Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Journey from Idea to Publication: Writing “Explorations in Science”

I am pleased to announce the publication of Explorations in Science: Independent Extension Projects for Gifted and High Ability Students. The book will help teachers differentiate instruction in their classrooms for their advanced learners. A companion volume, Explorations in Social Studies,is due out in January.

Gifted education was my specialty during my teaching career. I worked directly with small groups of gifted and high-ability students, as well as functioned as a resource for teachers who taught in mixed-ability classrooms.

Gifted students have abilities that place them in the top 10% of the population and their needs are often overlooked in a one-size-fits-all educational climate. These students are expected to sit through the presentation and review of information that they already know or that they learn very quickly.

To address this problem, over the years I developed extensions of curriculum that advanced students could work on independentlyduring class, while the teacher and other students in the class were involved grade-level instruction or review. I found these worked well to keep advanced students engaged in school and excited about learning. These were the genesis of Explorations.

My colleague, friend and co-author Rae Harris and I thought these kinds of projects we had developed at our schools would be helpful to teachers and welcomed by students. After much thought, we started to call our projects “Explorations.” We knew there were few, if any, resources that were similar to what we wanted to write.

We contacted a publisher of gifted and talented resources and proposed our idea. We included some sample Explorations and the many reasons we were qualified to write thisbook. “Pieces of Learning Press,” a leading publisher of gifted and talented materials, wrote back saying, “We like it!” A contract, reviewed by our legal team (our husbands), was promptly signed. Then we went to work.

Consulting the NextGen Science standards, we determined the curricular topics we needed to cover. The science standards led us to divide the book into three sections: Earth Science, Life Science and Physical Science. We decided that ten Explorations per standard would allow teachers and students ample choice. Our Exploration topics would include topics like volcanoes and space, endangered animals and human body, and electromagnetism and light waves.

Rae and I designed a teacher and student-friendly, two-page format that focused on interesting topics that extend the science curriculum for 3rd-6thgrades. We wrote each Exploration with an educational focus, complex and rigorous important questions, several creative project options and a structured project completion tasks. We dreamed up all the extras we knew teachers would need, like student directions and evaluation rubrics, and created these as well.

Over the course of several months, we met weekly at our local library work on the book. We delved into topic areas and explored resources. I immersed myself in each topic, researching (for example) physical scientists and their theories, the newest missions in space or alternative energy sources. The best part was thinking up the creative projects that were challenging and interesting, as well as do-able by a student working independently in a classroom.

We did final edits on the book and it was submitted. We received and reviewed the proof and found a surprising number of errors. We corrected the proofs, got a second proof… it was getting there… more corrections, then it was finalized. We were excited to get a peek at the cover and back of the book in an email.

Finally, it was done and we held a copies of the finished product in our hands. And, it is ready for the publisher’s booth at the National Association of Gifted and Talented (NAG/T) annual conference, which starts today in Minneapolis.

I imagine my book, Explorations in Science,finding its way into the hands of teachers in a variety of settings- in a large urban classroom or a small rural school or a homeschool table. I picture students, like Trevon or Katie or  Maria or Edwin (real people I have taught) connecting with learning at a deep level while working through an Exploration. It is my great hope that my own creative work and ideas will make a difference in the education of a child.

 

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FROM NANO TO SAVE THE CAT

Today is November 1, and if you are a writer, you might be sitting at your computer right this very second wondering if you should start pounding out a new novel. Because November is “National Novel Writing Month” or “NaNoWriMo.” For those of you don’t know what I’m talking about, NANO is an international phenomenon that challenges writers around the world to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. That’s right, 30 days (not 31) with Thanksgiving and all its trimmings- traveling, shopping and cooking – thrown in at the end along with your deadline. And despite this daunting description, hundreds of thousands of people do it every year. They gather in coffee shops, hole up in libraries, and sit together at dining room tables (mine) and get that novel written. Personally, I’ve done it twice. And I have to say – the excitement of creating a new work of fiction in 30 short days has its appeal.

 

To start with, there’s the adrenaline rush of sitting down every morning (or night), not knowing what will happen. There are characters to flesh out, new worlds to build, plot twists to create. And the folks at NANO headquarters have created graphs to plot your progress. You build your word count, read inspirational Pep Talks, and attend Write-Ins in your neighborhood. It’s an amped up world of writing that has a beginning, a middle, and an end – something writers often find elusive in their weeks, months, and years of revising. So if this is something you want to try, go for it. All you have to do is log on to the Nanowrimo.org website and sign up. It’s definitely worth doing at least once.

 

Only this year, I’m opting out. As much as I’d love to dive in and create something completely new, I have three middle grade novels in various stages of revision. Two of these manuscripts were actually created during previous NaNoWriMos. And I love these stories. Seriously love them and the casts of characters that inhabit their unique worlds. But recently, a dear writing friend (fellow Story Spinner Coral Jenrette) told me about Jessica Brody’s book (and online class) – SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL – https://www.jessicabrody.com/for-writers/online-writing-courses/. It is a companion book to Blake Snyder’s super popular SAVE THE CAT book for screen writing. And although this method is designed to help you create a compelling plot, something you may want to do before attempting NaNoWriMo, I also think it is the perfect post-NANO tool.

 

SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL analyzes the plots of many highly successful books and movies by breaking down the elements of the story into a 15-step Beat Sheet or Novel Road Map. The beats take you from the (1.) Opening Image all the way to the (15.) Final Image. Not only are the various components explained, you are also given the approximate amount of time you should spend on each beat (percentages), and exercises to help you work on your own story.

 

Even though I wish I had done this type of outline before I attempted NaNoWriMo, it is not too late. The Beat Sheet is also the perfect tool for revising a first draft. And in fact, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m pulling out my contemporary middle grade novel that I Nano’d in 2014 and digging in. This book began with a loose outline that changed as I wrote. (All first drafts do this, right?) The good news is, I really got to know my cast of characters during NANO. But now, as I craft my Beat Sheet, I realize that many of them have to go. There are way too many people in this story! And my protagonist (hero) has too many problems. She needs one major “flaw” and a focused need. When reading over my first draft, I also realized that the arc of the story is draggy in the middle and rushed at the end. But with the Beat Sheet, I’m ready to begin draft #2 with a much tighter story. My characters (the ones that survive) are more interesting and directed, my obstacles are more devastating, and my ending is more satisfying. I still have A LOT OF WORK TO DO, but I’m pumped and raring to go. I’ll still devote November to writing a draft, but I’ll be doing it at my own pace.

 

Now if only I could master Scrivener. Coral sent me a webinar on that, too. I’ve had it on my computer for years and keep planning to learn how to use it. Maybe in December…

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