Grandmasters and Grapes

Ah, to be remembered for grandmasters and grapes,
for Narnia and philosopher-scientists,
for St. Exupery and our avian companions on Earth,
for spreading chess fever to help us find our voice –
Thank you for this reminder
of the true curriculum I am meant to bestow as your guide –
yes, a teacher in disguise!
Still striving to take unstained out of this world…my panache!

Grandmasters and Grapes
A generous ode written about me (VWG) by a 4th-grade student 




The Chickadee Chronicles, Part 2: Bringing Birds to School

RubyThroated drawing by studentStudent’s drawing of a 
ruby-throated hummingbird

Once I soared into the world of ornithology, I knew I needed to “herd” the birds into my classroom.

The first thing I did was share my enthusiasm.  Sincere excitement modeled by an instructor about a topic generates ENORMOUS interest in students. Although enrichment models do point to having students choose their own areas of research, it is crucial to realize most students, especially (but not only) in elementary school, need a Phase One where they are first exposed to a variety of topics. On the subject of ornithology, very few students start off being able to identify more than a robin or a blue jay, and some not even those. After a session or two, all my students show a great interest, and in no time learn and know more about birds than most adults! Although plenty of topics are shared in my classroom, the truth is that the subjects I am most excited about pull in the most followers. And besides, today’s blog is about the birds, so I shall continue! 🙂

Years ago, I came across and purchased a fantastic curriculum from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, featuring large beautiful sets of flashcards for birds. Each student borrows one card that becomes his or her “Personal Bird” (my phrase, it makes me smile!) until the end of the school year. On one side of the card is a full-color picture of a species. On the back are many fun and interesting facts about it, plus a map of the United States showing their personal bird’s range. MANY standards across the board can be accessed through activities using these cards alone!

Over the years we have:

  • Identified birds by sight, sound, and description
  • Read books about birds and birders
  • Written about birds
  • Made speeches about birds
  • Created word problems about birds
  • Mapped about birds
  • Sang about birds
  • Drawn birds
  • Told jokes about birds
  • Made chess sets using the theme of birds!

If I left out a cross-curricular connection or twenty, it’s only for the sake of brevity!

I also came across a beautiful example of a kindergarten class who learns about the birds from a wonderful teacher. You will find additional resources on her page:

Keep on Birding!





The Chickadee Chronicles, Part 1: “My Little Chickadee”


For as long as I can remember, I fed the birds. Even when I was a wee child in Brooklyn, NY, my mother and I put seeds out on our fourth-floor apartment’s fire escape (shhh, don’t tell the fire marshalls!) and on our windowsills to see if birds might come. And come they did!

I am sure at least some of my passion for this hobby came from being entranced by the famous bird woman scene in Mary Poppins. I always wanted that snow globe with the pigeons…

But I never thought very much about what kinds of birds showed up. Oh, I recognized the sparrows, blue jays, and pigeons, of course. But that was the extent of my bird knowledge for a very long time.

About fifteen years ago, when I was still living on Long Island, the local store was out of the usual all-purpose bird food. The only bag left was a bit more expensive, and labeled, “For Chickadees”.

I had no idea what a chickadee looked like, or if they even existed in my part of the United States or planet. But I bought the bag, figuring my regulars would eat the seeds anyway.

No more than twenty (twenty!) minutes after I put out the seeds, a kind of bird I had never seen before in my life flew down to the feeder.  I stared in astonishment and looked again at the seed bag, and for the first time noticed there was a picture of a chickadee on it. A black-capped chickadee, to be precise. Just like the one that was now at my feeder.

I still ask myself, was the poor little fellow sitting up in a tree for a decade, looking down and just waiting for me to offer him a decent meal?

Ever since then, I have become an enthusiastic amateur ornithologist.  I have learned the truth of the concept, “If you build it, they will come,” in relation to bird feeders, bird houses, and birdseed. Over the years that followed, an amazing number of new species came to visit my own yard!

As a result, for many years now I’ve also used bird identification within my elementary school curriculum as an enrichment topic. It connects so well with so many subjects including nonfiction reading, writing, map skills, and art. Plus, kids LOVE it! More on that another time…

For now, look to the skies. You never know who might be watching and waiting.