The Discovery of Longitude

Longitude coverLatitude and Longitude are just imaginary lines on the surface of the earth, but are critical to navigation. Latitude (north and south) was known, but it wasn’t until John Harrison (a clockmaker) tackled it in the 1700’s in order to win a prize, that the problem was solved.

Joan Marie Galat, Pelican ©2012, 978-1-4556-1637-4

Great Shipwrecks

In the 21st century, with GPS and vast improvements in diving equipment, many wrecks are now being found, and even being raised from the sea.

Students could conduct a Rapid Research topic where groups look into 17 famous shipwrecks:

  • The Mary Rose, 1545
  • The Spanish Armada, 1588
  • The Vasa (Swedish), 1628
  • The Merchant Royal, 1641
  • The Scilly Naval Disaster, 1707
  • The Black Swan, 1804
  • The Tek Sing, 1822 (China)
  • The HMS Birkenhead, 1845
  • The Titanic, 1912
  • The Kiche Maru Typhoon, 1912 (Japan)
  • The Great Lakes Storm, 1913
  • The Lusitania, 1915
  • The Halifax Explosion, 1917
  • The Bismarck, 1941
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff, 1945
  • The Edmund Fitzgerald, 1975
  • The Exxon Valdez, 1994

discoverwrecks

Using the Internet, in a limited period of time, students find out:

1. What was this wreck, where was it located, why was it important? When did it happen?

2. What was the impact of this wreck on future navigation if any?

They create a PowerPoint, an essay, a speech, etc. as a group – pooling their research and writing in a “voice” that is aimed at their own grade level.

Careful Listening

Students can be asked to listen very carefully and make note of the PROBLEMS that some of the early solutions to navigation had. Note-taking is one of the critical skills for achievement according to Marzano.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Discovery of Longitude to download.

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Blockhead – The Life of Fibonacci

BlockheadFibonacci was part of the revolutionary change from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals in the 12th century. His most important contribution to math is the Fibonacci sequence, which this book explains.

Joseph D’Agnesi, Henry Holt, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8050-6305-9

Fibonacci Numbers

If you add any two consecutive numbers in the pattern you get the next number:

  • 1 pair plus 1 pair = 2 pairs
  • 1 pair plus 2 pairs = 3 pairs
  • 2 pairs plus 3 pairs = 5 pairs
  • 3 pairs plus 5 pairs = 8 pairs

The first numbers are 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,55,89,144,233,377.

Pages 26 and 27 explain the Fibonacci numbers…demonstrate to 8 and ask them to continue until they get to 233.

blockheadphotoAstonishingly, nature uses these numbers all the time…in flower petals, seeds inside, starfish, 3 leaf clovers, 8 sections in a lemon, etc. Even humans have 1 head, 2 eyes, 5 fingers, etc.

Roman Numerals

The book mentions that, in Egypt, Fibonacci encountered Arabic Numerals and thought how much simpler they were than his Roman numerals – making it a good time to introduce them. (Actually, the numbers are from India, but the west encountered them in the Arab countries and so called them Arabic numerals.) Lots of sites have activity sheets, but a good site for an explanation is Adrian Bruce’s Maths Stuff. Roman numerals, it reminds us, may be found on watches, old buildings, page numbers in a preface, as subsections in a list on Microsoft Word, titles of kings and queens, periods of Egyptian history, and at the end of Hollywood movies, comics, and games to show the year it was made.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Blockhead to download.

Wonder Horse

Wonder HorseSubtitled The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse, this is the story of how Bill Key, former slave, found and trained his horse Jim Key. Unlike other trainers of the time, he used only kindness to teach Jim to recognize the alphabet and colours. They travelled America doing shows, where Bill took the opportunity to teach animal owners the importance of humane treatment. Bill and his horse had a huge influence on the movement leading to the RSPCA.

Emily Arnold McCully, Henry Holt, ©2010, ISBN 978-0-8050-8793-2

Famous Animals – A Rapid Research Topic

Jim Key is the story of both an amazing horse and an amazing owner. Give students a list of famous animals and ask them to prepare a quick research report of about 4 paragraphs (with an illustration if possible from the internet) to make an 11 X 17 poster set of displays for the class.

Working in pairs, students could then make an oral presentation (or a PowerPoint presentation about their particular horses)..length 2 minutes to a maximum length of 5 minutes.

I have created a Pinterest page with 30 amazing animals (horses, dogs, cats) that students can use to start their research (or illustrate it). You can either visit my Pinterest page on my website to view the board (it’s the last one on the page) or visit my Pinterest boards directly (also, don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest!).

Vocabulary

The words students might find difficult are: colic, profile, console, antics, equine, and liniment. This might be a good time to explore vocabulary about horses as a theme. (See page 3 of the attachment.)

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Wonder Horse to download.

Tsunami

TsunamiIn Japan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village lives on the hill in his rice farm. In the village below, villagers are getting ready for a festival. Suddenly he senses a problem, and when he sees the waters recede realizes a tsunami is coming. He cannot get down to the village to warn them in time so he needs to draw the villagers to him. As a desperate act, he sets his crop on fire. The villagers rush up the hill to help put out the fire, and they are all saved.

Kimiko Kajikawa, Philomel Books, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-399-25006-4

Tsunami

This is a good time to study the science of the tsunami. These giant waves form where tectonic plates collide, where there is a gigantic (frequently underwater) eruption of a volcano, or after a meteor impact. 86% of all tsunamis come from underwater volcanoes or seismic shifts. These displace huge quantities of water suddenly. The water rushes in to fill the vacuum (thus explaining why the “tide” seems to go out suddenly and unusually far) and then rushes back out again in the form of a huge wave.

There are many websites with great information including the video below.

The True Story

This book is based on a story in the 1897 publication by Lafadio Hearn called Gleanings in Buddha-Fields. The original wise wealthy man of the village was Hamguchi Goryo and there is a Japanese museum dedicated to him. (He was 35, not an old man, when it happened but the story is still wonderful. Making him older makes it possible for “experience” to tell him what to do.) Ask students to research the real person at locations such as The Fire of Rice Sheaves.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Tsunami to download.

Night Flight

NightFlightNight Flight has few words.  It concentrates on just 14 hours and 56 minutes of time, starting in the evening from Harbour Grace in Newfoundland on May 20th, 1932, and ending in Ireland.  The author recreates the experience in vivid descriptive language of what she had to do to stay awake, storms, failure of equipment, flying through the night.  The author also describes what is seen from the plane as she left, during the night, flying over tundra, approaching land in Ireland. Imagine the Irish farmer coming toward this strange vehicle that had landed in his field, and the woman waving and saying, “I’ve come from America.”  Amazing.

Robert Burleigh, Simon and Schuster, ©2011, 978-1-4169-6733-0

Talking With Amelia Earhart

The back of the book has many quotes from Amelia Earhart that are worth discussing with students, or using as prompts for journal writing:

  • Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
  • I prefer good mechanical work to rabbits’ feet.
  • I could not see.  I carried on.
  • Everyone has their own Atlantic to fly.  Whatever you want very much to do, against  the opposition of tradition, neighbourhood opinion, and so-called common sense—that is an Atlantic.
  • One of my favourite phobias is that girls, especially those whose tastes aren’t routine, often don’t get a fair break.
  • The most effective way to do it, is to do it.

 Journal Writing

Having students draw from their own experience is a good way to get a journal response to a piece of

writing.  Here are some possibilities:

  • Amelia had to stay awake a long time.  Describe a time when you were up very late.  Did you have to do anything special to stay awake?
  • Amelia was caught in a lightning storm.  Describe an experience you had with a storm?
  • Amelia had to be well prepared, but still incredibly brave.  Describe a time when you prepared very well for something and then did it.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Night Flight to download.

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont

FabulousFlyingMachines_JKTThe author’s child learns in school that the Wright Brothers invented flight.  Her Brazilian husband says, “No they didn’t.  It was Alberto Santos-Dumont”.

Santos-Dumont was a wealthy Brazilian living in Paris who created the first practical dirigible and in the book uses it to go to a store, drop anchor, and go in to shop for a hat.  He then creates the first plane to fly with some controls and under its own power, as opposed to needing assistance to get into the air. Amazingly, he was also the first man to wear a wristwatch.  Clocks wouldn’t work on an airplane, so his friend, Piaget, created a small watch you could wear on your wrist.

Victoria Griffith, Abrams Books for Young Readers, ©2011, 978-1-4197-0011-8

Contrasting Two Things

The story opens with the author recounting how her child had learned in school that the Wright Brothers had invented flight, only to have her Brazilian husband point out that it was a Brazilian who flew first, and in Paris at that.

Students could read about the Wright Brothers and contrast the two.
The Wright Brothers:

  • Flew in 1903 with few witnesses vs. Santos-Dumont flying in 1905 with a thousand witnesses
  • Needed assistance—high winds and a rail system to get up speed—to get into the air vs. Santos-Dumont taking to the air under its own power.
  • Were not wealthy vs. Santos-Dumont who was wealthy
  • Had little control of the flight vs. Santos-Dumont with controls
  • Were up for 12 seconds vs. Santos-Dumont for 20 seconds
  • Had one first in their life vs. Santos-Dumont having the first practical dirigible, first unassisted flight, first mass-produced airplane (the Dragonfly), and the first person to wear a wristwatch (invented just for him).

Then ask students why they think the Wright Brothers are famous and everyone, except Brazil, has forgotten Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Teaching the Word “Irony”

Irony means to use words, and sometimes tone, to convey the opposite of what the words seem to say. For example, it is ironic to survive the San Francisco earthquake only to die in the Jamaica earthquake. It is ironic to put a “do not deface the stop sign” on the actual stop sign. In the case of this book there are two ironic statements:

  • Santos-Dumont says that airplanes will bring about peace because we will see how similar all people really are.
  • Spectators say “nobody will forget this day” when they see Santos fly.

Discuss with students the irony of these statements.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont to download.

The Exraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

mark-twain-coverThis is the story of Mark Twain’s life in picture book form, with accompanying anecdotes from Susy who is writing this memoir so we can meet the “real” Mark Twain.  Susy, Mark Twain’s favourite daughter, did keep a memoir of observations of her dad for a short period of time, and excerpts from it are included as little fold out pages.  She talks about their home, his writing process and the role her mom plays, his leisure activities, and much more.

Barbara Kerley, Scholastic, ©2010, ISBN 978-0-545-12508-6

Spelling Mistakes

Mark Twain says his daughter’s spelling was frequently desperate.” Give students her spellings and ask them to spell them correctly—time them if you want to add some pressure. They need to add 5 seconds to their time for every word they still misspell.

Her incorrect words are: discribed incorectly, mustache, exept, extrordinary, sute, doute, Misouri, in good trimm, varius, chreatures (for creatures), expergate, donky, prosession.

This is a good time to mention that the first English dictionary was written in 9 years by one man, Samuel Johnson, and published in 1755. By contrast, the first French dictionary was written by an entire French Academy and published in 1694. It took 69 years to write. The first American dictionary was Noah Webster’s in 1806. After this spelling began to “solidify” into “correct” and “incorrect” spelling. Susy was writing in 1885.

A Book “In the Style Of”

This book has a particular style. For the most part it is a kind of story of Susy’s foray into biography. However, glued into place in the book are miniature foldout excerpts from Susy’s actual words. This is an excellent model to imitate.

In Social Studies it could take the form of a report on an explorer (for example) with inserted pages from his “diary” commenting on the events described on that page. In Science, it could be a report on a whale’s life cycle, with examples interspersed from the whale’s diary. In art, a research report on a particular artist could be written, with short imaginary diary inserts on occasion. Be sure that students realize the diary entries need only be 2-3 sentences long.

For 11 creative writing ideas, click The Extraordinary Mark Twain to download.

The House Baba Built

housebabauiltEd Young is well known for his picture books. The House Baba Built is more in the nature of a memoir of his childhood in the house his father built in Shanghai in which the family lived during World War II. We learn about the war, school, family activities in the house, taking in refugees including a Jewish family, food shortages, being unable to fill the pool…all through his eyes as a child. You can take just a part of this book for a rich study of many different topics.

Ed Young, Little Brown and Co.©2011, 978-0-316-07628-9

Exploring a Photo

Ed Young uses family photos as one of the many methods he uses to illustrate his story. Ask students to bring a picture of themselves that their family has taken – it’s best if they bring a coy. If they bring an original, make a copy for them so that the original is not accidentally destroyed.

Students need to look at their pictures and ask themselves the following types of questions:

  • How old was I when this picture was taken?
  • Where was this picture taken – describe quite precisely?
  • Why was this picture taken and kept? (Instead of others)
  • What am I wearing in this picture? How do I feel about these clothes? Was this typical of what I wore at this time?
  • What sensory memories do I have about this place – food, feel, sights, taste, smell, etc.?
  • What emotions are around this picture and why?

Encourage students elaborate and then use a copy of the picture to illustrate their “story” of the taking of the picture.

Make an Origami Box

In early spring, when the mulberry leaves sprouted, Ed Young and his friends traded silkworm eggs. They made paper origami boxes for silkworm houses and fed them on mulberry leaves.

Watch the YouTube several times and make it yourself, before you teach the class. Once they know how, it is very easy. If you live close to Richmond, there is very inexpensive origami paper at Daizo.

For 16 creative writing ideas, click The House Baba Built to download.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

The Man Who Walked Between The TowersPhilipe Petit was always challenged to walk the tightrope in as many difficult places as possible. As the twin towers were going up in New York in 2001 he determined that he would have to walk before it was finished and occupied. He organized friends, snuck in the ropes and rigging he would need with friends, suspended the rope and then he walked out into the wind. He walked, danced, ran, knelt, and even lay down on the rope. When arrested he was sentenced to perform for students in Central Park. The book ends poignantly with the shadows of the towers after the attack on September 11, 2001.

Mordicai Gerstein, MacMillan, ©2003, 978-0-7613-1791-3

There are several related websites that can add to the study of this book.

Man on Wire (a cineme verite version of the walk):

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (a storyteller reads the book):

The Nick Wallenda walk across Niagara:

Tightrope Walking

Stretch around 8 very long ropes across the gym floor and ask student to walk them, keeping their balance. How many seconds can they stay on the rope? Ask them to time each other with their arms at their sides, and with their arms out. Then give them a balancing pole to hold while they walk…they should see that it is a great deal easier to stay balanced. (You need lots of ropes because you want mass participation…not a lot of students watching other students.)

For the science of tightrope walking there is a nice video that explains the balance, the centre of gravity, the inner ear, and so on.

For 11 creative writing ideas, click The Man Who Walked Between the Towers to download.

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes

grapesA wonderful retelling of the Aesop fable where the fox makes frequent attempts to get at the grapes until he finally says that they are probably sour anyway. Hence the expression “sour grapes”.

In this version Fox attempts to reach the grapes but because he is “sly. Clever. Smart. After all, I am a fox.” He makes a plan and “voila!…Grapes!” Except it doesn’t turn out quite that way.

First of all he harnesses the energy of the bear. Then the beaver, the porcupine, the possum, each time making the plan more and more elaborate. Each time as well, the fox ignores the suggestions of his “assistants.”

When they point out their simpler plan at the end, the fox storms off in a huff. “Well, do as you wish. I, for one, wouldn’t think of eating those lousy, rotten, stinkin’ grapes now, even if I could…They’re probably sour anyway.” (While in the foreground his assistants are joyfully eating the grapes.)

Margie Palatini, Simon and Schuster, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-689-80246-1

Create Your Own Take on Aesop

Students will enjoy using this as a model to create their own version of an Aesop fable. They can add more characters, dialogue, a twist, additional descriptions, and a setting. This story is about 1,000 words, but students can write a terrific Aesop fable in about 500 words if you wish.

The Moral of the Story

Every fable has a moral. The original moral of this story is something like, “People who can’t do something, make up reasons why they didn’t want it in the first lace.” The expression “sour grapes” is used for someone behaving this way. This fable has that moral, but has several other morals worth discussing as well:

  • Don’t underestimate the help others can provide.
  • Don’t overestimate your own intelligence and underestimate that of others.
  • A simple plan can be better than an elaborate plan.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes to download.