02 Sep

Workshop in NYC

Posted in NYC, Teaching

As many of you know, I am a freelance teacher in NYC, teaching workshops throughout the city.  One of my primary teaching engagements is a course I started a year ago through a church community outreach program.  This class has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve head as a writing teacher.  Now as the school year starts anew, I wanted to mention the course because while I know most of you are scattered across the globe, there may be other fellow New Yorkers out there who might want to check it out.

Here’s what I’m offering:

Tuesday September 6 @ 7PM — Free Class!
Sort of like an open house, this free class is a chance for interested writers to try it out and see if they want to take the 10-week course.

Tuesdays Beginning September 13 @7PM — Creative Writing Workshop
This 10-week course combines lessons on writing techniques, literature study and critique workshops for a comprehensive learning experience.

For more information, see the flyer on the left
(click on the picture to expand).
You can also email me at: iggiNgabi[at]gmail[dot]com

Please feel free to pass this information on to any NYC writer friends you may know.  Write on!


One comment »

19 Aug

What’s for Lunch? Math Homework, Duh

Posted in Book Reviews, Teaching

This might come as a surprise for some of you, but I’m obsessed with math.  Seriously.  In college, I took Number Theory, Topology and Abstract Algebra just because it sounded like fun.  It was.  The summer between junior and senior years, I got a used Graph Theory textbook and in my free time taught myself the material, for kicks.  Oh, and to this day, my favorite T-shirt has a picture of a Klein bottle on the back with the word “mathematics” in absolute value signs underneath.  (Ha ha!  Get it… absolute mathematics?  Like the vodka ads…)

But it wasn’t always like this.  When I was in grade school, and even for most of high school, I hated math.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around arithmetic that could be just as easily solved by plugging numbers into a calculator.  It all seemed so pointless.  There was no beauty, no artistry to it.  Or so I thought.

What I didn’t know in middle school was that just because you couldn’t add and divide numbers in your head, it didn’t mean you were bad at math.  In fifth grade, I was the “slow” kid in the math class.  The one who never got called on because by the time I figured out the answer, someone else had already raised their hand.  When the teacher did call on me to give me a chance, she would get frustrated at how long it took me to get the answer and call on someone else.  I thought I was the dumbest kid in the world.

But then one day, we had a sub–an awesome teacher who didn’t waste our time with fractions, decimals and other inane topics that seemed so unbelievably important to our regular teacher.  Instead, this teacher taught us about the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Rectangle and different types of infinity.  Everyone else was bored and rolled their eyes, but I stayed late after class to ask more questions.  That was the day I started realizing that math and arithmetic are two completely different things.  Maybe I couldn’t multiply numbers the fastest in the class, but I could see the beautiful patterns and mysterious ratios that made math wonderful.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  I know there are some moms and dads out there who read this blog, and others of you may not be parents but probably have kids in your lives.  I’m also betting that at least a few of you know kids who are convinced they hate math (just like me in grade school.)  Worse yet, they might even have crossed the line from hating math to thinking that they stink at it!

If that is the case, you must get this book: Eat Your Math Homework by Ann McCallum and illustrated by Leeza Hernandez.  This is the book I wish my parents had gotten for me when I was a kid.  It takes abstract math concepts and without dumbing them down, illustrates them with food activities.  How awesome is that?

One fun way to use this book is to throw a math-themed party and use the recipes in this book for the food.  My favorite recipe, of course, is the Fibonacci snack skewers!  For party entertainment, present some math riddles and math puzzles and have kids work together to figure them out.  Books like Raymond Smullyan’s The Lady and the Tiger are chock-full of awesome puzzles and challenging riddles.

Lots of kids go through life feeling like they’re bad at math, but they’ve never actually had a chance to experience math for real.  And that makes me sad.  I was one of those kids, but I was lucky because that fifth-grade sub and then a number of professors in college, opened my eyes to how amazing and beautiful math can be.  Not all kids are that lucky.  And that’s where books like Eat Your Math Homework can help.

What about you?  Do you have a heartbreaking math story to share?

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07 Jul

At the Sea Floor Cafe – By Leslie Bulion

Posted in Book Reviews, Education, Poetry, Teaching

I first learned about At the Sea Floor Cafe: Odd Ocean Critter Poems by Leslie Bulion (Illustrated by Leslie Evans) at Book Expo America this past spring.  A book of poems about ocean creatures?  My inner poetry-science geek was instantly intrigued.

While the book is short (I read it in one sitting), you could spend an entire school semester with it and not run out of things to discuss.  In fact, what I liked about this book is that each poem opened up an entire world to the reader, not just with the science but with the poetry structure itself.  Each poem in the book represents a different form ranging from rhyming couplets to free verse, to a pantoum (my personal favorite).  With each poem comes opportunity for a unique lesson plan relating either to the poetry or the science, or both.

My one slight concern with the book is I wonder if it’s trying to do too much.  Reading it in one sitting, the poems began to run together and I felt I wasn’t able to fully appreciate all the detail that went into each poem, both in its structure and in the science behind the verse.  The concept for this book is so smart and unique, I would hate for readers to miss the nuances of each poem by glossing through this book too quickly.

My recommendation for parents and teachers: Ask readers to select one poem and spend time with it, rather than having them read through the book in one go.  The book is short, so the temptation to breeze through it is definitely there, but young readers will get more mileage out of this book if they read through it slowly, one poem at a time.  For each poem, I would encourage readers to do one or more response activities to help emphasize what they learn in the poem.


  • Draw pictures of the ocean critter in the poem.
  • Cut out pictures or search for pictures on the web and make a poster about the ocean critter (what it eats, what its habitat is like, funny behaviors, etc.)
  • Go to the library (or the computer) and look up three cool facts about the ocean critter in the poem.  One rule: These have to be facts not found in the poem.
  • Read the poetry notes about the poem and try to write your own poem in that form.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It has lots of cool facts about ocean creatures, and the poetry notes at the end really show that the author knows her stuff.  Because this book is so full of opportunity for teaching, I would love to see a parents’ guide available to give parents ideas for activities that could go along with this book.  Good teachers will see millions of opportunities with this book and will get a lot of mileage out of it in their classrooms, but for kids reading it at home I think a guide with companion activities would be wonderful.

Overall, it’s a funny and quirky book.  When I teach another poetry workshop for kids, this one is definitely going in my repertoire.


27 Jun

What Makes a Book Educational?

Posted in Education, Teaching

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about educational content.  What does it mean exactly for something to be “educational” and how do we know if something is “educational” or not?  Back when I worked in toys, there were a lot of buzz words we used for marketing including that catch-all term: developmentally appropriate.  But really, what does all this mean?

When I wrote my Master’s Thesis for my psychology degree, I operated under the assumption that all toys and books are “educational” in the sense that kids can learn something from just about anything.  The question isn’t whether they’re learning something, but what they’re learning exactly.

Kids might learn colors and letters from alphabet blocks, but they may lessons about body image from fashion dolls.  They might learn their numbers by watching some TV programs but they might learn from superhero cartoons that it’s OK to hurt people if your intentions are good.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not placing value-judgements here.  I’m not saying some toys/books/TV shows are good and some are bad.  I just think we as writers need to be aware that kids will learn many things from our books.  That being the case, let’s make sure they learn what we intended and not some other hidden message that we didn’t mean to convey.  Books don’t need to have a “message” in order to convey one.  The important thing is that we create our work with our eyes open, aware that kids will learn from just about anything.

I’ve discovered a couple of books that make learning fun and are able to hide the educational “message” rather effectively.  I’ll be discussing these books over the next few weeks so stay tuned.  In the meantime, I want to hear your take: What do you think of “educational” toys/books/TV shows?  Are some things more “educational” than others?

And if you’re a parent or teacher, do you limit which toys/books/TV shows your kids are exposed to?  Why or why not?

Is limiting books that kids read the same as censorship? Why or why not?


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