Smashing Fingers & Other Familiar Concepts – freer thinking through fresh eyes

finger-wound-koe-2016I seem to have forgotten how to use my fingers and hands properly. Don’t be alarmed; no medical condition here. It’s more like a mental block on applying my expected digital dexterity to daily tasks. Sure, I’ve spent a lifetime beating up my hands in the barn, garden and kitchen sink. But clearly I’ve lost perspective on finger functions and hand handling. Here’s this fortnight’s damage:

  • light bulb-induced burn, right pointer
  • diamond-shaped mystery gouge, 3rd knuckle right hand
  • red welt plus scrape, by nail of left middle
  • 2 pin/thorn/??? pricks that won’t heal, back of left hand
  • smashed-in-a-pocket-door nail, right middle
  • blender blade slash, right pointer
  • busted battery acid bath, same cut on right pointer

So I got to thinking…what other common, regular, everyday things are we using or thinking about with less flexible finesse than we should be? To keep from dwelling on the negative (e.g. hands no manicure can save), I flipped the question to:

What everyday stuff can students explore with FRESH EYES to gain better insight and knowledge?


Everyday Stuff to Explore with Fresh Eyes…While Crossing the Curriculum (of course)

  • FOOD  You’re Eating it Wrong –  Tips on better tasting hot dogs (squish the bun for a less bready bite), hamburgers (cheese under patty so bun doesn’t get soggy), and more. Can you do better than Dan Pashman?
    • Watch a video. Find ONE MORE WAY to improve the routine way of eating the featured food. Bonus:  Make your own video with your favorite foodie technique.
  • SHAPES & GEOMETRYmajor props to Christopher Danielson for these tips:
    • Which One Doesn’t Belong? – Shapes Book with matching teacher’s guide, both by Christopher Danielson. Because per the author, ‘there are many shapes books for children. Most of them are very bad.’ This one, however, is mind-blowing! Be the geometer you were meant to be. Read, share, & buy this book.
    • Which One Doesn’t Belong – A website by Mary Bourassa & others ‘dedicated to providing thought-provoking puzzles for math teachers and students alike. There are no answers provided as there are many different, correct ways of choosing which one doesn’t belong.’
    • Minecraft – Over 100,000,000 people own this game to gleefully, even fiercely compose and deconstruct 3-D shapes. They paid to play & learn.
  • SCIENTIFIC METHOD – Don’t look at it as a recipe. Try Dogged Determination, a short story & unit, to explore how a tennis ball-chasing pup plays with the scientific method to get useful results (a game of fetch).
  • PICTURE BOOKS and PRESIDENTS Picture books should be in the Oval Office to help our Commander-in-Chief prioritize the Executive’s duties and powers for the entire term of office. See A Picture Book 4 My President to suggest a title that could help run the country.
  • ECONOMICS (if you do it right, it IS everyday stuff)
  • PAPERCLIPS (poster child for everyday ENGINEERING/DESIGN)
    • Consider one of today’s creative interview questions for new job seekers in any field:  How many ways can you think of to use a paperclip (other than its basic design function)?
    • Name another common object and devise unusual, unintended ways to use it.
  • POETRY & SONG – Both use words and rhythms to create meaningful lyrics. Use Well-Versed (a series of units) to explore common themes in new ways through classic poems & modern voices.

For the record, this thinking about thinking with fresh eyes seems to be helping me already. I deftly averted another smashed finger while wrestling some recycling into the bin (with a heavy hinged lid). Let the fingers fly!



Time – Do you manage it like a physicist or a poet?


PHYSICISTS strive to precisely define the fundamental essence of time. One physics aficionado states that, “Time is the dimension on which the evolution of the state of a system is allowed to occur.” This roughly translates to the idea that time is a way of measuring or marking events that occur in a system.

Humans first marked time by tracking natural cycles like tides, sunrise & sunset, or constellation movements. Now they use clocks and calendars to measure ideas like ‘now,’ ‘before,’ and ‘after.’ In other words, time keeps everything in the universe from happening all at once.

Physicists will accept that clocks and calendars help people be clear – or at least agree – on when an event truly happens. However, the science of time is much more complex than these common tools. For a more in-depth explanation, see NOVA’s show:  The Fabric of the Cosmos:  The Illusion of Time.

Physicists also say that time seems to show that systems go from highly organized to less organized. We don’t know why time seems to move only in one direction. And we don’t know why that direction seems to favor making things messier or more complicated than they were a ‘moment’ ago. But it’s true. We can’t un-shatter a glass. We can’t be un-late for a test. We can’t get younger.

TIME is a BIG DEAL. It’s an abstraction that can overwhelm. No wonder so many people suffer with the burden of time. That’s where the poets can help.

POETS say time can pass slowly or it may fly. They say time seems infinite yet can disappear in the wink of an eye. Some label time a dictator while others call it a gift.

Consider this essay from, Carpe Diem: Poems for Making the Most of Time. It sites such classics as Herrick’s, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” Excerpt:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

Pro Tip:  See also the long list of ‘Time’ poems offered in this same post.

So what’s an EVERYDAY PERSON to do about time?

calendar-time-managementMY definition of TIME MANAGEMENT is not set, but it includes the idea that we are balancing some extreme concepts. That is, to manage time we must be mindful of grand questions like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ while juggling schedules, deadlines, and milestone dates. It’s balancing our finite time on the planet with what we must (or get to) do today. And, yes, as we juggle the clock is ticking and night follows day follows night.

So how do we manage our slice of time? A first step may be understanding terms, tools, and your priorities. Start here:

Activities & Resources

  1. Use a search engine or book of quotes (e.g. Bartlett’s) to find your favorite quotes about TIME and TIME MANAGEMENT. Find two quotes for each term. The first quote will explain or define TIME/TIME MANAGEMENT. The second quote will offer advice on how to handle TIME/TIME MANAGMENT. This means you are finding a total of 4 quotes, two for each term. Explain why each quote you selected is your favorite for the intended purpose. Does your opinion of the person you are quoting impact how well you like their quote? Why?  Tip: and are specific sites with many options.
  2. Download one of these freebies to organize your time. Explain why you picked it. Test it. Was it useful? Why or why not?
  3. Interview two people who have complementary experiences with time (suggestions below). Ask each person: What is time? What is time management? What is your biggest struggle with either? What is your biggest success with either? Option:  video record the interview; keep it to 2 minutes or less.
    1. Night-shift hospital staff and patient who had care 24 hours (in the hospital)
    2. Airport or airline staff and frequent flier
    3. Parent who works opposite shift of spouse and child of those parents
    4. Retiree and early career worker
    5. Person who ‘punches a clock’ and person who sets own hours
  4. Consider one of these songs about time:  ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay; ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley & the Comets; or ‘Time’ by The Alan Parsons Project or ‘Time in a Bottle’ by Jim Croce.
    1. What is the song’s key message or theme about time?
    2. Who would like the lyrics more – poet or physicist? Why?
    3. Does the music add or detract from the song’s message about time? How?
  5. Find a song about time from a different genre than the one you selected above.
    1. Answer the same questions (as #4).
    2. Rewrite the lyrics to the song so it sounds like something a physicist would write. (Or a poet, if your song choice already sounds physicist-y).
  6. Write a motto (or epitaph) for somebody who manages time well. The person can be real or fictional. Explain why you selected the person (i.e. ‘Dr. Who has a Tardis; of course he can manage time!)

Search Engines & Anti-terrorism

heart-showing-x-curric-integration-by-10binary-openclipart.pngHoly search engine optimized terms, Batman! Has Google developed a new super power?

Technically, Google’s mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ According to Levy’s definitive book, In the Plex:  How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives (my review also at the given link), the company insiders follow the more direct mission, ‘Don’t be evil.

And now Google is taking specific action to stop a particular evil: ISIS recruitment. According to the 9/9/16 post on Wired by Andy Greenberg:

Jigsaw, the Google-owned tech incubator and think tank—until recently known as Google Ideas—has been working over the past year to develop a new program it hopes can use a combination of Google’s search advertising algorithms and YouTube’s video platform to target aspiring ISIS recruits and ultimately dissuade them from joining the group’s cult of apocalyptic violence. [Full post here]

They haven’t quite worked out the best way to dissuade potential recruits, but certainly finding them is a solid start. What might work? Here are some prompts for considering this concept with students:

  • Read Greenberg’s complete article. What are the top 3 pros and 3 cons of Google’s method?
  • Select a MAJOR positive goal you’ve set (or dream you have). List 1-3 things that motivate you to achieve it and 1-3 practical ways to make it happen. List 1-3 obstacles that could derail you and 1-3 practical coping skills to deal with obstacles.
  • List one action each of these entities could do to support a newly-dissuaded recruit:  friend, neighbor, teacher/school, member of religious order, local government agency (e.g. library), state program (e.g. education), federal support (e.g. citizenry experiences). Make sure each action is measurable.
  • Recommend a book (picture book, YA, fiction, etc.) for a dissuaded recruit to read/hear that
    • supports the decision to choose peace/not work for violence
    • underscores the importance of community & his/her role in it
    • highlights positive aspects of US citizenship or legal participation in US society
    • BONUS: Consider registering any picture book selections at A Picture Book 4 My President
Note:  I do not have nor have I ever had any association with Google (other than a regular user).

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
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