Monday, February 9, 2015

Perfect Fit

A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba is a perfect novel to accompany the grade 6 science unit about trees in Alberta or any unit about trees for the middle grades, for that matter.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

Living in Coppertown was like living on the moon.  The whole area was raw ground, bare and bumpy from erosion ditches cuttin’ through every which way.  As far as the horizon, it looked like a wrinkled, brown paper bag. There weren't no bushes, nor grass neither – no green things weaving through to settle our homes in to the land and make ‘em look like they belonged.  So why did Miss Post bother teaching us about trees when we didn't have any?

Coppertown,Tennessee (circa. 1980s) is based on a real place and was very much a moonscape as described above while the copper mine was operating. The pollution produced from smelting and the resulting acid rain left the landscape bare of any vegetation and void of birds, insects, and animals.  Nylon stockings left to dry outside would be eaten by the rain.  Rain would sting as it hit bare skin.  Lack of vegetation meant that the soil would badly erode whenever it rained, too.  The author includes a few pictures of the town and area to give us a very good sense about the landscape.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

I got very excited as I read this book.  Because…

When I do a workshop about lesson planning for the student-teachers in the education program here at the University, I include an interactive component that requires the students to think about the Alberta Education objective for this particular unit:

Describe characteristics of trees and the interaction of trees with other living things in the local environment.

Not the most electrifying objective out there.  So the challenge is for students to come up with a more interesting question (really, an essential question if the time allowed) that could lead into an inquiry project and excite the imaginations of grade 6 students.

Students come up with all sorts of ideas but one that comes up pretty consistently is “What would the world be like without any trees?”

Hence, my excitement about   A Bird on Water Street.

Throughout the novel, Jack, the protagonist questions why things are the way they are.  He’s interested in nature, curious about plants, insects and birds he’s never seen.  With encouragement from his teacher, he reads about how plants grow and starts a garden. He’s fortunate that the mine is on strike so that the air isn't as toxic as usual and his tender seedlings have a chance to grow.  He doesn't want to be a miner like his father and struggles with the internal conflict he feels to go against family tradition.  There are several plot lines but the one with Jack exploring the natural world as best he can makes this book a perfect fit for a unit about trees.

This book provides an opportunity to introduce a language arts component into a science unit without any effort at all.


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