Friday, August 31, 2012

Poetry Friday - Assorted Bits and School Buses

Happy poetry Friday all! I have some odds and ends and an old favorite to share today.

This week's poetry stretch was to write a Lai. The Lai is a French syllabic verse form consisting of one or more stanza of nine lines with two rhymes. This was a tough challenge, but many folks took up the gauntlet. You can learn more about this form and read the results at Monday Poetry Stretch - The Lai

If you haven't been to David Harrison's blog lately, you've missed a lot of fun. J. Patrick Lewis contributed poems for a form he calls First Lines, Bowlderized. Many wonderful writers contributed their own poems. Do stop by and check them out!

Many have gone back to school, while others will return next week. This time of year always reminds me of this poem.
School Buses
by Russell Hoban
(found in The Pedaling Man and Other Poems) 
You'd think that by the end of June they'd take themselves
Away, get out of sight -- but no, they don't; they
Don't at all. You see them waiting through
July in clumps of sumac near the railroad, or
Behind a service station, watching, always watching for a
Child who's let go of summer's hand and strayed. I have
Seen them hunting on the roads of August -- empty buses
Scanning woods and ponds with rows of empty eyes. This morning
I saw five of them, parked like a week of
Schooldays, smiling slow in orange paint and
Smirking with their mirrors in the sun --
But summer isn't done! Not yet!
The round up today is being hosted by Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children. Be sure to visit and take in all the great poetry being shared this week.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - Potatoes on Rooftops

I grew up in western NY surrounded by dairy farms. Even today the house I grew up in is surrounded largely by fields and not the kind of suburban housing developments that seem to be swallowing up our green space. Because of these roots I've always made room in my teaching for agriculture lessons. Too many kids today just don't understand where their food and fiber comes from. If they live in a city, they may have even missed opportunities to tend a garden of their own. However, urban gardening has grown in popularity as families and individuals explore ways to eat healthier and in a manner that is more environmentally conscious.

In POTATOES ON ROOFTOPS: FARMING IN THE CITY, Hadley Dyer gives us a book that shows just how manageable eating locally can be and how important it is for personal health and the health of our planet. She also highlights the urban farming movement and shares a wealth of ideas for getting kids involved.

Part 1: Hungry Cities does a fine job outlining the issues concerning city living, the number of miles it now takes to get food to people, and how many city dwellers find themselves living in a food desert, an area where there are no sources of good food close by. Imagine you live on a low income and can't easily travel to another neighborhood. The options aren't good, especially when "convenience stores charge up to one-and-a-half times as much as a grocery store. So a carton of eggs might cost $4.00 instead of $2.50. The only other option might be a fast-food restaurant, where the calories are plentiful but the food is full of fat and salt." All this important background information sets the stage for delving into the myriad of ways urban farming can and does occur.

Part 2: Plant a Seed describes the different forms urban gardening takes. Beyond traditional pots and rooftop gardens, people can grow food on trellises or on specially designed walls. In Los Angeles, the Urban Farming Food Chain Project "created food-producing wall panels that are mounted buildings." Dyer provides readers a great deal of information on how to get started, what to grow, and what to grow it in. The ideas are clever and often use recyclable materials.

Part 3: Green Your City looks at harvesting water, composting, raising small animals, growing vegetables inside, and much more. There's an interesting look in this chapter, as well as the others, at what folks in other parts of the world raise and how they do it.

Part 4: Your Green Thumb focuses on the principle of "Think globally, act locally." It is much easier to become involved in this movement, both personally and at the community level than one would think. Dyer describes some fo the projects in cities around the world, as well as the ways people are reclaiming spaces in their cities for agriculture. For example, in Detroit many vacant lots are being used for agriculture projects. The charity Urban Farming "has established gardens throughout the city that are tended by community groups, and the harvest is given away for free."

The book ends with a glossary, a section entitled Learn How to Start Your Urban Farm which contains a number of suggested titles, an annotated bibliography of web sites for further information, and a lengthy list of acknowledgements.

The images in the book have been carefully selected and nicely complement the text. I was particularly surprised and engaged with the number of "extra" facts/stories that were inserted that expanded on an idea or presented something tangentially related to the topic. I learned quite a bit from these pieces and they gave me even more to ponder. Here's an excerpt.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela spent 27 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island. He dug into the rocky soil with his bare hands to create a vegetable patch that was just 0.9m (one yards) wide and shared his harvest with fellow prisoners. People visit his garden today as a monument of kindness, perseverance, and hope. 
If Mandela's humble garden had the power to transform lives, what could we do with the space, tools, and technology available in our cities?
I've been growing herbs in a pot for some time now, constantly frustrated by the poor soil in my yard. Dyer has convinced me that I can do so much more with just a bit of effort, and that it will be well worth it. Overall, Dyer makes an inspiring and powerful case for urban farming. I'm ready! How about you? RECOMMENDED.

Author: Hadley Dyer
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: July, 20102
Pages: 84 pages
Grades: 5-10
ISBN: 978-1554514243
Source of Book: NetGalley digital review copy

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Simply Science and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Lai

The Lai is a French syllabic verse form consisting of one or more stanza of nine lines with two rhymes, though the rhyme can vary from stanza to stanza. Here are features of the form.

  • 9 lines.
  • Rhyme scheme is a-a-b-a-a-b-a-a-b.
  • Lines ending with rhyme a are five syllables in length.
  • Lines ending with rhyme b are two syllables in length.

 You can read more about this form and its variants at Poetry Form - The Lai. You can read an example at The Poet's Garret.

Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Poetry Friday - Edgar Allan Poe's Pie

I'm a sucker for math poetry, love parodies, and am a J. Patrick Lewis fangirl, so it should come as no surprise that the book I shared with all my teachers this summer was EDGAR ALLAN POE'S PIE: MATH PUZZLERS IN CLASSIC POEMS.

What's not to love about cleverly disguised math problems? Or rib-tickling parodies of classic poems?

Can you guess the classic that inspired this poem?
Once upon a midnight rotten,
Cold, and rainy, I'd forgotten
All about the apple pie
Still cooling from the hour before.
I ignored the frightful stranger
Knocking, knocking . . . I, sleepwalking,
Pitter-pattered toward the pantry,
Took a knife from the kitchen drawer,
And screamed aloud, "How many cuts
Give me ten pieces?" through the door,
          The stranger bellowed, "Never four!"
Go ahead, draw a circle and give it a try! The answer can be found upside-down on the opposing page. (Look it up or figure it out because I'm not telling!) Mathematically you could use four cuts, however, the pieces would not be equal in size.

Another poem takes the final lines of "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" and replaces them with these words:
My tightie whities look so sad.
My tightie whities look so sad.
Yup, it's sacrilege of the best kind. Kids will have fun reading and solving these. Hopefully some smart teachers will share the originals with kids and maybe even have them try some mathematical parodies of their own.

Here's one more to whet your appetite. Yes, it contains fractions, but be brave!
Edward Lear's Elephant with Hot Dog
Inspired by "There Was An Old Man With a Beard" by Edward Lear 
When an elephant sat down to order
A half of a third of a quarter
     Of an eighty-foot bun
     And a frankfurter, son
Was it longer than three feet, or shorter?
The round up this week is being hosted by Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads. Do stop by and take in the terrific poetry being share. Happy poetry Friday!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - World Without Fish

Last year I wrote a review of THE STORY OF SALT by Mark Kurlansky. I love Kurlansky's work in children's literature as he possesses great skill in making complex ideas accessible to kids. Heck, his work for adults is just as well-written, clearly conveying history and science in interesting and meaningful ways.

Unlike THE STORY OF SALT and THE COD'S TALE, which are nonfiction picture books aimed at ages 7-10, WORLD WITHOUT FISH weaves a graphic novel throughout the informational text and is geard towards older students, perhaps ages 10-16.

When I picked this book up last year I was looking for resources for teaching about food chains and food webs, but Kurlansky goes well beyond this in his determination to describe the causes and effects of overfishing on marine ecosystems.

In the Introduction Kurlansky writes, "Most stories about the destruction of the planet involve a villan with an evil plot. But this is the story of how the Earth could be destroyed by well-meaning people who fail to solve a problem simply because their calculations are wrong. Most of the fish we commonly eat, most of the fish we know, could be gone in the next fifty years."

Yeah, so this is not a happy story. It carries a heavy dose of doom and gloom, and while this is a scary message, it's one everyone needs to hear. I'll admit that I'm not usually keen on introductions, and this one is a crash course on Darwin, biological classification, the interconnectedness of things living and nonliving in the environment, and more. It does set the stage for the book, but it's a lot to take in at the beginning. The introduction ends with The Story of Kram and Aliat: Part 1, the graphic novel woven through the text. In fact, each chapter ends with a page of the story. These parts follow a young girl, Aliat, and her father, Kram, over a number of decades as the condition of the ocean grows increasingly bleak. Eventually it becomes an orange mess inhabited largely by leatherback turtles and jellyfish.

Following the Introduction there are these chapters:
  1. Being a Short Exposition About What Could Happen and How It Would Happen
  2. Being the True Story of How Humans Frist Began to Fish and How Fishing Became an Industry
  3. Being the Sad, Cautionary Tale of the Orange Roughy
  4. Being the Myth of Nature's Bounty and How Scientists Got It Wrong for Many Years
  5. Being a Concise History of the Politics of Fish
  6. Being an Examination of Why We Can't Simply Stop Fishing
  7. Being a Detailed Look at Four Possible Solutions and Why They Alone Won't Work
  8. The Best Solution to Overfishing: Sustainable Fishing
  9. How Pollution is Killing Fish, Too
  10. How Global Warming is Also Killing Fish
  11. Time to Wake Up and Smell the Fish
You'll also find a lengthy section of resources and an index, but surprisingly, you won't find any references. Now, Kurlansky did work at one time as a commercial fisherman and has written a number of books on the industry, so he does have firsthand knowledge of the topic. He also thanks a number of biologists in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, so I know he's talked to the experts. However, given that this is not a nonfiction picture and is targeted to an older group of readers, I think references are a must. 

Now that you know what I perceive to be the main weakness of the book, let me talk for a minute about all Kurlansky and Frank Stockton, the illustrator, do well. First, the text is imminently readable. Kurlansky makes the science understandable, underscores the causes and effects of the problems with many meaningful examples, and uses an arsenal of writer's tools to make the reader want to press on despite the incredibly depressing content. Kurlansky is a terrific storyteller, seamlessly integrating history, science, and politics into a compelling narrative. The text is littered with photographs, illustrations, sidebar pieces, maps, and more. Graphic variations in the font, similar to "SHOUTY CAPITALS" in e-mail correspondence serve to highlight important ideas and keep readers involved with the text. They also serve as natural stopping places to reflect on the gravity of the situation. Every so often reader's run across a full-page illustration that highlights some bit of information on the opposing page. Like the endpapers of the book, they are beautifully rendered and dramatic. Sadly, there are too few for my liking. 

I learned a great many things while reading this book and was reminded of some other things I hadn't thought of for a while. Here are few points that stood out for me.
  • The jellyfish is actually a very highly evolved type of plankton. It is the cockroach of the sea, an animal little loved by human beings but particularly well designed for survival (p. 13). (For more on this check out Zooplanton at
  • Several times the size of the elephant, the humpback whale is one of the largest mammals on earth—and yet it feeds on one of the tiniest forms of life in the world (p. 42).
  • For thousands of years, fishing was sustainable. But nowadays, between 100 and 120 million tons of sea life are killed by fishing every year (p.85).
  • Fish prefer colder waters. The warming of the seas is a crisis for fish. If the seas are warming and ice is melting, this means that the melted ice, which is freshwater, will make the seas less salty (pp. 139-140).
As you can see, there is much to learn and ponder here. There is a ray of hope beginning on p. 149 when Kurlansky writes "What can we do about this?" The answer is, quite a bit! What we need to do is educate ourselves about all the ways we can help.

One more thing worth noting and something I appreciated was the inclusion of a quote from Darwin's ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES at the beginning of each chapter, each quote nicely aligned with the overall theme. These quotes give readers just one more thing to chew on. Perhaps some will even be inclined to pick up the book to learn more.

Overall, Kurlansky makes a powerful case here for not only the promise of sustainable fishing, but also its necessity for the health of our planet. RECOMMENDED.

Author:  Mark Kurlansky
Illustrator: Frank Stockton
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 192
Grades: 5-12
ISBN: 978-0761156079
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a local independent bookstore

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Jean Little Library and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Trimeric

After a long hiatus, the Monday Poetry Stretch is back! I hope a few of you are still out there and ready to take on some new challenges and forms.

The trimeric is a form that was invented by Dr. Charles A. Stone. Here's how he describes it.
Trimeric \tri-(meh)-rik\ n: a four stanza poem in which the first stanza has four lines and the last three stanzas have three lines each, with the first line of each repeating the respective line of the first stanza.  The sequence of lines, then, is abcd, b – -, c – -, d – -.
At first I thought this would be relatively easy because the first lines of stanzas 2, 3 and 4 are already written (seeing as how they use lines 2, 3 and 4 of the first stanza). Boy, was I wrong! That first four line stanza is so important! The lines must hang together, but they must also be able to stand on their own as introductions to the other stanzas. 

There are many examples on Dr. Stone's trimerics page. Here is one of my favorites.
by Dr. Charles A. Stone 
I sent her a secret message on her birthday,
though she thought it was an ordinary card
in an every day envelope
from the innocent boy next door. 
Though she thought it was an ordinary card
she taped it to the wall with others she had
received in her eleventh year.  Then, 
in an every day envelope,
she mailed a simple thank-you note
back to me, but she forgot to sign it. 
From the innocent boy next door
to the man I am today, I’ll never forget how hard
I cried because I had forgotten to add I love you. 
Published with the author’s permission.
So, your challenge for the week is to write a trimeric. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results on Poetry Friday.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Science, Poetry, and Inspiration From Lowry

I'm writing the syllabus for my science class right now and am finding a great deal of inspiration in this quote from Lois Lowry.
A sense of wonder comes built in with every child. Powers of absorption greater than the most up-to-date Pampers are part of youth's standard equipment.
This comes from a piece Lowry wrote in response to calls for censorship of THE GIVER and is called Trusting the Reader. You can find it in the Kerlan Collection's Censorship Portfolio. (Scroll down the page to the author's response section for the link to the pdf.)

While Lowry was talking about readers in this piece, it most certainly applies to the teaching and learning of science. That curiosity about the world around us is one of things teachers need to kindle and encourage. Too often it's what is quashed by the lack of time afforded to science and the emphasis on teaching to the test. It is hard to find balance, but I'm convinced it can be done.

This sense of wonder and the ability to look closely and see beyond the surface of things is not unique to science and the work of scientists. It is also the work of the poet. Poets not only see deeply, but they see uniquely and encourage us to view the world from a different perspective. For example, I've never seen numbers the same way since reading this poem.
Cardinal Ideograms
by May Swenson

0     A mouth.  Can blow or breathe,
       be a funnel, or Hello.

1     A grass blade or cut.

2     A question seated.  And a proud
       bird’s neck.

3     Shallow mitten for a two-fingered hand.

4     Three-cornered hut
       on one stilt.  Sometimes built
       so the roof gapes.

And I've never seen the sky the same way since reading this poem.
The Blue Between
by Kristine O'Connell George 
Everyone watches clouds,
naming creatures they've seen.
I see the sky differently,
I see the blue between—

Read the poem in its entirety
See what I mean about seeing the world through a different lens? In the hands of a skilled poet, poetry can astound. And therein lies another connection to science. When kids embrace science (play, discover, and do, NOT memorize), it too has the power to amaze. 

Unpacking and Finding My Way Back...

For most of the summer my office looked like this.

All the while I tried to teach and keep my cool while working out of boxes and bags. 
Now I am unpacking and working hard (yes, on a Saturday) to get myself ready for the academic year. Here's what my new digs look like.

I have new paint, carpet and lights. The window will replaced at some point (they're WAY behind schedule) during the semester. OH HOW I MISSED MY BOOKS! They were so close but so far away while packed up.

Monday poetry stretch will be returning this week, as will a few reviews here and there beginning with this book by J. Patrick Lewis.
Sorry, but I've got math on the brain right now so you'll have to be patient while I work it out of my system!

So yeah, I have my computer back (though it's still not 100%), my work space, and my books. I'm ready to go. And by the way, I've missed you too!