The Saga Continues…

In her fourth and final Ember book, The Diamond of Darkhold, author Jeanne DuPrau brings us back to Lina and Doon, picking up where they left off in the town of Sparks.  Lina has settled into a quite life in town working with the town doctor while Doon is working hard to build a new life for the people of Ember.  While Lina’s character has mellowed and matured (she’s not quite the carefree adventurer we remember) Doon is as curious and driven as ever.  So, when Doon proposes that he and Lina embark on their most dangerous journey yet, Lina needs convincing.  But, with their fellow townspeople suffering from harsh conditions and little food, Lina knows Doon has the right idea.  It’s time for them to return to Ember.
The Diamond of Darkhold provides the perfect end to this fun and exciting literature adventure.  Discovering along with Lina and Doon what is left of Ember after the mass exodus is both thrilling and sad.  Additionally, we are given a glimpse into the future for Lina, Doon, and the others of Ember as well as the town of Sparks.  Our protagonists are once again young heroes saving their home, this time led by Doon.
Book Stats:
Pages – 285
Lexile – 790
Grade Level Interest – 5th-8th
Science Tie-ins:
What I love most about this series is how well it can tie into middle school curriculum outside of ELA, with the exception, perhaps, of the third book.  Having said that, from a curriculum perspective it would ‘work’ to leave out the 3rd book which does not provide any necessary information to Lina and Doon’s story line.  Except for a short (no more than 1 paragraph) reference at the end of book 4, book 3 can be removed from the lineup allowing for a cohesive story line surrounding Lina and Doon that also pairs spectacularly well with other curriculum areas.  (And since I am a curriculum nerd, I love a good pairing!  Some look for a fine wine to pair with a lovely meal, I look for a fantastic read to pair with a unit of amazing learning).
In The Diamond of Darkhold, Lina and Doon discover a secret during their journey back to the city of Ember, one that could change their entire way of life.  The builders left behind one final gift, technology to harness the power of the sun.  This provides an excellent opportunity to encourage students to study alternative energy sources (solar, wind, water).  The NGSS for middle school outlines standards for students to learn about alternative energy sources, most of which is concentrated in the 8th grade.  This is a perfect opportunity to link literature to a study on solar power.  Consider having students design solar powered cars or researching other areas such as wind and water power.
For a cohesive middle school curriculum program that links ELA and science through all three grades, consider reading one book each year.  Book 1, The City of Ember, can be read in 6th grade along side a unit about the Earth and Geology.  Book 2, The People of Sparks, can be read in 7th grade along side a unit about the biology of plants, and Book 4, The Diamond of Darkhold, can be read in 8th grade along side a unit about natural energy sources.  Pairing literature with science… does it get any better?
Happy Reading!

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Reflections of a not-so-first-year teacher

For years I taught middle school, and despite what most people might think, I loved the age group of kiddos I worked with at that level.  But this year I changed districts, schools, and yes, even grades.  This isn’t my first time being a not-so-first-year-teacher (a veteran teacher learning the ropes in a new school) but this year, my fellow newbies were, in fact, newbies.  The 4 other teachers hired with me are experiencing their very first year of teaching and watching their tired faces grace the halls first thing Monday morning has made me take pause and reflect on my very first year.  (Ironically, that very first of first years was in the same district I am currently employed; my teaching career has officially come full circle!)
My very first year of teaching was also my first year of motherhood, so to say I slept very little is quite the understatement!  I can remember clearly picking up my son from daycare before they closed at 5:30 only to whisk him back to school with me, rushing down a quick dinner on the way, so that I could finish some task like inputting grades or prepping a lab.  On Fridays, I would load up my car with a 100+ student notebooks and other materials, prepared to spend my weekends strategically grading and planning from one nap time to the next.  The first half of that first year was a blurred whirlwind of barely making it from day to day.  I confess to showing perhaps one too many Bill Nye videos during that first half of the first year, clamoring for any extra time I could get.
But even though those first months were unbelievably crazy, I also made sure to take advantage of every conference and professional development opportunity that came my way.  Through these tools I gained an abundance of knowledge and know-how.  By the time Winter break rolled around, I have no doubt I was zombie like in appearance.  Still, I spent a decent chunk of my two-weeks  reworking everything I had been doing up to that point.  New lessons, new methods, new ideas (and a decent amount of sleep too!)  When I returned, Bill Nye was no longer a fixture in our weekly line-up.  The students were taken aback for sure, the level of rigor and accountability had certainly risen ten-fold.  But it was a few weeks in to our new regime that I realized just how much my students had taken notice of the change.  “You know Ms. Green,” a student said as I was passing out the latest assignment, “I liked it better when you didn’t know what you were doing.”
To this day, that comment makes me laugh and I think about it at the start of every new year.  But I have especially thought of it this year as I have found myself surrounded by so many new teachers.  We have amazing teacher preparation programs in California and yet, just like with parenthood, there is simply nothing that can prepare you for that very first, first year.  So as I watch their tired faces roam the halls in zombie-like fashion, I offer up this little blessing: your kiddos love you no matter what, and sometimes they love you more when you don’t know what you are doing.

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