What are you wondering today?

Do you know why school buses are yellow? Do you know why flamingos are pink? Do you know who invented blue jeans?

Do you think those questions might be fun to explore?

Wonderopolis is a way to find the answers to some of those questions and other wonders you might have.   The Wonder of the Day from Wonderopolis each day starts with a simple, but engaging, question to peak interest.  I try to learn something (big or small) each day, so I think this site will help me accomplish that goal.

Here is some information from the About Wonderopolis page:

Create. Laugh. Imagine. Explore. Learn. Smile. Grow.

Visit Wonderopolis.™ It’s a place where parents seek and nurture a brighter world for their children through the power of discovery, creativity, learning and imagination. Wonderopolis™ is brought to life by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL).

You see your children not only for who they are but for all they can become, yet you may need a little help directing that passion and igniting that wonder. We can help you get there — together. You don’t have to travel far. Wonderopolis is a special place found in a curious question, an everyday adventure and right in your own home. Just let wonderment be your guide.

Our Wonders of the Day will help you find learning moments in everyday life, ones that fit in with dinner preparations or carpool responsibilities or a stolen moment between breakfast and the bus.

The first day I looked at Wonderopolis there was great information about the Wright Brothers and the First Flight. Being a former 4th grade teacher in NC, that was one of my favorite things in North Carolina Social Studies.  A couple days later, I saw some neat information on the moon from Wonderopolis. My 4 year old had been telling me lots of things about the moon recently, so I looked to see if there was anything she might like on the site that day. I found information facts, a video, an experiment to try at home, and some vocabulary words. While that information was probably for an older student, it still had fun facts and words my daughter and I could explore together.

I found that if you miss the Wonder of the day one day or if you want to look back at a Wonder from the past, that is possible by clicking on the Wonders tab at the top to visit the archive. There is even a place where you can nominate a Wonder (another tab at the top of the page). Wonderopolis also has a presence on Twitter (@wonderopolis) where they share great little tidbits of information and informative resources.

Even though the focus of this site seems to be parents, I think teachers could use this site in many ways in the classroom. A few ideas that quickly come to my mind include using it for possible journal topics, a site of the day, a story starter, or even a research prompt.  There are guiding questions to encourage further exploration. There are “Wonder Words” that could be used to encourage and support the expansion of a child’s vocabulary.

Think about the ways you could search for book on Big Universe to go along with the Wonder of the Day.  I could use information from these sites to introduce a topic, to present fiction/nonfiction stories, to make learning fun, or even just to expose children to new information and books.

For example, I looked at Wonder of the Day #188:  Are Frogs and Toads the Same? and then went to Big Universe and searched for books about frogs.

A few of the books I found:

Critters Up Close! – Frogs

My Fly

Frogs on a Log

Recently I was invited to attend the National Council for Family Literacy‘s yearly conference to share ways Wonderopolis, NCFL’s latest contribution to family literacy, could be and is being used with children and in classrooms (also mentioned in another Big Universe Blog post).

As both a parent and an educator, I am excited about the way Wonderopolis encourages lifelong learning on a daily basis.

The Goal? Write a Million Notes!

Writing notes of appreciation is a valuable life lesson.

My mother taught me to write thank you notes before I could really read. I knew how to write my name and I knew how to draw pictures. That was a start. It was a life lesson that I still practice today, although I draw pictures with my words now.

Thankfulness and expressing appreciation are valuable facets of the character. They help the heart grow and relationships deepen. They make the world a better place.

That’s why the Note Project press release caught my eye. I was getting ready to blog about the 2011 Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year award and figured the two news items complemented each other nicely.

The Note Project is a global initiative to “make the world a better place” through notes of appreciation. I figure this blog is a “note” of sorts and serves as the perfect vehicle to laud the merits of Patricia  Urdialez, a school teacher and family literacy advocate at Longfellow Elementary in Mesa, Ariz.

Urdialez was honored this week at the National Conference on Family Literacy in Louisville, Ky., winning $10,000 for her literacy program which offers parenting classes, as well as education classes and other community initiatives for children and adults. Also honored were award runners-up Shari Meadow Brown of the Caldwell County Family Literacy program in Lenoir, N.C.; Lisa Lokesak of Family Literacy Nights in Walton, Ky.; and Cheryl Williams of the Norfolk Family Literacy program in Norfolk, Va. Each runner-up received $500 for her program.

I tip my hat to these giving women (and many others), who have opened up the world of words and opportunity to hundreds of men, women and children.

Not to be overlooked is Big Universe’s own blogger Melissa Edwards, a district instructional technologist with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina, who helped present a conference breakout session, titled “What’s So Wonderful about Wonderopolis.” She and her co-facilitators shared their school and classroom experiences with Wonderopolis, the National Center for Family Literacy’s learning website.

More About the Note Project

The Note Project, which launched yesterday, is a global enterprise to encourage one million expressions of appreciation. Such notes benefit the sender as much as the recipient, says Note Project founder Mike O’Mary. “A simple note of appreciation can change a person’s life,” he said.

On his website, Mr. O’Mary cites a letter he once received from his youngest sister. “That note healed years of self-doubt for me and taught me firsthand about the power of appreciation.”

I think the Note Project is a good way to inspire the children in your life to explore thoughts, feelings and empathy. Learning how to distill thoughts and emotions into a few powerful sentences is of great value. I know how powerful heart-felt thank-you notes can be. I’ve received them. And, when I send sincere notes of appreciation to people, I invariably get a response. “You made my day,” “Your note meant so much” and so forth.

The Note Project website includes a lesson plan to support teachers who want to teach the importance of appreciation. The lesson plan includes discussion questions, activities and inspiring quotes. Students conclude the lesson by writing and sending a note to someone.

Big Universe has many books about friendship and appreciating others. They would fit nicely with the lesson on appreciation. Here are just a few you could read:

  • I Thank God for You,” a Twin Sisters book written by Kim Thompson and illustrated by Carol Schwartz
  • One Smile,” an Illumination Arts book written by Cindy McKinley and illustrated by Mary Gregg Byrne
  • The Doll Lady,” an Illumination Arts book written by H. Elizabeth Collins and illustrated by Judy Kuusisto
  • You are a Really Good Friend of Mine,” an International Step by Step Association book written by Laura Liliom and illustrated by Lilit Vagharshyan

 “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” – Albert Schweitzer

Big Universe, a literacy-minded web community of 66,300 members, offers thousands of online children’s picture books for teachers, parents and their K-8 students, as well as a kid-friendly Author Tool to encourage a love of language, creativity and writing.

Note: You might like to read “Teachers: Girders to Grow On,” my blog of appreciation to the educators in my life during my childhood and teenage years.