Archive for November, 2010

Video: Our NaNoWriMo YWP anthology is famous!

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010


Imagine my delight today to find out from one of my young writers that my students’ anthology from last year had been featured on the NaNoWriMo Young Writers’ Program blog in late October. I’m kind of surprised we didn’t hear about it sooner, but it’s inspiring to discover it now, since so many of us are struggling with word counts and the challenge of finishing our stories by the end of the month.

You can watch the video below, or view the video on the NaNoWriMo YWP site. The anthology is called The Sun Shines on the Golden Dragon and the Mysterious Wizard, But Not on the Fat Smelly Alien. It is available for purchase on, and any royalties go to support The Garden Road School, a wonderful, progressive, non-profit school.

If you would like more information on the anthology, please visit the About Susan page of my website.

Math Meaning for Adults

Thursday, November 18th, 2010


The more I travel and meet people, the more I find that most adults in the US have difficulty with math. I read a comment by a woman from Eastern Europe who found that while she was a mediocre math student in her home country, she was miles ahead of American students when she moved here. She couldn’t understand why, with all the time and finance poured into math education here, including an average of 1.5 hours per day of math class, her children were progressing in math far less well than she had when growing up.

I think part of the reason is that we have a couple of generations of adults who just don’t have a strong grasp of math concepts, especially when it comes to basic number sense. Various adults have approached me and asked if I would teach a math class so at least they wouldn’t pass on their own math phobias to their children, and maybe they could even help their children with their homework and learning. The latest of these I met were a couple of lovely older women in Oklahoma who were staying at the same hotel as I for an agriculture convention.

Reaching these adults presents a challenge because of the distance. Attending a teacher workshop would be overkill and too expensive. So I came up with the idea, what about an online course offering math fundamentals for adults? I think it could benefit a lot of people.

What do you think? Do you, or anyone you know, think you or they might benefit from it? If you were to take such a course, what would you want to be part of it? Let me know!

Normal vs. Abnormal

Sunday, November 14th, 2010


I was at the Westchester County Airport this morning, in the women’s room, when a woman and I started a conversation over soap. The topic soon changed to bathroom decor, which we discussed for a few minutes before wishing each other well.

Then the woman walked out, and I was able to see her gait. It was quite lopsided, and she walked with the aid of a cane. I had noticed that she had mostly been using one side of her face to talk, but now I could see the extent of the asymmetry of her body.

After seeing this, I found myself wondering why. A stroke, some kind of palsy, something else? Then I stopped myself. Why was I focusing on this? The woman clearly wasn’t; she didn’t even use the handicapped stall, though she would have been most entitled to use this spacious stall.

This thought process led me to think about education in general, and how much focus there can be on what is “wrong” with a student, to the point that all we can see are the “problems.” Many educators have written about the issues around labeling, and I think this is what is at the core of the matter: that instead of a whole human being who may be encountering some challenges, children end up being viewed – and often viewing themselves – through the lens of a diagnostic label.

But those closest to them know they are so much more than that label. The families that have cared for the children since infancy and have seen their serious, funny and talented sides need to know that the teachers of their precious children will be seen as the whole people they are.

It’s hard for teachers to do this when under the tremendous pressures of time, curriculum, large class sizes, behavior issues, and most of all, performance on standardized tests. It is also normal for our brains to observe, analyze, and try to understand things we encounter that are outside our typical experience.

If we want children to succeed, though, we need to override this urge to focus on what is “abnormal” and bring humanity back into the classroom as the main driving force behind what we do.

NaNoWriMo Begins!

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010


Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo, and it began with a bang. My group has seven bright, eager children in it, and we all dove in to our writing projects yesterday.

NaNoKids 2010

Prior to that, we had a couple of meetings in which we worked on character development, understanding what plot is, setting expectations, and deciding on word count goals. I think my students from previous years underestimated their abilities yet again, if yesterday was any measure; they seem to grow their ability to write fluently almost exponentially each year. I’m impressed.

Even more impressive, one of our new members, a second grader, outstripped everyone in word count during a word war or two. This was the same little girl who couldn’t even get started at first. She was so excited and proud by the time her mother came to pick her up.

Like every year, I write alongside the students, and we all share excerpts from our writing in progress. Last year, however, I was writing a children’s book, while this year I’m writing an adult thriller. This means my word count will need to be higher, and I won’t be able to share all of it with the children. I’m also less enthusiastic about the subject matter; it was a plot idea that came to me months ago, and it’s just not as alive in me now. I started without any idea of characters, settings, or even specific plot ideas, so it was really stretching to get anything down.

On the bright side, though, I did reach over 1,700 words last night, the minimum to accomplish 50,000 words in a month, and the story wheels started spinning in the shower this morning. So maybe it will take on a life of its own yet again.

The write-ins are such motivators to get the ball rolling that I’m glad we held a meeting this Monday. We will meet again on Friday for those who want to get together. Be in touch if you’d like to join – it’s not too late!


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