Monday, September 10, 2012

Honoring 9/11 - A Delicate Balance

September 11th is a day when many of us will reflect on a series of events that made a lasting impression on our lives. If you are like many teachers, you may be struggling with whether or not you should discuss 9/11 with your students. If you are an elementary teacher, your students weren't even born back in 2001, but you may feel a need to  recognize the events of that significant day. Last year I discovered a great book to read aloud on September 11th, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. I'd like to share a few ideas for using this book in your classroom.

Read aloud the The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, the amazing true story of Philippe Petit who walked on a high wire between the two towers right after they were constructed. The story focuses on his daring feat and simply mentions at the end that the towers are gone and only live on in our memories. Be ready for the question that is sure to arise, "What happened to the towers?" How you answer that will depend on your students' ages and what you feel is appropriate to share.

Discuss the The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
You can use this set of question cards I created for the book to discuss it with your students. These questions would work will with the Talking Stick discussion method, but because of the sensitive nature of the topic, I suggest discussing these questions as a whole class or in small guided reading groups rather than in cooperative learning groups. These questions deal specifically with Philippe Petit's daring feat and do not deal with the events of 9/11.



Compare and Contrast Literature and Informational Text
Start by reading The Man Who Walked Between the Towers aloud and telling your students that it's based on a true event. Ask them to help you create a list of questions about the event that include additional information they wonder about what happened. Then ask them to read a news account or an encyclopedia article about Petit's walk between the towers. I found a description of his walk in an article about Petit on Wikipedia.org, and I edited it to create a shorter PDF version to use with students. Please remember that this is intended for use with during a reading activity, and the details in the Wikipedia article may not be 100% accurate. As a class, create a Venn diagram or other graphic organizer to compare and contrast the two versions of the event. What was left out in the story? Why did the author leave out these details? Are any of the details different between the two versions?

Explore Numbers and Measurements
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers includes many references to lengths, heights, and widths. I created a page of task cards showing those amounts that you can use with your students. After reading and discussing the story, show all 8 cards to your students and ask them to try to remember what each amount referred to in the story. You could even give each team or pair one set of cards and have the students write that information on the back of each card. For example, on the back of the "Quarter of a mile" card, they might write "height of the towers." After they work through the deck and make their guesses from memory, reread the story aloud to check and discuss answers.

Experiment with center of gravity
One thing that amazes me about this story is the way Petit can be so confident about his ability to walk across the wire without falling. The story does not get into the scientific aspects of how he's able to do this, but it has to do with that 28-foot balance pole he carries. This is a perfect opportunity to have your students explore center of gravity concepts. Rachel Lynette's book Gravity: Forces and Motion has some excellent discovery activities for this concept. One of them involves trying to balance an orange on a pencil, which is nearly impossible, and then adding forks to the sides as shown. Add a lump of modeling clay to each fork handle, and you can balance the orange easily. The lumps of clay move the center of gravity to a point lower than the orange, allowing it to balance. You can find a more complete explanation in this book or other science books about force and motion. 

Discuss Events of 9/11
I realize that none of these suggestions deals with the events of 9/11. If you want to talk to your students about what happened on that day, I would suggest starting with the free BrainPOP video titled September 11th. I showed it to my 5th graders, and it was very really helpful as a foundation for a discussion about what happened. The 6-minute video explains why these events occurred without going into unnecessary detail. Be sure you watch the video yourself before showing it to your students so you'll know how to answer their questions.

September 11th will be a difficult day for many of us. We remember that day with sadness, and also with an awareness of how quickly our lives can change. It was a day when we discovered that our sense of security about our own lives can evaporate in a flash. However, I don't believe we should allow our feelings about those events to negatively impact our children. Children need to feel a sense of security in order to grow and thrive, and we should be mindful of this tomorrow. That's one reason I love the book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Reading this story to our students allows us to honor the memory of the day the twin towers went down in a gentle way without instilling a sense of fear and insecurity in our children.



17 comments:

  1. Laura, thank you so much for yet amazing resource! This is my favorite book to read on 9/11 as well, and I love all of the activities to go with it. I can't wait to use them tomorrow. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for letting me know, Ellen. I'm glad you'll be able to use these activities.

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    2. Thank you for this! I will be using the math activity with this book today to keep things a little lighter for my 3rd graders. The discussion questions are great too! Thank you!

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  2. Thank you, Laura. I bought this book last winter because I felt like I didn't do a great job with my 5th graders - thanks for providing this so I can really make it a meaningful time. I've been very impressed with the things you put together! Thanks again!

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    1. Thanks, Megan. All of these things should be perfect for 5th grade. The informational text article might be a bit of a stretch, but it will be a good stretch! I thought it was really interesting to read the facts behind the story in the book.

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  4. Thanks to April Walker of the Idea Backpack for sharing information about a video of the book in this blog post. You can click here for the link: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers video

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    1. The link to the video says that the video is not available.

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  5. I just have to say that I love your post! I love your lesson, connection with NF and the Brainpop Video. I never even thought to share that with my kids. Way to go! Fantastic :)

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    1. Thanks for letting me know. Glad you liked it!

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  6. Thank you so much for the activity suggestions. I read this book with my third graders today

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  7. This is a great book to get the conversation started. My students were really interested and knowledgeable on the subject. I read this book yesterday. The students loved it! Thanks for providing the link to youtube video... That's great!!

    Leslie
    Miss R's Room

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  8. Thanks everyone! I'm glad you enjoyed the activities today.

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  9. What age would you recommend. I teach 4 year olds and when I read this book, which I absolutely love, some of the parents went crazy. they felt I should not even mention 9/11\...your thoughts?

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    1. Have the parents read the book to see how it treats the issue? What if you read the story but didn't read the last pages where it tells that something bad happened to the towers? I guess another year you might have to send home a note in advance along with an explanation and maybe tell them you will leave out the pages that say something bad happened to the towers. You might want to check with your admin on that one.

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