Search

Search Results for: writing from nature

School Visits to Prentiss Christian and Lawrence County High School

Prentiss Christian and Lawrence County-

This past Thursday Sarah visited Prentiss Christian School and Lawrence County High School to promote teen writing contest, the theme for which is “Animals and/or Nature.”  Students are encouraged to write either a short story about nature or a nonfiction essay about the theme. This contest is a partnership between The New Walden Writers Retreat and Environmental Arts Center and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality with support from the Jefferson Davis and Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Central MS RC&D Council.  While at Prentiss Christian School Sarah gave a brief presentation on her books to introduce the students to the process of writing nature-focused non-fiction.  She shared both Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, both of which are non-fiction books.  Although her work is non-fiction, I noticed that while we were at St. Luke’s in Baton Rouge that her work seemed to unanimously inspire fiction work from the students. I wonder what it is about these scientific and mathematical concepts in nature that inspires us to write creatively?

Prentiss Christian and Lawrence County--5

 

Special thanks to Hope Daley of the Jefferson Davis County Soil & Water Conservation District and Mandy Callaway of the Lawrence County SWCD for organizing these visits, and another thanks to Chuck Jepsen and Laura Beiser of the Central MS Resource Conservation and Development Council for facilitating them! Hopefully the wonderful weather (and Sarah’s wonderful presentations) will inspire the students to get out and start writing about nature!

Finding Fractals in the Classroom

St. Lukes Fractal Pop up Books--16Hello! My name is Mary Schmidt, and I’m Sarah’s intern for the Spring. I’m a senior at Millsaps College, and while I don’t know much about children’s literature I’ve enjoyed my first month learning about it!

On February 5 Sarah and I left for Baton Rouge, LA to make a visit to St. Luke’s Episcopal School. While there Sarah presented her newest book, Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature, to Mrs. McIlwain’s fifth grade classes. The classes were both very welcoming and enjoyed learning about fractals (as well as some side facts about the wolfsnail!).

We arrived in Baton Rouge late Wednesday afternoon, just in time for a great dinner prepared by Julie Owen. After dinner Sarah showed me the ins and outs of the cameras that I would be using to film and take pictures with the next day. I’ve always appreciated photography, but I honestly did not know how much work went into the process (not to mention just setting the cameras up!). Thanks to Sarah’s husband Richard’s notes, though, I was able to set the camera up and even get a few good shots.

Sarah read the book from the F&Gs (folded and gathered, meaning the pages of the book without binding or a spine) to explain fractals to the classes. Each class had great questions about fractals — they were certainly a smart group of students. After reading the book Sarah led them through a fractal activity, one that she and Julie Owen will be presenting at the Fay B Kaigler Children’s Book Festival in Hattiesburg, MS on April 10. The classes had great fun with the project, and we found that it was a great way for them to express their creativity and use their imaginations while engaging in math and science.mysterious patterns cover

Sarah also showed the classes some of the different drafts of the book, starting with the very first draft (see photo above). The classes were perhaps most interested in the process of writing a book, as they just finished a unit in which they wrote their own books. Based on their fractal projects I would not be surprised if there were a few potential authors in the class!

The visit was a huge hit (according to Julie’s son, Hobson), and Sarah, Julie, and I are all grateful to Mrs. McIlwain’s class for allowing us to visit! And a huge thanks to Julie and her family for hosting Sarah and me (an even bigger thanks for the delicious meals). We certainly appreciated it!

 

I Read Mysterious Patterns to My Faithful Critique Group

Sarah Reads MP at Davis
On Wednesday, I took the F&G copy of Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature to Davis Magnet so I could read it to my faithful critiquers, now all in the fifth grade. We discussed the timeline of the books — from the first idea in June 2011 through the sending to the print house in October 2013. We all can’t wait for the publication in April!! When these young people were in the third grade, I facilitated a unit on writing and illustrating math stories. Read more here. Thank you, Mary Schmidt, for taking the photograph. Mary is a senior at Millsaps College who will be working with me this Spring.

The F&Gs for Mysterious Patterns Arrived!

I’m very excited to have the glossy pages in my hands! (Here’s a good explanation of F&Gs from Editorial Anonymous.)

Mysterious Patterns F&Gs

All the back-and-forth we did on layout, design, and final nit-picky details was done by sending electronic documents back and forth. I always have to trust that the photographs are going to be clear, sharp, and crisp when they are printed on real paper. And, they are! I love it when a book comes together. (OK, so this one is not bound yet, but we are oh, so close!)

Another fun piece of news is that I’ve been invited to join the faculty of the Writing About Nature Retreat offered in May 2014 by the Highlights Foundation. Read about the other great faculty here, and consider joining us. I participated in similar workshops in 2007 and 2009. You can read some posts about previous workshops here.

The Marketing Begins

I guess it’s time to write about work again. I’m in the lull between finalizing text and images for my newest book, Mysterious Patterns: Fractals in Nature, and seeing a layout. Today, I got an email from Boyds Mills Press that officially jumpstarts the marketing process: the author/illustrator questionnaire for books on the 2014 Spring List.

I’ve already been marketing for Mysterious Patterns in several ways:

daisy luck
Someone who knows more about children’s publishing than I do said the best marketing for already published titles is to get a new book out, so I’ve spent a good lot of time this year gearing up for a marketing campaign for Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature and Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator.

Read a Book, Make a Book

I spent Saturday leading a workshop for a dozen Greenville Public School teachers titled “Read a Book, Make a Book.” The workshop was organized and paid for by the Greenville Arts Council. I appreciate all the help I got from Megan Hines, the education director for the arts council.

I taught three book forms: the instant book, the Wolfsnail on the Move Book (a scroll form), and the Fibonacci Folding Book (an accordion form). I shared the stories behind each of my books to give teachers a window into the creative process of a writer of nonfiction, and to empower them to lead their students through the same process.

writing

We used Private Eye loupes to examine natural objects.

examining the nautilus

It was a cold, dreary day in the Delta so we didn’t spend time outside. We did a few exercises that teachers can use to prepare students for nature journaling outside, including the 20-second nature break.

observing, writing

A highlight of the day was making our Wolfsnail on the Move books.

green crayon

D reading Wolfsnail

illustrating

green pencil

wavy brown

orange

L reading

D reading

C reading

R reading

J reading

D reading

finished book

wolfsnail on the move book

d's book

G 's book

I used some portions of the Digging Deep curriculum I developed this year with the Mississippi Museum of Art. I thank the museum education department’s Elizabeth Williams and Dorian Pridgen for sending copies of the curriculum, other MMA materials related to schools, and door prizes for teachers.

Digging Deep Workshop at Mississippi Museum of Art

I spent a few hours Thursday, helping teach a workshop at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Elizabeth Williams, the museum’s education director, and Carol Cox Peaster, the director of the museum’s Art Garden, and I guided 15 teachers through Digging Deep, the art/science/nature curriculum we put together earlier this year. We piloted it with fourth graders at Davis Magnet IB Elementary School. (You can read more about the pilot here.)

teachers in art gardenTeachers who participated learned the 20-Second Nature Break, some nature journaling techniques, how to use Private Eye loupes, basic sketching, and how to turn a sketch into a watercolor. Everything we did was with the goal of developing observational skills for scientific research, writing, and making visual art. We didn’t talk much about photography, but I couldn’t resist taking my camera along for some more shots in the gorgeous garden.

orange flowerssculpture with spheredried blossomslightstriangles in circlesipad photo takingbugtransferring sketchsarah talking about writingewilliamsmore orange with deadheads

Using Digital Photography to Illustrate Math Stories

I’ve been so busy with students I haven’t had much time to blog. We are in the final stage of our bookmaking, and the books look great. The third graders did a terrific job!

six books on desk

Students created stories in the broad categories of patterns and measurement. We had six groups of students. Four groups had four students each, and two groups had three students each. The groups worked together to brainstorm, write, storyboard, and take photographs.

After an initial visit, during which I talked about my Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature (read about it here), Beth West worked with the students to talk about what all math stories need. Together, she and the students developed a checklist. The group writing was a challenging part of this project. In order to facilitate the process, Beth and I worked with each group for about an hour — to help integrate disparate drafts and press for coherence in the math methods being deployed.

s writing

We spent the next full school day, working individually with groups to storyboard the photographs and then take them.

s and f talking about storyboard

After the photographs were taken, we asked the groups to self-select for four tasks: chartist (to create any chart needed for an illustration on good paper), folder (to make the instant book out of the good paper), assembler (to order, trim, and glue photographs into the book), and scribe (to write the final text into the book). So, on our final two work days, we worked with groups according to their tasks. All six folders made their books at the same time. All the chartists made charts at the same time, etc.

d making chart

m doing chartf foldingcutting

g making a bookt assemblingj assemblingk taking s through booka gluingk pressingb helping select text for pagesa and t writing final textt writingt explaining text choicesj writing final textb helping jmrs L enjoying the booksThis final picture is of the classroom teacher, Mrs. Lieb. She has been very patient with Beth and me as we invaded her classroom. Here she is enjoying reading one of the books for the first time. Thank you, Mrs. Lieb.

Patty Crosby took all but two of the photographs in this post. She also had the task of capturing the whole project on video. Thank you, Mom!

Thank you, also, Beth.

My Sample Math Story

I learned a long time ago that anytime I planned to do a project with students, I’d better try it first myself.
sample book knitting
So, today, I’m sharing my attempt at a math story illustrated with digital photographs. This is my current project with third grade students at Davis Elementary School. (Read this previous post for background.) Arguably, I’ve done this before. My Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature is a model text for this lesson.

My co-teacher, Beth West, and I aren’t asking the groups of third graders to write and illustrate a 32-page picture book, though. We’re asking them to write and illustrate an 8-page math story problem. The broad topics we asked them to write on were: patterns and measurement.

Beth created two useful documents to help students with this project: a graphic organizer and a checklist. I wrote a story titled Toby Knits a Blanket. In it, Toby wants to use a growing pattern to make a red, white, and blue baby blanket. The seeds for his growing pattern are 4 and 1.

inside pages model math bookYou can see how I filled in the graphic organizer.

graphic organizerThen, I used an instant book made from a sheet of manilla paper to create a storyboard. I used it to match the photographs with the text.

storyboardI spent about an hour last week meeting with one of the third grade groups. Beth met with another group at the same time and their classroom teacher, Mrs. Lieb, had charge of the rest of the class. The group I worked with is writing a story about trying to find a library book in a library where the cataloging has gone crazy, but in a patterned kind of way. Beth’s group was writing about predicting which student might win the most classroom incentive prizes over a designated time period — based on a pattern established in the first few days of the competition.

I go back tomorrow to work with a third group. We have six groups in all, and we are eager to get started on the photography part of the project.

lego dudes as models for third grade classesI dug these lego figures out of my boys’ containers so I could use them as models for my other story — involving measurement. These lego folks represent a classroom of students who are going to eat pudding at a party.

Urban Ecoystems

I went out on a nature journaling expedition with Davis Magnet School fourth graders yesterday. Several kids in each class noticed this. One sketched it. Another called me over. We wondered what on earth it was.

kids found this

Another fourth grader noticed this one.
kids found

We were in the Mississippi Museum of Art‘s Art Garden, gathering information for our series of Davis Field Guides to the Art Garden. The students had clipboards, “instant book” journals (see my post), and pencils.

Next week, the fourth graders will be back in the garden with clipboards, journals, pencils, cameras, and a set of published field guides for reference (we’re using Kaufman field guides to birds, insects, butterflies, and an Alabama and Mississippi Gardener’s Guide co-authored by Felder Rushing).

After Wednesday’s session, I went over to Eudora Welty Library and checked out two visual field guides to mushrooms, which I sent to Davis this morning with one of my neighbors who teaches there. So, I know what is in the two photographs above, but I am counting on the fourth graders to find out for themselves.

fourth grader nature journaling

In addition to journaling with me in the garden, the fourth graders had a guided tour of the Mississippi Story with Elizabeth Williams, curator of education, and a drawing lesson with Carol Cox Peaster, the art garden coordinator. Specifically, Williams talked with students about Bill Dunlap’s Flat Out Dog Trot and Carol Cole’s Jackson, MS as examples of landscapes and cityscapes.
e williams with fourth graders
Here are some of Williams’s comments: “It was interesting to see how the students who had been outside and had already used their journal, got out their sketchbooks and began writing everything they saw in the works of art. They were very perceptive and each group noticed very different things about each of the painting. Lastly, we took a look at the four Walter Anderson’s on the walls and tried to develop a pool of words that could be used to describe Anderson’s style. Some students interpreted his word as “bright” “energetic” and “creative”, while others noticed some of the cooler colors he used that might be interpreted as sad or gloomy. All of the students noted that the work was not very realistic.”
hands upHere is Peaster teaching the drawing class.

Carol Cox Peaster leading drawing classIvy Alley, curator of education, docents and volunteers at the museum, led a tour of the art in the Art Garden.

sculptureDuring our last sesion at the museum, the fourth graders brainstormed about the topics they might choose for their Davis Field Guides to the Art Garden.

brainstorming report

Thank you, Beth West, Davis’ IB Coordinator, and Kacy Hellings, Davis’ Librarian, and Julian Rankin, the museum’s public relations coordinator for taking photographs. You can see Rankin’s Facebook album of images here.

Thank you, fourth grade teachers, Jalesha Cross and Jordan Gunther, for guiding students; and two parents who came along as chaperones. We are grateful for the help.