Monday, February 27, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Try these book pairs:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, February 17, 2017

In the Classroom: Choosing Photos for Nonfiction Projects

Back in October, I wrote this post about the importance of visuals in nonfiction writing and described an activity students can do to model how authors and illustrators make sure that the artwork in a nonfiction book is accurate.

With Sarah Albee (right) at nErDcamp LI
Because people liked that post so much, I thought I’d talk to my friend Sarah Albee about ways students can model the process she uses to find photos for the books she writes. After all, photos can enhance any kind of nonfiction report or project.

MS: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about how you get the images that appear in your books. Do you just cut and paste photos from the internet?

SA: Hey Melissa! Happy to be here!

No way do I cut and paste photos from the internet. That would be unfair to the photographer, and also illegal. I need to find out who owns the rights to every image I use.

Some images are in the public domain. That means they aren’t copyrighted and anyone can use them free of charge. Most images published in the U.S. before 1923 are in the public domain. Some more recent images are too, but I have to do some research to find out.

MS: About what percentage of the photos you use are in the public domain?

SA: For both my books and my blog, about 80 percent. That’s because I’m writing about history. Many of the images I need are pre-1923. The percentage would be lower if I were writing about science.

MS: If an image isn’t in the public domain, what do you do?

SA: Most of the time I buy it from a photo stock house—a company that sells the rights to use images taken by many different photographers. Some of the money goes to the photo stock house and the rest goes to the photographer.

Once in a while, when I see a picture I want online of a hard-to-find image, I track down the photographer myself. For my upcoming book Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines (Crown, 2017), I needed a picture of a venomous snail called Conus magus. I spotted a photograph of one in this NPR story. But NPR didn’t own the rights to the photo. See the photo credit below the picture?

I tracked down the people credited and emailed them. It took a while, but I finally heard back. The photographers gave me permission and sent me a high-quality version of the image.

MS: Wow, that sounds like a lot of work!

SA: It can be a tedious, time-consuming process, but it’s important to me that my books include the best possible photos.

MS: How could teachers have students model your process in the classroom—so that they learn to respect copyright law at an early age?

SA: After explaining the importance of using images legally, a teacher could give her class a list of websites with photos that are solidly public domain and recommend that the students use only those sites to find photos. This list from the edtechteacher website is a good place to start.

MS: Let’s say a student is doing a report on frogs and wants to include a photo of a poison dart frog. What would he or she do?

SA: Wikimedia Commons would be a good source for this kind of image. The student would go to the website and type “poison dart frog” in the search box in the top right corner of the screen. Here are the results of that search:
Then the student would click on the image he or she liked to get more information:
The description at the bottom tells us the name of the frog, where and when the image was taken, and the name of the photographer. It also verifies that the image is in the public domain. Students should give the photographer credit in their report. They can use the photo credit section in any photo-illustrated book as a model.

MS: Thanks for this great information, Sarah. It will really help teachers show their students the right way to choose images.

Disclaimer from Sarah: I am not a copyright attorney. Copyright law is full of ambiguity. The information I’ve shared is what I believe to be correct. Please feel free to comment if you see something that you think is inaccurate.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Behind the Books: Five Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning

Not long ago, I saw this book announcement in Publishers Weekly and got VERY excited:
Alyssa Mito Pusey at Charlesbridge has acquired Did You Burp? How to Ask Questions (Or Not), a picture book about questions and answers—how to form them and when to ask them—by April Pulley Sayre, for publication in fall 2018. Charlie Eve Ryan will illustrate, marking her picture-book debut. Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt represented the author and Kathleen Rushall of Andrea Brown Literary Agency represented the artist for world rights.

I know this is a book I’ll love because April Pulley Sayre is one of my favorite authors, and, well, anyone who reads this blog knows how passionate I am about the importance of encouraging kids to wonder and be curious and ask questions.
Asking questions is a great way to generate ideas for a report. It can and should guide research on nonfiction projects. It can also help writers find the best way to present the amazing ideas and information they uncover.
So imagine how thrilled I was to read this terrific article “Five Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning in the January issue of Education Update, which is published by ASCD. I highly recommend that you read it and think about ways to integrate some of the ideas into your own teaching.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 3-LS4-2. Use evidence to construct an explanation for how variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing.

Try this book pair:
For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, February 10, 2017

10 STEM Picture Books

I created this post as part of the annual Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 (#nf10for10) event started by Cathy Mere (@CathyMere) and Mandy Robek (@mandyrobeck) in 2013.

My list includes ten STEM picture books that I’m really looking forward to in 2017, including one that I wrote. J Here they are in alphabetical order:

Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart; Illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane/Simon and Schuster)
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan)

Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond by Martin Jenkins; Illustrated by Stephen Biesty (Candlewick Press)
Feathers and Hair, What to Wear by Jennifer Ward; Illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong (Beach Lane/Simon and Schuster)

Newton’s Rainbow: The Revolutionary Discoveries of a Young Scientist by Kathryn Lasky; Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner; Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle Books)

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

Round by Joyce Sidman; Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Shell, Beak, Tusk: Shared Traits and the Wonders of Adaptation by Bridget Heos (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating; Illustrated by David DeGrand (Alfred A. Knopf Books/Penguin Randome House)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Behind the Books: Two (Very Different) Ways of Teaching Nonfiction Text Structures

Ah, text structures. If I did a Wordle of all the topics I’ve discussed on this blog, I bet that phrase would be bigger than anything else.

Why do I keep coming back to this one element of nonfiction writing? Because, as far as I’m concerned, finding the perfect structure for a manuscript is the most challenging part of writing nonfiction. I struggle with it on every single book I write.

But before students can wrestle with text structure in their writing, they must learn to identifying this important element in the books they read. Over the year, as I’ve worked with students and discussed strategies for doing this with teachers, I’ve developed a scaffolded method described here. Does it work? Absolutely.

But does it work every time, with every child? Of course not. When it comes to teaching, there’s no such thing as a perfect instructional strategy for every child in every school. That’s why I’m always open to new ideas.

Recently, I read a fantastic post entitled “Messy Learning” on Laura Komos’s (Twitter: @LauraKomos) Ruminate and Invigorate blog and was blown away. I love how Laura and her teaching buddy, Maria Vallejo (Twitter: @MVallejoTeacher), bravely “threw caution to the wind” and let their students plunge in and try to understand text structures without any prior instruction.

Did the students struggle initially? You bet. But given time and encouragement, they started to notice some patterns in the books they were reading. By working together in groups and occasionally sharing out their observations, the class eventually developed this list.
You will notice that it includes most of the text structures espoused by Common Core as well as others that are equally valid. These students did a great job, and the learning is most likely more powerful because they did the messy work themselves.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Teaching Science with Kidlit

NGSS PE 3-LS4-1. Analyze and interpret data from fossils to provide evidence of the organisms and the environments in which they lived long ago.

Try this book pair:

For more suggestions and full lessons, check out Perfect Pairs:

Friday, February 3, 2017

In the Classroom: Why Kids Copy their Research Sources, and How to Break the Habit

Recently, author Sarah Albee and I facilitated a conversation with educators about ways to help students with their biggest nonfiction writing roadblocks. One topic that came up really surprised me—copying sources.

Why do students copy rather than expressing ideas and information in their own words? Because they haven’t taken the time to analyze and synthesize the material they’ve collected so that they can make their own meaning. In other words, they haven’t found a personal connection to the content, and that’s a critical step in nonfiction writing.

Here are some ideas to help students break the habit:

Avoid All-about Assignments
Many students are asked to write All About books. Because this kind of writing presents a broad overview, it’s setting young writers up for failure. The best nonfiction writing assignments require students to dig deep and think critically. When students choose a narrow topic that they find fascinating, they will have to mine sources for research, collecting tiny nuggets of gold here and there. This fun quest will fuel their passion for the topic and result in engaging writing that presents ideas and information in fresh ways.

Start with a Question
Suggest that students develop wonder questions and use them to guide their research. Not only does this guarantee that students will have some “skin in the game,” a specific query will lead to more targeted note taking and require students to make connections between information they find in a variety of sources.

Dual Notetaking
Julie Harmatz (@jarhartz), a fifth grade teacher in San Pedro, CA, has had great success with collaborative notetaking in a google document. Not only do students enjoy the technological novelty of this activity, they gain access to the thought processes of their partner(s). Pairing an adept notetaker with a student who’s struggling with this skill can be a powerful experience. After all, students often learn better from peer modeling than adult instruction.

Can't Copy
Encourage students to use a wide variety of source materials, including some that it's impossible to copy. Possibilities include documentary films and personal observations outdoors or via a webcam.

Encourage students to review the information they’ve gathered and journal about it. This will help many children take ownership of the material and identify what fascinates them most about what they’ve discovered. When students approach writing with a clear mission in mind, they are more likely to present ideas through their own personal lens.

Use Thought Prompts
Ryan Scala (@rscalateach), a fifth grade teacher in East Hampton, NY, recommends inviting students to synthesize their research and make personal connections by using some of the following thought prompts:
—The idea this gives me . . .
—I was surprised to learn . . .
—This makes me think . . .
—This is important because . . . 
Focus on the “Oh, wow!”
Award-winning children’s book author Deborah Heligman (@DHeiligman) advises young writers to only write down information that makes them say, “Oh wow!” Then she suggests that they write their first draft without looking at their notes, using just what they remember. Of course, they can always go back and add details, dates, etc. later, but when kids are forced to write from their memories, they write in their own voices, and they focus on the ideas and information that interest them most.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Expository Literature Mentor Texts

Yesterday’s post defined a new term that I think we all should begin using: Expository literature is “nonfiction writing that explains, informs, or describes and is of superior or lasting artistic merit.”

Besides being meticulously researched and fully faithful to the facts, expository literature features captivating art and dynamic design as well as a creative and well-executed mix of five key text characteristics.

Today I’m sharing three books that are outstanding examples of each of those five text characteristics.

Strong Voice
Lightship by Brian Floca (Atheneum, 2007)

Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating (Knopf, 2016)

A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2007)
Carefully-chosen Point of View
The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2015)

A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole by Carolyn DeCristofano (Charlesbridge, 2012)

Bone by Bone by Sara Levine (Millbrook Press, 2013)

Innovative Text Structure
Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta (Holt, 2009)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003)

Purposeful Text Format
Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks (First Second, 2015)

An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle, 2006)

When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone by Dorothy Patent Hinshaw (Walker, 2008)

Rich, Engaging Language
If You Hopped Like a Frog by David M. Schwartz (Scholastic, 1999)

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee (Bloomsbury, 2014)

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2013)

Stay tuned throughout the spring for detailed discussions of these key text characteristics as well as classroom activities to introduce and reinforce them.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Behind the Books: What the Heck Is Expository Literature?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, literature is “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.”

And so expository literature can be defined as writing that explains, informs, or describes and is of superior or lasting artistic merit. I wish I could take credit for this much-needed term, but it's the brainchild of Terrell Young, a highly-respected professor of children's literature at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

After seeing a guest post I wrote on Betsy Bird's blog, A Fuse #8 Production, in December 2015, he invited me to work with him on developing a list of characteristics for the term expository literatureFor me, an expository nonfiction text qualifies as expository literature if it:

(1) is meticulously researched and fully faithful to the facts

(2) features captivating art and dynamic design

(3) incorporates a creative and well-executed mix of the following:
—strong voice
—carefully-chosen point of view
—innovative text structure
—purposeful text format
—rich, engaging language that includes vivid verbs, meaningful comparisons, and such language devices as alliteration, onomatopoeia, opposition, puns, repetition, and rhythm and rhyme.

Why do I think the time is right for this definition? Because there are so many wonderful expository nonfiction children's books being published today, and yet, time and again, I see folks in the kidlit community misidentifying them as narrative nonfiction. I'm not exactly sure why.

Is it because, in the past, expository books for children weren't always so lively and engaging, and people are still stuck in that mindset? If so, I'm making it my mission to open their eyes to the truth. It's time to celebrate expository literature for its excellence!

Stay tuned. I've got plenty more to say on this topic.