Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another New Poem - Rainbows

William and I went to a school fair yesterday morning and then spent some time after lunch blowing bubbles and making rainbows. When we finally came inside, he collapsed on the couch and slept for a good part of the late afternoon. I worked on revising some poems while he dreamed.

Here's one I wrote about rainbows. I revised the original (written for my middle schoolers) and it put in the form of a reverse Fib.
Sun behind, rain before - light bends
bounces, births an arc
Visit this Science Kids page to learn more about rainbows and how they form.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Poetry Saturday - Animal Families

William and I have been reading about animal families, so I was inspired to write this silly little poem. Enjoy!
A Family For You

Consider your life in
a warren or scurry

If your kin were a pride
would you need ever worry?

Are you suited to
tower or ambush or band?

Would play in a shrewdness
get way out of hand?

Imagine your clan is
a bloat or a pod

Would home in a prickle
be frighteningly odd?

a cackle
a richness
a gaze

In which of these groups could you
spend your days?

while you can
and make it

Because the Zookeeper
is coming for
Thumbs up to you if you can name the animal groups. For a hint or two, visit this zoo page!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Poetry Friday - Bats!

Reading The Bat-Poet with William this week has put me in the mood for poems about these wonderfully useful mammals. Did you know that bats are helpful pollinators? That they help spread seeds so plants grow in new areas? They they can eat so many insects in one day (nearly half their body weight) that they are terrific natural pest controllers? In honor of these amazing creatures, I share two poems today.

This first one is an original.
Nocturnal navigator
aerial magician
and flip
and grab
erratic flights of fancy

Not feathered
on the wing
The second offering is an excerpt from D.H. Lawrence's poem entitled Bat. You can read the poem in its entirety here.
Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp
As the bats swoop overhead!
Flying madly.

Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.
Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;

Wings like bits of umbrella.


Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;
And disgustingly upside down.
Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep.
Not for me!
For even more bat poems, check out these books.
Finally, if you want to learn more about bats, visit this bat page from the San Diego Zoo. Happy Poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why I Blog

I've been asked recently why I blog, so I thought I would share my thoughts here. The best way to begin to answer this question is show you some pictures. This is my spice drawer.
The spices are ordered alphabetically and they are all labeled. My friends and family like to annoy me by rearranging them.

This is a picture of the the cabinets in the kitchen I designed.
The women I work with insisted I was crazy to want white cabinets ("They'll get dirty.") with glass fronts ("You'll have to keep them neat.") I was not swayed by these arguments. I have a huge selection of pottery that I wanted to show off instead of hide behind a door. I love the colors and shapes that you can see.

These two pictures say a lot about me. My friends in grad school called me "anal retentive." My dissertation advisor hated this term, so he called me ABC - A Bit Compulsive. It's true, and because of this, I have a very hard time letting my work go unless it's perfect (see comment about perfectionist in my profile). If it weren't for my dissertation advisor prying my work out of my hands, I would be ABD and endlessly rewriting.

I know that good writing is never finished, that writing well is all about revising and rewriting, but I never seem to feel like my work is at a point where I can say it's "done." This is why I blog. I want to write more, need to practice, and must learn to let it go. Whether the writing here is mundane, academic, or silly, it gives me a chance to work on my writing, allows ideas floating around in my head to see the light of day, and encourages me to keep going. So, that's why I started blogging. I keep going now because I have been embraced by this amazing community that is the kidlitosphere and I want so much to be an active part of it. I hope in some small way that I am contributing as much to the world as these wonderful folks offer to me.

That's my story. Why do you blog/write?

Meet My Daemon

At the movie site for The Golden Compass you can meet your daemon by taking a 20 question personality profile. Here's mine.

Thanks to Child_Lit listserv for the info!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Impact of the Cover

I was thinking today about how much the cover of a book can entice a reader. Having spent an hour this morning just browsing at my local bookstore, I was drawn to a number of books based on the cover art. If I was moved by the title or art, I picked it up and read more.

Take a look at some of these categories of books in my teaching library and see if they don't raise your interest just a bit. If you get to the page and see the list view, click on cover view for a real treat.
Now, don't these images make you just want to run out and check out some of these titles at your local library or independent bookseller?

The Visual Me

In the last four days I have had tetanus, hepatitis A and typhoid shots, been smushed and pushed, had a yearly exam, an eye exam, taken my husband for emergency medical treatment for chest pains and difficulty breathing (just some badly bruised ribs), and spent more than 180 collective minutes on hold trying to find out why my passport STILL hasn't arrived. (Yes, I'm leaving in 20 days and in addition to my passport, I need a Chinese visa.)

Pause. Deep breath. This is where I tell you I need a bit of silliness in my life. So, today on my lunch break while eating in front of my computer, I followed the kidlit crowd (Kelly, Michelle and Libby to name a few) and got my VisualDNA. Have a look!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Exploring the Natural World - Part 3

In this third and final post in my series on exploring the natural world, I thought it would be helpful to point you to some of my best resources for outdoor education. Some of these are designed specifically for teachers, while others are actually written for kids. These are the books I turn to over and over again for great ideas for exploring nature.

First, a general plug for environmental education programs. I am a facilitator for Project WILD, Project Learning Tree (PLT), Population Connection. and Wonders of Wetlands. All of these groups publish comprehensive curriculum materials that provide background information and useful activities, many of them outdoor. If you can get to a workshop and receive these materials, by all means do.

In addition to these resources, the following books help to round out my collection of resources for teachers.
  • I have two well-worn copies of the original books published by Joseph Cornell, Sharing Nature with Children and Sharing the Joy of Nature. You can find the 20th anniversary edition of Sharing Nature with Children, and Sharing Nature with Children II at Dawn Publications. These are filled with a variety of games and activities that will help young and old get more in touch with the world around them.
  • Nature with Children of All Ages by Edith Sisson - This publication from the Massachusetts Audubon Society is chock full of ideas for exploring the natural world. I particularly like the thematic organization, where topics such as tree, plants, seeds, invertebrates, birds, etc. can be found.
  • The National Wildlife Federation has published a series called Ranger Rick's NatureScope. Covering a range of subjects, such as weather, geology, trees, endangered species, etc., these guides provide extensive background information and activities.
There are many books written for kids that I use not only to guide my selection of activities, but as wonderful resources for grabbing their attention and focusing them on what they may find/see outdoors.
  • Nature Detective: How to Solve Outdoor Mysteries by Eileen Docekal - Set up in a mystery format, this book includes information on animal tracks, animal houses, pond creatures, bird songs, animal scents, seeds, fungi, weather, and nocturnal creatures. Each chapter presents a "case" for children to solve.
  • My First Green Book by Angela Wilkes - This practical, oversized volume provides hands-on activities that demonstrate the importance of pitching in to protect our planet. Similar in format to the Eyewitness series, the book is filled with large-scale, color photos that effectively illustrate such experiments as those that show how clean the air is, how acid rain affects plants, how various objects biodegrade at different rates (if at all) and why rain forests are so crucial to the Earth. Other projects include creating a wildlife garden in a flower box, planting a tree and organizing a "green campaign" with one's friends.
  • My First Nature Book by Angela Wilkes - Also an oversized volume in the format of the Eyewitness series, this book provides an introduction to nature through a variety of simple indoor and outdoor activities including collecting seeds, feeding birds, watching a butterfly grow and more.
  • Nature in the Neighborhood by Gordon Morrison - Each double-page spread in this book reveals the diversity and abundance of life that can be found in your own backyard.
Please let me know if you have any favorite resources for getting kids outdoors and teaching about our wonderful world. I would love to hear about them.

**If you missed the earlier entries, please do read Part 1 and Part 2.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What Shall I Read? - Audio Books, Please!

Monica over at educating alice left a comment on my last post in which she said "I'd go for Austen myself (or how about Dickens? I'm having a wonderful time listening to them. Just finished Nicholas Nickleby --- fantastic yet again!) ."

Listening. Hmmmmmm. This option never even crossed my mind. While I have been updating my iPod and making music choices, I haven't thought a whit about audio books. I noticed that in the comments section of Kelly's recent post entitled Books That Make Me Ask: "Am I Alone Here?", several folks responded that they found their experience with the audio version of The Book Thief to be very different (and generally more positive) from the written word. The only book I have ever read by listening was Dennis LeHane's Mystic River, and this was only because I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie. I was moved by the narration, the prose, and word choice. Listening to it while on a 10 hour drive to Buffalo and again back to Richmond made the time fly, though it did little in the way of improving my driving skills. In the end, I did not see the movie, not wanting to ruin the experience of listening to this amazing story.

So, this is a long-winded introduction to the question of what to include in my listening library. Since I have no real experience with audio books, what do you recommend? What stories have you listened too and been moved by or just simply found pure enjoyment in?

What Shall I Read? - Recommendations Please!

I do not like to fly, and the thought of the 14+ hours from Chicago to Toyko, not to mention the legs from Richmond to Chicago and Tokyo to Taipei have me wondering what I'll do with the time. I am already collecting a pile of books to take with me. I have some new books I have not read, but do not want to weigh my bag down with hardcovers. So far my pile includes:
  • The Fetch of Mardy Watt by Charles Butler - Thanks to Michele at Scholar's Blog and the author himself, a signed copy arrived on my doorstep a short time ago. I am saving this one for the trip.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman - Okay, I'll reluctantly admit I haven't read this, largely because I read several reviews comparing it to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a book of which I've never been particularly fond. But thanks to the enthusiasm of Fuse #8 and others for Mr. Gaiman and his work, I am ready to jump in.
  • Well-worn and loved copies of Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are ALL on the pile. I never travel without one copy of Jane Austen, though I'm not sure which it will be at this point.
  • I'm also quite fond of the works of E.M. Forster. Perhaps Howards End, A Room With a View or A Passage to India may make the trip.
I would love to take copies of the recent Newbery books, but alas, they are all still in hardcover. So, what are your thoughts? What paperback reads do you recommend for this long trip across the planet?

It's Here! - The 13th Carnival

The 13th Carnival of Children's Literature has landed over at Jen Robinson's place in cyberspace. Head on over and check out the midway attractions. You'll find picture book, middle grades, and young adult reviews. There are booklists, poetry and performance artists. There is a list of assorted kid-lit related fare, as well as commentary on prizes and awards. Finally, if you are a fan of humor, start at the bottom and enjoy a few laughs from some very thoughtful and entertaining bloggers.

So, grab a a cup of whatever you're drinking (mine is a huge pot of tea), and settle in for a little exploration today. You are bound to find lots here to enjoy.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Trip of a Lifetime - 25 Days and Counting

With only 25 days left until I depart for the other side of the world, I am growing more and more excited. I just received the most wonderful set of notebooks from Vickerey. I will be using them to document the sights, sounds, tastes and smells. I plan to take a small set of colored pencils so that I can make some sketches as well. I will, of course, take my camera and laptop in the hopes of documenting things more formally on my blog. I only hope I can live up to the high standard set by Grace Lin on her recent trip to Hong Kong.

I have been struggling to post lately because it is not only the end of the semester, but because I seem to be spending every free minute reading in preparation for the trip. I was fascinated by, and learned a great deal from John Pomfret's book, Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China. This week I finished the highly academic collection of essays on Tibet found in Contemporary Tibet: Politics, Development, and Society in a Disputed Region. Over the next two weeks we will embark on our third book, Untying the Knot: Making Peace in the Taiwan Strait.

I am fortunate to be traveling with a very diverse group of faculty members, most of whom I don't know well, but am learning about already through our weekly seminars. They come from the departments of political science, philosophy, journalism, music, history, economics, marketing and management. The director of University Museums is also joining us. We are being led by a colleague who is a noted scholar of Asian studies, with a particular emphasis on China and Taiwan. So, on May 15th, eleven of us, five women and six men, will depart for Taiwan. In our nearly three weeks abroad we will visit Taipei, Beijing, Lhasa (Tibet), Kunming, and Shanghai. We will return on June 3rd, one day before my 13th wedding anniversary.

My mind is constantly filled with thoughts of the trip these days. During meetings, my mind and pen turn to making lists of what I will pack. I lay awake at night thinking about everything I will do and see. I am outlining what I want to collect for the "Ancient China Study Box" I will be creating for second grade teachers in our local schools. My plan is to write as much as possible about teaching this portion of the curriculum while I am actually in China experiencing all it has to offer.

I am so excited. I hope you will join me here once I set off on this grand adventure. I would love to share my story with you.

The Bio DaVersity Code

I don't usually post videos, but in anticipation of Earth Day, I want to share the Bio DaVersity Code. The science is good, but I must reluctantly admit to being one of the few people on the planet who hasn't read The DaVinci Code or seen the film. Even without this background, the video works for me!

Poetry Friday - Two Poems

Gregory K. at GottaBook and Elaine at Wild Rose Reader have been posting original poems each day in honor of National Poetry Month. These talented and creative overachievers have inspired me to revisit some of my own work. Today I share two science poems, one original and one by a favorite author.

First, here's a poem I wrote for my middle school students when we were studying reptiles.
My Shell
Carapace of brown and black,
heavy shield upon my back.
Ribs and backbone fused to it,
all to my body carefully knit.
Protection of the toughest kind,
impossible to leave behind.
The second poem today (and one somewhat related to mine) comes from J. Patrick Lewis. I'm just crazy about his work. Please Bury Me in the Library is laugh-out-loud funny, and I use both Arithme-Tickle: An Even Number of Odd Riddle Rhymes and Scien-Trickery: Riddles in Science in my classes. Students seem to love the poems as much as I do.

So, without further ado, poem number 2 comes from Scien-Trickery.
Shell Game
Here is where
The giant tortoise
Moves as slow as
Rigor mortis.

Darwin studied
Awesome fauna-
Finches, cormo-
rants, iguanas

On this scien-
tific shore
Off the coast of
For the answer to the riddle, view this short clip. If you haven't yet seen the National Geographic film, you should!

Happy poetry Friday, all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Reading Aloud in Kindergarten

In February I was the guest reader in my son's kindergarten classroom. He and I spent some time the night before my visit to look over his favorite picture books and select the ones I would read. I told William that my goal was to read "fun" books his teacher had not already shared with the class. I also told him he needed to think about selecting books that both the boys and girls in his class might enjoy. William then picked out several of his favorites and told me to "surprise him" by picking from the pile he had made. My final choices?
  • 19 Girls and Me by Darcy Pattison - What happens when a young boy finds that his kindergarten class is full of girls? While his second grade brother is worried that playing with girls will turn John Hercules into a sissy, John Hercules learns how much fun pretending with friends can be.
  • Big Chickens by Leslie Halakoski - Alliteration abounds as 4 cowardly, cautious, careful, chicken chickens walk into the woods to escape a wolf. This is a fun romp that the kids loved.
  • A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson - Meet a greedy frog who eats "ONE tick, TWO fleas, THREE flies (Oh my!),/ FOUR slugs (Ew, ugh!) in the belly of the frog/ on a half-sunk log/ in the middle of the bog." When his belly grows to an enormous size, that log he's been sitting on decides it's time to eat.
I will make my second, and last appearance this Friday. So far, William's pile includes the following titles.
  • Clancy the Courageous Cow by Lachie Hume - Clancy is a belted Galloway without a belt. Find out how he saves his herd teaches two very different groups of cows to get along. For more, Fuse #8 has written a terrific review you should read.
  • Chowder by Peter Brown - The Wubbington's bulldog is treated more like a child than a dog. Find out how he finally makes some animal friends who accept him for who he is.
  • Enemy Pie by Derek Munson - When Jeremy Ross moves into the neighborhood, a young boy's summer is ruined. With the help of his dad, he decides to make an enemy pie to get rid of Jeremy, however, for enemy pie to work, the boy must spend an entire day with Jeremy. Will enemy pie work?
  • A Spree in Paree by Catherine Stock - Monsieur Monmouton takes his farm animals on a day trip to Paris, where they take in ALL the sites. The ink and watercolor illustrations are fabulous.
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo retold by Arlene Mosel - When a Chinese boy falls into a well, help doesn't come quickly because the boy's name is long must be pronounced in full. The name? Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo. What fun to read!
Clancy the Courageous Cow is one I'll definitely take with me. The other two titles are up in the air. So, good readers, what do you think? What books do you think a group of Kindergarten kids would like to hear on a Friday afternoon?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Book Review - George Washington Carver: An Innovative Life

In February I wrote a post on African American Scientists and Inventors. Sadly, as I worked to describe books I share with my students, I realized that the list of titles numbered only five. I am happy to report the I have a new book to add to this list, and it is a remarkable addition.
While most people know that George Washington Carver was responsible for finding more than 300 uses for peanuts and more than 150 for sweet potatoes, there is much more to discover about one of the Tuskegee Institute's most famous professors. Did you know that George Washington Carver:
  • was an artist and gifted painter (largely creating compositions of flowers and plants)?
  • lived as a homesteader in western Kansas for about three years?
  • sang and played the accordion?
  • entered college at the age of 26, determined to study art?
  • exhibited a painting at the World's Fair in Chicago?
  • earned a Masters degree and became the first African American teacher at Iowa State?
I loved learning about the journeys in life that made George the man he was. Too often history is taught as a collection of names and dates, with little attention to the fact that extraordinary things are accomplished by ordinary people, often in the face of great adversity. History comes alive for students when we remember to focus on these individuals, and look at the events of time through the eyes of those who lived it.

This book is the latest addition to the Snapshots biography collection, a series that highlights important figures through accessible text that is supported by photographs, newspaper excerpts, journal pages, timelines and more. Elizabeth MacLeod has done a tremendous job of writing an engaging text that introduces readers to a George Washington Carver that just isn't described in most biographies for children. The quotes in the text are moving, and one can't help but cheer for George as the book marches on through events in his life, even though the outcome is known. From his birth to his death and the lingering impact of his work, MacLeod has written a book that celebrates and illuminates the life that was George Washington Carver's.

The dearth of well-written books for children on African American scientists and inventors is marked. This volume successfully begins the work of filling the void. My hope is that volumes on others of note, such as Benjamin Banneker and Lewis Latimer, will follow.

Teachers engaged in study of George Washington Carver should find that this text will make an engaging read aloud. Here is an excerpt.
George was a small boy and often sick, so he helped Aunt Sue with indoor work such as laundry, cleaning and cooking.

When George's chores were done for the day, he headed off to collect rocks, insects and plants. He carefully dug up flowers and replanted them in a secret garden he kept. There he watched over them, finding out how to make them grow better.

George also helped Aunt Sue with her vegetable and flower gardens. He gained a reputation for being able to make any plant grow and was nicknamed "Plant Doctor." Years later, George's love of plants would make him famous around the world.
This is a fine book that deserves a home in school and classroom libraries. I give it my highest recommendation.

Book: George Washington Carver: An Innovative Life
Author: Elizabeth MacLeod
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: February, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: 3 and up
ISBN-10: 1-553379063
ISBN-13: 978-1553379065
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Poetry Friday - Just Read!

Elaine's recent cinquain post got me thinking about this form of poetry. Since yesterday was National D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Day, I wrote this original poem during a really l-o-n-g meeting. Today, I share it!
Read to Know
You can
travel the world
visit places unknown.
Dream, pretend, do over again,
just read!
Happy poetry Friday, all!

Exploring the Natural World - Part 2

When I began teaching, I found myself in a school that was located adjacent to a cemetery that occupied 249 acres of prime green space in the city of Buffalo. With more than 200 species of trees, it was an amazing arboretum. Numerous birdhouses placed throughout the cemetery made it a year-round haven for more than 240 kinds of birds. Founded in 1849, Forest Lawn Cemetery is a veritable garden, with rolling hills, roads that curve and intertwine with the landscape, spring-fed lakes, a creek, and a wide array of sculptures that reflect the natural setting.

While the school itself had a field, it was the cemetery that started me on the path to using the outdoors as a classroom worthy of our attention. Some of the activities my students and I engaged in can be done in any outdoor setting. So, building on the activities described in Part 1, here are some more ideas for getting kids outside and learning in the natural world.

The Year of the Tree - Select a tree (preferably deciduous) that you would like to observe through the course of a year. Every two weeks (or any time period that makes sense to you) give children the opportunity to make a detailed observation of the tree, with the goal of creating a book at the end of the year. The first page of the book should include a description of the location of the tree, with information on why that particular tree was chosen. On this first observation, children should do the following:
  • Make a rubbing of the bark (to serve as the cover of the book)
  • Select one leaf for pressing
  • Make a detailed sketch of the tree
  • Look for and record signs of life in the tree, such as nests, holes, etc.
  • Use a large string to find the circumference of the tree
  • Estimate the height of the tree
    • Measure the child's shadow and the tree's shadow at the same time of day. Calculate the tree's height by using the following ratio: child's height/child's shadow = tree's height/tree's shadow. (You can learn more about measuring tree height at this site on Mapping the Louisiana Territory.)
On every visit to the tree, children should make a sketch and record information about how it looks, smells, and feels at the time. Encourage observation of the tree both up close and from a distance. Spend at least five minutes sitting at the base of the tree just watching for signs of life. At the end of the year of observation, all sketches and notes should be assembled into a book about the tree. (If you are interested in using a "ready-made" form, the Science Spot has pages for an Adopt-a-Tree activity.)
  • Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art by Thomas Locker - In this book, Locker depicts the same tree throughout the seasons. This is a terrific book for helping children to notice even the smallest changes that occur through time.
  • One Small Place in a Tree by Barbara Brenner - When a bear uses a tree as a scratching post, it sets off a chain of events that leads to a large hole that becomes home to a variety of forest animals. This is a great book for looking at many of the species of animal that can call a tree home.
Focused Observation - When I first begin to take kids outside, we do two activities designed to help them become better observers. In the first, I assign partner and give each pair a hula-hoop. The pair finds a spot in the yard, field or forest they would like to focus on. The hoop is laid on the ground, where it provides the boundaries for the observational field. How much can you find in this "small" circle? PLENTY! The first job should be to simply sit and look at all that is inside the hoop. Kids should sketch what they see in their journals. How many kinds of grass or vegetation are in the hoop? Knowing the names here isn't important, but rather recognizing that things look different. Encourage kids to get down on their knees and use their hands or a stick to part the vegetation and see what is beneath. A hand lens will help here. I often set timer this activity and then ask for groups to share what they have found. I also give groups the opportunity to repeat with a second plot so that they can see how different these small areas can be.

The second activity focuses on our ability to hear what is happening around us. Before we start, we sit together in the grass and I read The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor. Then, each child finds a spot to lean against a tree. We all close our eyes and spend several minutes just listening. When the timer goes off, the children open their journals and record what they heard. We repeat one more time, and after children have made their journal entries, we share what we heard.
Bug Hunting - Sometimes searching for small forms of life is easier and more interesting than looking for other animals. First, a bit about the word bug. In this case, we are looking for insects, spiders (arachnids), centipedes and millipedes. These are members of the phylum arthropod (we have left out crustaceans), the largest phylum of animals, containing more than 80% of known animal species. It may not be particularly scientific, but the word bug works for kids. I love to take kids on a bug hunt, both inside and outside the classroom. Inside? Yes, we share the indoors with lots of these little creatures. What kinds of bugs live in your house or classroom? If you don't see the bugs, can you see signs that they were there? Once your bug hunt moves outside, there are many places to look for bugs. In the air, trees, dirt, fallen logs, fence posts, bushes, etc. In the early morning hours you can even take a web hunt to see if the spider webs you find are different in location and appearance. You can take bug boxes along on your hunt, but I prefer to leave animals where I find them and just look. However, I do hold ladybugs, caterpillars and spiders so nervous kids can get a closer look. If you do this at home with your kids, consider hunting in the early morning hours and at dusk. You should see a marked difference in the bugs you observe.
  • Field Trips: Bug Hunting, Animal Tracking, Bird Watching, Shore Walking by Jim Arnosky - This book, written in field-journal format, provides helpful hints for taking successful outdoor field trips with kids. A visit to the coloring pages at Jim Arnosky's web site provides reproducibles for 100 animals every child should know. There are many "bugs" on this list, and these pages can be incorporated into field trip journals.
That's all for now. In the next entry in this series I will share some terrific teacher resources that provide ideas for sharing nature with children.

**Continue on and read Part 3!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Carnival of Environmental Education

Alone on a Limb has published the first carnival of environmental education. The inaugural edition of Learning in the Great Outdoors is out there just waiting for you to explore. It begins:
I have listed more of my own posts than I would have had there been more submissions. I also have posted links to several websites that may be of interest to you. And I have gone out and solicited permission to post a few links to blogs that I found helpful or interesting. We hope our visitors will spread the word and help this grow into a real clearinghouse for web log posts about outdoor education.
So, here I am, spreading the word. Please visit and then consider submitting an entry of your own for the next go-round.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Book Review - One Well: The Story of Water on Earth

When viewed from space, our home is blue, largely due to the fact that nearly 70% of its surface is covered by water. It is because of this that the Earth is often called "the water planet." Rochelle Strauss' new book, One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, tells the story of our planet's most precious resource. The book begins:
Imagine for a moment that all the water on Earth came from just one well.
This isn't as strange as it sounds. All water on Earth is connected, so there really is just one source of water--one global well--from which we all draw water.
The double page spreads in One Well provide both informational paragraphs and short, factual boxed insets, beginning with the distribution of water on earth, the water cycle, water's essential role in life on Earth and watery habitats. From here, the author looks at how people use, need and access water. The book concludes by looking at demands on the well, pollution, and saving our water.

One Well
provides an instructive and often-times inspiring look at water. Inspiring? Absolutely. The author reminds us that the amount of water on Earth hasn't ever changed. Since this water has been around for billions of year, it is entirely possible that the water we drink may have "quenched the thirst of a dinosaur" more than one hundred million years ago.

There is much in this book that kids will connect with. The author has done a superb job using simplified ratios to help make concepts understandable. For example, in describing how much freshwater is available to meet our needs, she writes:
Most of the water on Earth is saltwater--almost 97 percent. Only 3 percent is freshwater. If a tanker truck filled with water represented all the water on Earth, then the water used to fill a large bathtub would represent all of the planet's freshwater.
This is precisely the kind of comparison kids need to put descriptions of such vast quantities in perspective. The author goes on to discuss how over 99 percent of this freshwater is frozen in icecaps and glaciers or otherwise unavailable, and provides an even more startling measurement to represent the freshwater we can actually access for our use.

In looking at access to the well, the author compares the daily water use per person of the residents of North America, Russia, Poland, India, Nepal, Haiti and Ethiopia. We are told that for about 1 billion people on Earth, water is not found within the home, and that for these people, access to the nearest water supply is often a walk of more that 15 minutes.

While much of the material in this book was familiar to me, I did learn many new things such as:
  • Both tomatoes and jellyfish are composed of about 95% water.
  • Some rainforest organisms live their entire lives in the pools of water trapped by the leaves of the bromeliad.
  • In my lifetime, I will drink the equivalent of a backyard swimming pool of water.
The illustrations by Rosemary Woods beautifully support and complement the text. The pastel and colored pencil drawings provide a varied look at water and the range of organisms (including people!) that rely upon it. One young girl, clad in a red shirt and blue shorts, leads readers through each double-page spread.

As the book draws to a close, it might be easy to get discouraged upon realizing the fragility of the resource we depend upon for our very lives. However, the approach of the author is not heavy-handed. A final section on becoming "Well Aware" provides readers with concrete suggestions for ways that they can make a difference. The book concludes with notes to the adults (parents, guardians and teachers) who will read this book with children.

One Well is an outstanding introduction to our most precious resource. It will not only teach readers about the importance of water, but will move them to action in an effort to conserve it. This title is highly recommended.

Book: One Well: The Story of Water on Earth
Author: Rochelle Strauss
Illustrator: Rosemary Woods
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: March, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: 3 and up
ISBN-10: 1553379543
ISBN-13: 978-1553379546
Source of Book: Copy received from Raab Associates, Inc.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Reading Maps

I have been trying to find the "official" date for National Reading a Road Map day. Did you know there was such a day? Some sources suggest the date is April 4, while others cite April 9. Since I can't find a definitive answer, I'm going with a day that's sort of in-between.

So, being in a map mood, I found this funky little site where you can map the states and countries you have visited. Here's the map of U.S. states I have visited:

Can you tell I grew up in the Northeast? There's a whole section there in the middle that I've missed, as well as some places out west, that fabulous place that nearly links us with Russia, and that ever-growing mass of volcanic remnants.

While I'm thinking about maps and places, this is a great time to share some of the titles I use when teaching map skills to my students.
  • The Once Upon a Time Map Book by B.G. Hennessy - This is one of my favorite map books. Each double-page spread presents a map of a famous storybook location, such as Neverland, Wonderland, Oz, Aladdin's kingdom, Snow White's forest, and the realm of the Giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. For each map there are special points of interest and hidden objects to find. This is a beautiful book that children will spend a great deal of time looking over.
  • Mapping Penny's World by Loreen Leedy - In this follow-up to Measuring Penny, Lisa learns about maps in school, and decides to map all the places she shares with her dog Penny, such as her room, the yard, neighborhood and local park.
  • As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps by Gail Hartman - This is a terrific book that looks at the perspective maps can provide. The geographical areas in the book are looked at from the perspectives of an eagle, rabbit, crow, horse, and gull.
  • Maps: Getting From Here to There by Harvey Weiss - This well-organized book for older readers introduces maps, how they are made, and their many different types and uses. Essential elements such as compass direction, scale, latitude and longitude, altitude, and symbols are nicely explained. The book even includes topographic maps, marine charts and aircraft maps. The final chapter provides directions for mapping your own backyard.
  • There's a Map on My Lap! by Tish Rabe - This fun title from the Cat in the Hat Learning Library presents different kinds of maps (city, state, world, topographic, etc.), map formats, and the tools we use to read them, such as symbols, scales, grids and compasses.
  • Are We There Yet, Daddy? by Virginia Walters - When a father, son and dog set out on a 100 mile trip to Grandma's, the son asks, "Are we there yet, Daddy?" A large foldout map precedes the title page, and a smaller version is reproduced on each two-page spread so that readers can see the progress the travellers are making at each 10-mile interval. This is also a terrific book for counting back by 10.
  • Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney - A young girl introduces maps by sharing crayon drawings the floor plans of her room and house. These maps expand from home to street, to town, to state, to country, and finally to the world. This sales is then reversed as the girl finds the U.S. on a world map and works back down to the map of her room.
  • Which Way to the Revolution?: A Book About Maps by Bob Barner - This interesting take on maps uses Paul Revere's ride to teach map skills. At the end of the book, the terms compass rose, map key, and scale are defined and a note provides background information on Paul Revere.
In addition to these "traditional" map books, I like to use books where the characters travel to different destinations, so that we can follow their adventures on a globe or map. Other good books focus on the the animals in different parts of the world, or the interesting things you'll find there. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman - When you want to make an apple pie and the market is closed, there is nothing else to do but travel the world to get your supplies. Using different modes of transportation, readers set off to gather seminola wheat in Italy, a chicken (for its egg) in France, bark from the kurundu (cinnamon) tree in Sri Lanka, a cow (for butter) in England, salt water and sugar cane in Jamaica, and apples in Vermont. Once the pie is baked, the friends invited to share are the children from all of the countries in which the foods have been found. A recipe for apple pie can be found on the last page.
  • My Granny Went to Market: A Round-the-World Counting Rhyme by Stella Blackstone - Granny travels around the world to buy a few items. She begins in Istanbul where she buys the magic carpet that takes her on her trip. A one-page legend at the end of the book shows Granny's purchases, from one carpet to 10 llamas, while the endpaper maps out her trip.
  • This is the Way We Go to School by Edith Baer - This lovely book looks at the different modes of transportation children take to get to school. At the end one page lists the children's names from the story and tells where they live, which is then followed by a world map with that shows the children's countries.
  • The Armadillo from Amarillo by Lynne Cherry - In this book, an armadillo explore his native state of Texas and travels from San Antonio to Amarillo. When he is still not sure where in the world he is, he catches a ride on the back of a golden eagle and eventually boards the space shuttle. As the story moves forward, his perspective on his place in the world changes.
  • All in a Day collected by Mitsumasa Anno - collected by Mitsumasa Anno - Ten artists, including Raymond Briggs, Eric Carle, Leo and Diane Dillon, and Mitsumasa Anno, illustrate the similarities and differences in children and their activities in eight different parts of the world throughout one 24-hour day.
  • Curious Creatures in Peculiar Places by Amy Goldman Koss - "Toads with fire-engine red tummies, goggly-eyed tarsiers with sticky fingers and sloths who hang upside down from their toes are among the many creatures you'll find in this look at some of the nature's most bizarre animals and where they live. Lively rhymes provide oodles of facts to fascinate all readers (from the book)." A map is provided so readers can identify where each animal comes from. This book was a selection of the 1989 John Burroughs List of Outstanding Nature Books for Children.
  • Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest by Steve Jenkins - In this wonderful book of comparisons, the author takes readers to some of the most extreme and amazing places on Earth. It begins, "If you could visit any spot on Earth, where would you go? What if you wanted to see some of the most amazing natural wonders in the world?" Each wonder is depicted in cut paper collage, and is accompanied by a map that shows that shows its location.
As a child, I loved Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, though I'm not sure how it will play with kids today. There is a version in the Classic Starts series that was released early this year. I'll be interested to see what kind of reviews it gets. Let me know your thoughts on this, and while your at it, please share your favorite books for encouraging kids to turn to maps and globes for more information.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Publisher Spotlight - Kane/Miller

For several years a taught a course in Content Area Literacy for all our students preparing to teach in grades 6-12. I love teaching this class, because it is all about integrating reading, writing, and discussion into content classes. It provided me with the perfect opportunity to share my love of books and encourage students to move beyond textbook use in the classroom. For years I worked easily with future teachers of English, social studies, biology, physics and math in preparing for this integration. In class I modeled all the strategies I was encouraging students to try. We read excerpts from the very books they would be using to teach their classes. Then, last year, I hit a major snag. In the spring of 2006, I had a class in which 5 of the students were preparing to teach Spanish. It is with great reluctance that I admit I speak no language other than English. Five years of Latin prepared me well for many things in my academic life, but not for this.

My challenge then, was to find material my students and I could use for instruction, and that in turn my students could take out and use in their middle school field placements. I decided that even though the subject was different, my philosophy and approach would not change. I tried to convince these students that they too could use children's books to develop literacy skills, even in a second language. All I needed to do was get my hands on some outstanding books.

This is where I learned about Kane/Miller, and came to love both their English and Spanish language books. One of the reasons I am so thrilled with the Kane/Miller catalog is because they specialize in foreign translated children's books. These books open a whole new world to readers. Their motto is "Open-minded books opening young minds to the world." Here is their mission as found on the Kane/Miller web site.
We are a very small, very specialized, very independent publishing company. We choose the books we publish with extraordinary care and attention. We think about them, we discuss them, we argue about them. We read them aloud, and then we read them to ourselves, to our families, and to each other. We live with them. In the end, we publish those books that speak to us - and those that we believe will speak to children.

We believe that children's books should comfort and challenge, that they should awaken the imagination and the conscience. We publish books we think are important to bring to American children. We truly believe in bringing the world closer to a child and the children of the world closer to each other. We want books that capture life's and lives experiences and present them in a way that will make children say both "wow, that's just like me" and also "wow, that's different."

We search the world for books that through great stories and arresting illustrations enrich the lives and the imaginations of the children who read them. American children need to learn not just about the United States, but about the world. They need to know that they can share adventures, and fantasies and dreams. Because the children of the coming millennium will not simply be citizens of their own countries, they truly will be citizens of the world.
Some of my favorite books include:
One title that really stands out for me is Yellow Umbrella by Jae-Soo Liu. The book is wordless, but it comes with a CD of music that is meant to accompany the reading of the book. This is a lovely book that will capture the imagination of all who listen and read it.

In addition to a fabulous selection of books that truly meet the mission stated above, teachers can find a wealth of resources on a page of Teacher to Teacher Tip Sheets.

I can't say enough about how important it is for children to read about others who do not look or act like them. Kane/Miller does a fine job bringing to our shores a wonderful selection of books that expose children to the human experience in all it's varied forms. Do yourself a favor and visit Kane/Miller for some of the loveliest translated books on the market.

No, I Don't Live in Iowa

Kelly at Big A little a bemoaned the fact that she had snow a few days ago. Well, I don't live in Iowa, and this is what I woke to this morning.
Hello, snow! Welcome to Virginia.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Exploring the Natural World - Part 1

A few days ago I wrote a post about the need to get kids outdoors so that they can spend time exploring the natural world. I was an outdoor kid, so this comes naturally for me. I always took my kids (students) outside for study, and today I take my preservice teachers and the practicing teachers I work with out to consider all the ways the outdoors can enhance and expand their teaching. Even with structured guidance, I still have students who are reluctant about this approach because they aren't sure how to begin or what exactly to do once they go outside.

In an effort to encourage more teachers and parents to get outside with their kids, I would like to share some of my favorite outdoor explorations with connections to books and indoor extensions. For most of these activities you need nothing more than a clipboard, pencil, hand lens (or magnifying glass), jumbo crayon, some paper and a container for your "finds." I have a collection of old plastic cups (kids drink size) from restaurants (Friday's, Olive Garden, etc.) that work really well for scooping up dirt and insects. You may even want to keep a few small baggies in your pocket for the non-living things you find on the ground. If you have a digital camera, consider capturing some photos to use for additional projects and/or discussion.

I Spy Shapes - Looking for shapes outdoors can be a fun activity. When you begin your walk outside, start by noticing the shapes of the buildings, the materials in the walkway, the objects on the playground, outdoor furniture and more. When you move away from the built environment, the challenge is in finding these shapes in the natural world. What shapes are the stones you find? The leaves? Sticks? What do flower petals look like up close? How about at a distance? Have you ever stood far enough away from a tree to really look at its overall shape? Is it round, oval, pyramidal or something else? Get up close to the tree. What does the bark look like? Can you recognize any shapes in the pattern? Do you see any animals? Can you recognize any shapes in their forms? (Does a bird beak really resemble a triangle?) While searching for shapes, encourage kids to sketch what they see. They can even trace objects they find on the ground. After spending some time just looking, play a game of I Spy. Say, "I spy a circle." See how quickly the children can find the object you have in mind. How many other things can they find with the same shape? Finally, consider using all these experiences to have kids write and illustrate their own "Natural Shapes" book.
Looking at Logs - What happens when a tree dies? Even though the tree may be dead, it lives on in the food and shelter it provides for other organisms. One of my favorite outdoor activities is exploring fallen trees. Take your kids to a wooded area and find yourself a tree that is decomposing. Spend some time looking for signs of life in this "dead" plant. How does it look? Smell? Feel? Carefully roll the log back and look closely at what is underneath. Scoop up a small sample of material and pour it out onto a white piece of paper on your clipboard. What do you see? Peel back a section of bark and examine the wood below. Do you see evidence of living things? Is anything growing on or inside the log? What role is the log playing in the forest?
  • Wendy Pfeffer has written a terrific book called A Log's Life. In it she explores what happens to an oak tree that crashes to the ground in a storm. This is a wonderful look at the life cycle of the tree and a really neat introduction to decomposers.
  • Robin Brickman contributes fascinating artwork to A Log's Life in the form of collages of 3-dimensional molded paper forms. You can view samples at her web site. Using paper, scissors and glue, children can try to create some similar pieces of their own.
What Happens to Our Trash? - Kids often ask why we recycle, but we do little in the way of concrete activities to show them why it is important. Find an old shoe box and pick a place in your yard where you can "plant" the box in the ground. Fill the box with soil. Pick a few items to bury in the soil. Take photos or draw sketches of the items before they are placed in the soil. I usually use some apple peelings or rinds from melons, newspaper, an aluminum foil ball, and a small plastic bottle. Make sure the items are covered with soil and then place the top on the box. The lid does not need to be covered with dirt. (This just makes it easy to find the box and its contents again.) Ask children to predict what will happen to these items. Once a week, check on the items in the box, and the box itself, and see what kind of changes have taken place. I would recommend using a stick or similar item to stir the soil each week when examining the contents. You can keep a journal of these weekly observations.
  • There is a terrific book in the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science series called Where Does the Garbage Go? In it, a group of school kids look at where garbage comes from and then looks at what happens in landfills, incinerators and recycling centers.
  • Gail Gibbons has written a great book called Recycle: A Handbook for Kids. It looks at the content of landfills and how we can recycle to reduce the need for landfills.
  • Composting is a wonderful way to create rich soil for your garden while reducing the amount of trash you produce. You can view the slide show Composting for Kids to learn how to get started. A quick how-to guide on Composting with Kids provides the recipe for composting.
Sock Walk - Provide children with a pair of old white athletic socks (adult size). Go to an outdoor area (a yard, field, park or forest) where you can take a short walk. Once you get to the desired location, help the children to put the socks on OVER their shoes. Take a short walk through the area. Remove the socks and examine the material that is stuck to them. Don't forget a hands lens! Once you are done, you may want to scrape off the dirt and "stuck" material to plant in some soil. You may be surprised by what happens. I like to do this in the late spring and again in early fall in the same location.
  • Generally, the socks will accumulate all manner of seeds. This is a good time to talk about how seeds are dispersed. For kids who want to know more, the Ken Robbins book Seeds is a marvelous photographic examination of different seeds and their methods of dispersal. Kids can learn even more about seeds in the ink and watercolor illustrations and poetic text of A Seed is Sleepy.
That's all for now. Look for the next installment where I will share suggestions for keeping a nature journal, bug hunting, and more.

**Continue on and read Part 2!

Poetry Friday - From the Shore

Today I present this lovely poem from Carl Sandburg.
From the Shore
A lone gray bird,
Dim-dipping, far-flying,
Alone in the shadows and grandeurs and tumults
Of night and the sea
And the stars and storms.

Out over the darkness it wavers and hovers,
Out into the gloom it swings and batters,
Out into the wind and the rain and the vast,
Out into the pit of a great black world,
Where fogs are at battle, sky-driven, sea-blown,
Love of mist and rapture of flight,
Glories of chance and hazards of death
On its eager and palpitant wings.

Out into the deep of the great dark world,
Beyond the long borders where foam and drift
Of the sundering waves are lost and gone
On the tides that plunge and rear and crumble.
If you like this one, you can read more like it in Chicago Poems.

Happy Poetry Friday!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Julius Lester's Speech on Children's Literature

One of my regular blog reads is A Commonplace Book, written by author extraordinaire Julius Lester. It links to another blog called Olio, a place where he puts material that simply doesn't fit into his other sites. He recently posted the text of a speech he gave at the UMass Perspectives in Children's Literature Conference. Here is an excerpt:
Only those of us passionately involved with children’s literature seem to understand one simple but profound fact: If we are going to have a nation of literate and articulate people, they have to become avid readers long before they become adults. The child who does not like to read becomes an adult who will not read.
You can't imagine how wonderfully insightful this speech is. (Oh, sure you can, it's Julius Lester.) Go now and read the speech in its entirety. Really. Go!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Break a Leg - Climb More Trees!

I heard this on Morning Edition this morning.
The popularity of video games may have an unintended safety benefit: fewer children are falling out of trees. Britain's Daily Telegraph reports that hospital admissions for tree-related accidents are way down since 1999. On the other hand, a spike has been seen in repetitive-stress injuries among young people.
I'm not surprised. I grew up in an area of western New York surrounded by open fields and dairy farms. I regularly climbed trees, raced through corn fields, picked raspberries off the vine (and ate them without washing them!), tramped through puddles and creeks, and picked up all manner of slimy, warty, smelly things you can imagine. When I describe these "adventures" to my students, they look at me as if I have three heads. "You did what?" Young people today just don't spend enough time outside in unstructured play.

Richard Louv looks at this issue in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Published in 2005, this book focuses on the term coined by Louv. He uses it to describe the fixation of children today on the artificial entertainment rather than natural wonders. Louv writes, "Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature."

Not my kid. I let him play outside in the rain, bathe in mud puddles, plant seeds (from every apple he eats!), explore in the nearby creek, collect acorns, sticks and leaves, and engage in lots of other gloriously dirty and disgusting things. However, not all kids have this luxury. As a teacher in the city of Buffalo, I was amazed at how many of my kids had never seen Niagara Falls (just 30 minutes away) or been to the Buffalo Zoo, a facility within the city limits. We can talk all we want about the power of the Internet and other electronic media to bring the world together, but as far as I'm concerned, too many children reside in worlds that are too small, where the people who care for them don't even take them to local areas of interest.

Why bring this up now? Well, besides being prompted by this morning's news bite, National Environmental Education Week will soon be upon us (April 15-22). Yes, I know that April is National Poetry Month and Math Awareness Month, but I am a science geek at heart and a nature lover. So, check out Last Child in the Woods and then do something about the problems described. Get outside with binoculars or a magnifying glass, put on your listening ears, give yourself permission to get dirty, and just revel in all the amazing things in our natural world. Once you've done that, find a kid and share all this beauty with him or her.

And just in case you need an incentive in the form of a children's book, read My Father's Hands by Joanne Ryder. It is the beautiful story of how a little girl and her father share the wonders of nature when they examine several small creatures in the garden.

Education News - Reading and Reading and Reading . . . ad infinitum

In the last few days I've read two articles that have me thinking a lot about what is happening in classrooms today.

In the March 30 edition of Science magazine, an article entitled Opportunities to Learn in America's Classrooms appeared. Here is some background.
Here, we describe results from a study of elementary school classroom experiences for more than 1000 American children recruited at birth from 10 U.S. sites and enrolled in more than 2500 classrooms in more than 1000 elementary schools and 400 school districts. Our investigation approximates an epidemiological study of opportunities to learn in U.S. classrooms, although the sample was not nationally representative.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health, educational researchers spent thousands of hours in more than 2,500 first-, third- and fifth-grade classrooms, tracking kids through elementary school. It is among the largest studies done of U.S. classrooms, producing a detailed look at the typical kid's day (USA Today).

The results?
  • In fifth grade, children spent most of their time (91.2%) working in whole-group or individual-seatwork settings. Students spent little time (7%) in small-group instruction (two to five students).
  • In fifth grade, 37% of instruction was in literacy and 25% was in math; in first and third grade, more than 50% of instruction was in literacy and less than 10% was in math.
  • Science and social studies activities occurred in 11 and 13% of intervals in fifth grade, respectively.
  • The average fifth grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning; this ratio was 10:1 in first and third grades.
  • Teachers in fifth grade spent 17% of their time instructing students on managing materials or time.
For anyone who teaches, or spends large amounts of time in classrooms these days, the results are not surprising. They are, however, very depressing/discouraging/frustrating. Take your pick, or add your own word.

I routinely spend time in classrooms where teachers tell me that science and social studies are not taught every day because there simply isn't time. In many schools these days, teachers have a block of time, usually 15-30 minutes, devoted to both of these subjects, where a unit in science is taught (perhaps for two weeks), and then a unit in social studies is taught. For any teacher who wants to integrate the curriculum, this makes integration extremely difficult, if not downright impossible.

Yes, I know basic literacy skills are important. But I can easily define mathematical and scientific literacy skills that are necessary for negotiating life in the real world. I now have students and teachers spending 90-120 minutes per day on reading, and 60-90 minutes per day on math, in large part because of NCLB. The short-sightedness of this is that in 2006, states were also required to begin testing and reporting science scores for students in grades 3 through 8. And as for social studies, wasn't it George Santayana who said "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it?"

In March 2006, the Center on Education Policy reported that:
  • 71% of school systems admitted to reducing elementary school instructional time in at least one other subject to make more time for reading and math
  • 60% of the districts surveyed had policies that required teachers to devote a specific amount of time to reading
  • 50% of the districts surveyed had policies that required teachers to devote a specific amount of time to math
  • 97% of the poorest districts had policies specifying how much time should be spent teaching reading, compared with 55 percent of the wealthiest districts
How do schools make room for all this reading and math? They cut science and social studies. Perhaps most distressing of all is what I read regularly in our local newspaper. This year, the paper is following a first year teacher in one of the city (poor, urban) schools. Here is an excerpt that provides one picture of how these statistics are reflected in public school classrooms.
The schedule on Butler's classroom wall allots two hours each day for reading instruction, an hour for math and about 55 minutes for science and social studies combined. But many days, science and social studies lessons are compressed even more, into five- or 10-minute capsules at the end of the day.

"With science and social studies, that's about as much as you can get in, five or 10 minutes," Butler said after school one day. "Our main focus is reading and math."

On one recent afternoon, Butler's class discussed recycling.

They had already had a reading lesson, a math lesson and a trip to the cafeteria for lunch and the playground for recess. A Spanish teacher visited earlier in the day. Then the students settled down on the carpet for a quick science lesson.

They made a chart with columns for information they already know, information they want to know and information just learned.

By the end of the minutes-long lesson, they had filled in the first column with a list of items that can be recycled, such as metal and glass. In the next, they listed questions, such as "How do we recycle?" and "Why do we recycle?"

Soon, it was time for the students to pack their book bags and get ready to catch their buses. They left the recycling chart on the board, with its final column -- for information they had learned -- empty.

And just before they left for the day, the students settled back on the classroom rug for a little more reading before heading home.

"Kids this age -- first grade -- I don't think their focus should be science and social studies," Butler said. (Read the article in its entirety.)
I'm speechless. Since when is science not important at the first grade level? Many science educators have believe that elementary school science is important because of the interest it has the potential to engender in students at an early age (NSELA article). What happens when we begin to quash this natural curiosity? Will there by any students left who find joy and beauty in science? Who are inspired by it? Who want to learn more? I can say the same things about social studies. But really, where do all these rhetorical questions get me? In the end, I am one lone voice shouting into the storm of insanity. I feel like the old woman in the Wendy's commercials yelling "Where's the beef?" However, my mantra now is "Where's the science?"

I suppose this is why I quietly build my lists, in the hopes that some teacher, somewhere, will think about bringing a little science and social studies back into the curriculum. Perhaps the way to begin is through reading and sharing the books I love so much.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Re-Reading Hugo Cabret

My sitter was sick today, so I left work at 2 pm to get William off the bus. It was a glorious afternoon, so while William played in the sandbox, I sat and re-read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. What can I say that hasn't already been said? I was intrigued by the clocks, gears, mechanical toys and the automaton. The way the story is propelled forward by both pictures and words is utterly compelling. On several occasions I looked up to find my 6-year old looking over my shoulder studying the illustrations. He was as enthralled as I was.

I was particularly taken by these two excerpts. For some reason the words resonated with me, and I could not get them out of my head.
Hugo also remembered that sometimes at night, Father would read to him from amazing adventure stories by Jules Verne and a collection of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, which were Hugo's favorites. He missed being read to. (pp. 146-147)

I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too. (p. 378)
When I came to the end, for the second time in less than a week, I must admit to finding myself teary-eyed. I am a sap however (I cry when I see Folger's and Hallmark commercials), so this should come as no surprise. I closed the book and found myself hungry for a silent Chaplin film and a trip to Paris, post haste. In the meantime, I'm going to dig out the antique windup gorilla I received while hospitalized as a teen, and see if I can't just get it going again.

You can learn more about this fantastic book at The Invention of Hugo Cabret web site.

Celebrating a Poetry Maven

One of my favorite bloggers in the kidlitosphere launched her own blog yesterday. Please welcome Elaine Magliaro to her new digs at Wild Rose Reader. I am so looking forward to all the new and great things I know she plans to offer.

While you are out there celebrating Elaine's new home on the web, stop by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and eyeball their latest interview, which just happens to spotlight - you guessed it - Elaine!