May 10


How are you? Today is our last day of state testing, so we can finally start thinking about the end of the year. We would like to set a date for your zoology presentation. Please give us some dates when you are available.

Jessica and Heather
April 16

Hello.... We just returned from spring break. The zoology presentation sounds great. The focus of our unit was mostly about learning what living organisms need to survive and how to observe and learn about living organisms in a classroom setting. Anything more you can share with the students would be great. I'm sure more of your research came from observing animals in their natural habitats which would be a great connection to what we have already studied in class.

Please let us know what your schedule looks like over the next few weeks. We are in total test prep mode for the upcoming NJ Ask, but the students might welcome a break.

Take care,
Heather & Jessica

April 11

Hi Heather and Jessica,
Good to hear from you. Would you like me to do a "zoology" presentation in conjunction with your Animal Studies unit? I am currently writing a book about spiders (the "sequel" to Bug Shots). Let me know and we can discuss details.

April 8

Hi Alexandra! Jessica and I would like to set up our third session with you. You had mentioned wanting to focus more on science with the students and this last meeting might be the perfect time to do so. We are finishing up our Animal Studies unit and will be moving into Solar Energy in May. Please let us know if there is something specific you were thinking about or if it would just be a general discussion. We could revisit some of your books if there was something you think we should focus on.

We hope that all is going well.
Take care,
Heather & Jessica

March 8
Today I discussed research process with the students. I began with the idea that research is not a neat process. It involves many pathways that can lead to new discoveries and also to dead ends. Heather and Jessica provided me with the names and research topics of specific students. Prior to the session I created a colorful picture with the name of the topic in a circle in the center. From that center I drew branches showing what I already know, or think I know, about the topic. We then formulated questions we could ask about each piece of information. For example, Lili is writing about the benefits of doing arts and crafts rather than watching TV or playing video games. We came up with three areas of research we could explore: health, social implications, and education/learning effects. We chose health and then suggested different key questions we could ask that could be searched online. I emphasized that the quality of websites varies greatly and that many "smart" looking sites can be poor sources for information. I suggested students look at websites affiiliated with universities (.edu); with government (.gov) such as NASA; and with research organizations (.org). We then explored another student's topic which was pets. I suggested that "experts" are a great way to find information, and in the case of pets it would be helpful to interview pet owners. We briefly discussed statistics as a way for a student to show the impact of homework on student stress and performance. I asked the students to write their own topic on a blank piece of paper inside a circle in the center. I then asked them to write down what they already know, or think they know, about their topic. I asked them to choose one of the branches to formulate a question that they will later use in their research. Finally, I told them what some of my favorite facts are from my own work and where I discovered them (for example, I learned that the first copyrighted film in history was produced by Thomas Edison and that it showed his assistant sneezing--this fact came from the Library of Congress; I also showed them a picture from Cars on Mars of the holes drilled in the rock on Mars by the Rock Abrasion Tool that is built by a NYC company--I explained how I visited the company and learned that this tool has a small piece of the World Trade Center built into it.) The technology was not the best during our session. We lost contact several times and the video was not high quality. I opted not to do a powerpoint because of some of the trouble we had last time. Instead, I held up the paper I had done the sample work on in front of the camera. The students were able to read it. I'm happy that the session was helpful to the students and teachers. It seems that my expertise as an author is most helpful at this point. I would love to share more science content with the students at some point in future sessions.
Thanks, Alexandra

March 8

Hello. Thank you for your patience as we work with the inconsistencies of the Internet. I though today's lesson was very helpful for the students. Much of what you shared was also what we had started to discuss. Having the students hear it one more time from someone who uses this process regularly, I find to be very valuable and meaningful for them. They hear the same thing over and over from the same person, but when someone new shares the same information, it begins to click.

I apologize for the way the session ended. This is the only time Jessica and I are both available, and the end of the day gets rather crazy. We will touch base sometime next week and we can plan out our final meeting.

Take care,


Hi Heather and Jessica,
In preparation for tomorrow's visit I am asking that each student come prepared with paper and a few colored pencils or markers. We will be doing a couple of exercises to help them in the research process. I think this interactive approach will be more helpful than a handout.
See you tomorrow!

March 6
Thanks for the specifics about the student's projects. I will refer to these examples in our discussion. Alexandra

March 6, 2012

Hi Alexandra,
Here are a few of my kids' topics for their Feature Article: One student (Lillie) is writing about why Arts and Crafts are a better alternative than watching TV or playing video games. She needs some help with research. Another student is writing about coin collecting and why it's a good hobby to have. I have another who is writing about why you need to practice a sport. Many of my students do not need to do a lot of research. They are basing their article on personal experience and interviewing, but any insight you can give them would be very helpful. Thanks so much!


March 6, 2012

Hello. I think our meeting on Thursday will be extremely helpful for the students. They are working on revising their drafts and focusing on how to use their research in an interesting way.

I looked at some of the topics my students are writing about. I have several who are writing about homework: stress it gives students, whether teachers really find it valuable, the benefits of HW. I think this might be one worth talking about - what kind of research could be done for this type of topic and what kinds of facts would help support their ideas. I have one other student (Anna) who is writing her article about why some people don't have pets and others do. She is having a tough time thinking about what "facts" she could use. Her sub-topics include the pros and cons of cats and dogs (the sub-focus of her article).

Jessica will post her students' topics herself. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.
Take care,

March 4, 2012

I met with Heather and Jessica on Friday afternoon to discuss our next classroom session planned for Thursday, March 8. We agreed that I will address the topic of research--specifically how targeted research can enhance a personal essay. The students have chosen their topics for their feature article and will begin research soon. I plan to discuss how I uncover interesting facts that make my writing relevant and captivating. I will use examples from my books and provide some images. We will also discuss how I cite sources. Heather and Jessica will send me the names of a couple of students and their topics of research early in the week so I can weave some examples from the class into my discussion. I also plan to send the teachers a handout that the students will be able to use during the session.

January 24, 2012
This afternoon I met with "my" students and their teachers, Heather and Jessica. We began with several excellent questions from the the children. The first was a question about my earliest experiences writing nonfiction. I told them the story of writing my first report in fifth grade. It was a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. I shared with the students how much I loved doing the research for my report, and how proud I was of the cover I made for it: it was a portrait painting I'd done of Dr. King's cut out in the shape of his profile. My mother typed my report on her IBM Selectric. I think of that project as my very first book. I went on to tell the students about my daily ritual of writing in my diary (which had a lock on it to protect its contents from my four brothers). My diary writing went on for years--all the way through high school. One student wanted to know what inspired me to write the books I have written. This was a segue into my slide show. I shared about thirty five slides, beginning with pictures of me as a kid, of my husband and four kids, and our dog, Ruby. I showed them pictures from our road trip on the Alaska highway and how that journey was inspiration for my book CARS ON MARS. This "nonfiction journey" posed challenges for me as writer--after all there are no humans on Mars, indeed no life (as far as we know), yet living characters are what make books interesting! I shared with the students that when I realized the Mars rovers were actually geologists studying Mars, they came alive as characters. I also showed electron micrographs from my books Mosquito Bite and BUG SHOTS. The children recognized my youngest son, Leo, as one of the children playing hide-and-seek in the book. I explained the inspiration for the book came from the cover image of a mosquito on skin (the title popped into my head instantly). Yet, a title is only a title, not a story. I realized I needed to have a story that kids could relate to--who hasn't played hide-and-seek? In my book, I decided to show the hide-and-seek game (which is actually a kind of "hunt") in black and white snap shots to contrast with the colorful digital scientific micrographs of the mosquito life cycle which is also a "hunt." Unlike the children's game, it is a life and death hunt for blood to feed its eggs. I explained to the students that contrast is a powerful tool used by writers and artists. I also emphasized how choosing words carefully is essential. The title of my book, BUG SHOTS: The Good, the Bad, and the Bugly, for example, is a "take-off" on the words mug shots. The title suggests the book will be about "out-law" insects. Choosing a theme, in this case crime, gives a book a focus and meaning. I also talked a bit about the book I'm working on now. SEARCHING FOR METHUSELAH is about the oldest living things on Earth, ancient bristlecone pine trees. One student asked where I got the idea for this book, and I told them I had watched a T.V. show called NOVA about these trees and instantly became fascinated. Ten years later I finally got to go on a research trip to photograph and explore the ancient bristlecone forests in California and Nevada. I told the students that this has been my favorite trip so far. I found the oldest tree on Earth, named Methuselah--although I didn't have time to explain how the tree got its name, or any of the intriguing history about it. I'll save that for next time. I encouraged the children to choose ideas for their own writing that have a tight focus. They should look for inspiration in their own lives--trips they have taken, people they know or admire, pictures they have seen, and things that they are curious about (I told them there are amazing clouds here in Bouder, CO where I live and that I want to write a book about clouds.)
The visit went very quickly, and the technology worked pretty well, although we lost contact a couple of times (perhaps the school wireless was a little unreliable--could it have been due to the weather in New Jersey? The images from the classroom were poor quality; I couldn't really see children's faces (I'm curious about the quality of video from my end). I look forward to working with the students in the future and to talking with Heather and Jessica to plan our next session. I think it would be interesting to have the students read brief passages from their work and we could talk about word choice, use of imagery, contrast, and other qualities. I would also like to share some of my work with them in more detail to help them better understand the writing process.

January 20, 2012

Thank you, Heather and Jessica for meeting with me today in preparation for next week's classroom visit. As promised, I have pasted below Myra's comments about my work for you to share with your students.

Here are a few ideas you might want to use when students are writing feature articles and applying writing techniques used by Alexandra Siy.

Examine Books by Alexandra Siy for Writing Ideas You Can Use in Your Feature Article
  • Titles: Alex is good at writing titles. Examine the titles of her books and the titles of her chapters. What can you learn? Here's a few ideas: (1) rhyming titles like Cars on Mars, (2) play-on-words titles like Bug Shots (Mug Shots), (3) titles that tell you what to do like “Go 303,0000,0000 miles, then stop at the fourth rock from the sun" Add to these ideas by examining Alex's books. Think about this when you write your title.
  • Mix short and long sentences. Check out the beginning of Bug Shots. "Bugs bite. Some drink blood. Bugs rob. They steal food from gardens and fields." Read the first page to get a sense of how short and long sentences work together. Then try some of your own. Try a mix of short and long sentences in your feature article.
  • Talk directly to the reader. The first page of Bug Shots contains this direct question from the author: "How can you tell the difference between a good bug and a bad one?" Can you find other questions that the author raises for the reader? When is it good to ask the reader a question? Try this in your own writing.
  • Parentheses. Examine the use of parentheses in Cars on Mars. On pages 6 and 7 Alex uses them several times. Figure out why. When is it good to use parentheses? Here's a sample: "Almost seven months after takeoff, Spirit titled, a maneuver designed to help it slip safely into Mars's atmosphere (picture a swan dive) rather than burn up from friction (think belly flop).
  • Writing Captions. Alex writes informative captions. Study the captions in all her books to see what she includes. She often includes extra information that isn't in the main text. Sometimes she tells you where to look for specific things in a picture. Sometimes she compares what is in the illustration to something else. What do you notice? Try writing captions like Alex in your feature article.

I am very excited to be a part of the Bogert School Project. I have always felt that teachers are too often overlooked as a tremendous resource for connecting nonfiction books with young readers. Personal experience has made me appreciate the demands of teaching and I hope that this project will empower teachers and offer exciting opportunities for creative learning and expression in the classroom. I can't wait to meet you, the teachers, and your students. It is a gift to be able to connect with my readers!

February 15, 2012Hello. Jessica and I would like to find a time (maybe tomorrow (2/16) or Friday (2/17) to meet and discuss our next discussion with the students. We previously discussed talking to them more about the use of voice and imagery in their writing. My class is drafting their feature articles this week and will be working on specific revision strategies the week after next (vacation). It sounds as though we are on the same page in regards to what the children need to work on and ways that we can use your own writing to help them see how to do it.
Please let us know if you are available either of the dates above. Due to previous commitments, I am not available until 3:05 on Thursday and 2:35 on Friday. Please let us know how this works with your schedule. Otherwise, we can plan something for the week after next.
Take care,Heather & Jessica
February 27, 2012Hi! Jessica and I are back from vacation - it was so nice to have the week to rest and relax. We would like to find a time this week to chat about our next discussion with the students. Please let us know which day(s) are good for you around 2:30 EST. Hopefully our schedules will be so that we can coordinate this easily and quickly.
Take care,Heather
Febraury 28, 2012
Hi Heather and Jessica,Can we talk on Friday afternoon? I am moving this week and am getting internet hook-up in my new house today, so have been sporadically unconnected as I flow between two houses.Thanks!Alexandra
March 1, 2012Hello. Friday works for both of us. We dismiss at 2:30 and can be ready to chat by 2:40. Please let us know if something changes.
Take care,Heather