Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Quick Book Thought about Wonderstruck

This past week, I read Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick and I have to say, I was blown away. The story like The Invention of Hugo Cabret is told in Pencil drawn pictures and words. Where Hugo Cabret needed both the words and the pictures to carry on the story, this book tells the story of a young man named Ben all in words and uses the pictures to tell the story of a young Girl named Rose. Ben’s story 
takes place in the present where he is trying to cope with life since his mother has passed away. One night he finds some information about his father he never met and the same evening is struck by lightning and loses his hearing. Rose’s story is set in the past where she is a lonely deaf child who knows her mother, but is ignored. As we read along their stories only seem to have protagonists being deaf in common. But as the pictures and words converge toward the end of the book we find that this is not the only commonality that the stories hold.
I enjoyed this book more than Hugo Cabret, which I liked and thought the story was good, but I never really empathized with the characters. I found Wonderstruck more compelling and the characters more to my liking. Both Rose and Ben are likable, characters who I could understand and relate too. The peripheral characters in this book help the story along very well; however there is one character that reminded me of Hugo Cabret in that he has a secret room where he should not. I don’t know if Brian Selznick wrote this character and sequence into the book as an inside joke for people who enjoyed Hugo or not, but it reminded me of a passage or two from the Caldecott Winner.   
I would highly recommend this book, and actually think that if Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott, this in my opinion should win it also. Because where the pictures in his other novel helped the story along, in this one they tell more than half the story. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it is considered for a Newberry, the story is that good.

Click here for more information about Wonderstruck.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Cost of Twelve Days Of Christmas

Welcome to the Thoughts of an Anti-Librarian, I'd like to share one of my Favorite lessons this time of year, I do with my Fifth Grade Students. What they have to do is find the cost of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  This Christmas Price Index is calculated each year by PNC Bank (in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania). According to their website, “It began 28 years ago when the chief economist at PNC Bank decided to figure out how much it would cost to buy each of the gifts..”

When my students do the project, they have to find,
A.     The cost of each of the presents (and a Partridge in the Pear tree is separate).
B.     The cost of all the presents together.
C.     The cost of the entire song (each present given each day).

It is really kind of funny when they first start working on the project. Some of the kids will start looking for shopping sites, EBay and Amazon are the big ones they choose. I have to remind them at this point that they need to find the actual present not an ornament or a porcelain figurine (you would be surprised how much porcelain is used on the twelve days of Christmas).  One year, I actually had one group that found an exotic bird store and was upset when they couldn’t get a price for  French hens, they actually wanted to call the store and ask if they could get a price.

Once in a while, I get a group that starts Googling the words, “Cost of Twelve Days of Christmas.” This will take them to new sites that talk about the PNC website, but most of the time, they don’t realize that this is the website they need. Sometimes they find the Christmas Price Index from a previous year; they are so disappointed when I point out it is the wrong year. What is funny is that they don’t repeat their search with the same words just adding the current year.  When I point this out to them later, they get usually can’t believe it. (I never help during the lesson, I always review after the lesson what worked and what didn’t with the classes).

I think I enjoy this project so much, because the kids can’t believe that each of these items are real and they actually cost so much.  I have done this lesson with 6th grade also, but I would be careful about doing it in too high of grades, because the cost of Nine Ladies Dancing is  about $6300. The comments that could be made about paying a dancer, especially that much, could get inappropriate the older the students get.

This is a great lesson for practice in using Search Engines and using the internet to gather and organize information and to solve problems. The kids not only enjoy it because they get to use the internet, but also because it has to do with presents and Christmas. I enjoy it, because once I show them the PNC Website and they enjoy reading through the information and looking at the graphics that they have. I also like the fact that they don’t consider this a Math lesson, although we cover a few Math concepts as we discuss the answers, to my three questions. 

For more information on the PNC Christmas Index checkout this article on The Inspiration Room.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thoughts on Respect for Teachers

Over Thanksgiving, my parents commented to me, "When we were kids we wouldn’t talk to teachers the way kids do now." They were appalled at how kids act in school and how the parents respond when they are told their kids have done something wrong. Respect for teachers is low in many places. Anyone who is a teacher knows the environment that surrounds our lives today. The worst part is we are responsible for a lot of these problems.
Let me explain: I teach in two different schools this year and I have found it to be a very interesting. The culture of the two buildings is very different. One has a Principal that is not very well liked the other has a Principal that is liked and respected. But in both buildings, the way Teachers treat each other is appalling. The disrespect they show for co-workers is ridiculous. This may happen in the business world, I don’t know, but the way people complain about how others’ do their jobs or what they do during the day makes me cringe.  They complain that this person doesn’t have as many duties or that person doesn’t have a class during as many periods and they even undermine or sabotage each other.
With as difficult as our jobs are and the climate in the world in which we are teaching, I don’t get this mentality.  How Disrespectful is it (not to say unprofessional) to question what a fellow teacher is doing with their time?  These complainers will never go and ask the person they are complaining about, to task them about their reasons for doing things, or maybe why it seems they have extra preps or why the schedule looks unfair. No, they would rather talk about the other person behind their back, during lunch periods. This is why I have not eaten lunch in a faculty room for six years. I can’t stand the bitching. My question to these teachers that complain is, "Why does it matter what they are doing?" How does this affect you in your teaching? 
There was a student teacher in our building, earlier this year, my one piece of advice to him was, “If you want to be happy in your job, you can’t worry about what other people are teaching or doing during their day.” I told him, “When you start worrying about how much extra time someone else has or how many duties they have, you start forgetting what is important; the students and your teaching.” 
 To be true Professionals, we need to respect the person next door to us as Professionals. And that is part of the problem; we don't respect the person teaching next to us or across from us. And I know I am only the Anti-Librarian, but if we don't respect each other, why should the community we are teaching in?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Quick Book Thought about The Autobiography of Santa Claus

For those of you that have children that are starting to question if Santa Claus is real and you want them to believe for a few more years, let me share a book with you. The Book is called The Autobiography of Santa Claus: It’s Better to Give and is edited by Jeff Guinn.  I found this book a few years back and shared it with my son when he was eight years old. It is the perfect bedtime read aloud, for before Christmas, because it has twenty five chapters. If you start reading it on December first or right after Thanksgiving, and read a chapter a night, it ends nicely on or about Christmas Eve.

The book starts out with an editor’s preface that explains how Jeff Guinn was invited to the North Pole to help Santa Claus write his memoirs. Jeff describes the Workshop and the people he meets and sees there. The story starts, from Santa’s recollection of his early years and how and why he started giving presents and why he did it anonymously. It tells about him being a Priest, then a Bishop and about his gift giving exploits.  About Chapter five we meet Santa’s friend and oldest companion Felix. It is about this time that Santa starts to explain his magic.
The story not only explains his magic and how he uses it but also tells all about the many special people who helped him through the years and still do; people such as Attila the Hun, St. Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo, Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, King Arthur and Layla (better known as Mrs. Claus). Santa explains throughout the book, by relating different stories, how the toys are distributed to all the kids in the world and how he is known by different names. He also tells how many different writers and poets have changed the way he has been received over the years and how these writings have changed the world’s perception of him.

As I said, I shared this story with my son when he was 8. For three or four years after that, when kids in his class would say they didn’t believe in Santa, John would tell them he did. The reason he did was because he had heard Santa Claus’ own version of how and why the Magic of Christmas is real. I personally liked the story because it gives a lot of historical background that is accurate. All of this makes The Autobiography of Santa Claus one of my favorite books, not just around Christmas, but always.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts On Teaching and Disney Imagineers

 If you have read my other website, you know that I admire Walt Disney very much. He was amazingly creative and I think his mind was one of the best of all time. When he was alive, Walt had a special group of workers called WED (which was taken from Walt’s initials) that built the amazing things he dreamed up. After his death, WED grew into W.D.I. and now it is Disney Imagineering. These Imagineers as they are called upon to create everything you see on the Disney properties, worldwide. Everything from the design of the Resorts to the queues for the attractions; these people are amazing. I wrote an article once saying that I wished I could be an Imagineer. But the more that I think about it, I don’t wish for that anymore. I wish I could hang out with them and watch them work, because as a Teacher/Librarian I feel I am kind of am, an Imagineer.

I say this, because I have seen the Imagineers’ 10 Commandments. I have listed these commandments below with my reasons for believing that I am like an Imagineer.

  1. Know your audience – I do this by designing my lessons to make the most sense for the students I am working with.
  2. Wear your guest's shoes – I think about how I would receive the lesson I am teaching. Does it bore me or is it too slow? If so, it will be for the students (my guests) also.
  3. Organize the flow of people and ideas – I try to use good story telling techniques, tell good stories not lecture too much. I also try to use clear logic in my lessons and the way my room is organized.
  4. Create a weenie– In Disney’s terminology, this the focal point of a park or an attraction. In teaching it is my hook that gets the kids interesting in your lesson.
  5. Communicate with visual literacy – I always try to use non-verbal ways of communication, using color, shape, and actions to keep the class interested.
  6. Avoid overload - Resisting the temptation to teach too much, to have too many objects is sometimes difficult, since I only have a certain amount of time to cover so many topics.  But, the Imagineers believe, you can’t force people to swallow more than they can digest, that you need to try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more. As a teacher, I need to be aware of this also.
  7. Tell one story at a time – Teaching one topic or skill at a time is ideal.  The Imagineers say:  “If you have a lot of information divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories, people can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.”
  8. Avoid contradiction – I try to do this every day or else the students won’t believe me and won’t listen for very long.
  9.  For every ounce of treatment, provide a ton of fun – I try to make learning fun every day. If they don’t enjoy coming to my class, they aren’t going to learn a whole lot from me.
  10.   Keep it up – Once you get to the high level of teaching where you are researching your topics before you start teaching them; you are designing lessons at different levels, adapting them and changing them as needed for the best experience for the students and then presenting these lessons in fun and interesting ways, which helps the students to learn the concepts you are teaching, you need to keep doing it. I continually change the experience of the library as the classes and students change from year to year, thus giving them new, interesting and exciting things to look forward to.
Most teachers who are still vibrant, good, exciting teachers do these things. These are the teachers that students remember when they grow up (for the right reasons). These are the teachers that students talk about at the dinner table with their parents. These are the teachers that other teachers talk about in meetings and workshops. These are teachers we should all strive to be. These are the Imagineers in our schools.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thoughts on Displays and Student Involvement

Decorating for Christmas always makes me think of a bulletin board that I created during my Junior student teaching. It was around the holidays and I used characters from different books and television shows of the time. I put them in a winter scene and included the heading Happy Holidays from all your favorites. I used the Peanuts characters, the Berenstain Bears, Alf (the Alien Life Form) and the Chipmunks. I remember the reaction of the students when they first came in the next morning and saw what I had done. That was when I learned that you could use bulletin boards to catch students’ attentions and get them thinking about a topic. 

I have made bulletin boards as all teachers do, to stress topics in all subjects. But sometimes I have gone a little overboard with my bulletin board displays. I once made a front porch out of cardboard that stuck out of the wall. The front porch went along with my theme on Grandparents and took up a quarter of the hallway in front of my room. The students learned all about older people and we even "adopted” Grandparents from the Retirement home down the street. When we did some writing on the topic later in the unit, their work was displayed on the "Porch".

 Later the same year, in the same area of the hallway, I built "Poet-trees" from paper, cardboard and tree branches. The students then wrote poems that were to be hung from the trees in the hallway. It was the first time I ever had students competing to write the “Best”; so that they could have them hung in the hallway.  

 Another time, I used pictures of the kids’ faces and put them on bodies that they have traced and cut out that were decorated as Colonial Americans. Before they "dressed" their colonists, they had to know what kind of clothing they would wear and why. The next year when I was doing this unit with the class, we built our own Miniature Colonial Village (made from oven and refrigerator boxes) and the students all researched the building that they were putting in our village. Making these buildings turned out to be a really great activity, because before they would declare their buildings complete, they made each detail perfect. The students later understood more about colonial life than their counterparts in another 5th grade class. 

I find it funny that many teachers don’t enjoy doing Bulletin Boards or Displays. I find them an outlet for some of my creativity and I still enjoy setting up Displays and Bulletin boards for my students that catch their eye and get their attention. If I can make them think or act by viewing these displays, that’s even better.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Thought on a Being Thankful

When I was in college, I got yelled at in my first education class for or answering a question incorrectly.  Actually, I got yelled at for being wise. The question asked was, why do you want to be a teacher? My answer was, "For weekends and summers off." I was just being funny, but the teacher didn't find it humorous at all. She ranted on and on about if that was my attitude, I would never be a good teacher. Looking back on it, I see that she wasn't that great of a teacher herself. I say this for a few reasons, one she had no sense of humor (if you can't laugh, how can your students enjoy school?) and two being a screamer is just not the way to connect with students. 

The reason I bring up this story is because I am very Thankful that I am a teacher and not just because I have my weekends and summers off (although sometimes those thoughts help). I am Thankful that I am a teacher, because I get to see children   learn and become creative thinkers. I am thankful, because, I get to work with other teachers who are good at what they do and enjoy their jobs. I am Thankful, because in today's world where many people are out of jobs or are working in jobs where they are not happy; I get to do what I enjoy doing every day. I like telling stories, reading books and teaching about literature. I enjoy sharing and teaching and I enjoy learning form my students. I am Thankful that I am a Teacher. I hope all the teachers out there are Thankful also.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Quick Book Thought about Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King

I just finished Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King.
I enjoyed the book. The beginning reminded me of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum; with the moonbeams and nature creatures being characters. I was worried it was going to be too "Fantasy" for me (I don't care for epic fantasy type books). But it was more on the lines of a fable/fantasy/ prequel.  Kind of like Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers, which is a prequel for Peter Pan, this is a very different interpretation of origins of St. Nicholas.
The Book is actually a quick read that tells of Nicholas St. North a great thief, who helps protect a village against the evil Pitch aka, the Nightmare King and ends with Nicholas' adventures being continued.  This is the first in a book series by William Joyce called the Guardians of Childhood. The next book is called E. Aster Bunnymund and the Battle of the Warrior Eggs.
 I look forward to reading more in the series.  If you would like more information on the series, you can go to the Guardians of Childhood website. And you can buy Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King on Amazon or where fine books are sold.

Monday, November 21, 2011

An Introduction to the Anti-Librarian

Hello and Welcome to the Thoughts of an Anti-Librarian. Allow me to introduce myself and explain why I am doing this. I am a 20 year veteran of teaching and have been an elementary school Librarian/Teacher for about 13 years. I consider myself an Anti-Librarian, because I am not your typical book lender. First of all, I am in the minority as an Elementary School Librarian, I am male. Secondly, I can't stand quiet. I need movement, sound and color. My classroom (yes, I consider my Library a classroom) is always active, with people sharing and discussing ideas. The room is a vibrant colorful place that changes as the school year goes on.

At the beginning of this school year I was transferred from a 5-6 school to a K-5 school. (I hadn't been in a school with younger grades in 9 years. I was looking forward to it and hoping it would revitalize my career. I had started to get stagnant in my job.) This move has been an amazing thing for me. I am getting back in touch with the children's literature that I missed teaching with and I am becoming a better teacher, using creative, new ideas in my teaching.  

So, why am I writing this? I enjoying Blogging, I have a Disney World Blog called, "Unknown Magic Within Walt Disney Worldthat I have been writing for about a year and a half. I decided to write this blog as a way for me to share ideas about books, libraries and teaching. As I say in the Who am I to Say? Box on the side of the page, I may not be as well read as some other people, but I am creative and think "outside the box". I hope you enjoy my thoughts and will share yours with me also.