Good morning, Discovery:

I'm blown away by the creative approaches you're taking to writing about the real world. Make no mistake, you are doing something very ambitious and you are not taking the easy way out. It will be exciting to see how your work turns out. Go for it! I look forward to seeing your work published in our wiki.


Yes, I agree with using the terms, "author's approach," when discussing how we are going to think about our writing. We will continue to look at different author's approaches this week and I'll post how it goes on the wiki. Here are some of the ideas that fourth grade had about their writing after we looked at the authors' approaches to their writing:

Shakira: I am going to write a blog/advice book written from a dog's point of view. The dog will write advice to humans about how we can be better dog owners.

Kelsey: I am going to write a diary of Pele's soccer ball. The soccer ball is telling interesting facts about Pele through the diary and it's going through all of his practices and games.

Laurel: My plan is interviewing Adolf Hitler about his life. I'm going to go back to World War II and then to the future and tell how he died.

Claire: I am going to either write a diary or letters home from a girl who is eleven years old and traveling on the Titanic II.

David: I'm going to write a book called The Ultimate Guide to Fudge. It will tell how fudge is made and about popular fudge around the world.

Molly: I'm going to write a book called My Life In a Black Hole. It will be about a star who got swallowed by a bully, Danny the black hole, and is writing letters to his mom with facts about black holes.

Katherine Elizabeth: I am writing a book called Postcards From the Pound and I will start each letter with Dear owner that could be mine...

Kaylin: I am going to build a timeline about origami and build on it. I am going back in history and creating origami creatures.

Benjamin: I am writing a Who Would Win one basketball team against another.

Grace: I am going to write a diary of a Greek daughter whose dad is a soldier and teaches her gymnastics.

Jaden: I am going to make a guide about how to operate the internet. The person makes many mistakes.

Brennan: I plan on making a comic book and telling about how a kid goes to art and tries to paint.

Anna: I am going to write a newspaper entirely about Ares, the Greek god. The headline will be about how two giants threw him into a huge glass bottle.

Jordan: Today I decided I am going to do a foal's blog. He/she is learning all about his/herself every day and puts a new fact on the blog.

Webb: My book is going to be about the Ring of Fire. It is a man vs/ wild book about a ten year old kid who was running one night and all the volcanoes near where he lived just erupted and he's stuck in the middle of all of the lava.

Spencer: In my research, I have found some side effects that may happen when playing video games. So, I want to make comics of the side-effects to kind-of warn people in a funny way.

?Not sure who this is...no name on paper- I'm going to do a diary-it's going to be about a fly, trying to learn about her enemies, carnivorous plants, to defeat them.

Kylie: My partenr Kaylin had an idea for me today. She said I could take little kids from each culture and have them show a painting from their place and tell about it. I think I'm going to do that.

? No name...Martial arts originates from India, too. I'm going to publish a post card/letter about Monks devoting their lives to karate.


Hello Discovery:

I have to say I've been confused by your term "publishing" when you talk about nonfiction. But this last post by your teacher has straightened me out. Publishers refer to "genre" to describe a book as a picture book, a chapter book, an activity book, fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction, biography, memoir, etc. Within a genre such as nonfiction, authors take various "approaches." The work can be "inquiry driven" where it answers questions; it can be a narrative; it can integrate art and text; it can be verse. The author's point of view can be shifted from first person, to third person or from some aspect of the subject matter. I have used many approaches in my books. My book What's the BIG Idea? Uses inquiry, narrative, and integrated activities. I also use persuasive language, and themes. In the "Body Battles" series the theme is how the body heals injury or fights disease. It shows how the various systems of the body work together when there is a threat. Most books about the human body are simply descriptive, explaining the different systems of the body. Descriptive nonfiction writing is, for the most part, pretty flat and uninteresting for the reader. Good nonfiction writers try and put the information in some kind of context: how a problem is solved, how a phenomenon is explained, and always, there is a way for the reader to connect meaningfully to the subject matter. They also experiment with writing styles, point of view, and integration of art. I think it is very useful to examine different books and see the tremendous range of creativity good nonfiction writers bring to their craft. You will come to appreciate that just reciting the facts is a pretty boring way to talk about the real world. So I would call what you are doing an examination of the "author's approach" to the material. By the way, this same kind of analysis can also be applied to fiction.

Today in fourth grade we talked about different ways that nonfiction share information in fun ways for kids. We looked at a couple of books and noticed how each author published in a different way. In Loreen Leedy's Postcards From Pluto, we noticed three things. Leedy likes to use cartoon characters, she shared information about the solar system through postcards, and she also wrote poems! In the Question and Answer Series books by Scholastic, we noticed that the authors Melvin and Gilda Berger ask interesting questions and answer them with a short answer. The types of questions that were asked were questions that kids would ask so they were also thinking about their audience when they published this book. Jerry Pallotta likes to face two animals off in his Who Would Win series. We discussed how you could face any two subjects off...even cherry and apple pie. The important thing to remember in this case is that you need to know the same amount of informationfor both subjects that you will compare. The last book we looked at was I Survived The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912. This book is more of a historical fiction book that puts the main character in the time period of a major event in history. It is written from a child's point of view and includes historical information. After we studied many examples, we also brainstormed other ways that we could share our own information that we've learned. We created an anchor chart and as you can see, it includes many of the types of writing that our children are accustomed to: e-mails, blogs, texts, and Facebook pages.


I'm glad your students are starting to write. Please tell them that I'm hoping they will want to rewrite after they meet me. Learning to write is a process, just like learning how to play a musical instrument. There are a lot of things to think about when you decide to write: what you want to say, if you know enough about the subject to make a point, who you're saying it to, how you're going to say it..... Most people think that if they get words on paper, where no words existed before, that's enough. It's only a beginning. The most amazing thing about writing is how important sleeping is to the process. I find that when I read something I wrote the day before, I always see something new I can change. So it takes at least a few days to write something you can let go of. It is important that they learn this.

Now, as to your career as a budding scientist. After I laughed out loud at your entry below, I must congratulate you on coming up with a whole series of testable questions--the goal of every scientist. Poop is definitely worthy of study! During graduate school I worked in a lab in a hospital for a scientist who was researching a drug that could lower the cholesterol level in the blood. This was before the discovery of statins. The hospital kitchen made him a liquid diet where they knew exactly how much he was eating--carbs, proteins, fats. He then collected all the waste that came out of his body. I analyzed his urine for its total nitrogen content. This number was compared to the amount of protein he ate. If his total nitrogen was a bigger number than the nitrogen in his food, they knew that the drug was breaking down some of his muscle mass. He also collected his poop in mason jars--a whole refrigerator full of them. I was to analyze that for fatty acids. However, I got my degree and left before I got to that part of the job. (Whew!) So I'm glad that your scientific curiosity and that of your girls' is getting beyond any negative feelings about dog poop.

I'm wondering about the indigenous Tennessee dung beetles. You might just make a discovery that will clean up a lot of backyards for dog owners.


Some of my sixth graders started writing today and I'm excited for them to share with you on Wednesday! Since the kids have started writing, I thought I better get to thinkin' too! I've been playing around with the idea of writing something like a Fly Guy Presents...Dung Beetle version or Diary of a Dung Beetle or something with dung experiments. My girls were picking up dog poop out of the backyard over spring break and I wondered if dung beetles could eat our dog poop so we wouldn't have to clean it up. Thinking on those lines led me to think that publishing a book of backyard experiments that we conducted in our own backyard would be a lot of fun and have a personal touch because we're taking part in the experimentation ourselves and telling our personal story of how things worked out. So, today the experimenting began. The girls picked up all of the poop this weekend, so we started with a clean yard. Today, there were two fresh piles of dog poop in our yard (we're going to keep track of the number of piles each day). My daughter told me she thought maybe she's seen something like a beetle in the dog poop when she's picked it up before. I wondered if we would find beetles in our dog poop today. They do like fresh poop because they suck the liquid nutrients out of it! Sadly, we inspected both piles and found nothing. We are going to inspect again tomorrow afternoon and count the number of piles as well. I talked with a local professor of biology at Middle Tennessee State University in the car duty line today after school. You know, hanging out talking about dung beetles! I asked him if he knew which dung beetles were native to our area and he is going to find out for me. If we do not find any traces of beetles in our dog poop, we are going to try to get a hold of some dung beetles that are native to this area of Tennessee and let them loose in our yard. Based on my research, I knew that they would not pose any other threats to our yard. They only eat dung, so we would not have to worry about them becoming pests and eating other things in our garden if they run out of dog poop! So, that's where I'm at with my writing so far. I've also brainstormed several questions that my backyard research will hopefully answer. Here are some of the questions that I hope we will be able to answer:
  1. Do dung beetles eat dog poop?
  2. How long will it take for the beetles to eat one pile of dog poop?
  3. If we find dung beetles in our backyard, which type do we have (dwellers, tunnelers, or rollers)?
  4. What do dung beetles do with the dog poop (leave it on top of soil, take it underground, make tunnels in it, etc.)?
  5. If we collect the beetles and keep them together, how quickly will they reproduce? How long can they live?
  6. If we have to introduce new beetles to our backyard, will they eat our dog's poop (some will not eat the poop if the dog has specific flea/tick medicine)
  7. If we introduce new beetles, will it cut down on the amount of poop in our backyard?
  8. Will there be enough poop in our backyard to keep the dung beetles around?
  9. If we find dung beetles in our backyard, are they more active during the day or at night (observation)?

We have taken photos and marked our dog poop for day one of our investigations! I'll keep you posted. What do you think about this idea for my published piece? I feel like it may take a while to finish this, but it will be a fun project and what I've learned so far helps me generate the questions I need to ask in this experimentation process. Any feedback is welcome :).


Sarah: These are very good questions. I'm soooo impressed! These are the best questions so far! If the students research to find the answers, they'll see that the answers are not simple. Also, they'll see that the questions will change slightly as the find the answers. Now what we're looking for is a sense of urgency to start writing. Tell the students that they'll know when they've finished their researching when they have enough information to want to share it with others. It's a feeling you get that if you don't start writing you'll either burst or start forgetting all you've learned. So I suggest that people start writing and that will make my next ivcs more meaningful as we discuss some of the problems we have to solve as writers. When they start writing here are some things I think about:

Who wants to know about this? How can I get my reader interested in what I have to say? How can I write to keep my reader interested. You might want to share this post with your students. Begin with a bang and end with a snap
I think our next ivc will be really productive if the students have started writing. Tell them to be prepared to rewrite after they hear me. It will be worth the effort, I promise, as they see how much they've learned and improved.


Here are the questions that fourth grade came up with today.

Mason: Did the Vietnam soldiers have the same vehicles as the Americans in the Vietnam War?

Ella: Which one of Dr. Seuss' books is the most famous and why?

Becka: Why are polar bears hunted?

Alex: Why was it that if the slaves masters went to war, the slaves had to still be in charge of the property? Couldn't they just escape because no one was watching them?

Lily Beth: Why did Hitler loathe the Jews so much? Did he have a bad memory about them?

Baylor: Why did the U.S. not drop a bomb on North Korea when we had the chance (in the Korean War)?

Emma Kate: Why don't boy gymnasts use the uneven bars?

Henry: How did World War Two affect the way that other countries looked at America? Why did they see us that way?

Sean: Is there life on new planets that scientists have discovered?

Ethan: Why is it that if something goes in a black hole, it doesn't come out?

Spencer: How big is bigfoot?

Nevaeh: How long do salamanders live and where do they live the longest?

Emma Jean: What is the oldest mummy recorded and were there mummies in different places?

Caden: What percentage of spiders are cannibals?

Robbie: Can't elements be converted into protons, neutrons, and electrons?

Emma Kate: How many species of hairworms are there and do they all share the same host?

Jacob: Why is Japan's population so big? Are they doing anything to control it?

Marissa: Why are tasmanian devils endangered?

Zion: What is the difference between the ABA and the NBA?

Sloan: What are the main things you do in gymnastics?

Chloe: Where do walruses live and why?

Suren: How do electric fish eat their food?

Haley: Do all jellyfish live to be the same age?

Lindsey: What is the most common form of African art and when is it used?

These questions are much better! The kids are zeroing in on something to discuss. I want them to write something they can each be proud of. Length is not an issue. Even a well-crafted paragraph is enough if it makes a point. So I'm just going to make the comments "expand" and "focus" to tell them that they need to either expand the concept or narrow it as feedback. And I'll let the ones know when their question can now start directing the writing by saying "Spot on. Go for it!" And in order to make the writing original, I want them to put themselves into the picture. I'll elaborate on that idea when I talk to the groups about writing. But they need to think about who they're talking to when they write. It's not just about getting words down. They are communicating a discovery to someone and they want them to be interested. There are several strategies on how to do this that I'll elaborate on as we go along.

Maybe the kids that want to start writing, should start? Then I can give them feedback on their approach.


Here are the fifth grade questions from today...

Connor: What is the 13th planet called and what are its characteristics? Focus

Jadyn: How does a bird become a state bird? Focus. My guess is that every state has it's own procedure--tell the story of one state bird.

Isabelle: What fish is the biggest fish in the sea? Which i? Expand.

Kendall: How do you care for pet guinea pigs? Find an angle that will make people want to know what you have to say.

Fant: Why is LSU so good in the tiger stadium? Why? is a tough question to answer. Maybe look at "How" they get to be so good.

Wyatt: How many games has Kobe Bryant won in his career? Expand

Julian: What is the max salary an NBA player can make? Expand

Kurt: Why was Aprodite the only goddess that had no parents? interesting. Expand

Sydney: Do wolves bark? Expand

Corrie: How well do badgers and coyotes work together? Focus. Pick one way they work together and the mutual benefits to each.

Jasmine: What was the greatest academic breakout in history? Not sure what you mean by "academic breakout." Focus

Andrew: How many flavors of Coke are there? Expand

Nico: How does Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey get more advertisements than Disney? Expand

Miguel: Why did other armies adopt the idea of greek fire? You're spot on! Go for it!

Landry: What is the most recent nuclear testing? Focus

Katie: What is being done to help save snow leopards? You're spot on! Go for it.

Austin: Why are power forwards important in basketball?
You're spot on! Go for it.

Wyn: Why is Maddie Gardner the best cheerleader in the world?
You're spot on! Go for it.

Sienna: How can killer whales be a predator of the blue whale if they're bigger?
You're spot on! Go for it.

Autumn: Why are American Eskimo dogs called American Eskimos if they are not american or eskimo?
You're spot on! Go for it.

Phoebe: Why do chihuahuas not grow much from when they are born like other dogs do?
You're spot on! Go for it.

Malinda: Why do llamas spit a lot?
You're spot on! Go for it.

Sandra: Why are labrador retrievers the most loved dogs in America?
You're spot on! Go for it.

Piper: How smart are dolphins compared to humans? Focus

Molly: Is there a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower and if so what is its name? Expand

Alec: Can daddy longlegs bite other spiders? Expand

Elizabeth: Why do bears break into trash cans? Expand.


I'm going to go through the questions and make comments. Your students should bear in mind that questions about information are NOT the same as the question to be answered in an article. They should also be aware that, as they become more deeply involved in their research, their question will probably change and this is a good thing. So I'm going to give some quick feedback so that when they research, they become more focused on the the kinds of things that help to answer their big questions. A couple of people have asked really meaningful questions for research. If they read my comments, they can see the kinds of things that lead to more directed research.


Here are the other sixth grade questions that they will answer with their research:

Josh- How did SAAB end? Is this the automobile? Is is a story? If so why is it interesting? Why are you interested in it?

Nathan-What are some characteristics of the blobfish? You need a point of view. What characteristics help the blobfish survive? How do they do this? What is particularly interesting about the blobfish? Why does it interest you?

Celeste-Why do male actors have a larger salary than females? If this is true, it's an excellent question with many factors behind it. It can be a lot more than a one-sentence answer.

Lindsey- What year had the most viewers for the Grammy Awards? Who won the most Grammy's this year? This is a question about information that can be answered by a Google search. If you're interested in the Grammys, you might want to do some research on what happens to an artist after winning the award. Is it a game-changer for the artists career?

Madeline- Do therapists charge more for therapies for phobias as opposed to other issues? This may be answered yes or no. It's a fact. You need to think of an interesting angle to this.

Grace- How much does an African serval cost? This is a question of fact. You need to think of an angle and something that has more depth.

Abby- How do squirrel monkeys act around humans? How do they act as pets? A better question for your research is: A Squirrel Monkey Pet: Pros and Cons

Payton- Who started Bugatti and what motivated him? Good question, go for it. Put in some biography.

Sarah- How do fangtooth fish mate and do they mate for life or temporarily? This is a good question to start your research but you need to find a better angle once you get into it.

Zoe- What do recurring dreams mean and what's the psychology behind the recurring dreams? This is a HUGE and exciting topic. Start researching and find some aspect that is smaller than you'd like to explore in depth.

Kylie- What is the main cause of gum disease? What are ways to prevent gum disease? Gum disease is a serious problem. See if you can write something that will convince people that they need to take care of their gums. Look for startling and interesting facts about gum disease.

Aysha- What's the most popular music produced by dj's? Why is this an interesting topic? Why does it interest you? What is the significance of the answer?

Evan- Where are sinkholes most likely to form? How to stay away from those areas. Good question. Go for it.

John- Would you want to buy a J-3 Cub? Why would you want to do it? I have no idea what a J-3 Cub is. I'm looking forward to your paper.

Logan- How do a telescope work? You might want to look into the first telescopes and the worlds they opened up. They are easier to explain than modern ones.

Noah- Ho do you successfully shoot a Barrett 50 caliber gum? Why would others be interested in this? You have to write some motivation into this so people want to know what you mean by "successfully shoot," and what is involved in becoming proficient.


Today I had sixth grade and we tried out your suggestion about deciding on a question that our research would answer. I felt like this strategy really helped to focus their research and I was very proud of all we accomplished. Here are the questions that each student decided on:

Grace: What are the plagues of the rapture and what are the implications of each for humans? Good question. Go for it. When you write it you have to define "plagues of the rapture" for people who don't know what they are.

Grace: What are some of the most popular beliefs about the anti-christ? Good question. Make sure that you document your sources and define your terms for people who don't know about this.

Maddie: What are some of the most famous prophecies of Nostradamus? Give background on Nostradamus. Emphasize the most meaningful aspects of his prophecies.

Stephanie: Do Megalodons still exist? This can be answered with a yes or no . You need to expand your interest and explain it.

Joseph: How was the Civil Rights movement related to the beginnings of the Harlem Globetrotters?Outstanding question! This shows a real direction in your thinking, connecting two events in history. Go for it!!!!

Jordan: How much damage can an assassin bug do to a human? What is an assassin bug? You need to broaden your research.

Collin: What is the process of creating music? Interesting question. You might focus on one composer and examine his or her process. Can you interview someone?

Natacha: What do mowing goats do when they retire? What is a mowing goat? Are they like sheep that used to eat grass and create lawns back before there were lawn mowers? If so, I think this is a very interesting question and could be a very amusing piece.

Regan: Which animals prey on cookie cutter sharks and why? Regan hasn't read about any predators so she's interested in finding out if they have any. Good question. This research will take you someplace.

Hannah: How do we research about Siberian tigers if they live in such remote areas? Excellent question. You might look into the "Scientist in the Field" series. I like research questions that ask "How?"

Taylor: Which are the best countries to go eat cookies? Taylor started out learning about female inventors, then chocolate chip cookies, and then she found there are many versions from many different countries. I'm not sure if this question fits her research just right. It sounds like Taylor found one invention that captured her interest. I think a paper on the variations on the c.c. cookie from different countries is interesting.

Harper: How do you battle with Pokemon cards? Here is what Harper is working on... Wow! It looks like Harper has already done his research and is writing away. Make sure that you put something in about why this game is interesting/important/fascinating especially to you personally.

harper 1.jpgharper 2.jpg

Sam: What can you find in a tiger shark's belly and why? What was the weirdest thing ever found in a tiger shark's belly? I also personally wonder why they eat things that are not edible? This is a very interesting area for research. Go for it!


Hello Vicki,

All of these questions are from the class that I posted last week. You will see some of the same names so we will be able to follow a few of these students and how their work is progressing. Here's what they'd like to share with you:

Corrie: Badgers and coyotes hunt and sometimes play together. I want to learn more about coyotes and badgers. I'm not finding enough information but I think I'm doing well overall. (posted last week)
Corrie, I've found a couple of sites you might want to check out:
Animal Planet:
and here is a blog post with a video about the relationship:
-Mrs. Svarda

Autumn: I have a few questions. I am pretty much done with all my research on American Eskimo dogs, but I can't decide what to do with my information: if I should make a book or a movie? I have an American Eskimo dog at home so a movie would be no problem, but a book would be really fun, too. What do you think I should do? Movie or book? All creative works start with the writing. I suggest you write an article and illustrate it with photos of your dog.

Nico: I changed my subject from Universal Studios to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (which is a ride at Universal). I'm finding much more facts now. And questions, too. Like it's not a roller coaster, it's a scenic dark ride. (posted last week)
P.S. Nico is visiting Universal soon!

Julian: The NBA has a lot of endorsements.
Julian is researching about NBA players and specific products they endorse. An interesting aspect of this is the contracts that the manufacturers expect the players to honor, particularly when it comes to off-court conduct.

Jasmine: Black death was thought to have been caused by rats, although actually it was the fleas they carried. Rats would live in the city filth, breed, and transfer fleas to one another.

Isabelle: I feel really good about my research and I am learning a lot. My topic is whale sharks. The only thing is I have only found a few sites/books about my topic, but I have lots of information. Start thinking about how to shape that information to answer a meaningful question that will interest others.

Sienna: I learned a really weird but awesome fact about blue whales. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant!
Sienna: I think this fact is crazy cool! I'm wondering where you found this information? You need to be sure to cross-check it and make sure that the information is correct. Always double check and use more than one source when you find something really interesting like this. How do they know that fact? Have they weighed a tongue?

I had one student who wanted to share this fact, but I cannot read their name on their paper. Here is what the mystery student wanted you to know:
When hermit crabs molt, they become carnivorous and they will eat their exoskeleton for extra nutrients.

Connor: My research has been going great. At first, I thought there wouldn't be anything about my topic, but I found so many things. (posted last week about 10th planet) Connor used the NASA site today and found lots of good information there!

Elise (Anonymous last week): Dear Vicki, Your research help was great. Mrs. Svarda gave me a book and everything is going perfect. I just need something for my final project. I need help coming up with an idea.
Elise is learning about the female Irish pirate-Grace O'Malley.

Katie: Dear Vicki Cobb, My research is going downhill a little. I haven't found much information about snow leopards that I didn't already know. Can you help me get unstuck? (posted last week)

Sandra: I was doing great but feel like I got a downfall this week. I was citing my sources today but I feel like I need some more interesting facts. My topic is Labrador Retrievers. Sometimes all you need is one very interesting fact that you can investigate in depth. What is the most outstanding characteristic of a Lab? What kind of work are they especially good at?

Elizabeth: I am learning about black bears and am not getting very far with my research. Please help me. Today Elizabeth posted that she learned black bears are called the American Black Bear because there is an asian species, too. You need to dig deep, away from the usual boring sources, to find just one interesting idea about an animal that you can explore more deeply.


I have a different type of question for you. This is a from one of my fourth graders who is working on her published work. She is in the class that I used as my guinea pigs before the two of us started working together. Her name is Brooke. She is writing a story similar to Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm and Diary of a Fly and Diary of a Spider. Brooke's work is phenomenal and she really has a knack for writing in a similar fashion as Cronin and integrating what she's learned as well. We thought we could send her work to Doreen, but we can't find her contact information anywhere online. Her website is no longer available. Any ideas? I'm attaching some pictures of Brooke's work for you to see!

brooke 1.jpgbrooke 2.jpg

The only thing I can think of is to network through all the writers I know. Let's see what turns up. Vicki
I've heard from a friend who knows Doreen's books. No one seems to have her email and I'm not sure why her website has disappeared but it may be because she doesn't want to get any email from people. I think you'll have to let go of the idea of contacting her. Brooke will just have to be satisfied that she does great work! Sometimes you have to wait a looooong time for recognition--take it from someone who knows about this first hand. :)

I e-mailed Vicki Cobb some examples of the student journals that we took notes in today using InstaGrok. Here is what she replied:

These journals are great! The next questions for the kids to wrestle with are:

Why am I interested in this topic? What drew me to it?
What have I discovered that really surprised me? Grabbed my attention?

How can I tell someone about what I have discovered so that they will be interested in it?


Here are pictures of a few of the journals. This was after one day of Grokking and taking notes:

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 9.52.33 PM.png

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 9.48.41 PM.png

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 9.50.44 PM.png

I have two things to share with you in this post.

First, I asked my students to write you a short letter today. The class I worked with was the fifth grade class you have Skyped with. I've grabbed a mix of letters to give you an idea of how the kids are feeling about their research. I asked them to share what was on their minds. Whether they are feeling good about their research, the information they are finding, and if they are on the right track. I explained to the students that in the next couple of weeks (maybe by the time our spring break comes...first week of April) they should feel like they have so much information they have learned that they will start thinking about how they might like to publish their work. So here is what some of the kids are saying:

Phoebe: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I feel pretty good about my research but I need more websites because most of them have the same facts. Hi Phoebe. I'd like to help you but you didn't tell me the area you're researching.

Kendall: Dear Mrs. Vicki Cobb,
I feel that I am doing great on my research topic. I do need more facts, though. I haven't become the expert yet. My topic is guinea pigs. Hi Kendall. I wrote a book called This Place Is High, about life in Bolivia and Peru in the Andes Mountains. When I was there I found out that they ate Guinea Pigs. You might want to look into farming them for food. Here are some links about that:
http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/Guinea_pigs http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2011/09/guinea-pig-farm-peru-panorama/

Katie: Dear Vicki Cobb,
My research is improving since day one, but I'm not becoming the expert. We don't have any snow leopard books in the library, so I'm going to the public library. What are some good sites you recommend? Hi Katie: This is a National Geographic site that has a lot of material on snow leopards: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/snow-leopard/ This link has some videos you might engoy.http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Snow_Leopard You don't have to be an expert. You just have to learn enough to write something that interests others.

Fant: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I feel great about my research. I am headed in the direction of learning about Death Valley (not the one in California-LSU's stadium). Hi Fant:I wrote a book called This Place Is Dry. It's about the Sonoran Desert in Arizona also known as a "green" desert because it is not so dry and there is a lot of vegetation. Pick one aspect of Death Valley and explore that. Here are some images for the pioneers who crossed Death Valley. There are also some hair-raising stories of people who survived crossing it. Here's a great link that may give you some ideas.

Jadyn: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I feel good about my writing. I'm doing U.S. state birds. Did you know Alaska was the last state to choose a bird for their state? Hi Jadyn. I did not know that about Alaska. Does every state have a bird? I think the topic is quite large if that is so why don't you pick one state, and write about why a particular bird was chosen for that state?

Molly: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I'm researching about the Eiffel Tower and I think I'm doing a good job. I'm still researching, but I think I have a good start. Hi Molly: Glad to hear you have everything under control. At one point the Eiffel Tower was the highest man-made structure on Earth. It's still quite a commanding structure. There are many aspects you can write about--what it took to get it built, what it came to symbolize, how people reacted to it, what people think about it today.

Corrie: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I am researching badgers and I feel like I'm doing well. I'm getting interested in the relationship between coyotes and badgers. Hi Corrie: I'm glad you're focusing on a small aspect on the relationship between two species. Keep on digging. I didn't know they had a relationship. Very interesting.

Malinda: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I don't feel like I'm getting enough info. I've looked up facts lots of times, but what I'm finding isn't really what I had in mind. I was hoping to find things not a lot of people knew, but most facts I've seen have nothing to do with my subject. My subject is llamas. Any tips? Hi Malinda: I wrote about llamas in my book This Place Is High about life in the Andes Mountains. You might look into how these animals are farmed on the Altiplano, you might also want to compare them to the Yak, a similar "beast of burden" that lives in the Himalayas. I was struck, when I met the llamas in Peru, with their disposition. Here's a link that describes their personality.

Sydney: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I can't find a fact that grabs my interest. I can't narrow my research. I do like my topic. Hi Sydney, I'm glad you like your topic but I can't help you if I don't know what it is.

Miguel: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I am sort of struggling because my topic is Greek fire. Not a lot of people or websites have good information. The sites even are about a band sometimes. Any advice? Hi Miguel: Interesting topic. Here's a link that describes its use. It is a very interesting topic because many people don't know about it. I certainly didn't. Normally I don't recommend a wikipedia article but this link has some interesting material under "Siphon Projectors.. If you can talk about some of this material in your own words, you're almost there. Here's a link for a lot of images about Greek fire but some don't refer to ancient times.

Anonymous: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I'm happy to tell you that I'm doing pretty well but I don't have any interesting facts. I'm researching Grace O'Malley the famous Irish pirate. At first I was learning about Ireland. What can I research that will get me out of this stuck stage? What would be interesting to my readers? P.S. I can't find any books and all the images are let's say a little adult. :) Hi anonymous (not sure why you want to keep your identity a secret). This looks like an interesting site about her http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nwa/grace.html What interests you about Grace O'Malley? If you think about that it will give you a clue to what will interest your readers. Keep on digging. One thing about research is that sometimes you have to wade through a lot of boring stuff to hit the interesting stuff.

Alec: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I feel like I am doing very well with my research. I have a lot of facts and I am forming the book in my head (daddy longlegs vs. black widow). Hi Alec: Sounds like you have a GREAT theme. Look at the environments of each spider and how they are adapted to survive. You might check out Nic Bishop's book Spiders.

Connor: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I have a question for you. I am learning about a 10th planet that scientists discovered in 2003. Do you think that is big or a just right topic? Thanks. Hi Connor: Not many people know about this planet. I can't answer how big the topic is. You need to write about what you find interesting about it. It will be exactly as long as it needs to be for you to get your point across.

Nico: Dear Vicki Cobb,
I know a lot about Orlando Universal but I don't know how to put it down. I need help.Hi Nico: People are not interested in the facts about Orlando Universal unless they are integrated into your experience of the place. I suggest you tell a story of your personal journey there and insert the facts along with your experience of it.

So, you can see that we have students in many different stages. I feel like some have really narrowed their topic based on some really cool dash facts they've found. I feel like we have other students who have still not found that fact that gets them really excited about going in a specific direction. I've found that the kids that have Skyped with you have more drive in their research. It is hard to give the "real" experience to the students who haven't met face-to-face with you yet. In the future, I would like to have you work with only one or two groups so the experience can be more intimate. It does help, though, to have the communication with you here on the wiki. I think these letters will give you lots to think of and keep you pretty busy in the following days :). We look forward to hearing back from you.

Oh, the second thing I wanted to share with you was a site that I ran across reading another techy librarian's blog this weekend. All of my kids have tried it out for their research this week. It's like Google, but it organizes the information you are looking for in a nice web. You can even create your own journal where you can pin pictures and facts that you've learned. I've had the kids write what they've learned in their own words instead of pinning information others have written. I'd say 90% of our kids like the site so far. Here is the link if you want to check it out:
I've e-mailed the creators of the site about a couple of questions the kids have had. We're waiting to hear back about their answers. I also don't like the pictures that come up first when you get to the site. Don't pay attention to those...I feel like they are too overwhelming and messy. You can create a login and you will get a free trial for seven days. We used the graph tab to decide what we wanted to learn about our topics and the journal tab to take notes. You can also e-mail or share your Grok with others. Let us know what you think about it! I checked it out and looked up "hurricanes." I was pleased to see a discussion of a hurricane as a heat engine. It also had a LOT of facts. I think it is a very useful site.The challenge is always to come up with an angle that no one has discussed. In our next ivc session, I want to show the children how to take ownership of their research and write in their own words and voices. It is a good source for divergent thinking about a topic, which gives students many directions to go in with their own research.


You are quite right. Your research is uncovering material that is fascinating! You are now at the guzinta phase that all of us nf writers reach. This is where the rubber meets the road in the creative process. You are looking for the questions that will organize your material so you come up with your own unique point of view in which you can embed some (not all) of this material. Here's where the craft of writing enters the picture. It's where you have to let go of all the notes you've taken and start thinking about what you've learned. Let's say one objective is that you've found some really interesting stuff and you'd like to share what you've learned so that others will want to learn it as well. As far as I'm concerned, you've accomplished this with me. Your enthusiasm for the dung beetle, and the excitement of your discoveries, which you've communicated to me, got me so interested that I've been reading your sources. So you might want to look back into the notes you've shared with me to see what you said that got me interested.

In my next session with students, I will discuss this part of the process. You've gathered all this interesting material and now you're looking to organize it into a story to tell others. I think it might be useful, in order to make the writing as original as possible, to write from a point of view that describes your personal process in making these discoveries. This will free you from the language of your sources. The whole idea is to get students to use their own voices in the writing process. There are many ways to do this but, for the beginner, I think it is easier to write the story from your own process--in other words you're using yourself as a primary source for the story you're telling. If you can dig deep into your own psyche and describe where your initial interest came from, how some of your research reinforced this interest, how some was boring, but how you ultimately came to this point, you will create a narrative that will engage your readers. In other words, you can write about a process of learning that has a subtext of learning. I'm not sure if I'm making myself clear here, but good writers take readers on a learning journey. The TED speaker spells out quite clearly the series of questions that he and his team posed to learn why the dung beetle moved and "danced" the way it did. You could write something about your process of discovery. What questions did you ask initially? What did you discover? How did this lead you to the new impressive discoveries? What conclusions do you come to from this journey? How do you intend to follow up?

I just sent you a picture postcard of my dung beetle from a great National Geographic site I found! It has great facts for students that are researching about animals. It also includes videos, photographs, and maps for each animal. The link is:
Another great resource I found tonight was a Ted Talk about the research of dung beetles and navigation. The link to the video is here:
I'm finding great dash facts about my dung beetle. I am going to continue to research, but I'm beginning to wonder what I'm going to do with all of these facts that I'm learning....Just wanted to share my thoughts and wonderings. P.S. I'm leaving a picture of my dung beetles here for you and the kids!
dung beetles.jpg
Did you know that hundreds of dung beetles can be in one dung pile at a time?

I have a confession. I have been researching as well. I am interested in learning more about beetles. I have really put my research off for several weeks because I don't seem very excited about it. So, after our last Skype session, I tried the same strategy we talked about with the kids. I picked a few of my favorite dash facts about beetles and went back to those to see if they could take me in a specific direction with my research. So here are the dash facts I was interested in:
  • a few beetles have no eyes
  • female beetles mate only once
  • fire chasing beetles fly toward fires and lay their eggs in the charred wood left over from forest fires
So, I decided to work with the dash fact about beetles with no eyes. I found an article titled: "Dung Beetle Uses the Milky Way For Navigation, First Animal Found To Do So." Oh my goodness. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! Not only did I find a really amazing article, I also was going to get to learn more about dung beetles! You said that our personality should through in our research. I love gross and disgusting but interesting facts. I have to admit that I was getting bored with my research, but now that I've found a dash fact that is interesting to me, I am so excited about learning more! Here are some other facts I've learned about the dung beetle today:
  • dung beetles can roll dung 50x their body weight...that's like me pushing something that weighs 8,500 pounds!
  • dung beetles do a dance on top of the dung...then they hop off and take off in a straight line away from the dung.
  • dung beetles rely on the light of the milky way to make sure they are going the right direction away from the poo.
  • some dung beetles prefer fresh dung and some prefer dried up dung.
  • dung beetles eat the dung of almost every animal in the world...except their own!
  • there are 7,000 types of dung beetles.
  • they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • an entire cow patty can be eaten by dung beetles in a few minutes.
I'm just really excited that we tried this strategy out with the kids. I think it's really working out. I am excited about continuing my research with the kids.
So Sarah, Now you know how it feels to find something. Those wonderful, mysterious, arcane facts that turn up after one starts digging a little bit are what keep us nonfiction authors going! Truth is often stranger than fiction. Not to rain on your parade but I'm curious how sightless dung beetles can navigate with the dim light of the Milky Way. That doesn't make sense to me. It's always helpful, when thinking critically to always be a little skeptical. So my question is always:
How do they know that? Maybe that's the scientist in me speaking. In science, how we know determines what we know. In history and social studies how we know is by who we're quoting and how close the source is to an actual eyewitness to historical events.

I also want to commend you on extending this process to yourself. I have found that many teachers are fearful of letting their own ignorance get in the way of exposing their students to areas in which they're unfamiliar. THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON TO LEARN FOR EVERY HUMAN BEING, IF THEY ARE TO HAVE A FUTURE IN THIS RAPIDLY CHANGING PLANET, IS: HOW DO I LEARN? The way you do research sheds light on your own process. To find your own place in this world, it's helpful to find the things that interest you most and use them to polish your learning skills. I am proud to say that I, too, am learning from this experience of working with you and your students. When something you or your students do makes me ask questions, I go and check it out myself. So I'm not going to wait for you to find out about those blind dung beetles that follow the Milky Way. You've gotten my interest and I can't wait for you to tell me the answer. Google, here I come!

Molly wanted me to share a few things with you. She is researching about black holes. Her dash fact is: There is a supermassive black hole in the heart of each galaxy.
Molly's question is: Can you give me some advice? How can I get some good, interesting facts?
P.S. Molly is using the book called A Black Hole is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano.
Thank you!
I'm not familiar with that book but the best source I know for information about anything astronomical is the NASA website: www.NASA.gov. I just looked up "Black Holes" on it and it's AMAZING! The reading is a bit challenging because it is written by scientists for adults but the photos are all primary source material. Molly can see the same images scientists work from. She can ask questions like "How do we know about black holes?" and see the answers for herself. Also you can LISTEN to a black hole! They have a recording on the website. Molly should poke around and find something that excites her and surprises her and choose that to write about. Here's the link to the starting page on black holes:

Fourth grade was a part of our second Skype session with Vicki Cobb last Friday. This class already had a few dash fact notes about their research when they began their Skype. What I really loved about this session is we learned that your interests can help direct your research. Using Vicki Cobb as our resident research expert, several fourth graders shared their favorite dash facts and we discussed the direction the research could go from that starting point. A great example of this was Aiden. He decided he wanted to research about dinosaurs. Aiden started out his research with a very broad topic. That is perfectly fine for the beginning stages of research. Aiden read through some of the resources we have in the library about dinosaurs and learned that dinosaur bones can regenerate! This is the fact that Aiden shared with Vicki Cobb. We were so excited to brainstorm all of the ways that Aiden's research can go from here! Instead of just continuing to research random dinosaur facts, he can now steer his research in a more specific direction. Here are some of the questions we asked about Aiden's dash fact:
  • Are there other animals that are capable of regeneration?
  • How do scientists know that dinosaurs were capable of regeneration?
  • How does this fact apply to humans? What are the implications of learning more about how regeneration works for humans?
  • Can we find an expert to interview to learn more about regeneration?
After watching this same process happen with several students sharing their dash facts, I realized this is the way to get away from the same old research that we were always asked to do when we were kids. I remember researching and just regurgitating random facts about research I had been assigned. The key here is to find a super-exciting nugget of information that leads you to ask more questions and guide your research. Guiding our research this way makes our learning more original and ours. I'm so excited to see where the students go from here!

We had our first Skype session with Vicki Cobb today and it was great! The kids all enjoyed talking with Vicki and sharing their topics of interest with her. A couple of topics that were shared as possible research topics were: Ruby Falls, nuclear weapons, video games, spiders, and theme parks. Vicki gave each of the students some suggestions about the beginnings of their research process. At the end of our session, the kids shared in their own words what they had learned. Here's what they shared:
  • Find lots of books about your topic.
  • Research more.
  • If you have a broad topic, narrow it down a little bit.
  • As you are reading, look for what really interests you or grabs your attention.
  • Change topics if you find something more interesting. It's o.k. to go a different direction with your research than you planned.
  • At the beginning be open to where your research can take you.
  • Take something personal that means something to you.
  • Find information not many people know about.
  • Your personality needs to be behind what you research.
So, there we have it! Nine easy tips to getting started.

P.S. If you want to check out some of Vicki Cobb's books or videos, visit her website here: Vicki Cobb's Website

If you'd like to see if Linebaugh Library has additional books you need for your research, click here: Linebaugh Library
Click on the left hand tab: Find books, audio, and more
Click to search library catalog

Today I took photos of a few of the fifth grader's wonder topic lists. The idea for brainstorming using a wonder topic list came from author Stephanie Harvey in her book: Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing, and Research in Grades 3-8.
nonfiction matters.jpg
As I browsed the lists, I was so excited about the variety of topics that have been chosen and the many different directions that our research will be headed in the coming weeks. Here are a few of the lists:
Tonight Vicki and I brainstormed what we'd like the beginnings of our project to look like. Each student has their own research notebook and they have brainstormed a list of wonder topics (at least 15). The wonder topic list can include interests, wonderings, travel, favorite subjects, and any other topics the student is interested in. Each student will choose their top three interests from their list. When the students choose their own topics to research, they will be more invested in the research process. We would like to start out by having Skype sessions with Vicki about the following research topics:
  • Reading to learn: find at least 5 or 6 sources from the library (may have to also visit public library), become informed about your topic, ask questions, build your case, and go back to your references to build evidence for the case you are going to make about your topic.
  • Forming a main idea: coming up with a thesis, point of view. Asking, "What can I bring to this work that no one else has?"
  • Author's craft: think about the reader.
We want the students' work to guide the direction we will go with each session. Along with each session, we will post examples of student work.
Our first Skype session is set for Tuesday, February 5th, at 1:35 with fifth grade.