Growing Patterns Featured in Book on Mathematical Literacy

I contributed a short essay to a book published this month that encourages teachers to use trade books in mathematics instruction. I wrote about how I conceived of, wrote, photographed, and designed Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.

cover art for math litTitled Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and High School Grades: A Modern Approach to Sparking Student Interest, it was written by Dr. Faith Wallace and Mary Anna Evans and published by Pearson. (ISBN: 9780132180979)

My essay appears in a box in Chapter 5, titled “Picture Books: Where Math, Text, and Illustrations Collide.”

The authors contacted me in the summer of 2010, a few months after Growing Patterns was published and asked me to contribute. I am thrilled to be included in this book. The inside cover includes a chart showing how teachers can use material and activities in the book to meet Common Core standards for grades 6-12.

It’s particularly satisfying to have this book come out a month after I co-presented a workshop on Visualizing Math Stories at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference.

Visit to Saltillo Elementary

4th grader looks at wolfsnailI spent two days last week at Saltillo Elementary School, visiting with all 4th grade students and leading a professional development session for teachers grades 3-5.

Everyone was very friendly and helped me work through a few technical glitches. Thank you, Maggie Dickson, fourth grade project director; Faye Bruce, librarian; Gena Yarbrough, district art specialist; Belinda McKinion, assistant principal; and Coke Magee, principal.

The students asked great questions, and were wonderful guides through the school as I made my way from classroom to classroom to sign books.

Once again, I brought along a wolfsnail and some prey snails. I also debuted the wolfsnail app in its trial format. The kids loved seeing the snail video.

Several teachers took the pictures I am posting here. Thank you.

Sarah reading Wolfsnail
students using private eyes
girl looking at rock
girl looks at wolfsnail
sarah campbell showing wolfsnails to saltillo students
students looking at wolfsnail app
teaching professional development
principal makes a book
teacher makes a book

Mississippi Arts Hour Appearance


I will be on the Mississippi Arts Hour this weekend, talking with host Diane Williams about my writing, photography, and teaching.

The show, which is a joint production of the Mississippi Arts Commission and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, will air on Sunday at 3 p.m. on Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Think Radio, 91.3 FM.

(It will also air on the digital station, MPB’s Music Radio, on Saturday at 11 a.m.)

If you miss the show on the radio, it will be available here next week.

Publishing Opportunities for Young People

I will be visiting a creative writing class this week to talk about my work. At least one of the questions I expect to get is how can a young person get their work published? I know very little about the market for such work. I did a little research and came up with a few places on the web that seem to be rich with resources, including master classes by young writers for young writers, contests, and online and print magazines.

Please pass these along any young writers or visual artists in your life who are interested in getting their work published.

The National Writing Project, especially this page.

Write It on Scholastic’s website.

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers offers an annual contest with a rich, distinguished history.

Good News All Around

I was awarded a fellowship in the literary arts by the Mississippi Arts Commission. With my fellowship, an award of $3,900, I am charged with creating new work. Earlier this year, I described the process the Commission uses to evaluate fellowship applications. You can read about it here. I very much appreciate the help of Diane Williams, the MAC program director with oversight of the literary arts programs. I also appreciate the panelists.

The Work-in-Progress that I submitted for evaluation is tentatively titled “Not White.” It is a coming-of-age memoir.

In addition to the fellowship, I applied to be included in the MAC’s rosters of Artists and Teaching Artists. This will be my second three-year stint on the roster of Artists (for the literary arts) and the first stint with the Teaching Artists. In addition to Diane, who helped with the roster process, I also thank Kim Whitt, the program director with oversight of the teaching artist roster.

The final piece of good news is that all my struggling earlier this year with my Picture Book Work-in-Progress is really bearing fruit. I’m nearly ready to send it out into the world — again. Wish me luck!

Here’s a leaf I saw on the tip of an Island north of Seattle. Even with expanses of water, I am drawn to veins in a leaf.



Listening to “Blind” Reviewers

mac logoEarlier this year, I submitted three applications to the Mississippi Arts Commission. One was for a fellowship in the literary arts. This year’s literary fellowship categories were creative nonfiction, playwriting and screenwriting. My submission was in the creative nonfiction category.

Last week, I sat in the room while an independent review panel discussed this year’s eight fellowship applications. Before the meeting, each panelist had read for each application a 15-20 page work sample and an artist’s statement (with all identifying information removed).

Besides me, two other applicants came to listen to the panel.

The panelists were identified by name cards on the conference table. I knew two of them from their work in the arts community. Two others were new to me.

It was very strange to listen to my writing being talked about in that setting. Because my work-in-progress is a memoir, the panelists did at least have the luxury of using the pronoun “she” when they wanted to speak about the author, namely, me. From the discussion, I learned that other applicants’ work samples ranged from a literary cookbook to a play to newspaper column-style family reminiscences.

I kept imagining that the panelists could tell it was my work they were discussing. I was sure it showed on my face. All three of us observers took notes during the entire discussion, but I wrote more assiduously when they were discussing my work.

It was interesting to hear how the opinions of the panelists were in some cases diametrically opposed. “Unique and interesting” versus “Didn’t see the originality.”

Though it was a strange experience, I think all artists should take any opportunity to listen in on this kind of discussion. Perhaps most importantly, the process allows you to see how effective (or not) you are at conveying your goals and at displaying the expertise to carry out those goals. For example, in at least one case, a writer, in his/her artistic statement, proposed a biography, but the work samples were unrelated to the biography project.

At the end of a brief discussion, panelists were asked to give each application a series of numerical scores, based on certain criteria (originality and vision of the work; technical skill and mastery of the artistic discipline).

Observers were not allowed to see scores. We were asked to leave before the panel had its final discussion. In my past experience with arts commission panels (when I wrote project grants for schools and nonprofit organizations), this final discussion is where the panel’s ultimate preferences are revealed. (Observers used to be able to stay in the room for these discussions. I’m not sure when/why the change was made.)

I will have to wait until July to learn whether I will get a fellowship. The panel’s recommendations go to the Mississsippi Arts Commission‘s governing board, which meets in June.

The Not-Blind Part

The other two applications I submitted to the arts commission this year were for its artist rosters. I have been on the artist roster for the literary arts for three years and it was time for me to re-apply. In addition, I applied for the first time to join the teaching artist roster.

My application to be included on the artist roster for the literary arts went for review to the same panel that reviewed the fellowship applications. In this case, however, the panelists knew my name, saw my resume, my marketing materials, my work samples, and a list of the presentations and signings I’ve done in the last three years. I could tell from the comments by panelists that all of them supported my application to be on the roster.

The story was largely the same for the teaching artist application, though it went before a different panel. During the discussion, several panelists said they wished they had more information on which to base their recommendation. Some suggested the application requirements should be amended to include examples of student work. I would have loved to have shared my students’ work. You can see some of it here and here.

Another interesting aspect of the discussion was something I’ve struggled with over my years of trying to make the most of the resources available from the Mississippi Arts Commission. In order to apply for individual support (fellowship or grant) or to appear on rosters, an applicant must chose a particular art form. So, though I am equal parts writer and photographer in the creation of nonfiction picture books for children, I must choose for the purposes of each application whether to apply as a literary artist (writer) or as a visual artist (photographer). The rules about work samples make it hard to show my picture book work — because I am limited to typed manuscript pages on the literary arts side and photographs on the visual arts side.

I wonder if the panelists are allowed to and/or encouraged to look at the online materials of the applicants for rosters. I have so much information available on my website and on this blog that could have filled in some of the information panelists seemed to be seeking.

Have any of you blog readers experienced a similar “blind” review process? What was it like?

Magazine Staff From Mid-80s

In high school, I worked on an oral history magazine called I Ain’t Lying. I learned how to take photographs, develop film, print pictures, edit interviews, layout text, and manage a staff. I think I also learned about writing dialogue. I transcribed a lot of interviews, which gave me a feel for natural speech. My mother advised the magazine. We recently found these photographs, taken during interviews.

Rod Red and Martha Buie

Rod Red interviewing Martha Buie

Patty Crosby and Coletha Jackson

Patty Crosby and Coletha Jackson

Color for a Cold, Dreary Day

We’ve got winter storm warnings today all over the place. In my little spot in Jackson, I’ve noticed a very little bit of snow and, maybe, sleet. I am hoping the predicted 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice does NOT accumulate. I’d rather the tree branches and power lines stay intact. This photograph was taken in December 2009, when the two trees that mark the entrance to my driveway were in glorious color. This will have to be my sunshine today.
yellow leaves on trees
Am inspired to work again on the work-in-progress. I want it to shine like these leaves in the sun.

Get Your Head Right

I am a very social person. I get energy from interactions with people. I like to work in collaborative settings. Nonetheless, I find myself self-employed and working from home. I’ve done the things one does to mitigate the isolation of this kind of work. I belong to groups of people like me who meet regularly to share experiences. I do group exercise every day. I lunch with friends who have regular jobs.

Every once in a while it doesn’t feel like enough. A long time ago I had a job writing for a daily newspaper. I faced daily and weekly deadlines and I sat regularly with editors. We brainstormed and planned. Editors did trouble-shooting, pointed out my mistakes, and praised my good stuff. It felt great when together we managed to produce something good for the next day’s paper or for a big project.

There are days when the work I do is full of people: conferences, school visits, artist residencies. By hook and crook, I’ve managed face-to-face meetings with my editor for each of my two books. In the thick of the publishing season, emails fly back and forth and, when necessary, we talk by phone.

Right this minute, however, I am in an in-between place. I am working on a lot of things, but I don’t have a project under contract. I worked from home the entire month of January. I have lots of words to show for it, but many were logged in writing grant applications and lesson plans. Necessary, but not as gratifying as writing a picture book or a memoir chapter.

I’ve reached out to some folks with my malaise and they’ve been understanding. But, a voice in my head is saying that what I need isn’t going to come from anyone else. I am reminded of what a particular coach used to say when I struggled in the final laps of a mile or two-mile race. “Get your head right.” He told me I wasn’t being beaten by better athletes (though often I was running against better athletes), I was beating myself. I needed to reach deeper, face the challenge, and give my best.

So, tomorrow I’ll get back in the chair and put my fingers on the keys. I’ll write my way out of this. I will.

New Goals

Time to check on last year’s goals and post some new ones.

gp cover1. I launched Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I did a few things differently this time around, and I think it was all good. By the end of the year, the book had made a few good lists and I’ll be going to the 2011 National Science Teachers Association Convention to continue to promote it. Thank you, Boyds Mills Press.

2. I met regularly with two critical readers. With this steady stream of deadlines (for meetings and an SCBWI conference), I finished a new picture book manuscript (goal 4). It is being read right now. Fingers crossed. I think it’s ready to be a book. This is the first time I’ll be surrendering my words to another creative hand for the illustrations. It feels like an adventure.

3. I did not write a nonfiction book about an animal. That goes back on this year’s list. 5. Nor did I write regularly on a memoir project. Once again, back on the list. (I made a lot of progress in locating and organizing letters from years crucial to the memoir project. And, I re-connected with friends whose presence then and now is also critical. So, some forward movement.