A Slice of Wonder

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Not long ago, I saw this picture on Facebook:

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As a kid, I spent hours poring over our encyclopedias, soaking up all sorts of information. When I became a teacher, I wanted to foster that same sense of curiosity in my students. My first classroom had a wall of windows that looked out over the lawn and playing fields. I taped a construction paper frame to one of the windows and labeled it our “Observation Station.” I made little notebooks for the kids to write down what they saw and what they were curious about.

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On today’s Internet, the entire world is just one or two clicks away. Wonderopolis, in case you’re not familiar with this amazing resource, focuses on answering a single question each day. Recent questions include “Do snakes have ears?” and “What do bees do in winter?” If this website had been around when I was a classroom teacher, it would have had front and center billing in my classroom. As it is, I’ve promoted it and encouraged the teachers I work with to incorporate it into their day as often as possible. At NCTE, a stellar panel shared their thoughts about wonder and curiosity at the Wonderopolis Breakfast. Georgia Heard, Barbara Philips, Paul Hankins, Joellen McCarthy, and Kristin Ziemke wowed us with the depth of their thinking and insights about encouraging wonder in our students.

Georgia Heard began by telling us that “school should be a scavenger hunt” and that we should be “in awe of the universe.”

Paul Hankins left everyone speechless with his thinking about wonder. He thought of W as a compass, pointing to “our true north.” Rotating the letter 90 degrees to the left reveals a B, which stands for our beliefs. Flip the B, and, with some creative visualizing, you have a C, which reminds us of the need to create opportunities in our learning environments where kids can wonder, ask questions, collaborate. Finally, one last rotation reveals an M, which stands for the “mountains of meaning” our students will build in the our rich classrooms. Paul also urged us to have “uncommon courage” to build the habits of mind in our students that foster wonder and to become “classroom concierges.” Find out where your kids want to go and facilitate their journey.

The brilliance was flying and I honestly couldn’t keep up with all the smart thinking that was being shared. Here are a few examples:

Wonderopolis is as mobile as the human mind.

“We need to encourage our kids to go beyond the quick answer to find the connections and patterns that lead to the deeper answer.” Kristin Ziemke

Wonder journals are a place for questions, observations, sketches. They should travel back and forth between home and school.

“Wonder leads to finding the information, not finding the answer. New discoveries lead to new questions…” Kristin Ziemke

If you’re curious and want to know more, you can follow Wonderopolis and all the panelists on Twitter. JoEllen McCarthy regularly posts a text/Wonder pairing. Look for her #WOTDP hashtag. 

Georgia Heard & Jennifer McDonough’s book A Place for Wonder (Stenhouse, 2009) is another fabulous resource. It’s full of suggestions on how to invite children’s questions and observations into our classrooms by encouraging their curiosity and wonder.

Kristine Ziemke’s new book, co-authored with Katie MuhtarisAmplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom (Heinemann, 2015) was just published in October. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it’s at the top of my TBR stack!

The world has changed in immeasurable ways since I first cracked opened those encyclopedias more than fifty years ago. But the capacity for children to ask questions and be curious has not. Thank you, Wonderopolis, Georgia, Barbara, Paul, JoEllen, and Kristin, for sharing your ideas about nurturing our students and their ever-present sense of wonder.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: NCTE Book Recommendations

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThere are many things I love about NCTE’s Annual Convention. I love learning from authors, teachers, and researchers I admire. I love meeting friends from blogging and Twitter in real life. And I love all the free or discounted books, posters, and bookmarks being given away by publishers in the Exhibition Hall. 

Something else I love are the book recommendations presenters make during their sessions. Teachers are readers, and presentations are always grounded in research. So, in addition to coming home with a suitcase full of books to share with my students, I brought home a list of professional books and other “adult” reading that I’m looking forward to diving into. Here, in no particular order, are some of the titles I’ll be reading in the weeks to come.

During her session, “Tracing the Shape of Human Thinking,” presented with her husband, Randy, Katherine Bomer referred toThe Best American Essays 2015, edited by Ariel Levy. I picked this up over the weekend and have already read Anthony Doerr’s lovely “Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul.” Katherine’s presentation was based on her upcoming book, The Journey is Everything. She closed her part of the session by telling us that “the act of writing without boundaries leads kids on a magical journey where they can hear what they think and say what they have to say.” I cannot wait to read more of Katherine’s thinking about changing they way we teach essay writing.

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At the Wonderopolois Breakfast (which deserves it’s own post), Georgia Heard talked about Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear. In this book, Gilbert urges her readers to live “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Sounds like good advice.

Amy Benjamin and Barb Golub’s session, “Infusing Grammar Instruction into the Workshop Model” was packed to the rafters and full of practical suggestions for implementing a “concept-based approach to grammar.” Fortunately, Benjamin and Golub have written a book, published by Routledge, to help us implement “activities [that] build language knowledge for ALL learners.”

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This list is by no means complete, and doesn’t begin to address all the kids books now piled on my desk. But it perfectly illustrates that the learning from NCTE reaches far beyond the Minneapolis Convention Center.  Happy reading, everyone!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: NCTE in Pictures

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Two full days (plus breakfast on the third) at NCTE in Minneapolis filled my brain and my heart with enough  wisdom, friendship, and love to last several months. I’ve spent several hours over the past two days reading my notes, processing ideas, Googling references, trying to process my thoughts and weave a coherent narrative that captures the essence of my NCTE experience. I met so many authors I idolize, so many smart, funny teachers who work so hard, then so generously share their ideas and experiences with others. Each session is worthy of a separate blog post, but that will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, here’s a quick photo recap of some highlights from my NCTE experience.

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The view from my hotel on Friday morning.
Janet Wong, Sylvia Vardell, Susan Marie Swanson, and Laura Purdie Salas leading a session on poetry, of course!
Janet Wong, Sylvia Vardell, Susan Marie Swanson, and Laura Purdie Salas leading a session on poetry, of course!
Marilyn Singer sang to the audience when she accepted her award for Excellence in Children's Poetry!
Marilyn Singer sang to the audience when she accepted her award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry.
With Georgia Heard at the Wonderopolis Breakfast.
Meeting poet Georgia Heard!
With fellow Slicers at the Wonderopolis Breakfast.
With fellow Slicers at the Wonderopolis Breakfast.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: NCTE 2014

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As I flew home from the NCTE Convention last night, my mind was full of all I had learned over the past three days. I was also grateful that I had the chance to meet so many of my Slice of Life and Twitter friends. This online community is still a marvel to me. At one point, I glanced out the window and realized a large chunk of the eastern seaboard was spread out beneath me. Millions of lights clustered in cities and stretched into the distance, following roads that seemed to go on forever. They looked like a dew-drenched web, illuminated by the moon.

I was mesmerized by the sight, and my book lay forgotten on my lap. Kate DiCamillo’s words immediately came to mind: “Stories connect us.” The web of lights seemed like the perfect metaphor for the web of stories that were spun out by teachers, storytellers and poets throughout the vast Gaylord National Resort during the convention, connecting educators from all over the country and around the world. These dedicated people had all come to Washington seeking ways to help their students learn.

In his new book, Minds Made For Stories (Heinemann, 2014), Tom Newkirk says “When we strip human motives from our teaching, I suspect we make learning harder, not easier.” (p. 17) The stories shared at NCTE were full of the very human motives of passion and curiosity, and it will take me weeks to sort out and internalize them. Inspired and enlightened by people I admire and feel so lucky to know, I went to school today with one goal in mind: to share this passion with my students and colleagues. I can’t wait to help them, in the words of Paul Hankins, “be wonder bound.” I can’t wait to see them deepen their connections with the world and find their stories.

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.