Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - Assorted Science in Poem and Verse

When I was teaching kids on a daily basis, I began my lessons with a cartoon, a poem, or short excerpt from a book. It was a great way to "hook" kids into the ideas that would be presented while getting them interested in learning more. Cartoons from The Far Side were a staple, as were Calvin and Hobbes (there's a lot of bad science in those puppies!). I had a huge classroom library, so books weren't a problem. When we studied insects I read excerpts from James and the Giant Peach and told students their job was to determine if certain statements were true. When we studied electricity I read an excerpt from Dear Mr. Henshaw where Leigh builds an alarm system (circuit!) into his lunch box. Poetry, however, was a bit harder to come by. Sure, there was a great deal of nature poetry by some classic poets, but poetry that touched kids seemed hard to find. 

If you've been following my posts this month, you'll note that finding good science poetry is, thankfully, not so hard these days! This is definitely something to celebrate.

Today's "perfectly paired" is about books of science poems that are wide-ranging in topic, and some comprehensive books for the classroom that complement them.

Poetry Books
Spectacular Science: A Book of Poems, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Virginia Halstead, is an anthology of 15 poems that includes work by Valerie Worth, Lilian Moore, Carl Sandburg and others. Here's one of my favorite poems.

by Florence Parry Heide

Big rocks into pebbles,
pebbles into sand,
I really hold a million million rocks here in my hand.

Poem ©Florence Parry Heide. All rights reserved.

Covering topics such as rocks, snowflakes, and stars, this collection invites readers to think about science and the work that scientists do.

Scien-Trickery: Riddles in Science, written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz, is a book of 18 riddle poems on a range of science topics. Here's an example.
The Old Switcheroo 
My father's the arc,
My mother's the sparck.
Without them you would
Be left in the dark.
Do you know the answer? Readers turn the page upside down to find it. The illustrations that accompany each riddle give visual clues if readers can't make sense of the poems.

Here's one more for you to puzzle over.
I am expressible
Only by decibel:
10 is a whisper
30 is cripser,
60, in relation,
Is normal conversation.
80 is traffic and telephones.
120? The Rolling Stones.
130 is a cannon shot!
150 is ... what?!
Poems ©J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

Back matter includes notes on the poems that explain a bit about the science of each subject.

Together there are some wonderful topic pairs that can be made using SPECTACULAR SCIENCE AND SCIEN-TRICKERY, including the poem Magnet by Valerie Worth with the poem Push Me, Pull Me by J. Patrick Lewis, as well as the poem Under the Microscope by Lee Bennett Hopkins with the poem Buggety Buggety Boo! by J. Patrick Lewis.

Science Verse, written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith, is a collection of science poems that parody poems by Joyce Kilmer, Lewis Carroll, Ann Taylor, Robert Frost and others, as well as nursery rhymes and childhood songs. It begins:
On Wednesday in science class, Mr. Newton says, "You know, if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything." 
I listen closely. On Thursday, I start hearing the poetry. In fact, I start hearing everything as a science poem. 
Mr. Newton has zapped me with a curse of SCIENCE VERSE.
I love this book because it makes reading (and singing) about science FUN and uses poetry to do it! Could there be a better way to learn about the food chain, water cycle, and more?! Here's an example
Food Chain
(Sung to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad)
I've been working in the food chain,
All the livelong day.
In the middle of the food chain,
I've got no time to play.
Can't you see the green plants growing?
That's energy, okay?
Consumer eats up the producer,
Predator eats prey.
Who's for lunch today?
Who's for lunch today?
Don't you just wonder, who's for lunch today?
Predator or prey.
Predator or prey.
Eat or be eaten, that's the only way.
Text and Poem ©Jon Scieszka. All rights reserved.

The book ends with our young hero waking from a dream, cured of his Science Verse. While I can't imagine any student sleeping through science class, this is one book that will surely keep a sleepy student's attention!

Nonfiction Picture Books
Smart-Opedia Junior: The Amazing Book About Everything, written by the Editors of Maple Tree Press, is the perfect book for kids who love to ask questions. The following seven chapters are divided into more than 90 topical pages:
  • Our Bodies
  • A House to Live In
  • In the City
  • History
  • A World of Plants and Animals
  • A Big, Wide World
  • The Universe
The book opens with an introduction that describes the features of the book. Beyond the information presented on each topic, readers will find these five fun additions (as described in the book).
  • Figure It Out! - Have fun with puzzles and games. Spot hidden animals, read Egyptian Hieroglyphics, make movie sound effects.
  • What About You? - You are a very special person. What are your favorite colors? What's your birthday? What was the first word you said?
  • Did You Know? - Eye-opening facts about animals, plants, people, and places add more information -- to make you even smarter.
  • Number Time! - Discover the size of a lion, how many blocks in a pyramid, and the speed of your sneeze!
  • Kids' Question - Why does the Moon change shape? How do fish breathe underwater? Why are leaves green? Find answer to real questions like these, asked by kids just like you.
Here is a sample spread showing the What About You? feature. (Click to enlarge.)
The book covers a lot of ground in 192 pages. It includes an extensive table of contents and index. It starts small with an introduction to the child's world, and then branches out to include the community and larger world. The section on Our Bodies provides a nice introduction to many of the questions kids ask about human growth and development, as well as parts of the body and illness. The section on A House to Live In can be a bit hard to follow, with some of the individual pieces seemingly unconnected. It begins by looking at the physical structure of the place ("How Do We Get Electricity, Water and Gas?" and "Who Built the House?") and then goes on to look at "One Day at Home" (lots of chronology and time-telling) and "What to Wear?", which looks at clothing and seasons. Next comes nutrition with "A Good Breakfast for Holly", and "Linked In Living Room", which looks at all the ways we use technology to keep us connected. It ends "In the Bathroom".

The next section, In the City, looks at the community and all it offers. The section on History is only 20 pages long, so the areas highlighted need to reflect the interests of readers this age. Need I say more than inventions, dinosaurs and pirates? The choices all make sense for the target audience. A World of Plants and Animals includes information about farming, domestic and wild animals, plants, habitats and life cycles. A Big, Wide World focuses on continents and the biomes found in them, as well as the people who live there. The final section, The Universe, examines space exploration, the solar system (correctly ending with Neptune and describing the dwarf planets of Pluto, Ceres, and Eris), and living in space.

The colorful cartoon drawings and simple sentences make this an appealing book for young readers. There is much here that curious kids will love.

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, written by Bill Bryson and illustrated by Yuliya Somina and Martin Sanders, is an abridged and adapted version for kids of his bestseller, A Short History of Nearly Everything. Here's an excerpt from the Foreword.
I learned two particular things from doing this book. The first is that there isn't anything in existence—not a thing that—isn't amazing and interesting when you look into it. Whether you are talking about how the universe began from nothing, or how each one of us is made up of trillions of mindless atoms that somehow work together in agreeably coordinated fashion, or why the oceans are salty, or what happens when stars explore, or anything at all—it is all amazingly interesting. It really is. 
After the Foreword readers will find these (loosely constructed) chapters. (There are no definitive stops between sections that mark them as such in the text, only how they are organized in the Table of Contents).
  • Lost in the Cosmos
  • The Size of the Earth
  • A New Age Dawns
  • Dangerous Planet
  • Life Itself
  • The Road to Us
While the chapters vary in length, each topic in a chapter receives a double-page spread that combines lively text with illustrations and (sometimes) photos. Together, all these things combine to create a vastly understandable and engaging treatment of a range of science topics. The scientists who made many of the discovers that have helped build our understanding of phenomena today are included, helping readers to understand that science is a human endeavor.

Here's an excerpt.
Finding Earth's age 
By the late 1700s, scientists knew very precisely the shape and dimensions of the Earth, its distance from the Sun and planets, and its weight. So you might think that working out its age would be relatively straightforward. But no! Human beings would split the atom and invent television, nylon and instant coffee before they would figure out the age of their own planet. 
After this introduction are subsections entitled Mountain-climbing shells, Neptune versus Pluto, A heaving Earth, and A new science. The side bar on the right side of the double-page spread contains this tidbit.
Geology - the study of rocks, soil, and all the materials that make up our planet, how they formed and changed—all this would transform our entire understanding of the Earth.
The final chapter, The Road to Us, ends with the sections Humans take over, What now?, and Goodbye. Here is an excerpt.
I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep of record of where it has been, you wouldn't choose human beings for the job.
The best there is
However, we have been chosen—by fate or providence, or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is. It's an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe's supreme achievement and its worst nightmare at one and the same time.
The fact is, we don't have any real idea how our present actions will affect the future. What we do know is that we have just one planet to inhabit, and we are the only species on it capable of deciding its future.
Text ©Bill Bryson. All rights reserved.

Bryson doesn't shy away from controversy in this book. He tackles the topics of age of the Earth and the theory of evolution and addresses them directly without any waffling. If you teach in Kansas, Texas, or a state in the midwest in which these ideas are controversial, this may not be the book for your classroom. However, if you're willing to share just pieces, you won't be disappointed. Bryson's gift for storytelling and making difficult science understandable will most certainly spark the interests of your students.

Additional Resources
I'll wrap today's post up with links to a few (not all!) of my favorite science sites. (Please note that as much as I like BrainPop, it's not free. You'll only find free resources listed below.)
  • Ology is the science web site for kids sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. Kids can explore all areas of science here, including astronomy, dinosaurs, genetics marine biology, and more. 
  • TryScience is a site with resources for kids, parents, and educators that encourages active engagement with science concepts and ideas. Connected to more than 400 science centers worldwide, TryScience invites kids to investigate, discover, and try science themselves.
  • The Exploratorium is a museum of science, art, and human perception located in San Francisco, California. The Explore, Play, Discover section has all kinds of great science-related topics to investigate.
  • Chem4Kids is a terrific introduction to chemistry, providing information on matter, atoms, elements, the periodic table, reactions, and biochemistry. (This is the Andrew Rader site that started it all. Since then sites have been added for Cosmos4Kids (astronomy), Geography4Kids (earth science), Biology4Kids, and Physics4Kids.)
  • The Lawrence Hall of Science kids site contains a wealth of activities on a range of science topics.
  • The Why Files is a site that explores the science behind the news. While probably not appropriate for use in most elementary classrooms, curious teachers will find all kinds of answers to their questions here.
Tomorrow I wrap up this National Poetry Month celebration with the Poetry Friday Anthology for Science and thoughts on authors you must have in your collection.

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