Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Books You Choose to Showcase... Make a Difference.

I have realized something major over the course of this school year-- How your students respond to your instruction depends on how you present the content. No matter which subject you teach, whether it is Language Arts, Science, Math, or History (or beyond the "regular" classroom subjects), books you incorporate in your classroom can make-- or break-- lessons.

According to Enhancing Education, this is the definition of the first E in the "five E" lesson format-- To engage students means to-- "1. Make connections between past and present learning experiences. 2. Anticipate activities and focus students' thinking on the learning outcomes of current activities. Students should become mentally engaged in the concept, process, or skill to be learned."

Just to let you know, my fifth graders possess intriguing young minds. They are always thinking outside the box, developing their schema about various topics at rapid rates. They are inquisitive, intense, and unconventional-- which I intend as the greatest compliment.

So now onto the book connection-- yesterday, I perused Barnes and Noble and purchased books that will certainly activate my students' inquiry/webs of connection-- and the day before, I went through my "teacher book collection" (the ones my students cannot take home by any means) to see how I can fuel learning towards the end of the school year.

Now since my students are in fifth grade, you may be surprised by a few of my choices. I am utilizing some for just excerpts while I am reading others in their entirety. I guarantee, and this is an understatement-- These choices are most certainly unique.

As you see above, I posted an image of Mysterious Messages by Gary Blackwood. There is something REALLY special about that book. When students learn about history, they often do not ponder about top-secret ciphering and coding. When I introduced this book to my students last Friday before reviewing the American Revolution (in my "Most Important Events in American History" series), most were quite intrigued. Some stated, "Oh, my goodness, I UNDERSTAND that cipher!", which was mind-boggling because I REALLY had to think to understand some of those codes.

Here are other mind-blowing literary choices, mostly appropriate for grades 5-9 (or so, depending on the book)--

Premise-- People are fascinated with history. The National Archives in Washington, D.C. draws millions of intrigued visitors annually. Simplest EQ ever-- Why? I believe educators cannot simply expose children to history without showing them how captivating it is. My one and only trip to the Archives (thus far) was in June 2012, where I purchased these two books-- The Public Vaults Unlocked and Archive This! The National Archives' Archivist-In-Training Kit. When I share the first book with my class, I am just going to share a small part. This book is fascinating because it includes many intriguing stories.

Then, this second book is particularly geared toward the elementary age group because it explains what one needs to do to get started with archiving. A phenomenal word is also introduced on the first page-- provenance, meaning "where something comes from, or its source". Beyond that, students get to see Almanzo Wilder's application to become owner of 160 acres in South Dakota under the Homestead Act of 1862, the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education that ended legal segregation in schools, an interview transcript with the crew of Apollo 8, a sketch of the velocipede, documents from the Watergate Scandal, a certificate recording the marriage of two former slaves, and The Declaration of Independence. And even beyond THAT, there are attention-grabbing comics for kids to read, which makes the book even more interesting to use with the class. The goal of using these books is to spark a conversation of what is noteworthy in history-- particularly current history-- and show my students that even something (seemingly) "insignificant" can have quite an impact!

Premise-- Science is SO not boring. Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste by Steve Spangler has quite a captivating title. As stated on Amazon, "Over 200 color photographs accompany the step-by-step directions, and simple explanations uncover the how-to and why for each activity." Some of the experiments in this book are-- Floating Bowling Balls, Pop Bottle Music, Bouncing Smoke Bubbles, Walking on Eggshells, Balancing Nails, Fireproof Balloon, and Skateboard Rocket Car. Even though I can do very little of these experiments in my classroom (and do not have the materials, to be quite honest), this is an exquisite book for expanding students' scientific inquiry skills. Here is the website for the book, with previews and all!

Theo Gray's Mad Science-- Experiments You Can Do at Home-- But Probably Shouldn't is another book for expanding scientific inquiry skills. The chapters are called-- Experimental Cuisine, Doomsday DIY, Raw Power, Playing with Fire, Heavy Metal, Natural Wonders, and Twisted Shop Class. I think of all the science standards simply talking about these experiments meets. For example, there is one called "Playing with Poison" that talks about the toxicity of mercury. The premise is that mercury is one of the few liquid metals at room temperature and also the best liquid electrical conductor. There is a sidebar called-- "How to Make a Deadly Electric Motor"-- as well as how to make the nonlethal version. Then the following experiment is about stirring up copper and zinc to make your own 1-volt liquid battery.

The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science by Sean Connolly is the easiest of the three science books today to incorporate in the classroom. It has over 300 pages and only costs $13.95. Yes, there are a few really dangerous demonstrations in there (among the fifty that are showcased), but not all of them are and can easily be completed by students. I was initially exposed to Sean Connolly's amazing books when I read a Scholastic post written by Angela Bunyi quite some time ago. Each demonstration presented in this book includes a "Catastrophe Meter" as well as how long it takes for your students to complete. A great deal of historical background is included as well, which will be a huge part of my science classroom next year so show my students how all the subjects in school are interrelated.

Premise-- All really EPIC ideas start somewhere. Okay, all ideas, period, start somewhere. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull is obviously a book where I will read snippets to my students. I was actually drawn to it when I came across a "Top Books for Graduates" display-- and then the rest was history when I thought-- Um, is that Buzz Lightyear on the cover?! The story of Pixar is actually quite intriguing, and I want my students to think about the "wildest dreams" they possess. They need to realize how their inner visions can become reality with the right direction and dreams often take years to manifest (their teacher is the perfect example of that).

Premise-- History is all about cause and effect. ANY Choose Your Adventure Books or You Choose books are quite fascinating to incorporate with kids, and I ADORED them when I was young (I recall the Goosebumps ones). I have 10 books that focus on different topics in history-- the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Immigration, and World War II/Pearl Harbor, for instance. Having variations of this genre of book in my classroom lends itself to a neat little partner-driven lesson that focuses on cause and effect/decision-making that leads to their "fate". (I will love hearing the partners discuss their reasoning for making specific choices.) These are also ideal books to use along with whole-group simulation books, if you have the time.

Premise-- Your teacher is a literary nerd, and I apologize for that immensely. Something about A Compendium of Collective Nouns (written for lit nerd adults like myself) is perfect to jump-start phenomenal writing. Of course, it introduces grammar in context and shows how author word choice can lend itself to readers forming unique images in their minds. This is a book I am mainly going to fawn over myself, though I am going to introduce it to my students a little bit because they need to see there is a fascinating lit nerd world out there they've probably never been exposed to before.

Premise-- Science and history are related. So I was telling my students about books I read while on vacation last summer, and a few were like, "You READ on vacation?!" Facepalm. I then explained I read in the hotel room when I was immensely bored, and they were like, "Oh. I get it now." (Shakes head with a mundane expression...) When I had a gift card from a former student's family, I purchased Phineas Gage-- A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman in Virginia-- and could not stop reading it when I stayed in my favorite hotel room of all. I believe my best friend thought I was insane as I blurted out fact after fact about Phineas Gage. I then snort-giggled and stated, "Well, obviously it's not only my students who are gifted and obsessed with quirky topics." I know I will not have an abundance of time to talk about this scientific history mystery, but I remembered envisioning an introduction to this book last summer with my students when I only knew my class roster (and virtually nothing about the class because I was moving to a new school). I know I cannot go into grand specifics with my class and "investigate" the whole ordeal in detail, but... it's interesting, and that is what science should be.

Premise-- Please, before your kids leave for the year, make them laugh. Find opportunities to lighten the mood. When I first read Vader's Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown, I laughed... and laughed... and laughed.

I think this book is better suited for middle school than fifth graders, but I wanted to tell you about it, anyway, because it's quality when it comes down to what rocks the humor genre. Remember, there are lots of books out there that will hopefully rock your lessons (and get your point across in unconventional manners).

Of course, I have (literally) dozens of other books I could mention, but I must move on for today. I seriously believe I have startled you enough with my unique book choices! Are there any books you have chosen to compliment lessons in your classroom-- conventional or unconventional? Let me know in the comments section below!

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