Posts Tagged ‘Wonderopolis’

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts


The past week I have been coaching my students on a new project, podcasting.

Noah said, “But, Mrs. Simon, I don’t know how to write a podcast.”

“Neither do I,” I replied, “We’re figuring this out together. I’ve shown you two mentor texts for nonfiction, and we’ve listened to a sample podcast. Let’s see if we can figure this out.”

This is a precarious situation to put myself into, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

According to an analogy from Jenn Hayhurst @hayhurst3 (Good2Great Voxer), I am daring to get on the roller-coaster of teaching rather than the Merry-go-Round. Her comparison resonated with me and my work with gifted kids. I think they would refuse to ride the Merry-go-Round with me, but they will hop on the roller coaster and not ask questions until the ride gets rough. Then it’s scary, and they’re not sure why they got on. Where are we going? When will the ride get easier? When will we know it’s over?

Flexibility is the name of the game in my classroom. When the ride gets scary, I step next to them and ask questions. Would you like to interview a classmate? Are you interested in including the sound an owl makes?

My students are finding their own nonfiction topics. The best resource for kid-friendly nonfiction topics is Wonderopolis with almost 2000 topics, easy to read articles including videos and vocabulary. That is a starting point.

Andrew started his podcast idea at Wonderopolis reading the article, “Why do People Keep Pets?” He then read articles about bonding with cats and dogs. He decided to survey his class about their pets. Then he selected one student from his class to interview.

I downloaded Audacity, but I’m on an uphill climb trying to figure it out. Experiment. Mess up. Back up. Try again. Flexibility.

Writing the scripts themselves are a challenge because my students want to make their podcasts interesting to listen to. They want to include humor. They want to balance fun with facts. Flexible, flexible, flexible. When do I step in? When do I step back?

I want to thank my friend, Kimberley Moran, for giving me the courage to give this roller-coaster ride a chance. We’re still on board, but I think the ride will soon get thrilling, and all the hard work will be worth it.

Please add your DigiLit blog posts below:

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts


Eva (not her real name) walked into my room quietly.  Her usual smile and enthusiasm wasn’t there, so I called her over to me.  “What’s going on?  You look sad.”

“No one in our class is brave enough to ask if we to get the poster for our teacher.”

Eva’s math teacher had been sick all week, and she had worked with some other girls to make a poster for her. They were hiding it in another classroom.

“Why don’t you try asking her ‘When would be a good time?'” She liked this suggestion, but then tears welled up in her eyes.

“And my dog was stolen.  I know they took her to fight.”

“What? How do you know this?”

After our discussion, I found out Eva’s dog is a pit bull.  She went on about how pit bulls are not bred to fight.  They are trained. And it’s cruel.

It was Wonder Day, so I suggested she use dog fighting as her topic.  She spent a little time reading about pit bulls and dog fighting.

wonderopolis logo

Then she checked Wonderopolis.  There she found another topic of interest, “Why do parents get divorced?”  Eva’s parents have been struggling for a while.  I’ve taught her since she was in first grade.  She’s now in fifth.  As she wrote on a recent card to me, “We’ve been through thick and thin.”

I teach my students year after year, from the time they are identified as gifted to their end of elementary school.  This can be up to 6 years.  You really get to know a child after this amount of time.  With this knowledge, I am able to give my students agency.  I know them well.  I can direct them to channel their concerns about themselves and the world into their research and writing.

Dabrowsky identified overexcitabilities in gifted students.  I see these qualities every day.  Eva is a prime example of a student with emotional overexcitabilities. She has a heightened sensitivity to right and wrong.  She is timid, but has a deep understanding of her emotions and why she feels what she feels.

In the end, after much bouncing around from topic to topic, Eva asked, “Can I design a web site of my own?”

She had discovered the Wonderopolis topic, “How do You Create a Website?”

I thought she would want to create a website about dog fighting or helping kids get through divorce, but she had moved on. Eva wanted to build a website called “Share your Story” where kids can submit their own stories and teachers can use it to showcase student writing. Where did this come from? I embraced Eva’s idea and got her started on Edublogs. We’ll see. I hope she will stick with this idea, but I really never know with my students. Especially, the emotional ones like Eva.

I follow my students’ lead because I know that it will take me down a new and exciting path. I honor their choices and work to give them a space where their voices are heard.

Link up your posts about Agency (or anything DigiLit) below. Next weekend, my daughter is getting married. Julieanne Harmatz will host the link up at her blog, To Read To Write To Be.

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Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

I missed the Saturday Celebration post, so I am double-dipping today.

I want to celebrate good old-fashioned snail mail.  This week I received the invitation to my daughter’s wedding (coming up very soon on Oct. 1st), a #clmooc postcard from Karen Fasimpaur (she tells me she lived and taught in Tanzania?!), and a poetry exchange card from Joy Acey (make that 2 cards from Joy: the heart and the zebras.)

I celebrate the connections I have made through this blogging adventure that encourages me daily.

snail mailzebra card


Today is #DigiLitSunday.  I tweeted out the topic of #motivation.  This year is my tenth year teaching young gifted students.  I have redefined my role of teacher from someone who imparts knowledge to someone who motivates learning.  My students are way smarter than I am when it comes to a measurement of intelligence.  I am ineffective if I stand before them and tell them what to do.  It just doesn’t work.

I have learned the art of motivation.  And technology has been right beside me.  I love Animoto for its immediate access to cool designs and background music for video production.  I turned to Animoto this week to motivate my students to explore Wonders on Wonderopolis and to practice creating a thesis statement.

My students were motivated by choice as well.  Many of them find interest areas through their reading.  I Survived has become a favorite series.  Andrew wanted to know more about tsunamis after reading I Survived the Japanese Tsunami.  He watched videos, read a Wonderopolis post, and then branched out to search further questions.


Kaiden was inspired to learn about club foot from the book The War that Saved my Life.  

Some students were motivated by watching each other’s videos.  Jacob decided to research earthquakes after seeing Andrew’s video about tsunamis.  (Andrew and Jacob attend different schools, but they keep in touch on our Kidblog site.)


Motivation can come from me, the teacher, from other students, or from books, and even from conversations.  I went to Tanzania, Africa this summer and was chatting with Lynzee about the giraffes I saw.  She wanted to know why giraffes have such long necks. Wonderopolis answered her question.  Here is her video.

Obviously, I had a hard time choosing which video to share with you.  Another cool aspect of teaching with choice and technology is the variety of projects that are produced.  My students can now learn from each other as we post each video on our Kidblog site.

Please share your motivating #DigiLitSunday posts here.

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Also inspired by Amy, quick watercolor in the sketchbook.

Also inspired by Amy, quick watercolor in the sketchbook.

The kidlitoshpere is wildly growing with poems. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is writing daily to wonders from Wonderopolis. I found a poem in her post, How Sweet is Honeysuckle?

The line “Words live on like echoes” came from Barry Lane’s song “Sammy Miller” from Force Field for Good.

I wrote two poems today,
one from an open window with honeysuckle
and rhyme, but this time the poem
felt not ready to be shared.

Words live on like echoes…

I need to let a poem sit
read  words over and over
Trust the feeling,
Move on.

Words live on like echoes…

Poems make me happy.
Poems make me sing.
I pretend to be a mother hummingbird.
I like the sounds of words.

Words live on like echoes…

Poems make me fall in love
with hummingbirds. I want to
plant a garden of milkweed,
trumpet honeysuckle,
& love poems
for you.

Words live on like echoes.

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Poem-a-day #3, lune by Margaret Simon, image poems

Poem-a-day #3, lune by Margaret Simon, image poems



Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Yesterday was a glorious day to spend outside. But inside there was a valuable video conference, free PD in PJs at The Educator Collaborative.  So many rock stars in the education field all in one place.  I couldn’t pass it up, so after a walk with my dog, I came inside to watch and learn.

Some of my online friends were there, too.  I saw their Tweets.  I’ve invited them to reflect on this conference as well, so I am hoping we will have other DigiLit link-ups today.

The first hang-out presentation that I watched was #PoetryLove with JoEllen McCarthy, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Janet Wong, Alan Katz, Kim Doele & Members of the Poetry Club.  I enjoyed hearing some poems read aloud and the talk around how poetry has a place in the curriculum all year long.  Amy is writing a poem a day to Wonders from Wonderopolis.  My students love Wonderopolis, and I will show them Amy’s work this week as we begin our own poem a day writing projects. 

Kim Doele shared how she leads a Poetry Club at her school and writes grants to get visiting poets to her school.  Here is her post on hosting a poet at your school.

Catherine Flynn captured Mary Howard’s three power conditions that lead to deep reading.

tweet deep readingMary Howard repeated often that passion is important to reading.  If we don’t have a passion for what we are reading, we will not be able to do deep thinking.

 “Passion drives the deep thinking bus.”  –Dr. Mary Howard 


read aloud tweet

Joining Dr. Mary Howard was Linda Hoyt who discussed the importance of read aloud in every grade level.  I loved how some Tweeters were capturing quotes in fancy backgrounds.  The above Tweet was created by Leah O’Donnell.

Leah also captured her reflection about Kate Roberts and Maggie B Roberts’ closing session.

Notes from Leah O'Donnell

Notes from Leah O’Donnell

I used the notepad on my computer to capture thoughts.

notes on ed collab roberts

After the closing session, I went to Walmart to buy a sketchbook to make a demonstration notebook.  What a practical idea!  Kate and Maggie have a video about this teaching tool on their website here.

This rich conference went on in my kitchen, my living room, and in my bedroom.  It went wherever my laptop would go.  I ate lunch, folded clothes, and took notes and notes. I will go back to the archived sessions that I didn’t see.  Thanks to Chris Lehman and his fabulous team for this free and amazing video series.

If you have written a post reflecting on the Ed Collaborative Gathering or on any aspect of digital literacy, link up below.  Please read and comment on other posts.



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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Process or Product? What is our focus in digital literacy? I wrote about this in regards to poetry on Friday. My students had me thinking about process this week. The value of the process.

With inspiration from Laura Purdie Salas, I introduced the idea of a found poem from Wonderopolis to a small group of students. I modeled the process for them: Select a Wonder, copy and paste the text into a Word document, and use the strike-through tool to black out text. The idea was to find a poem within the text.

What I thought would be a one day activity covered almost three days. I was not satisfied with the products. They had done the assignment, but the poems weren’t really poems.

I decided we would work on revision together. I put the draft on the Promethean Board. We tabbed to the Wonderopolis article to have the reference to go back to. At first I was doing all the work, making suggestions for cuts, asking if there were more ideas that should be included. However, by the time we got to the third poem to revise, my students talked like experts.

“This line is too long. Should we make a line break?”

“This is a repeated word. Can we cut it out?”

“I like the way this word sounds. Let’s keep it.”

My students felt a sense of ownership as each of their poems were projected and revised. I continually checked in with them. “Is this OK with you?”

This was work. In fact, one of my students said that very thing. I responded, “Yes, but it’s good work. Aren’t you happy with your poem now?”

Who knew that found poems could be so tough. My dissatisfaction with the product led to a much deeper thinking process. My students not only had to gather information; they had to synthesize and evaluate it.

I wish now that I had saved the first drafts to show you the before and after. All I have to share is the after.



Giraffes have tongues

as long as their necks?

Not quite!

If you liked to eat leaves like giraffes do,

Then you would understand.

Acacia’s tasty leaves have very sharp thorns.

Watch out!

While reaching the highest treat,

the giraffe’s tongue

protects itself from being cut.

If a giraffe’s tongue does get cut,

it will heal very quickly.
–Noah, 4th grade

Link up your DigiLit Sunday posts.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.


February is not National Poetry Month. That’s in April. But Laura Shovan has a birthday, and she invites us all to play with poetry during her birthday month. I love a good word game, so when Laura Purdie Salas. posted about writing Found Moon Poems with 4th graders, I borrowed this idea to write a poem for Laura Shovan’s project. (Found Object Poem Project with Laura Shovan.)

Wonderopolis is a super-duper place to find nonfiction information. When Linda Baie sent the above picture for Laura’s project, I saw a porcupine. I quickly discovered that this was a pufferfish skeleton, not a porcupine, but too late, I had found a Wonderopolis article. Using copy, paste, and strike-through, I isolated words for a poem. When I started putting the poem together, it sounded like two voices to me. Thus a found poem for two voices.

Porcupine Found Poem for Two VoicesLove animals- Give them a hug.A porcupine- What's the big deal-Sharp quills! The prickliest!Quill pigs Quill pigsLike arrows, quills detach. Tiny needlesto pierce to piercean important lesson from a porcup copy

I haven’t tried this activity with my students yet, but I will. I hope they enjoy collecting words as much as I do.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

“I write to know what I am thinking.” Someone said this. Someone wise. I can’t remember who because there are days and people and ideas between hearing these words and today. But this is exactly what I am doing. Trying to process my thinking from NCTE15 through writing.

My trip home from Minneapolis was long. My brain is full to overflowing with words, ideas, love, and hope. At NCTE, teachers are honored. Teachers are fed. Teachers are inspired.

At NCTE15, I discovered…

Teachers are rock stars to authors. The work we do in the classroom around books is why authors do the work they do. They love hearing the stories of what we are doing with their babies (books).

Allow students to explore what they are passionate about.  Real authors like Kate Messner, Laura Purdie Salas, Laurel Snyder, and more are driven by their endless curiosity.  We need to allow wondering and wandering to ignite passionate research for our students.

Kate DiCamillo says to give young writers the gift to be themselves. “Break the rules and find yourself.”

Sharon Draper says, “Words are Power!”  We need love–connections–peace, and books are how we do that.

The books authors write are their babies, and when you love their babies, you love them.  I watched author after author brighten up when I talked to them about how their books affected me and my students.

“Literature can empower young people. Books are like amusement parks.  Sometimes you have to let the kids choose the ride.” Kwame Alexander.

Schools should be scavenger hunts, places where students can feel safe to wonder, wander, and discover. Georgia Heard, Wonderopolis breakfast

When I look through my notes, I notice that most of what I heard affirmed my teaching philosophy: Open the door.  Be safe. Be curious.  Expand the horizon. Reach for the stars. 

At the Children's Literature Awards Lunch with Julianne Harmatz, me, Laura Purdie Salas, Catherine Flynn, and Heidi Mordhorst.

At the Children’s Literature Awards Lunch with Julianne Harmatz, me, Laura Purdie Salas, Catherine Flynn, and Heidi Mordhorst.

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Poetry Friday round-up with Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect.

Poetry Friday round-up with Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect.

Every once in a while a volume of poetry comes along that blows me away. The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry is an anthology that will keep my poetry self satisfied for a while. Edited by J. Patrick Lewis, the poems are illustrated by amazing images. This glossy book even smells good.

book of nature poetry

Laura Purdie Salas posted last week about her poem Brinicle which is included in the Book of Nature Poetry. This was a totally new subject for me, so I took the chance that it was new to my students. They were transfixed by the video she posted. Then we read and discussed her poem. Laura gave us lots to talk about. (free verse, imagery, personification, metaphor, and sounds)

The assignment: Turn your Wonder into Poetry Using Animoto. Since I am traveling to NCTE this week, I wasn’t sure how or if my students would write their poems and make a video. I’ve checked in on their kidblog site, and they have been posting some cool poem videos. I’ll share a few here.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

My students are wild with wonder. They don’t really know it, but when I see their eyes light up and their attention focus, I know it’s there. Inspired by Tara Smith of Two Writing Teachers, this year I instituted a new tradition, Wonder Wednesdays. The process is really very simple.

  1. What do you wonder about?  Create a question.
  2. What do you already know about this question?
  3. Research your question.  (Use Wonderopolis.)
  4. Write a paragraph including at least 5 new facts and 2-3 wonder words.
  5. Burning question: What more do you want to know?

I give my students the option to turn a Wonder into a Wonder Presentation.  For me, this option works well because I don’t end up with every student in the class having to do a presentation.  Since we blog, presentations can be posted for others to see as well.  This week I had 3 students choose this option, so we had a presentation day.  Presentation requirements vary somewhat from the Wonder response.

  1. Main idea: Thesis statement
  2. Support with evidence.
  3. Graphics support the topic.
  4. Your opinion is included.

Emily was inspired by a popular song to research Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. 

Emily emaze Vesuvius

Having Wonder Wednesday as a regular occurrence each week inspires my students to question and wonder all the time.  On Two Writing Teachers today, Tara writes, “I am a true Wonderopolis believer, and I know that our Wednesdays lead my kids to think deeply about science, geography, and the way things work.” Encouraging students to wonder every week makes inquiry a natural ingredient in the ELA classroom.

One of my new students jumped right in to wondering and blogging.  He wondered about cells in the human body.  As Noah (4th grade) and Vannisa (6th grade) walked back to class on Wednesday, they discussed cells.  Really?  The wonder spills out of the classroom all the way down the hall.

Wonder kidblog post

If you are wondering and writing about Digital Literacy, please link up.

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