Friday, March 27, 2009

Is the Newbery Award Turning Kids off from Reading?...and my Read Aloud Choice

Picking a Read Aloud book for my 5th grade class is always tricky. I've had the students nominate books and then vote on them, but the problem with that is we usually end up with books that the majority of the kids have already read. Lately I've been choosing books that I think they'll enjoy. I've chosen novels that I enjoyed as a kid, books that I know my students liked in the past, and selected books that deal with themes that I notice have struck a chord with many of my students.

I think the best selection I've made was Esperanza Rising. It has everything that makes a great book for me- a captivating plot, characters that the students can relate with, skilled writing and deep themes that lend themselves to good conversations and analysis.

At this age, a book has to be a good read. As 5th graders, the students are still cultivating a love for reading. If a book has a deep message, but the actual story doesn't grab them then it is lost on them. That has happened a few times with the read alouds I've chosen.

Interestingly, this is a critique that some people have lobbed at the American Library Association's recent selections of Newbery Award winners. Children's literary expert Anita Silvey argues that so many of the recent Newbery Award recipients have been too difficult and inaccessible that it is contributing to the decline in reading amongst youth. You could say that the book are more of what adults wish children would read, instead of what they want to read.

The ALA claims that the Newbery was never about popularity in the first place, it's about making a significant contribution to children's literature. I agree with Silvey when she counters that you can have both quality and readability in a book and that that is what the Newbery winners should have.

Over the Spring Break I re-read The Giver by Lois Lowry and for the first time read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Both won Newbery Awards, so which one am I going with? Well, in the end I've decided to go with the one I think my students will enjoy and encourage them to think deeply about questions around death, fulfillment and grief. While The Giver brings up great moral dilemnas and is a wonderful segue into conversations around justice the book lacks strong character development and its ordered, bland dystopia sometimes lends to an ordered and bland read! As Jonas begins receiving memories the story incorporates vivid vignettes, but it's not enough to make the story captivating. By the time he embarks on his plan, we have not grown to know him, Gabe nor The Giver well enough to really be drawn fully into the story.

At the end of the day, I want my students to love literature. That's why this time around I'm going with Walk Two Moons. Sorry Lois Lowry, maybe next time we'll pick up Number the Stars.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Food that Affects Your Pee- Part 2: Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is made by culturing the yeast with a mixture of sugarcane and beet molasses (hey, beets!). The yeast is then harvested, washed, dried and then packaged. Usually it's available in the form of flakes and can be found in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores. A lot of vegans eat it because it tastes like cheese.

Well, actually I don't think it tastes like cheese, I think it tastes like gravy. It is, however, a good cheese substitute. It's also good on popcorn and you can just spread butter over a slice of bread and sprinkle it on. There's this hippy commune called The Farm that came out with a cookbook. They use it in almost every recipe and they're all delicious.

Also, it turns your pee neon yellow. It looks like Gatorade. The reason for the fluorescent color is that nutritional yeast is loaded with B12 and there is no way your body can absorb all of the B12, so it ends up tinting your urine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where Education and Assimilation Collide

My linguistics professor told us about a feature the New York Times is running entitled Where Education and Assimilation Collide. It's a really interesting look into different schools that are being affected by the shifting trends in immigration. The first school featured is a high school that was once predominately white and upper class whose demographics have shifted quickly with a housing boom and the construction jobs that it brought.

Now the community and local schools are trying to figure out how to respond. There has definitely been racist backlash to the new immigrants, with some leading the charge to pass anti-immigrant legislation. The way the schools are dealing with it is interesting. Immigrants are essentially tracked in separate classes where they are prepped for the state tests. On one hand it's helping the students pass the grade and get their diploma, but it has also set up a highly segregated school environment. It also raises questions of how well the schools are preparing immigrant students to the actual world when so much emphasis is placed on teaching to the test.

Educators are stuck in many ways when it comes to teaching English Language Learners. In Colorado, for example, every student regardless of language status must take the CSAP (state standardized test) in English. So I have one student who just moved from Mexico in October and she had to take CSAP in English. She's really bright and has made amazing strides in just a few months, but she will still almost certainly receive an Unsatisfactory score because her English has not progressed to grade level (of course!). Still, when it comes to our school making their mandated goals, that will still come up as Unsatisfactory. There is nothing to distinguish that this is from a student who just came to the US or the fact that she has made amazing gains in the course of a few months. Schools are basically penalized for having high ELL populations. Then funding is stripped, when the opposite should be happening. And on and on....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fly Birdman Fly!

Chris Andersen, AKA Birdman, is by far my favorite player on the Denver Nuggets. He is part bad boy part goofiest person ever. At first Whitney couldn't stand him because he's so dang cocky. However, the fact that he is so awkward makes his hard persona endearing.

On the 8th of April I went to the Nuggets game with Dad, Whitney, Vernon and my friends Duncan and Chad. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-112. Before leaving, Whitney made me a makeshift Birdman mask. Here it is-

Lucky for me, the Andersen had another huge night- snagging 9 boards and blocking a ridiculous seven shots, more than the rest of the team combined. In fact, Andersen is second in the league behind Dwight Howard for the most blocks per game. This is pretty insane considering the fact that he only plays an average of 20 minutes a night. He averages 5.68 blocks per 48 minutes of play, two more than Howard.

Simply type Birdman into youtube and you will come up with countless tribute remixes to him. You'll also see some nasty blocked shots. Here are two of my favorite- this one he is hit in the stomach as he blocks a shot, then recovers and proceeds to get two more consecutive blocks in the same possesion

Then there is the time he swats Rudy Fernandez in the face. Talk about insult to injury.

and here is the Birdman himself-

The guy has had his share of setbacks in life.

Foods that Affect Your Pee Part 1- Beets

The other day I was going to the bathroom and it was all red. I started to freak out until I realized I had eaten a bunch of beets the day before. I remember my English teacher telling the class about this college prank where the Chemistry geeks made an elixir they gave to the jocks which made their pee turn bright blue. The jocks were mortified when they looked at the toilet bowl after they had done their business.

Here is a preliminary research report on things that alter your pee. Right now I'm including things that alters color and smell. I don't think I could do taste or touch and if I could, that would probably push an already kind of gross project over the edge.

If anyone has suggestions on foods I can research, leave a comment.

As previously mentioned, beets will turn your urine red. According to Wikipedia, "Betacyanin in beetroot may cause red urine in some people who are unable to break it down. This is called beeturia." [19] It says that beeturia only affects 10-15% of people. If so, that's crazy!! What?!? Am I in that 15 percentile? I thought it was totally normal. In the On-line Medical Dictionary it says that this happens to iron-deficient people, but can also happen to "normal people." I also found research saying that it might be a genetic disposition. Some people's stomachs can break down the dye, while other people can't. I suppose I could have an iron deficiency, but I have a feeling it's totally normal to have your pee turn red from beets. If I can figure out how to, I'm going to put up a survey. Please answer it! I want to know the answer to this!

Also, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have shown that the red beet-induced urine could help fight cancer! They explain that "beet pigments may boost levels of proteins, called phase II enzymes, that help detoxify potential cancer-causing substances and purge them from the body. " Well that's cool.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More Mystery for the Mystery Tin!

As I was putting the items back in the tin, I discovered this-

The name "Melissa G" written in white-out on the back of the calculator. Of course it wasn't sentimental! It wasn't even mine! This belongs to Melissa G. Ok, now this is extra mysterious because I am wracking my brain and cannot think of a Melissa G I know. There's Melissa Cassut, but that's the only Melissa I can think of. I think there was another Melissa in high school and we actually dated for like on week, but I am almost positive her last name did not start with a G. Maybe it is though? Did she give me her calculator as a sign of affection? Did I borrow it once? We only had Social Studies that wouldn't make sense. Maybe I swiped it after she dumped me. I don't think I'd do that though.

The Mystery of the Tin

One day I saw a white tin that had been sitting in our closet for a long time. There is nothing that could have prepared me for what I saw that day. The items you are about to see are assembled in such a random, logic-free way that it baffles the mind. I cannot find any connecting thread between them and half of the items I have no idea why I would even keep. Many of them possess no utility in the future, no sentimental value nor monetary value.

When I opened the tin, this is what I saw-

Here's an inventory of the tin:
-1 packet of paper made from banana fiber
-1 marble memo pocket notebook
-1 Memorex cd case
-1 Unit (in the style of OP Ivy) patch
-1 TI-30x solar powered calculator
-1 piece of petrified wood
-1 charger looking device
-1 empty cassette case
-1 YAC officer lanyard
-1 plug thing
-1 punk flyer for Life Rocks!
-35 Directionality Cards (for teaching)
-1 holographic pog slammer
-1 Crabapple Academy pen
-2 protractors (one semicircle and one triangle)
-1 weird wood thing I have no idea of its purpose
-1 swiss army pocketknife
-1 book of matches
-1 index card
-1 set of post-it note
-1 set of wires

Read more!

At first glance, it seemed as if it was a container of keepsakes, tucked away to invoke feelings of nostalgia. But quickly it becomes obvious that it's not that simple. For starters, there are plenty of non-sentimental things that were in this tin-
I don't even know what this is for. Definitely not something to preserve memories.

This calculator holds no significance to me whatsoever. It definitely wasn't the calculator I had in high school or college, so it doesn't hold emotional weight in even the most abstract sense.

Here's some more random antiquated electronic stuff. Some wire that I don't think I'll ever use.

There are a few things that I found that might be keepsakes, like some petrified wood which I can't remember getting. I'm thinking it's from the Petrified Forest , but then again I remember it being such a big deal to take things from there and my parents being pretty serious about us not snagging any for ourselves. There's also this little notebook, but I only wrote in 4 pages of it, mostly mundane things like grocery lists.

The one thing that could definitely be considered sentimental is a mixed tape from my good friend Amir. It's funny looking at the playlist-
Footsteps- Pearl Jam
One of my Lies- Green Day
Dominated Love Slave- Green Day
True Colors- Phil Collins
Crash Into Me- Dave Matthews Band
Lover Lay Down- Dave Matthews Band
Tripping Billies- Dave Matthews Band
Jimi Thing- Dave Matthews Band
Acoustic Medley- Bob Marley
Wishlist- Pearl Jam
Generator- Bad Religion
I Want to Conquer the World- Bad Religion
Saw Red- Sublime
Foolish Fool- Sublime
Mary/Big Salty Hans- Sublime

That must have been when we first became friends because of the lack of good bands on there. I HATE Dave Matthews. We can see that he is just beginning to dabble in punk, which was our staple growing up (well and I listened to a lot of ska....)

It's totally bizarre. There's also the small grouping of office supply related items. The calculator, as mentioned, the protactors, the single index card, a pen... But for one, none of them are really things I'd ever use. I already have several calculators. A single index card, really? Why would I keep that?!?! and the almost used up post-it notes? And two protractors. I never use a protractor ever. I never ever need to measure angles for anything in my life except when I am teaching Math at school.

Going off themes though, I could organize them into some categories.

-things to write on: 4
-things to help calculate stuff: 3
-punk related: 2 1/2 (the mixed tape kind of counts)
-weird electronic paraphernalia- 4
-misc. items whose function is unknown- 3

Another impressive fact that adds to the odd nature of this find is where these things came from. The banana paper came from Costa Rica and I took the directionality cards to Mexico for my assignment teaching English. Add that to the United States and we have three countries represented. And neither the banana paper or cards I particularly care about!!

And that's what makes this so puzzling. So many items in here are things I care nothing about. Take for example, the punk flyer. I never went to this show. It was the Shorebirds with Life Rocks! It would have been fun and wanted to go, but I didn't care that much about missing it. I've had in my possessions hundreds of punk flyers and I don't think I have any of them anymore. Why on Earth did I keep this one?!?!?

There is one item that I was really excited to find- the metal slammer used in the game Pogs with the holographic skull on it. You would use the slammer to flip pogs over. The player was able to keep whichever pogs they successfully flipped over (and consequentially lost all the ones that didn't flip). That slammer was sweet! Alas, just as my slammer and I were discovering our amazing power together the game went out of style and I was left with this hunk of metal. At least the hunk of metal had a cool holographic skull!!

So the mystery lives on. I'm going to keep every item in there, just as I found it because it seems amazing that so many unrelated items could find themselves in the same place. I don't remember packing that tin at all. Did my mom just throw whatever was left in my bedroom into the tin? Was it put together hastily as I moved somewhere? I cannot say. If I find out, I will definitely make another post that people won't read. Ha!

New Discovery: Sitting Up

Cambria can finally sit up on her own!! Sitting up is a big milestone. She is so much happier now for it. Take for example, right now. She's sitting up hitting her Learning Drum and cooing. Before she could sit up she would lay on her back, roll on to her tummy and then get sad.

In the book Natural Childhood, they explain that "her limbs become further differentiated in their movements as she crawls, rises on to all fours and sits unsupported. This is usually attained by the eighth month. The setting position offers a new view of life. She can reach for, and grasp, objects and bring one moveable object into contact with another. She can beat the table with a spoon..."

New Discovery: Words

I am pretty sure that Cambria knows two words now. "Mama" and "to nurse." The mama word is verbal and she says over and over "Mamamamama," usually when she's hungry. The nurse word is actually a baby sign where she curls her hand over and over. Usually she'll do both "mamamamamama" and curl her little hand.

I thought "baba" was going to be first since it was the first noise she made, but looks like Mama won. She says Baba, but I don't think it's consistent enough to really know if she's talking about me or just babbling.