Showing posts from 2010


I'm starting a new round of traveling over this month, November, and December. Coming up:

November: Florida --> Houston --> Calgary --> Toronto

December: Mexico City, Mexico --> Nice, France --> Lugano, Switzerland --> New Delhi, India --> Lavasa, India

I'm already getting the pre-travel jitters...although I still have a few days away.


Recently, I've encountered an issue with courses; I'm part-time enrolled in the Washington Virtual Academy, which offers online courses, and I also take two electives at Redmond Junior High. However, recently, the school districts informed me that, because I was over the allotted "FTE," or full-time equivalency, that I would not be allowed to take one of my courses. This is the letter I wrote to Chip Kimball, superintendent at Lake Washington School District:


Dear Mr. Kimball,
My name’s Adora Svitak. I am twelve years old, and I’m currently dually enrolled in the Washington Virtual Academy, an online public school, and Redmond Junior High in Lake Washington School District. I’m writing to you today because of an issue I’ve encountered in my dual enrollment. I am taking Creative Cooking and Drama at Redmond Junior High School in addition to my online courses, and the two electives are a wonderful addition. I enjoy both very much. As a student taking Honors social s…


To those of you who have been following TEDxRedmond, we successfully concluded our event on Saturday. I'm glad to say that it definitely had a huge impact beyond the Kodiak Theater (in the Microsoft Conference Center), reaching into schools, classrooms, homes, and communities around the city of Redmond, the State of Washington, and hopefully, around the nation and the world.

Videos will be coming soon!

I want to share some wonderful comments from attendees. One of our audience members, ten-year-old Apoorva Chowdhary, sent me an email after the event:

Dear Adora,       Thank you for organizing the TEDx event. I really enjoyed it and it was very inspiring. It makes me think about what kind of plans I should set for myself, and also makes me think what I should do to help people in the future.       I love how you have the thought that teachers should learn from their students, because I totally agree. And after seeing the TEDx event, I am thinking of starting a blog. I don’t know wha…

The Mosque at Ground Zero

Though I know that this issue is very controversial, it's also something that I think is important to face. The proposed community center (which would include a mosque), blocks away from where the World Trade Center stood, has become a flashpoint of debate around the nation. The president has been criticized by many for saying, "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and community center on private property in Lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances."

As a citizen, I, too, agree that they have every right to practice their religion freely--whether or not it is blocks from Ground Zero. After all, the first amendment in the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights includes the line: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." W…

A Gossamer Inch--A Short Story I Wrote

You can read a short story I wrote recently on Scribd:

It was heavily inspired both by Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" and Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

Here it is:

She moved her head an inch—a gossamer inch, ever so slightly—off the pillow, until her dry cracked lips touched the dry starched linen of the bed sheet. A matted wisp of hair, gray and oily in its disuse, fell in front of her eyes. She had not the energy to brush it away from her face, but let it stay there, tickling—taunting—slowly.

Her leg, thin and varicose-veined, dangled over the edge of the bed. The (now faded red) bed sheet twisted round it like a barber’s pole—red and white, faded dusty color on faded dusty skin. The minutes ticked by, unforgiving soldiers marching on—blindly. Whose orders did they follow? she thought, angrily. She remembered when her legs had been white and not transparent. She remembered w…


Recently my mom, my sister, and I have been biking around the neighborhood every day to get outdoors and get some exercise--today, I had a mishap that involved scraping my pinky toe and the back of my leg, rather sickeningly, against a garden's stone wall (sort of like the one shown in this picture).
Not to be graphic, but the toe's nail broke, as well as some skin.

This is likely too much information for many of you (especially if you're anything like my older sister), but this story does have a moral: Always wear your helmet, try to wear long pants while biking, and be careful with turning onto a sidewalk at high speeds with a bike that isn't very agile in the turning department.
So, that was my day today...certainly not as eventful as yesterday, when I went on New Day Northwest to cohost with Margaret Larson. It was a very fun experience and I hope to be able to do something similar again! You can find the video at

Descriptive Paragraphs

Out on the highway, the cars race by like lightning bugs—they flicker for a moment, and then they’re gone. It is nighttime, and the pervasive dark lies heavy and peaceful—everywhere except for the long endless highway, where the wide dirty trucks, high-beams on, roll through and cut the darkness down like tanks against barbed wire that offers little resistance.

I often wonder what it must be like to drive down there, look up after miles of tall rocky uninhabited hillocks and foothills, and see a small but self-assured light coming out of a window in a house—the only house, I think, for miles. It is my light, my window, and my house. Do they down there, in their too-quick-to-stop cars, take a moment to pause and wonder who lives there? I would not know, because like lightning-bugs, they flicker for a moment, and then they’re gone.

IdeaCity Speech

So, it looks like my embed code isn't working (though it did this morning!)--if you want to check out my speech in Toronto, go to .

Quick Overview of East Coast Road Trip

After I went to Toronto for the IdeaCity conference, I went to Denver for ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) and after that to Boston for the BLC10 (Building Learning Communities) conference. However, I had two extra weeks before the Boston conference began, which I spent with my family on a road trip. Here's the chronological rundown with hotel commentary:

1. Arrive in Boston and meet up with Dad at the Hyatt Harborside (awesome views of the Boston harbor, and no, I'm not getting paid by Hyatt, sadly)
2. Drive up to New Hampshire to see Grandpa; stay at the Sleep Inn--room had a funny smell
3. Spend time with cousins, drive to Burlington, Vermont, see July 3rd fireworks in Montpelier. The contrast between rest areas in New Hampshire and Vermont is just shocking. New Hampshire has an unorganized sprawling rest stop with a liquor store (yeah, seriously, a liquor store at a motorists' rest stop. It's like you seriously want us to drink while driving…

IdeaCity, Toronto

Yesterday, I flew into Toronto, Canada for the IdeaCity conference. I would feel bad if I didn't do a bit of journaling, so here goes:

The flight in was fairly smooth. I'm impressed by Air Canada's services, both on the part of the flight crew and the inflight entertainment options. On most American airlines that I've flown on, you have to pay a surcharge to watch movies (especially those that are more recent); on Air Canada, I was able to watch fairly recent movies like Tooth Fairy and Invictus, free of charge. Unfortunately, the plane landed before I was able to finish Invictus (I got about three-fourths through it) but it was an interesting movie. I hadn't known a thing about rugby before watching it.

Landing in Toronto, we had to quickly finish our salmon-and-cream-cheese packed bagels (we didn't want to risk sneaking meat through Customs), and get used to the warm weather (the latter being far easier). The city has every aspect of urban modernity that you&…


TEDxRedmond is an event organized "by kids, for kids" in the Western Washington area. I'll be hosting the event. Taking place on September 18th, 2010, on Microsoft campus, all students in grades six through ten are welcome to apply at To learn more, watch a thirty-three-second "Host PSA":

On Academia vs. Business

I've always wanted to go into education, for many reasons--having an influence on the next generation, the fulfillment one gets out of teaching, etcetera--but another, perhaps less conscious reason, might be how very un-business-y the academic sector is. Of course there are big egos, giant ambitions, and plenty of politics, but at least there's one thing you can be sure of with most people who work in the "public sector"--they're not in it for the money. (Or at least the good ones aren't.)

As a case in point, take a look at the average yearly teacher's salary--it's in the measly range of thirty to forty thousand dollars, varying across school districts. Who in their right mind would accept 24/7 work with a bunch of customers who may not particularly want what you're selling? On the other hand, the profit margins in business can be huge. (Take a look at what some of those bankers on Wall Street are making.) Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, has now become i…

Poem Written With Wisconsin Students

With what we know,

We’ve discovered the anatomy of snow,
We’ve gone to the moon,
By explorers whose lives have ended too soon,

But with what we dream,
We’ve seen unseen,
Traveled to the center of the earth,
The womb of humanity’s birth.

With what we know,
We’ve made crops grow,
Traveled around the world,
Ancient mysteries unfurled;

But with what we dream,
We’ve found that things aren’t always what they seem,
We’re free of boundaries,
Allowed to create realities.


[Not sure if this really counts as a poem...more like a quote.]

We should print everything we read,
Send or email, watch and receive.
It’s easy to know not to send so much
When you’re drowning in paper.


I recently outgrew my loyally serviceable (and rather unassuming) pair of blue Timberland shoes--my toes push, petulantly, up against the edge of the tip of the shoe, and then hurt later. Being naturally mistrustful of any shoes not of that species, shoe shopping is a rather challenging experience for me (especially as the only shoe store I trusted, Shoe Pavilion, liquidated some time back).

As a result of SP's liquidation, I'm forced to go to the cheaper Payless Shoes down the road, where the selection leaves much to be wanted. After two torturous hours of forcing my feet into shoes which didn't fit and made me only more violently regretful that I'd outgrown my good old blue shoes, I settled for a pair of sneakers (sans shoelaces, of course, since I'm too lazy to tie shoes) but with a tongue, which I found useless and rather annoying as well. I'm not sure what the purpose of shoe tongues are, but they are a bother if you're just trying to slip into the sho…

Lessons Learned in L.A.

I wrote this for a homework assignment--a timed write, where you were supposed to write a two page personal narrative in thirty-five minutes. See below:

The Los Angeles subway system winds through the glitzy avenues of Hollywood and the decrepit streets of abandoned neighborhoods in South L.A.; it brings you down into dark tunnels and up into the sun. It was on this subway that my mom and I spent a lot of our time in Los Angeles--partly because we were too cheap to take the taxi, and mostly because my mom doesn't drive. If you really want to make someone feel like a stranger in a new city, ask them to take public transportation. It's hard to know where the stations are, let alone whether you should take the Blue Line or the Green Line, Bus 54 or 235. That was why it was so incredible to us when someone asked us for help on the subway--we'd come full circle, from tourist to (impromptu) tour guide. But it didn't happen overnight--like anything, it took practice. When we …

On Grammar and Spelling

Recently I got very mad (as I usually do) after reading yet another misspelled, grammatically incorrect piece of writing from my mom. Some people evaluate others by the way they dress; I evaluate them by the way they write. To me, a misspelled and grammatically incorrect piece of writing either shows that you're a) ignorant of some of the rules involved, in which case I would say LEARN, or b) you don't care enough to use Spell-Check. I've found that for too many people, the answer is b.

The problem with my mom is that she makes the same mistakes, every time. Before I even sit down and edit her email for her, I can predict there will be a comma splice, an overly repetitious (and often incorrect) use of the word "to," a non-capitalized or non-italicized book title, or some other kind of heinous mistake. It's not hard to write an email and sound like my mom. All you have to do is use (at least) one comma splice, a "Hi ______" salutation on the same lin…

The iPad is Not Too iBad

Read my post about the implications of Apple's iPad for education:

Skip the Massage--Write a Letter

There is something rather therapeutic about writing a letter, and while I have extolled the glories of letter-writing before, I think that this is one aspect that has not been too much explored. Recently I was replying to letters from fifth graders in Massachusetts--some very wonderful, well-written letters--and I felt a very nice sense of peace and calm when writing that letter, that one doesn't really feel with the frenetic pace of tapping out an email.

Even if you have all the time in the world, the very format of email seems to hurry you up--it says, "C'mon, hurry up, write this, you have a freaking keyboard, you can go faster, the person's going to check their email soon, get it in now!" Whereas no matter how fast you write a letter, it won't make a difference as to when it gets there (unless you're writing it right before they come and collect the mail); the mail is all picked up at a certain time, and all delivered at a certain time. Email has a c…

Today's Teaching

Today I video conferenced with students in Arkansas for a session titled "Dancing Fingers: Animal Poems 101." Inspired by a section in my poetry book, "Feathers, Horns, and Claws," the presentation centers around getting inspirations for poetry from animals. A very creative class with an impressive vocabulary, the Arkansas students were able to come up with lots of ideas for poems. We explored using animals as metaphors for larger things, like natural disasters and things were scared of (see example below):


The big brown bear eats everything,
It never stops to think
About what it eats,
And then it leaves a very giant stink.We also explored how reading scholarly papers/encyclopedia entries/articles about animals could give us great descriptive words for our poem. After reading an article in National Geographic about the Giant Panda, we collaborated on this poem (using the words solitary, hungrily plucked, and insatiable from the original article):


Teaching Carson Middle School

Poem Written with Carson Middle School Sixth-Graders

Today I video conferenced with Carson Middle School's wonderful and creative sixth-graders. We talked about Ridiculous Poetry (writing funny poems), and how to make mundane activities (like walking) into interesting, humorous poetry ideas through exaggeration. We also discussed what makes things funny. Their responses included:

Weird Animals
Made-up wordsFinally, we put our learning into practice with an activity that exaggerated a real-life event/activity we dreaded. When asked for examples of dreaded activities, one student said, "Walking." When I asked, "Oh, like walking the dog," he responded matter-of-factly, "No, just walking in general."

Here's the poem we wrote together:
Walking is so difficult,
It’s really very hard,
Your legs hurt so bad, they might fall off in the yard.
There’s always a chance That you’ll step on a stick Get it lodged in your shoe, And get permanently sick; Walking is slow, unbearably slow, It takes so much time…

On Language

I've been mulling over our language, specifically our pull at moments to speak it, for a little while, mostly because of my mom. Originally from China, she speaks Mandarin and Cantonese in addition to fluent English. She always speaks English with my dad, my sister, and me (since we're not as fluent in Chinese as she is in English!) But when my Chinese grandparents (who speak very little English) are over, it's a different story. Is this some kind of language peer pressure? It's even evident when there are people around who my mom doesn't even know. For instance, I remember once being in Hawaii. My mom and I were at a hotel lobby, and a Chinese couple across from us started a discussion in Mandarin. Suddenly, my mom started speaking to me in Chinese.

I do think that the language the people around you speak can have an impact on the way you, yourself, speak. At the most basic, it would obviously explain why babies in Iceland grow up speaking Icelandic (since no oth…

Video Conference with Students in Wyoming

On March 29th, 2010, twelve-year-old author and teacher Adora Svitak video conferenced with seventh graders at Dubois Elementary/Middle School to talk about blogging. When asked what she thought of Adora, student Kaitlin said that she was “amazed by her technology abilities.” 
In addition to discussing topics for blog posts, Adora asked students what made going to school in Wyoming unique. The answer: Hunters’ Ed. In addition, these lucky students get to camp at Yellowstone National Park for a week, visiting a ranger’s station and going to Montana. These students are a close-knit bunch; many know each other from kindergarten. Students also take one semester of tech and one semester of shop, and take part in track (the higher elevation makes them work more).

Research Skills with Ninth Graders

Poem Written with South Georgia Fourth Graders

Today I collaborated with a wonderful, enthusiastic group of fourth graders in South Georgia on writing a poem together. It was for the presentation Ridiculous Poems 101 (one of my favorite presentations!). One of the tips I mentioned in the presentation was, "To make a poem humorous and fun, exaggerate a real life event." The activity was to think of an activity that you didn't like doing, why you didn't like it, and to exaggerate those details. Here's the poem we created about giving chickens water:

I do not like giving the chickens water,

Cleaning their coop or feeding fodder,
Their water bowl is covered in spores of mold
I think it’s getting a little too old
The filled-up bowl is full of slime,
It’s very heavy; it takes too much time—
I do not like giving the chickens a drink,
Having to fill up the bowl at the sink,
Why do I hate this—what do you think?
Very simply—it’s just the stink.

Ustream Videos

You can view my live streams at


Hey all,

I've just received approval for a TEDx license, which means that I can independently organize a TED event under the TEDx name. The event will be called TEDxRedmond, and you can learn more about it by going to

Don't know what TED is? Go to to learn more.

Fourth Graders in Camden, NJ

Today I talked with fourth graders in Camden, NJ over video conferencing. We collaborated on the beginning of a story about a human getting superhuman powers (including a full list of what fourth graders tihnk are superpowers):

Superhuman powers: tipping over cars, invisibility, run at sonic speed, making people’s nightmares come true, break through stuff with your head, shoot electricity off your head, flying, laser vision

Main character: Dragonboy

Setting: Japan

Dragonboy lives with his parents and little sister in Tokyo, Japan. He always wanted superpowers, because he felt very limited by the basic human powers he had. No, Dragonboy was not content with opposable thumbs and running legs. He wanted laser vision and invisibility.

One day, he went shopping with the rest of the family and saw a fountain. He had a penny in his hand that he had just picked up off the ground and he thought, “Hmmm…I might as well throw the penny in that fountain and wish for superhuman powers.” So he threw…

Chemical Reactions

Today I learned about "Chemical Reactions" in science, an interesting topic and one I was completely befuddled by. The terrible thing was, this always seems to happen; I learn about something interesting in science, think I understand it, and find that I can hardly answer questions on it, let alone explain the concepts. I find myself tripping over words like "exothermic" and "endothermic" while attempting to explain what they mean. So I wanted to think of a new way that I could understand the material better--and why I wasn't understanding it in the first place!

As an author and avid history buff, subjects like language arts and social studies have, in general, been fairly smooth rides for me. I'm able to read the information quickly, remember it, and put it to use. But the problem with speed-reading your science text is that you miss words like "exothermic" and "endothermic" or exactly what they mean. That's one thing I…


I am the cat in the shadows that dance on the wall in the room in the house,
I am the cat in the shadows that dance on the wall who has just caught a mouse,
I am the shadows that dance on the wall to the tune of "Yellow Submarine,"
I am the shadows that dance on the wall during night and day and ev'rything between,
I am the wall in the room in the house that stands up to the air and the dust and paint,
I am the wall in the room in the house that will never ever faint,
I am the room in the house on the block that holds too much for my liking,
I am the room that is a good employee and will never ever think of striking,
I am the house on the block that stands alone and never glances,
I am the house on the block with catches, stands, and dances,
I am the house on the block and I? The house on the block--entrances.

Questions from Website

Recently I received an email from a website contact who asked some great questions:

1.) Do you outline when you are planning a story or do you merely "wing it"?

2.) Do others ask you to edit or beta read their books or stories?

3.) Do you ever listen to classical music or film scores when typing out the text for a new book?
4.) What is your favorite genre and time period to write in and why?

Here are my answers:

1.) I've had very detailed outlines for some of my stories (giant maps and huge family trees which detailed every possible relative of every character) and I've had no planning at all; most of the time, I go somewhere in the middle, where I have a general idea of my characters, setting, and plot (maybe writing some of that down) but not really formal outlining.
2.) I have gotten the occasional request to read someone's work, which I enjoy doing; it's always interesting to see the variety of creative styles out there. I also ask others to edit or read…

Glog Experiment

Here is a "Glog," or poster I designed online at Glogster, for my sister Adrianna:

Story Written with Third Graders at Yorkship School Over Video Conferencing

Joe the weatherman
Katie is a nurse
Jim Baker works at the bank
Jamia is a student

Yorkship School

It was a rainy Thursday morning at the Yorkship School and Jamia was riding on the bus as usual. It came to the school a little early, so instead of going in with all the other kids, Jamia went to the playground to play on the swing.
She started getting drenched and realized that maybe being outside in the rain wasn’t so fun after all. She was about to go inside when something papery hit her on the head.
She turned around, thinking that someone had maybe shot a paper airplane at her, but there was nobody around—just a crisp one hundred dollar bill, lying on the ground.
Jamia gasped in amazement and quickly picked it up before it became soaked—but she needn’t have worried, because the wet rain had turned to dry money. And it was falling—fast.
In the weather station at FOX29, Joe, the weatherman, was preparing for live television when he got a startling bulletin:

Sense and Sensibility Quiz

Recently I read Sense and Sensibility for my Honors Lit. Analysis and Composition class and I made a short quiz about it for fun. Here it is:
Sense and Sensibility Quiz » Make A Quiz

Adora Svitak Goes to Long Beach: TED2010

By Adora Svitak

Where can you eat free food to your heart’s delight, snap a picture with Al Gore and say hello to Bill Gates, and watch some of the world’s most influential people speak, all in the same week? If you went to the TED conference this February, then you know that the Long Beach Performing Arts Center is (or was) the answer. I was lucky enough to be able to go to TED as a speaker—and yes, I managed to do all those things. I even took some free yogurt pretzels and dark chocolate malt balls home for my sister. 
As the theme for this year’s conference was “What the World Needs Now,” I thought it would be appropriate to talk about “What Kids Need Now.” However, since I was talking mainly to an adult audience, I mentioned that the adult world could benefit by learning from kids. The main idea was that kids have the audacity to come up with ideas that can better the world, and that adults should listen. In other words, “You must lend an ear today, because we are the leaders of to…