Economics & the Tooth Fairy?

Gwyneth white space croppedEconomics. Kids really do care about it. Not convinced? Just think about their expectations of the Tooth Fairy.

Kids supply a tooth and expect (demand) a treat or cash in return.

Dig a bit deeper into this basic exchange and you will find a friendly version of Economics 101 that kids can really sink their teeth into.

Why bother digging deeper with kids? Well…

What concepts can kids – of any age, btw – actually explore with tooth fairies?

  • supply & demand
  • value
  • the ‘invisible hand’
  • rational expectations
  • fair trade
  • opportunity cost

And then there’s the metacognition & critical thinking involved in exploring how fairies and kids can work together for the greater good.

Kids won’t read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. How are they supposed to explore these topics?

So glad you asked.

  1. Home Grown Option:
    1. Seek definitions for the bullet list terms. Any dictionary will do. Of course Adam Smith (see link above) has a lot to offer, too.
    2. ‘Translate’ the terms to suit your kids/students when discussing tooth fairy lore. No need to do it all at once…just weave the ideas in when opportunity knocks.
  2. Ready Made Option*:  I offer a short story called The Tooth Fairy Conference. The main character, Gwyneth is pictured above. This is her nemesis, Plaque Man.PLAQUE MAN finals - Copy Creepy, right?

While out collecting one night, Gwyneth discovers Plaque Man is wreaking havoc on the fairy worlds’ supply of pristine teeth. She finds smeary notes declaring things like, “Eat candy in bed; you’ll have sweet dreams” and “Need more sleep? Skip flossing.”  So Gwyneth collects brainy & brawny help at the Fluoride Foundation’s Tooth Fairy Conference to extract this gunky skunk with dental and mental derring-do.

Here is The Tooth Fairy Conference short story. You also can get this accompanying lesson:  What Colors the Things You Value?

*There is a small fee for these ready-made options.

FREE coloring pages of Gwyneth and Plaque Man are here.





Kids & Campaigns

PB4MP seal starsPolitics can get ugly, especially at election time. Tomorrow’s leaders must do better. How? By thinking of Big Ideas like leadership, the Constitution and Executive Office powers now – when they’re kids. Too much? Not really. Kids campaign & deal with leaders all the time. So they can apply what they know to think bigger. (No current candidate campaign analysis needed nor mudslinging allowed.)

First, let’s recap what kids know:

  • Campaigns work best when using smart priorities. Ask for a treat after eating a nutritious dinner; don’t demand candy 24/7 just cuz it’s yummy.
  • Working together helps the greater good. Clean up together, get to the park faster & return to a relaxed space.
  • Good leaders serve. The best parents & teachers set firm goals then work like crazy to make sure kids reach them.

How can kids use this knowledge to contribute to the success of the president? By participating in…

A Picture Book 4 My President Campaign!

Nominate a picture book that could help run the country.

Full campaign, registration and voting instructions are here.

Ready-to-go activities to enhance the campaign experience are here:

  • A Picture Book for My President – A Campaign for Critical Thinking (FREE!) – Teaching activities to help students choose the ONE picture book that should be in the Oval Office to help our Commander-in-Chief prioritize the Executive’s duties and powers both after an election and for the entire term of office.
  • A Picture Book 4 My President: Critical Thinking & Classic Titles – Using 10 classic picture books, students can practice providing one reason FOR and one reason AGAINST each title getting a spot on the Oval Office bookshelf. They also can evaluate (grade) each reason for how well it explains if the book should or should not make it to the Oval Office.
  • A Card Game 4 Picture Books – Akin to Go Fish, players collect Title, Setting, Plot and Character cards to create books for classic picture books like Strega Nona and The Snowy Day.


A Picture Book for My President

Which picture book would you recommend to the
President of the United States? Why?

PB4MP seal stars

Picture books can open minds, heal wounds, and tickle fancies.

Picture books introduce us to other times, dimensions, places, realities, and selves.

Picture books could help the President of the United States serve our country.

Which picture book do you want the president to read? Choose the ONE picture book you think or your group members agree should be required reading in the Oval Office. This book should be able to help our Commander-in-Chief prioritize the duties and powers of the Executive Office after a new election and for the entire term of office.

Register & Vote at the PB4MP Page  

here OR click the PB4MP page tab at the top right end of this page’s header

 Teaching Ideas for PB4MP

This is a general outline to manage your PB4MP campaign. Check my TeachersPayTeachers store, Crossing the Curriculum with Katie, for classroom-ready materials (some free, some for sale).

  1. Start slowly because Think Time matters. Before you even say the word, ‘president,’ you/your group must ponder:
    • Which picture book is most meaningful to you?
    • Which one do you hope everyone reads and takes to heart?
    • Which one is important for responsible, caring community members/citizens to read?
  2. List ~12 books. Which ones answer all three questions well?
  3. Now pose the presidential question. But before taking titles from the group, do a Think Aloud to demonstrate the how/why of choosing a [sample] title. What reasons are valid to helping inform the President about priorities that will serve the People. This could be very different than picking a title for personal reasons.
  4. Prior to making final selections (and/or for independent work), offer 5-10 classic or currently popular titles. Students must state or write why each title may (or may not) deserve a spot on the Oval Office bookshelf.
  5. Reach class consensus on the top ~6 books the president must read. In small groups, create a campaign poster (or other media piece) for each book to inform the whole grade/school/community of the choice titles. Invite votes to pick one title to represent your group and prior to November 8, 2016, announce the winner.
  6. Register with PB4MP and vote for your title by November 8, 2016.
  7. Ask the PTA (or similar) to buy a copy of your selected book and circulate it for student signatures (or create a separate autograph binder). Send the book, cover letter and some version of the campaign information to the White House in January 2017.
  8. Spread the word; invite others to PM4MP: Share the link to this page. Tweet with @KTOEngen and #PB4MP.

Note: This process works for elections to Congress or governorships, too. Versions of this campaign already are under development by Katie Engen for US congressional and state governor elections. Also in development are campaigns for prime ministers, premiers and monarchs. In the meantime (and hopefully after you’ve participated in this national campaign), please feel free to borrow elements of this campaign for classroom or local club presidents in your local network. If you do, please include a credit (e.g. ‘Based on A Picture Book 4 My President (c) by Katie Engen’).

Reviewing Children’s Literature

So, this is not one of my typical cross-curricular posts because it simply lists the books I’ve covered since being selected as a Reviewer for Children’s Literature. I will say, however, that the act of writing reviews that adults will read about children’s and YA books does indeed tap into a wide and somewhat mashed-up set of writing skills. Why? Well, the review must concisely convey both the effective and not-so-great elements of the book. It also must tap into the tone and/or voice of the book – which by definition is not for the typical adult reader. And the titles certainly have had me zipping through science, history, classic stories, silliness in all types of genre.

It’s a bit of a mental tongue twister. And it’s fun.

I am not at liberty to publish the reviews here; they are in the Children’s Literature dispersal system. And I don’t have the staff (ha!) to track down where any actually appear. So if you see reviews for any of these titles in places like Publisher’s Weekly or on a book jacket, I’d adore if you’d Tweet me @KTOEngen.

Titles I’ve Reviewed to Date

February 2016

  • Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, 2016, Penguin Random House, Ages 8-12
  • Bedroom Makeovers, 2016, Black Rabbit Press., Ages 6-10
  • Lego DC Comics Super Heroes Handbook, 2016, Scholastic, Inc., Ages 6-10
  • I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, 2016, Cantata Learning, Ages 4-9
  • Horses of the Dawn: Wild Blood, 2016, Scholastic, Inc., Ages 8-12

January 2016

  • Are You My Mom?, 2015, Scholastic, Inc., Ages 0-3
  • Coral Reefs by Kristin Baird Rattini, 2015 National Geographic Kids, Ages 6-10
  • Scooby-Doo and the Truth Behind Ghosts by Terry Collins, 2015, Capstone Press, Ages 6-8
  • The Typewriter by Bill Thomson, 2016, Two Lions, Ages 3-7
  • Volcanoes by John Cooper, 2016, The Salariya Book Company Ltd., Ages 6-10

December 2015

  • Brain Games by Jennifer Swanson, 2015, National Geographic Kids, Ages 8-12
  • Fizzy’s Lunch – Escape from Greasy World by Jamie Michalak, 2015, Candlewick Press/Candlewick Entertainment, Ages 6-9
  • Liberia-Enchantment of the World  by Ruth Bjorklund, 2016, Children’s Press/Scholastic, Grades 4-6
  • The Name of the Blade by Zoë Marriott, 2014, Candlewick Press, Ages 12&up
  • Super Cute! Baby Bears by Kari Schuetz,  2014, Children’s Press/Scholastic, Ages 5-9

November 2015

  • An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay, 2015, Merit Press, Ages 14 up
  • Jumping Off Library Shelves – a book of poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2015, Boyds Mill Press, Ages 4 to 8
  • Madame Martine Breaks the Rules by Sarah S. Brannen, 2015, Albert Whitman & Company, Ages 4 to 8, 2014, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 5 to 9
  • 100 Things to Make You Happy by Lisa M. Gerry, 2015, National Geographic Society, Ages 8 to 12

October 2015

  • About Habitats: Polar Regions by Cathryn Sill, 2015, Peachtree Publishers, Ages 5-9
  • Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes, 2015, Little, Brown and Company, Ages 8-12
  • Judy Moody & Stink: The Wishbone Wish by Megan McDonald, 2015, Candlewick Press, Ages 6-9
  • Ketzel the Cat Who Composed by Lesléa Newman, 2015, Candlewick Press, Ages 5-9
  • Zombelina Dances the Nutcracker by Kristyn Crow, 2015, Bloomsbury, Ages 5-9

September 2015

  • Baseball Superstars 2015 by K.C. Kelley, 2015, Scholastic, Ages 8-12
  • Lovely Old Lion by Julia Jarman, 2015, Andersen Press USA, Ages 4-9
  • Poppy’s Best Paper by Susan Eaddy 2015, Charlesbridge, Ages 5-9
  • Sparkling Jewel by D.L. Green, 2015, Scholastic, Ages 5-9
  • Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn, 2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Ages 8-12

August 2015

  • Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott, 2015, Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House, 14&up
  • Loud Lula by Katy S. Duffield, 2015, Two Lions, Ages 3-8
  • Love From a Star by Katherine Cutchin Gazzetta, 2015, Sleeping Bear Press, Ages 3-8
  • Pet Hermit Crabs Up Close by Jeni Wittrock, 2015, Capstone Press, Ages 5 to 8
  • Rampage of the Goblins by Tommy Donbavand, 2015, Candlewick Press, Ages 8 to 12

Uptown Heat

Heatmiser74year.pngMusical mashups are ideal examples of cross-curricular integration. Done right, they combine the forces of genres, eras, artists, themes, rhythms, and singing/delivery styles in a cleverly entertaining fashion.

One particularly fantastic mashup by Ben Westlake combines seventies kitsch and in-the-moment cool. It’s a new video that syncs up the words and music of Uptown Funk with the video of The Heat Miser Song. Westlake’s clever combo was published April 1, 2015, and has been circulating through social media ever since.

Westlake’s bit of genius was made possible thanks to:

  • Heat Miser – He is the main bad guy from the Rankin/Bass 1974 now-classic children’s television special The Year Without a Santa Claus. Heat Miser was voiced by George S. Irving.
  •  Uptown Funk – Produced by Mark Ronson and featuring Bruno Mars, it hit one billion YouTube views in September 2015. Ronson and Mars wrote it with Jeff Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Nicholas Williams, Devon Gallaspy, Lonnie Simmons, The Gap Band, and Rudolph Taylor.

Sure, it’s some fun entertainment. But why is this such a great example of cross-curricular integration?

  1. Saving Christmas for a kid audience has pretty much nothing to do with young adults heading out on a Saturday  night. Yet this combo is funny, not awkward.
  2. Westlake’s video does not show the smooth moves of Bruno Mars and his dancers, but just knowing they exist creates a funny contrast to Heat Miser’s clunky clay-mation stutter steps.
  3. Funk, soul, boogie, Minneapolis groove. These are the musical roots of Uptown Funk. That’s a melange worthy of its own post, but add it to 1970s TV and Christmas and you are at one funky clover leaf of artistic concepts.
  4. Brand new audio technology + pretty much ‘ancient’ video footage:  Westlake bridged the gap between the production needs and options of these two pieces.

Learning Options:

  1. What other odd couple combos can you find in Westlake’s video? List at least 5.
  2. Re-enact Westlake’s video for some classroom fun or a holiday show. Stage it as a Lip Sync Battle (audience gets to judge) for extra fun. Bonus points to the teachers who join the battle!
  3. List new pairings of classic holiday shows for kids and today’s top hits. Include various song genres like country, pop and alt rock. Add a 2-3 sentence rationale for why/how each pairing should work. Choose a favorite and create a class (video) performance of it.
  4. Create a Venn diagram or similar graphic organizer to map the overlaps and gaps between Uptown Funk and the Heat Miser Song.
  5. In small groups, write a Wikipedia article for Westlake’s mashup. See the Wikipedia Article Wizard to get started. (Even if your setting doesn’t allow use of this site, teachers can parlay Wiki’s guidelines to structure the assignment).

Rooting for Espionage: gardeners as secret agents (or vice versa)

Vanessa Harden doesn’t know it, but she is a poster child for cross-curricular integration. Her feature video, Hi-Tech Guerilla Gardening, and this accompanying intro on her website, The Subversive Gardener explain why:

This project looks at the guerrilla gardening subculture – a group of individuals who spy screenshot-www flickr com 2015-11-01 10-28-42secretly meet at night to illegally plant flowers, shrubs and vegetables in neglected urban spaces.
The Subversive Gardener explores the existing instruments involved in this practice. How can they be modified, camouflaged or completely redesigned? From digging to planting, this idea approaches design in a modular fashion. These new objects function as components that combine to facilitate the individual processes in gardening. The pieces also take inspiration from nature by featuring mechanisms that reference existing natural occurrences such as seed dispersal. In addition to bio-mimicry, this idea looks at various methods of disguising gardening paraphernalia in everyday attire and accessories, drawing on influences from militaria and spy gadgetry.

Here are some ideas to bring this energy, creativity, and subversive fun to your students.
NOTE: Do your research! Promote ONLY the options that will be acceptable in your community. Yes, prime your students for gadget-filled, garden-boosting fun…just make sure they know the limits and don’t dig themselves into deep trouble.

  • Conduct a ‘literature/media’ review by making an inventory and/or catalog (paper or Googlesheet) of the gadgets in James Bond movies, Inspector Gadget (all versions), Fineas & Ferb, and the like. Select top contenders that could be adapted for gardening or farming.
  • Create a Greening Gadgetry Contest (per the above inventory). Set the format & rules (e.g. include a note of which classic inspired this variation; 3-D models and/or scale drawings that are original art only). Invite community experts, other classes, or gardeners to vote for the winner(s).
  • Scan the news and/or interview local scientists or master gardeners for a local area that suffers from a significant lack of plant life. Determine which (native) plants and landscaping options should be prioritized to revitalize this area.
  • Distill the outcome of the idea above into an engaging ~5 minute presentation (PPT okay). Include a budget overview & justification. Pose the project to potential backers (the PTA, local garden club, garden retailers, local government). Got money? Got permission? Go for it!
  • Use the overview from Guerrilla Gardening to conduct a risk analysis (paper chart or software generated graphs) for:
    • creating various types of  ‘seed bombs’
    • ‘deploying’ seed bombs some where in your community
    • IF the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, then ‘bombs away….’
  • Write & illustrate (or stage/film) a new episode or series entry for the series listed above. The new story must feature subversive gardening. Bonus points for setting it in your community and solving an actual community need.

horse + kangaroo + chameleon + monkey = hippocampus


Among many other ocean- and curricular-crossing career accomplishments, Helen Scales offers this delightful non-fiction,  Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality (Gotham Books, NY, NY, 2009). She opens on page one with a lyrical, witty, under-the-sea ode to cross-curricular integration:

Peer at a seahorse, briefly hold one up to the light, and you will see a most unlikely creature, something that you would hardly believe was real were it not lying there in the palm of your hand, squirming for water. Should we presume these odd-looking creatures were designed by a mischievous god who had some time on her hands? Rummaging through a box labeled ‘spare parts’ she finds a horse’s head and, feeling a desire for experimentation, places it on top of the pouched torso of a kangaroo. This playful god adds a pair of swiveling chameleon eyes and the prehensile tail of a tree-dwelling monkey for embellishment – then she stand back to admire her work. Not bad, but how about a suit of magical color-changing armor, a perfect fit, and a crown borrowed from a fairy princess, shaped as intricately and uniquely as a human fingerprint? Shrink it all down to the size of a chess piece and the new creature is complete.

Her book goes on to explore intricate facets of seahorse biology, economy, ecology and mythology. It’s a testament to the power of integrating vast amounts of information around a unifying theme. So read it.

In the mean time, dive deeper into the excerpt above with your students. They can:

  1. Find images (online, in magazines) of horses, kangaroos, chameleons and monkeys. Cut the images into the parts as proscribed by Scales and create a new seahorse (option: other animal parts can be used if they can be justified by functions real seahorses need and do). Name the new seahorse, its location, some feeding or other habits. Advanced option: use taxonomy to develop a binomial or common name.
  2. Each student collects 4 facts about a real seahorse (different type per student). Fact categories: biology, geography/marine life, history/economics (human interest/use), mythology/lore (what seahorses ‘can’ do). Create an undersea themed bulletin board so students can post each fact on seahorse-shaped cut outs. Facts should be labeled with the correct seahorse name.
  3. Create a 1-page (written) or 90-second (spoken) myth that features the created seahorse. Include Poseidon in at least one sentence.
  4. Create a timeline featuring how the created seahorse has been noticed, used, appreciated, or exploited over time.

Oh, and once you do read the full book and/or assign your students to read at least excerpts, you can:

  • Write interview questions for Helen Scales. Topics: her career choices & adventures; seahorses
  • Create a mock interview with student(s) answering as Scales.
  • Craft a tweet to describe a favorite fact about Scales. Ditto for one about seahorses.
  • Share any of the above with Scales. She can be contacted here.
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