Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Science Bus

Warning! Long post ahead!

If it's March, it's time for the Rutgers Science Bus to park in the teacher's lot for three days, usually Tuesday through Thursday, for three grade levels. Last week was "science bus" time for grade seven. How is this related to a blog about children's literature? Another off-topic post, Brenda? Not quite.

Students in grades five, six and seven attend the science bus. It is a fully equipped science lab on wheels, staffed by science students from Rutgers. There's a curriculum menu for the middle school science teachers to choose from and the Rutgers teachers need what amounts to two class periods to present the lesson and give the kids (in groups of 20) hands-on experience. 

For grades five and six, this is not a problem as fifth graders spend full mornings with one teacher, who teaches social studies and language arts and afternoons with another who teaches math and science, or vice a versa. Sixth graders spend three periods a day with their language arts teachers (morning or afternoon), three traveling between social studies, math and science and one "special," art, music and physical education. 

Seventh graders do have two language arts periods each day, but they are split, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Additionally, most, not all take Spanish once a day, so the seventh grade team devised a special schedule. Since the grouping of students is a bit random and since a student might not have their regular LA teacher, nor take Spanish, nor have the "special" on a particular day, the classes could not continue its regular academics, but had to have some sort of educational value. There had to be eight different places for them to spend two consecutive periods.

Here's where I come in and this is what I did with them. The Friday before Science Bus week, I visited each language arts class to explain what they needed to bring to library on their library day.

I told them to, "think of your favorite picture book from when you were small. The picture book that you asked to have read to you or that you read over and over. The one that, when you see it today, elicits a, "Oh! I LOVED that book!" Find an image of it online and drag it to a word document." 

Next, think of your present favorite novel, the book that you rush to your friends saying, "OMG, this is the BEST book!" Find an image online and drag it into the word document." Then I showed them my sample, saying, "Both covers need to fit on one word document, like this."
Five O'Clock Charlie by Marguerite Henry is one of my favorite books from childhood. It is in tatters, but well-loved by me and still in my possession. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner is my new favorite YA of 2013. But, you already know that. I wanted the students to come in with the covers to save time and ink. My two printers are old and slow and glitchy. 

I have plenty of neon colored paper, markers, glue and a collection of those cool scissors that cut patterned edges. Physically cutting and pasting, as well as coloring has value, yes, even in seventh grade, but to add a bit of academic oomph, while the students were decorating, they also needed to come up with blurbs for their books. 

But first, they needed to know what blurbs are. I decided to segue into the lesson by reading them my new favorite picture book, Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. One is never to old for picture books and this one is a gem that would be as at home in a middle (even high school) library as it would be in a pre-school or elementary school library. 

I had as much fun reading it the eighth time as reading it the first. Each group gamely listened and everyone was delighted, though I must say many of the puns went right over their heads. 

Next, I showed the equally delightful book trailer and stopped the trailer to discuss each of the three starred reviews that were blurbed. I won't go into detail about the back and forth we had or which was my favorite and which didn't appeal to me, but the kids started to get what I was after. 

Then it was time for the Maggot Moon trailer. There was just one blurb on this one, but both the blurb and the trailer were so brilliant that I spent some time discussing it with each class. 

Finally, I showed them an example of how blurbs were extracted from reviews first by showing the blurb, in this case, Pie by Sarah Weeks, from the Scholastic web site, then by showing the full reviews in NoveList K - 8. (I chose it because the blurb that was chosen was from one of my SLJ reviews and waited to see if anyone noticed, teehee.)

Once they got to work creating their own blurbs and accompanying art, there was lots of energetic buzz in the room. Table-mates brainstormed blurbs, shared their titles and described why they chose them. Everyone seemed happy and interested in each other. It was satisfying and fun. 

I usually put all the pieces up on the bulletin boards each year and frequently spot students in all grades perusing the titles. This year, my boards are covered with fifth grade Ancient Civilizations projects, so I think I will string the "Then and Now" pieces together and hang them from the ceiling like neon mobiles.

I brought home a folder filled with my favorites, but this post is already way too long, so here are four particularly photogenic ones. 

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