Monday, March 28, 2011

The Titan's Curse

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3) delves more deeply into Greek Mythology. This book starts with Annabelle missing and Percy anxious to start a quest to find her. However, Annabelle is not the only problem facing Camp Half Blood. Artemis arrives with her hunters on the quest to find a monster that has been stirring with the threat of Kronos rising. She leaves her hunters at the camp and sets off alone.

Riordan has been slipping pieces of the Titan myths into the books from the beginning discussing Kronos and his relationship to the Greek Gods. However, in this novel another Titan appears tied to Artemis and Annabelle’s fates. Percy must learn the tricks of a previous hero, Hercules to defeat the Titan and save his friends.

The book deals with death. Not all the characters make it to the end of the story. The prophecy the God's have been worrying about regarding Percy has an interesting turn not predicted in the previous novels.

Careful readers of the previous books are rewarded if they remember Annabelle and Percy's trip to a hotel that does not like its guests to leave. While the information is revealed eventually to all readers, those who remember are rewarded by figuring out the mystery first.

This is a great series to engage children in learning about Greek Myths. This book in particular will make readers want to go back and check the details. I know I found myself Googling a few details I had forgotten about the Titans. If you want to encourage children to explore Greek Mythology this series is a great way to engage students in reading and then exploring the actual myths. You will find they can make comparisons, demonstrate where the author got the material for the stories, and even be able to write their own.

Free Teaching Materials:

Teacher's Guides

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caddie Woodlawn's Family

This book is marketed as a sequel to the Newberry Medal winner Caddie Woodlawn. It was originally published under the title Magic Melons. I suspect it was reissued under Caddie Woodlawn's Family to capatilize on the popularity of Caddie Woodlawn which is still found on many reading lists.

The word sequel is misleading. Sequel generally implies that the book takes off from where the first book ends. This book reminds me more of DVD deleted scenes that are often found in the extra sections.

The original Caddie Woodlawn is a mix of a central plot and individual family stories tied together. The blend makes for an interesting story. The sequel fails to achieve that balance.

This story seems to be the edited scenes that did not make it into the original book. Like the extra scenes on a DVD, you do find some gems. There are a few of these scenes that you wish had made it into the movie. These scenes tell you something about the characters or the plot that you would have liked to have seen in the movie. It is not hard to understand why most of the scenes have been deleted. The book is a compilation of stories that did not make it into the original Caddie Woodlawn. A few are gems that are worth reading. It is not hard to understand why the rest were edited out of the original novel.

There is a wonderful story about Caddie's sisters Hetty and Minnie's encounter with a neighbor. Another story gives background information on the Circuit Rider introduced in the first novel.

This story also demonstrates the need for editing and revising. The controversy over the Little House series ignores the strength and importance of editing and revision. I have not seen any controversy regarding Carol Ryrie Brink's authorship of these novels. However, the same arguments that were used against Laura could be used to question Ms. Brinks. Her first novel is very tight and strong. The Newberry award reflects the hard work to create a solid novel. The second book seems like someone published the edits of the first book as a second book. The first book reflects the importance of strong editing and revision. The second demonstrates that even an author can use the same material and characters and not have a positive outcome.

One of the positive aspects of this book was the chance to visit Caddie’s sisters who are mostly ignored in the first book. We get a chance to see Clara as a real person and not a stereotypical character presented in the first book. We see Hetty as a child with independent interests and an independent character in the second novel. Caddie seems to disappear in this novel. She is a much flatter character. She is not the vibrant, intelligent, engaging character of the first novel. These contradictions led me to ponder about the editing and revisions that led to the award winning first novel.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder Versus Caddie Woodlawn

I was at the library checking out my CD version of Caddie Woodlawn. The librarian commented that as a huge Laura Ingalls Wilder fan she felt it was disloyal to read Caddie Woodlawn. I thought she was joking and asked her if she had read the book. Surely, librarians would know it is always better to have more books with wonderful characters you love. They are not really going to hold you accountable for disloyalty.

However, there has long been a strong debate over the two characters. I love them both, but have always felt a stronger personal connection to Caddie having four older brothers and a tomboy upbringing. However, my friends and I never met Caddie until we had almost reached what today would be labeled middle school. Prior to that Laura held all our attention. We were fascinated by her prairie life and explored as much about her life as was possible in an age before the Internet and interlibrary loan.

One issue that is often ignored when comparing the girls is the background of the families. Caddie's father had the financial stability and resources to allow his children to be children. While Caddie and her brothers and sisters are raised with chores and family responsibilities, there is never a fear that the family is about to lose everything. In fact, Caddie's family has servants and help for their farm and her father has a job that provides income separate from the farm. When he is required to serve in the military, he is able to pay a substitute to serve in his place.

Laura's family never knows financial security during her childhood years. She begins working outside the home, not to learn responsibility, but to help provide her sister with an education. Her father does not have time to consider the alternate child rearing methods. He is constantly focused on providing food, clothing, and shelter for his family.

I suggest parents and teachers encourage children not to choose an either or position with Laura and Caddie, but to explore both. Children may have a preference. Most of us do relate to some books and people better than others. There is no disloyalty in trying and even enjoying both life stories.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sea of Monsters

I listened to The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2) while working on various writing and craft projects. It had been a while since I read the book and the audio version held my attention.

Percy Jackson's adventures continue. Camp Half Blood is in trouble. Percy is denied his request to go on a quest to save the camp, but as any reader of the series expects he becomes involved in the effort to retrieve the Golden Fleece regardless of the rules.

Unlike the Alcatraz series, the Percy Jackson series does maintain momentum and quality writing throughout the series. This story continues to move the individual book plot as well as the series plot along at a solid pace. We know more about the Titans, we see a developing relationship with Percy and his father Poseidon, and his relationship with the other half blood heroes.

As a former teacher, one of the things I like about this series is that it is a natural way to generate interest in Greek mythology. Children can read this story without much knowledge about Greek history and come away knowing a bit more about the Greek Gods. However, a clever teacher or parent can use this series to interest students in learning more about Greek myths. While the Greek Gods are given a modern update in this series, it is easy to motivate students to learning more about the casual references to myths that the author leaves in the stories for the reader to explore further on their own.

Free Teaching Resources:

Teaching Guides

Monday, March 21, 2011

Caddie Woodlawn

The library once again has allowed me to visit a favorite book on CD. Caddie Woodlawn still lacks the marketing that Laura Ingalls Wilder has received over the years. Caddie Woodlawn is a wonderful story of a girl growing up in Wisconsin during the Civil War. She had an unconventional childhood as a tomboy. Her father granted her this option after losing another child to illness. Her other sisters were raised in a more traditional manner, but Caddie was her father's experiment. He wanted to see if she would be healthier and more able to resist the dangers of life on the frontier if she had the exercise and physical experiences of her brothers.

The story provides readers with an interesting perspective on relations between Native Americans and the settlers. Some have deemed the stories politically incorrect. I believe the stories actually demonstrate the fear that existed. If we do not discuss how fear emerges, it is difficult for children to learn how fear and prejudices emerge.

The story also deals with some interesting information. Reading Caddie Woodlawn as a child was the first time I was introduced to the idea that people paid others to meet their obligations for fighting in the Civil War. I would later encounter this again in Little Women. While I researched this independently, I never found this information in my history textbooks.

Caddie Woodlawn also addresses the issue of immigrants returning to their native country. Caddie's father was the younger son of English nobility. He left England and convinced his wife to leave Boston society and move to the frontier. He had never considered returning an option and felt strongly about his connection to his American home. The family is faced with a choice when her father receives notice that he must choose between his American home and the chance to claim his English heritage.

The children's adventures have always put Caddie Woodlawn on my favorites list. As I mentioned the Little House series continues to be well marketed, but Caddie Woodlawn has amusing stories that do not get the same recognition.

Caddie Woodlawn Resources:

Caddie Woodlawn Study Guide Gale Schools

Paper Dolls

Friday, March 18, 2011

Find the Right Math Method

I read a great article from Almost Unschoolers on using art to teach the concepts of Greater Than and Less Than. She has some very creative ideas for alternate learning methods.

What struck me as I read this is that it is so important that we find a method that reaches each child. For instance, I did learn with the method she wrote about and sadly, it did not work for me. For some reason I could never understand the concept that the open-ended symbol was supposed to eat the larger numbers. I have no idea why the memory trick did not work, but for years I would look at a problem written correctly, memorize it before a test and that is how I got by. The concept of eating numbers was a huge distraction. My brain would panic trying to remember if it ate larger or smaller numbers and then I was lost. I obviously understood that 3 was smaller than 4. However the symbols < or > eluded me unless I focused on memorizing the order, 3<4 or 4>3.

Many years later, I took a graduate course in teaching math to children and the professor discussed ways to reach different learners. This topic came up and several people pointed out that the arrow pointed to the smaller number. I was stunned. That visual concept had never occurred to me. I suspect my teachers had never noticed or they might have mentioned it. I have not had trouble remembering since then. When I taught this lesson to my students, we discussed ways to remember the symbols. Some went with the eating the larger number memory cue. Others chose the arrow pointing at the smaller number. They discussed different stories that helped them remember.

My point in mentioning this is that it is so important to help your child find his/her path to understanding math. In this case, it does not really matter if how they remember the symbols merely that they can use them correctly and identify when others have presented them correctly. It is important if one memory cue does not work to find one that does work. Do not make them wait until graduate school.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Do Boston School Children Have a St. Patrick's Day Holiday?

I used to stump my students with this question when I taught fourth graders. They came up with some very creative answers to imagine why St. Patrick's Day would be a day off for their fellow students in Boston. Why would they be in school and Boston children have the day off?

It was a trick question. While the media focuses on the St. Patrick's Day events in Boston, it is not the official reason students have the day off from school. March 17 is Evacuation Day in Boston. Tell kids that and they jump off into another whole train of thought as to what would cause Boston to be evacuated.

Start nudging children towards history and you get them closer to the mark. Evacuation day is celebrated as the day British troops left Boston during the American Revolution.

I always find it a fun challenge to find out how many people know about the paid holiday and its origins.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Perennial Gardening with Kids

Gardening is a great way to get kids engaged in physical activity, learning about nature, science, and engaging in family life. Vegetable gardens are a practical way to help families grow more food. Perennial gardens can be a way for families to improve the beauty of their homes with yearly returns.

Perennial plants are plants that return on a yearly basis. Some reseed themselves, others are bulbs that continue to grow, split, and create new plants. Gardeners have learned the value of perennial plants. They save money and time.

Yesterday as I was blogging about the snow receding, we had a light snow shower. The snow did not stick, but the stubborn refusal to leave has made clearing the vegetable and flower gardens challenging. If I were waiting either to plant annuals from seeds started indoors or to plant seeds outdoors, I would have a long wait. However, as the snow has retreated my stubborn perennial plants are popping up from under the ground. I have iris plants, lilies, and tulips making their way out of the ground. I suspect when the snow pile retreats from the front corner of the yard, my crocus flowers will also show themselves.

Children can also enjoy the benefit of watching, recording, and learning about perennials. Parents can make outdoor daily trips a challenge to find new growth. Pictures are a great way to record the progress of plant growth.

If you did not get bulbs in last fall, do not be disappointed. When the ground thaws plants can still be planted and they will come back in the following years. Many garden club in our area hold spring sales. This can be a chance to start a new garden or expand an old one with new plants and colors of old ones. An offer to help neighbors with their spring garden chores can result in offers of plants that need to be split to make room for new growth. Even on a small budget much can be done to add ne w plants.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Just Dance

My reservation for Just Dance became available at the library and I had a chance to test it out this weekend.

I tried the game with a partner and found that we had less issues with space than we had with our previous attempts at Dance on Broadway. Like Dance on Broadway, there was a variety of levels. We stayed with the lower level routines in our first outing. Unlike the Broadway version, I liked most of the song selections. It seemed like they had the financing to pick songs that would work with the dance program, not just songs they could afford to stay on budget.

I am thinking that I will purchase this one and perhaps pass on the Broadway game. I still have the Just Dance 2 on reserve at the library to try before purchasing. I do not think it will sway me from buying the first. If anything I may end up with more than one dance workout game. Since I am starting at the easiest level, I have a long way to go before I will be bored with my options.

Good music and the ability to use this without a huge living space are important components of the game. Another important quality is the fun factor. We are more likely to play when the game is engaging. In addition, it seemed easier to understand why points were awarded and why you were not doing well than when we had tried the Broadway game.

I am thinking about trying this game with family when we get our own copy. I think it would be a fun way to get family members up, moving, and having some fun. There are different options of game play that allow for general play and action that is more competitive.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gardening with Children

Many schools have planting projects that begin in the spring. Children explore planting seeds and watch them grow and develop. Age appropriate studies help students learn about the biology of plants. Homeschooling parents also often experiment with plants as part of their schooling experience.

Some schools have started vegetable gardens to promote an interest in learning how to grow and utilize crops. These crops are finding themselves in food pantries and on even in the kitchens of the schools themselves.

Parents can support these skills by gardening with children at home. Even children who are reluctant to eat vegetables find more interest when they grow their own. Children have the opportunity to learn skills that will last a lifetime. The group effort of raising food can help the family increase family time, acquire better qualities and options of food, and save money in the process.

When planning the crops look for jobs that are age appropriate for the children in the family. Even young children can find tasks that can help. When thinning crops consider allowing children to take some of these extra plants and plant them in their own pots to grow. Children can experiment with learning to care for these plants without any damage to the main family crop.

This can also be a great time to teach kids about how and why plants grow in certain areas. Recycled planters can be used to provide children with the freedom to experiment with plants without taking up space in the main garden areas.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Using Your Online Library Catalog

I have to thank a younger family member for introducing me to this amazing tool. Our state of Massachusetts has regional memberships for local libraries that allow patrons to borrow books from member libraries. Utilizing additional memberships, patrons can borrow from larger libraries should their own regional library not provide the materials they are seeking.

For instance, my library belongs to CWMARS that is the Central district. A search will produce books from member libraries. I can do an additional search that goes outside the region. People do have to live in a qualifying district. With cutbacks, some libraries have been disqualified.
What I love is being able to access the catalog from my home. I can search availability and make reservations online. When the books arrive, I receive an email telling me the book is at the reservation desk. In our system, patrons are allowed to reserve up to ten items. Each time an item arrives and is checked out you can add another if you have reached your limit.

This has saved me hours of time trying to access a monitor to check titles at the library. It has motivated me to look at titles available from other libraries, as our library does not always have the materials I am most interested in accessing.

The regional system has allowed me access to DVD’s, books on CD, Video Games, as well as traditional books one expects to get from a library. If you have not examined your local libraries online capacity I suggest you find out if they have gone online. It is a great way to access materials. I have saved money on books and movies and I have had a chance to review other products prior to purchasing them.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

After listening to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Classic Series)
I put Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Quirk Classic Series) on my list of books to acquire from the library. The reviews were not impressive, but I wanted to decide for myself.

My tastes must be different from others because I laughed my way through the book. I listened while working on writing projects, housework, and crochet projects and I found it hilarious. Prior to listening to this book, I listened to an unabridged copy of Sense and Sensibility last week. I wanted a chance to review the original story prior to hearing the parody.

This parody is a combination of Sense and Sensibility, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Qualitas Classics) and Creature Double Feature. While fans of Sense and Sensibility might be outraged, I found I could not stop laughing.

Sea creatures have gone wild and humans are at war with them. Those familiar with Verne will see the influence on adding a sea station to deal with the rising sea levels in flooded London and the technology of subs and underwater diving suits to assist in the battle. In this version, a sea witch curses Colonel Brandon with the face of a sea monster. This creates even more challenges in his quest to win the younger Miss Dashwood’s heart.

While I enjoyed the zombies in the remaking of Pride and Prejudice, trying to stick strictly to the plot of the original made it very restrictive. One of the complaints of this story was one of my enjoyments. The story does add more to the plot in order to make carry of the sea monster plot.

There are many monster classics on the market. I am hoping more come out on CD as I find them a wonderful distraction to listen to while accomplishing other tasks. I will continue to watch for them at my local library.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dance on Broadway

Dance on Broadway was the first dance game I have had the chance to try out. The library has a great selection, but the waits to get one can be long. Just Dance is in transit, so I will likely have it next week to try out.

I am not planning to buy any of the dance games until I have the chance to try them out. I encourage others to do the same. I was not impressed with the reviews of this game, however I like Broadway tunes, was looking for a fun Wii workout game, and have limited experience with video games. My expectations are not as high as others seem to be for these games. In fact, my experience with workouts at home goes back to my Mom, my sister and I trying to decode first records and then cassette tapes with stick figure manuals that were supposed to demonstrate the moves one was to accomplish. When I think of the pretzels we created with our bodies it is a wonder no lasting damage was done. When the VCR workouts came out with a variety of styles of music, dance, and other options it was so amazing to see what the people were doing. It still did not mean we could do it, but we know could connect the words with the action we were supposed to perform. My favorites of these tapes were the dance ones. Many of these tapes were not high quality productions, so I state this as I review Dance on Broadway. I got used to working through the problems at a young age.

On the plus side, I did not have the struggles following the characters that others seem to complain about having. My problems were strictly my own lack of skill and grace in performing the moves. I say this after years of having worked through other exercise tapes. It takes me a while to learn a routine. The levels of difficulty were a plus. This provides an entry level and some room for growth in the program.

Do to the price value I suspect songs were chosen based on cost, not the best choices for the game style. I am a huge musical fan and loved the idea of a workout based on Broadway music. Having read the reviews, I knew the music selection, so I was not surprised. Other choices likely would have been cost efficient and been easier to fit into the style of the game.

I have other games to preview before making my choice to buy. However, this one may be on my list. It is generally listed around $20 and I suspect with coupons or sales might be found even cheaper. If it can get me motivated to do an extra workout, it may be worth the purchase.

Friday, March 4, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Resources Updated

Just a note to let you know that the St. Patrick's Day Free Education Resource Page has been updated and added to the index. I am not sure why I missed adding it last year, but I noticed it was missing when I went to find it this year.

As a freelance writer, I have been worried about the changes to Google's ratings for content. However, as I searched for new resources to update the St. Patrick's Day page I can gladly state I only had one Trojan attack instead of the thirty or more Kapersky generally protects me against when I go off on these hunts to locate free resources to share.

I hope these resources are helpful and that all of you have a happy, safe, and healthy St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Games as Tutoring Tools

Games are great ways for children to learn or practice skills. Many adults remember counting out money, matching colors, spelling words, and working on a number of skills all while playing games.

Many adults forget that games can be a great way to demonstrate new ways of approaching skills that children struggle with in a different learning environment. Recently, we had a family game night with a younger relative playing Dicecapades Board Game. This game is a combination of many familiar games. Participants have spelling, math, Pictionary, physical, and other challenges to meet in order to progress through the game. One important strategy I practiced during the game was demonstrating strategies, not telling the younger player different ways to attack problems.

For instance, one of the games required quickly adding numbers. Years ago, I learned to organize numbers in patterns of tens. I quickly moved my dice into patterns of tens and then added my totals. My husband who has no need of aids when adding also employed this strategy to demonstrate how it worked. The child who had struggled with this challenge asked us what we were doing and we helped her by explaining our strategy. Instead of forcing our method on her, we showed her an alternative to help her reach her goal. We have done this to teach other strategies for card and board games as well. I have found we have more success when we demonstrate instead of telling when we play games with the younger relatives.

If you are looking to improve math and reading skills, look at your child's games again. Try to focus on demonstrating alternate or better skills for problem solving. The goal is not to focus on forcing them to try your methods, but to give them alternatives.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Education Questions Anyone?

I often post answers to education questions I get from family and friends. Online inqueries also form the basis of posts. The math posts are a combination of both. The attendence post came from a couple of online groups I belong to that had postings on the topic. I have more questions to answer and books to share, but I thought I would give people a chance to ask their own questions.