Sunday, January 22, 2017

College Tour Transformations with We Just Imagine

Admissions office at University of Virginia

Many people look at 10-20 houses before making such a life changing purchase.  But many children from families of modest income don’t get the opportunity to shop colleges as they would houses.  A virtual tour, a college brochure, a college fair -- none give a prospective student the same kind of  up-front viewpoint as actually being there.  The average buyer would never purchase a home without visiting and talking to the people in the neighborhood, but many college students head off to a  place without really knowing what other options exists.  Through an amazing organization, We Just Imagine, my son and a group of amazing young students, have been able to see possibilities that may not have been on their radars.  When it was time for me to head to college, I was limited to local universities.  My mother didn’t own a car and the only way we could visit colleges was via public transportation.  I was desperate to attend college in New York City, but unable to really explore it as an option.

Through We Just Imagine, this group of students have visited close to 15 colleges throughout Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia!  Along the way, they have matured and become seasoned and very educated about the college process.  They started out sitting in admissions offices needing to be prepped with questions to ask, now they have their own, and good ones too!  Once we were about to be whisked off on a walking tour, one of the Just Imagine students asked the guide, “aren’t you going to sit us down to give us the admissions talk first.”  Now, they had expectations!  The feelings and desires to attend college have grown stronger, but more importantly they are becoming more deeply connected to what it is they need to pursue their educational goals and what environment will best support those endeavors.  

I am a staunch supporter of HBCUs, as a proud graduate of Howard University, but I ain’t gonna lie, I fell in love with Duke University.  It seemed like a place where you could make any educational endeavor come true.  A possibility I never knew existed.  But now these young people do. KingMan loved Atlanta, especially Clark-Atlanta's Dual Engineering program, which would allow him to graduate with a Master's Degree in Engineering.

Unlike many college tours, which cost a fortune, and throw a bunch of random people together for a weekend, We Just Imagine has invested in a small group having this experience together.  The students stay overnight in a hotel, separated by gender, and get to know each other on a more personal level.  Cell phones are confiscated at night and essay homework is assigned in the evening to ensure that serious thought is given to the day's experiences.

The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
 Karim Ewing-Boyd, an Advisory Board Member of We Just Imagine and travel chaperone, always ensures that there is a historical field trip and discussion woven into our college tours.  When we visited his alma mater, Morehouse College, we also visited the King Memorial Museum.  

Visiting the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave his first sermon.

Posing in front of the Greensboro Four on a visit to the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, NC.

A monument dedicated to the famous Greensboro Four at North Carolina A&T
In North Carolina, we visited the International Civil Rights Museum, which was an amazing experience.  The historical significance that HBCUs have played in the historical movement of African people is made real through these visits.  Students were able to make connections between the sit-ins and the students who attended North Carolina A &T.

At the end of a long day of walking, sometimes in the rain, on college campuses, we always end with a nice dinner and a discussion in the lounge area.  These are the times I love the most.  We focus on real issues that students of color will face, including lack of diversity and institutional racism.  Our visit to Virginia State University inspired one such discussion.  The students saw a stark contract in state funding and support of University of Virginia, compared to Virginia State University.  When we pulled into the sleepy town of Petersburg, Virginia, it didn’t look like a place to find a college. But once the group got out on campus, what they encountered were bright, friendly and enthusiastic college students who were passionate about their school and education.  

Quenyana Gray, a bubbly student from Richmond, whose mother also attended Virginia State University, was our tour guide.  This young honors student, is also a sports management intern and very involved in campus organizations.  She encouraged the young people to get involved in college to make it the best experience ever! She must have walked with us for more than two hours, stopping and asking various organizations that happened to be on campus to chat with us.  Students from these organizations enthusiastically obliged.  Students from the engineering department, Greek organizations, and members of the music fraternity Kappa Kappa Si gladly shared pearls of wisdom with the young people of We Just Imagine. Ms. Gray was the best tour guide of ANY of the colleges we visited. 

Dressed for success on the campus of North Carolina A&T
I've noticed that the more colleges we visited, the more comfortable this group has become with the idea of attaining a degree and what they need to do to make it happen.  More importantly, the more colleges we visit, the more likely a student is to find a fit – the kind of perfect fit that leads to not just getting into college, but actually staying, enjoying the experience, and getting the degree.  It’s not a “piece of paper,” as some say, but it is an opportunity to have one of the most rewarding experiences of your young adult life.  It is a time to focus on discovery, research, meeting new people, traveling abroad, joining campus clubs, playing sports and building the kind of foundation that will serve them well in adulthood.

A restaurant on the campus of Hampton University where Rosa Parks used to waitress.

The waterfront at Hampton University

We Just Imagine has helped these amazing students visit colleges from just about every category, including colleges that may not even have been on the radar, such as Norfolk State University.  Witnessing a young person find a possible fit is a beautiful sight to behold.  

A BIG thank you to founder Abby Sondak who had this crazy idea that everyone should have these opportunities, regardless of income.  We Just Imagine started out as an organization whose aim was to send urban youth to sleepover summer camps that they may otherwise not be able to afford.  A win-win situation, the camps become more diverse and We Just Imagine students enjoy amazing summers.  The program has since grown to include community service, ACT prep and college tours.  The idea is to cultivate young people through camp and leadership experiences that will lead to successful college experiences.  She’s on to something.  Something really BIG.  After attending three college tours as a parent chaperone, walking for hours on campuses and listening to their hopes, dreams and aspirations, I have become vested too.  I want to see them succeed.  Most of all, I want them to stay connected once they choose a college, and after they graduate.  In fact, I hope they remain life-long friends.  This group of future college students have become savvy college shoppers, and they are about to take some campus by storm.  Just you wait and see.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

African-Centered Reading Comprehension - A Treasure Within

 As a literacy teacher and homeschool parent, I am big on reading comprehension - do you understand what you are reading and what does it mean to you.  I am testing out a few programs, because for some reason, I can't just use one.  LionHeart's reading didn't blossom until he was about 8 years old, which is considered "late" by left brain learning style benchmarks, but right on time for a right brain learner.  I read to him constantly and still do.  In our home, we are surrounded by books, magazines, curriculum - the printed word is everywhere so there is no escaping it.  I took a page from Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook and never stopped reading aloud to my children, even the oldest.  For my older son I am usually sharing an interesting article.  Many parents seem to think that for a child to improve reading, he must practice reading.  That's only part of the story.  Being read to is just as important, if not more.  Sharing the reading experience and hearing words read fluently and expressively also helps a child improve reading, increase vocabulary, as well as develop a love for reading. 

For the new year, we'll be using a few new resources for reading comprehension.  I will examine them in separate blog posts, starting with my favorite, an African-centered resource written by master teacher and educator Dr. Chike Akua. I am almost giddy about this one.

A Treasure Within:  Stories of Remembrance & Rediscovery

A Treasure Within: Stories of Remembrance & Rediscovery is an African-centered book of stories that translate the deep thinking and philosophy of African people into stories for youth creating many opportunities for comprehension discussions. In these stories readers will find popular culture infused with African world view, moral lessons, African history and adventure.  There is no better way to engage a child in reading.  Dr. Chike Akua says that in writing these stories his purpose was clear: "To reintroduce children to the ancient wisdom of African culture."  For that I am so very grateful.  I am looking forward to completing the The Ten Cardinal Virtues activity with LionHeart, especially "control of thought" and "control of action."  The reader includes 3 stories: A Treasure Within, A Reason for Being and Daniel and the Djembe Drum.  I know my little Djembe player will absolutely love this story.

The parent/teacher resource guide is a gem.  There are more than 10 activities for each of the 3 stories in the reader.  You will find the traditional comprehension and literature activities, such as character analysis and discussion questions.  But you will also find culturally affirming activities such as the Kemetic symbols exercise.  This book represents what I have dreamed of for many years and that is a way to teach African deep thought and philosophy in a way that children can understand and incorporate into their lives. I have always believed if developing a particular skill was the desired outcome, then there is no reason why OUR stories cannot be used.  Dr. Chike has included characters the children can identify with in real life situations that require critical thinking.  The adults are not idiots (as in many Disney programs), instead they are culturally and spiritually conscious and of high integrity, which underscores honoring wisdom and elders in our community.  The stories will start with ancient Kemet and end with the culture of West Africa.  Like my favorite meal, I can't wait to dig in with my son!

For more information and tips on reading comprehension, check out this wonderful blog series at This Reading Mama.  It's 10 weeks of reading comprehension strategies.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bloxels - Make Your Own Computer Game - A Timberdoodle Review

Bloxels - Make Your On Computer Game

I started out reading the manual and watching the very helpful instructional videos, while Lionheart dived right in.  I couldn't convince him to watch the videos, which we later referenced.  Instead, he wanted to tinker and figure it out on his own.  The beauty of Bloxels is that it allowed him to do just that.  While I was watching tutorials and trying to figure out how it worked, Lionheart had downloaded the app to his Ipod and made his first figure.  He’s the big picture, hands on guy, while I am the detailed, step-by-step, read all the instructions, watch all the videos first, gal. 

What is it?  

Bloxels is a user-friendly, kid-friendly game creation program that allows children to combine creativity and technology to produce their very own video games.  Best of all, it doesn't involve coding.  For right-brain, top down learners like my son, Bloxels' intuitive platform allows him to learn in the way he learns best, by doing.


The Bloxels kit comes with a physical pixel board where game designs are created. There are 320 colored blocks that each represent a different aspect of the game world.  Green is for land, blue is for water, purple is for enemy and so on. Although I am clueless about Minecraft, I have watched my son play and the building aspect of Bloxels reminds me of Minecraft, only more hands-on. 

How does it work? 

As Lionheart sped through the creation of his first character, it was obvious that Bloxels was easier for him to figure out than it was for me.  Since my brain doesn't work that way, I had to dissect it first.  Here's what I found.  There are essentially only 4 easy steps:  Build (using the colored blocks and the black pixel board), Design (edit in the app), Capture (take a picture of your creation with your device), Play & Share (online with other Bloxel game creators).  Your child can create as many characters as he wants, vary the terrain and design 129 different rooms, all with colored blocks.  Once the game is done, your child can save in the app, share with other users and start the design process all over again.  Though Lionheart quickly discovered that he could design with the app without using the 13 x 13 pixel board to create, I really wanted him to have that tactile experience because the real fun is in the hands-on design process.  The app is available for IOS, Android and even Kindle Fire!

Bloxels Lesson Plans

If you'd like to have a more guided experience, the Bloxels website has fun lesson plans already written.  Lesson 1 is all about the Design Process, which explores the concept of "empathy" of all things.  How in the world are empathy and technology related? Well, in order to design something that will be of use to someone other than yourself, you have to think of what someone other than yourself would like.  Click here for more lesson plans.  If your child needs a creative kickstart, this Bloxel Guide Book will come in handy. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Getting Organized: Dry Erase Boards and Floating Walls

During my homeschool nesting period, right before the new year begins, I pull out all of my resources and discover things that I didn't know I had - like two "How to Draw Manga" books.  I also pulled out the posters I have collected over the years wondering when I'd ever use them?  Then I got an idea.  Create some floating walls with panel board!

I first discovered this DIY hack while researching oversized dry erase boards and realized that the cost was way out of my budget.  Thrifty, creative homeschool moms on Pinterest came to the rescue.  I learned that you can purchase a 4 foot by 8 foot piece of panel board from Home Depot and slice it up to your liking for all under $13 bucks!  We'll be using the slice pictured above for writing and grammar.  This same exercise on a piece of paper is a chore, but on a white board, it's loads of fun.  I don't have the research on why it is so, I just see it happen all the time.  It's light and portable and we can work on the table or the floor because it's not affixed to the wall.

We already have a smaller magnetic dry erase board that we use for All About Spelling.  But if I need to use it for anything else, I have to remove all the tiles, then return them to the board.  That's a drag.  Besides, when I leave the board up and Lionheart happens to be sitting at his desk, he practices spelling words when "school" is not in session.

Back to the posters.  My sons benefit from visuals when we are introducing new concepts.  Since our classroom is in the dining room, there is only so much space. I had literally run out of walls until I decided to use the other pieces of the panel board as floating walls.  If multiplication, geometry and affixes are the topic of the day, I can pull out my posters, clip one at the top and tape another at the bottom.  Now right behind Lionheart's desk is a poster wall.  Perfect for my visual learner! (The maps are also on a floating wall/panel board and the sofa is on the other side.  The dry erase board is visible on the other side so we can use it while sitting on the couch if a creative streak hits).

When the lesson is over, I can easily store the white boards away in the closet.  My wall issues and dry erase board shortages have been solved!  Now I can rotate my posters and utilize a variety of visuals.

When the boards are put away, I can see the bookshelf again.

And the reversible classroom is now ready for dinner.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Marie's Words - SAT Vocabulary Study

"Some may wonder how I have the temerity to use such grandiloquence in my language.  But if you look closely, you will see that rich language is ubiquitous and does not happen in a fortuitous way.  If your words are tenuous don't take umbrage with me because I happen to be a superlative writer." What!?  If you have no idea what these words mean it's time for you to pick up a box of Marie's Words.  I am a word nerd so we are going to have so much fun with these cards.

Marie's Words was created by a high school junior who needed a visual way to study for the SAT.  Brilliant idea! There are 550 word cards chosen from literature and SAT word lists.  On the front of the card is a visual representation of the meaning and on the back is the word, the pronunciation, the definition, synonyms, antonyms and the word used in a sentence. The size of a small flashcard, there are so many fun ways to use these cards to study vocabulary.  I picked 5 random cards and came up with the above paragraph.  This is what KingMan came up with his 5 random word cards:

"Draymond Green flagrantly fouled Kevin Durant. But Durant's fidelity to his team was not fickle and no one can flout that fact. How do I know? Well, I love basketball so much I could write a tome about it."  This exercise was so much fun and required that KingMan understand the meaning of the word and be creative in its usage.  I absolutely love the illustration for the word tome.  That visual!

While I love Vocabulary Cartoons, after the exercise is complete, the only way to review is to go back through the workbook.  Who wants to do that? Marie's Words encourages review in a myriad of ways, which is essential for committing to memory and, more importantly, using new vocabulary. The cards come hole-punched so you can easily slip them on a ring and review the old-fashioned way.  But the 5 word card sentence game was so much fun I plan to use it as a morning warm-up in our homeschool.  We even made a game out of finding the most ridiculous substitute for a simple word like poor: "His entrepreneurial spirit is a safeguard against living a impecunious life."  Marie's Words makes vocabulary study fun!

Though aimed at the middle and high school crowd, Marie's Words could easily be used with a younger child.  I plan to pull out the words with super silly illustrations to study with LionHeart.  He is a right-brain learner and these cards will light up the right side of his brain with the hand-drawn illustrations on the front that attempt to convey the definition of the word and help you retain the meaning more efficiently.  The more creative and zany the drawing, the more it will stick.  LionHeart will get a kick out of the illustration for words like wrath, jocular and hiatus.  The gap in the teeth illustration for hiatus - get it? Funny! He'll never forget that one.

This is one of my favorites.  I'm sure LionHeart will get the meaning of this one right away.  Can you guess?

I also like that words within the words are highlighted whenever possible.  The illustration for tantamount highlighting the word amount is brilliant!  The illustrations for indigent and forbearance are equally clever. I've got all kinds of game ideas and incentives swirling around in my head using these cards.

Marie's Words includes instructions for two games: "Picture Word," and "Wordsmith."  But you can definitely make up your own.  We will play the vocabulary version of the popular card game "Concentration."  We'll start with the pictures face up.  The player will have to choose a card and correctly define it.  If the player is not able to do so, the card is set aside.  The cards that are set aside will be the ones that end up on the ring for further study. At the end of the week, we'll replay the game and put the missed cards back into play.

The only thing I didn't like, and this may be petty, but I'm anal - is that the box that holds the cards is not very sturdy.  It's quite flimsy and mine fell a part.  I'm sure a plastic recipe card hold will serve the purpose, but a Marie's Words box would have been nicer to store the cards.  I also would like to have seen a bit more diversity in the people represented in the illustrations. 

But I know this guy is happy that SAT vocabulary prep will bring loads of family fun.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bring the Magic School Bus Science Home

The Magic School Bus series was one of my favorite ways to introduce science lessons with both of my sons.  It was a science lesson and a real story line.  Unlike educational videos that often only provide information, the Magic School Bus was an adventure to get lost inside of exploring subjects such as decomposition, digestion and microbes, just to name a few.  Imagine bringing the science out of those episodes and books and into your home?

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If you have children (ages 5-12) who enjoy the Magic School Bus books or videos–and if you like doing science experiments with them–then you'll LOVE The Magic School Bus Science Club!

Developed by a team of Harvard graduates, scientists, and educators, the award-winning Magic School Bus Science Kits are delivered monthly right to your doorstep. Children will explore science through experiments that will spark an interest and curiosity in science.

Each kit includes a colorful manual based on The Magic School Bus characters, as well as everything you need to complete at least seven experiments related to that month’s theme.

What is included?

1 year subscription includes 12 Magic School Bus kits + FREE SHIPPING in the Continental USA (Ships to Canada for $2/month).

Each kit includes:

  • Detailed, large 12-page colorful manual that is full of experiments and topic information
  • Each manual is based on the popular Magic School Bus books and TV series
  • Includes an adult section so that adults with no science background will find the kits easy to use
  • Materials and information necessary for a range of interactive experiments
  • Online Clubhouse for further exploration on each kit topic
  • Certificate of Completion

  • Kit Topics:

    Would your family have fun with this? If so, now’s a great time to sign up:

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    Enjoy your exploration alongside Ms. Frizzle!