Archive for Educators

What’s in a Name?

I carry curiosity with me wherever I go. It’s not heavy and it fits easily into my pocket, where I can take it out at a moment’s notice.

I often pull it out when visiting schools. There’s lots to wonder about when you’re at a school: the displays, the kids, the design of the building, and, of course, the school name. How did the name come about? Who named it? Is it named after a real person? Why?

Douglas Gardens Elementary is a school I visited recently. Hmmm…I wondered…Was there really a “Douglas” that the school was named for? Was it a first name, or last name? Was there really a “garden” there? What kind of garden was it?

Sharing curiosity at Douglas Gardens

There were so many questions, and so little time that I wasn’t able to get my questions answered. I’m hoping that some brave souls, willing to accept a challenge, will find out how the name came to be and share it with me, and others too. Just add your findings to the Comment section above.

This challenge goes to kids at other schools I’ve been to recently, including Maple, Thurston, Dos Rios, Walterville, Gilham, McCornack, and Malabon. And don’t think you fifth graders at Willagillespie are free from the challenge either! Where did your name come from?

Good luck in your search!

 

 

 

 

Gilham Editors

Gilham friends,

I had a great time visiting with you last week and enjoyed your comments, questions, and stories. Some of you took the opportunity to be editors (helpers) for my personal narrative draft. Now, all of you can!

Remember what good editors do: compliment, ask questions, and make suggestions. Take a look at the draft below and try out your editing skills. All you have to do is click the Comment button above and type away. I look forward to your feedback to help make my writing better.

 

My family moved into this neighborhood in 1985 the local school Gilham was surrounded by fields. It looked alot different then.

In a few years my son, Tyler, was ready for kindergarten. I took him on his first day. I’ll remember that day forever.

The school was alive with activity. Busses and cars streamed through the parking lot. Kids parents filled the sidewalks, voices buzzing with excitement. I took Tyler’s hand and walked him to his portable classroom.

When we got close he pulled me to the side and dropped to his knees. I followed him to the ground. “What’s the matter Tyler” I asked him. “I’m a little scared, he said his voice a whisper.

He looked over into my eyes. “Me too” I said.

Tyler got up, let go of my hand, walked past the teacher at the door, and in the classroom. He didn’t look back.

 

Opinions from Maple Elementary

Had a great visit with the 4th grade writers at Maple Elementary in Springfield yesterday. It’s enjoyable to spend time with kids who are interested, engaged, and respectful of each other. Their questions were awesome, and you know I LOVE questions!

The classes have been working on opinion writing, an important foundation for argument (make-a-case) writing. I offered a challenge, to share an opinion that they feel strongly about and to include reasons. Here’s my contribution:

Maples are the best kind of trees! They can grow huge (up to 145 feet), live long (up to 300 years), and they give us so much. In the heat of the summer their leaves provide us a cool, shady place to sit. In the fall they transform into colorful works of art. I love making helicopters from their seeds, and watching them whirl to the ground. Our world is a better place because of maple trees.

I’m looking forward to reading other opinions. Just click on the Comment area and write on!

 

 

 

 

Author Experiences

I’m visiting classes this week in Creswell and Oakridge, talking with students about informative writing, the kind of writing you do to share information. Note: This type of writing does not have to be dull and bland, like an encyclopedia or Wikipedia. It can contain interesting words and devices like metaphors, alliterations, and more. Remember to keep your audience in mind; they want to be engaged in your text. So, engage them!

Click the Comment tab above to make a comment or ask a question.

How are you going to engage these people in your writing?

 

Moving Targets II?

Prior to my most recent author visit, several  classes read my Moving Targets  novel about a kid who moves to a small town and gets involved with a small group led by a bully. This is a book about growing up, about facing difficulties, solving problems, and the way animals are treated.

Several students I met with wondered when I’ll be writing the sequel to this story. The truth is, I hadn’t really thought about it. However, it’s possible I may want to write it at some point. But, what would it be about? I’d want to keep the setting the same as well as include the characters that I developed and feel that I know.

Would Paul be in juvenile detention because of what he tried to do at the end of the book? Would he be changed, or would he want revenge? What about the other characters? Would they still be hanging out together? Or would they find new friends, and who might those friends be?

What about David’s father, who we heard about but never really met? Would he come back into David’s life? And what would David’s mother do?

There’s so many options, so many possibilities. That’s what makes writing fiction exciting: you get to create your own world and decide what happens. Powerful stuff!

So, if anyone who knows the story would like to offer ideas and suggestions, I’ll be glad to take a look and give them serious consideration. The best way to share your thoughts would be to make a comment on the tab above.

Looking forward to your great ideas!

 

 

Anatomy of an Author Visit

I have been doing author visits to schools for nearly thirty years now. All have been interesting and enjoyable. Some have been memorable. My latest visit: Santiam Elementary School in Mill City, Oregon was one of them. Here’s why:

SET-UP

Great open space for large group (80) sessions. Lights were able to be dimmed when viewing images on the screen. Chairs for all. A microphone was an essential tool.

Small group sessions were used for follow-ups as well as for kindergarten and Life Skills classes.

PREPARATION

Teachers made sure students were familiar with the work I have done. Some prepared with activities.

An art project: draw the author

Ahh…gum art!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PARTICIPATION

Students were enthusiastic participants in asking questions, sharing insights, and accepting the “Chicken Challenge” (create a better name for non-fiction).

Lots of great questions!

“Lighting the ball” with cooperation. Writers help each other.

6th grader Jillian wins the “Chicken Challenge.” Winning entry: Fic-fac. Much better than non-fiction!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to the students and staff at Santiam Elementary. Special kudos to Cindy McMahan, who coordinated the visit. Hope it was worth the effort!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Visit Note

Note to Schools: Author visits can be powerful activities that can help support curriculum as well as inspire students’ curiosities and interest in writing. But, it takes some planning and effort. Before visiting with sixth grade classes at Briggs Middle School in Springfield this week, I met with teachers and we talked about how I might support their instruction during my presentations. We also communicated by e-mail prior to my visit. This was very helpful so that I could narrow my focus and make the limited time count.

Teachers made sure the kids had all read one of my books, and they invited and encouraged questions about the book as well as writing in general. The questions were great and demonstrated thinking and curiosity (Briggs kids: If I didn’t get to yours, include it as a Comment below).

I want to thank the staff at Briggs: the admin. for arranging and supporting my visits as well as the teachers and support staff for your preparation and active participation. And, of course, the students for your active engagement. Keep asking questions, and keep writing!

 

When it comes to writing, think BIG, then work small.

 

p.s. And we’re not done, either! I’ll be back next month to meet with you in library classes.

Walk Out…Then Write!

     When the students at Briggs Middle School in Springfield, Oregon walked out of class at ten o’clock this morning, I walked with them. I was at the school to do an author visit and speak to students about writing. It was near the end of my presentation when the walkout took place, and I was happy to participate. Some things are more important than writing.

     The Briggs students joined students from all cross the country in leaving their classrooms for seventeen minutes to honor and pay respect to the latest school shooting victims. I was impressed with how the walkout was handled—making an announcement that the students could choose to participate in the walkout or remain in their classrooms. Some chose to stay. Others left. Outside, some formed circles and held hands. Others stood in small groups. Most were silent. All showed reverence.

     The last time I walked out of a class was in the spring of 1970, when I was a freshman at the University of Missouri. When President Richard Nixon announced he was going to send troops into Cambodia, deepening the Vietnam War, protests were waged across the country. At my school, we walked out of classes in protest. When it looked like the protests might become violent, the school closed and we all went home. We were lucky; protesters at other schools, like Kent State and Jackson State, got shot by National Guard and police. Some died.

     What’s the point of walking out, some people wonder. As I drove home today, I listened to a talk show host belittling the students who took that action. “What a waste of time,” he said. “What are they learning by doing that?”

     They’re learning a lot. They’re learning how to organize. That’s how this country got started: organized protests. They’re learning how to make their voices heard, even in silence. And, most importantly, they’re learning to take action, to take a stand.

     We, as adults, have done little to address gun violence in this country. After each new massacre, we talk and pray and wish things were different. That’s not enough. Nothing will change until we change it. I believe more voices will help.

     I applaud the students at Briggs and at every school who took action today, and there were thousands who did. But now I invite every student to take the next step, and this involves writing. Write down your thoughts, your fears, your ideas, and include them in letters to people who make decisions about school safety and about the way guns are regulated in our country today. Send letters to your principal, your school board, your local representatives, state representatives, your Senators and Congressman.

    Your words matter. Change can happen. You can make a difference. Write on!

Letters, Letters, Letters

I just returned from a wonderful visit to Arizona, where I got to go face to beak with hummingbirds, walk the paths of 16th century explorers, and enjoy the wonders of the desert. Is there a book in there somewhere, who knows, but there’s lots of ideas.

Before leaving, I was the proud recipient of a packet of letters from an interested and excited couple of classes of fourth graders at Santiam Elementary School, which I will be visiting soon. I enjoyed reading every letter and am looking forward to the day we meet.

I appreciate the kind words about my books and especially the questions asked. Some of the answers can be found on my website, some I’ll answer below, and some I’ll answer during my presentation.

Here’s a few answers:

I have an older sister (Sherry), one son (Tyler), and one dog (Toby)

Toby on a kindergarten class visit

 

Tyler and I at the Gergeti Trinity Church in northern Georgia (near the Russian border)

 

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was in my 30s. First, I got several stories and plays published in magazines. My first book, The Chewing Gum Book, was published in 1989. I was 38 years old. Since then, I’ve had 26 more books published.

I did not illustrate any of my books, but some of my photographs appeared in my books. The publisher chooses the illustrator. And yes, they get paid.

Gum has been a life-long love for me, since the days I had to sneak it into school to chew it. I still chew if everyday (sugarless only!), and even collect it. The back cover of the Chomp! book shows a small part of my chewed gum collection.

Salem middle school students showing her stuff

Tried making my own gum. Not so good…

 

Favorites

Color: Green

Food: Nectarines, Cheese, Kale

Sports: Baseball

Activities, Hiking, sailing, ping-pong, biking

Music: Rock, Classical

Number: 9

Month: September

Place to live: Oregon

Place to visit: Machu Picchu, Uganda

Rafting the Nile River in Uganda (me in yellow helmet on left)

 

I just finished writing three different books about wolves. My agent is trying to find them a home at a publishing company. Several ideas are bubbling in my head about what to do next. Hmmm…we’ll have to wait and see.

Next project – the moment of decision

 

 

 

An International Touch

A recent visit from my son, Tyler, and his new bride, Milena, provided a local school with an international experience. Milena is from Colombia, Tyler recently worked in Saudi Arabia. Are these places, a world apart, alike in any way? Kids in Todd Grassman’s fourth grade class developed questions about everyday life (What do they eat? What’s their school schedule? etc.) and posed them to the visitors. We tracked responses on a Venn diagram.

What did we discover? Although there are many differences (climate, animals, language…) there are also many similarities between the countries ( soccer, X-box, pizza…). And then, to top it off, we compared the U.S. and found out that there are lots of similarities with all three of our countries.

Imagine that!