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In-Class Book Clubs are one of my favorite units that I do in my classes. They are my version of lit circles but with the only job of all students is to read, analyze, and discuss. These book clubs build community, stamina, and reading love in my classroom.

I’ve shared a few times about these in-class book clubs. First in April, 2018 where I went over the basic procedures of the book clubs and then in November, 2018 where I shared my students’ choices for this year’s clubs. Now, I am happy to share how this school year’s clubs went!

I did things a little bit differently this year. I had noticed that students were understanding the basics of the narrative and loving the reading but weren’t meeting the standards. I had to make sure to help guide their thinking but also I didn’t want to make the act of reading tedious. It is a slippery slope that I know I am always going to be reflecting about.

Because of this, I went with thought logs this year. A thought log was a strategy I was introduced to by my teacher friend Sarah Krajewski. Thought logs have four boxes for students to take notes while reading. My thought logs had two constant boxes: 1) Important details & 2) Conflict. Important details allowed them to just take notes on anything important that happened and the conflict box had them track the progress of the conflict. The other two boxes changed for each thought log: Confusion, Characters, Setting, My Feelings, Change, & Theme/Impact. Additionally, I added a bottom to my thought log that asked the students to come up with three open-ended discussion questions. Here’s our first thought log, so you can see an example:

Other than the new thought logs, everything else stayed the same: Students chose their books, I made their groups, we came up with class book club norms, they created their schedule, they met once a week, at the end of the unit I gave an individualized standards-focused assessment, and the kids LOVED it.

Well, everyone stayed the same until the end. At NCTE 2018, I went to one of Kelly Gallagher’s sessions and he shared a way he connects nonfiction and fiction when his students are reading novels: He has the students find nonfiction text features that connect to their novel. I decided to try this with my students, and I loved it!

As a book club, my students found two nonfiction elements (maps, graphs, images, etc.) that would help the reader of their book have their experience enhanced. They then said what page they would place the element and explain why it is important.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Resistance by Jennifer Nielsen

Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London by Elvira Woodruff

Reflection: I’m not completely sold on the Thought Logs yet. I don’t want to kill the joy of reading. Ever. But my job is to teach standards, too. Always a conflict within me, and we’ll see what I decide next year! I will say that I loved the nonfiction element, so I think that will stay. Until next year!

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A Brief History of Life on Earth
Creator: Clémence Dupont
Published March 19th, 2019 by Prestel Junior

Summary: The story of life on earth unfolds in dramatic fashion in this amazing picture book that takes readers from 4.6 billion years ago to the present day.

It’s difficult to grasp the enormous changes life on Earth has undergone since it first came into existence, but this marvelously illustrated book makes learning about our planet’s fascinating history easy and entertaining. In an accordion style, the series of pages take readers through every major geological period, with bright artwork and detailed drawings. Opening on lava-filled oceans and smoking volcanoes, the book unfolds, era by era, to show how life evolved from tiny protozoa and crustaceans to dinosaurs and mammals.

Fully expanded to 8 meters (26 feet), this spectacular visual timeline is a very impressive panorama that reveals evolution in all its glory. Each page is brimming with illustrations that readers will turn to again and again. A celebration of life, this extraordinary and beautiful book illuminates the history of Earth for young readers in an unforgettable and delightful way.

About the Author: Clémence Dupont is an illustrator living in Strasbourg, France. This is her first book.

Review: This book is so beautiful, useful, and just plain neat! First, I love that it folds out (as does Trent!):

When folded out, it reaches 26 feet with one side showing the images created by the author for each of the time periods while the other side has a timeline which is to scale showing how long respectively each time period was.

This book is a work of art. How each time period stands alone yet also is part of the entire timeline when folded out is beautiful to see. Additionally, I adore the artist’s technique of art with rough edges and bright colors.

Each spread focuses on one time period and the life on Earth at the time with a brief write up in the bottom left corner; however, many of the organisms/animals/plants not mentioned in the paragraph are labeled allowing readers to jump into inquiry about them if they wish.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Did anyone else do the activity in elementary school where the teacher had the class convert the miles(?) between planets into centimeters then had the class create a to-scale solar system showing just how far apart the planets are? This book reminds me of that activity in that it shows the true expanse of time Earth has existed versus the very small time humans have. I would use this timeline to create a similar to-scale idea for students to show the history of life on Earth.

Also, as I stated above, each time period only has a brief write up and leaves much to research if one is interested.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What surprised you about the history of life on Earth?
  • What did the timeline on the back show you about the history of life on Earth?
  • When did dinosaurs appear? When did the first human ancestor appear? (etc.)
  • What animal surprised you that has been around a long time?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose in creating the book in this structure?
  • How did the Earth change from one period to the next? Take two periods and compare and contrast them.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Animals, Biology, Geology, Earth’s history

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When I began planning my research unit for my Advanced Reading classes, I took to asking my students what they would be interested in learning more about, and overwhelmingly they asked to learn about the Civil Rights movement and other aspects of Black American history; however, when we began planning, my students took note that there are many other fights for equal rights in American History, and they asked if we could focus on all of them. That is when this idea unfolded.

I teach three classes of Advanced Reading equaling 47 students. I wanted to make sure students were given choice in their topics and also were choosing topics based on their interests and not who is in their group, so I made different topics/time periods they could choose from and asked them to rate their interests. I then grouped them based on this and the students began to work.

The students began by researching their topic/time period independently and brainstorming a list of everything important that they could find that happened during that time period. Then, as a group they decided which ten or more events they were going to expand on and include in our timeline.

Once they had their events, they collaboratively researched the events creating a paragraph about each (with a link to sources) and an image (with a caption and source) to add to the timeline.

They then each added to our timeline creating what I believe is a resource that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the internet. The timeline begins with 1688 Quaker Petition Against Slavery and ends with the 2019 rejection of Trump’s Border Wall touching on events and people who have changed the course of our history.

Please view it on Sutori, and I hope you find a way to utilize and share it.
(Embedding it puts the whole timeline and it is VERY long.)

Also, please note: If you see anything that I missed (and my colleagues who helped vet the timeline missed) that is incorrect or not written in the most progressive way, please feel free to reach out to me at Kellee.Moye@gmail.com with any comments, questions, or concerns.

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Make This!: Building, Thinking and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You
Author: Ella Schwartz
Published February 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: This book is designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and supports all kinds of kid creators: those who prefer guided instruction, those who prefer to dream up and design objects on their own, and everyone in between. Within the nearly 160 pages of this book kids get the tools and the know-how to tackle all kinds of exciting projects: building a kaleidoscope, designing a fidget spinner, planting a rain forest, creating a musical instrument, and more. Unconventional scenarios inspired by real National Geographic Explorers give kids a chance to think outside the box and apply their maker skills to real life. Chapters are divided up by scientific principle, such as simple machines, energy, and forces. In each chapter, kids can start by following step-by-step activities, or get creative by tackling an open-ended challenge. Helpful sidebars explain the science behind what’s happening every step of the way.

My Review: My son loves this book so much that he took it for show-and-tell at his preschool. The teacher liked it so much that she purchased a copy for the classroom. This is a phenomenal book with loads of hands-on, easy-to-do activities. Many of the activities use materials that were available in my house (or easy to acquire). The first project my son completed was the straw rocket. He used two straws, some tape, and some paper to draw his own rocket and shoot it into the air. He has folded down the corners of almost every project as his next to-do. I love how the book is sectioned off into scientific principles. This even impressed my engineer husband. The sidebars allow me to read about the science behind the project as my son is constructing it. It is a wonderful book for learning. Although the book is marketed to ages 8-12, my 5-year-old was able to complete the projects with my help. I think 8-12-year-olds will appreciate this book just as much and be able to self-create.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book just screams for use in classrooms. It makes science learning incredibly fun. I can see it in classrooms as young as preschool and all the way through elementary school. The concepts can be scaffolded to the age of the learners, and the projects range in difficulty level.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which scientific principle(s) do you enjoy learning about? Which projects taught you a lot about the principle?
  • Which real-life things (e.g. airplanes, hydraulic systems) relate to these scientific projects?

Read This If You Love: Science Books; Engineering Books; National Geographic’s 100 Things to Know Before You Grow UpMastermind by National Geographic, Weird but True series by National Geographic, Animal Atlas

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Don’t Mess With Me: The Strange Lives of Venomous Sea Creatures
(How Nature Works series)
Author: Paul Erickson
Photographer: Andrew Martinez
Published

Summary: How Nature Worlds books don’t just catalog the natural world in beautiful photographs. They seek to understand why nature functions as it does. They ask questions, and they encourage readers to ask more. They explore nature’s mysteries, sharing what we know and celebrating what we have yet to discover.

Scorpions and brown recluse spiders are fine as far as they go, but if you want daily contact with venomous creatures, the ocean is the place to be. Blue-ringed octopi, stony corals, sea jellies, stonefish, lionfish, poison-fanged blennies, stingrays, cone snails, blind remipedes, fire urchins—you can choose your poison in the ocean. Venoms are often but not always defensive weapons. The banded sea krait, an aquatic snake, wriggles into undersea caves to prey on vicious moray eels, killing them with one of the world’s most deadly neurotoxins, which it injects through fangs that resemble hypodermic needles.

About the Creators: 

Paul Erickson creates websites, exhibits, guides, and videos for zoos, museums, and aquariums nationwide. He has authored or co-authored numerous magazine articles and three books about undersea life. His book The Pier at the end of the World (Tilbury House) was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book of 2016 by the National Science Teachers Association.

Andrew Martinez specializes in images of the undersea world and is the author and photographer of Marine Life of the North Atlantic. He travels the world to photograph sea life, and was the photographer for The Pier at the End of the World.

Review: Don’t Mess with Me is a step up on the reading ladder from basic nonfiction books about undersea life because it takes the basic information about these venomous sea creatures and dives deeply (pun intended) into the actually whys and hows of their existence.

I was fascinated by so many of the facts in the book, and I loved learning about creatures I didn’t know about as well as learning more about ones I did. Check out the Flagged Passages to see how in depth the authors got which allows the reader to get a quite solid foundation about the different creatures. Additionally, the photographs are so cool because many of these creatures live where we’ll never see them.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Use the Nature Works series (Catching Air; City Fish, Country Fish; Extreme Survivors; and One Iguana, Two Iguanas) in a lit circle/jigsaw setting where each group becomes an expert on the different topics in the series the creates a presentation of their choosing to share what they learned about nature with their classmates.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the difference between poisonous and venomous?
  • What are some clues that an animal is venomous?
  • Why are some animals in the sea venomous?
  • How does the “How Nature Works” text features help when reading this nonfiction text?
  • What are some ways that animals are venomous?
  • Pick a venomous sea creature. Create a list of 5 facts about the sea creatures to share with your classmates.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction texts exploring nature and animals

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Searching for Lottie
Author: Susan L. Ross
Publication Date: February 26th, 2019 by Holiday House

Summary: Lottie, a talented violinist, disappears during the Holocaust. Can her grand-niece, Charlie, discover what happened?

A long-lost cousin, a mysterious locket, a visit to Nana Rose in Florida, a diary written in German, and a very special violin all lead twelve-year-old Charlie to the truth about her great-aunt Lottie in this intriguing, intergenerational mystery. 12-year-old middle schooler Charlie, a budding violinist, decides to research the life of her great-aunt and namesake for a school ancestry project. Everyone in Charlie’s family believes Great-Aunt Charlotte (Lottie), a violin prodigy, died at the hands of the Nazis, but the more Charlie uncovers about her long-lost relative, the more muddied Great-Aunt Lottie’s story becomes. Could it be that Lottie somehow survived the war by hiding in Hungary? Could she even still be alive today? In Searching for Lottie, Susan Ross has written a highly personal work of historical fiction that is closely inspired by her own family members whose lives were lost in the Holocaust.

About the Author: Susan Ross grew up in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, and divides her time between Connecticut and Maine. She attended Brown University and NYU School of Law.

After practicing law, Susan taught legal writing in Brooklyn and in Budapest, and creative writing to kids and adults in Connecticut. She especially loves author visits. There is nothing Susan enjoys more than hanging out in a classroom talking to students about her books and teaching kids about writing and literature!

Kiki and Jacques was inspired by the experience of Somali refugees who moved to Susan’s hometown in Maine. Susan worked with refugee teenagers in writing the book and was greatly moved by their amazing positive energy and hopeful determination.

Searching for Lottie was inspired by stories from members of Susan’s family, whose lives were forever changed by the Holocaust.

Susan teaches writing at Westport Writers Workshop and is a trustee at the Westport Library.

Review: I think historical fiction is one of the most important genres because it makes us relive history in ways that we never could without story. Searching for Lottie is interesting because it is contemporary but also includes a historical narrative as Charlie learns more and more about Lottie. This makes it a great choice for students who may not like historical fiction but are interested in history.

I am also a fan of Susan Ross’s writing because she does a fabulous job taking a tough subject and writing a middle grade novel that gives an introduction to the topic without being too mature but also while not sugar coating it. It is so important to have middle grade books for our students that show the real world in an appropriate yet real way.

And it really helps that the stories are interesting and many kids will connect with the conflicts and events the characters take part in.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Searching for Lottie is inspired by true events, specifically those of Susan’s family. She shares much on her website including this background information:

Charlotte Kulka (called Lotte — in English, “Lottie”) was my mother’s teenage cousin. She lived in Prague with her father, a doctor. Her mother passed away when she was little. Tragically, Charlotte and her father both perished, but her beloved aunt, my Cousin Vally Szemere, survived with false papers in Budapest. Vally boarded with a Catholic family who protected her and they became lifelong friends. My middle name was given in Lotte’s memory.

Another relative, Magda Szemere, was a famous young violin soloist in Europe before she, too, was arrested and forever disappeared. I wrote about my bittersweet delight at finding her music in the essay, “Sweet Strings of Sorrow.”

In doing the research for this book, I discovered to my astonishment that her music had been preserved on gramophone recordings and remains available in music archives.

My mother’s cousin, Magda Krizan, survived the war posing as a model and nanny in Hungary — and was a member of the resistance. She escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia with her husband in 1968 and came to America.

My mother, Erika Lencz, escaped Vienna in 1938 with her brother, Erwin. She was twenty years old. My grandparents and nearly all of the rest of her family were lost. Mom worked in a pillow factory in Brooklyn and as a nanny before settling down in Maine with my father, where she ran our family wedding gown shop and had five children.”

Visit http://www.authorsusanross.com/about-searching-for-lottie/ to listen to the recording and view photos.

This information along with Charlie’s project in the book makes me want to ask students to learn about their family (remember to have a plan for any adopted, foster, or other kids with no access to family history!).

Parts of the story also would be a great addition to an orchestra classroom as Charlie and Lottie write about different pieces, specifically the music journal that Lottie kept.

Finally, as with most historical fiction novels, this story would be a fantastic jumping off point for inquiry in the classroom about our world’s past.

Discussion Questions: 

  • After listening to the pieces that Charlie and Lottie share in the book, which piece is your favorite?
  • What other ways did Jews and other ostracized humans escape Nazi-occupied territory during World War II?
  • What traits did Charlie show when researching her namesake?
  • How did the research change her relationship with her brother?
  • Using evidence from the text, how can you tell that Charlie loves music?

Flagged Passages: “‘Lottie was Nana’s sister, right?’

‘Yes, Lottie was several years older. Your nana told me how clever she was; how determined…just like you.’ Mom smiled. ‘And here’s another thing you two have in common–Lottie played the violin. In fact, Lottie played so beautifully that she performed with the Vienna Philharmonic when she was a teenage.’

‘Seriously?’ That was a weird coincidence. Violin was her thing, too. Charlie had begged her parents for lessons when she was still in kindergarten. She’d always loved music, and she liked pop and hip-hop as much as any kid at Hillmont Middle School…but there was something about classical that made her heart skip. She could lose herself in a symphony in a strange way that she never tried to explain to her friends. Only her best friend, Sarah, understood that feeling, but Sarah had moved to Boston over the summer…

‘What else do you know about Lottie?’

‘Well, the family was from Vienna, the capital of Austria. Her father was a math professor at the university.’

‘And…what exactly happened to them.’

Mom hesitated, then let out a long sigh. ‘Honestly, I’m not entirely certain. When the Germans invaded Austria, the Jews were at the mercy of the Nazis. I know that Lottie was lost, along with my grandfather. My grandmother and Nana Rose were lucky to escape. They came to America on a ship.’

‘So Lottie died…right?’ Charlie swallowed hard.

‘Yes, I guess she must have.’ Mom looked uncomfortable.

‘You guess? You don’t know for sure?’ Charlie sat up straight. She searched her mother’s blank face and glanced down at the photo. Lottie’s eyes were bright, with long dark lashes, and they were staring back up at her.

‘The truth is that nobody knows exactly what happened to Lottie…'” (p. 7-9)

Read This If You Love: Music, World War II historical fiction novels, History, Family

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book for review!!**

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Crow Not Crow
Author: Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Illustrator: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Published August 28th, 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group

Summary: New York Times bestselling children’s author, Jane Yolen, and her son, Adam Stemple, have teamed up to write a gentle tale of a father introducing his daughter to the joys of bird watching. Using the simple “Crow, Not Crow” method for distinguishing one bird from another, father and daughter explore the birds near their home…and there are so many to see! After the story ends, readers learn more about all the birds that appear in the book with photographs, descriptions, and QR links to bird sounds.

About the Creators:

Jane Yolen has authored more than 365 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, loved by children and bird watchers of all ages, You Nest Here With Me, a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world. Her husband, David Stemple, was both a well-known bird recordist and professor of computer science who taught his family how to identify birds. Many of Ms. Yolen’s books are about wildlife, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.

Adam Stemple is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories, graphic novels, and children’s books. He is also an avid bird watcher, taught by his father David Stemple. He invented the Crow Not Crow method of teaching beginning birders in order to teach his city-bred wife to bird. He lives in Minneapolis with his family—all birders—where he is also a working musician and is hard at work on his next novel.

Elizabeth Dulemba has always loved birds. As a kid, she used to run across the yard, flapping her arms, trying to fly. She later became a hang glider pilot in Tennessee. When not chasing birds, Elizabeth loves to draw, write, and teach. She has over two dozen titles to her credit, including her debut, award-winning novel A Bird On Water Street. In summers, she teaches in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Virginia. She spends the rest of her time in Scotland, where she is pursuing a PhD at the University of Glasgow. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.dulemba.com.

Praise: “…a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers.” – Kirkus Reviews

Kellee’s Review: My father love bird watching, but I’ve always been intimidated by it. He has books and guides and flyers, all with different information about different birds. But I also have always been fascinated by birds. They are beautiful and just a true testament of the miracles of Mother Nature. Crow Not Crow introduces the reader to a really fun way to introduce birdwatching to anyone interested. The story of a dad spreading the love of birdwatching to his young daughter is a sweet tale filled with interesting bird information. What takes the book to the next level though is the back matter. While the book is full of only “crow” and “not crow,” the back matter has all of the different birds’ names as well as a QR code to listen to the bird. There is even information about two different bird apps! I am excited to read this book with Trent then start with “crow” or “not crow” with him!

Ricki’s Review: I come from a long history of bird watchers. My brother, aunt, and mom are huge bird watchers, and it isn’t unusual for them to stop conversation to name the bird that they hear in the background. I had a very rare bird in my backyard in Connecticut, and they were all incredibly thrilled. So reading Crow Not Crow was an absolute delight. Jane Yolen is one of the best picture book authors alive, so I was particularly pleased that this book did not disappoint me. Like most of her books, it is quiet and has a powerful force behind it. It lends itself to a “crow not crow” type of game with children that would be quite fun. I will be purchasing this book as a gift for several friends. It’s beautifully done.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, use the backmatter as a key to a scavenger hunt within the book. Find each bird and discuss what clues were used to figure out that was the certain bird. Also listen to the bird using the QR code. Then, take your class outside! Start with “crow” or “not crow” but then create your own glossary like the back matter in the book to share your “not crows.” Comparison and contrast activities could also easily be weaved in as well as science!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What traits of the crow did the birders use to determine if the bird was a crow or not a crow?
  • What was your favorite bird that they encountered?
  • Take one of the birds and compare/contrast it to a crow.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Look Up!: Bird-Watching In Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate, Birds by Kevin Henkes, On Gull Beach by Jane YolenOn Duck Pond by Jane YolenOwl Moon by Jane Yolen

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**Thank you to the Cornell Lab Publishing Group for having us as part of their book tour!**

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