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 

 

 

 

2019 Resolution: To (Try to) Catch an Agent

Rosey with Pages 2018

My book! MY book. My BOOK!

My manuscript is winding up. I am sooo excited that I made such enormous progress in 2018. It’s alive!

That was one of last year’s resolutions that I actually made happen (and I lost some weight, too!). As a full-time elementary school teacher who also tutors (chess and piano) several hours a week, it is not easy to tackle another huge task during the course of a BUSY (2018 was PARTICULARLY hectic!) school year. I get tired, you know?

But there is only so much that can be done from summer to summer (not enough!), and I was NOT going to let another year go by with next to no progress.

Thank you to all those who supported me in so many ways, both practically and emotionally, chapter after chapter, revision after revision.

Thanks to SCBWI Midsouth for their wonderful conferences, resources, and friendships made.

Thank you to my occasional insomnia that allowed me an extra few hours a week.

Thanks to my cat Rosey (pictured) for hanging out with me in my office at all hours.

Hey, I know I didn’t get one accolade yet or win any awards. But I’m already thankful anyway! No matter what happens, I’m grateful for even getting to this point.

My resolution for 2019 is, after the manuscript is decidedly polished, to seek agent representation, and I already have my list of candidates and am drafting my first few query letters for the months ahead.

Yes, yes, yes. I’m well aware there are new challenges ahead, surely numerous disappointments included. I know. But those are signs of life.

I’ll be okay no matter what happens (I tell myself 😉 ).

And then, there’s always HOPE. I BELIEVE!

Here’s to 2019!

I’ll share much more about MY BOOK 😉 then.

 

 

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!

http://www.birdsleuth.org/most-wanted-birds/

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:

https://www.weareteachers.com/teaching-about-birds/

Keep on Birding!

 

 

 

 

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

chickanuts

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…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHrRxQVUFN4

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.

 

 

 

 

Chess Magic in School, Part 2: Meet the Parents!

UhOh
It was time for the first set of parent-teacher conferences since chess had taken over my classroom. I was concerned that families might not understand that chess is not “just a game”, and I was prepared to prove important strides were being made in every subject, thanks to having the theme of chess in place for our enrichment.

Along with all my student data, I had my “chess helps students learn” statistics stacked in a folder by my side and did not attempt to hide the many chess posters, chess sets, and demo boards spread around the classroom.

Enter Mr. Z., a very serious looking parent who at first did not have a lot to say. I embarked on my elevator speech about his son, with appropriate compliments and observations on his scores in math and literacy. I went on to discuss ways to prepare for the state exams ahead and offered helpful tips for home activities.

I thought we were done, but Mr. Z. remained seated. He looked down and pressed his lips together as though there was still unfinished business.

And then it happened. He looked up and stared me right in the eye.

“My son tells me you play chess almost every day in this room.”

I unsuccessfully tried to repress my big sigh.

Then as practiced, I reached for my folder and began.

“Yes, this is true. Studies have shown…”

Mr. Z. interrupted, “Can you teach me this game?”

I stopped talking.

He continued, “I would like to play it with my son.”

It was at this point I realized the man was not about to criticize me.

I was (and am) still learning.

This conference of inspiration sparked my additional practice of holding parent workshops on chess, where not only were they taught the game with the help of their own children, but I could share my fervor in detail for the wonders it works in an academic setting. Never have I experienced anything but mutual enthusiasm in return. That evening I realized chess is also a pathway to improved relationships within and between families, a connector across all playing fields, and an ever-flowing source for this humble teacher’s continuing education.

Snippets of Parent Feedback After First Family Workshop

parent chess feedback snippet picture.jpg

Phew