Leaving the classroom 2020 and going back 2021

Getting back to school in April 2021 will be as challenging as shutting down schools in April 2020. Last year at this time teachers at all academic levels, K-12, community colleges and universities, had to take their lessons they had created for face to face student engagement within classrooms and convert them to online classrooms. Mind you this was being asked of teachers without technical support. There were no IT guys or gals showing up at their homes to help them with videotelephony software issues, internet concerns, or bandwidth debacles. It was left up to teachers to self-learn an entirely new system they were never trained for or had any prior experiences with.

With that said, most teachers, adjunct instructors and professors did try to step up to the plate and hit the curve balls the best they could. Admittedly some academics struck out and left students hanging without learned much content over the past 12 months. The same attitudes and reasons for individuals to enter into the teaching vocation provided the wind under their wings to push teachers to do the huge task of altering their classrooms completely.

Now due to reduced transmission rates, declining hospitalizations and a falling death rate teachers are planning to reenter their schools, colleges and universities. Once again they are having to adjust and manage with little guidance and support. Yet like what occurred last April, our teacher champions will rise to the task.

Having worked in education since 1984, I have full confidence we will get back into the swing of things quickly. Teachers are an amazing group. They do extra work for no extra pay. They go above and beyond to support student achievement and take student failure personally. Yes, we have weak teachers who do not fit that description but overall, teachers have done a herculean job and society owes them a great deal of respect and admiration.

Midyear check in

Reflection is casting back a light or showing an image. My vision for this year has been to write a nonfiction children’s picture book with a science, technology, engineering and math theme for children in grades K-3 and work to have a completed children’s book accepted by a publisher. My mission statement would include to provide a unique and high quality STEM nonfiction children’s book. Of course, a strategy to achieve the mission would include finding an agent. Other more controllable strategies that I have employed over this year of writing include engaging in pure writing (pen to paper), researching my book content, learning about the writing industry, developing a supportive community of writers, fine tuning my query letter and attending workshops and conferences which will help me achieve my vision.

Like everyone across the globe, I had no idea when 2020 began that a very dangerous virus named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) would cause the worst pandemic in over 100 years. All major institutions across the US shut down except those deemed essential. The epidemiological language of the disease, its behavior, transmission and effects on the human body began to appear in all forms of news media.

Incidence: new cases over a specified period of time to help predict probability of the spread.

Prevalence: new and preexisting cases in the population at the specified time, proportion of individuals in population with the disease.

Basic Reproductive Rate: denoted as R-zero is the expected number of cases directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to the infection.

Flattening the curve is the mantra heard over and over again as if repeatedly saying it would help produce the effect. Governor Andrew Cuomo has attacked the disease the best one could under challenging circumstances. He and other governors are having to compete for personal protective equipment (PPE) against other states and countries all over the world which has driven the prices up and up like the movement of the curve of infections. At the height of the crisis in New York the curve hit over 700 deaths in a day. During their worst COVID-19 moments in mid-April, Governor Cuomo kept saying that other states would follow in their horrible footsteps if they did not heed the warning.

This pandemic has thrown us into the middle of a health crisis that has led to rapid changes in our methods of communicating. With the closing of schools and other institutions a very under recognized communications technology company would suddenly become the latest household noun – Zoom, verb – Zooming and phrase “I am Zoomed out”. Suddenly kindergarten teachers have to figure out how to engage their 5-year old audience members using a platform that average adults find challenging to operate. The success rate of students being able to learn while on Zoom is mixed at best.

There are a few benefits to our new system of communication. There is increased access to experts in different fields. You can attend workshops, tutorials, museums, parks and musical events. These venues are now more open to the general public for free. I have listened to Zoom Webinars with Henry Winkler and his co-author Lin Oliver discussing their writing processes for their book series about Hank Zipper, the “World’s Greatest Underachiever”. Their discussion was filled with laughter and joy as would be expected. Society of Children’s Books and Illustrators (SCBWI) has had numerous webinars with authors, publishers and agents who provided outstanding advice about producing a query letter, character development and creating scene. These webinars have provided support during my year of writing that I did not expect or anticipate.

My writing buddy system is improving. Alex, a consistent go to buddy, is also submitting her book to agents and publishers. We recently met at the Blue Butterfly Cafe in El Segundo to concentrate. Alex has a long list of requirements of where she likes to focus and concentrate and the Blue Butterfly fit all of them: outdoors, quiet guests, not too much wind and spacious. We both showed off our different Excel spreadsheets of our current projects and the progress we have made the past few weeks. My Excel list included the publishing houses where I have submitted my book and her Excel was all of the agents she has submitted to. The funny part of our meeting was that I spent the time submitting to an agent and Alex spent her time submitting to a publisher. We are both going to have to create new Excels for our latest endeavors.

Although this is an extremely sad moment and the suffering does not look like it will wane anytime soon, looking at ourselves and determining what we find valuable and meaningful is imperative in times of crisis. Yo Yo Ma addressed the role of artists during COVID-19 on PBS (July 31, 2020). He states that this is a time when musicians, poets and painters can reflect on why and for whom they make art. A quote from the interview about collective resilience and the focus of artists – “making sure that no matter what you do you’re trying to do something in the service of others.”

Attending SCBWI Beach Retreat in San Simeon Jump Started My Year of Writing

Sunset San Simeon edited

January is a time of new beginnings.  We make promises and resolutions to ourselves that are often broken within the first two weeks. My personal resolution for the 2020 year is to write more often. Or if I am not writing then I must be reading someone else’s writing or studying the business of writing. So, with my resolution in mind and trying to at least keep it for two weeks, I attended the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators (SCBWI) Picture Book from A to Sea Beach Retreat in San Simeon from January 10-12.

The picture book boot camp was directed by a great crew including Rebecca Langston-George, Barbara Bietz and April Halprin Wayland. Like summer camp you arrive with apprehension: who will be there, what will we do and how will I fit in.  At least at this camp if I am unhappy I can drive myself home.  The opposite would prove to be true. Each of the hosts provided outstanding information about writing in general and writing for children’s books in particular. Our schedule of events started on Friday night at the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort. We received the usual welcome and made introductions; this would be the only perfunctory event of the weekend.

The rest of the schedule included a packed itinerary of mentoring round tables, critique groups and workshops on using social media, editing your manuscript, writing query letters and submitting to publishers. The food was outstanding and the company of children’s book authors was delightful. I fit in very well and made new friends like you are suppose to at camp, we just call it networking now that we are all over 14 years old.

Participating in the writing retreat was a great way to jump start my 2020 Year of Writing. Since the retreat I have continued to keep my resolution by trying to be very attentive to why I made it in the first place. The more you write and engage in your craft the better you get at doing it. You make your own luck after all. And after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant on January 26, I decided to adopt the Mamba Mentality as a road map on how to spend more time writing. Kobe was the first to arrive and the last to leave practices, we can all learn from that behavior and dedication.

During the beginning of February, I listened to Stephen King’s book On Writing while driving to work.  Hearing the ultimate coach giving a pep talk about how to dedicate more time to writing was a helpful way to stay on track. Throughout the month of February I wrote in my journal about my progress which included studying the children’s book writing market, attending Independent Writers of Southern California meetings, buying a subscription for Publishers Weekly Magazine and editing my second book.

I have now completed my second book. My book started the new year with a total 1400 words. I recognized after the Beach Retreat that was too many words and I needed to really reconsider what I had produced. After many hours of working on drafts, I am submitting my 1000 word manuscript. I have found that this amount of words is a cutoff for many publishers accepting nonfiction children’s picture book manuscripts for children between 4-7 years of age. I feel much better about my book now and hopefully that translates to an offer.

Another thing I learned from the beautiful weekend in San Simeon is that we are all working writers if we are submitting our manuscripts. I am grateful for the guidance I received during the SCBWI Beach Retreat. Rebecca Langston-George, Barbara Bietz and April Halprin Wayland are great cheerleaders who provided a lot of motivational talks and excellent information about writing children’s books. Mamba Forever! RIP Kobe and Gianna.


STEM for 4 year olds

Playa Vista Library 1

On April 20, 2019 at 11 AM at Playa Vista Library, I spoke with a group of children and their parents. The goals of my presentation were two-fold including:

  • providing an engaging and edifying experience for the children; and
  • giving the parents an opportunity to recognize that a STEM curriculum can be covered at home through reading their children nonfiction books and setting up activities around these books.

After reading my book, the children had an opportunity to do activities with stamps and stickers representing different animals and their specialties. I had biological samples of feathers, bird eggs, shells, beetles, snake skin, different bones from mammals… The live animals included my pets: a Leopard Gecko and two Firebelly Toads.

For the parents I provided a small binder of articles about STEM Early Childhood Education and Next Generation of Science Standards. I felt really great about the program. I plan to continue to reach out to local librarians to conduct STEM Education Workshops.


LA Times Festival of Books

LA Times Festival of Books 2018
April 21 & 22, 2018

Kindergarten Lessons Ain’t what they use to be. Part III of my blog series about the STEM 5-E Lesson Plan.

The first 3 phases of the 5-E Lesson Plan (Engage, Explore, and Explain) prepare the students for phase 4 – Elaborate. In this stage of the 5 E’s students will expand their conceptual understanding of the content of the lesson. They should develop a deeper understanding of the information. The methods used to provide the avenues for delving deeper should include allowing the students to practice skills and behaviors.

Practicing skills should involve collaborative learning and problem-solving. Collaborative learning is supported by the Theory of Social Constructivism. This theory which is attributed to Lev Vygotsky (1978), emphasizes the importance of the collaborative nature of learning and that all cognitive functions are believed to originate in and are explained as products of social interactions. Students should be encouraged to engage in open-ended discussions with peers and teachers about such things as meaning of terms and procedures, relationship among ideas, and the applications of knowledge to specific contexts (Snowman & McCown, 2013). Problem-based learning (PBL) provides the opportunities for interacting with the content material that emphasize critical thinking skills and not just listening to a lecture. Research has shown that PBL allows students to form a better conceptual understanding and transfer their learning to other situations (Yadav, Lundeberg, Bunting & Subedi, 2011).

Evaluate is the last phase of the 5-E Lesson Plan. This phase encourages students to assess their understanding and abilities. Students are asked to recognize the key concepts of the lesson and show what skills they developed as part of the lesson. The evaluation should include feedback on the student’s strength and needs.

Each 5-E lesson that a teacher delivers is an opportunity to have the students transform to a higher level. The changes to the students include improved overall achievement toward mastery of the content and increased skills development.

Kindergarten Lessons Ain’t What They Use to Be. Part II of My Blog Series about the STEM 5-E Lesson Plan.

Howard Gardener’s definition of intelligence uses 3 primary and overarching categories:

  1. ability to create an effective product or service that is valued in a culture
  2. set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life
  3. the potential for finding or creating solutions to problems, which involves gathering new knowledge

The next two phases of the 5 E Lesson Plan are Explore and Explain. During these two phases, students will be asked to use and expand their intelligence to identify and develop concepts, processes and skills. During the 2nd E (Explore) Phase students are required to actively explore their environments and manipulate materials. They will then connect the dots from Exploring to learning the lesson plans concepts. The teacher will give the students different opportunities to verbalize the lesson’s concepts and demonstrate the new behaviors and skills. Teachers will often rely on different methods to help students retain the information such as word charts, think-pair-share or graphic organizers. The 3rd E (Explain) Phase should include intentional play which will allow children to develop self-regulatory skills, supports communication and fosters collaborative learning.

The 5-E Lesson Plan uses a constructivist approach. Constructivism is a learning strategy that was developed by Jean Piaget and become popular during the 1960s. The constructivist method or approach allows students to synthesize new understanding from prior knowledge and helps students build on the past to develop new information.