Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Those Darn Squirrels

Title:  Those Darn Squirrels

Author:  Adam Rubin
Illustrator:  Daniel Salmieri
Publisher:  Sandpiper ©2008
ISBN:  478-0-547-57681-7
Grade Level:  K-5
Book Review:  Old Man Fookwire doesn't like very many things, but he does love birds.  He feeds them, paints pictures of them and mourns every winter when they leave for a warmer place. As much as he likes his birds, he dislikes the conniving squirrels that come to live on his property.  That is until they find a very clever way to win his heart.  The story can be read on many levels.  It can be read purely for pleasure.  The reader can take away a lesson about the importance of appreciating differences and resolving conflicts.  Or the squirrels ingenuity can inspire young engineers.  Whatever the reason, it is a delightful read.

Systems Thinking Connections: 
Habits: Those Darn Squirrels offers students multiple opportunities to examine how characters in the story practice or don't practice the habits of a systems thinker, making it an ideal book for helping students understand the habits.  After reading the book aloud to a group of fourth grade students, each group of 4 to 5 students took a set of habits cards and selected one to which they could make a connection with the story.  Their connections were excellent and their understanding of the habits as applied to the scenarios in the book were very accurate and reasonable.  Students recognized how Old Man Fookwire and the squirrels learned something by changing their perspectives to increase their understanding.  Students also noted how the squirrels benefited when they took the time to consider an issue fully and resits the urge to come to a quick conclusion.
Tools:  A group of second graders in  used a Behavior Over Time Graph to track the squirrels level of frustration.  You will note from the key that these students also read the sequels to the original story. Comparing the frustration of the squirrels and Mr. Fookwire at various points in the story  produced deeper understanding and comprehension of the text.  
Another thing to note in this graph is how readers cite textual evidence by making notations on the graph itself, showing what is affecting the level of frustration.  Systems tools are powerful ways to help students make connections to a text and document those connections using evidence from the text.  
Special thanks to Christina Wamboldt, Hewlett ElementarySchool, Hewlett-Woodmere School District, for sharing this piece of student work.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rosie Revere, Engineer

Title:  Rosie Revere Engineer
Author:  Andrea Beaty @andreabeaty
Illustrator:  David Roberts
Publisher:  Abrams Books for Young Readers
© 2013
ISBN:  978-1-4197-0845-9
Grade Level:  K-3
Book Review: Rosie the Riveter was the iconic symbol for the role of women in the war effort during World War II. Rosie Revere, Engineer captures the power of that symbol in a modern tale for young readers on the power of pursuing your dreams.  In this fictional story, Rosie has a dream of being an engineer, but when well-meaning relatives laugh at her creations, she seeks to hide her dreams. Written in clever couplets with intriguing illustrations, the book delivers a powerful message about following your dreams no matter what and learning that failure is an essential part of success.
Systems Thinking Connections:
Habits:  Rosie learns lessons in this story that mirror several habits of a systems thinker.  Rosie realizes the power of Successive Approximation.  Great-great-aunt Rose helps Rosie understand that when something doesn't work, it is not a failure, but rather an opportunity to by pay attention to what did work.  Recognizing how much she can learn from her mistakes, Rosie is well on her way to knowing how to make the next iteration even better than the first. In order to apply Successive Approximation Rosie must also practice considers an issue fully and resists the urge to come to a quick conclusion.  Whether your unit of study is focused on engineering, women in engineering or innovation, Rosie Revere, Engineer makes it easy to deepen student understanding of the habits of a systems thinker in service to the curriculum specific outcomes being learned.
Tools:  Rosie Revere, Engineer is a book about accumulations.  You could choose to label the "stock" of her lessons learned in a number of ways:  ingenuity, innovation, persistence, power of a dream, to name a few.  Whichever stock you choose the factors that increase and decrease that stock are clearly articulated in the story.  What a great conversation to have with your students to discover what truly fuels innovation.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What's Up with This Chicken?

Title:  What's Up with This Chicken?
Author:  Jane Sutton
Illustrator:  Peter J. Welling
Publisher:  Pelican Publishing ©2015
ISBN:  978-1-4556-2085-2
Grade Level: K-5
Book Review:  Jane Sutton's books frequently appear in Literature Connects because she has a tremendous talent for taking real life experiences and creating delightful narratives that both inform and entertain. Jane definitely doesn't disappoint in her newest release, What's Up with this Chicken? It is a wonderful story filled with interesting information about chickens and is told in Sutton's signature style: believable characters, magnificent humor and plenty of word play. The book contains a powerful embedded message about how to resolve conflicts by changing your perspective. Trudy refuses to get off her eggs. Sylvia can't understand why. Under the tutelage of a wise grandmother, Sylvia comes to understand that Trudy is not difficult, she is really just broody. Don't miss out on this "egg-cellent" book. It is appropriate for students PreK-5 because it can be read and enjoyed on so many levels. 
Systems Thinking Connections
Habits:  Sylvia and her grandmother could easily become frustrated with Trudy and decide that she has outlived her usefulness as an egg-laying chicken; instead, they consider the issue fully (including doing some important research) and resist the urge to come to a quick conclusion. As a result, they recognize that there is a reason for Trudy's behavior, her desire to mother chicks is a fundamental structure of Trudy's natural make up. A deep but meaningful example of recognizing that a system's structure generates its behavior. They surface their assumption--Trudy is a broody hen--and then test their assumption by purchasing some fertilized eggs. For younger children simply recognizing how changing their perspective helps Sylvia and her grandmother increase their understanding is a very worthwhile connection.
Tools:  Conflict is central to any good story. The conflict resolution is particularly strong in What's Up with This Chicken? So much so, that children could use this balancing loop to explain how conflict in this story is resolved.
Here is one way to "tell the story of this loop." As the conflict increases, Trudy refuses to get off her eggs) Sylvia works to resolve the situation. As Sylvia's effort at resolving the conflict increases, the conflict decreases because Trudy is happily sitting on her eggs and caring for her chickens. Sylvia's need for resolution strategies goes down because she is focused on Trudy's new role as a mother hen. Over time the chickens grow up and Trudy needs more fertilized eggs. In addition, Sylvia learns that one of Trudy's offspring is also a brooding hen. As Judy now refuses to allow Sylvia to collect the eggs (conflict), Sylvia will have to work to resolve the conflict (providing Judy fertilized eggs) so the conflict decreases. Using a causal loop to focus on the conflict helps students understand more deeply conflict in a story. Students could also use this loop to tell their own story about a conflict that resolves but over time manifests itself in a slightly different way.
The ladder of inference would also be a good tool to use with What's Up with This Chicken?. When faced with a conflict with Trudy, Sylvia and her grandmother add information to their pool of experience by reading in a book about chickens. They use that information to make a more informed decision in caring for Trudy and as a result have a happier chicken. Students could go up and down the ladder from both the perspective of Sylvia and Trudy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Title:  Lifetimes

Author:  David L. Rice
Illustrator:  Michael S. Maydak
Publisher:  Dawn Publications ©1997
ISBN:  1-883220-59-9
Grade Level: 2 and up

Book Review:  From the one day lifetime of a mayfly to the 2,000 year lifetime of a giant sequoia, Lifetimes gives the reader the information to reflect on how similar and how different living creatures really are.  Lifetimes is one of those picture books that is written on so many levels: the colorful illustrations and introductory text can be enjoyed by a young child while the informational text is instructive for adults. Lifetimes has a variety of text features repeated consistently throughout the book making it very easy to access information.   Each page begins with the same sentence pattern: "A lifetime for a (species) is about (length of time)."  Then an expository paragraph gives information about the species featured on the page.  The entry concludes with a bolded statement that makes us think.  For example, "Butterflies show us it's possible to do important work and have fun at the same time."  Then at the very bottom of the page three little monkeys offer us ideas to "tell about," "think about" or "look up." The book is replete for ways to teach nonfiction text and science content about plants and animals.

Systems Thinking Connections:
Habits:  Observes how elements within systems change over time, generating patterns and trends.  Makes meaningful connections within and between systems.  Considers an issue fully and resists the urge to come to a quick conclusion. This book is clearly about time and trends that occur with in the lifetimes of many varied organisms. I identify three separate habits but list them all together because an integrated free flowing discussion where students are able to make their own connections and generate new understandings about these (and any other habits of a systems thinker) while making meaning of the text would be a tremendously rich discussion.
Tools:  Behavior Over Time Graphs seem an obvious choice for this text; however, because the length of time is different for each species careful attention will need to be given to construction of the graph.  Each species could easily constitute its own graph with the x-axis showing the lifespan of that creature and the y-axis representing stages of development.  Students could then compare.  For instance, how long is you childhood, when your life expectancy is a single day.
Ladder of Inference.  Questions on the Non-Fiction Ladder of Inference could all be answered in relation to this text.  The consistently patterned text lends itself well to a discussion of structure.  The thought provoking insights and basic questions of how each species is particularly suited to its particular lifespan would lead to a rich conversation about beliefs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Baby Baby Blah Blah Blah

Title: Baby Baby Blah Blah Blah!

Author:  Jonathan Shipton
Illustrator:  Francessca Chessa
Publisher:  Holiday House ©2009
ISBN:  978-0-8234-2213-5
Grade Level:  PreK

Book Review:   Like many young children, Emily is faced with the news that her parents are going to have another baby.  Emily loves to make lists, so she makes lists about the new baby, both the good and the bad.  Her conclusion, once the baby comes it will be all about the baby and life will no longer be all about her.  Emily is eventually convinced of the joy this baby will bring.  That is until the author suggests that one more surprise is still in store. As this book is available in Turkish, I dedicate this entry to the enthusiastic teachers with whom I had the privilege of working this summer.

Systems Thinking Connections:
:  Considers an issue fully and resists to the urge to come to a quick conclusion.  

Emily believes that once the baby comes it will only be about the baby, but through thoughtful, loving explanations and assurances from her mom and dad, Emily reconsiders and adjusts her assumptions. A very similar discussion could focus on the habit, Considers how mental models affect current reality and the future.  Emily and her parents are anticipating the same event, but each has a very different point of view about what the future holds.
Tools: Behavior Over Time Graphs (BOTG). This book includes specific language that makes it ideal for  young children to craft their own BOTG.  For example, "The baby bump grew.  And a little worry started to grow in Emily's mind.  The bigger the baby bump grew, the bigger Emily's worry grew."  This language from the text supports children's understanding of a simple dynamic:  Change over time.  Children familiar with the BOTG will be able to recognize this language and use it as inspiration for their own BOTG. Under the guidance of a sytems-focused teacher, along with some prior knowledge, children could graph a number of variables related to the pending birth of a new sibling. The actual timeline of the printed story is quite short; however, dad describes his sense of happiness over a much longer period of time.  Children could create a BOTG that spans the time before Emily was born and projects to the arrival of the new baby.  These graphs could support a genuine conversation about the story and an opportunity for children to share and graph their own experiences with the birth of younger siblings. 
This book would also be a good one for using the ladder of inference.  While the text is quite simple, it abounds with opportunities for inference.  For example, what is Emily paying attention to that leads to her beliefs about her new sibling. What are some actions she might take based on her beliefs at different moments in the story?  How do her beliefs change?  What causes that change?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Library Lily

Title:  Library Lily
Author:  Gillian Shields
Illustrator:  Francesca Chessa
Publisher:  Eerdmans Books for Young Readers ©2011
ISBN:  978-0-8028-5401-8
Grade Level:  PreK-2

Book Review:  Lily loves to read.  She reads all the time. She reads so much that she is sometimes unaware of the world around her.  Milly hates to read. That is until Lily introduces her to the joy and adventures that she can have when she reads. Library Lily is a heartwarming story about both the joys and influences of reading.  As this book is available in Turkish, I dedicate this entry to the enthusiastic teachers with whom I had the privilege of working this summer.
Systems Thinking Connections:  
Habits:  Changes perspectives to increase understanding. The story is a classic example of this habit for both Lily and Milly.  It clearly illustrates that both characters are better off when they incorporate the perspective of the other into their own lives.
Tools:  Given the straightforward presentation of Lily's experiences reading books and Milly's constant need for adventure, the book provides a great means of introducing the concept of accumulation to young children.  The number of books that Lily reads is increasing at a steady and constant rate.  Likewise, it can be inferred that Milly's experiences accumulate at a similar rate.  Once the characters meet they both experience an accelerated accumulation of books read and adventures experienced. The concept of accumulation is at the heart of this story and re-readings could support children in acquiring a deeper understanding of the concept of accumulation.
The book would also be an excellent basis for a primary lesson the ladder of inference.  Students could compare Lily's ladder about her attitudes toward reading with Milly's ladder.  Milly changes her mind about reading based on the influence of her new friend, Lily. Students could offer lots of evidence about what Lily and Milly believe, what they are paying attention to and ultimately what they choose to do based on their beliefs.