Monday, September 30, 2013

Integrating Science and Language ArtsTeaching Science with Kidlit: NGSS Performance Expectation K-ESS3-1

This week, I’m focusing on a kindergarten PE that is lumped under Earth & Space Science, though it really has significant overlap with life science concepts.

K-ESS3-1. Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live. [Clarification Statement: Examples of relationships could include that deer eat buds and leaves, therefore, they usually live in forested areas; and, grasses need sunlight so they often grow in meadows. Plants, animals, and their surroundings make up a system.]

Take your class outdoors on a warm day and encourage students to find and follow a small animal, such as an ant or a spider. While the children are observing the animal, walk among them and ask: What do you think the animal is doing? What do you think it will do next?

After the students have had time to think about these questions, ask them: How do you think the animal depends on the land, water, and other living things around them? Do you see evidence to support your ideas?

As the children think about these questions, encourage them to draw a picture of the creature and its surroundings. When they are done, ask the children to circle and label anything in their picture that they think the animal needs to survive.

Before going back inside, invite the students to gather together and guide a discussion about the physical characteristics of the area where the creatures live. This is a great opportunity to introduce the word environment. (All the factors—soil, water, and other living things—that affect the life and activities of a creature.)

 The class should consider some of the following questions: What kinds of plants grow in the environment? Do the plants seem to be healthy? Is there a source of water in the environment? Record the students’ ideas in a notebook and transfer them to a piece of chart paper when you return to the classroom and return to the students’ observations as you read and discuss some of the following books:

Just Ducks by Nicola Davies

Hip-Pocket Papa by Sandra Markle

Fish Wish by Bob Barner

What Bluebirds Do by Pamela F. Kirby

Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies

Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad's Tale by April Pulley Sayre

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

You’ll never guess what a baby koala eats. It’s food of choice is pap—soft, runny poop full of bacteria from its mother’s body.

Sounds disgusting, right? But the koala needs all that bacteria.

When a koala grows up, it eats poisonous eucalyptus leaves. So why doesn’t it get sick? Because the bacteria in its body break down the poison. Thanks to those bacterial buddies from mom’s pap, a koala can munch on eucalyptus all day long.

For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Behind the Books: Questioning the Power of Story

When I published this post last February, I hoped some people would read it. I hoped some people would comment. I expected many people to disagree with my idea that story isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But you know what? No one did.

Here’s what happened. To date, the post has had more than 31,000 hits. Lots of people did comment. 39 commented directly on my blog. Many other folks sent me email, talked to me at conferences, or responded on Twitter or Facebook.

Clearly the post hit a nerve. Maybe some people had been questioning the power of story for a long time.

Recently school librarian and AASL organizer Mary Ann Schuer (@ MaryAnnSchuer) brought my attention to a new study that makes this bold claim: “Stories are about 22 times more memorable than facts alone.”

Of course, that quote ended up in a bazillion articles. After all it seems to reinforce what so many people already believe to be true.

But here’s what I found when I scrutinized the study. The subjects were 209 seventh and eighth grade students, and according to the researchers, Arya & Maul, the two texts used in the study were “developed to be as similar as possible in terms of syntactic complexity, vocabulary, accuracy, and other measures, and vary only in whether the information was presented in a typical expository fashion or in terms of a personal story.

Seems solid, right? Well, I read the passages and let me tell you that the expository sample was some of the driest, most boring writing I’ve read in a long time.

Of course student comprehension and memory of the information was low. Bad writing leads to bad learning outcomes. No surprise there. I would challenge Arya & Maul to repeat their study with a truly engaging expository text, such as one pulled from a highly-acclaimed trade nonfiction title. I suspect that their results would be quite different, but let the science speak for itself.

Study cited: Arya, D. J. & Maul, A. (2012). The role of the scientific discovery narrative in middle school science education: An experimental study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 1022-1032.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Teaching Science with Kidlit: More NGSS Performance Expectation K-LS1-1

Expanding on last week’s post, here are some books and activities that focus specifically on one aspect of K-LS1-1—animals’ need for food.

Gobble It Up! by Jim Arnosky

Time to Eat by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds

Pinduli by Janell Cannon

What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World Katherine B. Hauth

Bear Wants More
by Karma Wilson
Just One Bite by Lola Schafer

Activity 1
Gobble It Up! comes with a CD. As your class listens to the song, encourage them to imagine that they are the animals. Divide the class into two groups. Invite one group to act out the part of the raccoon and the other to act out the part of the crawdad. Repeat this process with the crocodile and ducks, shark and smaller fish, whale and squid.

Activity 2
Guide students as they create an interactive bulletin board with the title, What Kinds of Foods Do Animals Eat?. Ask each student to draw and label two separate pictures—one of an animal and one of the food it eats. Each student must pick a different animal, focusing on the examples included in Time to Eat, Gobble It Up, Pinduli, What’s for Dinner?, Bear Wants More, or Just One Bite.  

Place the animal pictures in a column on the left-hand side of the board. Scatter the food drawings around the rest of the board. Staple a piece of string to each animal. Each string should be long enough to reach any food on the board. Use a pushpin to attach each food to the board. To match animals with their foods, students should wrap the proper strings around the pushpins.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: How do you tell which end of a millipede is its head?
A: Tickle its middle and see which end laughs.

Q: How many pill bugs can you put in an empty can?
A: One. After that the can isn’t empty.

Q: How do injured insects get to the hospital?
A: In an ant-bulance!

Q: What kind of insect gets really stressed out?
A: An uptight termite. 

Q: What is the difference between a fly and a bird?
A: A bird can fly but a fly can't bird!

Looking for more super silly jokes about the weather? Check out Creepy, Crawly Jokes About Spiders and Other Bugs.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Behind the Books: What the Heck Is Gamification?

In June, I presented at a very special event—the first-ever conference dedicated to children’s nonfiction. Held on the SUNY New Paltz campus, the Twenty-first Century Nonfiction Conference offered unique opportunities for writers, artists, editors, designers, art directors, packagers to talk shop. It was truly inspiring.

In a great workshop, author and app creator Roxie Munro introduced me to a new term—gamification. It’s content delivered (via a book or other media) in a game-like format. In the case of books, it’s basically a way of structuring the text. And this kind of structure is both fun and interactive.

Roxie’s very popular picture book Hatch! is a great example, but the more I thought about it, the easier it became to name other books that are also structured as games. Here are some examples:

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

How Many Ways Can You Catch a Fly? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Where in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn

Where Else in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn

What in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn

While gamification isn’t one of the nonfiction text structures specified in Common Core ELA RI standard #5, it’s certainly an approach that I’m going to try with at least one of my works in progress.
Grade 4
Grade 5
Describe the overall structure (chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or info in a text or part of a text
Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/ solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or info in two or more texts

Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching Science with Kidlit: NGSS Performance Expectation K-LS1-1

The Next Generation Science Standards have a complicated history. They trace back to the 2011 National Research Council report entitled A Framework for K-12 Science Education and went through multiple drafts that were commented upon by, well, pretty much anyone who had any interest in them.

In the end, the drafters developed statements called “performance expectations,” and the idea is that test questions will be closely aligned to them. So I’m going to write out the performance expectations (PEs), word for word, and work directly from them. I’m also going to include any “clarification statements” specified by the people who drafted the PEs.
Here's the first kindergarten life science PE:

K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include that animals need to take in food but plants do not; the different kinds of food needed by different types of animals; the requirement of plants to have light; and, that all living things need water.]

And here are some books that can be used to directly address the PE:

The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer

From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer

The Snail’s Spell by Joanne Ryder
Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah Campbell
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole
Seed, Soil, Sun by Chris Peterson

Activity 1
Children love to learn by doing, so try this kinesthetic activity. Have your students count off by fours. Number ones are members of TEAM WATER. Number twos are members of TEAM SUNLIGHT. Threes are members of TEAM FOOD. When children are “up,” they must use sequential letters in the alphabet to name a living thing that needs his or her team name to survive. If TEAM SUNLIGHT starts, the first player might say “apple tree.” If TEAM WATER comes next, the player might say “bat.” Then a player from TEAM FOOD might say “cheetah.” Continue the game until everyone has had a turn.

Activity 2
Invite your students to create visual acrostic poems that reinforce the basic needs of plants and animals. They may choose any of the following as a starter word: water, sunlight, air, or food. Here’s an example:

W [picture of a wolf]

A  [picture of an apple tree]

T  [picture of a turkey]

E  [picture of an elephant]

R  [picture of a radish]

When the students are done, you can post their poems on a bulletin board entitled What Plants and Animals Need to Live and Grow.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

Let’s face it: Spitting in public is bad manners. And how often do you see people licking themselves? Ick!

But cats have a different way of seeing the world. Lions. Lynxes. Tigers. Tabby cats. They  all spend at least two hours a day slathering themselves with spit and then licking it off. It’s their way of staying neat and tidy.

For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Behind the Books: Monkey Marketing

When I visit schools, kids (and their teachers) often seem stunned by how much time it takes to create a book and how many people are involved in the process. My new picture book, No Monkeys, No Chocolate, is an extreme example. It took 10 years, 56 revisions, and 2 fresh starts. Let’s face it. Sometimes dumping everything and starting from scratch is the only way to find the story you really want—and need—to tell.

When it came time to think about promoting No Monkeys, No Chocolate, I knew I’d do the standard stuff—Teachers Guide, Storytime Guide, Activity Sheets, reach out to bloggers, solicit radio and print interviews, etc. But I also wanted to do something special, something unique, something useful.

That’s when I remembered all those stunned kids. I can only reach out to so many of them at in-person visits or via Skype. How could I share the idea that revision is the heart of writing with them? How could I let them know that creating a book takes hard work, dedication, and patience? Kids shouldn’t balk at the idea of revising their writing assignments once or twice or even three times. Just like playing a sport or learning a musical instrument, writing takes practice.

To communicate that message, I decided to create a Revision Timeline the tells the story behind the book. Here’s a picture of how I set up my office while filming the videos. I set the camera on top of all those books.

The timeline is a combination of clickable elements—videos, WIP manuscripts, an interview with my editor, sample sketches, and even “final” art that didn’t make it into the book. I hope you’ll check it out.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Teaching Science with Kidlit: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

When I was in elementary school, we had to write a “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay at the beginning of each school year. And I hated it.

Summer was my secret time away from the hustle and bustle of school year activities. I spent hours wandering in the woods, making clothes for my Barbie dolls, and reading Encyclopedia Brown mysteries on the tiny porch attached to my bedroom.
Summer is still a special time for me. I usually spend July refueling from a school year filled with author visits and conference speaking. I do lots of writing. And I read and read.
This summer was a little different because I wasn’t writing for kids. I was writing for adults. Teachers to be exact.

Now that the final NGSS draft is available, I worked with my co-author, veteran teacher Nancy Chesley, on a pair of educational resources that bring together NGSS and CCSS using (what else?) children’s books. Over the last 3 years, this project has had more than its fair share of challenges, but I’m happy to report that we made good use of my quiet period and got lots of work done. Our own final draft is finally taking shape. Hooray!

The books still need to go through the editorial process, so they won’t be out for a while, but I know that educators are already starting to think about how to address the NGSS and—if possible—create lessons that also support the Common Core ELA standards.

So this year the Monday strand of this blog will offer book lists and teaching ideas that make it possible to integrate science and language arts with the new curriculum standards in mind.

Next week, I’ll start with the kindergarten standards and move up from there. It’s going to be a great year.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: What do snowflakes eat for dessert?
A: Ice cream.

Q: Why do scientists measure snowfall in inches?
A: Because snowflakes don’t have feet.

Q: What happens when you cross a snowball with a vampire?
A: You get frostbite?

Q: What’s it called when a raindrop and a snowflake shake hands?
A: A sleeting greeting. 

Q: What did the hailstone say to the hairdresser?
A: Give me lots of layers.

Looking for more super silly jokes about the weather? Check out Wacky Weather and Silly Season Jokes.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Behind the Books: Off to a Good Start

Every time I launch a new book into the world, I cross my fingers and hope for the best. I know I’ve done everything I can to make the book the best it can be. But I also know from experience that readers and reviewers don’t always “get” a book.

Luckily, people seem to be embracing my newest book, No Monkeys, No Chocolate. Its official release date was August 1, but the excitement around this title began back in January when it was named a Junior Library Guild Selection.

In May, my friend April Jones Prince snapped this photo of the book on display at BookExpo America.

In June, the first review came in—and it was starred. Thank you, Kirkus!

I have no idea what the future holds for this little book, but I can’t wait to find out.