Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Something to Tell the Grandcows

This book is hilarious. It tells the story of Emmadine the cow, who has nothing exciting to tell her grandcows. The best she can come up with is the time she swatted 13 flies at once – and who wants to hear about that? So she answers an advertisement to travel to the South Pole. This book is loosely based on a true story, Admiral Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole. He did in fact take several cows on his expeditions, but of course they did not wear udderwarmers, or teach the cowherd the hoochy-coochy. It talks about silly things like that, but it also talks about the supplies they needed to take, the sun staying up all summer (and down all winter), the president awarding the explorers when they got back, and other little details that make it almost (but not really!) like historical fiction.

The bottom line is I would definitely recommend this book. It is a very fun, silly pleasure read. In spite of the silliness, it would also be a good jump off place for a lesson on the South Pole, Antarctica , explorers, Admiral Byrd’s expeditions, etc.

I’ve decided that on the rare occasion I have any ideas on how to use the book in a lesson, I will put them at the end of the post, so here is the end of “Something to Tell the Grandcows”.

Practical Uses:

Literature: Fact Vs. Fiction
Explain the difference between fact and fiction. Discuss how some made-up books have real things in them. This book is easier for this than true historical fiction* because the fiction parts are obvious and somewhat ridiculous. Even the youngest children should be able to tell you cows don’t really teach people how to dance the hoochie-coochie. Have students point out things from the book that could and couldn’t have happened.

History: Shackleton’s Expedition, Explorers
No specific ideas, but it would be a great jumping off point to get discussion rolling on these topics before you dig into serious research.

Science: South Pole Sunlight
Use this book as an introduction to a lesson on the earth’s axis tilting away from the sun, causing solar regions to have ‘unusual’ patterns of sunlight. There is a very simple experiment to illustrate this point well.
You will need:
a flashlight – the sun
a styrophoam ball – the earth
a marker – for drawing vague continent shapes
and some toothpicks – your “axis”
Have students draw outlines of the continents on their earth (note the geography opportunity here ;)), then put a toothpick at the north pole and one at the south pole. Have them hold the earth by the axis while you shine the flash light straight at the earth. Make sure you are not shining at an angle. The student can then turn rotate their earth on its axis and observe how the sun shines on different parts of the earth.
If you wanted to get more in depth, you could then have students draw the equator and ask them how they think it got is name. Explain that the closer you get to the equator, the more equal the sunlight and darkness are.

Math: Graphs and Charts
If you did either the literature or science lesson, you could use the facts you gathered to make a graph. The facts and fiction graph would simple – say your students found three things that were fiction and four things that were fact, their graph would just have two bars - one 3 units hight, the other 4. For the sunlight, they would plot how many hours of sunlight certain days of the year had. Or they could plot how many days had 3 hours of sunlight, how many days had 5 hours, and so on. This might also work well with a line graph.

Geography: Route Planning
Have students use an atlas to decide on a route from their home to the South Pole. Depending on students’ general knowledge and research skills, this lesson could go several ways. Young students could be given a printout of a world map outline and asked to simply draw how they think they could get there. Older students could research (or just guess) what mode of transportation each leg of their route would require, and figure out approximately how long each leg of the trip would take to make. They could also list (and label on their map) all the countries and oceans their route would pass through.
You could discuss difficulties and advantages of different routes (more supplies needed for the ocean journey, more physical labor hiking down through South America, if you go through Cuba, you have to deal with hostile relations with the United States, etc…).

* One characteristic of historical fiction is everything in the book realistically could have happened to the characters in the book.

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