Stars: A Fibonacci Poem

Dava Sobel‘s The Glass Universe continues to inspire me. Although I couldn’t find any direct relationship between stellar spectra and the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical form seemed appropriate for this topic.

Stars
hide
secrets
in white light.
Spectral lines reveal
elemental composition
and temperature to sleuths who probe their mystery.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

Star Spectra by Secchi, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing poems in a specific form can be a fun yet challenging way to summarize learning in any subject area. The concision of poetry forces kids to hone in on the essential aspects of a topic, book or article. It also provides an authentic purpose for using subject-specific vocabulary.  As I wrote this poem, I found my biggest challenge wasn’t the basic science behind the stellar spectra, but getting the right words to match the syllable count of a Fibonacci poem.

 Thank you, Laura, for once again being so generous with your time and talents.  Thank you also to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing 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.

SOL 17 & Poetry Friday: “Feather, Celebrating Valerie Worth”

                                          

“The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world.”
~ Natalie Goldberg ~

Last week, I shared Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderly, and Marjory Wentworth’s inspirational new poetry collection, Out of Wonder. Each poem is a celebration of another poet, either written in their style or about a topic dear to them.

Of course I wanted to try my hand at this. I found a lone turkey feather in the snow after the blizzard a few weeks ago that had been calling to me. I decided Valerie Worth’s “small poems” were the perfect model to use for a poem about this little gift.

After reading and rereading All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, I watched Renée LaTulippe’s interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins about Valerie Worth. Lee described Worth’s poems as “sharp, solid, eloquent evocations of ordinary objects” that “causes us to see the everyday world in fresh, insightful, larger-than-life ways.” Easy, right?

Of course not. Lee also said that Worth was “truly a craftsperson, who wrote, revised, wrote, and revised.” Knowing that no poem is ever finished, I have written and revised, written and revised my attempt at a “small poem” about a feather.

Feather
celebrating Valerie Worth

On turkey’s back,
a feather is
filaments of color
weaving a cloak
of shadow and light
that hides and
protects.

Fallen on the snow,
this downy tuft
transforms into
treasure,
whispering secrets
of the woods.

© Catherine Flynn, 2017

It seems appropriate that this final day of the 2017 Slice of Life Challenge is on a Friday. I’m certain I wouldn’t ever have had the confidence to write and share poetry if it hadn’t been for this supportive community. My heartfelt thanks to you all, especially StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts. Also, be sure to visit Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

SOL 17 & It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?: See You in the Cosmos

                                   

Over two hundred years ago, William Wordsworth advised writers and artists to “fill your page with the breathings of your heart.” And while I doubt Wordsworth imagined that rockets would one day send those breathings into the cosmos, there’s no question that Jack Cheng’s new middle grade novel, See You in The Cosmos (Dial Books, 2017), is full of heart.

Written as a series of iPod recordings, See You in The Cosmos is an epistolary novel for our digital age. Alex Petroski is a “rocket enthusiast” from Colorado who is planning on launching a rocket at the SHARF festival in nearby New Mexico. With his faithful dog, Carl Sagan, at his side, Alex sets out for the festival. This trip marks the beginning of an odyssey that takes him from Albuquerque to Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Along the way, Alex learns valuable lessons about loyalty, trust, and the truth about his family.

Alex’s vivid narration through the iPod recordings immediately draws readers into the mysteries at the core of his life. With a mother who has “quite days,” a father who died when Alex was three, and a 24-year old brother who lives in Los Angeles, eleven year old Alex has learned to be remarkably self-sufficient. And while getting to the rocket festival is the original purpose of Alex’s journey, it soon becomes a quest to find out the truth about his father. Throughout his trip, Alex meets an eclectic assortment of characters who help him reach his goal.

Cheng richly layered novel reminded me of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Like Sal, Alex’s search leads him to undiscovered truths about his family and himself. Readers will be cheering Alex on every step of the way. They may even discover a truth or two about themselves.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts. Also, please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

SOL 17 & the Poetry Friday Roundup: “Out of Wonder”

                                        

“Writing is a tool to carve out our dreams”
~Kwame Alexander ~

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup! (Not sure what Poetry Friday is? Find out more from Renée LaTulippe here.) I’m happy you’re here because I have a stunning new collection to share today. Just in time for National Poetry Month, Newbery-Medal winning poet Kwame Alexander has teamed up with Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and Ekua Holmes to create a spectacular gift to poetry lovers of all ages, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (Candlewick Press, 2017).

In the Preface to Out of Wonder, Alexander explains his mission for this book is introduce readers to “…twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and lives.” He and his co-authors also hope readers will see these poems “as stepping-stones to wonder” about the poets, poetry in general, and the poetry within themselves.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “Got Style,” includes poems written in the style of Naomi Shihab Nye and e.e. cummings, among others. “In Your Shoes” includes poems written about favorite topics of celebrated poets. Emily Dickinson’s love of flowers, Walter Dean Myers love of basketball, and Judith Wright’s love of the earth are just a few of the themes used to inspire new poems. The final section, “Thank You,” pays tribute to beloved poets themselves, including Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carols Williams, and Sandra Cisneros.

Ekua Holmes’s mixed media collages explode off the page, adding another layer of beauty to these pages. Her color schemes are perfectly suited to the poems. Subtle, muted hues create the winter woods of Robert Frost, while bold primary colors give wing to Maya Angelou’s “free bird.”

A brief biography of each celebrated poet is included at the end of the book, as well as a chronological listing of the poets and their country of origin. This section is a jumping off point for teachers and students who want to learn more about these poets.

In an interview with Rachel Martin on NPR, Alexander stated that he had “three aims for the book — to encourage kids to read poetry, to introduce them to great poets, and to inspire them to write poems of their own.” He goes on to say “It’s a lofty goal.” Lofty yes, but one he and his collaborators exceed in this joyful book.

Want to know more about Kwame Alexander’s thoughts about poetry? Read his conversation with Nikki Grimes here, and his article with co-author Chris Colderley about why poetry matters at the Poetry Foundation. In addition, Poetry Friday’s own Mary Lee Hahn wrote a terrific Teacher’s Guide that is chock-full of suggestions for sharing Out of Wonder to inspire your students.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

And now for the Roundup! Please click to add your link and read more poetic offerings.

SOL 17: A Literary Feast: TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion

Today I was immersed in words. Powerful words. Poignant words. Inspiring words. This is what happens when you attend a Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion.

This day-long celebration of literacy is a veritable feast of learning and professional development. Educators travel from around the world to be part of this amazing experience. As I have for more than ten years, I left my house before dawn this morning to join them. By the end of the day, my head was spinning with all I had learned. I need time to process by notes and clarify my thoughts. In the meantime, here is a peek into my day.

Made it to the station in time!

 

This thought-provoking interview in the current issue of the Horn Book kept me company on the train.

 

“Subway” by Billy Collins was the Poetry in Motion poster on the shuttle from Grand Central.

 

Alfred Tatum urged us to ensure that meaningful literacy exchanges that move our humanity and that of our students forward are always part of our literacy instruction.

 

Eric Hand opened his session on writers notebooks with the wise words of friend and fellow Slicer, Michelle Haseltine.

 

Emily Butler Smith shared these quotes as an option for using literacy skills to support work in social studies.

 

Annie Taranto shared ideas for making writing goals public.

 

I met Slicer and TWT co-author Lanny Ball at Mike Ochs’s session on grammar and vocabulary instruction. (The bottom line? Read. Read more.)

By the end of this session, my cold was getting the best of me and I reluctantly decided to miss Lucy’s closing keynote. Thanks to the wonder of Twitter, I was able to tune in to Lucy’s moving words as she remembered Kathleen Tolan: “It is an enormous act of love to see potential.”

My thanks to everyone at TCRWP who makes these Saturday Reunions possible. Your words of guidance, support, and encouragement help me see my students with new eyes. Your words help me see their potential.

A fitting view from the train as I headed home.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17: By the Book

Every Saturday, my day begins with the New York Times Book Review over breakfast. One of my favorite features is “By the Book.” In this column, an author with a recent or upcoming book is interviewed about his or her reading. I’m always astonished at the breadth of reading of these authors. So many books and writers I’ve never even heard of! Still, I’m fascinated by the responses and each week come away with a list of books I’ll probably never read.

I’d always thought this would be a good format for a Slice of Life, and last year, another Slicer (sorry, I don’t remember who) thought so too. Now I’m going to borrow their idea.

“The New Novel” Winslow Homer, 1877 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What books are on your night stand now?

I always have at least three books going at once. I just started Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. In another life, I might have been an astronomer. Everything about our universe fascinates me. The jacket copy states that this book “is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed the understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.” Dava Sobel is an excellent writer who makes her subjects engaging and accessible. Her book Longitude is one of my favorites.

See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng, was just published by Penguin Random House. I have an ARC on NetGalley that I was hoping to read this weekend, but life got in the way of that plan. Maybe I’ll get to it on Tuesday during the blizzard.

My book discussion group is currently reading Dispatches, by Michael Herr. This first-hand account of Herr’s experiences as a war correspondent in Vietnam is brutal and unsparing, but written with the style and grace of a poet.

Speaking of poetry, I also have Billy Collins’s latest The Rain in Portugal, in the pile. Elaine Magliaro’s charming Things to Do is right underneath. I have long been a fan of Elaine’s poetry, and am thrilled for her that her first book has been published. I’m looking forward to sharing it with our Kindergarteners and writing “Things to Do” poems with them soon.

Finally, there is Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. This book is chock-full of ideas and ready to come to the rescue when I need one. There’s a section on “Getting Started,” “Character,” and more. I’ve been dipping in and out of each, and I’m sure one will show up here in the next few days.

There are at least ten more books beneath these, patiently waiting their turn. What books are on your night stand?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 17 & DigiLit Sunday: Blended Learning

                                       

This post is also part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is Blended Learning. Please be sure to visit Margaret’s blog to read more Digilit Sunday contributions.

“A human must turn information into intelligence.”
~ Grace Hopper ~

On an ordinary day in 1972, something very extraordinary appeared in the Resource Center of my elementary school. Two teletype computer terminals were installed, connecting our little school to the mainframe computer at the local university. A telephone receiver had to be positioned in an acoustic coupler (aka modem) to make the connection. After typing in a series of commands, the mainframe computer “ran” our program, and the result (usually a image of an animal created with Xs) was printed on yellow paper. Welcome to the computer age!

I would never, even in my wildest imaginings, have predicted that forty-five years later I would be able to sit at my kitchen table, pull up images of that miraculous machine, type these words, and then, with a single keystroke, send them instantly out into the wide world.

But here we are. And for all the news of hacking and worries about keeping our data secure, computers and technology have enhanced education in countless positive ways, and the possibilities for its use are endless.

As a literacy leader in my school, it’s essential that I keep up to date on developments in the world of literacy education. Blended learning is the most effective way for me to accomplish this. Attending a conference in real life is energizing. It’s always a thrill to meet one of my literacy heroes, and I love the being able to talk with other educators about their experiences face-to-face. But conferences are expensive and not always available.

With Slice of Life friends at ILA last summer.

However, thanks to the advent of webinars, YouTube, and TED Talks, I can attend a conference in my living room. I can usually replay key points for better understanding. Best of all, I can share with my colleagues and we can learn together. Follow up discussions often yield more insights and new ideas for application. Reading books and articles related to these topics only leads to deeper understanding.

Twitter and blogging is another key component of my blended learning life. Joining Twitter chats lets me have real-time conversations about a particular topic with other teachers. Through blogging, I’ve made connections and become friends with educators from around the world. These brilliant people enhance my learning and my teaching practice every day.

My experiences with blended learning have been essential to my growth as an educator. They have also been critical in helping teachers plan similar opportunities for their students. Opportunities that will nourish their curiosity and imagination, and give them the skills to prepare for a future we can hardly imagine.

Favorite Professional Learning Resources

  • Heinemann: A wealth of samples, webinars, podcasts, and more are available on this website
  • Stenhouse Publishers: Previews of new books, study guides, a newsletter and more are available here.
  • The Educator Collaborative: Led by Chris Lehman and many other rock star educators, this group, among other services, hosts an online Study Group series for a small fee that brings focused, topical PD into your school. (Or living room!)
  • The Two Writing Teachers Blog: In addition to hosting the March Slice of Life challenge, this blog and the incredible women and man who run it consistently post high-quality content for writing teachers at all levels.
  • Teachers College Reading and Writing Project: From weekly Twitter chats to week-long Summer Institutes and free Saturday Reunions, TCRWP is a goldmine of information and knowledge.
  • Good to Great Twitter chats are held every Thursday evening. Dr. Mary Howard and friends always have thought-provoking guests to spark the conversation.

This is just a short list of the resources available for online learning. What are your favorites?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, MelanieLisa and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.