Monday, January 28, 2013

Interesting and quirky 'news'

How many of you know about Boing Boing?

It’s an interesting place to find articles from around the internet about technology and science.  Each day I receive links to a dozen or so articles in my email which gives me a glimpse into the good, the bad and the out-and-out weird.  Entertaining to say the least but often very informative.

I thought the article about How Hollywood Gets Science Wrong -- And That’s Okay was pretty interesting.  There are  two men (one is a university physics professor and the other, an astronomer with SETI) who work with Hollywood types so that they can make the science in movies more realistic – maybe.  Science and Entertainment Exchange looks to help answer questions so that producers/directors/etc. make conversations between movie scientists sound more realistic or help with design elements to demonstrate scientific concepts or provide ideas about alien weaponry. And more.

Here are a couple of examples:
I was the science adviser for The Day The Earth Stood Still, and one of the things they had me do was red line the scripts and help them make the dialogue sound more realistic. And they have these lines, like one scientist saying to another, "Professor Sputnik, there's an asteroid on a hyperbolic trajectory" and they rattle off all these numbers. Well, that's not how scientists talk to one another. What they'd say is, "Bob, there's a goddamn rock headed our way!" But they don't take all my advice on that because they're trying to make those characters sound "like" scientists, not sound like actual scientists.  -- Seth Shostak from SETI
During the making of Contact, I was one of the people called up by folks at Warner Brothers asking questions. They asked me what it looked like when you fly through a wormhole. Well, nobody knows, of course. And it's not clear you could even do it. But it is true that when you go faster than the speed of light the universe collapses into a bright point of light ahead of you and a bright point behind you. I told them that and then I told them that, usually when someone illustrates it though, they use something that looks like a pig's intestine. But this would be more accurate. So they said, "Thank you," and we hung up, and they made it look like the pig's intestine. -- Seth Shostak from SETI
I love finding articles like this.

A couple of books to consider that are along similar lines (tapping into kid's interests) are
The Science of Harry Potter : how magic really works ,
 The Physics of Star Trek,
and The science of Philip Pullman's His dark materials .

It may be that you've watched a TV documentary that runs periodically called How William Shatner Changed the World (or How Techies Changed the World with William Shatner) that speaks to how the show Star Trek has inspired technological advances in the real world.

Anyone have any other suggestions of similar types of resources? Please drop me a line in the comments below.  Thanks.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Guest blogger - View from the School Library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

As with any passion, when you find someone that you connect with or 'convert' your heart sings.  When you hear the stories of kids who aren't connecting with literature for whatever reason your heart sinks.  I can certainly understand Janet's pleasure and pain when confronting the reading habits of grade 4 boys.  

Boys will be boys – or will they?

I have a particular fondness for Grade 4 boys. In the school where I work in the library, this is the first grade where the gender split policy comes into play. (The boys and girls are separated and taught in boy and girl only classes until Grade 10. I know there is controversy about gender separation and I don’t intend to defend or debunk it. It is what it is in this particular school.) And I see an increased maturity – a new stage of being , that I really like interacting with.

The teacher of the Grade 4 boys has been at the school for a number of years – he loves reading and we are always trading titles of books - he gives me titles that I have not heard of or that he has tried with the class and thinks they were successful and I give him suggestions back, so it is a fabulously symbiotic relationship.

The reading tastes and skills are varied at this age and stage. I often find that their tastes lean strongly towards World Wars, natural (and man-made) disasters, criminal forensics and hockey (I make them declare for their favourite teams – it helps when I am trying to pick players for the school hockey pool.) And they still like picture books – sort of, although they don’t always like to admit it.

But it is in the area of fiction where I find it most difficult to direct them to books that they “might” like – or even be willing to try. And this is one of the hardest parts of the job – but the one with the greatest appeal. When I find a book that sticks – it really sticks. Several years ago, I recommended the first book in the 39 Clues series - “A Maze of Bones” by Rick Riordan to one of the grade 4 boys. If you haven’t heard of the series, it’s written by different authors (Gordon Korman, Linda Sue Park, Margaret Peterson Haddix and more) and involves family members in a race to find an inheritance. But it is also a game. And there is an on-line site incorporated into it. I found the story to be so-so. But I am not a 9 year old – and I am particularly not a 9 year old boy. So while I didn’t love the book – he did. And he went on to read the rest in the series. And then he devoured Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. And even now, in Grade 7, he tracks me down to tell me what he is reading. I consider that one a success.

Other recommendations fall flat. And that’s OK. Developing a sense of what they like and what they want to try are important parts of growing into discerning adults who love to read. Some of the other titles that have gone over really well are Frank Boyce Cottrell’s books (Millions, Framed and Cosmic). I gave Cosmic to one student for a book report. He came back and asked for more by the same author. He loved Framed, but found Millions to be so-so. Another important lesson learned – you don’t always like everything that the author has written. And just because I loved Millions (I really did) he doesn’t have to. And he was not afraid to tell me.

Other titles that have had particular success? One is the series “I am Canada”. These are along the lines of the Dear Canada diary series that appeal to girls. These stories involve young men in various aspects of Canadian history. The first one that I read dealt with World War I, so a clear fit with these boys – one in particular who has now moved on to reading anything he can put his hands on about war, soldiers, weapons, etc.  (Heads up - I have not read all of the titles and some reviewers have cautioned regarding the details of death highlighted in another of the series Shot at dawn .)

Along the same theme is the book The two generals by Scott Chantler. This is a story of friendship during the Second World War – two young men who, as friends,  enlist and go overseas.  It is a true story that shows the reader war through the eyes of the soldiers at the front. The graphics are particularly well done and the overall tone of the book is just right.

Another author that these boys like is Jon Scieszka – most particularly for his Time Warp Trio books . And his autobiography Knucklehead has made a few boys snort at some of the antics he and his brothers were involved in.

Another author that  they like, and who appears to have stood the test of time is Roald Dahl – at one time this year, the shelf with his books on it was empty – and the boys were madly trading the titles back and forth and declaring for their favorites. In the lead is The BFG – but close behind are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

Do these boys continue to love reading as they become teenagers? I would have said yes, based on some of my experiences. But this week I had a conversation with the LA teacher for Junior High, who came to me to find some titles that her grade 9 boys would not dismiss out of hand. In the course of our conversation, she told me that they could give her very few titles that they had read and loved. And I found that really sad. I don’t know how to engage them from that point of reluctance back to the enthusiasm they had in Grade 4. My son (one of the grade 9 boys she was referring to) has morphed from a child who LOVED reading to one who rejects my suggestions out of hand. I keep trying, in hopes that it is a phase – that, shortly, a book that he picks up completely engages him – and he remembers the particular appeal of getting lost in a good book.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gotta love serendipity

Just this past weekend I started and finished John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars and loved it.  This is not a typical genre for me but it came highly recommended by Janet (colleague, guest blogger, and kindred spirit-book lover) and timed nicely with an upcoming discussion with John Green over on GoodReads on January 23rd.

The genre – ‘sick-lit’.  This is a term I had not heard of before Monday when I read this article from Mail Online.  Briefly, this is YA fiction that focuses on teens that are grievously ill, dying, depressed, or suicidal.  And the book The Fault In Our Stars certainly falls smack-dab into this category.  The main character is dying of cancer but while attending a support group meets and falls in love with another cancer survivor.  Yes, I cried but I also laughed too.  John Green does teen dialogue brilliantly with lots of clever repartee.  This was a really, really, good book.

But then Wednesday, on CBC’s radio program, The Current there was a segment dealing with this exact topic.  One member of the panel, Amanda Craig, sees such books as problematic, maudlin, and potentially, could act as a trigger for kids to hurt or kill themselves.  

And then,  while prepping for an unrelated workshop that I'm doing later this week, I came across the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, Letters About Literature.  This is a contest where students write letters to an author about one of their books and the impact it has had on them.  Scroll down to the fifth letter under Level 3.  This letter is addressed to Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why (one of the books mentioned on The Current) and shares that the letter-writer credits this book as one of the reasons why she didn't commit suicide.  
I haven’t read all the books mentioned in Wednesday's radio program.  But I do remember reading my fair share of similar fair as a teen back in the 70's and early 80's.  Teens like ‘dark’ stuff.  Intense, emotional subjects are where it’s at for many of them.  For some it, it may be problematic.  For others not. This is something that is individually defined.  Parents might be able to help that is, in terms of being open to discussion but I can’t see parents effectively controlling teens from reading 'toxic' books whatever the genre. 

This kind of discussion has been around a long time.  And, I think for some of us, the closest to consensus we'll get, is to agree to disagree.

Monday, January 7, 2013

And the word is…

One of the blogs I follow started off by selecting a word of the year.  This is a word that she wants to influence her thoughts, feelings and actions for the following year.  Initially, I was little cursory.  “Yeah, right.”  Another way to sucker people into making some new year’s resolution that, typically, will not last and end up making the aforementioned people feel inadequate. And, I moved on.

But wait! 

About half an hour later, this idea of a word of the year popped back into my head.  I realized I had already kinda selected a word that I've been working with for the past couple of months.  It started back in November…

Last November, I attended a one day workshop by Randy Burke Hensley that focused on information literacy and creativity.  Right from the get go, I was jazzed about this.  Right up my alley.  I love finding new ways to energize and invigorate my library workshops.  And Randy Burke Hensley did not disappoint.  It was a day filled with lots of unexpected twists that often took us by surprise and challenged us to rethink how we, as librarians, approach teaching.

Following the workshop, I looked up his references.  I now have several titles and articles that are on my Must Read List. I don’t know how much time I spent looking at YouTube videos of different TedTalk speakers about ‘creativity’, ‘creative thinking’ and ‘innovation’.  A splendid time sink and I came away feeling awed, inspired and envious.  How can I be like this?  Present like this? Inspire like this? 

So, my word of the year, the word that I want to influence the way I think about resources (kid’s books, kits, and professional teaching materials), about teaching these resources and finally the way I want student-teachers to think about resources after my sessions, is creatively.

Creative and its offshoots, creatively and creativity is (are) my word(s) of the year.  I want to think beyond the obvious.  I want to be open to, and actively find, new ways of thinking.  And, I will try my hardest to revisit each session I teach and see something different about it.  What worked or what didn't.  Newer resources or maybe older ones to demo. Revitalize my activities.   Less of me talking and more of students working.  And take risks; actually try different things.  Be open to finding new ways to teach. (I do some of this already but sitting in Randy’s workshop made me realize that I could be doing more.)

Two books I’m working through right now are:


Stay tuned.  I’ll periodically update you about how I do.

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