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 

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscar Night!

I just finished watching the Oscars on TV. I watched the whole thing--or almost the whole thing. The only part I skipped was the section highlighting horror films--my nerves (and my stomach!) probably wouldn't quite take it. I enjoyed seeing the diversity of films, but I thought that Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had remarkably little screen time--it would have been nice to see more jokes. All in all, it was a fun experience. My only tip for ABC and the Academy Awards organizers? Less ads, please.


The Cult of Twitter

TWITTER IS A CULT, which I am ashamedly a member of. Why is Twitter a cult? Only certain people use it--my older sister, and, it seems, the rest of the American teenage population, shies away from it in favor of social networking sites. We Twitter users, cult followers, even have our own secret words--"direct message" and "retweet" and "hashtag." Are these words which any normal person would keep in their everyday vocabulary? And really professional Twitter users don't even update from Twitter online; they use their phones and remote updating tools like TweetDeck or TweetCaster or Twitterific. I say "remote updating tool"--clunky word!--because I can't think of the official term. I'm sure there is one.

For reasons which are beyond me, it doesn't seem as though Twitter is very popular among the thirteen to eighteen crowd. Sure, Twitter is home to such celebrities as Ashton Kutcher and Taylor Swift, but that's not a powerful enough draw--after all, they're on Facebook, too. Why would any sane, multi-tasking teenager go for such a seemingly single-function site like Twitter when they can update status, play games, take quizzes, chat, and make friends on Facebook? On the other hand (and this is just conjecture), professionals might not feel any great need for chat, games, and quizzes, so Twitter works just fine for them. It still doesn't answer the question, though, because so many "professional" adults post so much worthless stuff on Twitter. I mean (and I paraphrase), "I ate a cheeseburger today with my son." Do we need to know this? It's posts like that that earn Twitter a bad name, mister! Think about that!

Ultimately, it's Twitter's random exclusivity--its "cult-ness"--that makes it exciting and interesting for some, and irritatingly senseless to others. So next time you scratch your head trying to understand Twitter, remember: you're trying to look into a club whose windows can be pretty opaque. Twitter is hard to understand from the outside (and sometimes, even harder from the inside). Nevertheless, it's home to an interesting and diverse group of people, and it's fun to act anthropologist and investigate why people join Twitter. If you want to learn about generous people, bored people, silly people, happy people, smart people, people who can cramp tons of content into 140 letters--it's  on Twitter. And unlike most cults or clubs, Twitter doesn't discriminate about its members. Then again, you might heed Groucho Marx's words: "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." The people on Twitter, apparently, don't have any such concerns.

March 7th, 2010

This blog has moved

This blog is now located at
You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to