In the book "On the Far Side of the Mountain," author Jean Craighead George returns her readers to the mountain home of Sam Gribley. Students might find Sam's world unbelievable, but the essence of the story illustrates an important concept. Early in the narrative, Sam remembers what his teacher-friend Bando once told him: "Life ... is meeting problems and solving them whether you are an amoeba or a space traveller."
On the Track
Sam's sister Alice joins him on the mountain. They invent a game called "On the Track," where one sibling seeks another. Sam faces several challenges in this story, including finding Alice, who leaves on an adventure. Topographical maps -- also known as topos -- aide Sam's search. Have students download and examine topos from the U.S. Geological Survey site for your area or for the area around Delhi, N.Y., where the book is set.
Sam solves his need for food by using his falcon Frightful to hunt. The best way to help students understand the relationship between human and bird is to invite a falconer to class. Contacting a national falconry organization may lead you to a local falconer. Falconers are licensed, so your state's conservation agency should also have a list. Prepare students by introducing the language of falconry from the Wingmasters website.
Endangered vs. Invasive
Have students define the words "endangered" and "invasive." Send them to a variety of sources: the dictionary, wildlife websites and state natural resources sites. Ask the students if a species can be endangered in one place and invasive in another. Examine with students how people, organizations and governments protect endangered species and manage invasive species. Ensure students understand that the terms also apply to plants, not just animals.
Suggest students start with their own interests. Students liking design can explore the history of the Adirondack chair. Students interested in government should examine local or state legislation pertaining to plants and animals.The story lends itself to the creation of dioramas of Sam and Alice's mountain homes. Students of nature can create a sketchbook of flora and fauna mentioned in the story. Ambitious students can recreate Alice's sun compass.
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