Saturday, January 31, 2009

This I believe

If you were to write an essay about what you believe what would you write? I picked up a fascinating book of essays when I was at the NCTE conference. In 1951, Edward Morrow invited well known and unknown people to submit essays to be read on the radio on what they believed. Millions listened to these. Fifty years later the National Public Radio decided to do this again and still does, to encourage people to develop respect for different points of view. This first book of essays, This I Believe (there is now a second) is a collection of essays from the 50's and now. In the links I have given you, you can find guides to working with students to develop their own essays etc. At a recent workshop at Moberly, I used an essay by Bill Gates (it was really quite inspirational) to do a guided listening activity. The possibilities for this book with high school students are endless.
And before I forget, CBC has a This I Believe project as well where you can submit essays that may be read on air by Preston Manning on a program produced in Vancouver.

Polar Worlds

Just saw a gorgeous new book today, Polar Worlds by naturalist and artist, Robert Bateman. As you know I have been spending a bit of time with books about penguins lately so this book caught my eye. It's perfect. I was at Once Upon a Huckleberry (Main on the west side just below 28th, around the corner from Solly's Bagels) for an event with author, Ashley Spires, who wrote Penguin and the Cupcake. And yes, thanks to Portia, the owner, I now possess finger puppets made by Ashley of the main characters in the book, Penguin, Walrus, and Polar Bear. I have to say this later literacy consultant's adventures into primary, have their advantages. Mind you I would have no hesitation discussing many of these books with older students. Just discovered that Once Upon a Huckleberry has book clubs for students, the newest will be for high school students. For coming events, download their newsletter from the website. Oh, and they have a writing contest going on as well.
For the few people who may actually read the blog, you may remember that I have a project with Aaron's class at Cavell going on Yeny and the Children for Peace (see Peace and Penguins blog). How serendipitous (new word perhaps) that Irma who goes to my fitness class is from Columbia so that now she is reading the book and will be visiting the class who are getting ready for an in depth interview with her.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Assessment web series and professional resources

Well, it's been a busy week and it's only Tuesday night. Yesterday I was at Begbie talking about Assessment for Learning. Today I was at Magee discussing reading strategies in the content areas and this afternoon was our High School Literacy Coordinators meeting at the board. At all sites, I made reference to BCELC's webcast series on assessment. Here is the link where they are all archived so with the aid of your trusty computer (perhaps not yet at your worksite) you can watch at your leisure. You can see one of the speakers in person, Linda Kaser, at our upcoming Literacy Day as well. Also if you want my list of annotatated professional resources for high school teachers (that we bookwalked at Magee), just hit the link at the sidebar of this blog for my pbwiki. Many of the books I was giving away at the high school meeting have been annotated in this blog and you will find other book lists on the wiki. Well it's late, more later. Thanks all! And yes, it did snow once again. The fog has ended but I thought you would like this picture of Vancouver taken from the north shore mountains.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Penguins and Peace

Hmm... I resisted commenting on the inauguration but it was definitely a moment in time but on to other matters, books.
When I taught grade six there were occasions where I would think to myself,"They pay me to do this?" and of course, that wasn't when I was writing report cards. But there are times with this position, where I think that as well. For instance, how fun is it comparing a factual book on penguins to Penguin and The Cupcake with second graders at Van Horne?
As you know although my domaine for the last three years has been as Later Literacy Consultant grades 4-12, this year we changed our project somewhat so I focus particularly on six elementary schools k-7 so that I have been spending time with primary students (yes, I once was a primary teacher) and it is very fun.
I also have been meaning to comment on a wonderful book I have been doing with Aaron's grade four-five class at Cavell, Yenny and the Children for Peace by Michelle Muldar. This book is fictional but focuses on real life events in Columbia where children organized a Day of Peace, where no bombs, shootings, or kidnappings would occur.
I spent a period in Raza's grade eight science class at Gladstone and I must say they were quite a fun group as well.
Now for a bit of a promotion! On January 31 from 1:00 to 3:00 Ashley Spires, the author of Penguin and The Cupcake (I love this book and yes, it touches on global warming) will be doing an event at Once Upon a Huckleberry.   (I adore Kidsbooks, but it is kind of wonderful having a children's book store in my neighbourbood, on Main near 27th.
On February 21st at Once Upon a Huckleberry, there will be a Peace Carnival(a celebration like the one Yenny's friends and she organize in the book)with author, Michelle Muldar, there. Michelle  will also be doing a session at our Literacy Day on February 20th as well. I promise the unit on her book as well there. And we know that a certain world leader says we should all do our bit to change the world so I think I have brought us back to the beginning of this blog. Peace cupcakes, anyone?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Family Literacy Week in Vancouver

This is a picture of my friend, Ginny and her granddaughter, Emma, reading together. Emma isn't two yet but obviously enjoys her books.
Every year we celebrate Family Literacy in Vancouver, and LOMCIRA co-sponsors Write On with the Vancouver Public Library and Literacy BC, a popular event for families. This year on Saturday, January 24, we will have popular children's authors, Bob Heidbreder and Margriet Ruurs reading from their books and autographing as well as fun literacy stations for children and parents. Refreshments are served and it's always a wonderful day for all. To find out more about Family Literacy week and to register for this event, please visit Literacy BC's website. If you as teachers, are interested in having Bob or Margriet work with students at your school, please feel free to contact me for contact information!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why do we teach?

Okay. You know I am an Obama fan and this is an excerpt from a letter to his children published in Parade Magazine and I found on Huffington Post.
"When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me--about how I'd make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation."

Naked Scientists

Now that I have your attention. I have been working on building reading strategies grade eight science unit on Optical Systems using Mirrors and Lenses. Now doing this without a teacher's guide took me back to my first year of teaching when I had to teach science and had definite anxiety attacks. Fortunately in high school I was a whiz at multiple choice exams because I managed to spend a year and a half of science labs in chemistry without lighting a buntzen burner (I didn't like matches). I have taught science but looking at the grade eight science text definitely gave me anxiety.
At the end of the unit there was a question about why a window would reflect at night but not in the daytime. Now I knew I should know the answer but I wasn't sure so what did I do?
I googled and what did I find? A very neat website called-you guessed it- Naked Scientists. In the section Kitchen Science, I found the answer and I understood it.
According to the website, "The Naked Scientists are a media-savvy group of physicians and researchers from Cambridge University who use radio, live lectures, and the Internet to strip science down to its bare essentials, and promote it to the general public. Their award winning BBC weekly radio programme, The Naked Scientists, reaches a potential audience of 6 million listeners across the east of England, and also has an international following on the web."
Too fun, and great for students and educators.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

More on financial literacy

In an earlier blog I talked about a book I had been reading, Findependence Day. The author, Jonathon Chevreau (financial columnist from The National Post) commented and linked me to a column he had written on his blog entitled Financial Literacy. Now this was a term I hadn't really thought about before but then on my way between Cavell School and the VSB yesterday, I was listening to the CBC program,The Point, and they were discussing the importance of teaching high school students, you guessed it, financial literacy. It appears now that if you go to Zellers, you may be asked if you would like a cash advance on your HBC/Zellers card. It was noted how problematic credit card debt has become. The panel were discussing how important that students understand financial planning and even referring to their own educational experiences in high school. Anyway, saving money is obviously "hot" this year for obvious reasons but how hard is it to change habits and how can we help our students and ourselves become more financially literate?

Science anyone?

Thanks to Moira's blog I found a great website, that has many useful links that go well beyond science, In my classroom there was always an egg timer and a stopwatch. I found them endlessly useful. Well, thanks to this site you can get both online and many other useful tools. How about protractors that you then print on transparencies? When I went to look at graph paper I found a link to rather nice royalty free downloadable music. Now of course there are also real science links, games to help you learn etc. Check it out!

Friday, January 9, 2009

The week that was...

I have a funny feeling that I have used this title before but really...first there was more snow Sunday night... Like many other Vancouverites leaving my street was dangerous Monday and Tuesday, so I had to leave my car at home which is a bit difficult as a consultant. Just going to many of our schools was hazardous for our teachers. Then we were told a malicious virus had invaded the VSB computers so we weren't even supposed to turn on our computers in the office or schools.
I think we all realized how computer dependent we have become. I feel fortunate to have my own virus resistant Mac for home and most of my files are here as well but most people don't dare access their VSB e-mail these days so many messages just aren't getting out there. There is the fax machine but I have to remember the print things at home. Oh well maybe it really all is too much... Has our system just become totally overloaded?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Snow-a poem that seemed so appropriate today

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again,
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope,
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine,
in the sunniest voice he could muster
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting
accumulation. A father goes months
without speaking to his son.

How there can be a place
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet. The father could die!
The son! Before the weather changes.

"Snow" from Fuel by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

A Poem to think about...

Burning the Old Year

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Burning the Old Year” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (1995).

More new books...

Okay! Time for part two! Here's a locally set novel entitled Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen. Ambrose has moved around a lot with his mom and now he is living in Kitsilano in the basement apartment of a kind Greek couple. His peanut allergy and somewhat excentric dress has not made him popular at his new school. After a couple of bullies almost kill him with a peanut, his mom decides that home schooling may be the route to go with weekly trips to the school's computer lab. Into his world moves Cosmo, the Economolopolis' black sheep son, who has been in jail and now is living with his parents. An unlikely friendship slowly develops and Ambrose and Cosmo end up joining the Vancouver Scrabble Club when his mom is unknowingly teaching at night at UBC. The book is great with twists and turns, lots of humour, and a well driven plot. This book is for elementary readers.

Pieces of Georgia
by Jen Bryant is a book about a girl whose artist mom has died, lives in a trailer with her uncommunicative dad, and is deemed "at risk". Her life changes with a membership to the Brandywine River Museum. Georgia (named after Georgia O'Keefe) has no idea who has given her this gift and she has never been to the museum but it becomes a refuge for this fledgling artist as she finds solace in the work of Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. She also makes a new friend who appears to have everything but has her own set of problems. The book is written in the form of a diary in beautiful blank verse. I think students in grade seven and eight would enjoy this book. In looking at her website, I discovered she wrote a favorite picture book biography of mine, Georgia's Bones. I think this book would be of interest to upper intermediate to grade eight students.

Just One Wish by Janette Rallison is hilarious although the heroine is tackling a serious subject, making her little brother who has cancer have his wish come true, to meet the star of his favorite television show, Robin Hood. Annika and her best friend, Madison, set off to the Los Angeles to "capture" the actor who plays the part. Needless to say, this is not easy to accomplish but Annika is nothing if not persistent and she has a noble aim.

Now for a different setting, Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman. At the beginning of the novel, fifteen year old Vidya lives comfortably with her family in Bombay during the Second World War. Her father, a doctor, is brain damaged in a demonstration, and the family is forced to leave Bombay to live in Madras, in the strict Brahmin home of her paternal grandfather with extended family. Vidya feels totally imprisoned and her dreams to go to university become seemingly impossible as the extended family wants her to marry. Needless to say, Vidya finds a way out, but this is an interesting picture of life in India in this time period.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Books for older readers

Now let's look at some newer young adult books. Always curious to know when a book goes into the young adult category...
I have another couple of books by author, Joan Bauer, who I wrote about in an earlier blog. Neither of these books are new but are new to me. Rules of the Road is about a girl who works part time as a clerk in a a branch of Gladstone Shoe Stores while she goes to high school. She is invited, or almost ordered to drive the head of the company to an important corporate meeting in Texas. This involves a few stops at shoe stores along the way and a plot to keep control of the company away from Mrs. Gladstone's son. Jenna is a great character who can sell anything to anyone but has a few family difficulties(her dad is an alcholic as was Joan Bauer's) that she doesn't mind leaving behind but, of course, she gets more than what she bargained for on this road trip. Here's a link to a unit plan for this novel. This is also a sequel.
Another good book by Joan Bauer is Stand Tall. This time the hero, Tree, is really tall but no good at basketball and dealing with going between his mom's new condo and his old house where his dad is living still confused by why his wife has left him. Into this situation moves his grandfather who just has had part of his leg removed. His brothers are off at university and Tree has a lot to deal with. But of course, this is a coming of age novel, and Tree, with the help of a new friend, Sophie, finds how to "stand tall". Both of these novels would work well with grade eight and nine students.
Looking for something with a harder edge? Another author, new to me, is award winner, Paul Volponi. Paul Volponi is a white man but both these books have black heroes and his fiction come out of his experience as a teacher of incarcerated youth on Rikers' Island and in drug day treatment centres.
The first of his books that I read was Hurricane Song which is about a boy who has just moved to New Orleans from Chicago after his mother has remarried and life is crowded with his step-father and his family. Miles' dad is a jazz musician and this is the most important thing in his life while Miles' most important love his football. A broken down car forces Miles, his dad, and his uncle to seek refuge in the Superdome which as you may remember was most equivalent to a sentence in Hell. This well-paced novel takes you through the effects of the storm, and Miles emerges as his own person.
His new novel, Response is the story of how a black high school student and father is convinced by his friends to go to the neighboring "white" town to steal a Lexus. The Lexus isn't stolen but a brief conversation in a pizza joint leads to Noah being beaten up by a gang of white youth. When the case is called a racial incident and it goes to court, Noah's life gets complicated. A very good look at racial tensions and complications and how Noah grows up. Well done!

In a slightly different direction but still a coming of age novel is Jennifer Bradbury's Shift ury's about two friends, Chris and Win, who set off on a bicycle trip across the United States the summer between high school and university. Only problem is that Win disappears, and federal authorities think Chris knows where he is. Well paced story as the mystery is unraveled.

The next book is a real page turner and somehow rather relevant with our strange Vancouver weather currently. Winner of many prizes, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is about what happens when a meteor hits the moon and knocks it closer in orbit to the earth. The book focuses on Miranda, a high school who lives with her divorced mom and her younger brother. Her older brother is initially away at university and her father and his new pregnant wife live some distance away but also figure in the book. This is a survival novel in the truest sense of the word. Lisa's family is safe in their own home but food is running out as is fuel and the winter is cold and long. You really are wondering if they will survive and if the world will survive. Pfeffer has also written another novel, The Dead and the Gone about a family in New York City surviving the same ecological disaster. In her blog, she says she is at work on a sequel to Life As We Knew It, and I, for one, want to read it. She is currently at work on a third novel which will link the two heroes of each story. Her blog on as she calls it,The World We Live In, is a fascinating way to see an author's thought processes.
This entry is becoming way too long and I can't stop sneezing so...

new novels for elementary students

Well, I have read a lot of novels this holiday-both those aimed at elementary students and high school students. If I was efficient as some bloggers I would have commented as I went but it was a holiday and there was that snow to shovel. Many of these books are advance copies that publishers give you free before the book is formally published. I dragged them back from the NCTE conference in San Antonio. Anyway I am going to look at a few here.
My Life in Pink & Green is an amusing book soon to come out by Lisa Greenwald about a 12 year old mature beyond her years who helps her grandmother and mother run the family drugstore in a small town in Connecticut. The store is suffering and it looks as if grandma is going to sell it, but Lucy's expertise in make up and her reluctant joining of the ecology club at school, finds a possible solution for making the business green and financially solvent. One of my friend's parents were pharmacists and she says she and her sisters are addicted to make up as a result of working in their parents' stores which reminds me of Lucy. Good coming of age story probably more appealing to girls than boys. Great can do attitude!
Another fun story for elementary girls is I, Lorelei, (Harper Collins) by Yeardley Smith (who happens to do Lisa' voice on The Simpsons). This is one for cat lovers as her book is written in the form of a journal to her dead cat (I didn't make this up and it actually is effective). In the book, Lorelei's life changes as her parents' marriage dissolves and Lorelei has to adjust. I thought this book handles a somewhat familiar situation in a novel way.
Strawberry Hill(Little, Brown and Company) is a book by well known children's poet laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman. This is a rather enchanting book set in the depression years of Hoberman's own childhood in Stamford, Connecticut. Contemporary readers will find this interesting as although Allie's setting is quite different from their own, problems are not dissimilar. Ten year old Allie's parents have been living in an apartment in a house owned by her best friend's parents, but her dad has found a house almost in the country near where he is working, and Allie has to move, forcing Allie to deal with new circumstances which help her develop her character.

Findependence Day

Well it's January 2nd and the flu has put a temporary end to my snow dealing (though I guess I had better check the state of my sidewalk) so since I am confined to home, I am playing catch up. I am sure you are all busily contemplating your New Year's Resolutions and for some reason relearning how to knit seems one I am pondering (must be the weather). I am never sure how financial savvy we teachers are which is probably why I was given this book. Like some of you I am trying to decide when it is worth retiring. I guess the question according to financial columnist, Jonathan Chevreau, is when will I reach my Findependence Day or have I reached it? Findependence means when your assets are large enough to cover your living expenses so that you don’t have to work for a living anymore. You can choose to do what you want to do.
This book tells the story of Jamie and Sheena who appear on a fictional television show because they have accumulated so much credit card debt in their twenties. The financial expert asks Jamie to tell him when he wants to be financially independent and he chooses when he turns 50 on July 4th (note pun). The book basically describes Jamie's and Sheena's sometimes circuitous path to this end (children, job loss, marital separation). We learn a new term, frugality guerillas (so much for those Starbucks lattes) and that those of us with assured pensions are "bonds" while people who don't are "stocks". Jamie is a salesman for an electronics store, and Sheena, you guessed it, is a middle school teacher and aspiring young adult author.
This is a good "read" and a relatively painless way to acquire more financial knowledge which we all can use. I definitely need to reread certain sections and put money into the new Tax Free Savings Accounts. I have been totally recommending the book to friends to buy for their children in their twenties as well as reading it themselves. This is the book that takes over where the Wealthy Barber left off.