A Lovely Letter About Why We Read, Just In Time for Literacy Night


Literacy Night at the East Boston EEC is happening Wednesday, April 3, 2019 (update). I recently came across a letter on Brainpickings that illustrates the remarkable power of literacy, and thought this would be a great time to share it with my YSI readers. Please enjoy the reading below, along with images of our Young STEAM Inventors sharpening their literacy skills in the Science Makerspace.

This excerpt can be found in the article “A Velocity of Being: Illustrated Letters To Children About Why We Read by 121 of the Most Inspiring Beings In Our World”.

Thank you,



When asked in a famous questionnaire devised by the great French writer Marcel Proust about his idea of perfect happiness, David Bowie answered simply: “Reading.”

Growing up in communist Bulgaria, the daughter of an engineer father and a librarian mother who defected to computer software, I don’t recall being much of an early reader — a literary debt I seem to have spent the rest of my life repaying. But some of my happiest memories are of being read to — most deliciously by my grandmother. I remember her reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to me, long before I was able to appreciate the allegorical genius of this story written by a brilliant logician.



My grandmother, an engineer herself, had and still has an enormous library of classical literature, twentieth-century novels, and — my favorite as a child — various encyclopedias and atlases. But it wasn’t until I was older, when she told me about her father, that I came to understand the role of books in her life — not as mere intellectual decoration, but as a vital life force, as “meat and medicine and flame and flight and flower,” in the words of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

My great-grandfather had been an astronomer and a mathematician who, in the thick of Bulgaria’s communist dictatorship, taught himself English by hacking into the suppressed frequency of the BBC World Service and reading smuggled copies of The Catcher in the Rye, Little Women, The Grapes of Wrath, and a whole lot of Dickens and Hemingway. This middle-aged rebel would underline words in red ink, then write their Bulgarian translations or English synonyms in the margins. By the time he was fifty, he had become fluent. When his nine grandchildren were entrusted to his care, he set about passing on his insurgent legacy by teaching them English. When the kids grew hungry during their afternoon walks in the park, he wouldn’t hand out the sandwiches until they were able to ask in proper Queen’s English.



Continue reading

Onward and Upward! A Constructivist Approach to Physics with Young Children

“What is desired is that the teacher cease being a lecturer, satisfied with the transmitting ready-made solutions. [Their] role should rather be that of a mentor stimulating initiative and research.”
~ Jean Piaget, To Understand is To Invent

“To know an object is to act upon it and to transform it.”
~ Jean Piaget, Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child


As a constructivist science teacher, I believe that children “construct” their understanding of the world through the process of creating, testing and refining (the engineering process) with their own ideas about how things work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here is what our young physicists wanted you to know about The Three Billy Goats Gruff:

  • “Some of us designed and build bridges after reading different stories about The Three Billy Goats Gruff. We designed our bridges, had to figure out what went wrong when our idea didn’t work and then build it again.”
  • “Some of us used the Three Billy Goat Puppets and told one of the stories we read. We liked reading the book with Ms. Alicia. We got to say, ‘Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge,’ by the troll in the story. We got to be the Billy Goats and use our feet to go trip-trap, trip-trap, trip-trap, and cross over the bridge. That was fun.”
  • “We read the Arabic story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff and saw Arabic writing. We learned that you read Arabic the opposite from when you read English. It was cool because we have kids in our school who learn and speak Arabic at home. Like Morocco and Algeria.”

K0/K1/K2: Ramps, Balls and Pathways

Students will study is an inquiry-based, hands-on, science curriculum designed to
offer students with exciting science experiences that extend their natural curiosity with the world and help them learn science skills, exploration and discovery. Students will use new and interesting materials to investigate phenomena and explore physics. They will develop abilities and understandings by observing, questioning, trying out ideas, and making mistakes, and by discussing, analyzing, and communicating their thoughts and discoveries with their peers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here is what our K0/K1 and K2 students had to say about this new unit:

  • “We explored and did magnet challenges.”
  • “Some of use worked on designing ramp challenges.”
  • “Some of us designed ramps that we wanted to make and started building them and drawing them.”
  • “Some of us worked on Lego challenges to build moving robots.”

Grade 1: Air and Weather Investigations

The Air and Weather Curriculum will cover four investigations, each designed to introduce concepts in earth science. The investigations provide opportunities for Young Steam Inventors to explore the natural world by using simple tools to observe and monitor change. Students will continue to develop an interest in Air and weather, experience air as a material that takes up space and can be compressed into smaller space. They will observe the force of air pressure pushing objects and materials, compare how moving air interacts with objects, and  become familiar with instruments used by meteorologists to monitor air and weather conditions. They will organize and communicate their thinking through drawing and writing while acquiring and expanding their vocabulary associated with properties of air and weather conditions. Students will use what they already have learned and what they observed in the course of figuring out how things work to draw conclusions about air and weather.

Young SPACE Inventors

March was National Women’s Month. In the Science Makerspace, we spent time celebrating the inventions and achievements of women from all around the world. We particularly discussed female astronauts and the moon walk that was canceled.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here is what our Young Space Inventors want you to know about the last week of National Women’s Month:

  • “We girls worked with GoldieBlox materials to design and build our own ideas. We had to first try one of her ideas by thinking like architects, engineers and builders. We designed and built cars, flowers and other cool stuff.”
  • “We learned about the first women who were suppose to do a moon walk that got canceled. We were mad because we wanted all week and they didn’t have a size to fit one of the woman astronauts. That’s not fair or equal.”
  • Says one male student:  “Yeah! I agree about the women astronauts. They had suits to fit the guys but not the girls. That’s just not right!Thats not equal.”
  • “Ms. Alicia had a space center where we could learn about the space station, astronauts and what they do and eat in space. When they brush their teeth they have to swallow this special astronaut tooth paste.”
  • “They sleep upside down sometimes in space, and they exercise and talk on the phone.” “They get energy from the sun and the solar panels to use inside the space station.”
  • “We read space stories and we got to draw about what we read, or make space books if we wanted to.”
  • “Some of us started working on a space station in the block area, and some of us started building a space station out of Legos.”
  • “We learned about four famous scientist that helped us get to space. They are so special that Lego made Lego people after them. That’s cool.”

The Learning Continues: Exploring Paper and Wood Through Japanese Origami

“I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” 

~ Confucius, Chinese philosopher

Just like the last post I made, our Young STEAM Inventors wanted to share what they have been thinking and learning for the curriculum unit on Paper and Wood. We have been studying and creating Japanese origami, the art of paper folding. The following quotes are in their own words:

Young STEAM Inventor Wondering #1

“We learned about different types of paper and did experiments with Ms. Alicia. We tried to write on different types of paper:  we learned about origami paper, and that it’s a Japanese word that means “folding paper”. We learned that origami paper came here from Japan. We learned where Japan is on our map and read books about Japan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Origami can exist in cake form, too!

Young STEAM Inventor Wondering #2

“We learned that Bonsai trees mean little tree in Japan and that they don’t grow that tall. We did a lot of part experiments and then got to design and create our own paper sculptures. That was fun!  We are engineers and artists like Frank Lloyd Wright, but kids have better ideas.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Young STEAM Inventor Wondering #3

“We read books about STEM girls, too. This month is to celebrate strong girls and Women’s month around the world.”

For beautiful posters to download, print out and hang up around your classroom, your school, or on your fridge, check out the “Women You Should Know” website!


The Learning Continues: Solids and Liquids With Frank Lloyd Wright

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

~ Albert Einstein



Our Young STEAM Inventors wanted to share with my blog readers what they have been thinking and learning for their three-month study of Frank Lloyd Wright. This study is part of the curriculum unit on Solids and Liquids. The following quotes are in their own words:

Young STEAM Inventor Wondering #1

“We learned about Frank Lloyd Wright and when he was a kid growing up. He liked to build things and he was good at it. His mom bought him Froebel blocks, and he used them to build with and do math like us. Ms. Alicia showed us Froebel blocks and we used them just like Frank Lloyd Wright did. We decided to build a Frank Lloyd Wright Kids Museum where kids could come and build houses and museums. His Waterfall House was our favorite, and so we built that in the block area. We also liked making sculptures with stained glass. We drew our own stained glass pictures, too.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Young STEAM Inventor Wondering #2

“We first graders learned about Frank Lloyd Wright for Solids and Liquids. Our groups worked together to design and build the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum for Kids. There are not enough Kids Museums around the world and we need to design and build more. Some of us want to be Architects and design them, some of us want to be the engineers and solve the problems that might come up and some of us want to build them. Our favorite Frank Lloyd Wright house was Waterfall, but we liked his stained glass windows and his origami chair and the dishes he designed for a hotel in Japan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Young STEAM Inventor Wondering #3

“We also liked the experiments we did with shampoo and glue. We got to explore with different shapes, how fast or slow liquids move- “we know heavier liquids move slower because they are heavy-Jonathan” , made predictions and find out the answers, we tested solids with magnets to see which objects would attract or repel, compared two different solids and test what they had in common using a Venn Diagram to graph our information. We also tested which solids roll and don’t. We worked really hard. That’s all we want to say for now. You can look at the pictures and our slide show, and that will show you the rest. Thanks for watching!”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Exploring Frank Lloyd Wright in the YSI Makerspace

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you…it is necessary to learn from trees, flowers, shells—objects which contain truths of form following function.”

~ Frank Lloyd Wright


“Ms. Alicia, can we tell our parents about what we learned this week?” asks Matteo – a young kindergarten student – as he sketches his skyscraper inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“What a great idea, Matteo! I’m going to ask kids to tell me about what they’re learned in the young Steam Inventors Makerspace this week.”

“Awesome! Ms. Alicia,” says Matteo.

Last week, all the preschool, kindergarten, and first grade students learned learned about Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect. Here is what these Young STEAM Inventors wanted you to know:

1. “When he was a kid, he used blocks to build with.”


2. “He liked to draw circles, rectangles, cubes, hexagons and other shapes. He liked bright colors too.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3. “He liked to take walks in the forest and look at trees and what animals were doing. Some of them were making more babies and some of them were getting food for the winter.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4. “He said a skyscraper was like a tree that escaped from the forest.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5. “He was inspired by nature. He looked at a yellow butterfly in the forest and came up with the idea to make a butterfly stained glass window.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

6. “He designed more than buildings and houses. He designed rugs, chairs and dishes you could eat out of.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

7. “He had his own ideas like Zaha Hadid did ,who was an architect, too. He wanted to be different.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

8. “He became famous and rich. It costs millions and zillions to buy one of his houses.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

9. “The Price Tower, which he designed after he saw tall trees in the forest, is the only skyscraper that he ever designed in his whole life.”


East Boston EEC Architects Learn About Zaha Hadid


This year, our Young STEAM Inventors are getting the chance to study two influential individuals in the exciting world of architecture. There are multiple curricular tie-ins with this project to our Foss Units, included geography, environmental studies-STEM, language arts, and art to support the development culturally responsive curriculum interwoven into Paper and Wood (PreK and Kindergarten) and Grade 1 Solids and Liquids Foss Units. The Engineering Trajectories for Preschool-Grade 2 Standards were used to guide my curriculum. We first read books about Arabic culture architecture – such as The Storyteller about Morocco – for background information. As a quick aside, this is a great book that has been leveled for Grades 1-4. The School Library Journal published the following review on this book:

Folktales involving water abound in all cultures, but this tale is unusual in using water as a metaphor for story: just as we need water to nourish our physical selves, we need stories to feed our spirits. In Turk’s fable, a lone storyteller remains in a Moroccan city where the water sources have all dried up. When a young boy seeks water, the water-seller has only a bowl to give him, but the storyteller tells him a tale that miraculously fills the bowl. In a series of nested stories, the boy’s thirst is quenched, and by retelling the stories Scheherazade-style to a sandstorm in the form of a djinn, he is able to save the city and also replenish its water supply. The author successfully melds two equally important concerns of our time—the need to keep storytelling alive and the need to protect and conserve our drinking water.

~ Susan Stan, Professor Emerita of English, Central Michigan University

Stan, S. “The Storyteller by Evan Turk | SLJ Review.” School Library Journal, 31 May 2016. http://www.slj.com/?detailStory=the-storyteller-by-evan-turk-slj-review.

I also invite you to read the following excerpt from The Storyteller, titled “The History of Storytelling in Morocco”:

Morocco’s public storytellers, or blaykia, havebeen learning, preserving, and sharing stories for nearly one thousand years. These stories have been passed down from generation to generation and have become a part of the cultural fabric. The power of these storytellers lies in their audience, or Hlaykia , meaning “circle”, “ring”, or “link”. With the Hlaykia in the center, the audience forms an expanding circle and is linked with the generations who came before them through the stories. Recently, there has been a resurgence in storytelling in Morocco. It is up to all of us to preserve our many cultures stories to pass on to the next generation of storytellers.


We then read The World is Not a Rectangle about Zaha Hadid, a female architect from Iraq who was a pioneer and who won international awards for her work. Please enjoy the following quotes from Zaha Hadid and photos of our East Boston EEC Architects in action.


“The world is not a rectangle. You don’t go to a park and say, ‘My God, we don’t have any corners’!”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“I can’t sop thinking of ideas.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


“I still believe in the impossible.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


“You should do what you like.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


From Ellie, an East Boston EEC architect:  “I designed and built a building that looks like glasses you wear. I was inspired by Zaha and her ideas. This is my idea. I thought about building like little bridges first and then I thought of putting squares for the glasses and then Little Rock’s for eyeballs. Then Kampala blocks like a bridge and rope to hang down.”

From Zaha Hadid:  “Never give up.”