Monday, October 26, 2009

Adventures in Winnipeg

I've just returned from a whirlwind trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The trip was planned so I could present 4 sessions at the annual Science Teachers of Manitoba regional conference. In addition, I was able to present at two local Winnipeg Schools, Cecil Rhodes, and St. Jean de Brebeuf.

The trip was awesome. Despite all the dire warnings from so-called "friends", the weather was pleasant, with autumn leaves in every color of the rainbow wreathing the trees. I was hosted by the lovely and talented writer/editrix Anita Daher, who is the author of Spider Song, Two Foot Punch, and many other adventure books for middle grade and YA readers. In addition, Anita edits YA books for Great Plains publishers.

The science conference was busy, extremely well-organized and well-attended. I was both pleased and terrified to discover all four of my sessions were completely full. The first session was entitled Real Science, and was based on material I had gathered when writing Science on the Loose and The Insecto-Files. My goal for this session was to present ideas for how to incorporate scientific thinking and hands-on activities into the class so as to be able to answer the question, "What do we need this for anyway?" in a meaningful way. With an audience that ranged from grade-6 teachers straight through to grade-12 physics pros, I had my work cut out for me! I was thrilled when evaluation forms came back with mostly 4s and 5s out of 5  stars - I guess that means I did good!

The second session was called Magic Up Your Sleeve and was based on material of my upcoming book of the same name. In this session, we tested out some incredibly easy magic tricks, all of which were based on scientific principles. The tricks are good attention-getters, introductions to a new unit, or just a great way to add some fun to a ho-hum day. Some of the attendees volunteered their own tricks and shared them with the group - we can now tie each other in knots and make a card appear to levitate on its own.

After the conference, the teachers were treated to a wine and cheese party at McNally Robinson (Grant Park), where they received a special discount. You should have seen the books flying off the shelves - a beautiful sight indeed for this writer! Our hosts, Lynn Popham and her wonderful staff, made this visit an absolute pleasure. Cameron showed me an ab-fab book called The Black Book of Colors by Menenna Cottin. see review from CM here  I was completely blown away. It's a picture book, in braille! It works on so many levels, and is an example, truly, of thinking outside of the box. I heartily recommend it to everyone!

The following morning, I had yet another treat in store. Anita was going to be on a panel of authors, speaking on the topic of "What Inspires You?" for an audience of women entrepeneurs. The panel was moderated by Charlene Diehl, the director of Winnipeg's Thin Air Writers' Festival I begged an invite so I could watch Anita in action.

The other two speakers on the panel were authors who were new to me: Deborah Schnitzer and Chandra Mayor. They were both fabulous, with lots of intriguing insights that got the audience's minds going and made everyone laugh out loud.

Some of the choice comments included Deborah Schnitzer's observation that writing is all about "learning to pay attention." Anita agreed, saying that she tries to "live her life like a sponge."

Chandra Mayor said, "Inspiration knocks very lightly. If you don't answer, she just goes away." And Deborah pointed out that for her, "a book comes alive in conversation. It's like choreography, a dance of ideas." I particularly loved when Deborah described the first time she read Virginia Woolf's The Waves. She said it just knocked her flat - she experienced " a coincidence of consciousness" and "rocked herself into morning reading..."

Charlene Diehl did a fabulous job moderating, but also offered her own insights as a writer and editor. She said that what inspired her to write was her long-held interest in "the place where language turns into music." She said she's been a fan of jazz music for years, and also is very interested in science, though not at all capable as a scientist! Since I feel the exact same way, I'm certainly looking forward to sitting down with Charlene sometime, with some Pat Metheny or Molly Johnson on the stereo, a glass of wine in hand, and discussing the connection between science and art...

And what's a trip out of town without a little dining and dancing? An afternoon of dim sum, which included a Winnipeg original I'm sure - Chinese pierogies - was great. As was the venison dinner partay prepared by Anita's husband Jim.

Can't wait to go back to Winnipeg - really!


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