Thursday, July 29, 2010

Journal entry #3: Update on the legacy theme

So there it was.  On page 182 in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (823 Al278A FIC) – LEGACY -- plus it was in the context of two factors that I’ve been mulling over that may affect legacy -- age and culture.

Here’s the quote starting on page 181:
          Townspeople were starting to compare us to the great Reardan teams of the past.  People were starting to compare some of our players to great players of the past…
But nobody talked about me that way.  I guess it was hard to compare me to players from the past.  I wasn’t from the town, not originally, so I would always be an outsider.
And no matter how good I was, I would always be an Indian.  And some folks just found it difficult to compare an Indian to a white guy.  It wasn’t racism, not exactly.  It was, well, I don’t know what it was.
I was something different, something new.  I just hope that twenty years in the future, they’d be comparing some kid to me:
“Yeah, you see that kid shoot, he reminds me so much of Arnold Spirit.”
Maybe that will happen.  I don’t know.  Can an Indian have a legacy in a white town? And should a teenager be worried about his fricking legacy anyway?
Jeez, I must be an egomaniac.”

You can maybe see how all my mulling can start to turn philosophical. When does a person start with the idea of ‘legacy’?  Would a kid do this?  Is this more relevant to older adults?  Do most people start off with a ‘dream’ instead of a ‘legacy’, as a motivating factor?  What’s the difference between the two?

And as Arnold Spirit from the book asks: should a teenager be concerned about legacy anyways?  Which is really what the book is about. A ‘rez Indian’ who looks to do something different instead of being ground down by circumstances, striking out in a different direction from everyone else he knows, risking alienation but also possibly achieving  a better or at least, a uncharted life.

I really enjoyed the book, by the way and highly recommend it.  I also love how serendipity played into the big topic of legacy.  I’m not sure if I would recommend it to elementary students but will likely bring the book to the attention of Nellie McClung’s teachers.  They often take on challenging books that are rated for older kids because of the GATE program.  I leave it up to them as to whether all the resources I showcase are appropriate for their students. 

So, I’m still left wondering about legacy…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In the neighborhood, over the fence, right next door

I love it when ‘little’ stories are found in unexpected places.  And reading An Eye for Color by Natasha Wing got me thinking about how sometimes these little stories might be found right next door.

In this case, Natasha recounts growing up living next to Josef Albers, a kindly man who, as it turns out, was an important artist who made studying colour his life’s work.  The book is wonderful in showing us exactly how colours can affect each other displayed side-by-side, changing our perception of the colour.  The author’s note tells us that both her own perception of Josef as her neighbour (pretty typical kid point of view) and how as an adult she researched his work and life to discover what an influential artist he had been in America.  I found the section “More About Josef Albers” particularly interesting when it described the process he used to work out his theory of colour which appears very methodical to the point of being scientific.  What an interesting opportunity to discuss the process used by this artist compared to the method used by scientists.

As I got thinking about the whole idea of ‘you never know who your neighbours may be’ idea, I thought of The Goat Lady by Jane Bregoli (636.3 BrG 2004 PIC BK).  Also, a true story about an old woman, not always well thought of by her neighbours as her house was run down and her goats, geese and chickens were a nuisance.  It’s not until Jane Bregoli painted several portraits of Noelie, the Goat Lady, that her neighbours got know her.

Although Noelie was born in 1899 in Quebec, she emigrated in the early 1900s to Dartmouth, Massachusetts where she married and lived on a small farm.  Noelie began raising goats and selling the milk to those who wanted it after benefiting from it when she develops arthritis.  In time, with too many goats, she started giving them to the Heifer Project, an organization that gives livestock to poor people in 125 countries.

No big story here other than that of a long life quietly lived, giving back to the community, and people changing their minds about the ‘bothersome old lady down the road’ given the chance.

Simple, ‘little’ stories.  Simply wonderful.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

The hunt is on! - Nonfiction Monday

"Research is a formalized curiosity.  It is poking around and prying with a purpose."  Zora Neale Hurston.

Ahhh, research…Can’t you just hear the students in your class hum in excited anticipation?  Oh boy, a research assignment… Can’t wait!  Right, maybe in some parallel universe.

I love research and always feel really badly about those students (university students becoming teachers who one day may have teach their own students research - oh, my) who become totally stressed and frustrated when it comes to having to conduct research.

So, this post isn’t going to be about new, fantastic strategies on how to do research or how to teach research, but begins a campaign to show students how much fun it is, how exciting it can be, and how relevant to everyday life (and not limited to just getting through school.)

A few really interesting books have come to my attention that have turned topics I know little about into gripping, fascinating mystery-like hunts for information.  These books demonstrate that research  has a purpose as well as a process.  Several of them read as real life mysteries.  And everyone loves a mystery, right?

Here are a few titles I’d strongly recommend:

1621 a new look at Thanksgiving / Catherine O’Neill and Margaret Bruchac (394.2649 GrN 2001)

-broadens our perspective of this national holiday

The Anne Frank case: Simon Wiesenthal’s search for the truth / Susan Rubin Goldman (940.5318 RUA 2009)
-a challenge is set to find the man responsible for the arrest of Anne, her family and others living in the Annex to help prove that Nazis were responsible for millions of deaths.

The boy who harnessed the wind: creating currents of electricity and hope / William Kamkwamba (621.312 KAB 2009)
-a young man with a desire to improve  life for people in his village with access to a small library and an incredible ability to create and overcome obstacles. Talk about research being relevant to everyday life!

Did Fleming rescue Churchill?: a research puzzle / James Giblin (823 G355D FIC)
-fictional account of a boy set to write a research essay at school who wants to use an 'interesting' anecdote - but is it true or not? And then what to do with it.

Hana’s suitcase: a true story / Karen Levine (940.5318 LEH 2002)
-a modern day hunt for the story behind an artifact (suitcase with Hana's name) sent by the Auschwitz Holocaust Museum to Tokyo.

The hive detectives: chronicle of a honey bee catastrophe  / Loree Griffin Burns (Scientists in the field series)
-researchers to save the day as they look to discover the reasons why bees are dying in droves

Left for dead: a young man’s search for justice for the USS Indianopolis / Peter Nelson (940.545973 NEL 2002)
-awesome set of circumstances where the movie Jaws motivates a young man to discover the real story behind an American WWII incident.

The mysteries of Beethoven’s hair / Russell Martin (780.92 MAM 2009)
-again, amazing accounting of the history of a lock of Mr. Bs hair that provides new information about the cause of his death.

The secret of the yellow death: a true story of medical sleuthing / Suzanne Jurmain (614.541 JUS 2009)
-we know how this ends, but it doesn't matter as the tension builds when doctors, scientists and volunteers place themselves at risk to discover the cause and antedote for yellow fever.

Tracking trash: flotsam, jetsam and the science of ocean motion / Loree Griffin Burns (Scientists in the field series) (551.462 BUT 2007)
-there's a lot of crap floating around in our oceans (besides oil) and this scientist takes us along to discover how things end up where they do.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Journal entry #2 : Legacy – the journey begins…

Okay, been doing some mulling and brainstorming about this idea of legacy.  Poking around on the internet, too.  You never know what might spark an idea.  So far, I’ve got a bunch of roughed out ideas, questions, words, scribbled on a piece of paper becoming more cluttered all the time.  I really should start with a much bigger piece of paper.  You’d think I learn …

Random thoughts:

definition - something left behind due to a 'leave-taking', death, or departure; something big that goes beyond us and extends into the future
       (typically related to death - How will school handle this? Sensitive issue?)

    : intentional vs. unintentional
    :good and bad legacies
    :What constitutes legacy:
        -possessions, money, personal narratives, spiritual legacies
        (values, hopes, wishes, advice, etc.)
    :Does age or identity play into creating a legacy?
    :opposite of legacy - consequences - worth exploring?
    :What does legacy mean for those who receive or benefit from...?
    :How do legacies change over time? Static vs dynamic
    :Is it important to leave a legacy?
    :Legacy vs consequences/after effects - Are they the same or different?
        Is it a matter of intention?
    :"Lasting legacies" - Does this mean legacies don't last?
    :start with dreams vs. start with planning legacy
    :How is the word legacy used? In everyday conversation? Media?
        Politics? Religion? Science? Art?


specifics                     : people
       Ruby Bridges, Nelson Mandela, Craig Keilburger, Mother Theresa, Wangari, One Hen guy, Hitler, Tommy Douglas, Pierre Trudeau, Obama, Prophet Mohammad, Julius Caesar, Louis Riel, Henry VIII, John A. MacDonald, Hana Brady, Hannah (Ladybug Foundation), David Suzuki

: situations
                                        Holocaust, WWI, WWII, environmental issues, tsunami, consumerism, nuclear war, Pier 21, multiculturalism, politics, business, 9/11, civil rights movement, slavery, TV, residential schools, apartheid, plagues, public education, industrialization, globalization, revolutions, scientific ideas, artistic ideas, social movements, feminism, imperialism

So far…

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Small deeds changing lives - Nonfiction Monday

A MT student recently reminded me about One hen: how one small loan made a big difference (823 M6380 PIC BK) and then, as these things often happen, I  found out (see PaperTigers ) that the book had led to the creation of a non-profit organization One Hen, Inc. which recently celebrated its first anniversary, May 7th, 2010. (I know I missed the boat but I was so thrilled to discover this, I just had to share.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t get all the specifics on how the student had used the book in her class (elementary level, I believe) but she was very excited about how helpful it had been.  It had made accessible the idea of individuals helping each other and specifically, how this is accomplished through micro-financing.  I can see some interesting connections between math and social studies/social issues with this one.  Check out the website One Hen  for more teaching ideas.

One hen tells of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who uses a small amount of money to purchase a hen that will both help feed him and his mother but also supply eggs that he can sell for profit.  By saving his money, Kojo is able to increase the size of his flock thereby earning enough money to return to school.  His hard work at school earns him a scholarship that leads to college and learning more about raising poultry. Eventually, he qualifies for a small bank loan that enables his business to flourish.  His many employees now benefit from that initial small loan and that first hen.
Though Kojo is fictional, this is based on the true story of Kwabena Darko who did establish a successful poultry farm in Ghana in a similar way (though not exactly as described in the story).  He established a small-loan lending organization (Sinapi Aba) to help Ghanaians build small businesses after an employee asked him for help setting up his own business.

The book lists several organizations that provide loans in this way.  It was through this book that I learned about an international micro-financing organization that allows individuals such as me and coincidentally, the MT student who had reminded me about the book, to loan amounts as small as $25 to people from around the world.  It’s been great learning about how people are trying to improve their lives in such varying circumstances.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summertime reading pile – Update #2, fiction

So it continues.  I didn’t realize I’d have so many books to list for this posting that I decided to break it into two parts.  Part 1 listed fiction, picture books and novels. 
Read, read, read.  That’s all I do. So much good stuff, so little  time...

Here are some highlights for fiction:
Picture books
Chester’s masterpiece by Melanie Watt, preschool to grade 2, egotistical cat highjacks author’s story, trying to write and rewrite his own masterpiece. Funny chatter between Melanie Watt and Chester.

Duck rabbit!  by Amy Knouse, grades K-2 – it all depends on how you look at it.  Could be a duck.  Could be a rabbit.

Flight of the mermaid retold by Gita Wolf and Sirish Rao, grades 2-5 retelling of the Andersen’s Little Mermaid but with lovely, illustrations from tribal Gond artist from India.

Pemba Sherpa by Olga Cossi, grades 2-6, a sister proves to her brother that she has skills and powers that will make her a good guide in the Himalayan mountains, not a typical role for females.

47 by Walter Mosley – grades 7-10, not the usual story about slaves in the 1800s with elements of fantasy, science fiction.

An abundance of Katherines by John Green – grades 10-12, comedic look at teenage angst issues such as the future, college, dating, road trips, self-perception and math formula for predicting breakups. What the...?!  When you need to lighten up, check this one out.

Babymouse, dragonslayer by Jennifer L. Holm – graphic novel for grades 2-5, highly imaginative Babymouse dealing with math angst.

Conspiracy of kings by Megan Whalen Turner – grades 7 and up, 4th in series, a minor character from the first book The Thief, tells his story as he comes to power. Lots of political intrigue.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher – grades 7 and up, 1st in series about a futuristic time and place that bans technology and lives in an enforced medieval lifestyle.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld – grades 7 and up, 1st in series about a parallel world around the time of World War I, with twists between the ultimate techno-geeks (German/allies) and the bio-technologists on steroids (Britain/allies).

Makeshift miracle by Jim Zubkavich – graphic novel for grades 7 and up, teens looking to connect and making mean of the world but learning there’s a price to pay.

Operation yes! by Sara Holmes – grades 4-7, school story of living on a military base (and all that entails) and impact drama has on a class of grade 6 students and their teacher.

Rising star of Rusty Nail by Lesley Blume – grades 4-6, small town USA during the cold war is highly suspicious of the new Russian piano teacher who is teaching the town’s two musical prodigies.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summertime reading pile – Update #2, nonfiction

I’ve been a reading-mad-woman and enjoying every minute of it.  Unfortunately, the pile doesn’t appear to be shrinking.  Does anyone else have this problem or is it just me?  
Picture books – Nonfiction
An eye for color: the story of Josef Albers by Natasha Wing, grades 3-6, wonderful way to introduce color theory, how colors interact with each and the man behind this work.

Seaside switch by Kathleen Kudlinski, preschool to grade 2, wonderful combination of illustrations and text that introduces the ecology of tidal pools and seashore habitats.

Tarra and Bella: the elephant and dog who became best friends by Carol Buckles, grades 3-6, beautiful, tender relationship between an elephant and stray dog.  These books always get me teary eyed but at least no one dies in this one!

Nonfiction – high levels
Anne Frank: her life in words and pictures from the archives of the Anne Frank House by Menno Metselaar, grade 5 and up, Just when you think “what more is there to know?” this book comes along that makes Anne into a real person (at least for me) with a thoughtful blend of commentary, additional extracts from her diary and photos.

Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War II by Norman H. Gershman, high school/adult, short, straight-up accounts by Albanian Muslims who help numerous Jews escape and survive Nazi persecution.

Hive detectives: chronicle of a honey bee catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns, grades 5-9, nonfiction at its best as research seeks to find out what is killing huge numbers of honey bees, important part of food production.

Look! Seeing the light in art by Gillian Wolfe, grades 3-7, just love how the quality of light is discussed with each selection.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Journal entry #1 :Next great big idea.

For the last few years, I’ve offered mega-book talks for teachers from the 
Nellie McClung Elementary School, here in Calgary. By the end of each August, I’ve pulled a schwack of books for Kindergarten to grade 6, focused around a very specific theme selected by all the teachers the previous spring.  This theme becomes the springboard around which learning will evolve for the entire upcoming school year, as well as tie into the Alberta curriculum.  Whew!  Quite an endeavor.

I’m given the topic in June and then spend the next couple of months mulling over and reading books with this idea tucked into the back of my mind, seeing or imagining how it may tie into the big idea.

In the past some of the big ideas have been justice, change, cause and effect and identity.  This last one, identity, I turned into a mind map  and developed a series of questions and ideas around the concept and attached a bibliography. It is challenging to come up with a broad enough range of resources that tie into the big idea.  You just never know what the spark will be to get the topic launched at the top of the school year or supported later on.

This year’s challenge is ‘legacy’.  I’ve only been given the bare bones of the potential specific focal point for each grade but I’ve already got a few ideas kicking around.

Over the course of the next couple of months I’ll post an update or two about the progress (hopefully) I’m having coming up with resources that tie into the idea of legacy.  I hope this will help you see the process as I develop my book lists and inspire you to build or freshen up your own.  The word ‘process’ makes this sound like I have a set course of action. Ah, not so much.  It’s all pretty much a hodge-podge of thinking and reading and then more thinking and reading.  We’ll see if I can articulate the ‘process’ any better than that as we go along.

Maybe I’ll ask your for input too, once I start to get a better handle on the topic.

Now I need to get busy thinking and ah, reading, too, I guess.

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