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In the Classroom: Scientists in the Field November 29, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Classroom Books.
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My students this year are voracious fiction readers. This surprised me, because usually a good percentage of a class of third graders are much more interested in information–be it sports, weapons or horses–than stories. With the exception of a dedicated fan of aviation and a few history buffs however, this year’s group of students are not particularly interested in the real world. Fortunately, there is a series out there to show them that science and the natural world around us is as surprising and magical as any fantasy story. 

Scientists in the Field is a series of books published by Harcourt that began in 1999 with the  title Once a Wolf. Since then, many more titles have been added to the series (sometimes multiple titles in a year), each profiling a scientist or group that is working to save or understand a particular species of animal or scientific problem. Written by various authors and accompanied by fantastic photographs, these books are about “adventures with a purpose” and show students the ins and outs of what scientists actually do with their time.

Reading non-fiction aloud is something I’ve always struggled with as a teacher, so I was delighted when my class last year wanted to learn more about seahorses. I read them Project Seahorse by Pamela Turner and it held their attention very well. The photographs, insets and captions break up the long chunks of text and by focusing on the work of a real scientist, the books give you a broader view of the problem rather than just the basic information about the life and habitat of the animal. My students have a much better idea of the complexity involved in saving a species when you also have to consider the lives of the people who depend on catching and selling it for survival. Other books in the series consider similar big ideas. Kakapo Rescue, which I’m reading aloud right now, shows readers that it is possible, if incredibly difficult, to save a species from near-extinction. The Hive Detectives taught me the importance of honeybees to the entire American agriculture industry. The Manatee Scientists shows how scientists in different parts of the world are working in extremely different conditions and with very different levels of support from the government and community, but still persevere in gathering their information and educating the public.

When you’re a kid, particularly a kid living in the city or suburbs, it can be hard to imagine the variety of life that exists in our world and the ways that all species are interconnected. Scientists in the Field helps students understand their world, and so are are great books to both read aloud, and to recommend to students interested in particular animals. If we want our students to learn to be engaged with their world and to care about other species, this is a great tool to help us begin those lessons.


Quotes: Recent Reading November 23, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Quotes.
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Just a few quotes from some books I have been reading or re-reading lately:

“Making a mess of things is an occupation at which even the most unskilled can excel. But mending is an art that requires years of practice. In short, breaking a thing is easy (even a child can do it); fixing that selfsame thing may be harder (sometimes even adult persons cannot manage it).”

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

I just finished reading this delightful homage to Dickens out loud to my class and this was one of my favorite omniscient narrator passages. Review of the whole book is coming soon!

“Above all, if there’s one word for what Jack always did, it is empowerment. He treated each of us as a collaborator. And he was so effective with audiences because he had this conviction that everyone not only could sing, but wanted to sing and even needed to sing, even if they didn’t know it. So of course they did.”

-George Emlen, quoted in The Magic Maker by Susan Cooper.

I was fascinated by this biography of John Langstaff, the founder of the Christmas Revels. I have never been to a Revels performance, but for a couple of different reasons, I’ve been learning a lot about them this year. I love this quote because it is exactly what I try to do as a teacher: convince every kid I teach that they not only can learn, but they want to learn.

“I think back to the last time I told Dad about Nader and what he said.

“Son, there will always be bullies in your life. Some people just don’t know how to act.”

Always? I know this sounds totally stupid but sometimes I really can’t see the point in living if I will always have to deal with this crap. I know I will have better times in my life and I might even make myself into someone important, but if the whole time I have to deal with assholes, then what’s the point?”

Everyone Sees the Ants by A.S. King

So this one is a little more depressing, but I really enjoyed King’s story of an ordinary teenager dealing with bullies and family stress. Not exactly unusual themes for a YA book, but King’s characters were extremely compelling, and the surreal imaginings in the main character’s head made sense even though they were disturbing. There were many moments, such as the one quoted above, where I thought “I know exactly how that feels!”

“Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch and Karou envied her for it. Her own eyebrows did not function independently of each other, which handicapped her expressions of suspicion and disdain.”

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The book I read most recently where a. I wished the characters were real and could be my friends and b. I felt like the author gave the protagonist every skill/physical attribute/odd quirk that she wanted for herself. Fortunately, Taylor and I share many of the same wishes (colored hair, ability to speak all languages) so I was happy to read about Karou and her puppeteer friend Zuzana.

“I’m crying, tears rolling down my cheeks. I’m crying because I thought that the Oak King was good and the Holly King bad, but it’s not that simple. Because if you want the summer, the winter must die and if you want the winter, the summer must die too–because Persephone must go down under the green earth–because the world must turn–because the Holly King and the Oak King must fight and one must defeat the other.”

Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls

Ok, so I actually read this book back in the spring. But I just bought my own copy and I’ve been re-reading it, so I figured it should be included. One of the books this year that just blew me away, I love the strong connections to nature, ancient ritual in this story of a girl who witnesses the Hunt and learns to understand her own family’s grieving and renewal.

Beautiful Library Art November 18, 2011

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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Because I love both art and libraries, I was blown away by this story about mysterious art popping up in Edinburgh libraries–both the beauty and the mystery of the little sculptures.

Read the blog post and marvel at the intricacy and detail of the artwork, as well as the admirable reserve of the citizens of Edinburgh, who apparently have much more control over their curiosity than Americans.

If I had time and the talent, I would write a book about a kid who finds these sculptures and sets out to solve the mystery of their appearance, learning about Edinburgh (one of my favorite European cities!) and its history in the process. Ana? Want to help me out here?