Thursday, June 28, 2012

Poetry and STEM Friday: Out on the Prairie

Out on the Prairie
written by Donna M. Bateman; illustrated by Susan Swan
2012 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links
Check out Poetry Friday at Paper Tigers

Out on the prairie where the grass and flowers mix
Lived a mother sharp-tailed grouse and her little chicks Six.
"Scurry!" said the mother. "We scurry," said the Six.
So they scurried after beetles where the grass and flowers mix.

Set in the Badlands of South Dakota, Out on the Prairie features flora and fauna found in this prairie area. The first two page spread shows a mother bison and her single calf wallowing in the dust while surrounded by pretty purple coneflowers known as snakeroot. Bateman explains in the back matter that this flower was used by Native Americans to treat snakebites and other ailments such as stings, toothaches, and sicknesses like measles. Susan Swan's mixed media illustrations don't catch your eye. They capture it and demand that you scour every square inch so you notice the big and little details. I believe the word for this is sumptuous. Each spread that follows repeats the pattern of showcasing a mother animal and her young in action on the prairie. The number of young increases by one (2 pronghorn fawns, 3 meadowlark chicks, etc.) as you continue through the book. I like the repetition as teachers of young readers will be able to use these four line poems for shared readings with their students. I would write these poems on chart paper and ask children to find the action words. Then you could have them reenact the action as they pretend to be the animal. One of the nice things about Out on the Prairie is that you can use this book with several grade levels. In North Carolina, students study ecosystems in the fifth grade and there is plenty of information in the back matter for lessons on living things on the prairie. I learned several facts as I read this including information about the bison (not a buffalo) and grama grasses which were new to me. An important fact to pass along is that only 1 percent of native prairies exist in North America. Hopefully, what is remaining can be preserved. This book also serves as excellent background information for novels such as Sarah, Plain and Tall and the Little House series of books.

It has been over 30 years since I visited the Badlands of South Dakota. I knew very little about the region at the time and I remember being pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the area. Out on the Prairie shows us that this is not a desolate area, but a vital ecosystem full of life.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Danish Book Covers

I visited a public library (see left) and a bookstore (see below) in the Osterbro section of Copenhagen last Friday. I took pictures of familiar book covers and the spaces of these two locations. Enjoy!

Bookstore in Osterbro

 Summer reading display in the library.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Bill the Boy Wonder

Bill the Boy Wonder
written by Marc Tyler Nobleman; illustrated by Ty Templeton
2012 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Capstone Connect

Most casual comic book readers, as I was in my childhood, assumed Bob Kane was the creator of Batman. It has probably been asked as a question on Jeopardy! and Bob Kane was the answer. In his book, Bill the Boy Wonder, Marc Tyler Nobleman reveals that The Dark Knight has a dark real history behind the creation of the comic. It turns out  Batman was a collaboration between Bob Kane and Bill Finger, but Finger never received full credit for his efforts. Kane and Finger met at a party in the 1930s. Kane was a cartoonist and Finger was a writer for comic books. Kane had an idea for a character called The Bat-Man. He asked Finger for help in fleshing out this idea. According to Nobleman's research, Finger changed the design of the character so he would not closely resemble Superman who was wildly popular at the time. He also thought Batman should be a human character, not from another world as Superman. The following Monday, Bob Kane presented the Batman character to Vin Sullivan, an editor at what would become DC Comics. Only Kane did not mention the efforts of Bill Finger. A deal was negotiated and Bob Kane asked Bill to write Batman, but without credit. This was a common arrangement at the time and Bill was a guy that was agreeable, so he decided to go with Kane's offer. Nobleman's book goes on to show that Finger created the ideas for the back story of Batman as the secret identity of Bruce Wayne and many of the characters that appeared in the comic book. We find that while Bill received some recognition and payment for his work, it was not nearly what he deserved. As Nobleman writes, "He could write great fights but could not seem to fight for himself."

Bill the Boy Wonder is a fascinating look at the history behind the creation of a famous comic book character. It is also a lesson on character. Using this book, you can investigate with your students the big idea of fairness and why not everything seems to turn out the right way.  If your students do group projects, this would be a great introduction to how you should collaborate and make sure proper credit is given. This book is also an excellent example of why we need to study history. New information is constantly being unearthed about events so we can get to the truth of what really happened. If Nobleman was not so dogged in his research, we wouldn't be finding out about Bill Finger's role in the creation of this comic book superstar. Ty Templeton's comic book style illustrations are the exact right touch for this book. They are the perfect complement to the text. Bill the Boy Wonder would be a terrific source for a biography project for a reluctant reader. You will want to preserve the cover of this book as many hands will be reaching for it.

Charlesbridge has included a section for educators with plenty of ideas for lessons connected to Bill the Boy Wonder.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thank You, Denmark

I'm back home and delighted to see my family. It was an amazing week in Denmark. I made new friends with my colleagues from North Carolina and hope to begin a connection with a teacher in Denmark. This is an incredible country to visit. Everyone was hospitable and helpful. It is a beautiful place to see. Thank you to everyone at The Center for International Understanding and the Destination Denmark! sponsors who made this possible. I hope Denmark has changed me for the better and maybe one day I will be back. 

Tak skal du have! (Thank you very much) Danmark.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Destination Denmark!: Day 5

Check out STEM Friday for more math and science links.

An often used (perhaps too much) phrase in education circles is "the a-ha moment" where a person is enlightened by a particular piece of information. Our trip to the Vestforbraending Recycling and Waste Treatment Plant in Glostrup definitely created one of these moments for me. Per Brix was our host at the Waste Lab which is a teaching facility for middle and high school students and teachers. He explained how the resources needed to create a product are a "hidden flow" that is not realized by consumers. When I have talked to children about the need for recycling, the emphasis was on saving space in our landfills. It did not occur to me to think about the resources that would go into making a new product as opposed to something that has been recycled.

The map above shows the locations of resources needed to create a backpack. This is the "hidden flow" in that these resources have to be mined or procured in other ways and that puts a stress on the environment as well as political stress as countries try to acquire these resources from other countries. If we take care to recycle instead of constantly needing to have new products, that will lessen the stress on the environment and  create a healthier planet. Look at the number in yellow and think about the amount of fuel that was used to acquire these resources. You need resources to get the resources and I don't think I have ever really thought about it that way. Realizing and teaching others about the "hidden flow" will perhaps change our consumerism so that less stress is put on economic, environmental, and political systems. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Destination Denmark!: Day 4

We started Day 4 with a visit to the Energy and Water Science Centre in Valby. Children and teachers come to learn about the importance of renewable energy and taking care of our resources. Now why am I in the toilet? This is an entrance to a display about the history of sewer systems and why they were developed. There are bars underneath the lid where you climb down to a tunnel. There is also an excellent outdoor lab where children learn about the use of water and a renewable energy lab on the roof of the main building. Our host Jesper made a crucial point when he said that young children need to play if they are going to learn and apply this important information. That made a big impression on me and I hope I will keep that in mind in the coming school year. The visit ended with our group getting to take short rides on two electric bicycles. I would like to have one of these so I can keep up with the more experienced riders of Copenhagen.

When we returned to Copenhagen, I went to Amalienborg Castle to view the changing of the guard at noon. This was interesting ceremony to observe and contrast with the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. which I saw in April. I also visited Rosenborg Castle and it was a beautiful area.

The book Number the Stars takes place in Copenhagen, so I did some background research at the Danish Resistance Museum and also visited the Danish Jewish Museum. The stories were uplifting and heartbreaking  which I will never forget.

Wednesday night was time for a visit to Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli well exceeded my expectations. It was incredible what was packed into this small city area. I wish I could tell more but my bus leaves in ten minutes.  I will try to tell more in a later post. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Destination Denmark!: Day 3

This was a hard choice.
A fine breakfast!
Waking up at 4:30 each morning has its advantages. Andersen Bakery is located next to Tivoli Gardens and is a short walk from our hotel. I started Day 3 there and had an excellent breakfast. The pastries are flaky and delicious.

Walking out of the bakery, I spied the bike rack outside the train station. Denmark has one of the highest populations of bike riders in the world so I have been encouraged by several people to try riding a bike in Copenhagen. Even the city encourages visitors with a program that places free rental bikes throughout Copenhagen. You can use one of these white bikes to pedal through so I gave it a whirl. Did I mention that I am terribly out of shape? Everyone passed me by. Nonetheless it was a great experience. After about 25 minutes I decided to no longer be a danger to Danish society and park the bike outside of City Hall. There is plenty of space to bike and the key thing is to follow others to learn the etiquette of riding in traffic. 

Our group was fortunate to meet with members of the Danish Energy Agency for a presentation on the use of renewable energy. Denmark has launched an ambitious program to leave fossil fuels behind by 2050. If you look closely, you can see the windmills in the background. This ambition comes with many challenges and it will be interesting to see if Denmark can continue on this path. One of my goals is to take this discussion to my classroom and talk to students about renewable versus nonrenewable sources of energy. 

A thirty minute train ride took us to the town of Roskilde which is the original capital of Denmark. We visited the Viking museum and saw five Viking ships that were 1,000 years old. Another site in this town is the Roskilde Domkirke which is a 12th century brick cathedral that serves as the burial site for Danish monarchs. It is a beautiful building that is a mix of several architectural styles.                                                      

Being a citizen of a rather young country, it is amazing to see these structures that are several hundred years old. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Destination Denmark!: Day Two

"What is done in research today is done in business tomorrow." - Christian Mathiessen

Monday morning began with a presentation at a conference center in Copenhagen. Professor Christian Mathiessen led a team that presented information about the Oresund bridge that links Denmark and Sweden and the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel Project that will link Denmark and Germany early in the next decade. The team taught us that these bridges and tunnels are not just about transportation, but more about regional development. In this global age, new alliances are being made to create economic powerhouses. It was interesting to see the data and think about the impact of these links on the citizens of the respective countries involved. How does this affect the children I teach? One of the skills we need to teach in this age is the ability to cooperate and work with different groups. These important projects embody the need to have this skill. Plus, I was able to sit in this cool egg chair that was in the lobby of the conference center. I love Danish design.

It was a beautiful morning in Copenhagen so we walked to our next destination instead of taking the train. The Soerne area of Copenhagen is also known as The Lakes where there are a row of 5 rectangular lakes that make for a terrific setting for running, riding a bicycle, or walking.We enjoyed our walk immensely.

Our next stop was a visit to the Ingrid Jespersen Gymnasieskole which is a K-12 school in Copenhagen. Professor Otto Moller and a team of educators were extremely gracious in hosting our group for the afternoon. We are learning that Denmark is a "dialogue country" and we had plenty of rich discussions with administrators, teachers, and students. In these talks, it was interesting to note the familiar triumphs and challenges that we experience as educators in North Carolina and also see how Danish educators approach the interactions between students and teachers. It was a wonderful visit that was punctuated by an opportunity to interact with students during their recess time in the courtyard. I especially enjoyed the slide. Thank you to the staff at Ingrid Jespersen Gymnasieskole for their hospitality!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Destination Denmark!: How Time is Just Messing with Me

I literally crashed at 8:30 pm last night. I had not slept for over 30 hours since our flight left New York Saturday afternoon (EST) and landed in Copenhagen Sunday morning so I just passed out on the bed. So I figured I would sleep until 7 this morning. Not happening. 4:30 arrives and the sun is coming through my window. What's funny is that I asked for a wake up call at 7:15. Won't need that. No need for sympathy on my behalf. I am in Denmark and it is a beautiful morning so I should go out and find a fresh baked good. More pictures below. 

If you teach reading and visit Denmark, you have to pay homage to Hans Christian Andersen. It's in a manual somewhere. This is the statue right outside City Hall.  

This is for my students who love clouds when we study them in our weather unit. It is also for Melissa Stewart who blogs at Celebrate Science. She has cool cloud pictures posted often so I wanted to add mine. This is from 35,000 feet. 

Nonfiction Monday: Destination Denmark! Day One

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Simply Science.

I'm currently on tour with our cohort in the Destination Denmark! study abroad program. I had an interesting conversation with a young Danish man who was seated next to me on the plane from New York to Copenhagen. He just finished a two year stint teaching high school science in Pennsylvania and was returning home. We found so many similarities in our thoughts about students and the state of education in general. It was refreshing to share with a teacher from another country. 

After landing and enjoying a delicious Danish breakfast , it was time to explore Copenhagen. We strolled down Stroget (a large car-free pedestrian area) on our way to Nyhavn which is a long canal bordered by colorful houses. 

One of the striking qualities of Danish culture is architecture. You will find so many interesting buildings in Copenhagen. Case in point: Vor Frelsers Kirke (pictured at the top of the post). The spire, completed in 1752, runs around the exterior and is accessible to visitors. A 295 ft view awaits the hardy hikers who dare to go to the top. 

Tomorrow's agenda includes a session on the Oresund Bridge and a visit to a local school. If time permits, I hope to post again tomorrow. I am fortunate to be with this terrific group of educators. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Destination Denmark!

Check out STEM Friday with author Melissa Stewart guest hosting this week.

It has been perhaps the busiest spring of my career. I finished my first year of teaching 5th grade and just closed out my class this past week. Since I haven't been a solo classroom teacher for several years, I forgot how much work is involved in finishing the year. So much stuff to be stored and forms to be signed. Our church is changing our K-5 curriculum and I have been heavily involved in this endeavor. I am in the finishing stages of my first book (Spring, 2013: shameless plug) which is very exciting but there is still much to do there as well. You would think that I had enough on my plate, but sometimes you can't pass up an opportunity. The Center for International Understanding, based at the University of North Carolina, offers teachers a chance to travel overseas for a week each summer to study. This is very generous since most of the cost is covered by sponsors. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into this program and tomorrow we take off for Denmark. One of our goals is to study the use of technology in Denmark. Our group will attend a session about the Oresund Bridge which you see above. This bridge connects Denmark and Sweden. Another focus will be the use of renewable resources in Denmark. I'm excited about this chance and hope to blog about it in the coming week. Check back here to see if I am able to adapt to life in northern Europe.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Amazing Eggs

Amazing Eggs
written by Fran Hodgkins; illustrated by Wendy Smith
2011 (Treasure Bay)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at Shelf-Employed

Most of the information in Amazing Eggs is what you would find in many nonfiction books about animal eggs. Since this is for Level 1 readers, that is to be expected and makes perfect sense. Readers will learn about the eggs for different animal groups such as amphibians, reptiles, insects, and birds. This makes for a good opportunity for readers to be able to compare the different animals and learn what is the same and what is different about the eggs. Other information is a little out of the ordinary such as the egg tooth that enables a baby snake to break out of its soft but tough shell. There is also a section on the platypus which is always cool. The mix of photographs and illustrations are engaging and there is a generous use of labels which is what you want to have for beginning readers. But this is not unusual and can be found in other nonfiction books. So what makes this book stand out from the plethora of animal books that you find on the market and will make you part with your money? A little thing the publisher calls We Both Read. Other companies may do this, but I haven't seen it in my public library or my school in the 3 years that I have been blogging. Here is how it works: Each two page spread starts with a page on the left that is full of facts that are read by an adult. This fulfills the need for "wow" facts to be imparted. The right side of the spread is a "kid-friendly" page that is to be read by the child. The text is much easier to read and the font is larger which allows the child to use their finger if needed to track the text. This is a great idea that allows nonfiction to be shared as a nighttime reading experience or in the classroom with an adult reading volunteer or a buddy reader from an upper grade. Beginning readers get to feel like they are on equal footing with a reading helper and I think that can do a lot to boost confidence and create a desire to read more. More books in the We Both Read series can be found by clicking the link above.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Poetry Friday: Poem Runs

Poem Runs
written and paintings by Douglas Florian
2012 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Poetry Friday at Jama's Alphabet Soup

The winter is through.
The springtime is here.
The season is new.
The weather is clear.
We're ready to hit one
Right over the wall.
The winter is through-
Throw out the first ball!

Even though football has replaced baseball as the premier sport in America, it is baseball that makes old fogeys like me wax nostalgic about our youth. I played catcher for the Pirates in Little League. The best part was everyone, win or lose, got a soda after the game. If we won, we would ride in the open trunk of a car and honk the horn celebrating our victory in the neighborhood. This was back in the day where car safety wasn't the priority it is now. Douglas Florian's Poem Runs makes me think of those days and how I enjoyed playing the game and how I still like watching minor league baseball. You know Florian is a big fan since he writes a poem specifically for the right fielder and mentions picking daisies which is a great skill for a young right fielder. With the exception of center field and left field, each position receives their own poem. I love the verbs in these poems. Baseballs are snatched or grabbed with ease. The poem, A Baseball, lists 14 different things actions you can take with a baseball. Each poem oozes with the joy of playing this sport. Accompanying the poems are mixed media paintings that are "kid-like" and exaggerate the qualities of each subject.

Poem Runs would be a nice change of pace for shared reading experiences. You can write a poem on chart paper and have the class read it with you. Older students could write poems for positions in other sports. Swimmers could write a poem about the backstroke. Soccer players could write a poem for the striker or the goalie. There are a ton of possibilities. Florian's poems also show children how you can play with the shape of poems. Poem Runs will be a hit for poetry fans.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Just Ducks!

Just Ducks!
written by Nicola Davies; illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino
2012 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Check out Nonfiction Monday at True Tales and A Cherry On Top

In this mix of fiction and nonfiction, a young girl hears quacking every morning. When she opens the curtains, she sees the ducks on the river. Apart from the narrative text, smaller text gives facts about ducks. On the first spread we learn that male ducks are quieter than female ducks. As the girl gets ready for school, we learn that ducks take oil from near their tail to spread on "their feathers to keep them shiny and waterproof." On her walk to school, she sees ducks dabbling (nibbling on the surface) and upending (pushing their head under the surface). After school, it's feeding time on the river. The females in their brown and tan and the mallards with their green heads interact while looking for food. Nesting time is in the spring and mother ducks will look for a spot that is hidden from predators. Once the ducks hatch, it is off to the water where there is greater safety. This is where ducks will sleep if it keeps them away from cats and other troublesome creatures. If food is available in a well lit place, the ducks will stay up late to feed. As the girl goes to sleep, all is quiet, but in the morning she knows what sound will awake her.

I really like the combination of the narrative and facts in smaller print. This is quite inventive in working in informational text. You learn quite a bit about ducks while reading a story and the watercolor artwork is very engaging. Many skills could be taught using Just Ducks! If you want to teach students how to create a time line, you can use this text to make a time line for a duck's day or for the year. You could also compare how different animals use color to attract mates. Just Ducks! would fit nicely in a unit on ducks (kindergarten teachers need to create this!) or animal behavior.