Cinderella’s Window

Cinderella_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19993What would Cinderella see outside her window?

That depends.  Does she live in a small village in France, near the walled city of Great Zimbabwe, or in  the mountains of the Czech Republic?  Is it her fairy godmother or Godfather Snake she asks for help?  Cinderella might see the pumpkin patch from which her transformed carriage will come, or she might see a volcano with smoke rising from the top.  The wicked stepmother might keep Cinderella from visiting that castle down the hill, but then again, she might send her stepdaughter out to find violets in the snow.

Young children rarely have any perception that their own culture is not universal.  They assume that everyone dresses the same, eats the same foods, and celebrates the same holidays. Our first graders are working on a project–Cinderella’s Window–that will introduce the kids to the fascinating differences between countries, while understanding that some things–like storytelling–unite people the world over. There are lots of methods–history, world languages, maps, cooking–teachers can use to introduce children to the rich variety of ways people live, but folktales make a nice lens through which kids can begin to examine culture since so many traditional tales have been published in picture book form.

We decided to use Cinderella stories as the focal point for a project that will meet learning standards in Social Studies, English Language Arts, Information Literacy, and Technology. Our stories were drawn from around the world, with versions from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the Czech Republic, the Philippines, India, and France. We gathered nonfiction books on each country, and the page I made for our library wiki links to pictures, text, and audiovisual links for our students’ research.  You can see our book list, graphic organizer, and unit outline here.

The children began by hearing Cinderella versions from other cultures, and comparing them to the version most familiar to them (think stepmother, fairy godmother, and glass slipper.)  They are now using pictures, books, and websites to find out more about the countries where the stories were set. In another week, they’ll begin writing a paragraph that tells several facts about the country they’ve researched, and they’ll draw pictures of what a Cinderella character would see through the window.  The project will end with a field trip to the arts center at a local college, to see a play…Cinderella!


GAWeek09_Blog-a-thon_badgeI’ll be joining bloggers around the Web for the 2009 Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-thon, hosted by National Geographic’s My Wonderful World Campaign. Tune in to the My Wonderful World Blog November 15-21 for a daily dose of geographic news and jottings, photos, calls to action, a mystery location quiz, and more…

Stay cool, now…

Over 10,700 bloggers have joined in a global conversation so far today, and the number is still climbing as I write this.  It’s Blog Action Day–and the topic is climate change.

I spent some time this afternoon looking at kids’ resources on climate change.  Now, if I have a pet peeve about the publishing world, it’s the continuing lack of quality nonfiction for early elementary kids.  There have been some marvelous strides forward, don’t get me wrong–things have improved greatly in the last ten years.  But I still find myself at purchase order time, swearing under my breath as I scan library periodicals, publisher catalogs and vendor websites trying to find excellent nonfiction for my young students.  Science books in particular are a challenge to find–some authors dumb down material to the point that the material is erroneous or incomprehensible.

So it’s a pleasure to discover some great print resources on climate change for the K-6 crowd.

  • Spend some time reading the I.N.K. Blog: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids and you’ll find lots of children’s nonfiction to celebrate.  Marfe Ferguson Delano blogged on INK about her new book, Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World (National Geographic, 2009), describing the decisions she made about how she presented the facts of global warming.  The book scored a starred review from SLJ.
  • For a younger crowd, there’s the picture book format Polar Bear, Why is Your World Melting? by Robert Wells (Albert Whitman & Company, 2008).  One third grade teacher I know used this book last winter as part of a persuasive letter writing project–kids wrote letters outlining their ideas for cutting back on carbon emissions.
  • Another nonfiction picture book: Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? The Dangers of Global Warming, by Anne Rockwell (Harper Collins, 2006.)

Heaven knows there’s a ocean of information on the web about climate change–umm, a rising ocean, thanks to the melting of polar ice.  Here are a few rafts to cling to:

Stay cool, y’all.

UPDATE:  I should have mentioned two other website / blogs:  Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears:  An Online Magazine for K-5 Teachers and Meltfactor.org, the blog of Ohio State professor Jason Box.  I also just picked up the children’s picture book, Once I Was a Cardboard Box…But Now I’m a Book about Polar Bears! by Anton Poitier.  It just happened to be in the Scholastic Book Fair we’re hosting.  It’s a cute concept–the book is printed on paper made from…well, a recycled cardboard box.  The text has two “stories” side-by-side: the story of the life and threatened extinction of the polar bear, and the recycling of the paper on which the book is printed.

The official Blog Action Day count was 13,398 blogs from 155 countries.

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The incredible Taylor Mali: “I’ll Fight You for the Library!”

I’ve been a Taylor Mali fan for quite a while.  He’s a teacher / performer / slam poet whose poems depict the triumphs, joys, frustrations and defeats of the teaching profession.  Take a look at this YouTube Video, in which Mali tells what he describes as the true story of the e-mails sent to an administrator by a teacher irate at being denied access to the school library. It’s funny and moving all at once. 

I love the fact that this is a YouTube video (shiny visual social media) of a live performance (the original storytelling media) about an e-mail message (digital again!) from a teacher whose students are denied access to books (those papery objects that preceded iPods and Kindles.

You know, the stuff Cushing Academy discarded 🙂

Fighting mythical battles

Banned Books Week? How about Banned Resources Week? Overzealous internet filtering keeps students away from resources in the same way that censorship keeps books out of their hands–that’s the argument of this great post from WNY Education Associates.

No, I don’t want little kids to be exposed to pornography or graphic violence.  But isn’t there some kind of happy medium? Take, for example, the website of Dr. Temple Grandin, noted author & speaker on living with autism.  She herself is autistic.  For no good reason I can see, her website is blocked by at least one widely used internet filter.

A quote from the blog post I linked to above: “I would guess that engaging in mythical battles allows us to construct all sorts of impressive armor.”  Wholesale internet filtering gives people a toasty, safe, St. George kind of feeling, as if they’ve slain the dragons of privacy invasion, online predation, and dangerously different ideas.  But if all sites with any kind of chat or social interaction are banned, how do students learn to protect personal information? Kids who are never taught to think about their online profiles are the ones who will lose out on job opportunities when potential employers view ill-considered posts or compromising photos.  If students are banned from e-mail at school, who teaches them what to do with the unlovely spam they get? And if teachers, counselors, and administrators can’t access Facebook or other social sites from school computers, how will they even know if cyberbullying, suicidal intentions, or threats of violence or  have been posted by their students?

As Angela points out, the sense of security is a false one, anyway.  If you’re never taught to recognize danger, you won’t know it when you see it.

Here’s a great quote from a fantasy novel by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Her novels have nothing to do with internet filtering, but the words are right on target nonetheless:  innocence based in ignorance is unfit to protect itself.

The move to digital

Image courtesy of MorgueFile

Cushing Academy, a private school in Massachusetts, is making the move to a purely digital library–no more books.  Kids will access information only electronically.  The Library will have 18 e-readers for student use.

In general, the move toward digital information sources is a good one. Digital versions of books are often less than half the price of the library bound edition. E-books will never wear out, never get lost, never be chewed by a dog or left on the porch in the rain (though the e-readers will be, I imagine.) Students enjoy accessing information digitally–those that have them use cell phones and iPods and laptops and Kindles quite happily. Looking at the comparative weights of my daughters’ textbooks and a Kindle, I’m all for switching to digital.

Much of the reaction to the whole “coffee bar” idea comes from a sort of collective gasp over the cost. In a recession, with library budgets slashed, teacher positions cut, and families in financial crisis, it seems jaw-droppingly, over-the-top insane to spend that much money on a school coffee bar. (What would other schools do with $72,000?) However, this is not a school or a community in any financial difficulty. It’s their cash.

In the specific case, I cannot imagine why the administration (or the library staff) thought that 18 e-readers would be sufficient for a school with an enrollment of over 400. The $72,000 for the coffee bar would have purchased over 200 more e-readers. The original article did not address how kids without e-readers would access books. Perhaps, being the children of wealthy families, they all already have e-readers. Perhaps the library intends to license digital copies of the novels, poems, non-fiction, and reference books they’ve discarded. Perhaps.

A quick look at Amazon’s Kindle Store tells me they offer over 300,000 titles. The SONY e-Book Store looks to have a pretty comprehensive collection. But even the most cursory glance through what’s available show that there are holes. For example, Cushing will now have a school library with no Harry Potter books. I looked for the books our AP History kids read this summer, and discovered that you can’t get Salt, by Mark Kurlansky, in a digital edition.There are many, many more titles that exist only on paper. And–Cory Doctorow aside–I don’t see authors flocking to release their new works into the public domain or under Creative Commons license. And while many authors have licensed Kindle or e-book versions of their works, the books aren’t licensed for access on regular computers. If I’m a student with no e-reader, all the books in the Cushing library are closed books to me.

I also can’t quite imagine using an e-reader to read anything that relies heavily on graphics to support the text. Reading a graphic novel on a 6″ screen sounds like an exercise in frustration. And scrolling back and forth between an illustration of a physics experiment and the accompanying text doesn’t sound like a picnic, either.

It seems to me that there are still so many problems with access. The move to a purely digital library seems very, very, premature.

Some little sites for those big headaches

image courtesy of MorgueFile

Image courtesy of MorgueFile

Every job requires the right tools.  For getting things done on the web, sometimes you need the internet equivalent of a Swiss army knife– that’s when you go to Google apps or a fancy interactive tool (or call the help desk.)  And sometimes you just need a toothpick or a pair of tweezers–a little tool designed for just one thing.

I just saw a request pop up on Twitter that I see all the time, there and on LM_Net and other group sites.  Someone will ask about a particular website, “Is this site down? Or is it just me? Or my browser?”  I’ve actually e-mailed sites to report a problem, only to discover I needed to clear my cache or update my browser.  That’s when “Down for everyone or just me” comes in handy.  Go to the site, enter the URL you’re wondering about, et voilà! “Down for everyone” will check on your URL, and report back on the status of the site in question. Now you know if it’s you, or if the site is really down.

Another handy little site is TinyURL.com.  Everybody needs a good URL shortener–my e-mail program is always garbling web addresses, and it’ll save characters in Twitter messages.  The best feature of TinyURL is their little bookmarklet.  When you’re on a webpage with a long URL you need to shorten, just click on the bookmarklet in your browser bar, and you’ll automatically jump to a page with the now-shortened URL.

One last useful little site is FileInfo.com.  I come across file types I’m not familiar with all the time, largely because I hover wistfully at the edge of the true ocean of geekiness, but don’t jump in.  .flv? .odt? .csv? .notebook? If you have no clue whether your brother just sent you a movie or a spreadsheet, FileInfo will be able to tell you what kind of file it is.