This is what the garden looks like now. We’ve got three raised beds. We put out onion sets and the cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower plants we had grown indoors. We’re late getting the cold stuff out, but we’ll see how it goes. We also filled our seed starter with lettuces, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, basil, and more. This is a wonderful experiment. We hope to be eating out of it soon.
Regular readers of the blog know that I believe the arts are an essential part of successful learning environments. As soon as my first son went to school, I started volunteering to help with arts projects, reading, and bringing artists into his school. As the other two followed, I became even more involved, eventually directing an annual grants budget of $20,000 to bring authors, illustrators, quilters, a paper maker, a mosaic artist, a storyteller, and a mixed media artist into the classrooms. Now that my sons are older, I am doing more of my own creative work as an author and photographer.
I remain committed to the arts in classrooms. I recently visited St. Richard’s Catholic School to conduct professional development in arts integration. I am also nearly finished with a mini-residency at Davis Magnet IB World School, where I have been helping second graders learn about their neighborhood through photography. This blog is being featured right now on the Resources page of Keeping Arts in Schools, an advocacy group. Another local mother who shares my interest in arts integration also blogs about it. Visit her Art Smart Parents blog.
Here’s a picture of my middle son and his school mate competing in the Mississippi Science Olympiad at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg last week. They built a gizmo that launched a tennis ball — and they hit both targets. Hooray!
This Wednesday, I head down to Hattiesburg once again for the 2009 Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi. Headlining this year’s festival is Judy Blume. For information about other presenters, including moi, click here. I am offering a workshop titled, “Seeing is Believing: The Power of Photography in Children’s Nonfiction.”
Also in Hattiesburg this week will be the opening venue for the traveling exhibit Storybook Look: Illustrations by Southern Artists. The Hattiesburg American ran articles about the festival and the exhibit. I will sign books at the festival and at the exhibit at the Saenger Theater. Main Street Books in Hattiesburg will handle book sales. Read about last summer’s visit to Main Street here.
During today’s visit, three fourth grade classes embellished quilt blocks they had made in art class prior to my visit. Each student made choices about whether to add fabric or whether to use embroidery thread alone to accent their pictures. They had drawn pictures on muslin squares and colored them using fabric markers. In each session, we had extra teachers helping to keep needles threaded and to help in other ways.
I spent the day at St. Richard’s Catholic School — with two distinct assignments. First, I conducted three teacher workshops on integrating quilting into the curriculum and, second, I did two Wolfsnail presentations. St. Richard’s is a Whole School as designated by the Mississippi Arts Commission, which means that arts is integrated into teaching across the curriculum. Art Teacher Gene Everitt took this photograph of me during the teacher workshop.
The two Wolfsnail presentations were for first graders and second graders. My mother came in for the first Wolfsnail presentation because I asked her to videotape one of my readings. I am considering applying to join the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Teaching Artist Roster and the application requires recordings of presentations with students and with teachers. I am already a member of the MAC’s Artist Roster. The difference between the two is that in addition to maintaining artistic excellence and being able to share the arts practice and technique with students, teaching Artists are expected to have some expertise in developing lesson plans and in guiding teachers as they develop lesson plans.
Don’t these look tasty? I love it when the strawberries come into season. Head over to my friend Susan’s blog for a great strawberry cake recipe.
Richard and I took these as part of our Fibonacci project, but I don’t think they’ll make it into the book.
The Photo Friday challenge this week is edible so I think these fill the bill quite nicely.
I’ve got a busy week coming up — a two-day school visit at St. Richard’s Catholic School here in Jackson and then two science events with my sons: the regional science fair and the science olympiad. D, my fifth grader, did an experiment with a solar car he built from a kit. G, the eighth grader, built a robot with a his friend. They’ll have to run it around a playing field putting objects into goals — against the clock. N, the sixth grader, built a tennis ball launching trajectory machine with his friend. They’ll have to try to hit two targets. It’ll all be interesting.
My next book, tentatively titled Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, will be published next year by Boyds Mills Press. I’ve been working to make this deal since last February. I’m glad I didn’t wait for the official deal to be done to work on it, though, because I’ll be delivering it next month. Richard and I started taking photographs last March and we think we’ve got them all taken now. The text is on its 5th version, or so, and I think it’s just about there. I have been sharing homemade copies with some friends, their kids, and some second graders at Davis Magnet, where I am a resident artist at the moment. I love making books!
I had some especially crucial (though informal) critiques at a recent SCBWI conference. Writer friends who will really tell you the truth are worth their weight in gold. I look forward to sharing more about this project as it goes along.
Today I worked again with Davis Magnet School second graders as they selected photographs to include in their Davis on the Map final presentation. For those of you who are new to the blog, you can catch up on previous posts about Davis on the Map by clicking here. The teachers, Karen Jones and Beth West, contacted me earlier this week to suggest that I create a lesson in which I modeled the photo selection process.
To do this I created a slide show of photographs from a school event I had photographed four years ago. I walked the students through the process of choosing two photographs to “tell the story” of that event, a gifted class’s presentation of music and dance at a local historical museum. I developed a list of questions to guide the selection process:
What story do we want to tell?
Does this photograph help us tell the story?
Is this photograph interesting? Does it include shapes? Lines? Colors? Faces? Designs? Emotions?
Is this photograph in focus? too light? too dark?
If there are people in this photograph, are they focused on what they are doing?
Does this photograph work well with the the photographs taken by others in my group?
Does it add variety?
It was fun to see the students clicking through their individual photo galleries and to talk with them about how they were making their selections. I gave each student a piece of paper about the size of an index card and asked that each student choose three photographs from his/her gallery. Then, I assembled the group around each student’s computer and we talked about the positives and negatives of each photo. Ultimately, I asked the photographer to make the final choice. The photographer put a check next to the chosen photograph on the card (each had noted the photographs by number) and the teacher created a new folder for copies of the selected images.
The teachers had to work hard to get the images into folders labeled with each child’s name; there were several technical issues to overcome because we wanted the students to be able to access the images from a common network drive and we wanted six students working together at the same time. This meant we had to use a bank of computers in the library. There were problems transferring photos from the two newer cameras to the computers, but the librarian was able to figure out that problem. I worked with two groups today and I’ll work with the six more over the next two days. One group today was able to begin the next step in our process, writing captions, but another group did not have time.
Even though today’s activity seemed entirely a practical step (without much strict academic content), the lesson met several visual arts objectives. The students learned to recognize dominant elements of art in art work; identified art that tells stories and expresses ideas and feelings; analyzed art while listening respectfully; articulated preferences in works of art; and exhibited respect for their own work as well as the works of others. As they continue the work on their captions, they’ll be using research and writing skills. True arts integration.
My fifth grader (D) finished reading Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books. He has been trading them back and forth with his friend at school (J). He was excited to find some books he liked that also count for AR points. “What am I going to do now?” he wailed. I said we’d try to find him something else he’d like just as much. “It has to be mythical … have treachery … and fighting.” Hmmm. I found Cry of the Icemark and he was satisfied for the moment. We’ll see whether it takes. This morning while he waited for me to get up he picked up Robyn Hood Black‘s new book, Wolves. “It’s interesting. I like the pop-ups.”
He and his sixth grade brother (N) also spent some time with Donna Bowman‘s Big Cats. It is in the same series as Wolves, has similar paper engineering, and fun facts. Donna and Robyn are members of the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI and we’ve been meeting up several times a year at conferences for years now. Each launched her book at the recent SpringMingle’09 in Atlanta. My boys always meet me at the car when I come home from a conference, asking for the books. These are definite winners!
Wolfsnail earned a spot on the Best Science Books of 2009 as compiled by The Miss Rumphius Effect. It is very nice for my book to be inlcuded on lists like this one. I know teachers and curriculum specialists pull books from such “best” lists to use in their classrooms and curriculum writing. In another review, on Brian Wilhorn’s Help Readers Love Reading blog says: “Readers will pay close attention to the text, learning about wonderfully gross things like mucus and slime and tentacles. … Young boys might think they can climb up and ride these carnivorous monsters, when in reality adults are only 1.5 – 3 inches long. The end of the hunt is especially cool. The wolfsnail stretches to reach the next leaf, finds its prey, attacks (as a snail would…there’s no pouncing here), and dines. Finally, there’s a close-up of the now empty shell. Wolfsnail was named a Geisel Honor book in 2009. While very different from this year’s Medal winner, Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems, it is equally as deserving and engaging to young readers, but in a completely different way.” Read the whole review, including a conversation with his resident 7-year-old, here.
My story was featured on Mississippi Public Broadcasting during a local break in Morning Edition. MPB’s Arts Reporter Ron Brown put together a story after joining me during Monday’s visit to Davis Magnet IB World School. I was there to read Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator to two classes of kindergarteners and two classes of first graders. I wrote about it here. You can listen to the story on the MPB news archives page. Click here to listen and/or to read a text version. When you get to the MPB page, click on the blue headphones.