Month: November 2018

A Book that is Out of This World!

In my current position, I teach 5th grade at a school where the focus is to drive the curriculum through the lens of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Honestly, it’s a dream job and I work with a great team (taking a moment to count my blessings…). One of our greatest challenges, however, (and our ultimate goal) is to develop thematic units that are based on the NGSS and adequately cover all other standards in a relatable way.  Obviously, this won’t always happen, but we’ve made a good go at it none-the-less. One of the things that bothered me when I joined the team, however, was the fictional literature tie-ins that were being utilized. At the time, we had one fantastic novel that synced beautifully with our curriculum (Flush by Carl Hiaasen) and another that only sort of fit (Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell). I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the novel, but it was a stretch to say it tied in to any of our 5th grade science curriculum.

Well, over Thanksgiving break I was doing my usual wonder through the library (the one where I check out way too many books… my eyes are bigger than my brain, and my break, apparently).  I was in the children’s section, hoping to spot some new literature that might interested my students who don’t particularly like reading, when all the sudden the book Space Case by Stuart Gibbs caught my eye. I had no idea what I might be in for but I decided to go ahead and judge the book by it’s cover… I nabbed it and added it to my extensive pile.

It took me less than a day to read (which says more about the book than my reading speed).

Space Case is a fast-paced mystery about 12-year old Dashiell Gibson and his life as one of the first humans to live on the moon.  In this futuristic novel, NASA has developed an outpost on the moon, host to scientists and their families. While the prospect of being amongst the first humans to live on the moon may seem intriguing, Dashiell informs us that it most definitely is not all it’s cracked up to be… until the first ever murder on the moon occurs and Dashiell finds himself smack in the middle of the investigation.

Dashiell’s 12-year-old perspective of life on the moon is both humorous and honest.  Gibbs did a fantastic job weaving in the science we might not think about (such as visiting the toilet in a low gravity environment) with the raw honesty of a child narrator.  Additionally, the plot carries twists and intrigue suitable for young readers, giving them an opportunity to use deductive reasoning skills as they attempt to solve the mystery of the murder alongside Dashiell.

Not only is this a great literary piece for young readers, it also captures quite nicely several of the NGSS objectives we focus on in 5th grade, specifically the effects of gravitational force as well as the effects of Earth’s atmosphere.  While reading this book, we have the opportunity to discuss the reasons why gravity would be different on different celestial bodies and how different levels of gravitational force might affect us humans.  The book also touches on the effects of living without an atmosphere, leading us back to Earth’s own atmosphere and what significance it has on our lives. We can also delve into topics such as what resources are required to support life and what would be required to make another planet our home.

Each year, as part of our solar system unit, I ask my students to write a fictional narrative imagining that they have been chosen to colonize another planet. In the writing piece they reflect on the science we have learned while creatively developing a short story. Stuart Gibbs’s novel, Space Case, is a wonderful literary model of that assignment.  I highly recommend this novel as a literature tie-in for anyone teaching about the solar system.

Book Stats:

Pages – 337

Lexile – 750L

Accelerated Reader Grade level – 5.3

Grade Level interest – 4-8

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Graphic Novels… A Novel Problem?

As a middle school science teacher, I often encouraged my students to read… read anything. I was of the opinion that it didn’t really matter what they read, as long as they were reading. So, in my mind, suitable reading material could have included online news articles, blogs, magazines, and, yes, even graphic novels. Then I started teaching 5th grade… 5th grade reading and writing to be exact.

At first, I didn’t pick up on what was happening. It seemed as though my students (not all of them but many) were writing their papers as if they were writing a play.  Their papers included headings that documented the passage of time (4 hours later…) formatting that was anything but a paragraph, dialogue written with colons rather than quotation marks (Barbara: I’d love to go!), and descriptions that would be better described as captions without pictures.

We worked through lesson after lesson on grammar, paragraph structure, organization and detail. Still, a number of kids continued to submit papers written in this strange, disjointed manner.  It wasn’t until I took a look at their extra-curricular ready material that a theory started to emerge – their writing habits mirrored the popular graphic novels they were reading, minus the necessary pictures.

It’s hard for me to admit that modern graphic novels may not be the suitable reading material I’ve always touted. Reading should be a joyful experience and if that’s what a kid enjoys, who am I to deny it? Still, it’s hard to miss the fact that the modern graphic novel does not display the same level of depth and comprehension as a literary novel does. Additionally, it models for students a form of writing that relies too heavily on pictures to carry much of the content.

So, what is the solution then? I certainly don’t want to deny a student pleasurable reading experiences, but I also can’t ignore the fact that solely reading from this genre role models poor writing skills (when writing is the sole objective) and limits their scope of comprehension. Balance. As I explained to one student recently, balance is, I believe, the key. Just like anything else, relying only on one genre of reading (graphic novels) limits you as a reader, and as a writer. So, I am encouraging my students not to put down the graphic novels altogether but to pick up a few literary novels in between.

But, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the great graphic novel debate… Do you allow students to read them for outside reading projects in your classroom? Do you find that they limit their abilities as readers or writers? Do you encourage or discourage their use? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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