Archives For Curriculum Matters

In depth lessons, units, themes or research skills and projects to create critical problem solvers. Posted on Tuesdays

What’s your name?

It’s a question we are asked and ask many times in our lives. But how often do we consider all the layers of story and identity connected with the answer?

Some strangers may not even bother to learn your name but size you up by the way you look. You may be identified by your first and last name on paperwork and be judged on that basis. Colleagues might know your name but not your nicknames. Friends might know your nickname but not the story behind them. Family might know the history behind the name but maybe not your feelings.

Each and every name carries a world of stories, feelings, histories, associations, cultures and identities. Here are five ways to mine the richness in a name so that individuals can be seen and known for a tiny, yet monumental, part of who they are and how they feel they belong or don’t.

  1. Ask Questions. What does your name mean? Who were you named after? Why? How do you feel about you name? Has your feelings towards your name changed?
  2. Use These Poems or Story Excerpts as Writing Prompts: 
    • House on Mango Street’s “My Name” chapter By Sandra Cisneros
    • Z is for Zuri in Damitra Brown Class Clown by Nickki Grimes 
    • The Name I wanted by Richard Blanco 
    • Ismi by Suheir Hammad in Born Palestinian, Born Black 
    • His Long Tapered Fingers by Fan Chiang
  3. Have the students or group create a visual representation of their names and their feelings about it and make a name quilt
  4. Investigate historical or contemporary situations where groups or individuals have had to change names to “belong”
    • Ellis Island or Angel Island and current immigration to the U.S
    • Native American “assimilation process”
    • job, loan, and other forms of paper work discrimination based on perceived ethnicity of name
  5. Role play and examine the negative impact of name calling and brainstorm creative ways to be an upstander in those moments

And in case you want one more. Here’s a bonus activity! 

Read any of the books from this “what’s in a name” bookshelf and start a discussion with whomever you are with. ( click the image for book summary.)

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.08.04 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-17 at 12.07.40 AM

And by the way: my name Samantha means listener in Aramaic. I was named after the Bing Crosby Song “I am a one gal guy” from the musical High Society. When I was a reporter I used the byline Sam because I liked the gender ambivalence. And when I hear my full name, it’s usually because I am in trouble with my mother.

Feel free to add your own name stories to the comments below or share other name activities.


Transforming Your Space

after the Class Room Audit

So you’ve read your classroom for the silent messages that your room is sending. ( see here for how to do so)    You’ve determined how welcoming a place it is for multiple identities. Now what?

Here’s the fun part. Think about one thing you can add to your space that will make it a more inclusive environment?

Does that seem overwhelming?

Don’t worry, I’ve tried to make it easier for you.

I’ve  compiled  a sampling of diverse and inclusive resources to provide your students or your own children with mirrors that reflect and validate their own identities and windows that allow a view and an appreciation for identities different than their own. I have tried to provide a variety of materials in various disciplines that would be appropriate for a preschooler to a middle schooler. Click on the picture for my pinterst board of resources and enjoy celebrating all identities.

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 10.12.17 PM

After window shopping and gathering inspiration and ideas, fill out your wish list here.



A Non-Judgmental Class Room Audit

Without a word, classrooms send messages about what identities are valued and celebrated. In a diverse society many biases, conscious and unconscious exist. If we don’t resist them we support them by our silence. So take a moment to “read” & reflect on the messages your space is sending?

  • Who is reflected and validated by seeing a mirror in a poster, a dramatic play item, or a book on the bookshelf and so forth?
  • Do those items match the community you serve?
  • Does your space showcase the diversity of society at large?
  • What windows are you providing that will help your community see and appreciate identities different than their own?
  • Whose voices are missing?
  • How might you address your non-judgmental observations about this space?

As an example: Here’s a snapshot of my library audit as it stands at this moment. I haven’t finished decorating but I know what posters I own. I have put books on display about the beginning of school but I know what other books I work hard to have in my collection. However, what non-verbal messages I am sending is what counts. I know I value an inclusive world, but do those who walk into my space know that? I find it valuable to reflect on that as I set up my space for the new year.

Identity Group Who’s on the Walls/ in materials? Who’s missing? Reflections/Notes
Ability Only abled people

On walls – more differently abled people are represented in a scattering of books – El Defo new graphic novel comes to mind

Non-hearing, blind, wheel-chair bound – basically all categories While I have some books about this I don’t have enough in the collection – need to make sure I have some images and work on the books – I know some of the books exist but do I send an obvious message to those who walk in the library that this identity is valued by me?
Family Structure
Gender Call me Tree A gender-neutral book – how do I convey this in images?
Geographic Region Maybe add blocks for maker space that reflects different cultures
Religion I need to examine this category more closely – don’t know what I have or don’t – certainly don’t have images
Sexual orientation

Take a moment to jot down your own reflections about the journey that you are on and the one you want to provide your students. Feel free to share you observations in the comments below.


So you’ve identified the gaps on your shelves. (If you haven’t, click here to find out how.) You know you need certain windows and mirrors. You’ve determined that you should add some missing voices. And you don’t have as many multiple perspectives on a topic as you’d like. Now what?

Don’t panic! I’ve done some of the work for you and am sharing it with you now. I’ve compiled an ever- growing list of resources that I personally use to build an inclusive and anti-bias library. However, the list is only as good as my own research and it’s also hindered my own blinders or sweet spots.

For example, even though I’ve consciously been building diverse book collections for a long time, it was only a few years ago that it occurred to me to analyze the bookshelves for class bias. Focusing on other sweet spots of collection development impacted the children I teach. They did not have access to windows and mirrors that encompass the range of economic diversity. The books on my shelves mainly contained the default in most books: the middle class. While it’s tough to find books that portray a variety of socio-economic circumstances in positive light, it is our job to seek them out.

My list of resources and my own analysis of my collection is also only as strong as my blind spots. Recently, I asked attendees at a MSLA workshop about creating cross cultural collections. They identified some gaps, mirrors and windows, and missing voices that I had never even considered.

Why? First, because we all have our own biases whether we want to admit them or not. Secondly, the librarians, teachers and administrators who were present at the conference, serve different communities than I do. So of course, they quite rightly have different identities on their radar.

What I love about this work is when we share our concerns; we can pool our knowledge and broaden each other’s horizon.

Someone in the workshop said she was looking for Cape Verdean resources. Sadly, you aren’t going to find these books when you walk into a Barnes and Nobles. So I started to dig. I had never researched books for this identity before. I was thrilled when I found out that Janet Costa Bates, a woman whom I often see at New England SCBWI conferences, had published a book about her grandmother’s experience of emigrating from Cape Verde.

I was delighted to discover this fact for a number of reasons.

  1. Another person helped me think outside my own boundaries and inspired me to seek out resources for which I might never have looked.
  2. I discovered that it is hard to find windows and mirrors through traditional sources; but with some work they are out there. (Here’s Mike Monteiro’s list which is also included in the resources below.)
  3. There are some (though too few mirrors) available for the Cape Verdean community that you might serve.
  4. This is a perfect example of why we need to share our personal stories. I’ve casually chatted with Janet over the years. But it wasn’t until writing this post that I understood what mirrors she was offering a community of Massachusetts residents. If it wasn’t for the participant in my workshop who caused me to think in a new direction and if it wasn’t for Janet quietly writing her story, my students may never had a chance to experience a life so different and similar to their own. Because of course, I am now adding the Lee & Low new voices honor award winner, Seaside Dream to my own library collection!

So please, enjoy the resources I’ve compiled thus far. (If you share them with others just cite my work). But more importantly, share with me your resources. Tell me what you looking for so together we can grow a comprehensive list for every identity and every single story that adds to the multiplicity of that identity.

And don’t forget to check back here periodically as I am continually updating the below Symbaloo resources for developing diverse bookshelves! (click on the image for the topic links)

Anti Bias Articles


If you are a in a school, don’t miss out on the link to access your school’s demographic data and a multicultural appendix B list for the common core.

Race & Ethnicity Resources

The icon for each ethnicity links to multiple resources.

The icon for each ethnicity links to multiple resources.

LGBTQ Resources

There are other resources in the gender and family structure sections.

There are other resources in the gender and family structure sections.


Some of these resources deal with questioning  gender identity while others deal with more traditional gender stereotypes and related issues.

Some of these resources deal with questioning gender identity while others deal with more traditional gender stereotypes and related issues.

Family Structure

Many more resources on the way.

Many more resources on the way.


Only a few religions are represented so far. More are coming. Click on the religion's icon for more resources.

Only a few religions are represented so far. More are coming.
Click on the religion’s icon for more resources.


There are multiple identities within the community of the differently abled. Here is the beginning of a list to provide windows and mirrors for this group of individuals.

There are multiple identities within the community of the differently abled. Here is the beginning of a list to provide windows and mirrors for this group of individuals.


English Language Learners & Bilingual Resources

Sites to purchase materials in various languages and articles about bilingual topics.

Sites to purchase materials in various languages and articles about bilingual topics.



Examining for class is tough. Most books have a middle class default. It's important to see out a spectrum of economic realities.

Examining for class is tough. Most books have a middle class default. It’s important to see out a spectrum of economic realities.

 Diversity Blogs

Some blogs I follow to stay current on diverse resources to build an anti bias bookshelves.

Some blogs I follow to stay current on diverse resources to build an anti bias bookshelves.

General Resources

These sites could help you build your collection in various areas of identity

These sites could help you build your collection in various areas of identity



You don’t need to be Snow White to understand the power of a mirror. You just need to be a kid who has an adult who shares a book with you that reflects a part of your identity.

The joy which flooded my first grader’s face today as I told her and her classmates about a number of “old friends and new friends” made my aching back and sore feet worth all the while.

I didn’t need the reward of her glee half as much as she needed the validation that the world and her place in it was okay just because during the book fair I shared a book (with her in mind) called Tales of India.

But I didn’t share this book just for Diviya.  I shared it for all my first graders. For Diviya, this mirror, along with my pathetic year-long attempts to count in Hindi every time she comes to library, might help her know that there are people in the world who both recognize and celebrate her differences. But I also want my students, who may not have the direct life experience of the richness of the world, to know it exists. That is the power of story. It can work both ways. Each way forges a connection.

While it was a calculated gesture – I make sure I can share books that reflect my community and also expand their horizons-  it was also a simple and easy act that paid more than it’s weight in delight.

May we all have such  moments where we can feel the delight of self recognition or the awe of  providing it for others. May we all enjoy the thrill of stepping  out of our comfort zones and listening  to unfamiliar stories and experiences.

Go forth and find at least one mirror and one window today.

You may have heard about the Lego debateor the mixed reviews  about Goldieblox or most recently the up and coming “design and engineer your own dolls house”,Roominatewhich, while brilliant in concept, still panders to the marketing of “girl colors.” And then of course, there’s the maelstrom that erupted when journalist Peggy Orenstein published Cinderella Ate My Daughter

All these are examples of attempts to look at what “stories” or messages we are giving children. 

And I say children deliberately. Much of the focus in these discussions is appropriately about what role models, stereotypes, and gender identity constrictions we are giving girls. But these not so conscious but conscious prescriptions also perpetuate a particular world for boys.

When Jean Kilbourne pointed out the advertising messages I was consuming about what it meant to be a women back in 1983 with her first Killing me Softly, I never saw the world the same again. I am deeply and eternally grateful to  her for making  the smog I was breathing obvious. But I abdicate how to fix the world of media messaging to the likes of her and Peggy Orenstein.  I also I leave the valiant attempts to encourage girls and women in STEM to the likes of the female engineers of Stanford such as the creators of Goldieblox’s, Debbie Sterling and Roominate’s Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen.

But I won’t let those who interact with children off the hook.

I challenge you to ask the following questions when you pick up a book for your self, for your child or for your students. These questions are geared to picture books but with imagination can be adapted to any story or message you or the child in your life is consuming.

I also challenge you to think about your reaction to the fact that I wrote this post in pink! Did it bother you if so why?  Feel free to share your gut reactions if you have managed to ignore the color and read this far!

When you read a book take a few minutes to ask yourself or the child you are with these or other questions about gender roles. Pay attention to what difference it makes to your experience.  Should you be asking yourself these questions all the time now that you have started to pay attention? 

  • What do the women/girls look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the women/girls doing?
  • What objects/toys etc are the women/girls playing with interacting with
  • What do the men look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men doing?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men/boys doing?
  • How do women and men interact with each other?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a woman’s/girl’s face?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a man/boys face?
  • What messages do you think the book is sending about the gender roles of men and women?

Call me naive. But I just don’t understand why people are so threatened by a book that can expand a child’s understanding of the world. I am talking about the hullabaloo surrounding the magnificent picture book, Golden Domes, Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors.  domesWhile I am late to the controversy, I want to add my two cents to the conversation. Mainly because the whole brouhaha is a perfect example of why we MUST give children all sorts of windows and mirrors. If we do not share stories from a range of multiple perspectives, then fear will flourish and people will wage war rather than create connections.

If, like me, you are just discovering that there was both a twitter battle and a parent who returned the book in disgust, you might be imagining a very toxic book. However, Hena Khan’s powerfully simple, rhyming text merely shares with the reader traditions and colors of Islam. The artwork by Mehrdokht Amini bathes the reader in the beauty of this way of being in the world.

Yet certain “gatekeepers” feel like it is their obligation to protect children.

But what could be possibly threatening about a culturally specific example of the universal concept of helping those in need?giveneed

I can only imagine the fear that makes someone react to a recommendation or purchase of the book with the stance that “Islam is dangerous” (part of the twitter battle with author/ former educator Kate Messner) or  “I don’t want this culture around my children,…Learn to read and write before we start teaching (about) the fanaticals.” (Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Father upset after child finds Muslim book at school fair.)

While there are individuals in any group who may have extreme views or behaviors if we as the adult “gatekeepers” don’t expose children to multiple stories about multiple ways of being, we are accomplices in perpetuating intolerance and terror.

Answer: Godly Luck and the Three Pandas, a new retelling of the old fairytale. While Natasha Yim’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears isn’t my favorite, I do LOVE the Asian spin on this Western classic. The text isn’t as lively a read- aloud as I would like for such a plucky character but the cultural details and rituals surrounding the lunar new year festival are a fun introduction to Chinese new year.

This is a great conversation starter for younger students who are already familiar with Goldilock’s antics so they can pay closer attention to the dragon parade passing by the open window in Grace Zong’s illustrations.Image


Gong Hei Fat Choi” in Cantonese or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin.

Wow! I feel like an explorer who has just rounded a corner and unexpectedly stumbled into paradise. I have just discovered an almost perfect blend of technological innovation and pedagogical motivation. It’s a path that leads us past the outdated bubble-filling regurgitation of memorized facts and catapults us into the future of testing kids on the higher-order thinking skills that the 21st century demands.

Welcome to the beta testing pilot of  SimCityEdu:Pollution Challenge!

If you are like me, you may remember the SimCity games from the days when PC’s were the size of a desk and CD-rom games seemed too complicated for the average adult user to figure out.  I remember sharing this cutting edge technology with my middle school students in the early ’90’s. But I never dreamed that someone, namely a multidisciplinary team known as Glasslab, would turn this game on it’s head and create a sustainability game that helps teachers and students track how well they think.

This game has taken my mission right out of my mouth and served it up as meaningful play. (Maybe Erick Erickson is also clapping from the sidelines). But right now I can’t imagine a better tool to help our future leaders create the emphatic problem solving skills than a device that notices every mouse hover and analyzes your understanding of cause and effect.

SimCityEdu:Pollution Challenge seems like the perfect way to help students learn how to balance their individual needs versus a community’s needs versus the need to protect the earth now and for the future.

I can’t wait to use this thought provoking tool with my own daughter and all the other future global leaders.

So check out this ground-breaking advent of Blooms Taxonomy meets Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs meets standardized testing meets engaging play all of which adds up to a world of more thoughtful citizens.

Not a bad start don’t you think?

If you want to be blown away, keep your radar trained on what  Kate Messner, author of Eye of the Storm has to offer the world. If you can invite her for an author visit. If you aren’t in a school setting, follow her blog. Either way, you’re in for a treat.

After I read Eye of the Storm, I secretly wanted to be Kate when I grew up. Who wouldn’t want to tell such a compelling story while raising the reader’s awareness of sustainability and community issues. (See my previous post if you want to know why I admire the book so much). So I started following her blog and was in awe of her mentorship there. I shared Eye of the Storm with other teachers and suggested we bring her in for a visit. They were equally passionate about her work and so she came to work with the seventh and eighth graders.

Wow what a wonderful whirlwind of wisdom and world building! Students and teachers alike raved about the day. Here are some of their comments so you can judge for yourself.Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 11.06.33 PM

My own daughter, who’s love of story is of the musical or dramatic kind and not necessarily of  the reading or writing format, said, “Can you ask Ms. Messner for her presentation? I found it so helpful. I want to use it.” Another student said, ” I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but it was actually really good.  Her suggestions for revision are things I would actually do.”

May we all inspire deep thinkers who are eager to share their stories!