An Outside-The-Box Proposal for a Unique Partnership Between Ink Think Tank and Your SchoolBy Vicki Cobb

The history of innovation is rife with stories of dreamers whose concepts were written off as impossible or absurd. What stops people from taking innovators seriously? Bold new ideas rock the status quo. It’s easy to confront innovation with all kinds of arguments about why it won’t work. It’s easy to do things the old way. But what if educators could look beyond their past experiences and beliefs and entertain possibilities that challenge their students’ imaginations in an exciting new way? For the past two years, I’ve been working on a highly innovative project, and perhaps it’s time to share my outside-the-box thinking with you.

Here are the questions I’m asking:

v What would happen to the learning environment of your school if your teachers and award-winning children’s nonfiction authors collaborated in a large-scale project where everyone was involved in sharing knowledge and skills?

v Is the love of learning, the passion that drives us children’s nonfiction authors, contagious? Can you catch it from us? Because lifelong learning is who we are and what we do.

v What happens to student literacy when the core reading material is children’s nonfiction literature? Our books are normally considered “enrichment” and relegated to a secondary role in student learning, if not completely ignored in most classrooms, although they more than meet national educational standards. Suppose that they become the intellectual meal rather than a sometime dessert? Can you imagine it?

v How could personal contact with the award-winning authors of the books enhance the professional development of your teachers in both literacy skills (writing) and knowledge of content?

v How can these questions be addressed in a way that is affordable for a school and yet compensates authors (who have no salary or benefits) for their time and expertise?

Ink Think Tank has a group, Authors on Call, of nine award-winning nonfiction authors and two consultants, one in literacy and one in children’s nonfiction literature. .We are pioneering a way to work with schools via interactive videoconferencing (ivc). Let me describe how a partnership with an elementary K-5 school with about 500 students would work. Please note that this is just an example that can be modified to fit your school:

v Your school would select one title from each author that fits into your scope and sequence in science, social studies and math. The authors can help with the selection. They can also show how the selected books fit into the scope and sequence of your language arts program.

v The authors are as follows:

Vicki Cobb (hands-on science, biography, physical science, chemistry, biology)

Penny Colman (history, women’s history, history of unusual things, biography)

Trish Marx (geography, multicultural issues)

Jim Murphy (history, disasters)

Dorothy HInshaw Patent (natural science, ecology, wildlife, western expansion history)

Rosalyn Schanzer (author/illustrator history. science, and biography)

David M. Schwartz (math, animals, natural science)

Alexandra Siy (natural science, animals, technology)

Andrea Warren (history—major world events from the point of view of the children who lived through them)

v Your school would order 100 books of each title one for each author, about 3 classroom sets.

v Your school would assign the books to the appropriate teachers who would read the book (s).

v Just prior to teaching a book, the teachers would meet for an hour via interactive videoconferencing (ivc) with its author for a brain-storming session on classroom strategies for teaching that particular book including tips on researching and writing.

v INK would establish a wiki for the project with your school. Each author would have a page on the wiki to answer teachers' questions on an on-going basis for the duration of the use of the book. Teachers could also use the wiki to blog about their experiences.

v After the students finish studying the book, they would meet face-to-face with the author via ivc for questions and answers. In order to keep the groups small, this would be three 20 minute periods or four 15 minute periods.

v In addition, the teachers would attend an ivc with Dr. Myra Zarnowski, a professor of children’s literature at Queens College, CUNY author of //Making Sense of History// and one with literacy advocate Angela Maiers, author of The Passion-Driven Classroom.

To sum up, the package would include about three classroom sets for each title (9 in all); eleven hours of just-in-time professional development, and 9 hours of interaction with children. The wiki created by the authors and teachers would be a permanent record of the insights developed during the course of the program. The total investment is $45-50 per child, no more than $25,000 for a school of 500 students, with the books and the knowledge available for years to come.

I believe that this program will generate unprecedented excitement and a culture of learning in your school. Teachers and students will love the writing projects that come out of interacting with real authors. I also believe that reading terrific nonfiction will have a significant effect on test scores. Don’t forget, it is our our books that are excerpted on the assessment tests. There is grant money available in technology (interactive videoconferences), in professional development, and in literacy.

Let us be the catalyst that revs up the learning and creativity in your school. Contact me if you’re interested in knowing more.


Vicki Cobb



cell (914)500-5429