbery Medal for children’s literature.

One last example resource to share is The Dead Guy Interviews : Conversations with 45 of the most accomplished, notorious, and deceased personalities in history  (909 StD 2007) which, often in a humorous vein, asks probing questions to Cleopatra, Harry Houdini, Mae West , Da Vinci, Genghis Khan, Einstein and many others about their lives and time they lived in.  The amount of understanding required to conduct an ‘interview’ (both sides) with a particular person asking appropriate question about their lives, will be fairly extensive.   I should mention this book is more appropriate for upper junior and high school levels.

So, maybe there is value in pretending to be someone else.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Super Modeling – Poetry.

Poetry can be a problem for some of us. 

I was one of those kids who more often then not just didn’t ‘get it’ and as a result I have a tendency to be a little cursory when looking at new poetry resources.

But that’s not to say I don’t ever connect with poetry.  I find that narrative poetry does draw me in when done really well, as in Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (823 C8616L FIC).  Who can’t sympathize with 4th grader Jack (a boy!) when asked to write a poem or figure out the meaning of the William Carlos Williams poem about the red wheelbarrow and white chickens?  Over the course of the school year Jack is able to come to terms with a fairly traumatic life event (have Kleenex handy) partly through his poetry, which is often modeled on that of other ‘real’ poets such as Walter Dean Myers, Jack’s favorite.  The sequel, Hate That Cat (823 C8616H FIC) is good fun, as well.

Great!  Modeling as storytelling device.  Perfect.

Or check out This Is Just To Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness (811SiT 2007) another example where modeling proves to be a way for a fictionalized class to learn about poetry and making an apology to someone they may have hurt or upset.  The original poem is by ‘real’ poet William Carlos Williams.  The second half of the book is poems written in response to the first.  (Don’t get rid of the Kleenex just yet.)  One particular pair of poems that sticks with me is that between a student and his mother.  The student apologizes for disappointing his mom by misspelling a word in a spelling bee – heart breaking.  But it’s the response that is Oh So Interesting!  The whole collection gives us insight into the kids in this classroom.

Both of these books are really powerful. I think either will provide the inspiration to find those poems that will resonant with your students and have them write of their own experiences perhaps based on the work of other poets.

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