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    Blast Off! Space Exploration and Literacy

    By Suzanne Slade
     | Mar 05, 2019

    computer-called-katherineWith the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, many students will be curious about the brave astronauts who visited the moon and more recent space explorations. To help feed your students’ curiosity about space and inspire STEM reading and writing, here are several free NASA resources along with suggested activities. Select one activity, or combine several to create an in-depth unit on this timely, high-interest topic.

    Apollo moon missions

    The Apollo missions landed 12 astronauts on the moon. These explorers spent approximately 80 hours studying the moon and made many fascinating discoveries. 

    Activity 1: In Their Own Words

    Have you ever wondered what the astronauts talked about while they were soaring through space or walking on the moon for the first time? Fortunately, most of their conversations are available on the Apollo Flight Journal and Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.

    • Read: Visit the Apollo 11 Surface Journal (timestamp: 109:23:38 to 109:24:48), read the famous sentence Neil Armstrong said when he took his first step on the moon, and read how he described the surface of the moon to eager listeners back on Earth.
    • Write: How do you think Neil Armstrong might have felt when he took that first step off the lunar module onto the mysterious surface of the moon? Scared? Proud? Nervous? Brave? Tired? How would you feel if you were the first person to explore a place where no one had ever been before? What thoughts would go through your mind?

    Activity 2: Discoveries on the Moon

    • Choose one of the discoveries made by the Apollo missions from the Air and Space Museum’s list of “Top Ten” Apollo discoveries.
    • In your own words, write a short summary of the discovery and why it’s important.

    Book connections:

    • Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon (Peachtree)
    • Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon (Charlesbridge)
    • A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon (Little, Brown)

    Exploring astronauts

    Students are fascinated by brave space explorers. Becoming an astronaut requires a lot of education, training, and hard work.

    Activity 3: Astronaut Project

    • Invite students to research various astronauts using books and/or reliable internet websites (see NASA video resource below), or provide the class with a collection of level-appropriate books on various astronauts.
      • Modification option: For younger grades, provide students with a short list of four or five astronauts to read about.
    • Ask students to select an astronaut they admire or want to learn more about.
    • Invite students to write a nonfiction narrative which shares the childhood experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of his or her astronaut.
      • Modification option: Invite students to display their astronaut research on a bulletin board or poster boards, or share projects through short oral presentations.
      • Share a few presentations each day of a week as part of a “Space Week” celebration.

    NASA video resource: Hear an astronaut describe his or her career journey in NASA’s astronaut video interviews (3–4 minutes long). Below are a few great interviews to inspire students:

    International Space Station

    The International Space Station (ISS) is a large spacecraft where astronauts live and study space. Constantly circling Earth, the ISS weighs approximately one million pounds and is the size of a football field. Since it first opened in 2000, more than 200 astronauts have lived on the International Space Station.

    Activity 4: Life on the Space Station

    • Watch a live transmission of astronauts living and working on the International Space Station via NASA TV, including “NASA TV Programming,” which is generally livestreamed video of the astronauts, and “Earth Views,” which is a live view of Earth from the ISS.
    • Find out who’s currently living on the Space Station by going to NASA Kids’ Club and following the “Find Out Who Is on the Space Station” link.
    • Write a paper about a few tasks that the astronauts living on the Space Station perform. Or, select one of the astronauts living on the ISS and write a summary of how he or she became an astronaut and what his or her role is on the ISS.
    • Project option: Find out when the ISS will be passing over your town and plan a special outing where your class can watch the Space Station soar over your school. Go to the Spot the Station website, input your location, and it will provide “ISS sighting” times (and an approximate location to help you find it) for the next couple of weeks. You can also receive alerts of future ISS sighting times and dates.

    Story Time from Space

    Story Time from Space features videos of astronauts reading books aloud from the International Space Station. This is a unique, out-of-this-world reading experience.

    Activity 5: Story Time Book Summary

    • Listen to a book read by an astronaut, then invite students to write a short summary of the book they just heard.
    • Project option 1: Students may listen to one story and write a report about the same book, or they may listen to the story of their choice outside of class and write a book summary of teacher-specified length.
    • Project option 2: Students may record their observations of the astronaut while reading. Why didn’t the astronaut sit in a chair? What types of equipment did you see in the ISS? Did you see any clues that there is little gravity in the ISS? What was your favorite part of the story? The report may also include an illustration of the astronaut reading the book from space.

    More space-themed resources

    • Challenger Centers are great places for students to participate in hands-on activities and explore. These not-for-profit learning centers are located in 27 states and four countries. Their “Center Missions” allow middle school students to experience “space-themed simulation-based experiences” led by trained flight directors.
    • NASA Kids’ Club is a NASA-sponsored website with exciting activities for students, such as test driving a rover on Mars, as well as other games and craft ideas.

    Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books. A mechanical engineer by degree who worked on Delta rockets, she often writes about science and space topics. Some her recent titles include Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, Astronaut Annie (will be read by an astronaut on the Space Station for Story Time From Space), The Inventor’s Secret, and Dangerous Jane. Find free Teacher’s Guides for these books at www.suzanneslade.com. Find her on Twitter at @AuthorSSlade.

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    Putting Books to Work: Jordan Sonnenblick’s Notes From the Midnight Driver

    By Julie D. Ramsay
     | Jun 30, 2017

    Notes From the Midnight DriverLike many of our middle school students, Alex’s life is in turmoil. His parents are in the midst of a very expensive divorce and his college fund is quickly depleting as lawyers battle over his time. Compounding that, Alex’s dad has moved in with his third-grade teacher and his mom has started dating. He has had enough. So Alex gets drunk, takes the keys to his mom’s car, and heads out to give his dad a piece of his mind.

    Of course, things do not go as planned. Alex finds himself in police custody having decapitated a neighbor’s garden gnome. His actions land him with a strict grounding at home, teasing at school, and assigned community service at a local nursing home with a notoriously cantankerous patient.

    The beautifully composed story perfectly blends poignant moments with the humor that typically follows the lives of early adolescent students. Readers easily connect with Alex’s plight while seeing his character develop as he becomes less self-centered and learns how to serve others.

    Cross-curricular Connections: English language arts, social studies/history

    Ideas for Classroom Use:

    This book lends itself to several different types of activities to support all of our diverse learners.

    Cause and Effect

    Notes From The Midnight Driver provides students with many opportunities to evaluate cause and effect relationships. Students can discuss and reflect on Alex’s choices and answer questions like What could have been done differently? What would have been a different outcome? In addition to having large and small group discussions, blogging is a great platform for students to share their thoughts. Unlike oral discussions, blogging gives students more time to contemplate, form their own ideas, and then share them with their peers. Through blog commenting, students can hold ongoing conversations outside of the classroom

    Character development

    In our classroom, we will use a “plot mountain” graphic organizer to study how Alex’s character develops and to analyze how Sonnenblick creates a character that the audience can identify with. Students will use that as a model and create a character for their own narratives.

    Letter writing

    Although we live in the age where digital mediums reign our interpersonal communication, Alex uses letters to communicate with the judge on his progress. This lends itself to a discussion about communication mediums, audience, and impact. Students can select a topic, such as the dress code or the equitable use of physical education equipment, and determine how that would be communicated to a friend, a kindergartner, a parent, a grandparent, or a superintendent. Students can then compose their message for different audiences using different tools. They have to ask themselves, Would I text message, e-mail, Tweet, or write a letter explaining my argument? This is an authentic opportunity for students to practice communicating their message across different mediums for different audiences.

    Living history

    This book inspires readers to learn from the wisdom and experiences of older generations in their communities. Students can interview persons of interest, record their stories and then publish them to share with future generations. Some of my students favorite ways to publish are through video (iMovie or We Video), digital picture books (Mystorybook or Storyjumper), graphic novels, blog posts (KidBlog), and animation (StikBots or PowToon).

    Service learning projects

    Students want to know that what they are learning in school is relevant to their lives and empowering them to make a difference in the world. Although Alex is assigned community service, he eventually becomes invested in providing the residents at the nursing home, especially his assigned patient, with a jazz concert. This sets an example for students to really examine their communities, identify an area that may be underserved, and use their own talents to provide a service that positively impact the lives of others.

    Through many of these learning experiences, students will develop empathy for others while promoting social justice in their own communities.

    Additional Resources:

    Jordan Sonnenblick's official website links to Sonnenblick’s full list of books, his calendar, blog, and other resources.

    "Service-Learning: The Time is Now" is an article explaining why service learning projects are powerful for our students. The article provides several examples of successful projects as well as steps for classroom implementation.

    Julie D. Ramsay is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing? She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog, eduflections.

    Julie D. Ramsay will facilitate a workshop titled Putting Books to Work Mid-Level (featuring authors Jordan Sonnenblick, Pablo Cartaya, and George O’Connor) at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.
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    5 Books About New Beginnings

    By Clare Maloney
     | May 02, 2017

    The Thing About JellyfishStudents are constantly learning and growing, embarking on new endeavors and overcoming challenges all throughout their schooling. Here are five books about new beginnings that will help inspire students of all ages who may be hesitant to pursue a new opportunity, who are forced to start over after an unexpected loss, or who are simply looking to begin anew.

    Putting Books to Work: Bear and Bird

    Putting Books to Work: Fish in a Tree

    Putting Books to Work: Wonder

    Putting Books to Work: The Thing About Jellyfish

    Putting Books to Work: Transgender Pioneers

    Clare Maloney is an intern at the International Literacy Association. She is currently seeking a BA in English from the University of Delaware.

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    Putting Books to Work: Wonder

    by Suzanne Cline
     | Mar 01, 2017

    Wonder. R.J. Palacio. 2012. Alfred A. Knopf.

    Ages: 8–12

    Summary


    Wonder
    is a story about a 10-year-old-boy born with a craniofacial abnormality who has undergone countless surgeries in his young life. After being homeschooled all of his life, Auggie faces the reality of attending school for the first time. His parents, while knowing that he is scared, are also aware that Auggie needs a more well-rounded education than what they can provide for him at home. As he begins fifth grade at Beecher Prep Middle School, Auggie maneuvers the many social challenges he encounters including making friends, fitting in, and dealing with betrayal. Although he has the unwavering support of his family, faculty, and friends, he also faces some mean-spirited behavior from peers and their parents. Throughout all of Auggie’s many trials and tribulations, he shows the people around him the real meaning of courage, compassion, and understanding.

    Theme
    There are countless themes that could describe Wonder: family, friendship, coming of age, kindness, isolation, empathy. For my particular group of fourth-grade students, I focus on the theme of identity. Who are we? Do we act differently at home as opposed to at school? What masks do we wear to protect our insecurities? Does a disability, deformity, or diagnosis change who we are? Are we the best versions of ourselves? Are we open to change? Here are a few supporting activities for promoting the theme of identity.

    Cross-Curricular Connections: language arts, science, fine arts, social studies

    Ideas for Classroom Use

    Precept Wall


    In the story, Mr. Browne, Auggie’s teacher, uses precepts or quotes to teach his students about life. An interesting classroom activity is to set up a wall or space in your classroom dedicated to a weekly or monthly precept. Include a stack of sticky notes nearby so that students can add a brief reflection about the precept or make a personal/world connection to it. Initially, you can use Mr. Browne’s precepts, but students who are inspired by the process may want to start adding their own.

    Journal Writing


    The characters in the story are complex, each struggling to deal with Auggie’s deformity in the best way they know. Students can choose a character from the story and create journal entries on the basis of a particular conflict that character experiences. Students should include adequate text support for each journal entry.

    Research


    Break the class into partners or small groups and have the students research Treacher Collins syndrome. The research should include information about causes, treatments, difficulties, genetic makeup, and life expectancy. Students can showcase their research in a variety of ways such as posters, media presentations, and informational brochures. Students can present these projects to other classrooms, at PTA meetings, and at Science Fair/STEM nights to start an open discussion about this syndrome and other childhood diseases.

    Character Traits


    The illustrations in Wonder are minimal yet thought-provoking silhouettes of the characters. Most of the pictures include only one eye, leading readers to ponder whether this is meant to show people’s reactions to Auggie. What parts of Auggie do they really see? Are they seeing only his deformity?

    In this activity, have students reflect upon their own positive and negative character and physical traits. They can then input these traits into Wordle (a web-based tool) and create a graphic similar to the silhouettes in the novel. Filling in their silhouettes with the word cloud made from both their positive and negative traits shows how we are all a juxtaposition of emotions, much like the characters in Wonder. Have a gallery wall in the classroom dedicated to hanging students’ works of art.

    Internet Resources

    Treacher Collins Syndrome Guide: This website provides detailed information on genetic conditions, including diagnosis and management, and offers additional resources.

    StopBullying.gov: This website provides one-stop access to U.S. Government information on bullying topics.

     

    Suzanne Cline is an advanced academics teacher at McVey and Jones Elementary Schools in Newark, DE, and Christiana, DE.

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    Putting Books to Work: The Thing About Jellyfish

    By Jongsen Wee
     | Nov 09, 2016

    jellyfish coverSuzy, known as “Zu”, is devastated when she hears the three words from her mom: “Franny Jackson drowned.” Franny was Zu’s best friend. Zu couldn’t believe that Franny had drowned during her vacation in Maryland because Franny was a good swimmer. The only explanation that made sense to Zu is that an Irukandji jellyfish sting caused Franny’s death. In her notebook, Zu wrote, “Maybe she is dead because of that jellyfish sting.” To prove her theory, Zu studies jellyfish and secretly plans her trip to Cairns, Australia, to meet a jellyfish expert. As Zu recalls her memories with Franny, it is revealed that Zu’s friendship with Franny was over long before Franny’s death. Zu felt sad and betrayed as Franny, who used to be her best friend, was fading out in Zu’s life. While Zu clung to the long-gone friendship with Franny, Franny hung out with other girls who didn’t care much about Zu. Zu’s emotional journey begins before and continues after Franny’s death. 

    Cross-Curricular Connections: Language arts, science, geography

    Ideas for Classroom Use

    Changes in Friendship

    Zu and Franny used to be best friends, but their friendship falls apart as they enter middle school. Franny made new friends, leaving Zu alone. Do you think the friendship between Zu and Franny naturally fell apart or do you think Franny intended to break up with Zu? Do you have friends like Franny who you like but the friendship falls apart? What do you want to say to Zu or Franny about the change in their friendship?

    Speech Collage

    In the YouTube video, the author of The Thing About Jellyfish, Ali Benjamin, said this book is about a lot of things. What do you think this book is about? If you have to pick one keyword for the theme of this book, what word that will be? In class, each student can take turns, and students will be able to hear the recurring words as well as with the new words that they didn’t say.

    “Travel Route”

    Zu attempts to fly to Cairns, Australia, to meet Dr. Jamie Seymour, professor of biology and jellyfish expert. Find Cairns, Australia on the map. How far is it from your home? If you were Zu, what would your travel route look like? Plan your trip from your home to Cairns, Australia. How long it will take? What do you need to prepare for this trip? What do you need to know about Australia before you fly?

    K-W-L Chart on Jellyfish

    Zu studied the topic of jellyfish and gave a presentation in class. Make a K-W-L chart on jellyfish. K: What do you know about jellyfish? W: What do you want to know about jellyfish? L: What did you learn about jellyfish? Briefly research jellyfish online. Share your findings with your small group members.

    A Note to Zu

    Zu thinks to herself in the book, “I knew I didn’t deserve happiness.” Assume you happen to hear this when Zu was saying it to herself, and you want to write a note to her. What do you want to say in your note as a friend? How might your note help her to feel better about herself?

    Additional Resources

    Author Ali Benjamin on The Thing About Jellyfish: A short video clip on the author’s introduction of the book, The Thing About Jellyfish. Some of publishers’ online reviews are included at the end of the clip.

    Author Ali Benjamin’s homepage: More information about Ali Benjamin and her books.

    Additional Literature With Similar Themes

    Addie on the Inside. James Howe. 2012. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

    Fish in a Tree. Lynda Mullaly Hunt. 2015. Nancy Paulsen.

    Jongsun Wee is an associate professor at Winona State University in Winona, MN, where she teaches Children’s Literature and Language Arts method courses.

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