Saturday, February 27, 2010


In 2009, the state of Virginia had a contest called the Virginia Mobile Learning Apps Development Challenge.  This contest challenged developers to create apps for middle school mathematics students. The winner of the contest was a doctoral student named Todd Bowden and his creation is a terrific free (I like free!) applet named Numberline.

Numberline asks players to place decimals, fractions, and percentiles on a number line.  Each math figure is contained in a bubble and you drag the bubble to the line.  You receive points based on how quickly and correctly you can place the figures. 

This is a great way to learn the relationships between decimals, fractions, and percentiles.  It can be used in a small group for targeted math instruction.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Guess Again!

Simply put, Guess Again! is a trip! Rhymes lead you to guess the identity of the figures on the page.  You won't guess correctly, but that is why this terrific piece of absurdity is so much fun.  Author Mac Barnett and illustrator Adam Rex have created a great vehicle for teaching prediction and drawing conclusions.  As others have mentioned, my only complaint is that there are not more opportunities to guess.  Mac and Adam, we need and demand a sequel!

Throw this changeup when you are teaching about prediction or drawing conclusions.  Read it in the middle of a unit and see what happens.  Reading Guess Again! could also lead to students creating their own Guess Again! books. It would be a fun twist on teaching phonemic awareness.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Crocodiles are the Best Animals of All!

Crocodile has a rather large ego.  When the donkey mentions that other animals have talents different than what he can do, the crocodile boasts "How wrong you are! Whatever you do, I do better by far."  One by one the other animals test the crocodile by listing their greatest talents and crocodile matches each animal by outdoing them in regards to that particular talent. For instance, the kangaroo bounces quite high, but Crocodile is able to bounce even higher. Crocodile's boasting becomes more and more unbearable until finally Donkey puts him in his place.

Sean Taylor's humorous rhymes and Hannah Shaw's comical illustrations (an orangutan wearing Jams-like shorts) combine to teach a lesson on how "pride goeth before a fall."  PreK-2 students will enjoy the humor and will enjoy predicting how each animal will challenge Crocodile.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tillie Lays An Egg

If you teach a class in pre-K, kindergarten, or first grade and teach a farm unit, then you should add Tillie Lays An Egg to your collection of books for this unit.

Tillie the hen is impatient and not interested in waiting for space in the henhouse to lay her egg.  She's also not interested in eating corn and would rather look for worms. Tillie's wandering takes her to the farmhouse where she lays eggs in several unusual places.

Terry Golson, owner of the hens and author of this book, has written a fun text that lends itself to discussions about prediction (Where do you think Tillie will lay her next egg?) and would be great to use for introducing graphic organizers (A Venn diagram that compares Tillie and the other hens). Ben Fink's photographs are cheerful snapshots full of farm reds and yellows (shouldn't these be Crayola colors?).

Go to the website and see the hencam and goatcam.

One of the children's librarians told me that teachers could easily create chicken units with the amount of books being published with chicken themes. That would be an interesting list of books.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Math Dictionary for Kids

Jenny Eather has created a website of math terms using Adobe Flash.  The ability to manipulate these images will go a long way to helping students understand these words.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When Background Knowledge Can Go Bad


In A Teacher's Guide to Standardized Reading Tests, authors Lucy Calkins, Kate Montgomery, and Donna Santman talk about how background knowledge can get in the way of correctly answering questions on a standardized reading test.  I mention this because I have been working with a group of 5th graders and have seen this first hand. 

Perfectly plausible answers are chosen by students because it fits their background knowledge.  Unfortunately, there is no basis for the answer in the text so the student incorrectly answers the question.  For example, what if a student were reading a selection on dog training ( I made up this example.  Violating test security by mentioning actual items is a huge no-no.) and was asked a question about positive reinforcement for the dog's behavior. Answer B may say "Give the dog a treat."  This is a perfectly logical answer that fits with the student's background knowledge and experience at home. If giving treats is not mentioned in the article, then it is also a wrong answer.

We cajole and beg students to go back to the text when answering questions on a standardized reading test.  I don't think this is enough.  We need to be very explicit in showing how you can pick a great answer that happens to be wrong.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Smallest Snowflake

It has been a beast of a winter on the east coast and I only live in North Carolina.  I can't imagine what it feels like to live in the Mid-Atlantic with all the snow that has fallen.  The last thing some of you want to read is a book about snow, but you might want to check this one out.

The Smallest Snowflake wants to find a special place to land.  Other snowflakes have dreams of grandeur and want to be admired above all else where they land, but the Smallest Snowflake desires something different. She continues on her trek until she finds "a little cottage with a gray slate roof and a red door." After looking inside, she realizes that this is the place for her to land.

Bernadette Watts has created a story of finding your place in the world and why you pick that particular place. The text lends itself to lessons on prediction, point of view, and personification.  The essential question for this story is to think about why the snowflake picked this spot above the others mentioned in the story.  This could lead to rich discussions about our actions and the reasons behind them. The illustrations draw you in with details and soft colors. I'm definitely not a deep philosopher, but the pictures made me think about the contrast between the natural and man-made worlds.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Ojiisan is a wise old rice farmer who has gained great wealth, but still lives simply.  He is one of the most revered people in his village and is sought out often for advice.  Ojiisan lives on the mountain above the village next to the ocean. One autumn day, instead of participating in a harvest celebration in the village, Ojiisan stays on the mountain to work in his rice field. While he is in the field, an earthquake causes movement on the mountain.  Earthquakes are common and there is little concern after the shock passes, but Ojiisan thinks this one feels quite different.  He looks out to the ocean and sees the water receding quickly.  Suddenly, he realizes that a tsunami is coming and the villagers are in extreme danger below.  What follows next is a sacrificial act by Ojiisan to save his fellow villagers.

Tsunami!, written by Kimiko Kajikawa and illustrated by Ed Young, would be a great text to use to teach a lesson on cause and effect.  Ojiisan gives up something very valuable for the lives of his people. Kajikawa's story could also serve as a character lesson or as an introduction to science lessons on earthquakes and/or tsunamis.  Ed Young's collage illustrations are simply amazing with the use vivid colors and his attention to detail. 

Click on Kimiko's link above for lesson plans based on Tsunami!.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Boy Who Invented TV

Fourteen year old Philo Farnsworth loved machines.  He wanted to know everything about them. Philo fixed machines on his family's Idaho farm and read stacks of science magazines before the crack of dawn.  One such magazine contained an article called "Pictures that Fly Through the Air." While he was plowing a potato field, Philo solved a mystery that stumped inventors who were unsuccessfully trying to transmit images through the air.  Seeing the parallel lines in the potato field set Philo to see "a way to create television: breaking down images into parallel lines of light, capturing and transmitting them as electrons, then reassembling them for a viewer."  Philo goes on to eventually see his idea come to life, but with a bittersweet end.

Kathleen Krull does a terrific job of presenting complicated science topics in a simple fashion for young readers.  As with her Giants of Science series, The Boy Who Invented TV takes a highly technical subject and makes it easily understood.  Greg Couch's illustrations are unusually eye catching with a great sense of humor.

You could ask students to compare Philo Farnsworth with other inventors (Thomas Edison, Elijah McCoy) using a Venn diagram or other graphic organizer.  The Author's Note would make for a great discussion about how Farnsworth felt about television at the end of his life.  I wonder if he regretted inventing it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I Spy Fly Guy!

My wife doesn't like books centered around friendships between children and animals.  It never seems to go well in the end. Boy meets dog.  Boy and dog become best friends. Heroic dog meets an untimely end.  We could even create a euphemism for such literary creatures.  "Jasper was a good dog until he got Stone Foxed!" (You could choose Old Yeller'ed or Red Ferned) So perhaps we need to change this relationship a bit.

I nominate Fly Guy. Tedd Arnold's I Spy Fly Guy is the seventh book in a series of early readers that feature a friendship between a boy and his fly.  How could this go wrong?  Actually, it does for a while. Buzz (the boy) and Fly Guy (the fly) are playing hide-and-seek.  Fly Guy hides in a garbage can whose contents are immediately dumped into a garbage truck.  Buzz is in panic mode and cajoles his dad to drive him to the dump.  You have to like a book where the setting of the climax is a garbage dump.  All is lost until Buzz realizes he has one last trick up his sleeve.

When you can find an early reader with a good sense of humor, keep it.  I Spy Fly Guy's humor is very appealing and Arnold keeps the text at a level that makes it quite accessible. This would be a great book for older readers who need to work on fluency and don't want to be seen with "a baby book" in their hands.

Friday, February 5, 2010

All the World

Told in rhyme, All the World is the story of a day in the life of a family in a coastal area.  They begin the day on the beach, building sand castles and collecting shells. This day includes a visit to an outdoor market, a park, escaping a thunderstorm, finding shelter in a restaurant, and ending the day enjoying the company of family and friends.

Liz Garton Scanlon's text engages all of your senses and then touches your heart.  This is a terrific book for people, like me, who sometimes fail to enjoy the wonder of the everyday occurrences in their lives. 

Marla Frazee's illustrations are fantastic! These pencil and watercolor drawings take me back to my childhood of reading Robert McCloskey (Time of Wonder) books and marveling at the pictures.  This is simply a gorgeous book.

All the World would be an excellent addition to a poetry unit or as a shared reading.  I think it would make an excellent reader's theater script as well.  After reading this book, you could extend it by asking students to think about the things they do that make them happy and have them discuss and write about it.

All the World is a timeless book that we will be talking about for years to come.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Night Lights

What do you think of when you hear the words night light? My first thought is the combination of colored plastic and a small bulb that soothed my daughters when they were younger. Susan Gal's Night Lights will help stretch student thinking on this term as she presents different objects that light up the night. A young girl and her dog discover all of these during the course of a summer evening.  These discoveries help soothe her fears of the dark.

The star of this book is Susan Gal's wonderfully vivid illustrations.  Each illustration is accompanied by a label of a particular kind of light (i.e. firefly light, porch light). Students will love the bright colors that contrast with the dark of the night. Another star of this book is the girl's dog who wears a party hat (it's his birthday!), cooks his own hot dog, and chases fireflies.

I would preview this book by asking students to give examples of night lights. Once during the lesson, I would remind them that the purpose for reading was to find examples of night lights. After reading, we would list examples of night lights and see if we could think of examples not in the book. You could also work on inference (why did the author write this book?) as Gal doesn't specifically point out that the girl might be afraid of the dark.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Brave Charlotte and the Wolves

Charlotte the sheep has a sense of adventure and is courageous without being reckless.  She simply seeks a different point of view which might mean the top of a tree. Her heroism is admired by most of the flock, but there is a small group of brazen young sheep who lack gratitude and good manners. This group has taken to calling themselves "The Wolves" and bullying other sheep and the sheepdog with their fake wolf howls. One night, a very real wolf-like howl cowers the herd with the exception of Charlotte, who decides to go into the woods and find the source of the howling.  What she finds is surprising and what she does with it is even more surprising.

Anu Stohner has translated Brave Charlotte and the Wolves from a German story written by Carl Hanser Verlag.  I like the character lessons you can teach with this book (bullying, respect for elders) and the surprise ending lends itself to lessons on prediction or cause and effect. It would be a good lesson to discuss Charlotte's clever way of handling the bullying of the younger sheep. Henrike Wilson's acrylic paint illustrations are delightful and accentuate the mood of each scene.