Monday, March 28, 2016

Pinterest : Making life a little easier

Over the last few months, I started using Pinterest quite extensively as a way to curate titles of mostly juvenile literature to correspond with the Alberta Education curriculum.

     Visit Doucette Library's profile on Pinterest.   

Just this week I worked my way through the elementary program of studies for mathematics. This was not something I had been looking forward to (some of you may remember I'm somewhat of a math-a-phobe) and rate this right up there with going to the dentist.

Anyways, trying to use the learning objectives set out in broad categories by Alberta Education (numbers, patterns & relations, shape & space, statistics & probability) was a good starting point for organizing titles but quickly became too unwieldy. I created 13 boards to avoid lists with 100s of titles.

Take a look to see how I did that : Pinterest - Doucette Library (Tammy Flanders)

I included only books found in the Doucette Library and linked the boards to the library's catalogue.  I've included a few titles for DVDs but focused primarily on fiction and nonfiction books appropriate for students in grades 1 to 6.

**You may notice the board, Variables & Equations (Patterns and Relations), has very few titles. If you know of any resources that would fit with algebraic thinking, I would be really, really grateful if you'd let me know.  It may be that there aren't that many kids books with algebra written into the story line especially at the elementary level. Please drop me a line with your recommendations.

If you get to the Doucette Library's Pinterest page you will notice many other boards that also correspond to the Alberta Education curriculum for elementary science and social studies down to the level of every topic for every grade. 

So, if you're teaching a science unit for one of the primary grades about colour this board might have titles that would interest you as a springboard, a provocation or a resource for scaffolding this topic.

Or, maybe you're teaching social studies and looking for resources about quality of life, or the history of Alberta or democracy; there are Pinterest boards for each of these topics. 

There are a few boards that are not tied to the Alberta Education program of studies but still relevant.  These include boards for First Nations, Metis and Inuit resources that are to be included across all content areas.  You will also find boards for fiction that might make tie-ins with STEM or STEAM curriculum.  Both of these groupings are organized by grade ranges of primary (grades K-3), middle school (grades 4-8) and secondary (grades 9-12).

One last board I'd like to highlight is specific to picture books for older readers. This is a topic of interest for those student-teachers (and sometimes teachers) teaching grades 6 to 12 that often don't think about using picture books. Many of the books listed here are some of my all-time favorites because they can be used across the grades to enrich many content areas.  Interest? Click here to see what I've included.

These boards are proving useful for student-teachers when incorporating juvenile literature into their lesson plans. I invite you to check them out and let me know what you think.

Monday, March 21, 2016

More divergent thinking

Most of you will know how excited I get with books that offer a different spin on their topics or in how they present their material aka divergent thinking. I facilitated a workshop last October with students about the range of resources available, different types found in fiction and nonfiction and with their assistance created a Pinterest board listing some of their recommendations for books with divergent thinking characteristics. (See also blog from October.)

So today I’m recommending two more books that I think also showcase qualities of divergent thinking.

First up is I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton. No super surprising twist about the topic in this book.  Yup, it’s about spiders. As the author explains she’s trying very, very, very hard to learn to ‘love’ them which is hard work and taking a toll on the spider population. But by learning more about spiders, their characteristics and what they’re good at (mostly eating lots of other insects) the author does eventually come to better appreciate them.  Next up, learning to love cockroaches.

Both the illustrations and font type-face add to the book’s humour. Unless you’re already comfortable around spiders the book is easy to relate to. I, too, can appreciate qualities of spiders but its best if they stay out in the garden. I will try the catch-and-release approach to those that do take up residence in the house but once they reach a size of large proportions (Yes, I’m thinking of you dearly departed ginormous cane spider in Hawaii) I just kind of lose it.

So we have information, humour, and relatability to draw us in and engage our interest.  I’d recommend this for early elementary grades and see it tying in to the Alberta Education science curriculum for grade 2.

A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long is my next recommendation.

This is part of a series that I think is brilliant. Here are the other titles:
An Egg is Quiet
A Butterfly is Patient
A Rock is Lively
A Seed in Sleepy

All of these take a phenomenon from nature and give it an attribute you wouldn’t necessarily connect to that particular natural occurrence. I particularly like A Rock is Lively as you don’t think about a rock as being all that lively – for most of us they’re pretty static. Check out the book to find out more.  And what a great activity to have students model their own work by matching atypical attributes to nature’s wonders.

In A Nest is Noisy we’re introduced (or reminded) about various animals who build nests, mostly egg laying creatures such as birds, fish, and insects but also prairie dogs, primates and squirrels who do not lay eggs. So how are nests noisy? They’re filled with the busy-ness and the getting-on-with of life of rearing the young. The range of construction materials is fascinating including everything from typical twigs, leaves and grasses to mud, bubbles, and saliva. Army ants use their own bodies to create bivouacs or ‘living nests’.  Besides trees, nests are found in water, underground, in sand and shallow, rocky streambeds. The illustrations are beautifully rendered in watercolour with lots of attention to detail but typically displayed on single coloured backgrounds to highlight the nests and animals.

I recommend all of Aston's and Long's books across the elementary level in science (animals, building materials, sound), language arts and art.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Social studies resource and critical thinking

I know that Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson will be a very useful resources for the grade 6 social studies topic, Historical Modes of Democracy taught in Alberta schools.

This is a retelling based mostly on Robertson’s recollection of being told this story as a child on the Six Nations of the Grand River reservation in Ontario by a revered elder. The elder was “a wisdom-keeper who knows the stories and the old ways.”[from the author’s note]  The elder impressed young Robbie greatly and inspired him to want to become a storyteller, too.

The story is about Hiawatha, a Mohawk, who loses everything he loves to the evil chief, Tadodaho from the Onondaga nation. He is grieving the loss of his family and village and plotting revenge when a stranger arrives and convinces him to travel with him, the Peacemaker, to the other tribes of the region to convince them to desist from fighting each other. The Peacemaker wants people (tribes) to “come together as one body, one mind, and one heart. Peace, power, and righteousness shall be the new way.” The Peacemaker needs Hiawatha’s powerful, articulate speaking voice to help spread the word.

Their message is appreciated by the other tribes but their fear of Tadodaho makes them question the wisdom of not fighting such a powerful enemy. The message of love and forgiveness over violence is one that is supported by the women of each tribe. Eventually, consensus is reached and the four nations (Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca and Oneida) paddle together to confront Chief Tadodaho. Eventually, Tadodaho is overcome through strong medicine and forgiveness and the Five Nations are united.

“The Peacemaker placed his fist over his heart, and again I spoke. ‘As Five Nations, we will bring forth peace, power, and righteousness.  The women of our tribes shall appoint the Chiefs, and as one people we shall live under the protection of the Great Law. All voices will be heard as we now vote before action is taken.”
Here is the general outcome as laid out in the Alberta Education program of studies:
Students will demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the democratic principles exemplified by ancient Athens and the Iroquois Confederacy.
Here are more specific outcomes focused on the Iroquois Confederacy:
6.2.4 analyze the structure and functions of the Iroquois Confederacy by exploring and reflecting upon the following questions and issues:
• How was the Iroquois Confederacy structured?• What was the role and status of women within the Iroquois Confederacy?• What are the advantages and disadvantages of consensus as a decision-making model for government?• How did the Six Nations use the consensus-building process?• How did the Wampum Belt address collective identity?• How did the social structure of the Iroquois Confederacy impact its political structure?• To what extent did the decision-making process within the Iroquois Confederacy reflect democratic ideals of equity and fairness? 

So, you see, it’s a good fit.

Illustrated by David Shannon, the art work is lush and bold drawing our attention on every page. In spite of liking the book, this is where I become a little wary.

As far as I can determine, David Shannon is not of native descent. His familiarity with the indigenous peoples making up the Iroquois Confederacy will be limited. No illustrator’s notes were included to explain his decisions and I’m left to imagine his work is likely based on research and other observations he’s possibly made on his own. This leaves his depictions open to inaccuracies.  I’m not familiar enough with any aboriginal group to feel comfortable discerning how accurately they have been portrayed. I did an internet search and found images similar to those of David Shannon’s but again I have to question whether these images are accurate and where they’ve come from. I’m not saying there are inaccuracies in the illustrations in this picture book just that I, as a non-native, don’t know enough to figure this out.  I do know, however that it is crucial for the representations to accurately portray the culture of indigenous peoples. 

It’s a tricky business using children’s literature like this picture book.

The author's notes, acknowledgements and references are illuminating about Robertson's experiences as a boy and understanding of the story. (There is a CD also with a recording of Robbie Robertson about Hiawatha.)

All I can say is try to do your best in finding those books that speak authentically to aboriginal experiences and these are best told with their own voices. Do your own research; try and ask those who would know better about discrepancies in the values expressed or culture illustrated; and finally, try to use many sources and representations to allow students to do some of their own questioning and investigating, too.  Being a critical reader is important and this book will, besides supplementing content allow for readers to exercise our analytic abilities. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Pop-up Appeal.

I do love a well-done pop-up book. 

For a library to purchase a pop-up, you know that you’re buying a resource that does not have longevity going for it. But what we lose in the durability category, I think we can gain in engagement factor.

Two recent additions to the Doucette Library:

                As the title suggests, this takes place in a wooded ecosystem.  I would stretch this to include ponds or wetlands, too.  Seven animals are featured with a special focus on their building abilities but also include a tidbit of trivia that indicates its size compared to an everyday object (eg. a female ruby-throated hummingbird is about the size of a crayon).   The pop-ups showcase the ‘homes’ that each critter builds. For example, a land snail builds its home on its back using calcium derived from its own body adding layers as it grows to create a shell. The garden spider weaves a new web each day, eating the same web at night. Nothing is wasted. Also included are hummingbird, honeybee, potter wasp, beaver and stickleback fish.  The quality of the pop ups is fantastic and adds a 3-D element that engages.  I especially liked the honeybee’s hive which is a series of hexagonal combs. Suggested for primary grades.  Using a book like this presents an opportunity to teach young eager hands how to gently use fragile resources. 

Take a chance with this one.


Legendary Routes of the World: a Pop-up Book by Alexandre Verhille and Sarah Tavernier

So, how do you depict travel 3-dimensionally? It’s not easy.

This is one of those books that I really liked and enjoyed perusing but wondered what kids would make of it.  The legendary routes that are highlighted really speak to me about the ‘romantic era of travel’ when long distances meant long travel times.

So the routes are: Route du Rhum, The Silk Road, Route 66, Aeropostale, and the moon. I’ve always had a thing about the Silk Road, finding it immensely interesting because of its vastness and the whole East and West convergence. Loads of interesting history to really engage with but it is only barely scratched here. The pop-up for this route, I thought was well done and gave the reader a sense of the epic scale of the Silk Road. However, the nature of the book is so cursory with only a few details/factoids given about each of the routes that you miss out on the stories behind what makes them legendary. The pop-ups themselves are very well done and explode off the page.

I’d recommend this book for upper elementary grades but as a supplementary addition.

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