Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

The Siberian chipmunk has lots of enemies. Snakes. Hawks. Weasels. Foxes. They all think the chipmunk is deee-licious.

That would be bad news for some little critters. But the clever chipmunk knows how to stay safe. When it spots a dead snake, it bites into its enemy’s bladder. After the urine drains out, the chipmunk takes a bath in the pee.

Think the chipmunk is nuts? Think again. The snake’s strong scent keeps predators away.
For more gross facts about our animal neighbors, check out Animal Grossapedia. But be sure not to read it right after lunch!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Behind the Books: How I Research

When I do school visits for grades 3-5, one of the questions that always comes up is how I do research for a book. I tell students that researching a nonfiction book is a lot like researching a report for school.

Most of the time, I start out by reading everything I can get my hands on—books, magazine and newspaper articles. Sometimes I watch documentary films or listen to stories on NPR.

Depending on the topic, I may also do firsthand research. For example, I might observe animals in their natural setting or go to a place where an event happened. I might also visit a zoo or aquarium.

Once I’ve done as much “passive” research as possible, it’s time to start interviewing experts. This is where the Internet comes in really handy. I just google “university of” and my topic. Most of the time a few scientists will pop up. I look at their websites, review their resume, and get a list of their scientific papers. After reading these journal articles, I contact whichever scientists I think will be most knowledgeable about the particular questions I have.

Once I have all this information, I start to write. Chances are I will find that I need additional bits of information here and there, and I may need to contact some of the scientists again.

I tell kids that they can follow a similar path as they research. First reading background material and doing firsthand research, and then contacting experts at museums or historical sites. These personal contacts are often the best sources of up-to-date information and interesting tidbits that aren’t in most books.

It’s a reality that many kids will probably depend on the Internet more than they should, so I also try to provide some tips for finding the most reliable information. I’ll write more about that next Wednesday.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Integrating Science and Language Arts: NGSS Performance Expectation 2-LS2-2

2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.
Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler
Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Gailbraith
Plant a Little Seed by Bonnie Christensen
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Activity 1
Ask your students to look at their feet and raise a hand if they are wearing shoes with Velcro straps. Can they think of other clothing or items in their homes that use Velcro? Are there items around the classroom that rely on Velcro?

Let the class know that Velcro was invented by a man named Georges de Mestral. The idea came to him one day after he and his dog had been walking outdoors. Georges noticed that burrs, a kind of plant seed, were sticking to his clothes and his dog’s fur.

Project several photos of burrs on the classroom SmartBoard and tell students that when Georges looked closely at the seeds, he saw why they got caught on clothing and fur. Your students can see why, too.

Divide the class into groups of two or three students and give each group a hand lens and a Velcro strip. Invite group members to take turns looking closely at the Velcro. If students are wearing sneakers with Velcro straps, encourage children to look at them, too. Each child should draw and label what he or she sees.

After a few students have had a chance to share their drawings, explain that when Georges saw hundreds of tiny hooks on the burrs, he realized that the same kind of little hooks could be used instead of buttons and zippers. Later, someone else realized that Velcro straps could replace shoelaces. And that meant people wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time tying their shoes.

Let the class know that hooking onto clothing and fur isn’t the only way that seeds disperse, or move to new places. After sharing some of the books listed above, work with your class to make a list of seed dispersal methods.

Activity 2
Gather several kinds of seeds and place them in your classroom Science Center along with a half dozen hand lenses. When students have free time, encourage them to visit the center, observe the seeds, and predict how they might disperse.

Activity 3
Divide the class into two teams—New Animals and New Machines. Then divide each team into three smaller groups (A, B, and C). Let the students know that each New Animals group will brainstorm to come up with an imaginary animal with unusual or surprising body parts that could spread seeds like the fox (Group A), bird (Group B), or squirrel (Group C) in Planting the Wild Garden. The imaginary animal’s body parts should make it possible for the creature to disperse more seeds in less time than the real animal it is mimicking. Similarly, each New Machines group will brainstorm to come up with a new machine that could disperse seeds like the fox (Group A), bird (Group B), or squirrel (Group C) in Planting the Wild Garden. The invention should disperse seeds more efficiently than the animal it is mimicking. After the brainstorming sessions, each student should create a drawing of their group’s New Animal or New Machine.
Invite the groups to take turns sharing their visual models with the class. As the children present, encourage them to explain their designs and how they mimic the actions of real animals discussed in Planting the Wild Garden.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: Why did the woman walk outside with her purse wide open?
A: She expected some change in the weather.

Q: What’s a meteorologist’s favorite day of the week?
A: Sun-day.

Q: What’s the difference between weather and climate?
A: You can’t weather a tree, but you can climate.

Q: Why did the wind finish the test before anyone else in the class?
A: She thought it was a breeze.

Q: Why does Earth move in circles around the Sun?
A: It doesn’t want to be square.

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Behind the Books: A New Normal?

I began doing school visits in 2000, and for 13 years the pattern was the same.

--No school visits in September. Teachers and students are busy getting used to one another and their new routines.

--Plenty of school visits in October and early November.

--No school visits in late November and December. The holidays are coming and teachers have things they need to finish up before the December break.

--No school visits in January or February. The weather is too unpredictable. Better to wait for spring.

--Scattered school visits in March. State-mandated assessment tests take priority.

--In April and May, so many school visits requests that I have to turn someone down.

--No school visits in June. The year is winding down.

But this year something unusual has happened. Late November was crazy busy, and I had school visits scattered through December. I have a dozen school visits in January and February. March seems about normal, and I still have a few open dates in the spring. By this time, my spring calendar is closed tight.

I’m not sure what’s going on.

Many schools seem to be doing two rounds of standardized testing this year--the old one as well as a new one related to Common Core, and that might be part of the answer. But what I’m wondering is whether this is a fluke or the new normal.

As much as I love school visits, I usually look forward to hunkering down during the heart of winter and digging into my writing. The long, interrupted period gives me the mental space I need to peck away at problem projects. It’s also a great time to catch up on reading and plan for the future.

Right now, I’m lamenting the change in my schedule. But it has taught me a lesson. Next year I’ll think carefully about how I prioritize my time in the winter months. And I have to admit I love the boost of energy I'm getting from the cheery young faces and all their thoughtful and probing questions. I have no doubt that those kids will teach me a thing or two. They always do.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Fun: Gross Out!

Jackals scarf down whatever meat lions and leopards leave behind—even if it’s swarming with maggots and has been rotting for days. Ick!

When a mama jackal has had her fill, she heads back to her den. Her hungry pups lick her face until she upchucks reeking, rotting partially-digested mush. Then they gobble it up.

What happens if the pups’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs? No worries. Their mother re-eats the leftovers. Tasty!

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Behind the Books: The Biggest Thrill

I write books and put them out in the world. People buy them—adult people, not the kids I’m trying to reach. So I often wonder are kids actually reading them?  Are they enjoying them?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell. But not today. Today I have proof.
Pictures like this give me the biggest thrill. They are how I know I’m reaching my readers. The child who drew this liked No Monkeys, No Chocolate so much that he/she was inspired to create something of his/her own. Hooray!
Thanks to Carrie Gelson, a teacher in Vancouver, B.C., for sharing this image on Twitter.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Teaching Science with Kidlit: NGSS Performance Expectation 1-LS3-1

1-LS3-1. Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include features plants or animals share. Examples of observations could include leaves from the same kind of plant are the same shape but can differ in size; and, a particular breed of dog looks like its parents but is not exactly the same.]  

Just Like My Papa by Toni Buzzeo

What Bluebirds Do by Pamela Kirby 

Stay Close to Mama by Tony Buzzeo 

Dolphin Baby by Nicola Davies

One Red Apple by Harriet Ziefert

A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston

Dogs by Emily Gravett

No Two Alike by Keith Baker 

Activity 1
Allow students time to collaborate in pairs or small groups to create a picture story about a young lion with no spots or a young bluebird with no spots and what dangers it might face because of its appearance. After the children have illustrated their stories, add them to the classroom library so classmates can read them.

Activity 2
To extend the lesson, discuss differences between adult animals of the same kind as well. Then show the class a picture of an adult animal (elephant, leopard, eagle, etc.) and give students an outline of that animal that they can color. Encourage students to color in the outline and then compare how their colored drawings are the same as and different from the visual model (picture) and from those of their classmates.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Fun: Super Silly Science Jokes

Q: What did the comet do when the Sun told it to clean up its act?
A: It took a meteor shower.

Q: Why did the cow jump over the Moon?
A: To get to the other side.

Q: Where did Jupiter go on vacation?
A: The galax-sea.

Q: Where do asteroids go to party?
A: Nep-tune. It always has great music.

Q: What do dwarf planets do every morning?
A: They sing, “Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! It’s off to work we go.”

Looking for more super silly jokes about the space beyond Earth? Check out Out of this World Jokes About the Solar System.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Behind the Books: Reading in the Wild

I loved Donalyn Miller’s first book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, so when I heard she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to buy it. Let me tell you, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisper’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits did not disappoint. Miller is a truly inspirational educator with innovative ideas and the evidence to back up their efficacy.

I read dozens and dozens of book every year—some for kids, some for educators, some for adults interested in science—but I very rarely blog about them. What makes Reading in the Wild so special? It’s one of the few books written by a reading teacher that adequately addresses the power of nonfiction, especially for a specific subset of children.

In recent years, the education community has begun to recognize that many young readers prefer nonfiction to fiction. These analytically-thinking kids love learning about the world and everything in it.

Largely thorugh Miller’s work, some educators have also begun to understand their own “book gap” when it comes to nonfiction. For whatever reason, they are not particularly drawn to nonfiction. And that means they have to work hard and purposefully to serve  children who would rather read true stories or ravenously consume fascinating facts.

Right now, many teacher-librarians are moving nonfiction titles out of the dark back corner where it had been wasting away for years. They are rearranging their collections to make nonfiction browsing easier for kids.

Both teacher-librarians and classroom teachers are consciously featuring more nonfiction selections in their book talks. They  are experimenting with nonfiction read-alouds, and they are pairing fiction and nonfiction titles to reach a broader range of children.*

Through Reading in the Wild as well as her posts on the Nerdy Book Club blog (which she co-founded), Miller deftly addresses all of these nonfiction-based teaching strategies, sharing their benefits with the wider world.

Thank you, Donalyn.

*I’ll be writing more about these teaching strategies in my post on the INK blog on Friday.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Teaching Science with Kidlit: NGSS Performance Expectation 1-LS1-2

Okay, now that it’s January, we’re back at it. When I began this strand back in early September, things looked pretty good for the Next Generation Science Standards. What a different 4 months have made. These days, many states are talking about adapting rather than adopting NGSS as written.

In some cases, I think that’s for the best. Some of the standards intended for K and 1, in particular, will be challenging to accomplish in many American classrooms. But because it’s still too early to tell what will go and what will stay and how that might vary from state to state, I’m going to continue making book and activity suggestions that align directly to the standards as written. Chances are that they will still be directly applicable I some states, and in states where significant changes occur, they can still be informative. So here we go, starting right where we left off at the end of 2013.   

1-LS1-2. Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of parents and offspring that help offspring survive. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns of behaviors could include the signals that offspring make (such as crying, cheeping, and other vocalizations) and the responses of the parents (such as feeding, comforting, and protecting the offspring).]

Here are some book suggestions for addressing this PE:
What Dads Can’t Do by Douglas Wood
Little Lost Bat by Sandra Markle 
What Moms Can’t Do by Douglas Wood
A Mother’s Journey by Sandra Markle
The Emperor’s Egg by Martin Jenkins
Do Kangaroos Wear Seatbelts? by Jane Kurtz
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys by Bridget Heos

Activity 1
Search online for a variety of short video clips that show young mammals, reptiles, fish, and/or birds interacting with their parents. You could try the following keyword searches: “alligator mother responding to hatchings,” “father penguin feeds its chick,” “inside a Mexican free-tailed bat cave.” After sharing the videos with your students, ask the following questions:
--How do the young animal and parent in the video work together to help the
  youngster survive?
--How is the behavior of the young animal(s) in the video similar to the behavior
   of a baby Mexican free-tailed bat and/or an emperor penguin check?
--How is the behavior of the parent(s) in the video similar to the behavior of a
  mother bat or the penguin parents?

Activity 2
Invite students to create a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day card from a young bat, emperor penguin, or kangaroo to its parent. On the front, students can draw a picture showing one of the ways that parent helps its young. On the inside, the children can write a thank you message describing one way that the parent helps its young survive.