Monday, November 13, 2017

Real-world designing and making for a good cause

Beauty and the Beak: How science, technology, and a 3D-printed beakrescued a bald eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp is quite the title, isn’t it?

What a fascinating story to bring into the classroom to discuss the impact of STEM/STEAM (science, technology, Engendering, art and math) related issues.

This is the story of Beauty, a bald eagle who sustained a gunshot wound that destroyed the top part of her beak. On the verge of starvation, Beauty was rescued and taken to a wildlife center, her first stop in her rehabilitation. From there she was moved to a raptor center run by Jane Veltkamp, a raptor biologist who wanted to have a prosthetic beak made for Beauty. An engineer, Nate, took up the challenge to create a beak using a 3D printer. The process was very much a trial-and-error technique that required hundreds of hours to refine. A dentist was brought into help set the beak into place. The beak worked for a time until it was realized that her natural beak was growing back very slowly. She permanently lives at the center and is supporting scientific study about eagles.

The back section of the book, contains a substantial amount of information about where Beauty is now, her prosthetic beak, and general information about eagles. Everything from their importance to ecosystems and First Nations peoples, their physiology, and conservation efforts is here for research.

The reference section is of reputable websites from government and environmental sources. There is one from the Museum of Science in Boston that has information about making and testing models of Beauty’s beak. There is a rich resource from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology that will supplement general information about eagles. The raptor center that Jane Veltkamp founded is included as well and has a wealth of resources to support this book as a classroom resource.


I’m recommending this for grades 3 or 4 up to grade 8. It demonstrates innovative thinking and designing, problem solving, biology and wildlife conservation. It’s a perfect real-world example for interdisciplinary work about a very cool topic. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Handful of Favs

The semester is taking a turn as the second year students are heading out for practicum (teaching in the schools) and won’t be back until after Christmas. (Alright, they might be scheduled to come back once for a debriefing before Christmas.) This means, with only first year students here, the library is going to be pretty darn quiet. It’s not quite the ‘end-of-term’ feeling but its close.

It’s time to start getting caught up with reading.

Here are five fantastic picture books that coincidentally all touch on the same themes of fulfilling dreams or wishes, realizing potential, seeking knowledge, being curious and finding answers.

First up is The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater. In a quest to find the answer to a slew of questions about how the world works, a red fox joins the motley crew of animals on a ship headed for an island with ”tall, sweet grass and short, sweet trees.” There are challenges and adventures along the way, testing the crew. But perseverance and friendship prevail, as well as the realization that there are always more questions to be pondered and seeking to understand the world is a never ending endeavor. This book is about friendship and that the journey is more important than the destination. Wonderful illustrations enhance this story. Recommended for grades 1-4.

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake is also about a lifetime quest for – you guessed it, The Book of Gold. A young boy finds everything boring and nothing interests him. Isaac’s parents do everything they can think of to show him the pleasures to be had in learning about the world around him. He’s just not into it, until he’s told the legend of “one very special book that’s just waiting to be discovered. It will look like any other book, but it holds all the answers to every question ever asked, and when it is opened, it turns to solid gold.”  The appeal of gold drives Isaac to open every book he comes across without much regard until one book catches his interest and a question pops into his head, “Why don’t the pyramids have windows?” Though his quest continues his entire life, he begins to discover the world first through books and then by traveling to faraway places. He never does find this elusive book but as an eighty year-old man, he’s able to intrigue another young boy with the promise of The Book of Gold. The illustrations are digitally rendered, highly stylized and distinctive for this author’s style. It’s a bit message-y for me but I think it would be a strong teaching book for grades 1-3.

The Almost Impossible Thing by Basak Agaoglu follows the evolution of a dream. It may start small but as an idea takes shape for a rabbit with high-flying aspirations, we get to see all the iterations of his/her attempts to become airborne. I see this one fitting into a design thinking or maker class that focuses on how an idea develops over time and the trial and errors that often go into getting an idea off the ground. The illustrations are light and airy with a minimalist feel.  I’m recommending this one for the younger primary grades.


My next recommendation is If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay because it can work both on a very real-world level as well as at the metaphorical level. Planting a seed (idea, hope, intention), nurturing it, waiting patiently for something to start to grow (develop, mature, swell) and then appreciating the tree (or whatever result you worked to achieve) that finally comes to be. The illustrations are soft and done with a warm palette which draws the reader in. I see this working well with grades kindergarten to grade 3 or perhaps higher if you’re teaching about metaphor.


The last recommendation is quite different from the first four in both subject matter and tone. A Different Pond by Bao Phi is a fictionalized, slice-of-life account of an immigrant family from Vietnam when a young boy accompanies his father on a fishing trip. This trip is done very early in the morning while it’s still dark out and between the father’s jobs. The fish they catch is critical for the family’s food supply. Both the author and illustrator have contributed notes that speak to their experiences as Vietnamese immigrants establishing themselves in a new country. Again, the strong illustration style contributes to the storytelling. Recommended for grades kindergarten to grade 3.

So, to all you second year students have a great practicum. Remember the Doucette Library is here to support your experience and if you need resources email us. Hope to hear from you soon.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Promoting critical thinking

How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing myths of science denial by Darryl Cunningham though published in 2013 is right on target in this day of ‘fake news’.

Looking at the science and controversies behind such topics as climate change, fracking, evolution, chiropractic and homeopathic care, vaccinations causing autism and the conspiracy story that astronauts did not land on the moon, Cunningham looks to give us some insight into the veracity of all claims.

Let’s take the chapter on climate change, a topic that is often explored in classrooms.  Presented are common arguments that the Earth’s climate is becoming warmer and as well as those that refute this claim.

Cunningham explains that to really understand climate change we need to see the big picture, we need to see what is happening on a global level, and not base our opinions on local events such as extremely hot summers or extremely cold winters.  In addition to looking at patterns on a global level we need to look at the Earth’s historical data, as well to see these patterns over very long periods of time.

Overall, there is an immense amount of data to breakdown and analyze but the science does back up the theory that the Earth’s climate is indeed changing. He presents the following facts:

*global sea levels have risen about 17 cm in the past century, a rate of increase that has doubled in the past decade.
*there has been a consistent global surface temperature rise since the 1880s and most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s with two of the warmest years happening in the past 12 years.
*all this has taken place even though the 2000s have experienced a solar output decline.
                                                                                                                         --from page 139
                                                                                                                                            
He presents additional information about shrinking ice sheets from highly credible sources with measurable points for comparison over time.  He explains how Earth’s atmosphere traps greenhouse gases and that there is a correlation between human activity since the industrial revolution and increases in global temperatures.

Next, he addresses the points of contention that arise in discussions about climate change like, “Isn’t it true that a growing number of eminent scientists now believe climate change to be wrong?” But statistical analysis of the opinions of climate experts showed that only 2.5 percent of the world’s top 200 climate scientists are skeptical of human-made climate change.

Cunningham explains that many of the conspiracy theories come from interest groups, such as the fossil fuel industry who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

Now all of this sounds like pretty heavy going, doesn’t it? But the book is done in fairly short chapters in graphic novel-style. The tone is conversational as our narrator is depicted in each section and leads us through the controversies and evidence. I think it’s taken me longer to write up the section above describing the chapter about climate change than it did for me to read about it.

This book will be a terrific addition to classrooms to promote discussions about climate change and any topic which might fall into either category of ‘news’ or ‘fake news’.  It will with encourage critical thinking for those at the secondary levels.  Each section is credited with the sources that the author consulted to write this book.

I recommend this for grades 9 or 10 and up for anyone interested in this timely topic.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Setting the tone: Mistakes = Possibilities

I think it’s really easy for people to get caught up chasing the right answer, achieving set goals, or sticking to a game plan. There’s the fear of being judged and found lacking in intelligence, ability or motivation. In other words, feeling stupid and frustrated sucks especially when you know you can do better.

But there’s a lot of potential for a mistake to result in something unexpected and good and possibly be even better than your initial attempt.

Take the artist in The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, for example.


She starts drawing the face of a girl but the second eye is a little too large so to fix that mistake she enlarges the first eye and now both eyes are slightly too big. The illustrated girl spookily looks like a character from Coraline . (Great book for Halloween. Just saying.) However, this is short lived as a pair of glasses sets the picture back on track.

But the mistakes keep on happening. A super long neck and one extra-extended arm gives the girl a freakish look.  But the creative illustrator uses these slip-ups as an opportunity for embellishing the clothes of her creation. A lacy collar perfectly accentuates the elongated neck and patches on the elbows reduces the distraction of too long arms

And so on.

Until…

The last few spreads of the book show us a fantastical scenario of the girl racing toward an amazing tree crawling with children who she will fit in with perfectly. Not a single mistake is apparent. Perfection!

This book has an encouraging message that all of us can embrace.

I would recommend this for elementary and middle school grades.


Also, check out Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Importance of Identity

I’ve been pretty wrapped up the last several weeks doing lots of instructional workshops around interdisciplinary teaching. The student teachers are grouped with students from various disciplinary backgrounds. One of the ways I help with this particular course is to speak to conceptual thinking and connect it to resources found in Doucette Library’s collection.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a crucial part of this workshop as I use it as an example of a provocation, a resource that can be used as a hook for engaging student interest. I come back to it, throughout the workshop, as this book epitomizes conceptual thinking. There are so many concepts to be found in this book such as identity, power, conflict, relationships, interdependence, communication, change, movement of people (immigration) and many more.

If you’re keen to learn more about this please visit the library guide that has been develop to support the workshop.

One of the concepts that often came up in the workshop during the discussion period is identity. Identity is one of those concepts that overarches the social studies curriculum from Kindergarten to grade 12. Connecting identity to English language arts, I think, is fairly easy. There are notions of identity found in both science and math, too, which, depending on how the concept is further developed, may be brought in to a unit. Not all content areas needed to be integrated in the units.

Today’s recommendations all touch on the concept of identity. These are just a few of my go-to fiction books when it comes to identity for all ages.

Grades K to 3: Elementary





Hello My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe 








The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi 


Red: a Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall 


Ten Birds by Cybele Young 




Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie 








Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman 









Grades 4-8: Middle school


Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle 




George by Alex Gino 






In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III 



Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt



One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi 







Grades 9-12 (Books I wish I had more opportunities to recommend.)




American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang




Aristole and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz 



Ms Marvel by G, Willow Wilson



Nation by Terry Pratchett 





Scythe by Neal Shusterman 



Uglies by Scott Westerfeld 


Monday, September 18, 2017

Setting the Tone - Better Off Together

It’s a new school year and establishing the kind of learning environment you want to have from the get-go is important. Classrooms imbued with qualities like a safe space for taking risks and  trying new things, being respectful, curious, and determined are but a few of the many that will help with classroom management issues, as well as, learning.

And that brings me to today’s words: cooperation and collaboration.

Here are a few picture books that could be used at the elementary level to illustrate and initiate conversations about students working together, the importance of team work, communication, and being responsible.


The Whale by Ethan Murrow 
I love the black and white illustrations in this one. They work well to convey the wordless story about an adventure to confirm the existence of a mythical whale when two children come together (as in literally crash into each other) and work with each other to make the experience that much more rewarding.



The Red Apple by Feridun Oral 
A group of hungry animals figure out how to work together to get the only food to be found in winter, a red apple hanging high in a tree.


That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares 
True collaboration happens between two children when each brings their abilities into play while trying to construct a tree house together. The illustrations have a strong retro feel with a fairly simple colour palette with mostly black and white drawings and touches of colour appearing as they begin working together.



Ewe and Aye by Candace Ryan
I love this one for the word play and that these two animal friends, Ewe (sheep) and Aye (lemur) with very different skill sets (one likes wings and one likes wheels) eventually building the best-ever flying machine. The illustrations are very cartoony and fit the story perfectly.



Up the Creek by Nicholas Oldland 
With a definite Canadiana vibe, a bear, a moose and a beaver must work together to paddle their canoe through fast running white water rapids safely. The humorous elements are a treat.



Give a Goat by Jan Rock Schrock 
A group of fifth graders are inspired to raise funds to support a charity that looks to give livestock to impoverished families in third world countries. This is a good title for raising issues of being a global citizen, community service and fund raising. The book will be best used in upper elementary.


A Warm Winter by Feridun Oral 
Another selection by the same author of The Red Apple. He’s obviously big into having animals come together, helping one another overcome some challenge especially in winter. In this case, it’s a small mouse trying to keep warm and discovering his load of wood is too heavy for him to carry home. His friends come to his assistance to the benefit of all.


Going Places by Peter Reynolds 
A contest to build a go-cart brings together two unlikely classmates who dare to dream big and go beyond the norm. They build the ultimate go-cart that totally blows the competition away with a very innovative flying-cart.
Three Monks and No Water by Ting-Xing Ye  
An oldie but a goodie.  This lesson-bound story again reinforces the benefits of group responsibility and cooperation. A mountain-top temple is at risk when three monks try to shirk their responsibility of bring up pails of water from the base of the mountain. Only by working together do they advert disaster. This title is best suited for upper elementary.



These are only a handful of titles that embody the qualities of working together.

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