I SEE MYSELF

By Vicki Cobb

An analysis of the text with respect to educational objectives.

P.4-5.  Look in the mirror. Who do you see? Your very own self, that's who! Now suppose that there were no mirrors in the world.  What could you do to see yourself? The purpose of this opening statement is to engage the child in an egocentric activity since very young children are very self-absorbed.  It is also an opportunity for divergent thinking giving the reader an opportunity to think of alternative possibilities. 

P. 6-7 Look at the glass in a picture frame. A shiny door knob makes your face fat. How about the door of a shiny black car or a puddle on the street? The purpose of this is to extend the concept that a mirror is not the only place where you can see yourself.  Extending a concept broadens the reader’s comprehension and fleshes out understanding.

P.8-9. Keep looking everywhere you go. Can you see yourself in your mom’s sweater? Or on a page in this book?  Or in the grass?  You can see the sweater and the page and the grass.  But you can’t see yourself. This also broadens the concept–you can see yourself in some things but not in all things.  To really understand a concept you have to not only understand what it is but also what it isn’t.

P. 10-11 You see yourself only in shiny things.  A mirror is the shiniest and the best thing for seeing yourself. This is a generalization about the previous activities–it is a rule about the class of things that allow you to see yourself as set apart from the class of things that doesn’t let you see yourself. Generalizations are how we make sense out of the world.

P.12-13  But you need something besides a mirror to see yourself.  Know what it is?  Here's a hint.  Take a mirror into a closet and close the door.   Can you see yourself in the dark?

This is a motivational set up for a discovery– one a four-year-old is capable of making. Also this kind of direct conversation with the reader is called metadiscourse and is a motivational way of writing.

P.14-15 In order to see yourself, in order to see anything, you must have light. You see when light reaches your eyes. When  there is no light,  you  see only darkness. Enter a new idea–in addition to a shiny surface you need light to see yourself.  This is not intuitive and can be a profound discovery by a small child.

P.16-17 There are lots of kinds of light. There’s the sun, of course.  And there are electric light bulbs and flourescent lights and neon lights and candle light and flashlights.  This extends and reinforces the idea of many kinds of light–something most kids know but perhaps haven’t thought about much.  I have not yet wandered too far from what they already know–just made them think about it– a time-worn teaching strategy.

P.18-19 If you looked at yourself in a mirror in all these lights could you see yourself? You bet! This is a conclusion that suggests more activity but doesn’t insult their intelligence by asking them to do something that’s obvious.                

P. 20-21 How does a mirror work? Mirrors catch light and bounce  it someplace else.  Take a small hand mirror and a flashlight. Shine the light on the mirror.  See where you can send the bounced  light. Can you light up the wall? Can you light up a picture on the wall? Can you aim the light where you want it to go?  This is an open-ended activity that nicely demonstrates that light bounces.  It’s also lots of fun.

P. 22-23 You can't see light bounce.  You have to imagine how it bounces. I have no problem asking kids to imagine but I don’t stop there.  I give them something concrete to do as a model for light bouncing. Let’s say a ray of light is like a ball.   Go bounce a ball. If you throw the ball straight down, it bounces right back up to you.  If you throw it on a slant, it bounces away at the same slant. When you bounce a ball on a smooth floor it bounces perfectly. I have been told that kids this age are fascinated with balls and how they bounce.  This is a very age-appropriate activity.

P. 24-25 What happens if you bounce a ball in your room with toys all over the floor?  You can never tell where it will bounce.  If you threw a bunch of ping-pong balls down in your messy room they would scatter, bouncing in all directions. The art is crucial here but this is a lot of fun to imagine and even to do.  It is not beyond a child’s intellectual capability.

P.26-27 A mirror is like a smooth floor for light. This is a perfect analogy.  It gives them a new way to think about how a mirror bounces light. When a ray of light strikes a mirror it make a perfect bounce. A mirror handles a gazillion rays of light at once.  And every one makes a perfect bounce every time.

P. 28-29 Light doesn’t only bounce off mirrors. This is a new idea but it relates to their experience of bouncing.   It bounces off every object you see.  When light rays bounce off this page or your mom’s sweater, they scatter in many different directions. Some of the scattered light reaches your eyes.  That’s why you can see it.  But scattered light alone won’t let you see yourself. I think I’ve set up the premises well to lead to this conclusion.                                                                

P. 30-31 Scattered light bounces off your face.  When it bounces into your mom’s eyes, she can see you, but she can’t see herself.  Your face is not a mirror.   There is a precedent for this spread from the previous spread.  I’m writing this like a narrative leading to the conclusion on page 32.  To fragment it into isolated activities or to dwell on one idea ad nauseum would seriously undermine the narrative thrust of this story.                                             

 P. 32.  When scattered light from your face hits a mirror, it bounces perfectly from the mirror right into your eyes. That’s why you see yourself.  Yay!  The last sentence in this book is the point of the book, in case you missed it.


I Fall Down

By Vicki Cobb

An analysis of the text with respect to educational objectives

P. 4-7 Know what happens when you trip?  You fall down!

Know what happens when you spill your milk?  It drips down. The purpose of these opening statements is to connect to the reader by reminding them of  experiences for which there are strong emotional connections. Young children are very egocentric and memory is enhanced by strong emotions including negative ones.  Falling down and spilling milk are very common experiences.

P. 8-9 Throw a ball up into the air.  Watch what happens.  It goes up for a short time, then it falls down!  Try tossing other things up in the air.  Your mom’s keys.  A block.  When something falls, which way does it fall? Does it ever fall up?  The purpose of this spread is to engage the child in activities for careful observation of something they are familiar with (throwing things up in the air and watching them fall) but may not have paid attention to in the past.  I am asking them to think as a scientist would think but well within their intellectual capabilities.

P. 10-11 Know what makes things fall?  It’s a force called gravity. As long as you are on earth you can’t get away from it.  Gravity is always pulling things.  Know which way?  Down, down, down.

Here I am introducing scientific terminology–the word “gravity.”  When kids observe something, they want and need to know the name for it.  That’s why little kids can learn the long a difficult names of dinosaurs. I always introduce technical terms carefully, when they will be used repeatedly in future communication. There are too many books that give technical language gratuitously–a turn-off to the fun of learning.

P. 12-13 You can see how gravity pulls.  You will need a jar of molasses or honey and a spoon. Take a spoonful of molasses or honey and hold the spoon straight up and down it so that the goo drips back into the jar.  Watch it drip. One of the problems of observing the effect of gravity is that it happens very quickly. This is a fun activity where gravity has a slow effect on a material. A teacher might try to get the kids to describe what happens.

The goo stretches and gets longer and longer.  It becomes a ribbon, streaming into the jar.  Gravity pulls the molasses or honey from the spoon back into the jar. Often young children understand what they observe without the language to explain it.  This gives them that language and it gives the reader an opportunity to ask the child how they would describe something they observe.

P. 14-15 Do some things fall faster than others?  Try it and see.  Hold a penny and a key in one hand. Open your hand so they both start falling at the same time.  Listen and watch as they hit the floor.  Did either the penny or the key win the race or is it a tie? The fact that the acceleration of gravity is independent of weight is non-intuitive– a mistake adults  made for thousands of years before Galileo in the 16th century (and still make).  Kids have more open and flexible minds.  This activity is a lot of fun and adults will be amazed how quickly kids accept the observation that falling races are ties.                        

P. 16-17 Have lots of dropping races. Things fall so fast it’s hard to tell if there is a winner or loser. But no matter whether objects are big or small it seems that it’s always a tie. The only time you have a clear loser is when you drop something that the wind could easily blow away such as a feather or a tissue.  You see air fighting gravity only with very light objects. The trick in science is to see the rule and understand why exceptions to the rule are exceptions.  Air resistance is present in all the dropping races but with dense objects this resistance is so small that it can’t be seen.  Children are capable of understanding this kind of thinking.

P. 18-19 If there were no air, you would find that gravity pulls everything at the same speed.  Astronauts proved this on the moon, where there is not air.  Every dropping race was a tie.  Amazing but true! Here I am asking kids to imagine a place that has no air resistance.  There are video tapes available that show this experiment on the moon.  This spread also opens the discussion of conditions on other bodies in our solar system.  If you wish you can use this as a jumping off point to explore the different gravities of moons and planets–we would weigh 1/6 as much on the moon, for example.

P. 20-21 Does everything land with the same force? Or do some things hit harder than others?  Try not to make this a rhetorical question.  Ask your reader what they really think from experience.  The picture gives a clue.  Here’s a way to find out.  Have someone drop a dry sponge into your hand from about a foot above it.  Next try a small bar of soap.  Which hits your hand harder, the sponge or the soap?  The point of this activity is to observe that the soap hits harder than the sponge, although they are approximately the same size.  Notice, in the next spread that I don’t give them the answer.  It’s important that they observe it for themselves.

P. 22-23 Try dropping lots of things into your hand.  Soon you will discover that some things hit harder than others.  Now hold the bar of soap in one hand and the sponge in the other.  Which is heavier, the sponge or the soap?  Move your hands up and down to help feel the difference.  Kids are very interested in ranking –the beginning of measurement and quantifying observation–which is very important in science.  Here I am introducing a concept they already know“heaviness” but perhaps not in this context.  I will tie it together at the end of the book. Hang on, we’re getting there.

P. 24-25 Your hands stop the sponge and the soap from falling to the ground.  But you can still feel gravity’s pull on the soap and sponge when you hold them in your hands.  This pull is called weight.  “Weight” is a technical term in science and has a very precise meaning.  I introduce this term now, at the appropriate time.

P. 26-27You can see if one object is heavier than another without letting either of them fall.  Here’s how.  Get two rubber bands the same size.  Tie one of your shoes to one rubber band.  Tie one of your parent’s shoes to the other rubber band. Here I am introducing another way to measure heaviness or weight–by seeing how much a rubber band stretches.

P. 28-29 Lift both shoes by the rubber bands.  Which rubber band stretches more?  The heavier shoe stretches the rubber band more.  Each rubber band acts like a scale to measure weight. This principle also applies to the stretching of springs used in simple scales in the supermarket. Only in that case there is a spring being stretched instead of a rubber band.  But when there is no weight present both the rubber band and the spring return to their original unstretched size. Again, this is a non-intuitive concept known as Hooke’s Law.  I’m laying a lot of foundation for learning physical science in the future in these apparently simple and obvious concepts.  

P. 30-31 Your weight is a measure of how hard you fall when you fall down. How much do you weigh?   How much does your mother or father weigh?  The more you weigh the harder you fall.  Finally I’m linking weight with falling.  One of the primary concepts in physics is the difference between weight–a measure of how strongly gravity pulls on you–and mass.  No matter where you are in the universe your mass remains the same.  On earth, we measure our mass by our weight and often think of them as the same thing.  When you go on a diet, technically speaking you want to lose mass and that shows up as a loss of weight.           

P. 32-33 But you don’t have to fall in order to weigh yourself.  A scale tells you how hard you fall–without you falling at all! So simply get on a scale.  Yay! Getting a big idea is definitely worth a cheer or two. In the history of science, these big ideas– that the acceleration of gravity is a constant, that gravity is a force of attraction between all bodies of matter in the universe,  and that the bigger you are the harder you fall is the brainchild of none other than Sir Isaac Newton.  And now the child has a sense of this!