Sunday, September 18, 2011

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.
David Polis

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Little House on the Prairie

This summer while spending a month with my sister near Brookings, South Dakota, I had a chance to visit with friends and family in Neuhof, Minnesota.  It so happened that going to Neuhof, as we got closer, I noticed signs that had peculiarly familiar names.

First came a sign announcing Plum Creek...  
when Walnut Grove came next I realized that we were in Laura Ingalls Wilder territory.
Plum Creek Park

I never realized that though the books were historical fiction, there would actually be real places mentioned in the books that are still functioning today.  The Wilder family lived 'on the banks of Plum Creek' when Laura was a child.

The area boasts a replica of the sod hut the family spent a winter in.

  I so would have loved to see it!
The nearest town, Walnut Grove, though the name of the town was not mentioned in the book, was where the family eventually moved to for a few years.  It  houses a Laura Ingalls Wilder museum.  (It is also the site where the TV series on the books was set.)

  I merely got a glimpse of the creek and never even stopped in the town of Walnut Grove.  I hope I can someday go back and visit and explore the area.

Now what brought me to write about this?  Going through the area sparked my interest on 'The Little House' era again.  I found a book this summer called 'A Little House Reader'.  It is a collection of writings by Laura (and her family, I find)  written long before Laura wrote her well-known series when she was well in her sixties. 

Her father writes about taking a homestead near Brookings!  Carrie writes about Pa working with the railroad, grading from Brookings to De Smet!  The very same area I travelled in!  I am looking forward to finishing the book which includes journal entries, poetry, and articles Laura wrote for magazines and newspapers.
A Little House Reader: A Collection of Writings by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I remembered stumbling upon this blog once.  

The writer, Debbie Reese, of Native American descent, writes about the 'Little House' books and why they should not be used in an elementary classroom.  Check out the website.  Especially read the posts on the 'Little House' books.  I found the posts interesting and eye-opening. 
This one was especially captivating.
I also enjoyed reading the comments that readers leave.

In one blog post she writes about a teacher who read the 'Little House' series to her students every day.

"The reading apparently gets them calmed down after playing outside at recess. She adopts different voices as she reads to the children, using a "snotty" voice for Nellie and a sweet one for Ma. I wonder how she reads "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" (the phrase appears in the book four times)?
I wonder how many Native kids she's read to in those 32 years? She is in Arizona...

How many kids, in these 32 years, heard her say "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

I wonder how the Native kids felt hearing that, and, I wonder what effect it had on the non-Native kids

This is thought provoking.  I too have read the books to my students.   Did I find anything amiss?  I can't remember.  Too often I think,"It's just a book!"  Do I make my students aware of these discrepancies?  What impressions do these stories leave our students with, though unintentionally so?  

What I do know is that I will be reading these current selections with not only a clearer mind to the historical facts, but also a more critical outlook on the 'biases' of the time.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Class!

Class photo sessions today!

I usually put this off too long.  This year I decided to have them done the first week of school.  I used the grade cards found here.
Kind of cute, I thought!  Could make this a tradition for their photo albums.

I wanted a variety of shots but the inevitable happened; the camera battery ran out.  So I am glad to at least have gotten a few shots of each child.

The collage was made with Microsoft Collage Maker, a program free to educators:)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Monarch Butterflies

We started school three days ago.  I have another great group of kids this year.  Very interesting I might add too -- 7 kindergarteners!  
That is a first for me as normally I get small numbers of beginners; too small for serious kiddie stuff.  Most of the time they just get to tag along with my other group work doing modified versions.

I started my grades 1-3s on guided reading.  One of the books I did with a group this afternoon was on butterflies including their life-cycles.  I had to share my experience of collecting caterpillars this summer in South Dakota with my nieces and actually watching the metamorphic cycle.  When I got out my camera card, I realized the earlier photos were at home. 

So here goes;  I will organize them so that tomorrow I can just share this post with them.
Monarch egg 
We got a few milkweed leaves with eggs on them.  We only kept them around long enough to find one teeny tiny caterpillar a few mm long.  We then got rid of the eggs as we had larger caterpillars to observe.

We brought home two caterpillars, one was larger then the other and obviously almost ready for the chrysalis stage.  We were surprised how quickly the smaller one grew.  It took about a week for the first to change into the final stage.
The caterpillar attached itself  on a leaf with (I am told) silk thread! 
 It hung there for a few days (I didn't record how many).  We could see the colour changing from vibrant to a murky almost dead-like shade.

The next stage really surprised me as I had only seen cocoons before.  They were made by moths and not part of the cycle as chrysalises are. Someone happened to be around and see the caterpillar split its' skin for the last time.  The alert was sounded and we  managed to watch as it actually wiggled itself out and discarded its' skin.  
It hung by the silk thread and rotated itself until its shape was the classic chrysalis. The colour was jade green.  A pattern of the most beautiful gold appeared within the day.
After a few days, the green slowly turned translucent until we could see the developing butterfly inside.
The monarch chrysalis is gorgeous.  

Twice we missed the butterfly breaking out.  This is such a quick process, with both chrysalis I was around, observing them, and found them completely emerged coming back within ten minutes...

all crumpled up from its' journey!

and gloriously wonderful!

The Monarch Butterfly!