Category Archives: Books

This is How We Do It

My gifted and talented first graders study geography and choose different countries to research.  @storymamas recently tweeted about a book called, This is How We Do It, by Matt Lamothe, and I thought it would be a good resource to use with this class.  Children like to see the differences and similarities of places around the world.  A few years ago, I sent out a Twitter plea for people from other countries to add pictures of their playgrounds to this slide show, and my students enjoy comparing the sites to our own and finding the locations on a map.

Lamothe went much further than collecting images on a slideshow for his book.  You can read about his writing process for This is How We Do It here.  He created all of the illustrations in his book based on photographs shared with him by families in seven different countries.  My students were fascinated with everything from how the featured children got to school to how they slept.  They were surprised by uncanny resemblances to our own culture (they have a Smarboard in their classroom, too!) as well as unimaginable contrasts (an entire family sleeping in one bed!)

You can download a free activity kit to accompany the book here.

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CommonLit Poetry

Back in 2015, I found out about CommonLit from Richard Byrne and pointed people to his post to learn more about this free resource for teachers.  Since then, CommonLit has added a Guided Reading feature that can really be helpful for differentiation in your classroom, Book Pairings, and probably a few other tools that I haven’t mentioned – yet it has continued to be free.  This is huge in the world of EdTech, where teachers often find ourselves priced out of “free” programs.

Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I would remind you of CommonLit, which does have quite a few poetry offerings.  Once you log in and go to the library page, you can see some of the featured poems selected by the staff for this month.  You can also go to the “Browse all Text Sets” page in order to search for particular genres, themes, grade levels (3rd grade and up), and lexiles.

I love looking at the Book Pairings, which offer supplemental short texts to accompany novels.  For example, my 5th graders read The Giver, and CommonLit links to 4 poems that nicely fit with the themes of the book (along with some news articles and informational texts as well). The search page helpfully identifies the genre of each link, its lexile level, and grade level.  CommonLit even gives you advice on which point in the novel would be a good time to add the paired text.

CommonLit offers a Teacher Dashboard so that you can assign passages within the site.  There are also short assessments and suggested discussion questions for each assignment.

Because CommonLit is a nonprofit organization, it promises that its resources will always be free for teachers.  Take advantage of this site to encourage deeper reading, discussion, and connections.

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Go to CommonLit for more information.

When

In yesterday’s post, I reviewed The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, which is one of the books my colleagues and I received in our first package from The Next Big Idea Club.  Today, I would like to talk about the second book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink.

When shares the intriguing research that has been done about how success and failure can often hinge on temporal choices.  With intriguing real-life examples weaved in with scientific documentation, Pink shows us how we can give ourselves incredible advantages by conceding that our brains and bodies are extremely influenced by our internal clocks.

In this book, Daniel Pink demonstrates many direct implications of this research for education.  For example, he cites a Danish study that established an increase in standardized test scores after students took 20-30 minute breaks.  He also devotes a section of his book to the importance of recess, emphasizing that students should receive several breaks throughout the day (Finland gives their students a 15-minute break every hour).  Teachers, according to Pink, should also get breaks for themselves by alternating monitoring duties during these times.

School start times, something that seems to have been in the news quite a bit lately, also have a dedicated section in When.  Implementing later start times for teens is highly recommended, and has been shown to improve attendance and academic performance.  Are you in college?  “The optimal time for more college classes is after 11 a.m.”  (That explains so much about my college experience!)

In When, you will find not only advice on optimal times of day to be productive, but suggestions for

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When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink

the different strategies to use in the changing stages of a project – and of our lives.  You will learn about the science of endings and why, “Choral singing might be the new exercise.”  There are many applications for education, but even more for living your best life.

When is the perfect companion to The Culture Code, as both books highlight the need for aligning purpose with thoughtful actions as well as the value of connecting with others.

The Culture Code

After receiving a tip from my former principal, John Hinds, about “The Next Big Idea Club,” two of my colleagues and I decided to share a subscription.  Every three months, we will receive two new, non-fiction books selected by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Susan Pink, and Adam Grant.

We just received our first package, and it included a bonus book.  The books we received were: The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, Endure, by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell, and When by Daniel Pink.  I dove into The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, first.

The Culture Code may very well turn out to be my favorite book of the year, despite the fact that it is not written specifically for educators.  Coyle begins the book with an interesting case study that illustrates what he believes to be the three characteristics all successful groups do: Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, and Establish Purpose.  He continues to give evidence and examples for each criteria, referring to the practices of some of the world’s most famous organizations, like Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs.

So much of The Culture Code can be applied to classrooms, schools, and districts.  I alternated between shouting, “Yes!  That’s what I try to do with my students, too!” and, “Wow!  We should try that!” throughout the entire book.

Some big “yes” moments:

  • “Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful, overarching idea: We are safe and connected.”
  • “To create safety, leaders need to actively invite input.”
  • “Building purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of breakthrough, but rather about building systems that can churn through lots of ideas in order to help unearth the right choices.”
  • “It’s about building ownership, providing support, and aligning group energy toward the arduous, error-filled, ultimately fulfilling journey of making something new.”

One interesting idea that I think would be helpful to use more in education would be the concept of “Red Teaming.”  This is a strategy, according to Coyle, used by the military to test potential solutions to a problem.  The “Red Team,” which is comprised of people who were not involved in proposing the original solution, lists any way they can think of that would derail the plan.  This helps the leaders to uncover vulnerabilities and prepare for them ahead of time.  The purpose of the Red Team is to make the plan stronger, and the only way that it can work is in an environment where the participants feel safe and connected.

Coyle makes an interesting distinction between organizations that are designed for proficiency and ones that have a creative purpose.  His insights about the different leadership required for each type of organization reminded me of what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems in education – we are structured around proficiency, but we bemoan the lack of creativity.  Coyle talks about two leaders who have clear, but diverse messages based on the divergent purposes of their companies: “Meyers needs people to know and feel exactly what to do, while Catmull needs people to discover that for themselves.”  I honestly think that we regularly convey both of these messages to our students – to their detriment.

After reading The Culture Code, I found that it certainly reinforced the beliefs that many of us have about classrooms needing to be places where students feel safe and connected.  The biggest problem that I think that education faces today is that we seem to have difficulty agreeing on the purpose of education and communicating that consistent message to our students.

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The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle

 

War

One of the sessions I attended at TCEA 2018 was presented by a group from Richardson ISD.  #4CoresonFire focused on some cross-curricular activities using tools that I’ve used before.  However, I got some great integration ideas I hadn’t thought of – which makes the session a success in my book.

One of the teachers described how she had used StoryCorps and Newsela to start a unit about the Civil War.  (Here are my previous posts on StoryCorps and Newsela.)  I starred my notes wildly as she spoke; this is my secret code for, “USE THIS AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK TO SCHOOL!”  My 5th graders were about to read the chapter in The Giver that describes Jonas’ first introduction to the concept of war, and I knew these would be great connections.

In the lesson described at TCEA, the teachers posed the question, “When do the costs of war outweigh the benefits?”  Their students discussed this, and then watched, “The Nature of War” on StoryCorps.  After a post-video discussion, the students read an article about the Civil War in Newsela (you do need to register for free to read the articles).  Then they launched into a study of the Civil War in their history class.

I tweaked the lesson to use with The Giver.  I used Pear Deck to give an interactive, student-paced lesson.  Here is the link.  If you want to use the presentation as intended, you will need to register for Pear Deck.  You can find out more about Pear Deck, as well as a link to get a premium code that lasts the rest of this school year, here.  Also, the StoryCorps video link is embedded.  Do to our district filters, students had to log in to YouTube on a separate tab before they were able to watch the video on their own devices.

I chose to use an article from Newsela about, “Just War Theory.”  Student responses at the end of the presentation varied widely from their initial ideas about whether or not war is ever justified.  Many of them agreed with the quote I posted at the end about war being banished from the earth – until I brought up The Giver.  There is no war anymore in this dystopian world, but there is also no freedom.

Is it possible to banish war without giving up most of our freedom?

That was a discussion that definitely engaged the class!

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Wonder Hyperdoc

If you haven’t been formally introduced to Hyperdocs, you may want to check out this post from last year.  Michele Waggoner tweeted out a link this week to an incredible Hyperdoc using Google Slides.  The Hyperdoc is to be used for a literature circle activity based on the book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.  It embeds Depth and Complexity into this collaborative presentation using David Chung’s ideas for literature circle frames.  This doc is 139 slides long, and gives students many opportunities to do meaningful reflections, activities, and discussions.  It looks like Michele put weeks of work into preparing this, and I, for one, am grateful she is sharing it with the world!

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slide from Michele Waggoner’s Hyperdoc

Holiday Ethics Lessons for Primary Students

One of my favorite activities posted on Joelle Trayers’ Not Just Child’s Play blog is the lesson she does with her Kindergarten students on ethics using The Gingerbread Man story. “Ethics” is one of Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity icons, and an excellent way to take a topic to the Analyzing and the Evaluating levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

I think that we spend a lot of time in school teaching students right from wrong, but we forget to tell them that not everyone agrees on what is right and wrong.  It can be shocking to a child to discover that her own judgment differs from someone else’s when it comes to morality, and it’s important for kids to learn to question the “obvious” and consider other perspectives.

Trayers also recently posted, “In Defense of Grinch,” which was a lesson where her students explained why the Grinch should not be put in jail for stealing the gifts.  With older classes, you could have students argue both sides.

Another good holiday ethics lesson could be done with the video, “The Snowman.”    Asking if the snowman should have saved the rabbit would be too simple, but “Should the snowman have kept the carrot at the end or given it to the rabbits?” could probably generate some good controversy in your classroom.

Speaking of snowmen, should Frosty have gotten a ticket for ignoring the traffic cop?

Of course fiction does not have to be your only resource.  Newsela (free to register) has lots of great news articles that I have used in the classroom for ethics discussions.  When we discuss the juxtaposition between freedom and safety in my class, I like to use, “Some Cities Say Sledding Too Dangerous.”

For a few more ethics resources, you can find a free animated video about ethics on BrainPop (most suitable for 2nd-5th grades) and Teaching Children Philosophy has a list of children’s books that you can use for teaching ethics, along with suggested discussion questions.

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image from Pixabay