Category Archives: Picture Books

Cecil and the Question of Human Entitlement


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What happened with Cecil the lion is a great tragedy. Children worldwide are sure to notice and ask questions about it. It is the perfect opportunity to tap into this natural curiosity and work on developing their questioning skills, as well as have some great discussions about needs vs. wants, human entitlement to the earth’s resources, and the reaction and effects of social media in its aftermath.

Lately I have been giving a great deal of thought to questioning skills and how to engage kids to ask deeper questions, particularly those that will inspire them to want to find out more and start an inquiry. Some of the strategies I’ve used in the past included playing 20 questions, doing a mystery Skype, using visual prompts or a mystery item and the Q-chart. However, those strategies usually failed to elicit that deeper questioning I was after.  I came across two great picture books, “The Mermaid and the Shoe” by K.G. Campbell and “I Wonder” by Annaka Harris that help to introduce the concept of questioning for the purpose of inquiry and to illustrate its value.

Then I came across another picture book, “The Cloud Spinner” by Michael Catchpool, that made me think of Cecil the lion. In this book a boy is able to spin delicate threads out of clouds to later make into fabric. He is wisely taught by his mother that “enough is enough and not one stitch more”, so he makes enough thread to meet his needs, to make a hat to protect his head from the sun in the summer and a scarf to keep him warm in the winter. All is well until a greedy king noticed his scarf and demands that he make him one that’s just as beautiful only much longer. Despite the boy’s reasoning that the king does not need a longer scarf, the king insists. He later demanded that the boy make him a cloak and dresses for his wife and daughter. This leads to a cloudless sky and a big drought in the kingdom, until the king’s daughter returns the garments and the boy is able to spin them back into the sky.

It’s easy to see, from an educator’s perspective, why I fell in love with this book. It offers so many opportunities for making analogies to our own lives, to what is happening in the world, and asking deeper questions that will hopefully lead students into rich inquiries. Making the connection to Cecil the lion would provide students with a real life example of what can happen when humans feel entitled to take more than they need or deserve, simply for their own twisted sense of pleasure.

For more resources, feel free to visit my Pinterest boards or share some of yours in the comments.

Cecil the Lion


Needs vs. Wants


5 Reasons Why I’m a Low Tech Parent

digital playground

~Kevin Honeycutt via Heather Lister

My family and friends often seem puzzled when I tell them that my six year old son doesn’t really know how to use a computer.  After all, I teach technology to kids as young as three.  This might seem a bit hypocritical, but I’m not the only techie to do that. Actually, according to an article in The New York Times, the tech guru himself, Steve Jobs was a low tech parent.  So why are some techie parents reluctant to emerge their kids in technology? Here are my reasons and why low tech parenting works for our family:

1. The Dangers

Being so immersed in technology myself as a result of my job, I am well aware of its pitfalls and dangers.  From encountering inappropriate material and cyber bullying to becoming addicted to the use of electronic devices, I am not willing to let my son have unsupervised or unlimited time on a computer or tablet.  When the time comes and he needs or wants to use the internet to do research, social media to connect with others, or other online tools to create media, I hope to teach him and give him the tools to do so appropriately and safely.

2. Timing is Everything

The question of when to introduce a child to computes should really depend on when they show an interest in some of the things they can do using technology.  As soon as my son began to draw, I introduced him to drawing programs on the computer; but as it turned out, he preferred to use crayons, markers, and especially paint.  Then he started reading and, being a tech teacher, I showed him some online reading programs. Well wouldn’t you know it, he enjoyed cuddling up together with one of his parents to read real books far more than sitting in front of a computer.  He’s also shown an interest in watching music videos from YouTube and playing online games, but I limit the time he spends doing either, and it’s always with adult supervision.

3. Priorities

As every working parent knows, the quality time you have to spend with your child is limited by the fact that they are at school and you are at work for most of the day.  Then there’s other responsibilities and commitments, such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, swimming lessons, etc.  I don’t really want to spend the little free time I have with my child in front of a computer teaching him research skills or digital citizenship rules unless I really have to.  That is something I truly believe should be taught in school and reinforced at home.  And of course, I would not be comfortable with him going on that “playground” without any adult supervision.  However, I’d much rather go on a bike ride, play a board game, or visit a country fair and have some good old-fashion family fun.

4. Active and Purposeful  vs. Passive Engagement

I worry about the amount of ‘screen-time’ my child gets without actively engaging in a purposeful task.  That does not only include computers but also watching television.  I think that there are other activities he could be involved in that will encourage his creativity and social growth a lot more.  That’s not to say that I never hand him an iPad and sit him in my shopping cart while trying to decide what to buy in a store.  I do my best not to make it a habit though.

5. Tech/Life Balance

There is no substitute for human contact, especially when it comes to children’s interactions with their parents. Kids watch what we do, then shadow and learn from it.  That is why it is especially important to me to try and model a tech/life balance for my son.  In today’s tech filled world it is crucial to teach children how to relate to others, without the use of electronic devices.  It is important to talk and listen to them, instead of messaging and replying.  Taking the opportunities to do that on a daily basis; at the dinner table, during a stroll in the park, while visiting a new place, or getting ready for bed is what keeps us connected.  Or not talking at all, allowing for reflection and developing an awareness of self and nature.  I have recently come upon a couple of great picture books that deal with this very subject.  One is Dot. by Randi Zuckerberg:dot

and the other is Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino:

doug unplugged

Both authors deal beautifully with the importance of a balance between technology and real life. For more about the tech/life balance see my earlier post here: Living vs. Documenting the Moment

Using Picture Books to Teach Tech, Part 2

A while back I wrote about my love for picture books, and how I’ve used them to introduce various concepts (especially ones related to technology) in a post titled Using Picture Books to Teach Tech.  Since then I came across several other great books that I have used in my tech program  (or that I can’t wait to use soon) that I wanted to add to the list of Great Books to teach Tech.  Here they are:

But I Read it on the Internet by Toni Buzzeo

but i read it on the internet

This book is about evaluating, verifying, and citing sources.  Although it deals with primary, print and online resources, it focuses on website evaluation and provides a handy checklist for that purpose.  It also explains the meaning and importance of URL endings (.com, .edu). It’s a great book for introducing kids to online research.  For more about this topic, see my earlier post: I know it’s true…I read it online

The Dot by Peter Reynolds

TheDotThe possibilities are endless for using this book by Peter Reynolds.  It’s about motivation, determination, creativity, believing in oneself, and ‘passing it forward’.  In my tech classes I have used it to inspire students to create their own dot pictures, as seen here: Grade 2 Dot Day Art

It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw


Although not new, I recently discovered how this gem of a book can inspire young artist to see and create different objects from ‘spills’.  Take a look at how we have modified this classic with my students, giving it a different spin: It Looked Like Spilt (Chocolate) Milk


The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt 


In this fun book, the different colours of crayons write a letter to a child about why he should use them more or less often.  Students can have a lot of fun writing a response letter to a crayon of their choice, explaining why it’s needed and why it shouldn’t quit.  See our grade 1/2 example here: Dear Crayons




Using Picture Books to Teach Tech

It does not matter how high tech the world gets, I firmly believe that there is no greater teaching tool than a picture book.  A good picture book, in it’s simplicity, opens up our minds and allows us to see things in a different light.  It is the ultimate springboard for conversation about different viewpoints and perspectives.  That is why throughout my teaching career picture books have always been my ‘go to’ tool at any grade level and for any topic.  It is no wonder then that in the past year as a tech teacher I have relied heavily on my trusted, tried and true picture books to start many conversations and provide ideas for the tech projects we have worked on.

I want to share a few of the picture books that I used last year in my capacity as an Instructional Technology teacher that have inspired me and my students.

1.  I started the year off with reading The Computer Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler:

black lagoon

This book is a great introduction to many of the different computer and technology terms students need to be familiar with when using computers; such as mouse, monitor, Internet, virus, menu, window, etc.

2.  My greatest discovery last year has been Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd (love the ironic but oh so clever pen name):

Modeled on the classic Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, this book offers a more updated list of tech terms to discuss, such as screensaver, LCD, WiFi, HDTV, Blackberry, Facebook, viral, e-mails, Tweets.

3.  One of my favourite picture books of all time is Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews:

ten black dots

I have used it in the past to introduce many concepts in math, art, and language. Last year I have read this book to my grade 3 classes during our technology period.  As I read, my students enjoyed predicting what could be made using the different  number of dots, each coming up with a unique idea.

This sparked a  discussion about the value of different perspectives, as students could now see  the dots in a new way and as part of a picture that others’ imagined.  It wasn’t  important to get the ‘right’ answer, but to come up with creative ways to  incorporate the dots into their environment.

After we finished reading  the book, students were wondering about other shapes, and if they could create  pictures with them.  I suggested that we make our own book using a different  shape.

After a discussion about what shape we should use, the class decided on squares.  The book starts with, “What can you do with ten black dots?” so we changed the  question to “What can you do with ten black squares?” and students began  working.

Usually, I ask my students to write text first, and then create  an illustration. However, for this task the reverse seemed more logical.  So  instead of choosing a number first, I asked students to draw an image that  contained squares and see where that would lead them.

Each student used  Pixie to  create their illustrations. They created two different pages to give us more  choices for the final version of our class book.

Students then had to  write a matching sentence that described their illustration and followed the  pattern from the book we were inspired by (# black squares can make….).  We  choose not to make the two pages for each number rhyme like they do in the book  because each student created a page for two different numbers.  When students  were finished I asked them to create a title page for the book.  Since we had a  few title pages to choose from, the class voted for their favorite.

Here is our final product:

Ten Black Squares

Here is another class’ book about triangles:

Ten Black Triangles

4.  Another one of my favouries is Red is Best by Kathy Stinson:

red is best

In this book a child and her mother’s perspectives collide as they disagree on what the girl should wear and the reasons for their choices.  This book is great for teaching perspective and voice.  For our book inspired by Red is Best, students were asked to choose a personal object of significance and describe the emotional (versus practical) reasons for why it is important to them. Here are a couple of our finished books:

Colour that is Best

Colours that are Best

By using picture books as a starting point for discussion and as inspiration last year students were able to learn many different computer skills within a familiar and fun context.  They had many great ideas for their pages and felt free to experiment with the different features of the programs in order to achieve just the right effects for their own page.  Everyone was very excited to see the final products and read what each student has come up with.

Have you used any other picture books as a teaching tool in computers class?  Have any other picture books inspired you and your students to create your own digital books?  I would love to get your feedback and some new ideas for next year.

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