Vanessa is truly a one-of-a-kind teacher. She’s extremely organized, communicates ideas effectively, helps motivate, and has a lively, engaging teaching style that brings out the best efforts in all of her students.Howard Tager
Vanessa’s methods are creative, thorough and innovative. She makes writing fun and has turned our daughter’s “like” of writing into a true “LOVE”.The Altmans
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Ms. Ziff always pushed me to do my best, and never let me slack off.  She introduced me to my love of writing and gave me the confidence I needed both academically and in myself.Georgia 9th Grade, The Buckley School
Vanessa is a true master of her craft. She is a blast to work with, completely trustworthy and utterly authentic. To work with Vanessa is a privilege; you just want to soak up all her talent, and bottle it up for yourself! She is an inspiration.Sarina Fierro, Head of Lower Elementary, Curtis School
Having an eight-year old highly gifted boy was not enough to make him put all those brilliant ideas on paper. Daniel feels constantly challenged by Vanessa and that ignites him.Liliana Benitez
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
The writing skills my daughter, now excelling in ninth grade English Honors, left Vanessa’s class with continue to be an invaluable set of resources.Betsy Leva

Vanessa is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer, Kizmato.com
Vanessa captured the essence of what I wanted to relay on my site without sounding trite, unlike my experience with previous writers.Martin Pugh, Musician
Whether it’s teaching a student to become a more vivid creative writer, a more effective analytical writer, or a more selective business writer, Vanessa can do it all.Meli and Stephen Rose
Ms. Ziff is always organized, resourceful, and ready for anything. She believes in a process, [...] the best of all being the Ms. Ziff approach, which makes her spectacular.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Vanessa is high-energy smarts and charm, the kind of writer and teacher who captures and captivates readers of all ages.New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith
Ms. Ziff set the foundation for my analytical, constructive, and creative skills. Whether writing a sonnet or writing an essay, I still have her lessons in my mind.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
I learned as much from teaching with Vanessa as any of her students under her guidance. Where so many others fall back on old tricks, Vanessa taps into her extensive experience to invent new methodologies for each and every one of her clients.Patrick Kieffer, Fifth Grade – English & History, The Packer Collegiate Institute
It's obvious that Vanessa is a wordsmith: "Write. Observe. Revise. Discover...W.O.R.D."  These are the four essential ingredients for becoming a writer; two of them about the work (writing and revising) and two of them about the joy (observing and discovering.) Vanessa accomplishes it all.  Julie Larios, award-winning poet and children’s author
I know that the many fun and challenging lessons I’ve learned from Ms. Ziff will help me achieve my goal of one day being a professional writer and filmmaker.Jaren S. 7th Grade, The Buckley School
Vanessa transformed our son Josh from a decent writer into an excellent writer.  We wholeheartedly recommend Vanessa and her ability to draw out the best in your child’s writing ability.Jill and Larry Krutchik
Vanessa’s greatest ability is to help each student realize his or her own untapped potential. It’s the stuff that changes lives!Jacqueline Frohlich
Vanessa got my 8-year old son excited and intrigued to dig deeper into his experiences and bring his thoughts to life. Now Evan’s words dance and sing, which makes me want to dance and sing!Sally Micelotta
Vanessa has a gift for inspiring even the most reluctant writer and her passion for writing is infectious. She is a favorite workshop leader at our Young Writers’ Conferences.Julie Moore & Rena Svetic, Young Writers’ Conference Founders
I honestly don’t know what kind of a writer and reader I would be without the tools I learned with Ms. Ziff. She was always a very understanding, rigorous, and involved teacher, and an incredible mentor.Maddie 9th Grade, Marlborough School
Ms. Ziff maintains a good balance of knowing when to give more help and when to insist that you rise to the challenge of the learning situation. She instills confidence, honors excellence, and respects effort.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
What our daughter values most about her time in Vanessa's class is being inspired to become an organized writer who could convey her thoughts in a meaningful manner.Laurie and Chris Harbert
The skills Vanessa taught my son--particularly the value of revising many times […] attention to detail, and high standards—are still with Nico several years later.Liz McNicoll, Attorney, Paramount Pictures
While we continue to be impressed by Vanessa’s many attributes, it is her high energy level, extraordinary patience, and passion for what she does that make her truly unique.Melissa and Rob Weiler
Vanessa’s vast skills, complete dedication, and clear purpose construct a solid core for every student she teaches. Her passionate nature produces both a fun and rewarding learning experience.Michele Noble, Director, Writer, Filmmaker
My son learned more about writing and literary appreciation from Ms. Ziff in fifth grade than in any other year of school. I wish all teachers had Vanessa’s passion for teaching and inspiring!Kim Ford
All of us remember teachers who inspired us to greater heights and who influenced our lives. Vanessa Ziff Lasdon has played this role in my daughters' lives.Jack Tauber, M.D.
Ms. Ziff’s friendly demeanor and enthusiasm made communicating easy and learning exciting. She taught us to understand and appreciate the material, and have fun in the process.Alivia 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Vanessa Ziff Lasdon possesses the dynamic combination of an incisive intellect and boundless passion when it comes to teaching her craft and sharing skills with her students.MaryLynn Richmond

SparkTruck: Sparking a Creative Movement Across the Nation

 

In our gloom-and-doom era of deep, nationwide budget cuts to education, creativity is on the chopping block and hands-on learning is a luxury that many schools claim they can’t afford. SparkTruck to the rescue! This self-proclaimed “educational build-mobile” is on a mission to bring creative and purposeful crafting to students around the nation.

 

 

 

SparkTruck: High-Tech Meets Low-Tech

Staffed by engineering and design students from Stanford University, SparkTruck hit 15,323 miles of pavement this past summer, hoping to inspire grassroots change in an educational system increasingly bogged down by standardized tests and rote desk work. The truck is outfitted with an impressive arsenal of 21st-century rapid prototyping equipment, including 3-D printers, a laser and vinyl cutter, sewing machines and a clay oven, along with enough low-tech hammers, scissors, paint, googly eyes, craft feathers, glue guns and cardboard to bring out the inner maker in over 27,000 seven to thirteen-year olds in 33 states. Says founder Jason Chua, “This is the [age] range when opportunities to create and explore in school diminish, and pressure to conform and fit into standardized systems and tests increases [….] We want to make sure that fun, open-ended opportunities are made available to kids as they move through school and life because this is what helps kids get over their fear of failure and grow confidence in their abilities to be creative and work through tough problems.”

It Began With a Post-It

Chua recalls that his learning cohort at d.school started with hundreds of brainstorming post-its for a class project. The ‘stupidest’ idea, according to professors, was “the one we knew we had to pursue” – renovating an old delivery truck and loading it up with objects that teach students about prototyping and design with real-world implications and applications. The team of six first tested out their hands-on workshops at local schools around the Bay Area, speaking to educators and making observations about student engagement along the way. “What are these kids not getting in school,” Chua remembers pondering, “that we [designers, artists, and engineers], who know nothing about education, are actually able to provide?” The answer: tinkering skills. The SparkTruck team quickly devised a plan to raise initial funds through Kickstarter and grants, exceeding their fundraising goal by over 20%. They purchased an eleven-foot van, decked it out with tools, and partnered with PBS’ Design Squad Nation and Instructables to embark on a “Sparkin’ Across America” road trip. Says Chua, “We started getting calls from schools across the country – heck, across the world – asking if the SparkTruck could come and visit them.” That’s when the team also began asking local communities to help fundraise on their behalf.

Sparkin’ Across America

SparkTruck’s inaugural road tour blasted through seventy locations in just six weeks. In New York, Sparkees ran a TEDYouth design challenge called, “Build Your Own Mobile Intervention,” in which attendees competed to create their own models for change out of a hand-sized truck. At both the Aspen Ideas Block Party in Colorado and the Seventh Annual Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, students created a Creature Mash Vibrorobot from pager motors, coin cell batteries, foil, foam, pipe cleaners, and pompoms galore. With IBM in Austin, students re-imagined part of their city to design and build, and together made a scale model of their futuristic metropolis.

A magic physics truck

Vibrorobots!

A futuristic metropolis

getting creative

testing the prototype

A Gratifying Workshop Model

Professionals know: when you’re on a creative roll, quick translation of a theoretical design or abstract idea into action and scaled dimension can drive momentum. Rapid prototyping, much like a flash draft in writing, provides this near-instantaneous gratification. Express creation is also the perfect complement to a child’s attention span. “We use [high-tech and low-tech] tools in tandem with one another,” Chua explains. “The high-tech tools like the laser cutter and vinyl cutter get people excited and allow them to create more durable final products, while low-tech tools allow for more freedom of expression and hands on tinkering.” SparkTruck wants to help kids taste success by discovering the value of working through failures and the grit to try something new.

SparkTruck’s workshops focus on a common theme: What can you do to make the world a better place? The first step in the creation process is always brainstorming. Next comes prototyping; for example, a logo used on a stamp for a letter to the mayor, advocating for environmental awareness or animal rights. The third step is storytelling about how one’s creation fits into the world at large.

SparkTruck’s mission extends beyond its workshops with kids. Knowing that they can only reach so many on any given day, the Sparkees wanted to bring the joy of making to thousands of students by teaching local mentors how to run their own design-and-build workshops along the way. “There are a lot of teachers out there interested in progressive, hands-on learning in the classroom,” says Chua. “But it’s difficult to get support from administration and parents. We’re hoping to be something teachers can point to and say, ‘Look at these kids and look at the technology. This is what I’ve been trying to tell you.'” When they’re not teaching workshops, or teaching workshops on teaching workshops, the SparkTruck hangs out in parking lots of coffee shops and libraries and runs impromptu design studios, allowing visitors to watch professional designers at work, using raw materials that fit into tight educational budgets.

SparkTruck’s Ongoing Adventure

co-founders Aaron Peck & Jason Chua

The SparkTruck Team

With nearly 200 educators waitlisted for 2013, SparkTruck’s journey is far from over. While Chua and the rest of the Sparkees aren’t quite sure what the future holds for SparkTruck, they’re speaking with stakeholders about buying out the truck and parking the life-size prototype at Stanford University’s d.school, where it can live on as a continual student project. That way, each year a new group of graduates can take on their own Sparkin’ Across America adventure and experience the overwhelming joy that hands-on learning brings to kids of all ages.

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