Read a Book / Make a Map


When is a family like a map? 

Help your 3rd and 4th grader explore a metaphor.

This is the story of an old Parisian named Armand, who relished his solitary life. Children, he said, were like starlings, and one was better off without them. But the children who lived under the bridge recognized a true friend when they met one. And it did not take Armand very long to realize that he had gotten himself a ready-made family- one that he loved with all his heart, and one for whom he would have to find a better home than the bridge. Trace the steps of Armand and the children through the streets of Paris and discover just how a family if like a map.

After discovering this mystery, create a map to document the journey.



Why Ask?

I say, "Dissection."
And they say, "Yuk."
There are many reasonable reasons to object. 
But there are also many reasonable reasons to overcome. 
We should first stop to consider that dissection of a frog, for example, provides a way for our students to experience the complexity of life, the ecology of biological systems, and organs that are similar to our own. Frogs are an important part of the food chain, being consumed on a regular basis by snakes, birds, and even human beings. We teach about it: Hawk eats the snake that ate the frog that ate the grasshopper that ate the grass. And so it goes, day after day in the wild. Still, I always begin dissection reminding students that we are considering something that once lived. This gravity helps to elevate the work at hand but also to exercise empathy. Ultimately dissection is not for the faint of heart. 
In my mind the overarching reason to dissect is to learn to ask a question. Simple questions like, "How does this work?" delightfully lead us to complexities.  
To make the most of dissection, have sketch paper on hand where students can take notes as they work through the process. Here is where the asking begins. Encourage students to jot down questions as they go.
Once the project is complete, they can re-create the details of dissection in their Observation Journal and they can begin looking for answers. This culminating activity will help them to commit the information to memory while simultaneously discovering the WOW inherent to the intricacies of life. 
And if you are simply unable to dissect, use the World Wide Web like Marlo did and conduct a virtual dissection. 
I'll leave you with this from Jonas Salk who developed one of the first successful polio vaccinations: "What people generally think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question." 

Discover Research: Elemental Journal


Get to know the elements!

Chemistry is much more than complicated theories and experiments in the lab. Chemistry is the foundation of literally everything we know. But for our children, chemistry is at best a daunting subject, at worst downright boring. Mention the word chemistry and they will run! 

Honestly, chemistry is no more daunting than any other subject to be mastered. And chemistry is certainly NOT boring! Developing an imaginative view of chemistry is the key to unlocking its wonders.

This discovery journal will guide students on a wonderful voyage through the mysteries of the periodic table. Over the course of a year students curiosity will be piqued as they will research and catalog their findings of 42 of the 144 known elements. Elemental Journal is an interesting and broad introduction into the fascinating realm of chemistry.

Purchase now through October 1 for back-to-school and use the code FALL RESEARCH for a 10% discount! 



Dive into Research and Discover Diversity


There are two types of things in the world: Living and Non-living!

Everything you can imagine is either…


We are pleased to announce a brand new addition to our selection of Research Discovery Guides: Taxonomy of Living Things: The Five Kingdoms.

All living things can be ordered according to their common biology. Classification allows scientists to explore levels of similarity, dissimilarity, and interconnectedness of cells, systems, and structures. The first level of classification is the Kingdoms. There are five: Protista, Monera, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. Over the course of 7 weeks, as students explore the diversity of the animal kingdom, they will gather knowledge that will connect to many corners of the field of biology.

During weeks 1 – 3 of this 8-week unit, our scaffolding will guide students independently through reading, gathering information, and thinking activities. Then, during weeks 4 through 8, students will engage in the deeper research of delving into the specifics of each kingdom. They research specific species, making an independent and observational entry as they acquire vital research writing skills.    

Purchase now through October 1 for back-to-school and use the code FALL RESEARCH for a 10% discount! 



Discover Research and the d’Aulaire’s


Hear the tale of Pocahontas as only she can tell it… Experience the wit and wisdom of Ben Franklin… Sail the seas with Leif… Join the Pony Express with Buffalo Bill, the man in the buckskin suit… Join the adventures of the great mariner Columbus…  Follow George Washington from the little red brick house where he was born to the White House…. and climb upon the shoulders of our beloved Abe Lincoln. And who better to tell the tales than Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire? We are so thankful to our BFFs at BFB—Beautiful Feet Books—for keeping these beautiful pockets of history in print.

Blackbird & Company's brand new History Discovery Guides will inspire your students to engage in meaningful research activities. As students are encouraged to independently investigate, they will gain a greater depth of understanding, and a broader knowledge base of the great men and women who have shaped our history. Use one guide of your choice in the fall and another guide in the spring in conjunction with our year 2, Level  2 or year 1, Level 3 Literature and Writing Discovery Guides and your student will have a seamless transition to the entry level Introduction to Composition: The Essay during middle school to fully prepare them for Level 4 in high school. 

Our History Discovery Guides provide the scaffolding your student needs to successfully craft a biographical essay. Each week, for three weeks, the student will examine rich vocabulary to describe character traits exemplified by the historical figure, respond to comprehension questions designed to help them extract details that matter, and craft one body paragraph that will later become part of the culminating essay. During the fourth week, students will be guided through the process of composing a simple three-sentence-with-a-punch introduction and a simple-three-sentence-with-a-punch conclusion. They will put the components together and, viola, an essay! There is a fifth week creative project, of course, that offers directives to tap into the students imagination.

Honestly, the d'Aulaire books have been part of my personal library since childhood. I read them to my children when they were small enough to nestle on my lap during story time. Later they read them again silently, on their own cozily snuggled in our living room armchair. As a writer and an educator, I am happy to offer this opportunity for your students to not only experience these wonderful stories, but also to glean from their riches and to offer in response their own original insights inspired by our rich history. So challenge your students to raise their voice! Challenge them to write authentically so their ideas will Take Flight



Observing Pumice


A few years ago Sara brought me a handful of pumice from Mount St. Helens and so I began the lesson with research of the volcano. We moved from there to the chemistry of carbon. When it comes to Observation, the possibilities are limitless. At last, directed the group of Observers to create a close observation drawing in conduction with the research in their Observation Journals—including a close focus section.

This little jar of fodder has proved more valuable than any textbook. This drawing by Marlo began with value—organic shapes of darks and lights. Once she was satisfied with the large shapes, she began to look for texture, began to mimic what she saw with varied lines on the page. Smaller still, she added dark marks to represent the deep bubbled areas on the volcanic stone. Most significantly, Marlo kept going—she kept looking. Perseverance is a skill that can not be be taught from a textbook.


Can anyone learn to draw like Marlo?

Indeed, YES!

Yes, yes you can. You can draw like Marlo, but first you must learn to observe.

Observation is a foundational academic. Learning to "look closely" across all domains of learning will strengthen the student's Creative Critical Thinking skills. For this reason, Observation exercises should be integrated into the weekly routine to transform this crucial skill to a Habit of Being


Seven Ways to the Wonders of Chemistry

Chemistry is much more than a table
of elements, complicated theories, and experiments in the lab. Chemistry is the
foundation of literally everything we know. But for our children, chemistry is
at best a daunting subject, at worst downright boring. Mention the word
chemistry and they will run! That’s
why this year I chose to introduce my elementary and middle school apprentices
to the subject before it was too late.

Honestly, chemistry is no
more daunting than any other subject to be mastered. And chemistry is certainly
NOT boring! Developing an imaginative view of chemistry is the key to unlocking
its wonders.

Here are some ideas to
get started.

1. Transcend the Textbook
There are all sorts of
wonderful books available to help simplify this expansive subject. Chemistry: Getting a
Big Reaction
, by Simon Basher, is a really good introduction for children.

In his book, The Periodic Kingdom, P.W Atkins transforms the periodic table to a
fictitious kingdom where we can explore the potential of its topography. This
is the perfect, albeit heady, way to move beyond the mundane and journey into
the wonderful territory of chemistry.

2. Go Digital
One of the best resources
available on the web is hosted by The University of Nottingham. Trust me, The Periodic Kingdom of Videos is AMAZING, crazy-haired scientist and all! Your apprentices will want to watch
every single video and once they do, they will never be bored by chemistry

Element videos

3. Demonstrate Virtually
These ChemDemos from James Madison University help kids to visualize chemical concepts. (The Gummy Bear Sacrifice is particularly dramatic.)

4. Experiment
Experiencing the wonders
of chemistry is to experiment. But keep it simple. Focus on the concept of
chemical reactions. Teach the budding chemist to hypothesize.

You can purchase a
chemistry kits all over the Web:
Thames & Kosmos and Carolina both have tons of great resources.

Or purchase a book of
experiment recipes like, Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry for Every Kid: 101
Easy Experiments that Really Work
Janice Van Cleave

5. Play

The Elements Puzzle: 1000 Pieces, by Theodore Gray
The Periodic Table of Elements Magnets, by Smart
Memory Art
Elementeo Chemistry Card Game, by Alchemist Empire,

Periodic Table Playing Cards, by Les Entreprises SynHeme

6. Sing Along

They Might Be Giants – Meet the Elements from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

7. Research and Make!
This past week I assigned each of my 22 science
apprentices an element to research. Each would write a three-part paper. The
research paper would begin like all good research papers should, by
communicating the history and basic scientific characteristics of that element.
The paper would move on to discuss the element’s purpose and uses in the wide
world. But I saved the best for last. The third section of the research paper
would move on to a larger discussion of what the element teaches human kind
about human nature. I helped them to begin this consideration by asking, “If
you were an element, what element would you be and why?” The group smiled and
the conversation got lively. Ultimately, this is the challenge that my
apprentices liked best of all because this is the sector of their research
where they were invited to engage imagination. 

I provided each of my apprentices with a frame from
my local craft store—only $1.00 each—and gave them specific instructions to
stain the frame with a color that would best represent or compliment their
element (I, of course provided the watercolor). They were to put periodic table
information on the front of the frame and amazing facts on the back of the
frames. The frames would not only guide them in an oral presentation of their research,
but in the end become a larger than life game for our guild, “Scramble them up
and see how fast you can order them!” 

Here are some wonderful resources to have on hand
during the research:
The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe
, and The Photographic Card Deck of The Elements: With Big Beautiful
Photographs of All 118 Elements in the Periodic Table
, by Theodore Gray, and The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Simon Basher.

PS – And just for a little more Periodic Table fun!

– Kim

Yet Another Reason to Draw

This past week Søren added JFK to his Book of 100 Heads. This time I noticed that he drew in two sessions instead of one. He told me that after he set it aside the first time and looked back at the drawing, he noticed that he needed to add more range of value.  As luck would have it, I had photographed the drawing after the first session of drawing.

At the end, Søren was inspired to read a book about the man he had spent a couple hours drawing. He may even write a little report.

Creativity inspires the mind.

KennedayC copy

Q&A With The Girls

Q. What sticks with you from your research of famous women?

A. Hannah: I remember clearly being confused about Polio when we read about Wilma Rudolph, but so impressed that she did not let this mysterious physical handicap stop her from winning gold. I remember making prairie bonnets and dresses when we read about Laura Ingalls Wilder and being thankful that she bothered to share her recollections of pioneer life with me. I remember wishing I could have been a stowaway in that plane with Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember thinking how awful I would have felt in Faith Ringgold’s shoes when that teacher told her to give up her dream of becoming an artist because she had no talent… imagine that! Vivid among these memories is having the privilege of meeting Faith Ringgold and being able to share this thought with her in person. I remember making an appliqué wall hanging of Faith Ringgold inspired by her many quilt-paintings hanging in museums like the one I saw at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I remember my mom reproducing my quilt in miniature so I could cut and paste the images onto greeting cards. I remember handing a stack of these cards tied neatly together with a bow to Faith Ringgold and showing her the quilt I made. I remember that the artist not only autographed my copy of her brand new book, The Invisible Princess, but also applauded my artwork. Research of famous women was an ongoing elementary assignment. That was more than ten years ago. After all this remembering what I remember most is that the assignment still matters.


A. Evelyn: I loved doing art projects to go with our write-ups on each famous woman in history. I clearly remember working on my watercolor of Amelia Earhart one night and showing it off proudly to my brother and his friend. I remember when Hannah and I sat together and traced drawings from the book about Wilma Rudolph and learned about her inspiring story of perseverance. I remember working on my art project for Faith Ringgold—it was a canvas divided into three sections depicting things I love—cooking, my friends, and art—and illustrating scenes that were important in Faith’s life. I remember specifically learning about how an art teacher told Faith Ringgold she could never become an artist because she didn’t know how to paint mountains. I thought that was so unfair because Faith had never even seen mountains before. Getting to actually meet Faith Ringgold and show her my art project, well, how many kids get that kind of opportunity? I was recently reading my college art appreciation book and I noticed artwork by Ringgold and I said to myself, “I’ve met her!” I remember learning about the first black woman millionaire, Madam C.J Walker. I liked learning about how she created beauty products for women. Entrepreneurial success stories have fascinated me ever since. I remember painting a portrait of Princess Diana and on “Person I Admire Day” dressing up like her. One not so fond memory is when I spent what seemed like hours crafting my write up on Louisa May Alcott and then accidentally feeding it through our paper shredder! These things happen! When we read about Rachel Carson, we participated in a coastal clean up day. I still carry with me striking memories from our research and art projects.

Researching Famous Women

Did you know that March is Women's History Month?

I stumbled upon one of my prized possessions the other day, paper and pencil in hand, a writer looking for creative inspiration. As I unfolded the mass of faded-yellow legal pad and saw Sara’s profuse notes staring back at me, I felt the smile stretch from ear to ear and was taken back to the summer of 1997. Who needs a time machine?  

Amelia6 Detail of Amelia Earhart project – pen, watercolor, corrugated cardboard, oil pastels

For the coming school year our desire was to continue to provide opportunities for directed year-long research. The intrinsic reward of this type of activity is that children discover over time to value work that is not instantaneous. Beyond that, the objective is to develop the muscle necessary for independent discovery, which will have a direct connection to critical thinking. But there’s always a twist.

Back in time, Sara and I are in my kitchen. Where else? Chattering away we are brainstorming. We want to inspire our young girls (then first and third graders) to follow the thread of perseverance to its logical conclusion. What if they engage in research of famous women from history who will model the skill? What if we use great picture books and incorporate sophisticated art materials? Yes! And of course it will be great fun! And, think about it, I mean, we will be exploring literature, and this is history too, right? Ah, the glory of cross-curricular activities!


So, with a baby on my hip stirring up dinner in a pot on the stove, I imagined with Sara, her legal pad in hand chock full of bibliographic lists of famous women biographies she had researched to get our girls started, we constructed a series of research questions that the girls would use to guide them in their research and developed a presentation format. We decided that, for each book read, our girls would write a report and craft a creative project depicting the famous woman.

Amelia2Detail from Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan

Looking back, the trick to this kind of research is to be prepared. Because we had a plan, we were able to sit with our girls, take turns reading aloud with them, and guide them as they developed the skill gathering just the right tidbits about the famous woman’s life to include in their simple research paper. We had time to help them explore art materials such as paint and canvas, chalk pastels, and textiles. We were able to encourage them as they endeavored to craft a creative project that would not only celebrate each famous woman, but also would propel them into the process of seeing a creative work from the start to the finish line.

Set as a two hour per week activity, generally speaking, we read and wrote about one book per week unless the book was long, in which case this leg of the activity could take a couple weeks or more (the “there is no hurry” truth applies here), and we completed the artistic activity in two or three weeks. From there, it’s all, well, history.


Only looking back do I see the great pay-off, our girls, all grown now, Hannah is 21 and Evelyn is 19, are women that turn heads not only because they are lovely, but because they are busy following the thread of perseverance to its logical conclusion and are consequently girls who dare to dream.

– Kim

Faith6Detail of Faith Ringgold project – fabric wall hanging

Faith2Spread from Dinner at Aunt Connie's House by Faith Ringgold

Elenor1Detail of Eleanor Roosevelt project – acrylic on canvas

Elenor4Eleanor by Barbara Cooney

Wilma1Detail of Wilma Rudolf project – colored pencil, pen, acrylic, collage