Friday, October 08, 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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


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 studies and language arts classes, the published author of two books, and a speaker, literacy advocate, and presenter (I teach students every day via video conferencing about reading and writing, and I will be receiving the National Education Association, or NEA, award for service to public education), I think it can be agreed that I am capable of taking the two elective courses.

However, Redmond Junior High and the Lake Washington School District have informed me that I will not be allowed to take both Cooking and Drama, and that I will have to drop one (as I am already taking French at my online school). I’m assuming that the course limits rule was set up because regular students attending a brick-and-mortar school every day would not be able to attend more than six courses. But because of my dual enrollment, it is possible for me to take more courses than are usually allowed.  Rules, especially those in education, should be set up to benefit the student and help us reach our full potential. In this case, the rules are a limiting force, preventing me from learning to the extent of my ability.

My mom, Joyce Svitak, placed a call to your office, where she was told that it wasn’t about the courses, it was about the money. I understand that in these times, school districts have to watch their budgets. However, both of the classes that I am in had room; the teachers are getting paid the same salary nevertheless; I’m actually paying a lab fee for Creative Cooking. They are still printing out the same number of rubrics and assignments. One student really doesn’t make a difference budget-wise.

I am okay with not receiving credits or FTE for taking the extra elective course at Redmond Junior High. But I would ask that Lake Washington School District provide me the opportunity to take it.

Thank you,
Adora Svitak


To me, this is just one example of what's wrong in education. In a time when we are facing dropout rates and such an epidemic of kids not wanting to learn, they hyperventilate about one student who loves to learn, taking one extra class, and treat it as an "urgent issue." You can pin it down to money, but the teacher's salary isn't dictated by how many students there are in a class. The heating costs don't go up for one more student. The fact that they trouble themselves over tiny issues like this is simply evidence of bureaucracy--and how adult-centric an institution designed to benefit students really is.


P.S.Woohoo! Today, Washington Virtual Academy, my online public school, made a compromise, allowing me to continue taking my electives.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


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 what it’s going to be about yet, but I will figure out soon. And even though I have never created one before I think I can. My opinion is that it’s good to try new things.
       It would be awesome if I could put my footprint on the world (like you said). After the event, I was really thinking about how it would be if I could do that. I came to the conclusion that it would be awesome, and I totally should. What I really liked about the TEDx event was that it probably inspired other people to do that too.
       Oh I forgot to introduce myself! My name is Apoorva Chowdhary, and I am ten years old. At the current time I do lots of after school activities. I have played piano for about 5 years, and I have also done martial arts for 5 years. I do swimming too, and I am at the pre-competition level. Over the years I have also done tennis and volleyball camps too. Lastly, I am running for vice-president in my student council because I am in sixth grade and it’s about time I get into my school’s student council.
       I hope you reply to my letter. You are really truthfully inspiring to me and I think you are a great role-model. And your sister was amazing on the piano too. Thank you so much for organizing the TEDx event, I loved it!
As promised, Apoorva did start a blog! I encourage everyone to check it out (and follow!), at 

Zoe Sprankle was one of our TEDxRedmond performers. She both spoke and sang on the TEDxRedmond stage. Her dad, Bob Sprankle, podcasted and wrote on his blog, Bit by Bit (as well as on the TechLearning blog) about the TEDxRedmond experience. His open letter to TEDxRedmond's speakers and presenters touched us all:

An Open Letter to #TEDxRedmond Presenters
by Bob Sprankle
(cross-posted at TechLearning)
Dear TEDxRedmond Presenters (Adora, Adrianna, Alec, Austin, Brigitte, Cayle, Jason, Jessica, Jordan, Kelsey, Maddy, Madison, Maya, Noah, Oliver, Olivia, Perry, Priya, Sierra, Simone, Zach, Zoe),
As I write this, I’m still shaking off a bit of jet lag after this past Saturday’sTEDxRedmondconference and have almost gotten back to East-coast time, but without a doubt my heart and thoughts are still back in Redmond, Washington as I continue to process all of your amazing presentations. In doing so, I wanted to reflect on some of my own thoughts and realizations with you in this open letter.

First, I’d like to thank you all for giving me one of the greatest experiences of my life. This was undoubtedly the most amazing and important conferences I ever had the privilege to attend. Sure, I was there as a proud dad (see Zoë Sprankle), but I was also there as an educator, a learner, and even as a podcaster, catching some of the most cherished interviews with students ever (it saddens me that I wasn’t able to interview you all and I hope that opportunity presents itself at some future date).
The fact that this conference was entirely created, presented, and attended by students under 16 years old is a monumental accomplishment. Of course there were adult “fingerprints” of support abounding (big thanks to all the Sponsors who helped pave the way), but you all did the real deal. From the students who organized the event, to the presenters who got up there and “blew our minds,” to the attendees who stayed for the entire day (longer than most regular school days), I tip my hat to you.
I’ve been to many education conferences and every time I go, I ask, “Where are the students?” Recently at the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston there was a student presence (Adora, Zoë, as well as a group of high school students helping to run the conference), and the K-12 Online Conference has started a Student Voices strand this year, so it’s not as if it hasn’t happened before. But this conference was entirely “student-centric” and I applaud the fact that we adults were not even allowed in the main room and had to watch the event via telesync in separate rooms.
So Kudos and great Thanks to you all.
Secondly, I want to tell you that you have inspired my students and the teachers that I’ve been able to share TEDxRedmond with. So far, I’ve only showed them your pictures and accomplishments and told stories I heard from you or what I learned about your accomplishments. My students are chomping at the bit to finally get to view the videos recorded from the conference (I hope they get posted soon!), and all of your accomplishments and work have served as great examples of what doing one’s best, following one’s passions or dreams, and not giving up can look like. This is a great gift as we all start a new school year and set high goals and define what excellence means.
Thirdly, I want to tell you that I’ve revealed to every one of my students that you have no “magical, super powers,” and that you are students just like them and that they can be great just like you. Students have identified what elements have added to your success in your endeavors, what it is that you all have in common. Here’s what they came up with: that you have done meaningful work; that you are passionate about that work; that you stuck with it; and that you followed your dreams. From that conversation, it was an easy jump to ask students what they are passionate about; what change they want to make; how they’re going to stick with it. All of you serve as undeniable evidence that they can accomplish their dreams, just like you all have.
And lastly, I want to tell you something that you might not have heard on Saturday as you were busy presenting, or listening to co-presenters in the green room. I got to talk to a lot of people during the short breaks we were given—parents and children alike. Some of these conversations will be presented on the podcast along with the interviews I was able to do with you. Here’s the thing that I kept asking the student participants that I want you to know about. I pointed out to them that they had been sitting for hours listening to you all and that they had given up their Saturday to come to this learning experience that lasted longer than most of their normal school days. I asked them if they had had enough; if they were ready to get out of there (since it had been such a long day). And here’s what they all said to me: “No way! I want more of this! This is amazing!”
I asked them a follow-up question: “Do you feel the same way about your school day?” And each one took a pause, gave me a quizzical look, and gave the same honest answer: “No way. Not at all.”
I followed up by asking why this was so and got a variety of answers, but it was clear that many of them were still formulating a response, and some were not able yet to articulate what the difference was between your conference and their schools’ offerings.
This is one of the biggest “take-aways” from the conference for me and I need all of you (as well as all those that are reading this open letter) to help answer that question. Please. Help us teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, board members, legislatures, president, etc. understand why you were all able to hold students’ attentions for a very long day and have them begging for more, when most of our schools are struggling to keep students in them, or engaged, or even interested.
When Adora asked at the end of the day, “What have we learned?” a young students answered —and forgive me if my paraphrase doesn’t have it exactly correct— that she learned that other students from around the world were thinking and worrying and talking about the same things that she was. That was one of the most salient quotes from the whole day, and it won’t leave me alone.
I need to find out why she wasn’t able to know this before. I need to find out how we can become better connected across the globe so students know we are sharing the same thoughts, goals, worries, passions. I need to work towards helping my students become even more connected with their own passions, with other students like them from around the world, and with the confidence and belief that they can change the world, just as you have all done.
You have laid a huge body of indisputable evidence at our feet. The success of TEDxRedmond proves that students want to and are capable of carrying off huge feats, able and interested in educating and learning from each other, and committed to meaningful and purposeful work, even if they have to go outside of their school’s curriculum to make that happen.
You have given me an extraordinary burst of hope for our futures, as I am confident you have done to thousands of others.
Again, I thank you.
Bob Sprankle

From the buzz on Twitter, Facebook, and the positive emails we've received, I think it's evident that TEDxRedmond has had an impact. It's only when we can get everyone involved in the discussion like this that there will truly be "Power to the Students."

-Adora Svitak, Curator and Host, TEDxRedmond
Thanks to Bob Sprankle and Apoorva Chowdhary for comments.

Monday, August 16, 2010

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." Why should we treat a mosque any differently from a syngagogue, church, or temple? If we simply decide to treat certain religions in a standard way, but not others, we slide into the hypocrisy--and unjustness--that characterizes dictatorships, not democracies.

What's more, the general outrage over the proposed center is only fueling the fire of anti-Americanism abroad. The most effective way to fight terrorism is to show openness and goodwill, not hate or discrimination, toward Muslims both here at home and in foreign countries. When we treat the Islamic population of New York City in a discriminatory way, it only confirms anti-American suspicions in other countries. By antagonizing a moderate group of Muslims, whose only goal is to bring awareness of other cultures to a community center (in the hopes of fighting extremism), we are ultimately helping the terrorists, and their message that America hates Islam.
However, the ultimate point of controversy that has shaped the debate is the fact that it is an Islamic place of worship near the place where Islamic extremists killed thousands of people. I have read arguments from the families of those who were killed on 9/11, and I understand that it touches a place that is still raw in the hearts of many. But truly, the terrorists who crashed the planes into the Twin Towers were hardly more Muslim than they were any other religion. They killed Muslims, Christians, Jews, men, women, children--and the murder of innocents is condemned by every religion I know of. Their league of extremism is nowhere near the moderation we have seen from the Muslim group that plans on building the center. When we say that there should not be a mosque near Ground Zero, we imply that all Muslims are responsible, and we condemn their religion. The sign of one woman protesting the planned center read: "Islam builds mosques at the sites of their conquests and victories." I would easily understand outrage over a proposed Al-Qaeda headquarters at Ground Zero. They were the ones who were responsible. Moderate Muslims were not.
The community center and mosque planned near Ground Zero would help raise cultural awareness and provide a swimming pool, theater, and performing arts center that no doubt all New Yorkers--not just Muslims--could benefit from. It would show that the religious tolerance we put forth in our Constitution is proved by action, not just a sentence of empty words. It would take away fuel for extremist fire and show Muslims around the world that America does not hate Islam. And yet, 68% of Americans believe that allowing the Cordoba House (the proposed community center's name) to go on, is the wrong thing to do. Does this sway my opinion? No. Remember what Albert Einstein said: "What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right."
Denying the Cordoba House, and the moderate Muslim group planning to build it the right to do so, is popular.
Is it right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

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 when the bed sheet’s red was not faded, but proud in its garish glory. She remembered all this from a time before. But minutes—days—years—were unceasing soldiers. It had been folly to think that she could fight against them—she, when no others could. Not the belles she’d envied, whose rich locks of brown and gold had turned to white and gray; not those spry gentlemen she’d danced with…Dancing. What a word. It was like honeyed water, dripping slowly, torturously before a parched traveler—out of reach, far away—and when you reached for it, gone.

A cough forced its way through her frailty. She seized up in pain, then stilled. Moving never helped.

A minute passed. Stubbornly she kept her wrinkled eye open, scanning the room back and forth with bad, desperate vision—she was the man on the edge of a cliff barely hanging on, prey encircled by predator with nowhere else to go. Insistently, she did not blink, though she knew sometime, she would have to fall, be killed and eaten. Then she heard the clock tick once more.

Wobbling on the bed’s edge, she allowed—she had no energy to make—her leg’s descent, sloth-like in its speed, but jarring in its movement, as though she were a rock climber in freefall. Her foot, her useless twisted gray cracked foot, hit the floor. She winced, clutching the sheet as though it were a climber’s rope. Fondly she remembered those towering peaks her brother liked to climb. They called him crazy then, before he won the medals. Then they liked him. She smiled as she thought of it, and glanced up at the wall where she saw the medals glint.

But what good had they done? Had they saved her brother? Had they paid for his hospital bills? Were they food, water, shelter? Her brother was dead. The peaks he climbed were gone, strip-mined, no longer pretty. Yet those medals glinted, untouched, on the wall—as though to remind her of lost things, as though to say, “We’re still here.”

She had no time for vengeance. Her second leg drooped of its own accord, following the first in its drop off the bed. When she had both legs on the ground, that was when she could try to lift her dizzy, weary head. It made her gag the first time. She would have retched, except for that she had not eaten any food. She coughed up blood instead. It made splotches on the bed sheet. Where the red had faded, her blood restored it. The crumpled yellow blouse she wore gained two more stains, one on each side, like small red buttons. She did not care. Her head fell back down to the bed.

Instead of lifting her head, she decided to slide downward, off the edge. She knew it would hurt, but it was less energy. She dragged the bed sheet, blood and dust and all, with her as she slid off the hard strict edge—then fell onto her knees, legs bent under in an awkward position. The fall, onto her knees and the cold wood floor, sent pain through her legs and made her faint.

It was too hard to stand upright and walk. She would crawl. She was past humiliation, indignation now. She wanted water, and that was that. Feeling half-crippled, she dragged herself past old dusty stacks of letters from friends (now dead, long ago), past the folded evening gowns that reminded her of dances with spry gentlemen, ballrooms and rich families’ houses…

There, on the old table that had been a gift—from who she didn’t know, nor care—sat a pitcher of water and a box of pills. The doctor had told her to take them all—with water, he said. Pills, and water, she thought, as she gulped them down hungrily, what a breakfast. She was knelt down on the ground in pain, surrounded by the dusty stacks of letters, evening gowns spun of rich memories, her brother’s glinting, smirking medals on the wall…

The clock ticked by. Seven minutes had passed since she’d awoke. It had felt longer, just as the minutes when she was young felt shorter, quicker. No matter.

She looked back at the clock though her neck, twisted and painful, told her not to. She looked at it with the calculating glower of a fencer, looking at her enemy in the face, about to begin another duel. Perhaps she had won today, but it had been folly to think that she would win forever—her enemy’s unceasing, unforgiving minutes—days—years—marched on blindly. Perhaps she’d thought that she could win? She had waged a losing war. But today—today was her victory.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


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


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

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--as my dad wryly remarked, the state motto is Live Free or Die when maybe it should be Live Free And Die--lax policies on helmet and seatbelt wearing reinforcing this); NH's neighbor Vermont, on the other hand, had a beautiful joint Vietnam Veterans memorial and rest stop with a greenhouse and toilet water recycled through the greenhouse's hydroponic recycling system.
4. Arrive in Burlington, Vermont; stay in the Courtyard Marriott. Okay hotel. Nothing spectacular. We got to see the Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory. They charge too much for the tours, but the scoop of ice cream at the end was delicious (still, as my mom would complain, three dollars a person for a little scoop of ice cream!)
5. From Burlington, we drive up Highway (or is it Route?) 89 to Montreal--just in time for the International Jazz Festival and for a great tour from Montreal native and friend Sebastian. Stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville--very well-furnished hotel with a beautifully tiled swimming pool. I work on my French. New terms learned (pardon me if my spelling is bad): Parlez-vous Anglais, Pamplemousse et Orange jus, sil vous plait.
6. Head up to Quebec City in blistering heat (I must have gained ten pounds just from all the ice cream I consumed those days). We stay at the sprawling Chateau Bonne Entente, a palatial estate with numerous guesthouses. Though the rooms usually go for 300 dollars or more, we managed to land a bargain (when my mom checked in, they looked at her and asked, "Are you a travel agent?") I got to stay in one of the fanciest hotel rooms I have ever stayed at.

Not only did the room's contemporary, somewhat minimalist design make it aesthetically pleasing, it came with a sound system, awesome Nespresso coffee, plush beds, two bathrobes, a globe, a digital scale, and a giant long sink--and--I'm getting breathless--a TV in the bathroom mirror. Yes, seriously. So that you could watch it while taking a bath in the programmable--PROGRAMMABLE--bathtub, which came with air jets that created giant waves, massage programs, and even underwater red lighting. My wrists are hurting from typing this all so fast.
7. Although the hotel was pretty incredible, it would be unfair to Quebec City if I only talked about the lodging. We also got to see the Museum of French-Speaking People, a fairly new, well-designed museum with interesting and visually interactive exhibits about the history of French-speaking peoples across the Americas. We also took a look at the original city walls and walked by the castle-like Fairmont Hotel.
8. From Quebec City, we headed back South, down past Montreal. This time, instead of going through Vermont, we took 87 down to Plattsburgh, NY, where we ate dinner, and from there continued onto Saratoga Springs, where we stayed at the Saratoga Hilton. It was an okay hotel but the atrium-like lobby was big enough to be confusing. My dad also isn't fond of the Crabtree and Evelyn toiletries Hilton hotels offer.
9. From Saratoga Springs we head South to Atlantic City because my mom wanted to see the ocean (and my sister and I were enthusing about seeing the "Jersey Shore" in real life, not just on MTV. Coincidentally, Mike "The Situation" of MTV's Jersey Shore was appearing at our hotel, Trump Taj Mahal, that week). Sorry Donald, but your hotel was one of the tackiest ones I've ever stayed at, and the room needed some work too. We did have a view of the ocean but there was a layer of dust on all the furnishings, implying that our room hadn't been cleaned (or occupied) in quite some time. We bought cheap stuff on the boardwalk and played around in the Atlantic waves until my dad cut his leg and my sister almost drowned (well, that's the way she likes to tell the story; she was okay in the end).
10. Go to Abingdon and Baltimore to visit great-uncle and grandma. Stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in Baltimore.
11. From Baltimore start heading up toward Boston to get ready for the BLC10, or Building Learning Communities, conference. Drive through Pennsylvania to visit Dad's childhood home of Yardley, Pennsylvania. See Philadelphia skyline (though we didn't drive through the city itself).
12. Stay in Stamford, Connecticut at another Hilton. Yeah, we stay at chain hotels a lot. We should probably patronize local businesses more, but when you're making reservations on the fly, it's a lot easier to go with what you know.
13. Drive up the Connecticut coast and through Rhode Island, finally arriving at Boston to stay at the Boston Park Plaza. The whole road trip has added five states to my "States Been To" list, some by courtesy of driving through--Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont.
14. On our last day in Boston, we go to the Institute of Contemporary Art and look out the window onto the harbor view. Across the Boston harbor, I see the Hyatt Harborside Hotel by the airport where we stayed at on our very first day. Our trip has really come full-circle.


-Ben and Jerry's factory
-International Jazz Festival in Montreal, some very creative graffiti going on, science museum, contemporary art museum
-French-speaking peoples museum in Quebec City, ancient walls
-Beautiful park and historic Congress Park Carousel in Saratoga Springs, see some very grand old houses
-Got my abs so totally ripped in Atlantic City that I call them the Situation, yo! (reference to MTV)...well, maybe not, but jumping over, riding on, and occasionally falling under the giant waves in the Atlantic was pretty fun. Went on boardwalk and no, I did not do any gambling...they caught me before I could operate the slot machine. (Just kidding).
-See my dad's old house and elementary school in Yardley, and the absolutely tiny little library he used to go to. It's got to be one of the smallest in the world.
-The historical Fort Trumbull in West Haven, CT--highly recommended! We missed the tour, unfortunately, but we got to take a walk around the grounds, look in the windows, and look out over the pristine views of the shore.
-Bunch of stuff in Boston--the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library, watched an IMAX movie, Arabia, (great movie, by the way!) at the science museum, saw the Institute of Contemporary Art, walked along the harbor, went to Faneuil Hall...

Now that I've had a vacation with extended family in Toronto, seen the action and excitement at ISTE, and taken a road trip around the East Coast (not to mention keynoting at BLC10!), I think that I'm pretty traveled out. I'll be spending the rest of my summer at home, in lovely (temperate!) Washington.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

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'd expect in a large city. I suppose I felt surprised that it wasn't more intrinsically Canadian, but then again, it wasn't as though I really thought everyone would be walking around with little maple leaves on their faces or something. I'm not sure what gives a city its identity; perhaps I felt that Paris was intrinsically French because they were speaking a different language, and there's not a hugely noticeable accent here.

This is the first day of the IdeaCity conference; it's been quite enjoyable. So far we must have seen dozens of speakers, with topics such as "The Decline of the Male" and "The Rise of the Female" (the first two sections, or pods, today). I'm completely exhausted at this point. One of my favourite speakers was Emily Levine; she was very comedic.

That's all for now, from Toronto!


Monday, June 14, 2010


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":

Monday, June 07, 2010

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 infamous for his many gaffes, including a speech he gave to Stanford business students--pre-spill--where he said "We had too many people that were working to save the world [...] lost track of the fact that our primary purpose in life is to create value for our shareholders."

This quote, to me, sums up all that is wrong with business. Too many don't establish their companies to make the world a better place; they establish it to make money (and, as in the case of BP, they make the world worse off, in the process). When you found an organization to help the world, it's called a charity, not a business. You know that someone is really dedicated to helping the world when they don't make any money off of it. That said, non-profits and government don't provide perfect examples either. Indeed, it seems like they've taken the worst from both the worlds of private and public sectors. Take the oft-criticized Minerals Management Service (MMS) for an example. From what I hear, many of its employees have been hired from oil companies like BP--the companies the MMS should be cracking down on, not hiring from. Like those who go into business, too many go into government for the 3 P's (power, prestige, and profit) as opposed to "working to save the world"--which is what they should be doing in the first place.

When government and business interact, it seems to be good for everyone--everyone, that is, except for the average American citizen. What am I talking about? One word: Lobbying. The unfortunate strangle-hold that big industry has on the government's neck needs to loosen or fall away all together. People complain about nothing being done in the halls of government--maybe because there are too many profit-prestige-power-driven people walking around in them.

At the same time, governments and charities could learn a lot from the sleek efficiency that is the private sector's trademark. Visit some government offices and try to get something done--hurrah, guess what, there's a form for that, which will no doubt be processed, faxed, signed, faxed back, processed, stamped (you get the idea), in a process that will take several days, several weeks, several months, or even (in really bad cases) several years. There are many areas of government which have improved their efficiency, but many (such as the overwhelmed Veterans' Affairs offices) still have a long way to go.

Am I some anti-business Socialist anti-American? (Boy, I can hear the talk radio hosts having a field day already.) No. I believe that business is important--companies can have wonderful impacts in their communities. However, too often these impacts happen as part of marketing campaigns or as coincidences, and I look forward to a day where people don't start a company because they want to make gazillions in profits, or sell some newfangled product, or "create value for their shareholders." I look forward to a day where those things are merely side effects, when Tony Hayward is the exception, not the norm--and where "saving the world" becomes not a mere distraction, but our biggest goal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

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.

Monday, May 17, 2010


[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 shoe--if all I want to do is get into the shoe, why do I have to deal with an utterly purposeless piece of material scrunching and slowing me down? Sorry for the rant on shoe tongues.

I didn't leave utterly devoid of hope for the shoe market, however, as I was able to find a decent pair of dirt-brown sandals which were very nice and comfortable (if, as my mom put it, a "bit masculine"). Here are my tips for shoe makers if they want me to buy their shoes:

1. Focus on comfort, not looks. As long as you don't put bright pink glitter or Hannah Montana on my shoe, I don't care what it looks like.

2. Make more shoes that don't require tying knots. Who needs shoelaces?

3. Try to ensure that the heel or back part of the shoe isn't too loose. I never can find a shoe that sticks on my foot properly.

4. Build to last! I've seen too many cheap shoes fall apart within months.

5. If you want to get anyone from Seattle to buy your shoes, I have three tips: Waterproof. Waterproof. Waterproof.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

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 first came to Los Angeles, we were the ones asking for help. In fact, my mom and I got lost several times (even within feet of our hotel)!

One day, we were trying to get from our hotel near the airport to the science museum, in downtown Los Angeles. Although we had our L.A. map handy, we were still completely at a loss as to how to get there. We asked a short, brisk-walking airport official how to get to the science museum, and pretty much the only words we understood in her response were "the," "bus," and "there." The rest was such a jumble of street names--Figueroa, 8th, Broad--that the most we understood was that we should get on a bus. After asking some more people, we finally ran into a couple who were heading in that direction, and kindly showed us which bus to take. Unfortunately, the bumpy bus took two hours on its meandering route through the city. When we jumped on the subway, we had to ask more people (some of whom looked a little disgruntled at spoon-feeding us directions) which line to take. And when we finally figured out that we should get on the Red Line, we accidentally got on the Purple Line instead. By the time we arrived at the science center, we felt like veterans--albeit veterans who were very bad at combat. On the way back, we fared little better. I mistakenly thought that our transit time would be shorter than it really was, leading us to miss a dinner appointment by an hour and a half. This was quite a blow to me, as I value punctuality.

In large part because of our adventures, or misadventures, on the public transportation system, I determined to familiarize myself with it more. Instead of just asking people where to go like my mom had been doing, I studied the subway map ahead of time, enthusiastically circling, marking, and plotting out our route in great detail. I even memorized some of the names of the stations--Pedro, Slauson, Union, West Hollywood, and Universal City, just to name a few. Sometimes, I would spot familiar landmarks as we passed by, like torn-edged signs, in both Spanish and English, advertising "Party Supplies," giant grey warehouses surrounded by unfriendly fences, and the boarded up windows that marked desolate neighborhoods. You could tell you were approaching downtown when you saw the tall buildings off in the distance, and the "Christ Glory Church" with its sign in Korean. A trip on the subway (or at least the parts that went above ground) was like traversing a canvas--a full, rich canvas dabbed with colors that spanned the rainbow. From a hassle and a pain that we tolerated because we were too "cheap" for a taxi, taking the subway grew to be a daily treat.

It was on our last day in Los Angeles, as I was yet again consulting the subway map (just to make sure that we got off at the Imperial/Wilmington station for our transfer), a thin man asked quickly, "Do you know if I need to get tickets here, or at the end of the line?"

"Here," I responded. He nodded his thanks and bought the ticket. I felt rather pleased that I'd been asked such a question (easy as it was for me to answer). Then a short, portly, middle-aged Indian man walked up to us and asked, "Excuse me, I'm trying to get to Union--do you know how I'd get there?" I easily showed him the route on the subway map, adding that the Union Station stop was where we were going as well. He thanked me profusely and started up a conversation with my mom.

"I actually used to live here two years ago," he confessed, "but I never took the subway." I smiled--my mom and I had really made progress when it came to learning the system! Best of all, that knowledge hadn't just stayed with us--it'd gone to help someone else. Knowledge is best when it's shared, and it made me feel good (not just because I was helping someone), but also because I realized that we'd learned something after all those hours of bus and subway rides. After all, if taking public transportation is the tourist's test, then when a former resident asks you for directions, you've gotten an A++.

Friday, May 14, 2010

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 line as the body, and close with "Best, Joyce."

There is nothing so very wrong with this except that I do form my impressions of people from the way that they write, and much like any dutiful child would tell their parents, "You're not wearing THAT to go out--it's hideous," if they were wearing badly matched clothes, I take it personally when my mom misspells, comma splices, or under-capitalizes. Though I may grumble and form bad impressions of strangers who use bad grammar and spelling, I can't really go up to them and scold them, can I?

Last night I watched NBC's Marriage Ref with the rest of the family, and one of the stories was about a man who had devised a sock-sorting system. He numbered each one of his socks, which would then "match" with a corresponding number and letter to represent Left or Right. This was all very well, except that his poor wife had to sort them. In the end, the call (which I found very just) was that he could keep by his system, but he would have to sort the socks himself. I just thought of that because, if my mom wants to keep on using incorrect grammar, she can deal with that system herself. I'd be more than happy to teach her the correct rules--if she'll stick by them.

I did think of another thing from the Marriage Ref, though--one of the panelists was Howie Mandel, the "Deal or No Deal" host (who I personally think looks like a con-man because of the goatee, but that's just my opinion). Apparently he has an obsessive cleanliness problem. This is not to say that I have correct spelling and grammar a hundred percent of the time, but maybe I just have an obsessive correctness problem.

P.S. Jenny, thanks for the comment! I didn't mean the article as a serious comment on how I look at people, but a satirical post to make readers laugh. My mom thought it was pretty funny; sorry if it offended you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

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 certain aspect of randomness about it--you don't know if they've received the email, or when they received it, or what, and you can send it at pretty much any time--letters, on the other hand, are fixed, certain things, that (unless you make copies of your letters) cannot be reviewed and regretted and analyzed after sending.

Writing a letter, in addition, is as separate from work as email is a part of it. It's not too often that you handwrite an entire, full-page letter in your office--who has the time? The very act of writing a letter is snuffing your nose at email, that necessary evil of convenience, and saying, "You know what, I have time to actually sit down and write a letter. A real letter. Sucks for you!" And lovely for whoever receives the letter. I love opening my mailbox and seeing something for me.

So skip the massage. Write a letter. You'll be surprised by the therapeutic benefits.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

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):

Solitary in the mountains, I roam,
Remote regions of China—my home,
I am insatiable when I see bamboo,
My full stomach makes me poo.
But I must eat for half the day,
At bamboo, I hungrily pluck away.
I’m so shy and I go it alone,
I just like that quiet tone.
I really like to roam around,
I wish there was a Panda Town.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

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 words
Finally, 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 out of my day,
It makes me so tired that right now
I just want to hit the hay.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

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 other reason would explain someone trying to speak that impossible language--that volcano that erupted is called "Eyjafjallajokull"), and babies in England grow up speaking English.

Of course, there are isolated incidents that have nothing to do with the people around you. I know a couple of words of French--merci, oui, and excusi-moi (if I'm spelling that correctly--it's excuse me). I got used to saying the latter when I was in France, mostly in cases of ducking through crowds at crowded museums like the Louvre. That trip was a couple of years ago, and yet, going into my dad's office, I sneezed. Instead of saying excuse me, "excusi-moi" slipped out.

Whatever our pull to certain languages may be motivated by, it's an interesting topic to think about. And now I have to go eat dinner. Adios.

Monday, March 29, 2010

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). 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


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 the penny in, shut his eyes tight, and wished for superpowers with all his might. His little sister walked up to him and said, “Whad’ja wish for, world peace?”

He got an ashamed look on his face and shook his head.

The next day, Dragonboy’s mom came to wake him up and tell him to go to school, as usual. He opened his eyes and looked around. As soon as he opened his eyes, his mom shrieked, jumped, and ran from the room.

“What?” Dragonboy asked, and got up and looked in the mirror. In the second he had before the mirror melted, he realized that his eyes had turned into lasers—that, or there was just a very bright, very sharp line of red light emerging from each one.

“Aaaahh!” Dragonboy shouted, a little afraid himself of his new laser vision. He ran out of the room, and realized, with a sinking feeling, that he was simply not supposed to go that fast. And he had. In less than two seconds, he had already rushed out his room, through the hall, through the kitchen, through the dining room, through the living room, and out the door. And now he was rushing past houses—skyscrapers—the downtown section—and he couldn’t stop.

That was when he saw a giant truck barreling down his way.

[Maybe the car-tipping skills will come in handy now.]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

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've told myself: read slower and more carefully. It helps me catch more of the important information--information that sometimes hides itself in nooks and crannies that my impatient eyes skip over.

Another thing that may sometimes trip me up is the abstractness of it all. Since I'm learning about Physical Science--which, as far as I can see, is the study of really tiny things (atoms and the like) and stuff that's everywhere (oxygen, anyone?)--which need to be represented by models or pictures or lengthy explanations. On the other hand, in a course like Earth or Life Science, you can point up to space or look at a leaf and see planets and photosynthesis for yourself. Who looks at table salt and says, "This is NaCl, an ionic compound of sodium and chloride?" Or "The atoms in that gas are zooming around pretty fast today." I can't see the atoms in that gas, people. I probably can't even see the gas.

But that's enough grousing about why I wasn't understanding the topic--what about actually solving the problem? One thing that helped was reading the text aloud. Instead of just scanning it (which I'm prone to do if I'm reading silently), reading aloud forced me to slow down a little, to think about the pronunciation of the word and what each sentence I read really meant. I summarized out loud better than I did in my head. My mom was on hand, so I explained the concept to her. Having someone to listen to you and bounce ideas off of can be very helpful. Another thing I did was pull out my Pulse smartpen and take notes while reading out loud (recording both the notes and the audio). It was very helpful for synthesizing information. However, as I listened to the recording as it played back, I was surprised by how much I stumbled over certain words. If you listen to one of my videos where I'm teaching kids about reading and writing, and compare it to my science recording, you'll notice the difference right away--when I'm talking about chemical reactions, I sound hesitant and unsure about some of the things I'm saying. Oh well, I thought. It's a start. It's a start which I hope will result in some long-term progress.

After finishing my recording and a review worksheet, I took the lesson assessment. And guess what? I must have understood my "Chemical Reactions" pretty well, because I got 100%.


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.

Monday, March 15, 2010

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 my work before I send it off to the presses. My parents, tutor, friends, and editors all read Flying Fingers to give me their opinion.
3.) I don't really listen to music when I'm working because honestly, I've never been a huge music fan. My sister plays the piano and violin, so maybe I got too much exposure. Another reason I don't listen to music while writing is because I find that it can sometimes block out my stream of thought.
4.) My favorite genres to write in would be fantasy and historical fiction. I like both for probably shallow reasons--I love writing about monarchies, and I can't resist the temptation of having characters wear chainmail hauberks or kirtles or gowns (as you can see, costuming is a big part of the average story I write!) However, I enjoy writing about strong female characters, and I think that historical/fantasy backgrounds help these characters stand out more.
I have written some contemporary work (Journal of a Pre-Teen, in Flying Fingers, is an example), but for the most part I write fantasy and historical fiction. My favorite time periods to write in would be between 1100 to 1920--a large block and one that encompasses much in terms of progress and innovation without sacrificing too much in the monarchy and costuming department. :)

Friday, March 12, 2010

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:
“My goodness!” Joe said. “I’ll have to include that in the forecast!”
“30 seconds to live TV,” the cameraman reminded him. Joe quickly put in a note about the raining money and started talking on TV.

In his office at the bank, Jim Baker was watching TV. He was on a much-needed break after a long morning, and he always liked to see the weather forecast.
“There’s an unusual weather occurrence today, folks,” Joe the weatherman said, “it’s raining money over by Yorkship School—”
“What!” the banker shouted, and jumped up from his seat. “I’ll have to go over and investigate!”

Katie the nurse was washing her hands and preparing to see another patient when a doctor rushed in.
“Did you hear that on the news, Katie? It’s raining money!”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

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 tomorrow” (a passage I was frequently Twitter-quoted on). Of all the conferences I have attended, I can say without doubt that TED was the most Twitter-active. A single glance at TweetDeck told me that people had basically transcribed my speech on the web (in bits and pieces, of course). There was one quote here, and one quote there--it added up.
One of my favorite lines (one I was, disappointingly, not much quoted on) was, “If you don’t think this applies to you, remember that cloning is possible—and that involves going through childhood again, in which case you will want to be heard—just like my generation." Maybe the fact that this sentence was 156 characters provided a difficulty when it came to posting on Twitter! However, I felt that this line spoke both to the mood of going forward into the future--a mood that is so prevalent at TED--but also serves to appeal to the selfish nature in everybody (you should listen to kids because you would want to be listened to!)

The technology I used was fairly simple, although I did experiment. I used a site called Prezi, a zooming presentation tool which utilizes one large canvas instead of separate slides, then zooms in and out to create a pleasing visual presentation. It's kind of a cross between a video pan and PowerPoint. Prezi was an appropriate choice--as I found out later, TED actually invested in Prezi. Other than the Prezi, a laptop computer, and a remote-controlled slide advancer (which malfunctioned at the beginning of my speech), I didn't use that much technology compared to some of my education presentations. 

But that's enough about me--what about the larger TED experience? As a first-time TED attendee, everything was new and exciting. One of my favorite aspects was the aforementioned free food. My mom joked that I had a graduate-student mentality as I greedily browsed the shelves of artisan brownies (yes, artisan brownies), smoothies, juices, yogurts, wasabi-ginger chocolate...the list went on and on and on. Of course, that was only food for the stomach, and TED gives you food for thought as well. As a matter of fact, food in general seemed to be a big theme. We heard from renowned chef Dan Barber, who crafted an engaging metaphorical narrative about his "love affairs" with two different fish (the speech focused on the difference between "sustainable" livestock practices and ways of raising animals that were truly beneficial to the world around them). Even the prestigious TED prize went to a chef--Jamie Oliver, for his campaign to get healthier lunches in America's school cafeterias and raise nutritional awareness in kids. 

We snacked on stunning live performances by artists like dance group the LXD (Legion of Extraordinary Dancers), who later performed at the Oscars; singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant, who transformed children's poems into powerful songs; string quartet Ethel, who are regulars at TED events; and ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro, who made the miniature instrument larger than life. I highly encourage you to watch all the TEDTalks videos as they come out on the TED website. Some have already come out, like the speeches of Indian artist Raghava KK and autism activist Temple Grandin. Both encouraged the audience to think bigger, dream higher, and understand the unique worlds of both speakers. 

Now what do all of these delectable meals of speech have to do with education? TED turns every one of its attendees, CEOs and government officials, business leaders and musicians, into students. In a word, TED is a classroom (albeit a large one). Its instructors come from all walks of life and teach crash courses on science, math, language arts, technology, entertainment, design, culture, history, politics, law, and food. Most importantly, the speakers at, and the organizers of, TED, expect a lot from their students. They expect us to go out into the world and make a difference--something which schools everywhere should expect of their students.

I've heard of books that tell readers about places to go to before they die. TED should definitely be on the list. With a collection of speakers that included notables from fields ranging from art to the environment, science to politics, TED was a veritable buffet of thought from all corners of the globe. Like any good buffet, TED left us feeling exhausted, full, and satisfied--our stomachs full of artisan brownies, and our inspired heads bursting with new ideas. 


From TED:
Chris Anderson
June Cohen
Katherine McCartney
Bruno Giussani

Fellow Attendees:
Steve Wozniak
James Cameron
Bill Gates
Chris Colfer
Kevin McHale
John Awgunobi
Will Smith
Al Gore
Matt Groening
Jeff Bezos

Fellow Speakers:
Jake Shimabukuro
Carter Emmart
Esther Duflo
Cheryl Hayashi
Frank Drake
John Kasaona
Benoit Mandelbrot