Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chasing Vermeer - Classroom Activities

Students know my read aloud rules:
1. Don't interrupt Mr. Wilhorn.
2. If you need something, see rule #1.

(Okay, I'm not quite that bad...but close.)

Chasing Vermeer could have been (see: the following paragraph) one of the most peaceful read alouds I ever did. Give the class their own pentominoes like Calder's. Scholastic's site offers a free printable version. Copy them on cardstock and cut them out. (Neat cuts are necessary. Get help...I recruited my wife and in-laws.) Give each student a set and challenge them to make various sized rectangles while you read, but don't give them any solutions!

If your read aloud rules are like mine, then this part is great. Allow interruptions from any student who successfully creates "a twelve-piecer," that is, a rectangle from all 12 pieces. "I did it!!!" they'll yell, thrust their arms in the air, and smile from ear to ear. It's not easy, so the interruptions are limited. But watch that it doesn't get out of hand. Pretty soon certain kids will have it figured out and want to interrupt every 2 minutes. Then the sharing will start.

Scholastic also has an online version of pentominoes. Players click on various pieces, rotate or flip them, and drag them to spots on the rectangle. (Be careful allowing students on the site. Solutions are one click away as are the secrets to the reader's challenge included with the novel's illustrations.)

A strategic and surprisingly simple (not to mention fun and addicting) board game called Blokus uses pentominoes. Players attempt to place all their pieces on the board within certain rules. An online version is available, but there's just something about twisting and tapping that plastic piece in your fingers while you think. (Right? Calder?) Did I mentioned it's addicting? Remember when Tetris was popular and when you went to bed you'd still see falling shapes? Yeah, sort of like that.

Since I've mentioned Tetris, there's a number of free online games available. Not quite pentominoes, but in the same ballpark.

After Chasing Vermeer is The Wright 3. Calder gets himself some new pieces - three dimensional ones. A game similar to Blokus is Rumis, but just like Calder's new pentominoes, Rumis uses three dimensional pieces.

There's also a third book in the series recently published called The Calder Game. I wish I had more to tell about it, but my Amazon order just arrived yesterday! (Why am I writing? There's reading to be done!) I'll keep you informed.

Each of the three books focuses on an artist: Dutch Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and sculptor Alexander Calder. Teachers more knowledgeable than me will have many artistic ideas. Teachers just like me see a great opportunity to get the Art teacher involved in your literature class. (Especially if you are blessed, like I am, with an Art teacher who reads voraciously.)


  1. Mer! I need to read the sequels... I reread Chasing Vermeer last summer and, once again, loved it. I remember after reading it the first time seeing pentominoes in floor tiles and window panes, so addicting is about right.

  2. The Wright 3 is just as good, in my opinion. Changing the pentominoes to three-dimensional shapes was a perfect twist, as the art changed from a 2-D painting to a 3-D building. I also liked the added bit of creepiness with the whole is-the-house-alive and trying to keep itself alive part. Book 3, The Calder Game, is on my pile...and near the top!


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