Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fabulous Fables - A Trio of Aesop

My son and I have been reading Aesop's fables for a few weeks now. Part of the fun in sharing these has come from reading the same stories in different books. These are the three volumes we have been enjoying.

The Rabbit and the Turtle by Eric Carle - There are 11 fables retold and illustrated by Eric Carle in this book. Each double-page spread contains the fable on the left and a full page illustration of a scene or characters from the fable on the right. The moral of each story is highlighted at the bottom of the text in the same color as the title. We particularly enjoyed The Frog and the Ox, a fable accompanied by an illustration of two animal families dressed up and out for a stroll. We see Mr. Frog all puffed up, trying to be as big as Mr. Ox. He looks as though he's about to float away, but upon reading the tale we learn he puffs himself up so much that he explodes!

Anno's Aesop: A Book of Fables by Aesop and Mr. Fox by Mitsumasa Anno - In this volume, Anno gives readers two stories based on the same illustrations. Readers learn that a book of Aesop's fables has been found by Freddy Fox, who begs his father to read him the tales. However, doesn't know how to read. What we get then is a "book within a book" which is presented with the top portion (2/3) of the pages retelling selected fables from Aesop, while the bottom portion provides Mr. Fox's interpretation of the pictures. This device makes for an interesting read, as Fox's "reading" of the handsome woodcut illustrations doesn't always match the fable.

Aesop's Fables by Jerry Pinkney - This volume illustrated by Pinkney is by far the most comprehensive of the three, containing 61 fables. It also begins with an introduction in which Pinkney writes, "From my earliest years my parents used the powerful themes from the tales to teach my siblings and me about human folly and virtue. At the time, though, I was only interested in the stories' compelling characters and their fast-paced, colorful narratives; I never really wondered about their purpose or origins." What follows are well-known and lesser-known fables, some accompanied by full page illustrations, others by small glimpses of characters in the tales.

If you are looking for other tales, Books for Keeps has an article entitled The History of Aesop's Fables that provides short annotations of many different versions available. Lit2Go has a variety of Aesop's Fables available for download in MP3 and PDF format so that you can listen as you read along. Aesop's Fables Online Collection contains translations of more than 650 fables. Finally, as part of the course Introduction to Computing in the Fine Arts at UMass Amherst, students are given the task of illustrating the traditional Aesop's fables along side their own retelling of the fables in a modern setting. You can view their traditional and modern interpretations of the tales. (Warning: Some of the modern versions are not appropriate for children. Read them first before sharing!)

Friday, August 29, 2008

New Book Feature at Open Wide, Look Inside

My companion blog, Open Wide, Look Inside, is a place where I review nonfiction and highlight the work of my students. Last semester my preservice teachers recorded and shared podcasts on children's books for mathematics instruction.

This semester they will be posting book reviews and teaching suggestions for a wide range of books in science and social studies. The topics they will be reviewing books for include:
  • Process Skills
  • Physical Science
  • Life Science
  • Earth Science
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Civics
That's eight major topics multiplied by 13 students, which means between now and the middle of November there will be more than 100 posts written just for teachers! I do hope you'll stop by and see what they have to share.

One of my amazing students is ahead of the game and has already finished hers. If you want to take a look at the inaugural post, head on over to read Teaching Process Skills with Children’s Literature: Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?.

Poetry Friday - Farewell to Summer

It's over. Truly, it is.
Farewell to Summer
by George Arnold

Summer is fading; the broad leaves that grew
   So freshly green, when June was young, are falling;
And, all the whisper-haunted forest through,
   The restless birds in saddened tones are calling,
From rustling hazel copse and tangled dell,
      “Farewell, sweet Summer,
        Fragrant, fruity Summer,
          Sweet, farewell!”

Upon the windy hills, in many a field,
   The honey-bees hum slow, above the clover,
Gleaning the latest sweets its blooms may yield,
   And, knowing that their harvest-time is over,
Sing, half a lullaby and half a knell,
      “Farewell, sweet Summer,
        Honey-laden Summer,
          Sweet, farewell!”

The little brook that babbles mid the ferns,
   O’er twisted roots and sandy shallows playing,
Seems fain to linger in its eddied turns,
   And with a plaintive, purling voice is saying
(Sadder and sweeter than my song can tell),
      “Farewell, sweet Summer,
        Warm and dreamy Summer,
          Sweet, farewell!”

The fitful breeze sweeps down the winding lane
   With gold and crimson leaves before it flying;
Its gusty laughter has no sound of pain,
   But in the lulls it sinks to gentle sighing,
And mourns the Summer’s early broken spell,—
      “Farewell, sweet Summer,
        Rosy, blooming Summer,
          Sweet, farewell!”

So bird and bee and brook and breeze make moan,
   With melancholy song their loss complaining.
I too must join them, as I walk alone
   Among the sights and sounds of Summer’s waning.…
I too have loved the season passing well.…
      So, farewell, Summer,
        Fair but faded Summer,
          Sweet, farewell
The round up is being hosted by Charlotte over at Charlotte's Library. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On Parent-Teacher Communication

I came home from class last night to find one very excited kid. Sadly, it wasn't the arrival of his mother that prompted these feelings. Rather, it was the phone call he'd received a bit earlier from his second grade teacher. William has not met her yet (school doesn't start until next week), so he was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with her.

Parent-teacher communications are always tough for new teachers. However, there are some simple things teachers can do to lay the foundation for good communication. Here are a few of them.
Learn about the kids and where they come from. I always tell my new teachers that one of the things they should do when they take a job is to drive around the neighborhood that feeds their school. It will tell them a lot about their kids. Amy at My Breakfast Platter does this idea one better. She visits the homes of her kids before the start of school.

Start early. Send your students a postcard or give them a phone call before the first day of school. This lets them and their parents know that you have already taken an interest in them. This type of brief, early communication can start your year on a good note.

Begin communication on a positive note.
It's so easy to send a note or pick up the phone when something has gone wrong. Parent's of kids who receive lots of communications of this sort often "tune-out" or just get desensitized to it. The tough conversations are easier to have if you've had positive communications first. This means we have to recognize the good things kids do. Jenny at Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It, shares a story about just how important it is to send home positive praise.

Make parents partners. Parents are not the enemy, though there are some in the teaching profession that view them this way. We need to work harder to make parents our partners in the process of educating kids. One way to do this is to begin those difficult conversations with the words "I need your help." Too often teachers begin by talking about all the things that are going wrong.

Update regularly. Keeping parents informed about what is happening in class is good way to help build strong relations. Newsletters (weekly or monthly) inform families about areas of study and classroom successes. It can also be a place to ask for volunteers and invite parents with expertise in an area to come in and share with the class. These can take the more traditional paper format, or they can be electronic. I like paper because I'm never sure if every family has internet access at home.

Keep good records. When it comes time to meet with parents, data is invaluable. I can't stress enough the importance of keeping good records so that what you have to share with parents is specific. Offering specific examples generally leads to more constructive conversations and solutions.

Remember to say thank you. My mother was right. Never underestimate the importance of a thank you note. Get in the habit of sending your thanks when parents volunteer or send gifts. Most importantly, do it in a timely manner.
Do you have some additional ideas you would like to share? Please do. My new teachers and I would love to hear them.

45 Years Ago Today

Today marks the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s delivery of the "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The associate pastor at my church often talks about being in the crowd for the march and for this event. As a teen, it changed his life. Forty five years later, it's still changing the lives of those who are inspired by it.

Perception Personality Image Test

I'm procrastinating, so sue me! Here are the results of my "Perception Personality Image Test."

NBPS - The Idealist

Nature, Background, Big Picture, and Shape

You perceive the world with particular attention to nature. You focus on the hidden treasures of life (the background) and how that fits into the larger picture. You are also particularly drawn towards the shapes around you. Because of the value you place on nature, you tend to find comfort in more subdued settings and find energy in solitude. You like to ponder ideas and imagine the many possibilities of your life without worrying about the details or specifics. You are in tune with all that is around you and understand your life as part of a larger whole. You prefer a structured environment within which to live and you like things to be predictable.

The full results are even more interesting.

This is a fun test that asks you to look at a series of pictures and decide which parts you are most and least drawn towards. Go ahead and give it a try.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How's Your Content Knowledge?

My students arrive in 75 minutes. On the first day of class we begin by with a scavenger hunt as both a means of introduction and a way for me to see how much they "know" about the curriculum they will one day teach. Here are the rules and the questions.
  1. Begin by reading the questions and writing in any answers you already know.
  2. Walk around the room and find someone to confirm your answers and/or provide answers you do not know. Have that person initial next to the question.
  3. Remember that one person may not supply more than two answers on your paper.
  4. Sit down as soon as your hunt is completed.
  • Define and give you an example of opportunity cost.
  • Name the “Father of the Constitution.”
  • Name the most highly valued barter item in Colonial Virginia.
  • Tell you who Christopher Newport was.
  • Name two important figures in the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Name the five regions of Virginia.
  • Tell you the difference between latitude and longitude.
  • Name two things George Washington Carver was famous for.
  • Tell you about Werewocomoco.
  • Name the five oceans of the world.
  • Draw and name the parts of a light wave.
  • Name the components of soil.
  • Describe the difference between the waxing and waning phases of the moon.
  • Tell you the required components and products of photosynthesis.
  • Name the eight planets in order from the sun.
  • Tell you what a dichotomous key is.
  • Explain why it is hotter in the summer than in the winter.
  • Name four nonrenewable energy resources.
  • Tell you the difference between weathering and erosion.
  • Name the five kingdoms of classification.
  • Name the six types of simple machines.
How did you do? My students will be moaning and groaning, cheering every so often, and then wondering how they'll ever learn/remember it all. We'll spend the semester thinking about these topics and more, while we explore the best ways to teach them. You can be that books (and I don't mean textbooks) will play some small role here. :)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Nonfiction Nuggets - A Food Chain Trio

While I've been preparing my syllabi for fall, my son and I have been reading sets of books on some of the topics that are covered. Our recent reading has taken us into the realm of food chains and food webs. Here is a trio of books that examines different aspects of the energy transfer in nature.

Trout Are Made of Trees, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Kate Endle - What happens when leaves fall from a tree and land in a stream? "They ride in a rush above rocks and over rapids. They snag and settle soggily down." From here they become food for bacteria and a home for algae. They are further broken down by little critters, like crane flies, caddisflies, shrimp and stoneflies. These critters are eaten by predators. Guess where those leaves are now? When the predators are eaten by trout, the trout are made of trees. This is a beautifully illustrated book (mixed media collage) that not only introduces a simple food chain, but also the life cycle of trout.

Vulture View, written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Steve Jenkins - Scavengers and decomposers play a very important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. In helping to break down dead organisms, they are responsible for returning basic nutrients to the soil so that they may reenter the chain. In this book, we get a glimpse of the scavenging role that vultures play, along with some poetry and interesting facts about these oft maligned birds. For more information on this book, please read my review.

Wolf Island, written and illustrated by Celia Godkin - What happens when a top predator in well-balanced ecosystem disappears? This story highlights the changes that occur on an island after a family of wolves accidentally leave the island for the mainland. Without predators, there is nothing to keep the deer population in check. When it swells, the deer eat so much grass that rabbits and mice have fewer young. This results in less food for foxes and owls. This is a terrific resource for demonstrating how the balance of an ecosystem can easily be upset. It also does a fine job of explaining why the top predators in a food chain are so important.

There are other books about food chains and food webs, but these are my favorites and the least didactic of the bunch. All make great lesson starters for teaching elementary students about this topic.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen’s blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More on Reading and the Canon

In my post on Boys and the Bard, I asked the following:
Why are we so blessed concerned with the "right" books instead of the process of immersing kids in books that they will love? Shouldn't the goal be developing readers?
Libby responded with the thoughtfully defended response that it should be both (canon and enjoyment), and that not all reading is good.

I continue to think about these issues as I read with my own son. The books I read aloud are generally classics (Charlotte's Web, The Mouse and His Child, etc.) or newer works we have come to love (Clementine, Judy Moody, and lots of nonfiction). Some of the books he selects wouldn't be my choices, but he likes them, so he reads to his heart's delight. Right now he is plowing through--in order--the books in the Geronimo Stilton series.

What happens when this split happens in the classroom--when teachers and kids have vastly different tastes? You can find out in the piece We're Teaching Books That Don't Stack Up. Written by a high school English teacher, this essay goes back to the heart of the debate about canon vs. enjoyment. Here is an excerpt.
Far too often, teachers' canonical choices split from teenagers' tastes, intellectual needs and maturity levels. "Why do we assume that every 15-year-old who passes through sophomore English is an English major in the making?" asks a teacher friend. "It's simply not the case. And the kids go elsewhere, just as fast as they can -- anywhere but another book."

I watched this play out last year when the junior reading list at my school, consisting mainly of major American authors, was fortified with readings in Shakespeare, Ibsen and the British Romantic poets. When I handed my students two weeks of readings by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge after a month-long study of American transcendentalists, it became clear that they had overdosed on verse packed with nature description and emotional reflection. "When will we read something with a plot?" asked one agitated boy, obviously yearning for afternoon lacrosse to begin.
This is an excellent piece with some strong criticisms of what happens in English classrooms. The author begins her summary with these words.

The lesson couldn't be clearer. Until we do a better job of introducing contemporary culture into our reading lists, matching books to readers and getting our students to buy in to the whole process, literature teachers will continue to fuel the reading crisis.

Schnog's essay is excellent. Do take some time to read it. If you feel like dropping by afterward, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to School with The Onion

One of these days I'm going to remember to put on a Depends™ BEFORE I begin reading a piece from The Onion. Here's the latest article that had my laughing until ... well, you get the idea.

Here's how it begins.
CARPENTERSVILLE, IL—Local first-grader Connor Bolduc, 6, experienced the first inkling of a coming lifetime of existential dread Monday upon recognizing his cruel destiny to participate in compulsory education for the better part of the next two decades, sources reported.
And ends.
The first of Bolduc's remaining 2,299 days of school will resume at 8 a.m. tomorrow. On the next 624 Sundays, he will also be forced to attend church.
Now go read the really funny stuff in between.

Poetry Friday - Back to School

William doesn't head back until September 2nd, but our students are back, I've met my excited, wide-eyed, nervous new advisees, and classes begin on Monday. To celebrate my return to school, here's one of my favorite back-to-school poems. You can find it in the book I Thought I'd Take My Rat to School: Poems for September to June.
The First Day of School
by Bobbi Katz

"Write a composition,"
said the teacher,
"about something you did
during summer vacation.
Make it two pages long
and neatness counts."

I sat there
remembering the quiet
of the giant redwoods.
Even my little brother

could I write a poem
If you are interested in some ideas for back to school poetry, read these posts.
The round up is being hosted over at Read. Imagine. Talk. Do stop by and check out all the great poetry being shared this week. Happy poetry Friday, all!

The PBS Literacy Offensive

NPR aired a story yesterday on the enhanced lineup of literacy shows on PBS. Entitled PBS Launches an ABCs Offensive with New Shows, it highlights current shows and the new Martha Speaks series. I found this excerpt to be of particular interest.

Susan Neuman teaches education at the University of Michigan. She was at the Department of Education when the decision was made to focus on literacy, and while she is very supportive of these shows, she adds that they sometimes "don't have the charm and the interaction and the excitement that some of the other programs have."

For instance, one episode of the Emmy Award-winning show Between the Lions demonstrates how to sound out the words "doodle" and "noodle."

"It focuses very much on phonological awareness, a key skill that is important to literacy development," says Neuman. "But at same time, phonological awareness ... is not terribly fun for young children."

In other words, kids would rather watch Curious George or Blue's Clues — which may explain why the literacy shows don't get great ratings. Only one — Super WHY — is in the top 10.

There is some interesting stuff here. Do give a listen.

Remember the Scrotum Debate?

In the Guardian today is an article entitled Children Are Swearing Already, So Why Can't Jacqueline Wilson? Here is an excerpt.

Anxiety about the possibility that children will be corrupted if they hear rude words has been around for a long time. Some readers will remember Robert Westall's magnificent The Machine Gunners. This is one of the best "war" novels for children, exploring the underground world of boys in the space left them by absent parents. There are parallels in world fiction, including one by Nobel prize-winning Kenzaburo Oe's Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids and I think Westall's matches them all for power and story. However, a good deal of critical noise was made over the fact that Westall dared to use the word "bloody" in the book - several times!

Westall, a splendidly robust character, had no trouble defending it, but the absurdity lay in why he had to defend it in the first place. There can have been very few children at that time who had not heard he word "bloody" and Westall's claim was, of course, that it was entirely "appropriate".

This is the key word. Jacqueline is a sophisticated, knowledgeable and subtle writer. If she chooses to use the word "twat", it's because she has sensed that it is entirely appropriate. No one is going to be corrupted by it (as if!), no one is going to suffer because of it, no one is going to be emotionally damaged by it. The word in common British-English usage has come to mean something not much different from "twit" or "stupid person" and if you want to represent the speech of young people today, then that is one stroke of the writer's paintbrush that is available to you.
The conversation continues in the comments. This is an interesting piece and I agree most heartily with the notion that when a writer chooses a word, it is because he/she has been deliberate and believes that it is the best choice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"On the Go" Language and Literacy Activities

Washington Learning Systems has made available a series of materials designed to "encourage parents to interact with their children while they are “On the Go” to facilitate language, early literacy, and positive parent-child interactions." Included are 14 activities for use with children from birth through preschool. Each activity also includes hints for how to modify it to meet the specific needs of your child.

These materials can be reproduced and distributed as long as the materials are not sold.
On the Go - English Version
On the Go - Spanish Version

More on Boys and Reading

Here is the introduction from a recent press release.
If reading were an Olympic sport, it would be the women holding all the gold medals and world records - not the men. In fact, the women are not just passing their male counterparts when it comes to reading, they are lapping them around the track.

"The Olympic games serve as an apt metaphor and occur at an appropriate time to remind the nation's educators and parents that we need to acknowledge this widespread problem, and work harder to engage boys in reading," said noted children's author Jon Scieszka, who was recently named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress.
Read more in the release entitled How Many Gold Medals Would Boys Win if Reading Were an Olympic Sport? In it you will learn that Scieszka has partnered with the education publisher Pearson to author a new Reading Street elementary school curriculum as well as Prentice Hall Literature programs for middle and high school.

Boys and the Bard

In the Guardian today is an interesting piece entitled What Good is the Bard to Book-Shunning Boys? Here is an excerpt.
Yet again last week, the reading abilities of boys were up for discussion: "Sats results ... revealed a particular problem with boys' reading ability. One in five 14-year-old boys has a reading age below what's expected of an 11-year-old." The Today programme's guests, Ian Rankin and Labour MP Barry Sheerman, were invited to make suggestions. Rankin sensibly said that perhaps the answer "is to get Top Gear magazine into every teenage boy's curriculum", but also that there is now a different sort of literacy, one involving texting and computer games, which is invisible because it happens beyond the classroom. Then he spoilt it all, by mentioning the "S-word", and suddenly the debate stopped, as ever, being about literacy and started being about "literature", preferably "great". Why do we still confuse the need for literacy with the experience of reading, and even more important to some, loving a canon?
Let me just highlight that last sentence one more time, because it is a GREAT question. Why do we still confuse the need for literacy with the experience of reading, and even more important to some, loving a canon?

What do you think? Why are we so blessed concerned with the "right" books instead of the process of immersing kids in books that they will love? Shouldn't the goal be developing readers?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Walter Dean Myers on NPR

This morning NPR aired a piece by Juan Williams on the author Walter Dean Myers. This is the second in a series on on writers who explored what it feels like to be African-American in the United States. The first installment profiled Richard Wright.

These are both terrific stories. Do take some time to give a listen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Martha Coming to PBS

Susan Meddaugh's Martha will become the star of a PBS series this fall. Here's the scoop.
Now, as PBS strives to help the at-risk children who represent its public-service legacy - and appeal to affluent parents who want to give their children a leg up in school - it is making "Martha Speaks" its big hope for the fall. The half-hour show, which premieres nationwide Sept. 1, aims to teach 4- to 7-year-olds words as advanced as "communicate," "diminish," "courageous," and "concoct."
You can read more about this in the article PBS Set to Unleash a New Tutor.

You can also check out the Martha Speaks web site. Be sure to view some of the sample videos and look over the episode list.

Finally, you can learn about Susan Meddaugh and watch a video. (Doesn't her author visit look like fun?)

IM and Reading Rates

Found this in Education Week.

Instant Messaging Found to Slow Students' Reading
Students who send and receive instant messages while completing a reading assignment take longer to get through their texts but apparently still manage to understand what they’re reading, according to one of the first studies to explore how the practice affects academic learning.
Well duh! How many of you out there can't listen to music while you read? Or are distracted if it's too noisy? It seems to make sense that constantly taking your eyes (and mind) off the page to IM a friend might just make it harder to finish what you are reading. In my case, distractions mean I must reread.

The only question I have now is, how do I get my multi-tasking students and advisees to see that perhaps studying while completing 5 other tasks isn't such a smart way to cram 36 hours worth of work into a 24 hour day?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Back to the Real World

We arrived home today after a little more than 8 hours in the car. While away we stayed in a cabin without a phone or television. There was absolutely no cell phone reception, so I spent a glorious three days without hearing a phone ring once. It was heaven. There was loads of natural beauty, lots of fun with family young and old, and of course, many good books. Here are a few pictures.
Early morning view from the cabin

Fun in the water with his older cousins

Reading to his younger cousins

Friday, August 15, 2008

Poetry Friday - Pied Beauty

I'm gone again. I left days ago to spend time in the mountains of North Carolina. While I'm appreciating time with family and taking in the beauty that surrounds me, I thought I'd share a bit of poetic beauty with you.

Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

The round up is being hosted by Kelly at Big A little a. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dig the New Widget!

Okay, check out the right side of the blog. (All you Bloglines and Google Reader folks just click on over.) I found this new widget and just love it! Go now and get your own blogoversary countdown widget! (My only complaint is that I prefer the spelling blogiversay, but I suppose I can live with it.)

Humbled Again By What I Don't Know

Last week I wrote about changing curriculum standards and described some of the "new" content that will be appearing in the social studies curriculum in VA in grades K-3. While I am very comfortable with the content of these grades and the U.S. history curriculum (generally taught in 5th and 6th grades), I am constantly working on my own knowledge of VA history.

I grew up in New York state, so my knowledge of other states was limited largely to important wartime battles and other historical events. Surely I knew about Jamestown before I moved here, you say. Well, to be honest, I didn't know much. You see, growing up in the Northeast, the historical focus was always on the Plymouth colony, the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims. Last year Jamestown celebrated its 400th anniversary, and in doing so, worked hard to take back some of its history and importance in establishing the colonies in the United States. Here is a statement from the Jamestown Settlement site. (The emphasis is mine.)
In 1607, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of 104 English men and boys began a settlement on the banks of Virginia's James River.
How's that for asserting one's historical importance?

I have learned a lot of Virginia history since arriving here fourteen years ago. However, I am humbled by how much I don't know, and how much more there is to learn and explore. The changes to the Virginia Studies standards (grade 4 state history) have me scrambling to learn enough to keep my students informed. In this way, I'm no different than the elementary classroom teacher who must constantly keep up with changing curricula and the demand to learn new material. With this demand comes the added challenge of devising engaging ways to share that information.

In the last week I have been studying up on Werowocomoco, Jamestown, and the native peoples of Virginia. Before I read the new standard (describing how archaeologists have recovered new material evidence through sites including Werowocomoco and Jamestown), I had never heard of Werowocomoco. My first problem was simply one of pronunciation. How do you say that word? I've found two suggestions so far. They are:
  • weh-ro-wo-COM-o-co
  • Whero-wo-ko-Mo-ko
I began my research by visiting the site of the Werowocomoco Research Project to learn more about the excavation and what has been found there. Then I explored Jamestown fort and the village of Werowocomoco through a National Geographic interactive feature. (There is a very nice feature where several Virginia Indians speak about the importance of Werowocomoco. I think I'll use their pronunciation.) Next I viewed John Smith's map of Virginia. I also read the annotated copy of the application to recognize Werowocomoco as a Virginia Historic Landmark. Prepared by the Princess Pocahontas Foundation, this document asserts that the current dig site is not located on the site of Werowocomoco. Here is a description of the foundation.
The foundation was formed to protect the statue; to research and collect facts, as to the true events in the life of Pocahontas, her people and those connected with her; to collect artifacts, pictures and items associated with her life and those of her people; to educate school children and others about Pocahontas; and to promote "truth in history".
Finally, I reread Karen Lange's book, 1607: A New Look at Jamestown. (You can read my review for more information.)

I will need to keep digging for information, but feel I have learned enough to share some of this information with my students. More importantly though, I want to share the process I used to learn this information. As future teachers they will need to know how to find information, evaluate it, and transform it for use in their classrooms. They also need to understand and accept the fact that they will never know everything they will be expected to teach, and that learning and staying informed will be a huge part of the job. Frankly, it's one of the reasons I love teaching so much. I simply love learning. I hope my students will feel the same way.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Nonfiction Nuggets - A Dinosaur Trio

Okay, I know some of you saw the word dinosaur and turned-tail and ran, but hey, I'm the mother of a seven year old. Dinosaurs are a way of life around here. This terrific trio of books has kept up entertained and asking lots of questions this week.

Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!, written by Kathleen Kudlinski and illustrated by S.D. Schindler - What do we know about dinosaurs and how does our current knowledge compare to the past? This book not only describes the changing ideas about dinosaurs, but also makes it clear to readers that as more evidence is unearthed, our ideas are likely to change again. We enjoyed looking at the pictures that compared "old" ideas about the way dinosaurs looked to the views held today, and marveled at the images of dinosaurs with feathers. This is a great introduction to dinosaurs and a wonderful treatment of the work scientists do as they work to expand our understanding of the world.

Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (And Others) Left Behind, written by Jacob Berkowitz and illustrated by Steve Mack - The back cover of the book reads, "Get the inside scoop on ancient poop." This is a boy's dream--dinosaurs and poop in one book! I'm not a fan of potty books or humor, but must admit that this book is a real gem. Chapter 1, A Message From A Bottom, begins with illustrations of a T-Rex leaving a turd "larger than two loaves of bread" and shows how that "king-sized poop" becomes a coprolite. Coprolite is the "polite word for fossil feces." Readers learn that coprolites can be frozen, dried or lithified. They also learn about doo-doo detectives (scientists who study coprolites) and much more. There is humor in this book, a huge number of synonyms for poop, and a TON of science.

Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries, written and illustrated by Don Brown - Mary Anning was a woman who became known for her discoveries of dinosaur fossils. Born in 1799, Mary hunted for fossils with her father and brother before the word dinosaur was even invented. By 1836, Mary has found fossils of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl and more. In fact, the pterodactyl Mary found is still on display at the British Natural History Museum. Mary Anning's life was not an easy one, a fact that makes her story even more remarkable. Reading it made us want to head to a nearby beach to do some fossil hunting of our own, or at the very least, spend some time looking at some real fossils.

All three of these books provide interesting perspectives on dinosaurs. If you are looking for something different from the standard "dinosaur inventory" type of book, give these titles a try.

If you want a bit of online entertainment, try the Dinosaurs site from the Natural History Museum.

Poetry Friday - Farewell to the Farm

I have been reading the original edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's book A Child's Garden of Verses. Since I'm still caught up in the emotions of losing my childhood home, poems of loss seem to be speaking to me.
Farewell to the Farm

The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

And fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door,
O hayloft where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we swing;
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!
The round up is being hosted by Becky over at Becky's Book Reviews. Do stop by and check out all the great poetry being shared this week. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Bit of History

I came back from vacation with a box full of slides. For years, this was how photographs in our family were processed. We didn't get paper pictures to hold and gaze at. We were instead treated to an evening in a darkened room, lamenting the slides put in backwards and upside-down, yet still sharing fond memories together.

I spent this morning learning how to scan slides so that I can preserve some of these precious moments. I started with photos I might be able to use in class this fall. That means I began with photos of family trips to Cape Canaveral and D.C., moved on to my parents' trips to Alaska and Hawaii, and ended with a few family photos.

In two hours I scanned, rotated, cropped, and adjusted only 60 slides. Let's just say this will be a labor of love. Here are a few of my favorites.


D.C. in Bloom

My Mom

Okay, it may have taken a long time, but it certainly was fun.

P.S. - I have a TON of real work to do. Can you tell I'm procrastinating? I'm darn good at it too!

Interview With Outgoing ALA President

I'm not a librarian, but that doesn't mean I haven't appreciated the work done by Loriene Roy as the immediate past president of the American Library Association. In this recent interview she gave with NPR, she shares "highlights from her time leading the group, what the future holds for her and one final list of suggested literary "musts" for the inquiring mind."

It's an interesting piece, so do give a listen.

P.S. - In case you were wondering, the new president of ALA is Jim Rettig. I happen to know him quite well, as he heads up the libraries here at the University of Richmond.

Connecting to Bibliophiles Online

At the Online Education Database, Laura Milligan has published an article entitled 100 Places to Connect with Other Bibliophiles Online. It is divided into the following sections.
  • Book Collectors - Book collectors can use these networks to locate older editions, trade their own books and track down information about books.
  • Blogs - Blogs can provide a great, low-maintenance way to learn about books and connect with other readers through posts, member blogs on community sites and through comments.
  • Librarians - Librarians may just be the ultimate bibliophiles. Check here for librarian-only apps and networks.
  • Social Media - From Meetup pages to whole social media sites devoted to book lovers, visit these online communities to meet people like you.
  • Recommendations - Hop on one of these sites to get recommendations for new titles and to share your list of favorites.
  • Organizing and Sharing Titles - The features on these websites offer up neat ways to catalog your collections and share reading ideas with others.
  • Novelists and Writers - Writers who love books can promote their own works on these sites, meet agents and publishers, and talk about some of their favorite books.
  • Sites for Children and Teens - Children and teenage readers have their own safe networks to discuss their favorite characters and get ideas for books they might like.
  • Trading and Selling - The book swapping and selling market is huge on the Internet, and these are some of our favorite networks.
  • For Those Who Love to Read - Anyone who loves to read will like these websites, which offer outlets for discussion, recommendations, searches and more.
I was excited to receive word of this list, but disappointed in some of the sections when I checked out the links. Don't get me wrong, as there are some great resources here. However, I found the children and teens section sadly lacking in good resources. Both readergirlz and GuysLitWire are missing. I know that GuysLitWire is new, but readergirlz has been going strong for a while and is recognized by the ALSC as a great site for kids. Most of the sites listed (like the CBC - great site, but not for kids, and Children's Book of the Month Club - too commercial) are not ones I would recommend for children and teens interested in books and reading.

So, now that I've had my say, what say you? What do you think of the recommendations for children and teens? I've already suggested two. Can we come up with our own list of great sites for them? Let me know what you think and I'll round up your suggestions here later this week.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On Changing Curriculum Standards

As I prepare my syllabus for fall I am reviewing the new standards for social studies the the state of Virginia has passed and will fully implement during the 2010-2011 school year. It's important for me to begin the process of introducing students to these standards now, as most of them will likely begin their careers as classroom teachers during that year.

The state of VA is on a seven year review cycle for curriculum standards, so social studies was last revised in 2001. I am taking stock of the newest changes and thinking about how I will address them with my preservice teachers. I am also trying to anticipate the questions they will ask. Here are some of the changes (in red) and my thoughts/questions about them (in orange).
Kindergarten - Most of the changes in K deal more with wordsmithing than substance. The economics standards are in much friendlier (age appropriate) language. No worries here.

Grade 1
The history standard on timelines and sequence of events has expanded from past and present to include future.

Eleanor Roosevelt has been added to the standard that asks students to "describe the stories of American leaders and their contributions to our country." Before the change no women were included here. The men emphasized are George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington Carver.
I'll have to do some hard thinking about books here. Most of the biographies are written for older readers (ages 9-12 or grades 4-8). I haven't seen many good read aloud choices. I do LOVE Barbara Cooney's book Eleanor. It's a wonderful portrait of the woman before she became the wife of FDR. The Afterword briefly discusses her efforts on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged. I've got high hopes for the Sneed Collard book coming out this fall entitled Eleanor Roosevelt: Making the World a Better Place.

The economics standards asked students to describe how people are both buyers and sellers of goods and services. This language has changed to consumers and producers.

Grade 2
The history standards introduce three Native American tribes--Powhatan, Lakota, and Pueblo. The word Sioux has been dropped from Lakota. Most importantly, this standard has added a statement about comparing "lives and contributions of three American Indian cultures of the past and present."
I'm thrilled to see that emphasis has been placed on current cultures.

The geography standards will now focus on locating the five oceans of the world.
What? Five, you say? YES. In fact, in the spring of 2000 the International Hydrographic Organization established the Southern Ocean and determined its limits. This means that the five oceans of the world are the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern. The southern ocean includes all water below 60 degrees south. Like the Arctic Ocean, some of it is frozen.

Students studying the contributions of ancient China and Egypt will now need to know about the role of the Nile River and Huang He in the development of these civilizations.
The Huang He is also known as the Yellow River. I think pronunciation will be an issue here, and one that must be addressed, since some students will undoubtedly take state assessments in which test items are read to them.

Grade 3
Students study the exploration of the Americas with an emphasis on the explorers themselves, as well the reasons for exploring and the results of the travels. Now students will also be asked to discuss the "impact of these travels on American Indians."
The curriculum framework document that outlines the content of the standards focuses on these three outcomes (impacts).
  • Deadly diseases were introduced
  • Exploration later led to settlement.
  • The settlements led to relocation of the American Indians from their homeland.
It's a start, isn't it? I'm hopeful that the expansion of this standard will lead to a more balanced approach to the study of exploration.

The economics standards in this grade have also been wordsmithed for the better.

One of the civics standards is focused on the basic principles that form the foundation of our republican form of government. As part of this standard, students are asked to identify the contributions of certain individuals, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. César Chávez has been added to this list.
The Library of Congress has some good background information on Chávez. Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is a terrific book. The book of poems César: ¡Si, Se Puede!/ Yes, We Can!, written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand and illustrated by David Diaz, is also an excellent resource.
Okay, that's what I have for grades K-3. More on grades 4 (Virginia studies) and 5-6 (U.S. history) later. If you have any resources you think will be useful for these new additions, please let me know.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Thoughts on Charlotte and Charlotte's Web

I had a driveway moment this afternoon as I sat in my car and listened to the end of Melissa Block's piece on Charlotte from Charlotte's Web. It was wonderful hearing about the research E.B. White did in preparing to write about this amazing spider.

Do give a listen to the In Character segment entitled Charlotte A. Cavatica: Bloodthirsty, Wise And True. While at this site you can also listen to a recording of E.B. White reading an excerpt from the book.

In case you haven't been listening, you should know that many wonderful literary characters have been highlighted in this series. You can read/hear them all at the In Character page.

On Bravery in the Classroom

While I'm thinking about brave acts, I must share and acknowledge this amazing act of bravery in the classroom. After ten years of teaching 4th and 5th grades, Jenny at Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It, has begun this new school year as a 1st grade teacher.

Jenny is sharing all the highs and lows of this transition on her blog. I find her honesty refreshing, and know that my students and I will learn a great deal by following her journey. Do stop by and see what's happening in her new first grade classroom. Go, Jenny!

On Bravery

I spent a lot of time on my vacation thinking about the family home that my parents will leave behind next year. I'm not sure why this has hit me so hard, but my heart actually hurts when I think that the home my father built (yes, he built himself) more than 50 years ago will no longer be our family home.

My parents married in 1952 and moved into the house (unfinished at is was) in 1955, the year my sister was born. My brother came along in 1957, and I arrived in 1965. I know that people say you can never go home, but I never feel much like I've been away when I return, and I haven't lived there since 1984.

On the last night of our vacation I sat in a chair under the shade of a mulberry tree and watched my son swim in the neighbor's pool. It's not the same pool I swam in as a child, but a newer version located in the very same spot. I looked fondly over the pile of boulders that served as my childhood fort, the rocks looking so much smaller and less imposing than I remember them. I marveled at the pine trees, both standing more than twice the height of the house. When my brother was young he jumped his horse (a pony really) over those very trees. Imagine what a feat that would be today! I remembered where the white birch and crab apple trees once stood, and found myself amazed at how large some of the replacements had grown in such a short time. I longed for the scent of lilacs, but they are out of season and the bushes gone as well. I found myself still missing the swing set that came down years ago. Give me a swing today and I'll still ride it, twist on it, and wonder how high I can go. So much has changed physically, but the memories are so strong it's hard to believe how much time has passed since they were made.

I thought about all these things and more on the drive back to Richmond, and realizing that getting teary while driving 70 mph was probably not a good thing, I decided to focus on the positive aspects of this move for my parents. In the end, I was struck by one fact that I'd overlooked, and it stopped me in my tracks. After 56 years of marriage, and with my Mom closing in on her 80's (next year) and Dad already into them, my parents are doing an incredibly brave thing. They are daring to write the next chapter in their lives, and I must give credit where credit is due. I'm not sure I'll be brave enough at 80 to attempt such a bold move. But then again, who knows? I've got some great role models to follow.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Poetry Friday - Dickinson

I may have been on vacation, but I sorely missed poetry Friday last week. My thoughts the last few days have been heavy with the realization that I have probably been to my childhood home for the last time. I thought quite a bit about this on the long drive back to Richmond today, and was reminded of this poem from Part One: Life of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

I years had been from home,
And now, before the door,
I dared not open, lest a face
I never saw before

Stare vacant into mine
And ask my business there.
My business,—just a life I left,
Was such still dwelling there?

I fumbled at my nerve,
I scanned the windows near;
The silence like an ocean rolled,
And broke against my ear.

I laughed a wooden laugh
That I could fear a door,
Who danger and the dead had faced,
But never quaked before.

I fitted to the latch
My hand, with trembling care,
Lest back the awful door should spring,
And leave me standing there.

I moved my fingers off
As cautiously as glass,
And held my ears, and like a thief
Fled gasping from the house.
The round up this week is being hosted by Jill at The Well Read Child. Do stop by and check out all the great pieces being shared. Happy poetry Friday, all!