When I wrote my book The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the things that really captivated me was how Leonardo learned a lot from an early scholar and scientist, Alhazen. I’d never heard of Alhazen before, but he did a lot of exciting work.
It turns out Alhazen is the Latinized version of his real name, Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham. He’s was a polymath and studied optics. He was a leader during the Islamic Golden Age. There are some books about him, and he wrote books himself. But the world could always use more books and I hope someone writes a book for kids exploring how Hasan Ibn al-Haytham saw the world.
Take a look at this Wikipedia page about him and explore the primary and secondary sources at the bottom of the entry to find further reading!
I’ve attended so many excellent Highlights Foundation courses over the past several years. Each one has helped me uncover big and small ways to develop my creativity and productivity.
Now I’m so thrilled to be announce I’m working with the Highlights Foundation! I’m so honored to be helping an incredible faculty at the online summer workshop on writing nonfiction for kids. Check out this workshop and all of their other offerings and sign up today!
I’m sure some people are wondering: are virtual author visits for students worth it? The answer is YES.
I had a fantastic time visiting five classrooms last week over Zoom. I know it’s been hard not seeing people in person, but I was so grateful for this opportunity. The students, from first grade to fifth grade, were polite and funny and curious and wonderful. I shared some of my favorite Leonardo da Vinci stories and they shared their ideas and questions. If you’ve been wondering if virtual author visits are worth it, they are.
I don’t know if I’ll ever write a book about Margaret Morse Nice, but now that I have visited the land where she lived and studied birds, I feel more connected to her.
I visited Columbus, Ohio in late April 2021 and made the effort to get to Tuttle Park, which was once the property she called Interpont. Tuttle Park basically covers the 60 acres where she and her family lived. Thanks to help from Sheila Fagan, Community Outreach Coordinator, from the Columbus Audubon for doing the research to discover this.
My son and only explored a tiny section of the park, but I was able to add a life list bird, a blue-grey gnatcatcher. We saw numerous other kinds of birds: swallows, robins, cardinals, a hawk launched itself from a branch above our heads, ducks, geese, cormorants, a Carolina wren, starlings, goldfinches, and more.
We had a delightful time exploring the woodsy banks of the Olentangy River.
When I write nonfiction, I love to visit the important places in the story whenever possible. It helps me hold the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the place in my mind as a I write. I love feeling connected to the place.
Margaret Morse Nice studied many kinds of birds. Her nonfiction book, The Watcher at the Nest, “almost single-handedly initiated a new era in American ornithology and the only effective counter movement against the list-chasing movement,” according to Ernst Mayr. We were watchers at a nest, too. We saw this robin building a nest.
The Watcher at the Nest focused on song sparrows. We only heard a brief song sparrow song in this visit. I had hoped to see some, and photograph them. I imagined I’d be seeing the descendants of Uno and 4M, the birds she studied. The tantalizing bit of song will do until I can visit again.
We did get to enjoy a lovely Carolina wren singing its heart out. And I know there’s more to discover in this lively park!
What’s the word for when you’re learning about one topic, you need to learn about several other things to help you understand the main topic?
I’m learning a lot about birding. This means I also have to learn the names of local trees and plants so I can better understand what birds are in a certain habitat. And so I can tell people “the bird is in that oak tree.” AND so when people say “It flew into that privet bush” I know where to look.
But birders don’t just look for birds. We listen. I’ve been learning a lot of bird songs. I need to know not only what birds sing which songs, but what sounds aren’t bird songs.
So I also needed to learn the sounds that chipmunks, squirrels and frogs make – because they can make sounds that sound like birds.
Recently, I wrote a book about plastic pollution in the ocean. It’s called Ocean Plastics Problem and it’s part of the Max Axiom and the Super Scientists Series. I had to learn a lot about chemistry to be able to explain how plastic is made and why it’s such a problem in our oceans.
I had a similar experience trying to write my forthcoming book The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci.In order to understand how he describes the way heart valves work so that I could explain it to young readers, I had to learn all about the physics of flowing water.
There’s got to be a word for the kind of chain-reaction learning, or connected learning, that comes with exploring a new topic. WHAT IS IT?? Do you know??
Do you want to write poetry, but think you can’t? Try not really writing poetry. Try finding it.
I like reading poetry and I like trying to write poetry, but I’m no expert. Poetry can be intimidating. It can be hard to think of the right words. There are a few ways you can write poetry without writing poetry.
My middle son recently did a cut-and-paste poetry. He cut words out of magazines.
You can also try blackout poetry. My kids did this in school for years. They used pages from books, but I will use anything. The backs of receipts, junk mail, whatever.
Need some ideas for bored kids? Many years ago, I sold an essay to Family Fun magazine about a “what to do” idea cube. My kids took an old box and covered it with construction paper. They wrote six ideas, one of each side of the cube. They rolled the cube and voila, they did the activity. Give it a try if your kids are bored. Here are some ideas of what to write on the cube.
Try a new food.
Cook something for someone else.
Invent a recipe.
Invent a character. Describe what they like, don’t like, how they look, their fears, their loves.
Draw a map.
Create an invention.
Trace a shadow then fill it with a new drawing.
Make a map out of natural elements (leaves, twigs, rocks, etc.)
Make a portrait with natural elements.
Close your eyes and listen to sounds outdoors. Write down what you hear.
Read a new book.
Do a jigsaw puzzle.
How long can you balance on each leg?
Write a letter to a friend or family member.
Do something you don’t like to do.
Fix something that is broken.
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