08.01.15

Team SoNaR Is A Team Of Geocachers…And It Only Took Me Three Years To Realize It

Posted in SoNaR Adventure Books at 2:49 pm by Aaron Tate, M.A.

I’m no longer a muggle.  I know that now, but I didn’t even realize it until just recently.

No, I can’t do magic, and no, I never attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry.  But that doesn’t take away from the fact that, until Christmas day 2014, I was a muggle.  And now, like all three members of team SoNaR, I am officially a “non-muggle.”  No, really.  The question is what gives me the right, especially if I can’t do magic, to make this bold claim?

It’s certainly not because I can turn a wine goblet into a rat.  And it’s also not because I can conjure up a Patronus or apparate wherever I want to go.  No, it has nothing to do with magic, and the answer is quite a bit more grounded in the real world: it’s because I’ve learned how to geocache, simple as that.

Now, if you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “What is geocache?,” well, you’re still a muggle.  But that’s okay; like I said, until very recently, I was one as well.  (Besides, maybe this blog will motivate you to become a non-muggle yourself someday…it’s really fun and rewarding to do so!)  You see, “muggle” is what all geocachers affectionately call folks that are unfamiliar with geocaching: what geocaching is, its purpose, the unwritten rules of the game, and how to play.  (Of course, the term “muggle” and its meaning are borrowed from the Harry Potter series, but with a slightly different context.)

So, what exactly is geocaching?  And, beyond that, what could this activity possibly have to do with team SoNaR?

In its most basic sense, geocaching is a worldwide, family-friendly game of hide-and-seek.  Or, it’s a treasure hunt.  Or, it’s a great excuse to get outside, use GPS technology, and enjoy the great outdoors.  Regardless of how each individual looks at it, geocaching (geo- for Earth, and –cache for hidden provision) is a game in which geocachers search for containers that are literally hidden all around the world.  Caches can range in size from smaller than film canisters to as large as cars.  They’re on every continent.  They’re also in the oceans and, yes, one has even traveled to the international space station.  In fact, chances are good that there are multiple caches hidden less than a mile away from where you live.  You’d be surprised how many geocaches there are that you unknowingly pass by while you’re running errands through town.  In short, there are currently nearly 2 million of them in total, and they’re hidden virtually everywhere, just waiting to be found by anybody and everybody that wants to search for them.

Now that I’m an official geocacher (I’ve even hidden my own container at N 39° 59.948 W 104° 48.715, called TateSoNaR2), I spend as much time as I can with my family searching for geocaches.  To date, we’ve found 39 of them so far.  Geocaching has become my family’s newest hobby (our 6-year-old son has even found two of them all by himself), and it is perfect to do together whenever possible.  (I especially love when our youngest son wakes up and asks us if we are “doing geocaching” that day.)

As I’ve recently become more and more knowledgeable about geocaching, I’ve also come to realize what I did over three years ago as an author of the SoNaR adventure books: without even knowing so at the time, I inadvertently, and fortuitously, created a team of geocachers as the main characters of the books.  As it turns out, I didn’t even realize what I’d done until I was halfway through the draft of the third and final book, but that turned out to be absolutely no problem in the end.  Take a look at this:

  • Geocachers secretly hide containers for other geocachers to find; certain protagonists in the SoNaR adventure books secretly hid clues and containers all over the world for team SoNaR to find.
  • Geocachers use GPS coordinates and hints to find hidden containers all over the world; team SoNaR uses clues to locate hidden containers and clues that are also hidden all over the world.
  • Geocachers work cooperatively together during their searches; team SoNaR (usually!) works cooperatively together throughout their adventures.
  • Geocachers are friendly people that enjoy a good seek and find; team SoNaR is no different.
  • Geocachers are sometimes misunderstood by “muggles”; throughout the SoNaR adventure books, the members of team SoNaR find themselves in situations in which they are (dangerously) misunderstood by people that don’t know what they are up to.
  • Geocachers are persistent; Maddy, Corby, and Aaden never give up.
  • Geocachers have a better, cleaner world in mind during all searches (look up CITO events for more information); team SoNaR always boldly faces various dangers in favor of a better, cleaner world.
  • And, last but certainly not least, geocachers experience many exciting adventures every single day; to put it mildly, the same can be said for team SoNaR.

Well, there we have it: without even knowing it, I created a team of geocachers before I even knew what geocaching was.  And boy, am I glad I figured this out when I did.  Because of my discovery, I’ve easily found a way to incorporate geocaching as one of the most important aspects of my series (particularly in the final two books).  What a perfect fit this has proven to be, and I couldn’t be happier that it has come to pass.  Hopefully, as more and more people become familiar with geocaching, and as more and more people get the chance to read the SoNaR adventure books, they too will agree that this is a match made in hidden container heaven.

For more information on the SoNaR adventure books, please visit http://www.sonarbooks.com/.  For more information on geocaching, please visit http://www.geocaching.com/.

06.21.15

The 7 Habits of the Highly Effective…Author

Posted in SoNaR Adventure Books at 4:19 pm by Aaron Tate, M.A.

Living up to its slogan, Bromley East Charter School (BECS) in Brighton, Colorado is “Soaring to New Heights.”  For the past few years, our school has transformed and improved in ways unimaginable.  Specifically, one of the major shifts in our school’s culture has been with the inclusion of The Leader In Me by Steven R. Covey into, and throughout, our building.  Based directly on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (also by the same author), the philosophies behind The Leader In Me are intended to produce leaders of all ages that are accountable, responsible, and reliable, and that make a positive impact in our world.  And, if this year is any indication, our institution will continue to flourish under this new philosophy.

According to Steven R. Covey, the principles outlined in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are “universal.”  That is, not only can they be applicable to school settings such as BECS, but they can also potentially be applicable to any facet of a person’s life.  Whether they are applied professionally, personally, academically, or theologically, the 7 Habits can guide the way a person (or an institution) operates, thinks, and acts.  As a veteran educator at my school, I can attest to the power the 7 Habits have had on our students, our staff members, and our institution as a whole.  In addition, there’s no doubt in my mind that the 7 Habits have also had a profound impact on my life as well, both personally and professionally.  As a result, I see no reason to disagree with Covey’s assertion that the habits can be “universal.”

That being said, I’d like to put the 7 Habits to the test.  If they truly are as universal as Covey contends, shouldn’t they also be able to positively impact authors and the writing process?  If the answer to this is yes, then what might the impact from each be?  The only way to find out is to individually put each habit under the “microscope” to see how it can positively guide an author to success.  So, without further ado, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as applied by successful authors:

1.)   Be Proactive (internal):  Successful authors proactively take charge of their writing.  If an author has a good idea but never chooses to proactively put it down on paper, it never becomes something of substance or reality.  Without proactivity, everything else ceases to exist, so get out there and write! 

2.)   Begin With The End In Mind (internal):  Successful authors have goals in mind that they strive to achieve.  Some authors choose to write the end of a story first, literally “beginning with the end in mind.”  Others choose to outline a story in its entirety before ever writing a single word (I personally fall into this category), again “beginning with the end in mind.”  And others simply just get straight to their first draft, waiting to see where their story will end up.  Regardless of the methods used, all successful authors begin with the end in mind: to ultimately create a well-written piece of literature that others will want to read some day.

3.)   Put First Things First (internal):  Successful authors find any way possible to make writing a priority.  The only way a story will get written is if it isn’t constantly being put on life’s back burner.  Television, family commitments, schedules, chores, careers, errands, kids…the list of possible distractions to writing are too numerous to count.  Somehow, some way, successful authors find a way to put first things first and consistently make writing a priority (if even only a paragraph at a time).   

4.)   Think Win-Win (interpersonal):  Successful authors make “win-win” decisions that are in the best interest of all parties (agents, editors, illustrators, publishers, and readers) involved.  Focusing on the big picture and what is truly best for all involved, successful authors never make writing or publishing decisions that can be interpreted as short-sighted or selfish (for example, ignoring an editor’s suggestions for a rewrite simply because the author has already written and rewritten the story countless times).  Thinking win-win creates situations that are beneficial for everybody, not just for the author.

5.)   Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood (interpersonal):  Successful authors work cooperatively with all parties mentioned above, always first seeking to completely understand the viewpoints of others before reacting and responding with their own.  Having receptive ears and an open mind can only foster trusting, mutually respectful relationships with professionals in the business, and this can only lead to great things down the road.

6.)  Synergize (interpersonal):  Successful authors work synergistically with agents, editors, illustrators, and publishers to create stories that are far better than they would have been if the author chose to work on them alone.  When great minds in the publishing business work together in true synergy, great ideas and great books are produced (the old saying “two heads are better than one” comes to mind).  Or, to put it another way, 1 + 1 = 2, but with synergy, 1 + 1 = ∞.  Which do you believe leads to more success?

7.)   Sharpen The Saw:  Successful authors never forget to sharpen their mental and physical “saws” in between writing sessions.  Just like a saw needs to be sharpened from time to time to remain effective, so do we.  Exercising, reading, drawing, painting, cooking, resting, taking walks, relaxing: whatever authors can do to regenerate their mental and physical selves, they should do.  That way, when they return to their craft, their minds and bodies are renewed, thereby creating an ideal environment for more successful writing.

Given the above, it appears that The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People truly are universal.  If they are taken seriously and followed consistently, the habits can lead anyone…authors included…to success.  Based on today’s reflection, not only will I continue to incorporate the habits into my personal and professional lives, but I will also strive to apply them to my writing life as well.  After all, if I’ve found so much success with the habits already as it is, why would I not want to apply them when I’m also wearing my author hat?  I can’t think of any reasons, can you?

“There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.”

~ Beverly Sills

04.16.15

I’m A Reader. That’s Why I’m A Writer.

Posted in SoNaR Adventure Books at 11:31 am by Aaron Tate, M.A.

I’ve often been asked what qualifies me to write a novel, much less an entire young-adult adventure series.  After all, according to my students, I’m “just” a middle school science teacher, so how would I know how to write a book?  Sure, I know the natural sciences as well as the next guy.  I know biology, physics, and chemistry well enough to teach it in an engaging and successful way.  I also know how to easily tell which science is being taught at any given time: if it’s biology, everything stinks; if it’s physics, nothing works when or how it should; and, if it’s chemistry, everything blows up.  The bottom line is that I know science, I know teaching, and I know teaching science quite well.

So then, what is it that qualifies me to step out of the realm of science and attempt to write a novel that people might actually want to read?

Honestly, that’s a very good question, one that I’ve mulled over many a time.  After all, I didn’t major in English in college.  I’ve never taken anything even remotely resembling a creative writing class in my life.  I’ve never attended a writing conference.  And it wasn’t until I was 29 years old that I even considered attempting to write a book.  Like I said, a very good question.

The good news is that the answer is even better.

What is that the makes me, a middle school science teacher, qualified to write a young-adult adventure series?  Simple: I read.  And I read.  And I read some more.  And then I read some more.  And then I read after that.  In other words, I’m a book sponge (or a book junkie if you prefer).  I mean, what better training is there to be an author?  By reading book after book after book, we get to see what works versus what doesn’t work.  We get to see how characters can be dynamically brought to life.  We get to travel to areas that we normally would never have the chance to visit.  We get to fantasize.  We get to escape.  And, above all, we get to learn what makes a good story.

Therefore, I’d like to put this question to rest by submitting my résumé as an aspiring author:  I began reading 4th grade level books when I was a 6-year-old in the first grade.  Since that time, I’ve read hundreds of books, thousands of pages, and tens of thousands of words.  I’ve learned what makes a good story that people want to read, and I’ve done my best to transfer that knowledge to my SoNaR Adventure series.  The way I see it, even though I’ve never taken formal classes on the subject, I’ve been an author in training for over 20 years.

And that is why I believe I am qualified to write a novel.  What remains to be seen is if my readers agree with me.

“I read. Therefore I write. Therefore I am.”

~ Fredrik Schmidt Fotland

11.25.14

I Can’t Be A Writer With I’m Done With School, Can I?

Posted in Science And Education at 1:12 pm by Aaron Tate, M.A.

This week, the PreK-8 in which I teach is celebrating spirit week.  As part of the festivities, students come to school dressed in different themes, ranging from Color Day to Moustache Day to Heritage Day.  Today is Career Day, and students have arrived representing virtually every possible career under the sun.  From doctors and nurses, to professional athletes, to teachers, and even to fast food mascots, it appears that nothing has been left out.

Well, almost nothing.

As I’ve observed students interacting with one another today, I’ve heard “What are you dressed up as?” and “What do you want to be?” asked over and over.  And, over and over, I’ve heard with excitement the standard “I’m gonna be a (fill in the blank)!” in response.  As an educator and a self-proclaimed life-long learner, I am encouraged by the discussions that today’s theme are generating.  After all, thinking about one’s future is a good thing, right?

Unfortunately, today’s activities also left me feeling somewhat unsure as well.  This is because, only once so far, have I heard the following conversation take place, and my guess is that it’ll be the only time:

Student A: “Hey, what’re you dressed up as?”

Student B, dressed up in normal clothing: “I’m a writer. Duh!”

This is interesting to me, and got me to thinking: career or not, why is it that more students don’t consider writing long-term beyond their school years?  Is it because it’s harder to picture “being” an author than it is to picture being a mechanic, a politician, or a football player?  Is it because creative writing tends to take a back seat to the dreaded 5-paragraph essay in schools today, thus leading to burnout and disinterest where writing is concerned?  Is it because putting one’s thoughts and stories out there for everybody to read is scary enough to dissuade even the most hardened extrovert from ever considering pursuing such a goal/career?  Or is it because writing simply never takes root in a child’s life, given that there are so many other distractions that assume priority from day to day?

Regardless of the reasons, today was eye-opening for me.

As someone that has always, and will always, embed non-fiction literacy strategies into the science classes that I teach, I’ve always thought I’ve been doing my part to get kids reading and writing.  However, because of the “a-ha” moment I experienced today, I’m now left to wonder if I need to do more.  In addition to emphasizing non-fiction literacy strategies, should I also be emphasizing creative writing just as heavily?  Also, as someone that is an almost-yet-to-be-published-author-that-didn’t-even-start-creatively-writing-until-the-age-of-29-himself, do I have an obligation to push creative writing in the hopes that it might spark long-term interest in one or more of my students at an earlier age?

Well, it certainly couldn’t hurt, that’s for sure.  And it’s not like I wouldn’t be able to effectively incorporate creative writing into my classes.  It’d be real easy, for instance, to have students write a story from an atom’s point of view, or to describe the final hours of the dinosaurs in vivid detail.  Therefore, as I continue reflecting on this, and as I begin planning for the upcoming school year this summer, I’m certain that I’ll make it a point to include more creative writing activities than I ever have before.  And who knows?  Maybe doing so will cause me to hear “I’m gonna be a writer!” more than once during the next career day.

“The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.” ~ Leo Rosten

09.08.14

Celebrating The World’s Nerds (Or, it’s Okay to be Smart!)

Posted in Science And Education at 9:11 am by Aaron Tate, M.A.

Science nerds rule.

At least, that’s what the main characters of my debut young-adult adventure series, Cold Secrets, appear to believe.  And, to be honest, I have to agree with them.  I mean, doesn’t it always seem to be the “nerd” that everybody teased in school that becomes fabulously wealthy years down the road?  Or, how about the “nerd” in your biology class that became a Biochemist, went on to work for the CDC, and discovered the next great treatment for a deadly disease?  And don’t forget about the “nerd” in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) class that grew up to be the first person in your town to enter Earth’s orbit as an elite astronaut.  If you ask me, they’re all pretty cool for so-called nerds.

“If you like nerds, raise your hand. If you don’t, raise your standards.”

~Author Violet Haberdasher

I have taught middle school science for over eight years.  If you walk into my classroom, you will notice that I am a nerd, loud and proud.  From the doormat that says “I SEE NERDS” to the posters adorning my classroom to the lab coat that I wear from time to time, it’s readily apparent that I proudly embrace my nerdiness for all to see.  And when students actually have the gall to call me a nerd (how could they?), I smile, nod my head, and thank them.  Because, believe it or not, I think it’s actually pretty cool to be a role model for all the future nerds of the world.

“Being a nerd really pays off sometimes.”

~ Ken Jennings, Record-holding contestant on Jeopardy!

In the Cold Secrets books, best friends Maddy Rutherford and identical twins Corbyn and Aaden Franklin share the spotlight as the series’ main characters.  Throughout their adventures, they proudly refer to themselves as Team SoNaR.  This team name is derived from the fact that the three of them believe that science nerds rule.  Written as an acronym, this would look like S.N.R., which, when read aloud, sounds like sonar. Thus, team SoNaR was born, and the rest is nerd history.  And, for anybody that reads the series, I bet you’ll agree that team SoNaR makes science nerds seem pretty dang cool (and fun to read about).

“So nerds rule.”

~ Author Christopher Moore

So, what is it exactly that I’m trying to say?  Well, it’s simple really: nerds are cool.  We should embrace them, applaud them for their accomplishments, befriend them, believe in them, and watch them as they change the world.  And, above all, we needn’t waste our time and energy making fun of, or bullying, them.  Because, as Bill Gates once famously said, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.”

 

07.25.14

Team SoNaR Has Been Invited On The Quest Of A Lifetime!

Posted in SoNaR Adventure Books at 2:10 pm by Aaron Tate, M.A.

Maddy Rutherford and her two best friends (Corbyn and Aaden Franklin) have been invited on a scientific quest whose origins date back 50 years! Together, this team of 3 brave teens (affectionately known as “team SoNaR”) accepts the challenges placed before them without knowing the dangers that lie ahead in doing so.

Before they know it, all three members of team SoNaR are thrust into an adventure beyond their wildest imaginations! With the aid of valuable allies, and while avoiding those that will attempt to stand in their way, Maddy, Corbyn, and Aaden must work together to solve puzzles and decipher clues, all in an attempt to inherit a secret that will change the world forever.

With their friendship, and lives, on the line, can the members of team SoNaR solve the challenges of the inheritance quest so that they might become heir to the most important secret known to modern man?