Monday, August 31, 2009

Space Station Rat

Scritch-rip, scritch-rip… Jeffrey is the only kid on a space station where his parents are scientists. He’s stuck with Nanny, a robot who is supposed to take care of him, but turns out to be a deadly rat killing machine. Jeff winds up rescuing (and coming to love) a lavender lab rat (ingeniously named… wait for it… Rat) who has been genetically altered and trained to be a spy. Rat accepts Jeff’s friendship mainly as an escape to the outside world, and the freedom to play in the grass and sunshine. Eventually though, she discovers there is more to this kid than just a way out – maybe even a lifelong friend. Together they are challenged with destroying a robot, hiding from parents and scientists who want to kill or capture rat, and chowing on liverwurst. Ew!

There are so few science fiction books for kids – it’s great to find one so well-written and fun to read. And besides, what’s not to love about a cuddly lavender (not purple!) rat, who turns out to be witty and sometimes lethal-minded? This book is adventuresome, fast-paced, and packed with plenty of action. At the same time, it introduces kids to concepts like self-awareness, robotic and genetic (and human) ethics, and other issues commonly held to be “adult” topics, in a way that is surprisingly simple, not too deep, and overall perfect for kids, all without slowing down the plot of the book. I would recommend this book to kids from about third grade up, or any kid with a special interest in robots, space stations, spying, etc. More introspective kids will appreciate the story of growing friendship and trust between a young boy and a cute little rat. For teachers, it’s a great place to start a unit on space stations, since it provides a fun introductory knowledge of the topic.

Activities –

Space Station Map (Maps / Geography / Active Reading / Science) – Before you read, look up the real space station online. Using a large sheet of paper, draw the outline of nine rings to start your own Space Station map. Then, as you read, mark the location of each place mentioned as it’s described in the book. Some things might be general, for instance, marking the repair shop as just being on ring one, since that is as specific as the book gets.
By the end of the book, the outer ring will be the most filled in. Remind students that’s because in the book, as the old rings wore out and no longer functioned, they would build around it and move further and further out. Go back to your website about the real space station. See if you can find out if this is true in real life, and compare some similarities and differences you find between the real space station and the make believe one. You could also switch to teaching about literature at this point. Discuss how this is typical of the science fiction genre – there is a lot of real science mentioned, yet the author can take liberties and change things to make them more exciting, or to fit the plot of the story.

Velcro Boots (Math – Time Elapsed, Tables, Differences) – It takes Jeff a lot of practice to learn to run in a space-station. How hard could it be? Mark off a long section of hallway or classroom. Time students crossing from one end to the other in their regular shoes, and record the results for each kid in one column of a table. Then have them slip on special booties and try running it again, this time listening to the cool ripping sound, and taking “jumping” steps to imitate being in low gravity. Make sure they actually take slow, high jumping steps – the tape alone won’t slow them down, and you want this time to be different than the first. Record this time too – be sure to laugh at their efforts while you’re at it, and remind them this is why the parents in Space Station Rat didn’t run! Then discuss the different ways you could manipulate the information in your table. You could subtract the difference between the two times to see how much longer it took with the booties. You could then average the differences for all the students. You could use the table to make a bar graph, so it would be easier to see. See if the kids can think of any other ways to use the information.
To make the boots: The simplest way is to just wrap packing tape firmly around their feet, sticky side out. If they’re squeamish about it, you could have socks on hand, or just put it around their shoes. (I tried it, and the tape didn’t stick to my feet or hurt to peel off, even though I was clumsy and got it tangled up with the sticky side touching me. It did make a lot of noise against the floor though!)

Sound Words onomatopoeia (English) –
This book has a lot of onomatopoeias, words that sound like the sound they represent. See how many you can remember – then think of all the words we use that are onomatopoeias. Make some up!

Build-Your-Own Nanny (Science… or art… or um… whatever) – Water and alka-seltzer in small platic bottle with cork… disk (plastic bowl?) on top decorated to be robot… maybe would go forward on its own if you put it disk side up in water and shook the alk-seltzer into the water right as you let go? Who knows – not me! This, as you can clearly see, was an undeveloped thought… I just thought it would be fun to make a Nanny. Or I guess you could call it an art project and pull the old, decorate a brown paper grocery sack and pretend to be a robot trick.

No comments: