Friday, March 24, 2017

mathemagical thinking & NPM challenge 
The world is such a different place these days...

No, I'm not going rail against the state of our democracy or the demise of our Earth (again), but I am going to take on a polarization of positions that is just not serving us any longer.

It's that divisive notion that in this world there are word people and there are math people and that they are fundamentally different.

I shouldn't have been quite so slow to get here, since both my offspring are walking talking reminders that you can have a natural knack for both spelling and calculus, for both algebra and narrative.  But I was raised (through absolutely no ill intent on the part of my parents) to understand that I was a word person, a poet, and that I would not be good at math.  When they took me out of kindergarten because I could already read and put me in first grade, I cried on Mrs. Walker's lap because I knew I was "smart," but there was something about subtraction that, try as I might, I just couldn't get.

Now, developmentally speaking, that was true.  I was not ready at 6 to travel easily backwards on the number line, and I WAS a person who needed concrete models that were not offered to me.  The whole 100 chart did not lie open before me in my mind's eye, the way it does for some of those kids whom I would have called, as recently as last year, math brains. I couldn't get it--YET.

So I struggled through, taking no fewer than 4 years to memorize the multiplication table because it was only that for me--memorization of unanchored phrases, not representations of numerical relationships. I learned the logarithms of borrowing and carrying without understanding what they achieved as a computational efficiency.  (When I finally encountered Base Ten blocks at the age of 22 in a Math for Teachers course, it was a moment of Great Enlightenment!) No one ever said to me, "Heidi, math is a language, and you're good at languages.  Off you go."

And then last year, aged 52 and teaching 2nd grade for the first time, I realized that I had never really understood the function of the equal sign.  Seriously.  I had been teaching my kindergarteners about number "sentences" which are special "because you can read them left to right AND right to left," because I myself had never come to my own solid understanding of what "balancing an equation" really means, an equality on either side of a fulcrum.  Now I'm finally getting that the grammar of math may be different than the grammar of English (or German or French or Spanish, all of which I get), but it's still a system, with--as my math major daughter will attest--a lot less need of fuzzy uncertain interpretation than English!

Imagine learning all this anew in the middle of middle age!  Now I'll just let you watch this video that in ONE WEEK transformed all of my students' attitudes about who is and who isn't, who can and who can't be, strong mathematicians.  It came to me through colleagues who are studying this "duh-obvious" yet only recently explored idea of growth mindset, a concept which I knew but had not really applied to myself until I began to think about me and math.  It's long but it's worth it.

Now you may be asking, "What has all this to do with POETRY?"  Last summer I started planning a collection of math poems for young readers, but its concept was very different even eight months ago than it is now.  Now I'm positively excited to explore some of my own math development through poetry, and I'd like to ask for your help with a National Poetry Month challenge for myself.

I'm going to try to draft a math poem each day in April, and while some of the poems will be specifically about number and operations, I also want to write about experiences of math learning.  Will you help me gear up by leaving your math thoughts, questions, anecdotes and confusions in the comments?  I'd love to have a trough full of math fodder to dig into as I embark on my project.

I leave you with a poem I wrote when my mathematician daughter turned 8, and with thanks for sharing your mathemagical moments if you choose to!
                                                                   (c) Heidi Mordhorst 2007

According to my calculations, Catherine is our host today over at Reading to the Core.  Off you go, in search of the only solution to the problem of know it's POETRY.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ireland O Ireland

I tried to write with ire about Ireland, but my associations are all too jolly, somehow.  Those leprechauns are powerful.

Linguistic Jig

There's Donegal, Dublin and Derry,
Kildare and Kilkenny and Kerry;
To the east Meath and Louth,
with Cork to the south;
In the middle is old Tipperary.

And we mustn't forget County Limerick--
it gives us that verse with a glimmerick
of fiddle and whistle,
of bodhran and thistle--
the limerick is more than a gimmerick!

To begin you belabel the folk:
"There once was a man in a cloak."
You then rhyme his tale,
Perhaps sprinkled with ale,
And end with a right bawdy joke.

Enjoy the below, and then jig on over to Life on the Deckle Edge for today's round-up with Robyn!

Friday, March 10, 2017

mooning around

The moon, while ancient, never gets old. 
We never tire, we humans,
of searching the moon:
finding it wherever it is in the sky,
mining its faraway & so close surface for messages,
timing its passages,
assigning it metaphors and meanings
for every night of every day.

In second grade, we study the moon to observe changes over time.  Now, in addition to all the poems ("The New Moon" by Eve Merriam, "Del Ombligo de la Luna" by Francisco X. Alarcon, and my own "The Moon Moves") we already use to enrich our moon study, I can bring in Laura Purdie Salas's If You Were the Moon and, from Elaine Magliaro's collection Things to Do, "Things to do if you are the MOON."

Laura's book came to me a little too late to use as our kick-off this year, but next year, that's what I'll do.  It's that perfect combination: lyrical language connecting personal experience of the moon to each reader and nuggets of concise scientific information. Jaime Kim's friendly illustrations do a lot to clarify the concepts.  A page that many of my students will find really helpful is

Catch and throw.  Catch and throw.
                At night, the moon seems to glow in the sky.  But the moon is made of rock.  Like the
                Earth, it does not create any light.  Instead, the moon "catches" light from the sun
                and "throws" it toward Earth.

Elaine's poem covers some of the same ground (how could it not?), and yet makes the moon new again.  I hope she and illustrator Catia Chien will forgive the amateur photography, but besides wanting to show off the whole gorgeous page, this busy teacher doesn't have time to fight Blogger over the formatting of this perfect poem!

from Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro (Chronicle Books 2016)
Nope, it never gets old, the Moon.  Moon on over to Michelle and Today's Little Ditty for the "round"-up today!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

All-Billy Birthday Extravaganza!

Welcome, all!  This week for Poetry Friday--thanks to the popular suggestion of Linda Mitchell at Mary Lee Hahn's blog last week, all who care to are posting a favorite Billy Collins poem (or Billy-inspired original.  March happens to be his birthday month--the great man turns 76 on March 22.  Leave your links here starting at 8pm, Early Birds!

I thought to challenge myself by finding a BC number that might actually appropriate for kids, unlike the one being famously recited (you know I had to post it) by this wee acolyte at the altar of words:

But I haven't found a satisfactory one, so I'm going with this one, dear to the heart of mothers and former sleep-away campers) everywhere.

The Lanyard || Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I , in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even. 

from The Trouble with Poetry (2005)

I'm hoping to have time to put together a "Golden Spine" poem--as you can certainly guess, that's a poem made of the stacked titles of another poet's poems, in tribute to their genius.

In the meantime, the InLinkz froggy will help you hop from Billypad to Billypad, and I pledge to eventually make it to each and every post this weekend.  Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, February 24, 2017


I will not complain, not one bit, about this stretch of persistent spring weather--65* to 75* every day for a week, although I know what it augurs.  As my daughter (aka The Future) says, we might as well enjoy it while Earth lasts.  So for now it's a slow cooking we're in....and in that spirit, on Friday morning I posted only the beginning of this InstaDraft TM. Saturday morning I'm finishing it off.

Allium, Part I

Am I onion? one large bulb
a single layered heart
ready to shed my
brittle paper jacket
ready to loosen membranes
fall into rings
tears springing easily
when cut

Or am I garlic? one fat clove
of the many pressed in
puzzlewise together
bound in a thin tight skin
like a head full of brain
whose barrier fights back
must be sliced
or crushed

Either way:
pliant snap of faintly green-white
wet sting, sticky
resistance of ivory ooze and bite--
either way,
into the hot pan,
in the puddle of melting butter
I land.

Allium Part II

I settle, I saute,
gently jumping in the fat.
Slow the sizzle
to a bubble.
Let me simmer,
edges golden browning,
softening, curling.  Sugar
overcomes sharpness,

slow roasting to striped
ribbons, ovals of savory scented
caramel sweetness.
I am reduced,
both destructed and created,
recreated. Onion  or garlic?
All I am
is cooked.

(c) HM 2017

There--garnished and served up.Get it while it's hot.

The round-up today is with Karen at her shocking clever blog.  Run your roots on over to taste the beneficial sulfurs of today's posts.

Friday, February 10, 2017

air, pride, plume, here Buckle!

Okay, I've had enough--for a while at least.

Image result for windhover birdI'm buckling
back to
pure words now,  
pure words now.
It was a blustery day here yesterday,
swirls of snow,
but none of the peace of accumulation.
Whenever I go back to Gerard I'm struck,
the way his lines speak the every day
in a glorious plenty beyond the everyday.

The Windhover || Gerard Manley Hopkins  1877

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
    dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

The round-up today is at The Logonauts with Katie.  Swing on, sweep on, glide on over for some gold-vermilion ecstasy.

Friday, February 3, 2017


My post this week is at A Penny and Her Jots with Penny Parker Klostermann!  She's featuring my 2nd graders' coral reef poems WITH artwork this time.  Swim on by, and thanks!

Friday, January 27, 2017

wielding words

This week...

I did not write a poem
(my haiku hasn't healed)
Instead I wrote a letter
I marched onto the field

I gathered fellow marchers
in my neighborhood and school
We the people write together
to defend the moral rule

My action is my poem
It doesn't feel strong
but joined with all your poems 
it will #resist wrong 

(c) HM 2017

In keeping with the message, this is a pretty terrible poem, but the most I can muster this morning.  Power to--and from--the people.   Thanks for giving energy to my action, fellow poets.

Friday, January 20, 2017

inaugural 3LW


[Warning:  Today it's all about me.  If you can't stand any more narcissism, skip this post, although I hope that I'm a little more reflective than You-Know-Who.]

There's a reason I feel permanently uncomfortable at the moment.  It lives right there in that sentence, in the pull between "permanently" and "at the moment."  Since November 9, I have been trying to do something unnatural to me, which is to live equally attentively to This Moment Right Here and to The Looming, Broken Future of Uncertainty.

As a poet, I specialize in This Moment Right Here--it's part of what makes me good with the youngest children.  I can easily shut out the Big Picture and focus on the minute details of the concrete environment.  At the same time, I can see the Big Picture (sometimes called "the curriculum"), the Exciting, Dependable Future, and I happily reach out to control it through planning--which is part of what makes me a good teacher. 

Now, we all know intellectually that the future is actually not very dependable, but look at the decades in which I have lived: I was too little to be aware of the zeitgeist of the 60's, too young to do more than gather information about the world of the 70's; too absorbed in the music of my fresh new adult life to fully respond to the troughs and peaks of the 80's; and perhaps forgivably complacent about the positive direction of the 90's.  With the arrival of children and the turn of the century, my focus turned resolutely to the small daily monuments of parenting and poetry, even as towers fell and bubbles burst. All my life, it has been thoroughly comfortable for me to look out at the Big Picture and see possibility, positivity, the "arc of the moral universe...bending toward justice," rainbows, rhyme and rhythm.

But this decade, this one with its high hopes (deep gratitude to all the Obamas) and harsh realities (the demise of the charter school project, the necessity to tolerate overlapping full-time commitments--is my privilege showing? I'm mortified) has already proved taxing to my optimism.  Now, as I prepare to send my first-born out into a future governed by an ignorant megalomaniac surrounded by venal underlings--a giant baby with his fists full of toys--my modus operandi is failing.

On the one hand, I can still go in to school and get down on the floor with 7-year-olds to hear their personal sharing:  "Today I'm sad and a little worried because my dog Salty had to go back to the vet.  She had surgery and now she has an infection."  "I feel excited today because after school I'm going to the movie theater with my cousin."  The here-and-now of long vowel patterns and two-digit addition happens within the context of the outside world past, present and future--how did the Wampanoags survive in winter?  what are the threats to the coral reef?  should President Obama be on a coin?--but they're manageably small. And of course I can get down on the floor with my own children--yes, you can have the car to go bake cookies with your friends today; look at you getting your 3rd black stripe at tae kwon do; what should we have on our Tuesday pasta?"

But on the other hand, my certainty about the Exciting, Dependable Future has evaporated.  It looks a lot more Looming and Broken right now (probably always was for most people of the world, but I didn't have perspective to see that) and thanks to my dependable but unpredictable hormonal fluctuations, my reactions are all over the place in any given week.  This is my permanent discomfort: sometimes tolerable, not even noticeable in the middle of writing poetry with 2nd graders or cooking that weekly pasta, and sometimes more of an anguish, such as today when I feel completely powerless to stop what looks like a truly disastrous moment for our country--not the greatest country on earth, but the one with the greatest, most deliberate founding ideals.

So, my Three Little Words, because one doesn't seem to be enough this year, expressed with the deliberation of periods:

READY.     Be prepared, Heidi, because the world is not as you thought it was, is not as it's always
                   been, and your responses are sometimes scarily intensely NOT optimistic ("those we love
                    and those we do not love" -- shout out to my minister).
STEADY.   Take a breath, keep perspective; remember it's always been more of a roller coaster than 
                    you realized; there are arcs and waves and lurches in the march of history; you serve the 
                    world better if you position your own oxygen mask first.
GO.            Resist despair and paralysis, keep on keeping on; act, speak, model, love in all the small 
                   ways, while keeping an eye on your opportunities in the Big Picture, even when your 
                   influence feels weak.  And less philosophically, or perhaps entirely at the heart of 
                   wisdom: moving your body makes a difference.  Dance.   Ready Steady Go.

Check out this interesting initiative...

There's a poem percolating here but I won't have time to work on it today...preparing for a visit from Carol-Ann Hoyte and friends, staying with us tonight and marching in DC with us tomorrow!

Round-up today with Violet Nesdoly, another Canadian participating in our American fit of democracy.  March along with us!

Friday, January 13, 2017

under the sea

In 2nd grade we have been working on a group of related projects with "a special place" at the center.  The class voted to study coral reefs way back in November, and in addition to writing information brochures about this ecosystem, we are now writing a version of Stone Soup set on a coral reef ("Seashell Soup") and we'll make a display for Multicultural/International Night about a country where the people's culture depends on the their reef.

After all the research, I like to offer an opportunity to express understandings in another form--poetry.  As I Tweeted last Friday, part of our inspiration came from Kate Coombs's book Water Sings Blue, and you'll see echoes of her "Coral," "Shark" (what a poem!) and "Nudibranch."  And it must be said that some students did not know the factual information as well as they felt the wonder of the reef--a helpful check-up!

So here are the Diamond Miners' coral reef poems, their first "assigned" poetry writing of the year, after months of steeping in excellent models.  As always, I consider it a success when the great majority of kids blast off on their own, knowing that they are the boss of their poem, its concept, its language, its mood.  This year my young writers needed most support in bossing their poems' form--most started at the left margin and wrote straight across their chosen paper, so our revision conferences focused on arrangement.


by Angel O.

I’m a new world, maybe a galaxy
I’m beautiful like stars
I’m like a new world to millions
I was born to shine
    “I want to meet you.”
        by Ollie S-F.

People call me pretty.
Thank you for the compliment.
I don’t like that much attention.
I don’t move from this spot
for my whole life.
My species is endangered
but you can help.
My name is Coral.
What is yours?

Coral Reef
     by Erick P. F. 

The polyp is big
the polyp is long
the polyp is bleaching
all day long

by Kayla B.

I am round
I have no end
I just want
to be your friend
to the end


                    Colorful Coral Reef Hotels
                            by Angelina H.

    Purple,                   green,
               orange,                       blue,
yellow,     red,        magenta  too
       Hold your breath until you fall
We’re like a town of underwater colorful hotels
  or even a world
Hold your breath until                        you see like a
       you rise                                            galaxy
We are corals, we are hotels, we are a world of colorful hotels

                      by James A.

              A squid is fast
but always last.      A squid is
like a tube that shoots smoke.
A squid is fast and past other
sea animals.  It is big    it is red   it is like
a big coral reef.  Some day
 it will be bright, gold, happy, and
an escaper.  If a squid was in
jail it would just flush down
the toilet, down down down into the blue
big wavy ocean and get fast again!!!!
Are you like a squid?

Who am I?
by Jacob L-M.

I am squishy
and wet
I have no shell
I live under water
who am I? ……

               a sea slug!

Sea Cucumber
by Kelly M.

organic orange
sea cucumber
I’m rough
I don’t move
I suck up the sand with my mouth
like a vacuum

The Coral Friends
by Roselyn H.

we are busy   we
are growing   we
don’t care what
you are doing    we are
growing and our friends
are too   when we

grow up we will play too.

Coral Shark    
     by Andy M.

I swim fast and slow...
I hide in the shadows...
waiting to attack!

Clown Fish
by Nathan Z.

A clown fish is a wish
When you catch
it, it shakes you
Such a glory
such a fish
When you smell it
it smells deelish
remember when
you caught that

     Sea Slug
        by Watal F.

I am a sea slug
   that is blue
that has no shell
I live in a cave
      in the

Sea Turtle
      by Joey F.

I am
a sea turtle with a shell
I swim calmly
with others
and what I see
is bright colors
and we are
different shapes
like different

The Coral Flower
    by Angela S.

a bright flower
that shines
across the water

to catch the sunlight

Sea Cucumber
      by Madelinne A.

keeps sand clean
and it is orange
and oval
wet and squishy
smooth and bumpy
skin has circles

The Reef
by Joseph S.

He lived in a shell,
breaking out to swim.
Deep-down ocean water blue.
Salty sun light.
Star-coral loved to swim in
the reef with his colorful

Don't you feel all warm and watery now?  The Round-Up today is hosted by Keri at Keri Recommends--drift on over to the colorful reef of posts!