Monthly Archives: August 2013

Noticing Texture: September’s Photo-a-Day Invitation

September arrives on our doorstep tomorrow and announces the unofficial end of summer. There’s something about the way Sssss roll off the tongue that suggests a texture that you can feel if you pay enough attention.  This month, for the September photo-a-day challenge, you are invited to notice texture in your world and capture it in photographs.  There are no rules–you are in charge in determining whether your photo fits the category!

The #scaly inside of a mushroom.

The #scaly inside of a mushroom.

Take a picture each day that captures the spirit and feeling of the texture and post it to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr using the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices.  (You can post anywhere—if you want others to be able to follow your photos, Instagram and Twitter are best!) For more information about posting click here.  At the end of each week let’s add an additional challenge:  curate your pictures from the week and select one to highlight.  You might post it on your blog along with some musings about why you selected it.  If you don’t have a blog of your own, you have a couple of choices—you can create a blog (be sure to share it with us by including your blog address in the comments here—or better yet, tweet it using the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices) or you can post to the SDAWP Voices blog.

September 1-8:   smooth

September 8 or 9: reflect on your week and share your thinking and picture (or collage) on the link up

September 9-15:  scratchy

September 15 or 16:  reflect on your week and share your thinking and picture (or collage) on the link up

September 16-22:  scaly

September 22 or 23:  reflect on your week and share your thinking and picture (or collage) on the link up

September 23-30:  silky

September 30:  reflect on your week and share your thinking and picture (or collage) on the link up

As an extra invitation, at the end of the month, pick your five favorites to inspire a bit of writing or art or something else you want to make.  Be sure to share your creativity and what you discover through the process.

What will you find to photograph as you explore the texture in your world?  Join us…for a day, a week, or the entire month!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea


Today was one of those rare hot, sultry days in our coastal community…and it’s the first week of school.  I love our old fashioned school with high ceilings, big windows…and no air conditioning!  By the time I left work today I felt hot and soggy–and home was also hot and un-airconditioned.

The perfect answer to almost anything in my world is a walk on the beach.  Mostly I walk at the beach on weekend mornings or afternoons.  But today, a Friday evening sunset walk was the perfect way to cool off and the perfect end to the week.  I’d forgotten how the sun setting changes the light and creates softness and shimmers, reflections and incredible colors.


A feeling of peacefulness comes over me as I listen to the waves crash and smell the salty air.  I managed to catch this seagull in flight as it headed over the breakers.  There is nothing like the sea to sooth away the stresses of the week and help me feel centered and calm.

Where is your peaceful place?  What soothes and calms you at the end of your work week?

A Lesson in Resilience

Learning is what school is all about…and I’m lucky to learn with my students every day.  Today’s lesson was all about resilience.

We have 1:1 iPads in our classroom–for the second year in a row.  It’s one of those mixed blessings:  a flexible tool that kids love to learn with, and a tool with a mind of its own that creates havoc with lessons from time to time.  Last week, before the students arrived, Margit and I spent time sorting out our returning students’ iPads and assigning the newly “cleaned” iPads to our new students.  We made sure to sync the entire batch to our “cart account” to ensure that all our apps were on all the iPads and we also charged the iPads so they would be ready to use.

We introduced (or reintroduced) the iPads on Tuesday (the first day of school) with our focus on care, basic operations, and getting the IPads out and putting them away.  Students constructed rules for iPad use yesterday…and we had grand plans for a project involving the iPads today.  Things began smoothly…we split the students this morning with returning students in one room “cleaning up” their iPads and new students in the other room personalizing theirs. Students were successful and engaged–helping one another and taking care of business.  That wonderful “buzz” permeated the classroom as we all were reintroduced to our tools after a summer away from them.

We moved on to our project…working with personal “artifacts” to tell a story about ourselves. Each student photographed their artifact.  They worked to ensure they captured the item in the photo, careful to keep fingers out of the way and not let the iPad cover block the lens.

After recess we moved on to the next step: using the Notability app to import the photo and then record their voice telling the story of the artifact.  We walked through the basics of the directions confident that students would help each other through the steps.  And then the rumbles began…

It quickly became clear that our new students did not have the Notability app on their iPads–in spite of our syncing last week–and it wasn’t a quick fix.  Times like these doubly reinforce the benefits of co-teaching.  Margit worked with the IT support as I encouraged students to rehearse for their eventual recording, even without the iPad.

As you might expect, there was some anxiety from those without iPads–wondering if they would get to work on their projects and the sense of frustration that comes with plans gone awry.  But overall, resilience won out.  Our projects did not get done today and students have been reassured that they will get to return to the work tomorrow…with Notability installed on all the iPads.  As teachers, we once again learned the importance of resilience and flexibility and a sense of calm in the face of a potential storm.

I know that in spite of the frustration, our students will benefit from learning how to respond when technology complicates our best laid plans.  We hear plenty about this generation’s need for immediate gratification and inability to wait…often attributed to new technologies.  And sometimes I don’t think I am any more patient than they are!  But what I know from experience is that the use of these digital tools in the classroom is the perfect venue for teaching delayed gratification, problem solving, cooperation, and resilience…important life lessons for all of us.

Morning Views

Just to change things up I’ve been taking a different route to work this week.  And remembering some of my lessons learned from last week, I’ve been trying to take a few minutes every day to stop and take pictures of things that catch my eye.  This week’s #sdawpphotovoices theme is repetition…and my route this week has some quirky features that capture that theme.

Here’s a photo I took this morning of a row of palm trees planted along a road above Highway 101.  This photo is in its original state taken with my iPhone.


You can see ocean with the marine layer off in the distance and the beautiful blue of the early morning sunshine.

Below this row of palms is a pumpkin patch that I notice when I drive on the road below.  I walked down a ways to try to get close enough to capture the orange of the pumpkins.  I wanted to capture the ocean as a backdrop, but my iphone just isn’t able to capture the detail and the distance.  I did pull this photo in and cropped it a bit to emphasize the pumpkins.  I also used the souvenir filter on the app tadaa to change the effect.


In some ways this filter makes this scene look like something from the past instead of one taken today.  I love that pumpkins are growing along the side of this road in a suburban beach city…a relic of the agricultural history of the area.

I think I’ll try yet another route tomorrow…I wonder what I’ll notice!

What do you see on your way to work?  How does it change your view of the community?

The First Day

What do you remember about the first day of school?


As a teacher, I continue to experience the first day of school every year.  And every year I have those same feelings of nerves and excitement. In my multiage class I get the best of all worlds–I get to loop with my students entering second and third grade and I get new first grade students every year.

Today was our first day of school and it began with hugs and smiles…from returning students and parents.  We got to catch up a little and students easily said good-bye to their parents as the school day began.  And we met our new students with the excitement of beginnings.  Nervous energy–ours and theirs–reminded us of the important milestone of starting a new school year.  Those first days are filled with establishing the routines that will mark our community all year long.

My highlight of the day was watching my students work in groups, returning students facilitating the activity for their younger classmates.  After discussing the highlights of their summer (everything from watching TV to running through the sprinklers, trips to visit cousins and grandmas to plenty of beach time, camps of every type–have you ever gone to fishing camp?–to playing at the park near home), students selected four of them to draw and write on sticky notes.  Then as a table group (teams of four), they sorted their summer favorites and created categories to describe them.  Finally each group created a graph that we will come back to in the next few days to both learn more about graphing and about each other.


While we wrote and read, sorted and classified we also began to form ourselves as a learning community where everyone has something to offer and much to learn–teachers and students alike.

I was exhausted at the end of the school day…and I suspect the same was true of my students.  But I can’t wait until tomorrow.  The first day of school marks a milestone, but it the days that follow that are the reason I teach.

What do you remember about the first day of school?

Generating Questions–Photo Style

On this last day before my students arrive for a new school year I squeezed in that last (and infrequent even during the summer) leisurely morning in bed, ran a few errands, did a bit of work unrelated to the classroom, and pushed myself to fit in some exercise.  (Exercise is one practice I have yet to firmly establish in my life!)  And on that brisk and fairly long walk I wondered what I would write about today.  The last thing I want to do on this blog is rattle off the mundane details of my life.

Lacy (@nowawake) reminded me this morning on a conference call about her variation on a design activity I had worked on at the Intersections Design Institute in Denver where photography was used as a venue for science learning.  In her variation, Lacy takes pictures that generate science questions (check #sciencequestions on twitter for some examples) as a way to create curiosity and genuine inquiry.  I’ve been taking these science question photos for a while now–but haven’t posted any of them.  Somehow, today seems like the right day to highlight some of these questions.

I was thinking on my walk about how I decide that I have a question and pause to take a picture.  Do I ask questions about things I already have some theories about possible answers?  I think I do…I think I ask questions about things I am on the verge of understanding rather than things I know nothing about.  Does it take some awareness to know to ask the question?

This first science question comes from my beach walk on Sunday.  I noticed this dry sand under little piles of kelp along the beach.  I walk on the beach quite a bit, but haven’t noticed this phenomenon before.  As you can see, the rest of the sand is damp, but directly under the kelp the sand looks dry and churned up.  I have two possible hypotheses about why–either some little sea creatures hitched a ride in to the shore on the kelp and then burrow into the damp sand or some sea birds churn up the sand as they feast on sea creatures.  What do you think?  I’ll have to dig into this question to see what others know about this.


On today’s exercise walk I noticed this fence with many breaks and holes in it.  I was wondering how the fence was so damaged and then I noticed this flower literally growing through cracks in the fence.  Were the other holes caused by plant growth or something else?  How long does it take for a plant to break through the wood of a fence?


I was also noticing lots of fire hydrants.  Most of them are quite similar–yellow and squat with metal caps on the openings.  Then I walked by this skinny hydrant (or is it a fire hydrant?), I actually had to double back to take a photo.  Just ahead of me was one of the those typical squat hydrants–but this one had plastic caps instead of metal caps.  What’s the reasons for these variations?  And then I wondered as I continued my walk–are these science questions or are these social studies questions?


And that got me wondering about some of the bus stops I passed.  I passed one with a bench and a trash can in front of it.  Then a little further on I noticed a woman waiting by a bus stop–and there was neither a bench nor a trash can.  So how are decisions made about which bus stops get benches and which don’t?

I love the way taking photos makes me take the time to ponder the questions that arise as I survey my world.  They also give me a visual reminder to go back and explore those inquiries. How do you document your questions about the world?  Do you follow those inquiries to find answers?  What are you wondering about?

Learning from Patterns

This week the #sdawpphotovoices photo-a-day focus has been patterns.  And while I have taken photos of the patterns I have found, I have also been thinking about my own patterns…patterns of thinking and patterns of behavior.

Being back at work definitely re-directed my attention from photography to my classroom.  On Monday I remember getting home, feeling tired and realizing I hadn’t taken a single photo all day!  Taking a look around the house for interesting patterns led me to my macro lens…I took pictures of the center of the succulents in the kitchen window.  Using picstitch I put four pictures together and posted with the caption, “What patterns do you see?”


Is it cheating to create your own pattern by stitching photos together?  Tuesday and Wednesday were also days where the photos I posted didn’t really reflect patterns as they are defined in the design world.  I didn’t want to post photos of tiles or carpet or brick or other typical patterns.

On Thursday I was more inspired and had already taken several photos of patterns when I squeezed in a five minute pattern walk between errands in the afternoon.  (You can see more of Thursday’s patterns here.)  This was the day when I realized how important it is to take some time every day to do something just for yourself.  Those five minutes I spent looking for and photographing patterns were energizing and relaxing.  This is a practice I want to make sure to develop.

Most of the patterns I photographed this week were organic–nature’s beauty unveiled in heirloom tomatoes, cactus blossoms, clouds, and kelp.  Even the man-made patterns I captured often had an element of nature to them, I found myself looking at shadows and seeing patterns repeated by the sun’s angles.






So I’ve noticed that my photo-a-day theme does make me look at the world differently than I might without it, but that regardless of the theme, I take pictures that catch my eye…and then play with language and ideas to make them work as I post.

So my two take aways for the week are:

1.  Take time to do something I enjoy each day (photography is an example of this), even if the photos don’t match the theme.

2.  It’s okay to play with the theme if it works for the photography–isn’t that the point after all?

What patterns do you notice in your life?  Which will you change and which will you embrace?

Next week is repetition…I wonder what that will teach me?

Developing a Practice

One of my favorite weekend morning activities is the opportunity to lounge in bed and read. It’s such a luxury since even on weekends I often have to be up and about and out of the house early.  This morning I was reading Natalie Goldberg’s latest book, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life With Language.  I’ve read most of her books–and while this one doesn’t rank as my favorite–the chapter I read this morning on the importance of developing and committing to a practice struck me.  Here’s what Natalie says about practice:

…we established a different slant to practice other than “practice makes perfect”: It’s something you choose to do on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere.  You do it because you do it.  You show up whether you want to or not.  Of course, at the beginning it’s something that you have chosen, that you wanted, but a week, a month in, you often meet resistance.  Even if you love it, inertia, obstacles arise: I can make better use of my time, I’m tired, I’m hungry, this is stupid, I need to listen to the evening news.  Here’s where you have the opportunity to meet your own mind, to examine what it does, its ploys and shenanigans.  That’s ultimately what practice is:  arriving at the front–and back door–of yourself.  You set up to do something consistently over a long period of time–and simply watch what happens with no idea of good or bad, gain or loss. No applause–and no criticism.

To get myself blogging, I gave myself a challenge (maybe that is one variation on a practice) to write and post a blog daily for 30 days.  That short term challenge felt doable.  I didn’t create the challenge for myself because I hoped to become a professional blogger (or writer), but because I wanted to feel what it would be like to consistently blog.  But, I am on the verge of establishing a blogging practice.  I have continued to write and post daily on this blog, well past the 30 days of the challenge…but I am sure as the school year begins on Tuesday that this daily practice will need to morph to a regular practice that is more like a three times weekly practice.  But what I love about the practice is that I have written and posted every day–even when I was tired and couldn’t seem to think of anything interesting to write.  I have pushed past my comfort zone and figured out how to generate ideas and get something composed each and every day.

And I can authentically share my experience of developing a practice with my students.  I can help them develop a regular writing practice.  It doesn’t have to be my practice–writing and publishing a daily blog post–but the act of developing a practice and “showing up” on a regular basis help us each learn something about ourselves.  It also helps us to develop those valuable traits of persistence and grit–hanging in there even when things seem hard.  Because ultimately it’s our drive that determines success and learning.  Talent is great…but effort over time is everything.

This reminds me of my time working for McDonald’s Restaurants before I decided to go into teaching.  Ray Kroc, McDonad’s founder, was inspired by this quote by Calvin Coolidge…which I kept for years on the bulletin board in our home office.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Natalie recommends keeping a log of your practice–even if you skip–and rather than giving up when you miss a day, just make note of it and resume the next day.  I like this recommendation…and I like that my blog keeps track for me.  I can easily see which days I have “practiced.” What practice will you develop?

Nature’s Friday Gift

It’s been a busy week as we’ve been back at school preparing for the arrival of students on Tuesday.  My attention has been focused on planning, organizing, and thinking about ways to engage students in meaningful learning experiences.  And after a long day putting finishing touches on the classroom, getting the iPads synched and charged, and participating in a “fiesta” lunch with my co-workers, I was ready to go home and do a little nothing for a while.

I parked in my driveway and walked up the walkway to the front door of my house and the little bowl of succulents and cacti on my front porch caught my eye.  One of those pretty ordinary looking succulents…you know the ones that are mostly green, a bit furry, and you would never expect to look any different that it usually does…bloomed!

Here’s a view I took in early June.


When I saw the bloom today, I forgot I was tired, hurried into the house to put the macro lens on my iphone and rushed back out to capture the unusual beauty of the blossom in a photo. (Or several–I’m like that!)  I love the pictures!  And then I decided to play with them a bit using the Vintique app and pic-stiched 4 together to display.  (The one on the lower left does not use any filters–all were shot with my macro lens).


Arriving home today was like opening a gift!  I love nature’s little surprises.  How has nature surprised you lately?

Pattern Walk

Being back in my classroom preparing for my students’ arrival next week has taken much of my time, attention, and energy this week.  It’s already Thursday and I haven’t really given much effort to finding patterns for my photo-a-day challenge. (#sdawpphotovoices)  So today I was intentional about looking for patterns and taking some photos.

I started the morning by finding that Margit had put up a beautifully patterned backdrop on the classroom wall in anticipation of some student work that will be created next week.  I love the colors and textures of the paper…and this is just a snippet of the larger wall.


As I headed to the other school for a morning of inservice, this odd assortment of chairs was sitting outside in front of a pattern of wall tiles.  I like the slightly shuffled look of the chairs.  And it’s funny, because when I came out three hours later the chairs were neatly ordered…a pattern I didn’t capture with my camera.


Coming back to my school I noticed this bike rack in front of the office.  I was intrigued by the shadows on the right hand side, adding another dimension to the pattern.


When I left school this afternoon I ended up with a short window of time to myself.  I stopped by Starbucks for an afternoon coffee and took a wonderful learning walk around the area.  I was surprised by all the patterns I found.  These four were all around a local restaurant.  Textures, shadows, colors, and peek-a-boos all caught my eye!

I haven’t really thought about the way that looking for photo opportunities and framing interesting shots both feeds and relaxes me.  My short five-minute walk and photography session was a boost to my feeling of well-being and energy level.  I need to remember to find these windows of time–even when I am busy.  Hours later I still feel refreshed by my afternoon pattern walk!