Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Resources for Middle School

For one reason or another, I've been reading a lot of books for children and young adults lately. As a result, I found several that I would recommend for those who teach middle school, and who are looking to integrate economics, history and literature. I was able to add two of them to my carousel near the top left of this blog. So if you think you're interested, I would appreciate it if you ordered them through that route, and help support this service.

The first recommendation (and the one I could not add to my carousel, is A Day No Pigs Would Die. It is the semi-autobiographical story of a boy, a Shaker, in the early 20th century northeastern U.S. The boy is given a pig as a reward for helping a neighbor's cow. And over the course of a year, the boy learns to treasure the pig, but also learns some important lessons about living. When his father, a butcher, shares fears that he may be dying; it becomes more important that the boy make some hard choices and face facts about being responsible.

The book contains a description of hog-butchering so may be intense for some students. But the decision-making and resource management make it an appropriate way to integrate some fundamental economics while adding color to discussion about early 20th century life in the U.S.

The second recommendation is Lyddie. You can find it on the carousel. This is a well-researched book about the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts in the mid-19th century. Lyddie, her mother and siblings have been abandoned by Lyddie's father. Although Lyddie and her brother try to keep the farm running, her mother decides to let out the land and to place the older children in positions to earn an income. Lyddie's first position is as domestic in a nearby inn. Lyddie is fired after she takes a day off (with her supervisor's permission) to go back and visit their home. She then decides to go work in the Lowell mills, having heard of them from other girls who have stayed at the inn. Again, the book has abundant examples of scarcity, choices, and managing resources to meet a goal. For Lyddie is determined to get the family farm back and to wait for her father.

The final piece of literature I'm recommending is Zlata's Diary (also on the carousel). This is the true story of an 11 year-old girl in Sarajevo in the early 1990s. Zlata is sometimes referred to as the "Anne Frank of Sarajevo." Her descriptions of life in the besieged city and the way the family dealt with scarce resources is moving and well-described. Again, integrating world studies, basic economics and literature is quite doable and should raise interest among the students.

Finally, I have one non-literary resource to recommend. This one is FREE. And while it is actually for grades K-12, I choose to mention it here because I think it can be particularly useful in the middle grades. It is the Nifty Fifty economic term cards available from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. It is actually a set of 100 cards - 50 economic terms and 50 definitions - accompanied by some suggested classroom applications. From memory games to "term a week", there are ideas here that could meet the needs of most, if not all social studies teachers.

I hope you share comments about the books or the cards. Everyone will benefit from further insights.

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