CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 30. . . .April 8, 2016
Earth and Mars are two of nine books in Weigl’s “Planets” series. The series was created for beginning readers and, by design, incorporates Fry sight words: the words that most frequently appear in English language reading materials for young children. Moreover, the books in the series are media enhanced. That is, they include audio and video materials, relevant to a particular title, that are accessible online by entering a book code. This “media enhancement” is labelled AV²: “added value” x “audio” and “visual”.
Alexis Roumanis is the author of Earth and Mars. She adopted a nearly identical organization and content sequence for the 32 pages of each book, and the art director for the series, Terry Paulhus, created a common layout and design. Following the cover page that duplicates the cover image is general information on AV² books, the book code, and material about the publisher and publication. A table of contents fills page 3 and lists the heading or question that is addressed on two page spreads that begin on page 4 and end on page 21. Pages 22 and 23, labelled “Earth Facts” or “Mars Facts”, contain three to four sentences of information related to the images and text of each two page spread, reproduced in miniature. The final page of each book contains a list of sight words and the page number where they are first used in Roumanis’ text, and a list of the content words and the page number where they first appear.
Readers start off learning about the planet’s position and motion relative to the Sun and the planet’s position relative the other planets and dwarf planets in the Solar System. This is followed by the planet’s size Earth relative to Venus, Mars relative to Earth; the planet’s composition – “rocky”; and the planet’s appearance – “Blue Planet” owing to Earth’s oceans, “Red Planet” owing to the iron in Mars’ soil.
Roumanis then tells readers about one significant feature of the landscape on each planet. On Earth, it’s the Grand Canyon that was created by the Colorado River. On Mars, it’s a volcano, “Olympus Mons”, two times higher than any volcano on Earth. Pages 14 through 21 focus on Earth’s moon and the two small moons that orbit Mars, the 16th century astronomer Copernicus who understood that Earth was a planet moving in orbit around the Sun and the Romans who named Mars, what makes Earth and Mars unique, and how humans currently learn more about planet Earth – the space station, and planet Mars – the robot named Curiosity.
Paulhus, the art director for the series, has used a Solar System diagram and photographic images supplied by Getty Images and iStock to illustrate Earth and Mars. These materials are used sparingly, either one image that covers a two page spread or a single image on the page adjacent to the page with text. As nonfiction books for beginning readers, this is a wise decision: the images support information in the text and do not distract the reader.
The decision to recommend with reservations is a consequence of the sophistication of the science content for six and seven-year-old children, and material available when one accesses www.av2books.com for each specific book. Although young children may struggle when coming upon unfamiliar words, like ancient, Phobos, Dieimos, Curiosity, vehicle, Copernicus, and station, they know the strategies for using context clues, sounding out/phonics, and asking for help when these fail. What meaning, however, will sentences like those in the excerpts above have for these young readers? There is a long history associated with determining Earth’s place in space. To state that Copernicus discovered Earth was a planet in the 1500s is not only deprived of the historical context, but an over simplification. It is the type of statement that misrepresents the nature of science and the meaning of scientific discovery. To understand and be able to compare the length of the day and year on Mars to another planet means that what determines a day and year on planets in the Solar System is known. Children in Grade 1 in Manitoba schools learn about daily and seasonal changes, but not the rotation, angle of inclination, and revolution responsible for these changes. This comes in Grade 6 when studying the Solar System.
The media enhanced AV² includes one type of learning experience for each two page spread in Earth and in Mars. Activities include the following: (1) a paragraph of printed text that can be listened to when clicking on the headphone icon, (2) videos and animations from websites such as Magic Box, NASA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, (3) information about the planets on websites like nineplanets.org and solarsystem.nasa.gov, and (4) downloadable and printable activities (e.g., a five word “Word Search”, “Maze”, photographic “Spot the Difference”, and “Match the Shape”) that are geared toward Grade 1 children. The instructional videos from Magic Box and NASA’s Solar System Exploration, and the animations about subduction and day night cycles on Earth contain data and terminology that is too sophisticated for children in Grades 1 and 2. Terms like volume, density, mass, diameter, tectonic plates, rotation, and numbers in the millions of kilometres will make little, if any, sense.
Recommended with Reservations.
Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.