Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics by John Feinstein is a young adult novel set at the London Olympics and the run-up to them. The main character, Susan Carol Anderson, is a competitive swimmer. She learns firsthand, as she prepares for the competition, that it’s easy for a competitor to become a commodity. Her friend Stevie is reporting on the Olympics, and his experience as a writer and a journalist is explored along with the experiences of the athletes.
Read the book aloud or assign chapters to students for independent reading. Then follow up with cross-curricular activities:
- Susan Carol loves to swim and has enjoyed swimming competitively for her high school. As an Olympic athlete, she suddenly has a lot more options, including the potential to earn a lot of money. How might this affect her life? Quote from Chapter 3: “Just the thought of it staggered Susan Carol. She couldn’t begin to think of how to spend that money… All the things she’d imagined for her life were suddenly chaning — it was hard to keep up.”
- As she becomes more well known, there are a lot suggestions that Susan Carol is popular because of her looks, not her swimming ability. How does she feel about this? Is this a problem? Issues of both sexuality and sexism come up in the book. In Chapter 9, Stevie becomes angry about “how they planned to market Susan Carol as America’s newest sweetheart/sex symbol.” Does this kind of marketing belittle an athlete?
- While her father originally stands firm on these issues (quote from chapter 3: “‘You and I had an agreement,J.P.,’ he said firmly. “We promote her as an athlete.’”) he later gives in, even agreeing to fire the coach Susan Carol has worked with all her life, over her objections. Should parents make these decisions, or should young people make them? Do good people get swayed by money and pressure to do things they know are wrong?
- In Chapters 16 and 17, there is a lot of discussion of the rules of the Olympic Village, where athletes stay, and the kind of access other people get to the athletes. Should athletes be focused on the competition to the exclusion of everything else, or should they be available for reporters — or able to spend time having fun? Are the rules protecting the athletes or limiting them?
- At the end of the book, after several chapters of mounting feelings that something might be wrong, it becomes clear that rules are being broken. Did the students see it coming? Can they identify the trail of clues leading to the outcome?
This book is full of numbers, from times and speed to the number of competitors and their chances of winning. Divide into groups and give each group a chapter of the book to work with. Have students make word problems using the data in the book, and challenge other teams to find the answers. Give the winning team Olympic-style medals.
Michael Phelps is a character in the book. In real life, Phelps has received the largest number of Olympic medals any athlete has ever received. Have students research Phelps and prepare a display board, PowerPoint, or class book about this exceptional athlete.
Find more ideas in our Olympics Classroom Theme.
I’m a teacher, but I’m also a parent, and I’ve occasionally had disagreements with my kids’ teachers. Once a teacher complained to me about my daughter’s resistance to doing routine stuff like copying out spelling words repeatedly. “Most of our lives as adults,” she said to me, “consist of doing repetitive, boring, routine tasks.”
My reaction: “Not my kid.” I hope I didn’t actually say that, because I know — as a teacher — how it sounds, but I remember that I thought it.
That kid is now a data analyst for a global firm, doing no routine tasks at all. And it’s not just my kid. The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide shares a chart from Educational Leadership that shows the kinds of tasks that are on the rise in the American workforce, and the kind that are becoming steadily less needed and less valuable:
- Increasing at an incredible rate: complex communication and expert thinking
- Decreasing dismally: routine cognitive work and routine manual work
We shouldn’t be surprised by this. In our global economy, the routine jobs are increasingly automated (that is, done by machines) or outsourced to less expensive labor in countries with a lower cost of living. It isn’t the case now, and it certainly won’t be when our students enter the workforce, that only special people that
The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide goes on to suggest that we consider whether “teacher who are only information dispensers, book readers, babysitters, and multiple choice quiz givers” might also be replaced by machines, but even if we’re not worried about that, we should be thinking about the value to our students of learning to do repetitive, routine, boring work.
Let’s say that we want our students to develop some basic tech skills.We could use something like Mouserobics to help students learn to use a mouse — but there are so many games and activities online which involve pointing and clicking that we can just give the students something fun, challenging and/or informative instead. No disrespect intended to the creators of Mouserobics, but try this experiment: try out Mouserobics and also 15 Puzzle. Which required self-discipline to complete? Which required self-discipline to stop playing?
Are you thinking that our students need to learn self discipline? I agree. However, they don’t need to learn the self-discipline involved in doing repetitive clerical tasks. They need to learn the self discipline involved in continuing to work on a challenging problem, the self discipline involved in collaborating well with others, and the self discipline involved in following a process rigorously.
If you want your students to do repetitive things, choose something like digging holes and refilling them, so they’ll get some cardiovascular benefit.
Look at all the hands-on minds-on ways we can let students practice with point, click, drag, drop, zoom, and pan:
- Carnegie Library Storymaker (for emergent readers and writers)
- Kerpoof (requires just a little reading and writing, but more dexterity)
- Google Maps Cube (combine dexterity with map reading for upper elementary and up)
- Google Earth (for everyone)
- Google SketchUp (elementary level and up — waaaay up)
- Prezi (a cooler alternative to PowerPoint for middle school and up)
- Pinterest (a great companion to online research)
We could go on (and please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments). The point is, nearly any basic skill can be practiced in the course of a game or an open-ended project. If it can’t be, then maybe it’s not a task worth practicing.
The Soldier’s Tale by Igor Stravinsky tells in music, narration, and dance the Russian folktale of a soldier on leave who trades his violin — and his soul — for wealth in the form of a book that foretells changes in the stock market. The soldier agrees to go home with the Devil for a couple of days to teach him how to play the violin. At the Devil’s home, he tastes a life of luxury, and when he continues on to his village, he discovers that three years have passed, not three days. His fiancee has married another, his mother thinks he’s a ghost, and his old life is gone. The Devil appears again in another guise and persuades the soldier to enjoy his wealth. The soldier becomes rich, but not happy, and destroys the magic book.
A second episode begins with the disconsolate soldier coming to a new town where, in common fairy tale fashion, a princess lies ill and her father, the King ,will give her hand in marriage to anyone who can cure here. The soldier tries his hand, and then the Devil appears again in yet another form. The soldier plays cards with the Devil, losing all his money but winning back his violin. The music of the violin cures the princess and defeats the Devil, but the Devil tells the soldier that he will — if he leaves the kingdom — belong to the Devil again. The soldier marries his princess and they live happily until they decide to go visit the soldier’s long-lost mother. As soon as he steps out of the kingdom, the soldier becomes a statue and is lost to his princess forever.
Maestro Classics has prepared a new CD of The Soldier’s Tale with narration and music, as well as information about Stravinsky and a dance remix that should have your students up and moving. Hear samples of the recording at the Maestro Classics website, where you can also have a look at the 24-page booklet that comes with the CD. It has the story with fun illustrations, plus background information, pictures of the seven orchestral instruments in the performance, and a crossword puzzle.
The recording is excellent, weaving the music in and out of the story beautifully. The music, using the handful of instruments for which Stravinsky originally scored the piece, conveys the feelings and action of the story equally with the narration, and the whole thing is well suited to listening practice. Begin your study simply by listening to the recording.
Have the class retell the story by drawing illustrations for the events in the story, or by acting them out.
Once the basic story is clear, dig a little deeper. Share this movie clip with the class:
In this scene from R. O. Blechman’s 1983 film of the story, the soldier meets the Devil and makes a deal with him. The cartoon shows the soldier’s simplicity and uncertainty well. The soldier is tempted and gives in to that temptation, but he’s not sure he’s making the right decision.
Ask students whether they think the soldier made the right decision. If not, what should he have done differently? Have the students had a similar experience, when they were tempted to do something they thought might be unwise? Identify clues in the film or the recording that should have given the soldier a hint that the old man wasn’t quite what he seemed.
In the following video, artists from The Aurora Theater talk about their production of this piece. At the beginning of the video, they talk about how the soldier likes his bargain with the Devil at first, but then discovers the price of his choice.
Watch the discussion and then ask students what might have been pleasant about the soldier’s deal with the Devil: having wealth, knowing the future, having adventures. Then list the consequences of the decision.
With the story clear in everyone’s minds, explore some cross curricular activities.
- With only seven instruments in use, it’s easier to hear the individual instruments. This is a nice piece for listening to identify each instrument in the performance. The booklet that comes with the recording pictures each instrument used.
- Learn about Igor Stravinsky, one of the most important composers of the 20th century. The recording includes a lecture on the subject. Have students listen and practice their note taking skills. There are also a couple of children’s books that can add layers of understanding. Mike Venezia’s Igor Stravinsky tells Stravinsky’s life story lightly with cartoons, but includes everything students will want to know about. Stravinksy is also included in Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought), a wonderful book to have in your classroom library.
- Listen to specific parts of the piece at All Things Trumpet. There you will also find some discussion of the music and the final moral of the story, not included on the Maestro Classics CD.
- Are your students inspired to think about playing the violin themselves? Show them a youth orchestra in rehearsal at Valenches Music. If your school doesn’t have an orchestra, your community might — invite some young musicians in for a class visit.
- The Soldier’s Tale was written in 1918, and it included three dances: ragtime, waltz, and tango. The tango and ragtime were both new at that time, and the waltz, while not new, was still considered a bit racy in some circles. Jazz was becoming important, but Stravinsky had never heard jazz. He had seen some sheet music for jazz brought back from America with a friend. Have students explore music from this time period (one resource is Public Domain Music) and discuss whether Stravinsky’s music was typical of its time, or innovative.
- C.F. Ramuz wrote the story for The Soldier’s Tale. It’s generally claimed that the story is based on a Russian folktale, but we haven’t found it. The closest we’ve come is the Magyar Soldier’s Tale. Use a Venn diagram to compare the two.
- There are several points in The Soldier’s Tale which could have been happy endings, but the story continues to an unhappy ending. Give students the option of rewriting the story with a happy ending, or of writing an essay explaining why they like the ending as it is.
- The Soldier’s Tale has been filmed a few times, but it had never been made into a Walt Disney movie or a Barbie or Muppets version. Usually,this kind of movie version of a folktale will have the rough parts taken out and a clear moral lesson of some kind added. Students may be familiar with the Disney and original versions of tales like Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, The Little Mermaid, and The Frog Prince. Divide the class and have each group choose a fairy tale and compare the original to the Disney version. Then assign each group an episode from The Soldier’s Tale to rewrite in a popular movie version.
- This piece was written in Russia, at the end of World War I and in the midst of the Russian Revolution. Times were very hard, and this is probably why there were only seven instruments. It also puts a soldier and the idea of “pre-war prices” in context. Add events from the Russian Revolution to your class timeline.
- While many Faust stories (stories about making a deal with the Devil) involve a cask of jewels or a bunch of gold, the Devil gives the soldier a glance into the economic future so he can invest wisely and make his fortune in that way. Study the stock market with our Stock Market Lesson Plans.
- The soldier plays cards with the Devil, losing all his wealth but getting back his gift of music, the opportunity for love, and his chance at happiness. Use this scene as a writing prompt for students to think about the relationship between money and happiness. Can money buy happiness? Does it prevent people from being happy?
A Soldier’s Tale is a wonderful way to introduce classical music — and something a bit different in the way of classical music — to your students along with an intriguing folktale with a lot of teachable moments.
Frankenstein is the story of a man, Victor Frankenstein, and a monster, who is never given a name. It was written by Mary Shelley, who began creating the tale when she was just 19. Read it online at Literature.org.
Having read and enjoyed the book, choose from the cross-curriculum connections below to explore the issues in it more deeply.
- Advanced classrooms will appreciate the Signet teacher’s guide. It’s a very through discussion of the book as literature, referencing the Romantic period, literary influences in the work, and scientific and philosophical questions raised by the book. There are suggestions for using blogs and chat rooms, too.
- The novel is written from several different points of view. Ask students to rewrite a scene from the point of view of a different character.
- There are a lot of places in this book! See the Google Earth tour linked below to get to know them. Then discuss: why is this so far-reaching a story? Does it improve the book? Is it necessary?
- The story of Frankenstein begins in St. Petersburg, Russia, and continues in Switzerland, France, Germany, England, Scotland, and a whole bunch of other places. Download a Google Earth Tour created by Dana Huff to explore and keep track of the travels of the characters. Huff recommends setting the tour up on a Smartboard, but you could also cue up sections on a classroom projector or set the tour up in your computer center. The tour is long (almost nine minutes if you don’t stop to explore) and there are lots of things to explore along the way, so you might want to use it in parts or let students access it as you read, and then watch it together after finishing the book, in order to get a sense of the whole sweep of the novel.
- Frankenstein is a place in the Rheinland. Visit with Google maps or see a photo of the castle. Castle Frankenstein was the home of an eccentric alchemist, and Victor Frankenstein studies alchemy. There were rumors that the owner of Castle Frankenstein performed experiments with cadavers, as did Vitor Frankenstein. some say that Mary Shelley was inspired to write her book by the events at Castle Frankenstein. Have students research the place and find text references in the book to support their claim — either yes, the book was inspired by the place and its history, or no, it was not.
- A fun lesson plan encourages students to create their own paper monster.
- Frankenstein may be better known to your students as a movie than as a book. After reading the book, watch a scene from the film and compare the two. What changes are required when a story is taken from one medium and put into another?
- Frankenstein’s monster loved music. People who are angry, unhappy, and out of control often find that music helps them feel calmer and more in control. Have students choose some music for the monster, play it for the class, and explain why they chose it.
- Frankenstein’s love of science begins with a love of nature and a desire to learn how the world works. Many of your students may have felt the same love and desire. Have students research some heroes of science and discover how this feeling has affected the lives of real people.
- Research alchemy. What were the goals of the alchemists, and how does alchemy differ from chemistry?
- Frankenstein is fascinated by the power of electricity when he sees lightning strike a tree. Just how powerful is lightning? Read about it at National Geographic.
- Captain Walton is engaged on polar exploration. Frankenstein was published in 1818. Create a timeline of polar exploration (or add to your classroom timeline) and place Mary Shelley’s book at the right point. You might like to use Time’s Vintage Polar Expedition Photos collection to illustrate the timeline.
- One of the big ideas in this book is that there are some experiments that shouldn’t be undertaken. Many people today believe this, and there is much controversy about research into subjects like human cloning and stem cell therapies. Experimentation on animals is another controversial topic, as is genetic modification of food-producing plants. Have students collect news stories about scientific controversies and create a bulletin board.
- Frankenstein’s monster yearned for love and companionship. His determination to ruin Victor Frankenstein’s life stemmed from Frankenstein’s refusal to love him or to create another monster for him to love. If Frankenstein had treated the monster differently, or made a bride for him as he asked, might things have turned out differently? Have students write an alternate ending to the story.
- A related question is this: was Victor Frankenstein responsible for the monster in the way that a parent is responsible for a child? Plan a class debate on the question.
- Victor Frankenstein tells his story to Captain Walton in order to warn him against ambition, even the ambition to advance scientific knowledge. Challenge students to consider whether the story of Frankenstein and his monster is about ambition, or hubris, and to write an essay supporting their decision with specific references from the text.
We hope that everyone had a fantastic school year. Still, one of the things we’ve always liked about teaching is the opportunity to make changes, perfect our approach, and try something different every term. Summer is a great time to think about some changes we might like to see in our classroom next year.
If you’d like to change anything at all, it might be the communication patterns in your classroom. Maybe this is the year to make a serious effort to get rid of tattling, teasing, persistent interrupting, and verbal abuse in your class. We don’t think that just writing the word “respect” on the wall is going to do that. We do think that a few lessons can make a big difference.
Let’s start with some books. We’re going in order from the shortest and most direct to the more complex, subtle, and lengthy:
- Words Are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick is a board book with sweet line drawings of children and adults in daily situations. It begins with several pages about words, and then says, “Some of your words are kind. But some of them are not. Words are not for hurting.” The book goes on to give sensible advice about not using hurtful words, and about what to do if “your words come out before you can stop them” — apologize. There’s no story here, just a straightforward recognition that words can hurt, and that even little children are responsible for their words.
My Mouth Is a Volcano!by Julia Cook has a bit of a story. Louis always has lots of important things to say — so much so that he can’t keep himself from interrupting others when they speak. When classmates interrupt him during his “Student Star” time, he feels that they “started talking right during my fifteen minutes of fame! She ruined my important words. She almost stole my moment.” Discussing this experience with his mother, Louis gets a strategy that helps him control the volcano in his mouth.
- From the same author, A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue follows Josh as he learns the Tattle Rules (in a dream, from the Tattle Prince), gives up tattling, and becomes more popular with his fellow students, and with his teacher, Mr. Cool. Okay, this may not be great literature, but it does offer a set of sensible rules for deciding when speech is tattling and when it isn’t. we’d do some Tattle Tale Tongue craft projects, giving cut-out people from magazines the “tattle tale tongue”described in the story, and use them along with the rules to make a bulletin board on tattling.
- If I Were a Lion , by Sarah Weeks, is a fun read-aloud with charming water color illustrations by Heather M. Solomon. It begins with the narrator “sitting in my time-out chair because my mother put me there.” She has been “wild,” and the rhymes mesh with the illustrations to show the various wild animals that she thinks demonstrate what wildness is like. “Am I howling? Do I bark?” she asks, pointing out the contrast between herself and “wild.” “Wild’s ferocious. Wild will bite. I’m precocious and polite.” She is good now, she apologizes, and at the end of the story she is happy and forgiven. We like the way that the book shows that temporary wildness can be fixed by a return to civilized behavior.
- For the older students, try “Toads and Diamonds,” a fairy tale that makes the idea of kind and unkind words very concrete. The link is to our lesson plans for the story, and it includes some instructional ideas for concentrating on kind and unkind language.
Having read and discussed a suitable book on language behavior, take the next step with some activities:
- Have students design awards for kind and appropriate language behavior. Allow students to give awards to one another whenever they see a classmate using suitable language, controlling an urge to interrupt or tattle, or apologizing sincerely for unkind language.
- Offer students licenses to interrupt or tattle (licenses for unkind language are not available!) under special circumstances. Assign groups of students to develop a license application form and the guidelines for allowing interruptions or tattling. Assign other students to review applications. In the process, discuss the kinds of situations that make interruption or reporting bad behavior appropriate.
- Give students the opportunity to send a “Sorry Bear” ecard to a fellow student whose feelings they’ve hurt.
- Do some research! Do some intensive observation and analysis to define “interruption” (hint: it can be different, depending where you come from), and then analyze the interruptions you observe in the classroom. Do boys interrupt more than girls? Do people interrupt girls more often than boys? Do teachers interrupt students more often or vice versa? Do friends interrupt each other more than strangers? After some preliminary observation, design an experiment and see what you can learn about interruptions in your classroom. A final question: did the experiment affect the behavior being observed? I’d love to hear your results.
- A lesson plan about online bullying makes some essential points about language behavior in cyberspace.
The golden goose in this story is not the goose in Jack and the Beanstalk that lays golden eggs. This is a goose with golden feathers, whose story is less well-known, but it’s a good story nonetheless. Since the story is not as familiar, we’ll tell it to you.
The story begins with three brothers who set off to seek their fortunes. The oldest brother is sent off with a fine picnic lunch. As he’s walking through the forest, he meets an old man who asks for something to eat. The boy refuses to share his lunch, and goes home empty handed. The second brother has the same experience. The youngest son, however, goes out with a very meager picnic, yet happily shares it.
The old man shows the youngest brother a tree and tells him to chop it down. The boy does so, and finds within it a golden goose. He tucks the goose under his arm and sets off home. He spends the night at an in, where the servant girl can’t resist trying to filch a feather from the golden goose. Her fingers stick fast to the goose. The landlady of the inn grabs the girl and tries to pull her off of the goose, but her hands are stuck to the servant girl. The landlord grabs his wife to help, and he is stuck to her.
The youngest son comes down in the morning and sees these three trying to extricate themselves, laughs, and picks up his goose and sets off, with the three people from the inn dragging along behind him. As they go through the town, people rush up to try to help or to get a feather from the goose, and all of them stick fast to one another, so that the boy is followed by a higgledy piggledy bunch of people as he walks along, calmly whistling.
Now, in this country there was a princess who had never laughed. Her father, the king, had promised half his kingdom to anyone who could make his daughter laugh. The princess looks out of the window and sees the youngest son with his goose and his gaggle of hapless followers, and bursts out laughing. In some tellings of the story (such as Andrew Lang’s version in The Red Fairy Book), the king sets more conditions, but eventually the youngest son marries the princess and they all live happily every after.
- You can find this story online, at the link above, and also at SurLaLune with annotations.
- Uri Shulevitz did a very nice picture book which is now out of print but which you might be able to find in your library.
- Roberta Angeletti did a nice version with a CD.
- Storynory has a recording of this story.
- The Golden Goose: A Grimm Graphic Novel updates the story to make it a teen love tale.
- Dick King-Smith, one of our favorite writers, did a very fun chapter book called The Golden Goose. You could read King-Smith’s version and compare it with the Grimms Brothers’ tale.
Once the story is clear in the students’ minds, have the kids retell it. This is a great story to act out, especially in its simplest forms. Have students write dialogue for the three brothers and the old man they meet, and have plenty of extras getting stuck to the parade of people.
- Have students determine the moral of the story. In the first part of the story, the two older brothers are unkind and selfish, while the kind and generous younger brother is rewarded for his goodness. However, the second half of the story might also have something to say about stealing, curiosity, or interfering in things that don’t concern us. The longer versions of the story also show the king trying to get out of a promise. If you focus on this aspect of the story, compare it with The Frog Prince.
- The motif of the older brothers or sisters who are unkind to strangers comes up a lot in fairy tales. You’ll find it in Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Toads and Diamonds, and a number of other stories. Have students find as many examples as they can. Compare and contrast these stories.
- The youngest brother in this story is often known by some cruel nickname like “Dummling” or “Dullhead” that suggests that he is mentally limited. This could provide a good opportunity to discuss disabilities or name calling.
- I always wonder a bit about the youngest brother. Unless he really didn’t think about it, his decision to go along his merry way with all those people stuck behind him must have been a bit hostile. Discuss other choices the young man could have made.
- Have students prepare and perform On the Spot interviews in which one student plays a reporter and the other takes the part of one of the people in the conga line following the boy with the golden goose. Students can work in groups, deciding what questions to ask and taking on the speaking parts as well as the parts of director, costume designer, props, and cameraman. Film the interviews and create a class news report.
- Alternatively, create a newspaper for the day after this unusual event.
- Have older students think about, debate, or write about why some of the Grimms fairy tale stories (such as Snow White or Cinderella) are still well known, while others, like this one, have been largely forgotten.