Rethinking Historical Fiction

The power of storytelling…it dramatizes, delights, and immerses us in an experience so that we can step back into the world, ready to face challenges with a little more confidence and understanding.  

At AOS, seventh and eighth grade students participate in the “History as Story” writing workshop with visiting authors who are experts in the power of storytelling.  The goal of the writing workshop is to connect students with themes of history as the students themselves craft a small work of historical fiction. The historical fiction piece engages students more deeply with topics they have been researching, topics that will be developed later in a more formal research essay.  

This year the “History as Story” writing workshop was led by poet and author Allan Wolf, who paints a picture of history through various viewpoints in books-in-verse, such as New Found Land (Lewis and Clark expedition) and The Watch that Ends the Night (sinking of the Titanic). Allan Wolf suggested that students develop their historical fiction piece by using CAST: Characters, Action, Setting, and Truth.

The following sample pieces show how students used CAST to connect with a Truth about their historical topics and re-imagined a moment in history.

American Reformers: “Be the Change”
Seventh graders researched American reformers of the late 1700s-1800s in a “Be the Change” research project.  The opening paragraph of the research paper is a historical vignette that immerses the reader in a dramatic moment of their American reformer.

One student, Ella Piper, envisioned how Mother Ann Lee, leader of the Shaker church in New York, made the treacherous sea voyage from England to New York. Her characters are the zealous Ann Lee and an exasperated ship captain. The action is a dangerous storm at sea, and the setting is the ship’s deck, where Ann Lee is dancing to seek God’s intervention while the Captain and shipmates are furiously battling a sinking ship.  Below is an excerpt:

It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light slowly disappeared under ominous storm clouds, and the skies opened up. The ship was low in rations, and the bodies of the passengers, frail from malnutrition, hardly caused a tip in the hardy vessel, the Mariah, as they began worship. It didn’t bother Ann. Her light hair grew steadily darker in the rain, and, as on all nights, she began to spin. Uncontrolled, sporadic movements overtook her body, mimicking the crashing of the tumultuous sea. “Praise God,” she whispered, and the ship erupted in a soulful, oscillating waltz.

And the rain persisted. The rain came down and the captain came up to handle it and through it all she continued to dance. After all, they were alive and God was with them and that trumped a squall any day. Even though they were ordered back to their rooms. Even though the wind whipped her hair and cut at her face.

“Below deck!” The captain screamed. “Or it’s overboard for the lot of ya!” His voice was hoarse from shouting at the crew. His patience with Ann and her followers, never in abundant supply, was rapidly wearing thin. “That shaking of yours will be put to a stop, whether its by my hand or God’s when we die in this bloody monsoon!” He jerked on the wheel.

The truth is revealed later in final words by Ann Lee as the storm dissipates:

Abruptly, the largest wave so far, one of Brobdingnagian proportions, drew close to the ship. Captain Nelson swore. Baker began to say his prayers. Ann danced. And, as if guided by the hand of God himself, the wave carried the board back into place. The Mariah began to rise.

Ann danced. She smiled. “It is my belief that a true act of God is finding peace in chaos, the eye of the hurricane. Wouldn’t you say so, Captain?”

It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light shone through retreating storm clouds.

US Defining Moments
Eighth graders researched defining moments in US history and iconic persons who influenced those events. As part of their research, students located a primary source photo and used the Library of Congress Analysis Tool to examine how the photo revealed insights into their historical event or person. In the writing workshop, these photos were used to develop descriptive, narrative poems (ekphrastic poetry). Here is an example of how one student, Emma, used the CAST technique with her photograph to reveal insights about the Texas Western 1966 NCAA Championship.

Emma’s primary source photo depicts the Texas Western team posing with their trophy for the 1966 NCAA championship. (View photo in this El Paso newspaper article.) The characters for the poem are the basketball team, “blacks and whites stand side by side,” and the “small white coach (who) does his best to stay hidden.” Emma also created a fictional character, the photographer, as her point of view to describe this victorious moment. The action is the photographer setting up to take the photo, “As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture,” and the poem ends with the “flash” of the camera.  Though the setting is not described, a sense of place is suggested as the players stand shoulder to shoulder, a “colorful canvas” as “blacks and whites stand side by side.”  The truth, or moment of insight about this historical moment is revealed in several lines. The poem alludes to the Civil Rights struggle–“Challenges and the races/They had to win to make their statement”–as well as the unity of the team–the coach “treating each and all like an equal son” and the team “connected in more than just great pride.”  

Texas Western
3, 2, 1
Scattered smiles and serious faces
In the Miners I see the traces
Of all the challenges and the races
They had to win to make their statement.

The small, white coach does his best to stay hidden
He takes no credit for all they have done
Treating each and all like an equal son

As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture
I see the significance of this colorful canvas
Blacks and whites stand side by side
Connected in more than just great pride.
Flash!

This poem by Emma prompts a final reflection about what is history.  Historians often stress the importance of examining the historical context and purpose of the primary source that is being evaluated: meaning is constructed.  Literally, what is the historical lens that the photographer of Emma’s poem uses to help viewers see this moment of victory in the Civil Rights struggle? Questions for future research might be the following:

“What were the challenges that the Texas Western team faced?”
“Were the team players really united?”
“What was the coach’s role in this struggle and did he avoid the limelight?”
“Did this championship win change attitudes of society?”

The “History as Story” writing workshop is an exciting opportunity for students to add their voice as they shape an understanding of history.  I encourage you to find a moment in history that fascinates you and, through the power of storytelling, look closely and think deeply about truths that have shaped our Nation.

Making Connections

The Humber River Arch Bridge in Toronto. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/167_4034014/1/167_4034014/cite. Accessed 12 Nov 2018.

  • Librarians as engineers?  Not a great leap when you consider that librarians help students to build bridges from information to insights, making connections that add meaning to the research process.   Making connections is a powerful thinking strategy that engages students in active and meaningful learning.  In a recent publication by The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: Research Implications for Educators,”   the authors state that  “students need new concepts to link in some way to things they already know, or they will not have the mental maps that their brains need to process the material;” building connections that reflect students’ interests or goals deepens the learning (Allensworth et al 10-11).

Tapping into several Visible Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero, I worked closely with Sara Schultz, the fifth grade Geography teacher, to immerse students in the process of making connections. Following are a few examples:

Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate
Generate: Students mentally pictured the type of signs they might see in National Parks and brainstormed the reason for the signs.
“Do Not Feed the Bears”
personal danger from close contact with bears and
making bears 
dependent on food (losing ability to fend for themselves)

“Stay on the Trail”
might get lost, or dangerous/slippery/unstable land or
might damage native plants, ground cover

For a dramatic example of deterioration of a National park, students  also viewed an interactive graphic of Salt Lake Water Woes (earthobservatory.nasa.gov) and brainstormed cause for the drastic depletion of water.

Sort: Students pointed out which of the reasons were Human Factors that might harm the National Park, such as making bears dependent on human food or damaging native plants or water use and irrigation for agriculture depleting the Great Salt Lake.

Connect:
Several articles from the New York Times modeled for students how to connect cause to several effects, such as this article about Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades:


As students researched, they organized information on Concept maps.  In the example below, Gracie made connections between “Native Species — Bark Beetle — Killing Trees — Easier to Burn Down” and then draws a line to connect concept of Fire to concept of Native Species.  This student also added yellow exclamation symbols to those concepts she felt were important or needed further investigation, such as “Grizzly Bears recently removed from endangered lists now being shot in Wyoming.”

Circle of Viewpoints
This thinking routine was useful in showing connections between conflicting viewpoints: 1) brainstorm a list of perspectives; 2) assume a perspective;  and 3) generate questions or concerns from that viewpoint. Students viewed several New York Times articles about Bears Ears National Monument and assumed conflicting perspectives over land use:

Trump (open lands for development, such as mining, farming)
Patagonia (wilderness outfitter company– wants to protect recreational use of land)
Native Americans (who wish to protect lands as sacred sites)

This process of modeling strategies and guiding students to make connections has been exciting. I challenge librarians to put on your hard hat, pick up a Visible Thinking tool, and experiment with building your own bridge to knowledge.

 

 

 

 

 

Modeling Good Writing

In an NPR video series on Billy Collins, the poet laureate was asked how young poets could get started writing poetry. Billy Collins responded, “it’s such dull advice, there’s really no key to it, you just have to read, read poetry for 10,000 hours.”

Immersing young writers in models of fine writing was an idea echoed during a 2017 NCTE conference session on literary magazines. This session was a wonderful brain trust for individuals new to sponsoring a school’s literary magazine. In addition to bringing back copies of other schools’ literary magazines, I brought back the advice repeatedly heard: provide student writers with models of good writing and read, read, read.

In an earlier AISL blog, “Inspire Writing with Memorials,” I mentioned that our library and student LitMag editors are sponsoring a writing contest. Our LitMag editors were challenged to make promotional posters that not only advertised the contest, but also featured a poem example reflecting the contest theme of memorials or collections. As our LitMag editors searched for models of well-crafted poems, the library poetry book shelves became a cornucopia of inspirational ideas.

Below are two examples of poetry books that sparked imaginations, along with students’ poem reflections and poster design decisions.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle.
Margarita Engle, named in 2017 as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, celebrates the lives of Hispanic people from all walks of life in this collection of poems.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag editor, Sebastian, chose the poem “Life on Horseback”and explained, “this poem is a memorial to a Mexican-American cowboy named Arnold Rojas (1898-1988). Due to lack of job opportunities for immigrants, he worked as a farmworker. He leaves that job for a more exciting life as a cowboy. This poem emphasizes that you must take pride in your work and if you don’t, you should search for a more meaningful job.”

Design principle for poster: Symmetry.
Silhouetted horse heads face each other on the poster and displayed below are flags of Mexico and the United States of America, indicating the duel heritage of cowboy Arnold Rojas.

Maya Angelou (Poetry for Young People).
This collection of poems by Maya Angelou display her emotional connection with struggles
and triumphs of African Americans, including the struggle from oppression to attaining
lives of dignity.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag Editor, Alex, chose the poem “One More Round” and observed, “this poem shows a man who loves to work and believes his work is much more than slavery:  ‘I was born to work but I ain’t no mule.’”

Design Principle for poster: Repetition.
An intricate assembly line shows miniature factory workers heaving, hoisting, and loading large flour bags onto automated belts. These bags of flour are being processed so another man, drawn above the assembly line, can enjoy a bowl of cereal. Alex reflected that his drawing shows “a man that’s just eating a bowl of cereal and is treating it like any other. Look further down on the poster and you can see the work that goes into making this bowl of cereal is worth a whole lot more than it looks.”

This process of selecting poems to model well-crafted writing was a creative stretch for our LitMag editors: an opportunity both for design thinking and personal reflection on how poems communicate to an audience. The finished posters are now displayed throughout the school, inspiring our young writers through reading poems by established poets.

For further exploration of how writers rely on models of good writing, see these books that celebrate famous poets:

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Margery Wentworth
Kwame and co-authors pay tribute to famous poets by imitating the poetic style or enkindling the emotional connection of these poets.

Boshblobberbosh: Runcible Poems for Edward Lear
by J. Patrick Lewis
Lewis, the 2011 Children’s Poet Laureate, writes poems in the style of Edward Lear to honor Lear’s whimsical language and playful use of the sounds of words.

To read more on how NCTE supports school literary magazines, see REALM Awards (Recognizing Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines).

Inspire Writing with Memorials

Memorials promote powerful, personal encounters with moments in history.  I recently created my own memorial to commemorate a time in which my newly married parents were separated during World War II. The assemblage of photos and letters documented the years 1942-1945, when my father, JJ, was setting up radio communications in Iceland while my mother, Wanda, worked in an ammunition plant and then, later, stayed at home raising a newborn son (my brother, Joe).

The centerpiece of the memorial was a newspaper clipping that featured a story about my mother’s drawing of my father holding his newborn son. The idea that prompted the drawing was that JJ had never seen or held the newborn. Wanda created the drawing by viewing a photo of her husband in uniform and then adding the baby in his arms.  When Wanda sent this drawing in the mail, the army “censors” discovered the drawing; they then shared the drawing and story with the St. Louis newspaper.  A photographer at the newspaper created a photo montage; using a photo of my father dressed in his army uniform, the photographer combined it with the baby’s photo.

The collaged photo appeared alongside my mother’s drawing. In the newspaper story, she explained, “You see, he has never seen, much less held his 11-month-old son.  So, to fulfill his desires as best I could, I sketched this picture of him holding his own flesh and blood.” Wanda also added “We write each other every day and the mail arrives on an average of once a month, so, at times, I get as many as 30 letters in one day.”

In addition to this newspaper clipping, the memorial contains several letters that JJ wrote, including the letter that tipped off Wanda about his destination in the war.  Before JJ left for army training, they discussed that letters would be censored (“Idle Gossip Sinks Ships” was stamped at the bottom of his army stationary). So my father devised a code: when he knew the location of his war assignment, the first word of that letter to my mother would indicate the country by the initial letter of the word.  JJ’s letter dated on November 11, 1942 began “Incidentally, as you know all my letters in the future and as of now are subject to censor….” He intended to signal that he would be stationed in Iceland, but my mother in a panic thought the letter “I” stood for Italy and that JJ was headed to the fierce combat.

A final item that I included in the memorial was a harmonica.  As the story goes, when my father arrived home to be welcomed by my mother and the 2 ½ year-old son, a son he had never seen in person, my young brother clung nervously to my mother’s dress, fearful of this tall, strange man with the booming voice. My father crouched down and dropped the duffle bag from his shoulder. As he unzipped the bag, he brought out a shiny harmonica, blew across it, and handed this magical, musical object to his son, winning him over.

This memorial was created as an example for a student writing contest that the library is sponsoring this fall, inviting students to create their own memorial or collection of things that have a special significance.  Students will then be encouraged to write a short essay or poem about how this collection is meaningful to them or suggests a special moment in history. In creating my own memorial, I rediscovered the importance of the bonds of love in the face of separation, and I realized that creativity can defeat challenging hurdles. Memorials can help us connect to our shared humanity; as author and historian David McCullough often states, “history is about people, history is about being human.”

Curation and Curiosity

Cabinet of Curiosities

The librarian’s role as curator was the topic of a TxLA conference session by Joyce Valenza. For anyone who has attended one of Joyce’s high-energy presentations, you know that you leave with your brain whirling with new ideas. This session on curation was timely because the new AASL standards feature curation:

Curate: Make meaning for oneself and others by collecting, organizing, and sharing resources of personal relevance.

Here are four curation tools that I plan to explore this summer. My goal is to curate resources for students and also guide students as curators:

Google Custom Search
Combine the power of a Google Search with the expertise of a librarian assembling the websites for students to search. The Google Custom Search box can be embedded on your library resource page.  I plan to explore further the option to register as an educational nonprofit to turn off ads on the Google Search boxes.

Symbaloo Gallery
Here is a Symbaloo that I created to begin curating resources for Copyright and Fair Use, Digital Citizenship, and Media and News Literacy.

Pearltrees
Visually organize content in grids.  Here is an example of Joyce Valenza’s Pearltree and a blog by Richard Byrne about Pearltrees (FreeTech4Teachers).

TES Teach with Blendspace
Bring together videos, photos, and documents into a visual grid that encourages exploring resources.

I have also assembled a list of suggested books that can be used to introduce our students to the idea of curation and promote its value in the research process.

Young Readers
The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell by Candace Fleming (picture book biography)
Author Fleming dramatizes a true moment in the life of artist Joseph Cornell: as a young boy, Joey was fascinated by collecting things and he organized a special ticketed event for friends and family to view his collections.

Beatrix Potter by Alexandra Wallner (picture book biography)
This is my favorite version of Potter’s young life because it shows her fascination with exploring nature and desire to be a scientist. Unable to pursue this scientific field because she was a woman in the Victorian Period, she turned her love of nature to creating delightful drawings for the Peter Rabbit tales.

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman (picture book)
A grandfather shares his special matchboxes with his granddaughter. Each matchbox contains a small object that marks a moment in his immigrant story.

Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis (fiction)
A young child explores a grandmother’s collection of pennies; the year on each penny designates significant events in the grandmother’s life.

Middle School Readers
What Darwin Saw: The Journey that Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer (Biography) . Darwin’s natural collections and observations in his notebooks fueled his scientific theories.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Darlene R. Stille This historical look at the expedition of Lewis and Clark includes primary source drawings and diary entries from Lewis and Clark’s journal.

Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange by Elizabeth Partridge
Dorothea Lange’s documentation of social issues through her photos is a great example of sharing important ideas with an audience.

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
This fiction story is loosely based on an Outsider artist whose cast-off sculpture assemblages were exhibited at the Smithsonian. A young boy is assigned community service with this “junk man,” and the boy begins to find personal healing as he assists in gathering the pieces for the sculpture.

High School Readers
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
In this historical fiction novel, a teenage girl is assigned to community service, assisting an elderly woman in cleaning out her attic. What they discover together is a treasure trove of memories of the elderly woman’s experience as an orphan train child.

The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom
by John F. Baker, Jr. As a seventh grader, Baker discovered a photo in his history textbook
that depicted slaves on the Wessyngton Plantation. The people in the photo were his
grandmother’s grandparents, and it prompted Baker to begin a life-long project of collecting oral history interviews and photographs that were later assembled as part of a special exhibit at the Tennessee History Museum.

Cabinet of Curiosities by Guillermo del Toro
Director Guillermo del Toro surrounds himself with curiosities and collections that help to inspire him in his movie projects. This book is filled with his sketches, journal entries, and collections from his estate that inspire his imaginative works.

Looking forward to hearing your ideas on how librarians can engage students’ curiosity and encourage their desire to become curators of knowledge.

Bibliography for Image
Georg Hainz Cabinet of Curiosities. Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. quest.eb.com/search/109_111663/1/109_111663/cite.
Accessed 5 May 2018.

Magical Portals for Research

“A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”
Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time (from Amazon.com)

Searching a special collections archive can at times feel as mind-boggling as finding the wrinkles that lead you to another time dimension. How do you find those “magical portals,” entry points to archives, and simplify daunting site navigation? Though the role of librarians has evolved from that of “gatekeeper,” “gatekeeper” does have a metaphysical ring to it–conjuring up a scene from Monty Python in which you must correctly answer the riddle posed by the bridge keeper or risk being hurtled into the abyss. The challenge for librarians is to identify entry points and model search strategies, thereby minimizing frustration and building students’ skills as independent researchers.

Here are a few favorite “magical portals” and search strategies that our students have been using to enrich their research with primary sources and scholarly articles:

Science Research: Engines of Our Ingenuity and Topics in Chronicling America
Fifth graders have been exploring the lives of scientists and inventors and applying design thinking to their research. Challenged to find examples of how society reacted to the science discoveries, students used the podcast articles from Engines of Our Ingenuity, written and hosted by Dr. John Lienhard in association with the University of Houston and Houston Public Media. One student unearthed a gem in the article “Darwin Boards the Beagle.” Darwin was close friends with the captain of the Beagle at the beginning of the journey, but as the captain learned more about Darwin’s evolving theories, they collided with the captain’s own beliefs in the Bible and he become an enemy, participating in debates in Oxford to discredit Darwin. This article provided the student with an example of how society’s beliefs conflicted with Darwin’s discoveries.

Search strategy: Rather than using the Engines of Our Ingenuity search box, an Advanced Google search provided more specific results.
(Bound phrase search) “engines of our ingenuity” Darwin

Topics in Chronicling America links historic newspapers themed to topics such as famous persons and events in Science and Technology. This is a much easier way for young researchers to navigate the Chronicling America archived newspapers through the Library of Congress.

Search strategy: Select a topic, such as Invention of the Telephone, and click on newspaper article “A Wonderful Invention.” Scan the paper for red highlighted word and use the box finder tool to zoom in and read this article about how Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his telephone to an enthusiastic audience.

History Research: JSTOR Daily
Seventh graders researched social reformers of the 1800s and were challenged to connect these reform movements to modern reform initiatives. In searching for articles on Laura Bridgman, the first blind and deaf girl to learn how to read and write, we discovered JSTOR Daily, an online publication that puts contemporary issues in historic context using research from the journals archived in JSTOR. The Laura Bridgman article, for example, explored the changing views towards special education.

Search Strategy: A bonus to these JSTOR Daily articles is that they link to JSTOR journal articles. For instance, the Laura Bridgman article linked to a JSTOR journal article about Dr. Howe’s educational methods in teaching Laura to read and write.

Language Arts: Constitution Daily, Circulation Now, and New York Times Archives
Eighth grade Language Arts students incorporated primary sources as they researched US History topics. Several museums and newspaper archives have online articles to highlight their collections and provide easier access to the content. Below are just a few examples:

Constitution Daily blog showcases content from the National Constitution Center. The Scopes Trial article provides historic context to the trial as well as links to a Tennessee House Bill on Teaching Science (2011).

Search strategy: Rather than using the Constitution Daily search box, an Advanced Google search provided more specific results.
(Bound phrase search) “scopes trial” site:constitutioncenter.org

Circulation Now blog links historic items from the US National Library of Medicine (NIH).  The “Heart Surgery on Film” article discusses the work of one of the first female heart surgeons, Dr. Nina Braunwald, and the blog was written by a library graduate student, Rachel James.

Search Strategy: I used this article by Rachel James to model search strategies and resources that Rachel used to develop her research on heart surgery.

New York Times Archive themes articles to famous events and provides links to historic newspapers. This article on the Three Mile Island disaster links to a newspaper article written at the time. Though you need to be a subscriber to view the historic newspapers, the featured articles often contain specific examples from the primary source newspaper.

Search Strategy: Use Advanced Google search
site:nytimes.com archives “three mile island”

These are just a few of the “magical portals” that have opened up new ways for students to navigate archives. Rather than a straight path, research requires searchers to remain curious and experiment with search strategies. As Madeleine L’Engle observed in A Wrinkle in Time, “experiment is the mother of knowledge.”

Thinking Like Leonardo

In the “Should it be STEM or STEAM” debate, no one is a better poster child of how Science and Art complement each other than Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo’s journals are filled with close observations of nature and the human body, as well as engineering drawings and notes detailing inventions, such as the precursors to the submarine, tank, and machines of the air.

Our students will be exploring how to think like the Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci in preparation for a writing workshop with Diane Stanley, author of the biographies Leonardo and Michelangelo. Following are a few curricular collaborations that highlight the genius of two Renaissance thinkers and creators, Leonardo and Michelangelo.

Leonardo’s Journals
Librarian Eve Zehavi will guide fourth graders as they discuss quotes from Leonardo’s journals and look closely at his sketches to determine what Leonardo emphasized about the act of thinking and creating.

How do you think like Leonardo?
How do you see like Leonardo?
How do you problem solve like Leonardo?

These are just some of the questions fourth graders will ponder as they reflect on quotes and sketches. Selecting one of Leonardo’s quotes and relating it to journal sketches, students will write a reflective paragraph using the model of “A Quote Sandwich:”

Top Bun of “Quote” Sandwich
(1) introduce the speaker and the quote

The “Meat”
(2) state the quote

Bottom Bun
(3) summarize the quote in your own words and connect to meaning of the quote based on sketches and designs in Leonardo’s journals.

Here is a reflective paragraph example that will be shared with students. Color coding shows parts of the “Quote Sandwich” and an image from Leonardo’s journal is selected to match the quote:

Painting Competition:
Leonardo and Michelangelo’s Battle Scenes

Our sixth graders have been studying the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and have been reading about the ancient artists and engineers who created them. One ancient artist, Scopas, created a famous scene of Amazons battling Greek soldiers, which appears on columns of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.  A history article described Scopas as a “Michelangelo of the Renaissance.”   Discovering this comparison became the impetus to have students compare and contrast this Greek artist’s battle scene with famous battle scenes by Leonardo and Michelangelo.

In one of the most famous painting competitions of the Renaissance, Leonardo and Michelangelo were each challenged to paint a battle scene glorifying the history of Florence. The paintings were to be on opposite walls of the same room of a Florentine republic council chamber. Leonardo was an older, established artist, and Michelangelo was a young, 25-year-old talented sculptor; both artists disliked each other and were very disparaging of each other’s artwork (Isaacson 367).  Author Diane Stanley depicts this painting battle in her two books Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this article from The Guardian will also be shared with our sixth graders.

I collaborated with the history and ELA teachers to develop primary source images and articles so that students can analyze these artworks to discuss comparisons. The history teacher, Cori Beach, will have students connect what they observed earlier in Egyptian art of a Kushite and Nubian battle scenes to the more realistic portrayal of soldiers in battle by the Greek artist Scopas. Donna Baughman, ELA teacher, will guide students to look closely at the artworks and to write in their journals brainstormed action verbs that help describe these battle scenes, such as the following:


Greek figures in the Scopas battle scene “lunging,” “stumbling,”


Expressive face of soldier by Leonardo described as “glaring” and “screaming”


Figures in the Michelangelo battle scene “twisting,” “arms thrusting”

Students will also make a list of transition words and bring these brainstorming journals with them to the writing workshop. Using this structure (adapted from Owl Writing Lab), students will write a comparison/contrast essay during the Writing Workshop with author Diane Stanley:

  • First: discuss how the Scopas battle scene is similar to either Leonardo’s or Michelangelo’s battle scene (and use specific examples and descriptive words).
  • Second: discuss how the Scopas and Renaissance battle scenes are different (and use specific examples and descriptive words).
  • Third: discuss characteristics of Scopas’ style (Hellenistic art) and evolving characteristics in Michelangelo’s or Leonardo’s art style (Renaissance, Humanistic art).

Looking Closely
We are excited to see how our fourth and sixth graders look closely at primary source images and quotes and connect to “Thinking Like Leonardo” and “Thinking Like Michelangelo” in this Writing Workshop. See below for further Leonardo resources to explore:

Treatise on Painting
(Leonardo’s notes on painting assembled and copied by his assistant, Francesco Melzi, and printed in 1651–Leonardo died in 1519)
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46915/46915-h/46915-h.htm

Math and Science Activities for Leonardo
http://www.loc.gov/loc/kidslc//LGpdfs/leo-teacher.pdf

Math Forum: Leonardo da Vinci Math Activity
http://mathforum.org/alejandre/frisbie/math/leonardo.html

Da Vinci: The Genius
(Museum of Science, Boston)
https://www.mos.org/leonardo/

Inventions Activity Quiz
https://www.mos.org/leonardo/activities/inventions-quiz

Mirror Writing (Writing Backwards)
https://www.mos.org/leonardo/activities/mirror-writing

Books:
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson (for adult readers)
Leonardo da Vinci by Diane Stanley
Michelangelo by Diane Stanley

Article:
“And the Winner Is…” by Jonathan Jones (discusses the
painting contest between Leonardo and Michangelo)
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/oct/22/artsfeatures.highereducation

Bibliography for Images:
Hamburger Low Polygon. Clip Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/186_1628980/1/186_1628980/cite. Accessed 27 Dec 2017.

Botanical table by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), drawing 237. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/126_142634/1/126_142634/cite. Accessed 5 Jan 2018.

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus: The Amazon Frieze. British Museum.
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=540053001&objectId=460564&partId=1
Accessed 27 Dec 2017.

Leonardo, Heads of Warriors, Study. Photo. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/109_223586/1/109_223586/cite. Accessed 27 Dec 2017.

Michelangelo. Battle of Cascina. 1504. Fordham Art History.
Fordham University. https://michelangelo.ace.fordham.edu/items/show/12
Accessed 7 Dec 2017.

Leonardo da Vinci. c. 1514. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 31 Aug 2017.  quest.eb.com/search/140_1809909/1/140_1809909/cite. Accessed 7 Dec 2017.

Launching an Idea Wall

This year, new school construction provided opportunities for our middle school library.
A library office and workspace disappeared to create a hallway connecting the new lower school building to the middle school building. It felt like the old adage…”it’s not like we’re losing a daughter, we’re gaining a son.” The equation for the new library design might be the following:

new library spaces (hallway) + increased traffic (both lower and middle school students) =
literacy education opportunities

Installing large whiteboard Idea Walls along one side of this new hallway was a design that quickly took shape, but with every new opportunity is a challenge:

How do you prevent the Idea Wall from becoming a static space–a glorified bulletin board–and instead create a public space that ignites ideas, promotes discussions, encourages interactions, and makes visible a culture of learning in the school community? Here are a few ways the library has launched the Idea Wall.

Opening the Doors to Imagination


We began with a themed slogan at the top of the Idea Wall,
“Open the Doors to … Imagination,”
and Alice in Wonderland illustrations by Tenniel framed one large panel of the Idea Wall. Our school community was invited to write the titles of their favorites books featuring magical portals or doors as an important part of the storyline. We also had a Literary Door contest.  Students, faculty, administrators, and even visiting alumni had fun adding the title of their favorite books to the Idea Wall.

Exploring an Author’s Book


October’s Idea Wall theme was created by students in the Literary Magazine class to help promote our Book Fair Author, Allan Wolf, who wrote a novel in verse about the sinking of the Titanic, The Watch that Ends the Night. Students used the rich back matter of this book to create a “match-the-statistics” on survivors in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd classes, as well as write the names of countries of those on board the fated ship (these country names were written in a wave-like pattern beneath the ship). Blue-toned post-it notes featured the names of people and quotes, and viewers were invited to match the person’s name to the poem excerpt that described this character’s point of view. A final section of the Titanic Idea Wall featured a poem from the book and invited students to find words that showed onomatopoeia as well as words and phrases that used analogy or vivid language.

Writing Contests
November’s Idea Wall was also designed by the Literary Magazine students. Using the door theme again, fifteen door images were selected by the students (using Britannica Image Quest) and the students wrote writing prompts for each image. The school community was encouraged to select a door image that makes them curious, and write a poem, descriptive paragraph, or short story based on the writing prompt. The Literary Magazine editors will judge the entries, and winners will enjoy a pizza lunch with our January writing workshop author, Diane Stanley, as well as have the writing piece published in the Literary Magazine. Below is one example of an imaginative doorway image and writing prompt.

Thinking about Thinking
The second whiteboard panel along the library hallway invites viewers to “Think about Thinking.”  The first installation was titled “Thinking Fast and Slow,” and professional books were displayed tied to this theme: Making Thinking Visible, The Shallows, and I Read It But I Don’t Get It.

A Venn diagram and laptop screen graphics encouraged viewers to add their experiences of when they think fast/think slow when using print sources or the internet. Though this first installation did not get interaction from students, fellow teachers liked having a space to highlight metacognition and thinking strategies. This year our faculty meets once a week in PLC groups, and one of the PLC groups reserved the Idea Wall in October to display an interactive Growth Mindset board and also displayed fiction and nonfiction books themed to “grit” and “growth mindset.” It was wonderful to have this Idea Wall space spearheaded by other faculty, and I anticipate that the PLC groups will take turns highlighting their learning on this portion of the Idea Wall. This also provides a great way to showcase our professional book collection to teachers!

New Directions for the Idea Wall
Modular furniture has been ordered for the library hallway opposite the Idea Wall, and I envision that this will make the space even more inviting for students. Faculty have been encouraged to reserve the wall space if they wish to brainstorm ideas connected to their curriculum, and once a few initiators try this out, I think more faculty and students will take advantage of using this space.

I look forward to hearing how your school incorporates Idea Walls to ignite ideas.

Additional Resources:
This past summer I attended STLinSTL hosted by MICDS, and educator Lynn Mittler’s session on Design Thinking provided the following resources:

Design Thinking for Educators
This free Design Thinking toolkit includes Map Frameworks (maps to group thinking/data, as an alternative to a Venn Diagram).

Ideo U
Resources and workshops on Design Thinking

Book Resource:
Creating Cultures of Thinking, by Ron Ritchhart

Britannica Image Quest Citation:
Nanniebots. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. quest.eb.com/search/132_1304503/1/132_1304503/cite. Accessed 12 Sep 2017.

 

Books of Hope and Resilience

“Hope” is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.                                                                                                                                    Emily Dickinson

The natural disasters caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma challenged local residents and people across the nation to respond quickly and compassionately.  As a librarian who finds inspiration and hope in stories, here are reflections on recent events in Houston and suggestions of 3 book themes that illustrate hope and resilience.

Theme 1: Problem Solving Keeps Hope Afloat
Nationwide people responded quickly to solve logistics of supplying help and aid.  The parent organization at my Houston school, Annunciation Orthodox School, set up a SignupGenius to send email alerts for a particular family’s needs, such as cleanup, making meals, picking up laundry, etc.  Most requests were filled within the hour of the email alert, and individual volunteers managed their own signup duty.

Book Suggestions:
What Do You Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada
Picture book shows a young child buffeted by the storms of a problem.The child changes the perspective of fear to one of determination, facing the problem as an opportunity to make a difference.

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
A grandmother helps a young girl overcome her fear of a looming thunderstorm by involving her in assembling the ingredients for a “thunder cake.”  In this shared creative activity, the granddaughter’s fears are calmed.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
“I went to sleep dreaming of Malawi, and all the things made possible when your dreams are powered by your heart.”  In the midst of poverty and famine, William
sees the problems of Malawi and invents a solution: a windmill to generate electricity and pump water. Using pictures of a windmill from a donated school textbook (Using Energy) and inventively assembling discarded scraps and a bicycle dynamo generator, William successfully creates the windmill.  Read more on his blog.

Theme 2: Helping Provides Healing
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, huge garbage trucks rolled in from San Antonio and Austin to pick up flood debris; volunteers provided meals, clothing, and shelter; and crews from Louisiana’s Cajun Navy and Tennessee’s first responder teams joined local emergency crews and local residents with boats to rescue stranded flood victims. Images, videos, and shared stories of these amazing efforts inspired us.

Book Suggestions:
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearshall
“Some angels are like peacocks. Others are less flashy. Like city pigeons. It all depends on the wings.” An angry and emotionally distraught teen, Arthur T. Owens, is assigned to community service with a trash picker, James Hampton. As Arthur helps James assemble this trash into a beautiful artwork, the teen finds hope and healing in his own life and discovers that beauty and angels of hope can be found in unlikely places. (Based on the life of outsider artist James Hampton.)

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
“Perhaps the seeds of redemption lay not just in perseverance, hard work, and rugged individualism. Perhaps they lay in something more fundamental—the simple notion of everyone pitching in and pulling together.” The American Olympic rowing team, competing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, discover the importance of “the boat,” the joined efforts and shared love that can overcome impossible odds.

Theme 3: Creating Places of Hope and Refuge
Important to easing distress and fears is the creation of places of hope and refuge. The Houston Convention Center, church halls, family homes, and our schools were just some of the places transformed into shelters for flood victims and families. These temporary havens of safety allowed victims time to rest as they rebuilt their lives.

Book Suggestions:
Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack
In the segregated South of the 1950s, a young girl looks forward to a trip to go “Someplace Special.”  Passing benches marked “Whites Only” and riding in the back of a segregated bus, the young Tricia Ann arrives at her “special” place, the Nashville Public Library that bears the sign “All are Welcome.”

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
In 1911, a fourteen-year-old girl, Joan, flees from her cruel father and the bleak future of farm life. Seeking a new life in Baltimore, Joan is stranded on the streets of a strange city until a kind man invites Joan to work for his Jewish family as a hired girl.  What follows is a series of funny and charming misadventures as Joan, with her Catholic upbringing, blends her life and future goals with this compassionate Jewish family.

Please share your favorite books of hope and resilience. Thank you for using stories to lift spirits of those in distress.

Weaving Literature into Science: Novel Engineering

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.  I wove my webs for you because I liked you….By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
                                                                                    Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte, the spider who saves Wilbur’s life by weaving remarkable words into her web, is the perfect literary analogy for Novel Engineering, a new movement in literacy that seeks to engage students in design thinking and engineering through an integration with works of literature.

Charlotte, as a design thinker, empathizes with and defines Wilbur’s problem (being slaughtered); she then brainstorms a series of words that could be spun in her web to show Wilbur as a remarkable pig. The word “crunchy,” supplied at first by Templeton the Rat, is quickly rejected for more appropriate words, Some Pig! and Charlotte spins her first web prototype. Charlotte continues to test her web prototype by building other webword designs: Terrific, Radiant, and Humble. The end result is that Charlotte solves Wilbur’s problem by saving his life, even as her own life as a spider comes to an end. Her reflection on the engineering process–that by helping Wilbur, “it lifted her life a trifle”–is an inspiring commentary on how good design can better the lives of others.

This summer I attended a Novel Engineering workshop at the STLinSTL
conference hosted by MICDS in St. Louis. The workshop presenters, Christy Moore (MICDS) and Monette DeSimone (City Academy), introduced attendees to Novel Engineering, an initiative that states its objective as follows:

Students use existing classroom literature–stories, novels, and expository texts–as the basis for engineering design challenges that help them identify problems, design realistic solutions, and engage in the Engineering Design Process while reinforcing their literacy skills.


The workshop immersed attendees in the Novel Engineering process. We listened to the children’s book Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! and defined the problem to solve: a farmer’s garden is being eaten by hungry rabbits.

Working in teams of two to three, we used a Novel Engineering planning sheet to state the problem; identify the client (either the farmer or the rabbit); suggest a plan; and sketch an initial design.

 

Selecting an assortment of materials–such as paper cups, clay, tongue depressors, straws, and tape–we constructed our design.  My team chose the farmer as our client, and we built a hydroponic device designed to keep the growing plants at a height unreachable by the hungry rabbits. After making a rough sketch, the design had to be tweaked so that the support stilts would securely hold the hydroponic structure (a triangular base of tongue depressors held the cone-shaped hydroponic device the best).

We revised our plan and sketched the new design and finished assembling the device (note in the photo that we also built pipes and a water tank to supply water to the hydroponic plants). Each team then presented their engineered solution (some teams chose the rabbits as clients and created catapult devices to assist the rabbits in quick entry to the garden food). Below is an example of the Novel Engineering planning sheet.


The Novel Engineering process could be easily adapted in a library setting, and it addresses several AASL standards:

1.2.5 Demonstrating adaptability by changing the inquiry focus.
1.2.6 Questions and display emotional resilience by persisting in information             searching despite challenges.

This project could be further enriched by requiring students to research background for their design, such as what types of hydroponic devices are currently being used. The conference presenters videotaped their students as they presented their engineered designs; the engagement and enthusiasm of the students was very apparent.

Below are a few resources as you consider weaving literature and the sciences in Novel Engineering.

Novel Engineering Suggested Book List and Activities

TED Talk by Amos Winter (shows refining a design to meet a client’s needs:
an inexpensive, all terrain wheel chair that works in wind and sand)

Crash Course Kids:  What is an Engineer?

Crash Course Kids:  The Engineering Process