Monthly Archives: October 2013

More Adventures in Coding

It’s Halloween…the perfect day to continue our adventures in coding with our first, second and third grade students!

And thanks to Mark, our ed tech guy, the kids had the advantage of having someone other than their regular teachers reinforce their initial learning and suggest some next steps.

We returned to Beebot today.  Our students love this friendly bee that responds to their fingertip commands.  And it becomes the perfect vehicle (pun intended) for reminding them that programmers have an idea in mind for their code.  Today’s challenge:  can we make Beebot travel in a square and return to where he began?  (The answer was yes!)


And then we transitioned to Hopscotch.  And our students were in for a treat!  Hopscotch characters were dressed for Halloween today…a special Halloween update.  (The room was electric as the students discovered this new edition on their iPads!)

Mark guided the students as they matched the commands they used on Beebot to the blocks on Hopscotch.  And they carefully coded their first character to make a square.


As you might expect, there were a few glitches…a perfect opportunity to do some “debugging.”  And then we all tackled making a triangle.


That was a bit harder.  And some students figured out if you used the repeat block, some interesting triangle designs resulted!  And here is the basic square and triangle we aimed to code for today.


I hope students take away the value of being able to make the characters do what they want them to do.  This planning is not to get in the way of “happy accidents” but instead to help students do more than move blocks and push play randomly.  I know that many of our students can hardly wait to create some more triangle designs.  Our next invitation might be, what picture can you make with triangles and squares?

The Halloween costumes will go away the next time we update the app…but I hope the lessons learned on Halloween will remain…and become a platform for continued learning. I know I learned a lot today and am more interested in programming than I was before!  I can’t wait to figure out what my students (and I) will do next!

A Study in Black and White…and Shades of Gray

I was reading a post on another blog yesterday with tips about black and white photography.  The person who wrote the post talked about “seeing in black in white.”

When I look at black and white photos I don’t see them as black and white at all…they seem all about shades of color ranging from dark black to gray to white, and all the variations in between.  The subtle shading creates a sense of depth and lets light and shadow play.

I frequently edit my photos and apply a black and white filter.  I love the sense of timelessness that black and white gives to certain photos.  It seems that there is a story-telling quality, maybe the lack of color invites each person to interpret the photo based on their own experiences.

These yellow pencils from my classroom look great in black and white.  It’s easy to colorize them in your mind when you look at the photo.


And I love the ways my students hands look in this one.  Even without color you can see the sun shining…and focus on those little hands holding even smaller seeds.


Who would guess I took this picture of a fisherman on an urban beach in 2013?


I think I liked this crow better in color.  The green leaves made the crow more prominent…it’s hard to make him out in this one.


This one of the horse might be considered cheating.  I didn’t go all the way to black and white.  I just faded the colors a bit.


And this is one of my favorites…my cat Phil.  I do lots of photos of him in black and white…he is a black and white cat, after all!  This photo is interesting because the color version looks quite similar.  A black and white cat in a white box with black print is already mostly black and white!


The term black and white often makes me think of either/or.  But black and white photos are more like real life…built in shades of gray with plenty of room for interpretation and meaning making.

Which of these photos speaks to you?  How does the black and white impact your visual experience?

Sense-ing Your World: November’s Photo-a-Day Challenge

November is a month that tickles our senses.  Delicious tastes of holiday traditions, the smells of fragrant fall spices, the sounds of crunching leaves, and the caress of breezes hinting of winter to come…

Alexandra Horowitz, in her book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, reminds us:

“To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro–walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s (or one’s own) school–is unremembered.  It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens.  It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with.  On the phone, worrying over dinner, listening to others or to the to-do lists replaying in our own heads, we miss the world making itself available to be observed.  And we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us.”

November’s photo-a-day challenge is an invitation to pay attention by “seeing” through your other senses.  How can you capture taste, smell, sound, or touch in a photo?

Each week we will focus on a different sense.  Feel free to interpret the prompt in the broadest possible way.  Be playful and creative…and most of all, have fun!

Be sure to post your photo each day to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or Flickr using the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices.  (You can post anywhere, but if you want others to be able to follow your photos, Instagram and Twitter are best!)

November 1-8: taste

November 9-15:  sound

November 16-22: touch

November 23-30: smell

I can’t wait to see what we all come up with!  You might also want to reflect on what you learned with each sense and curate your favorite photos.  It would make a great blog post!  Be sure to provide a link to your blog post in the comments below.

Here’s a preview entry from my time in our school’s garden today:

Young arugula will soon find its way into a #tasty salad.

Young arugula will soon find its way into a #tasty salad.

You are invited to post every day, once a week, or whenever you can find the time.  Join in the fun!  November is a great month to begin! (or begin again!)

Thinking about MOOCs

MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) are becoming more prevalent.  They seem to be the new “thing” in learning.  Zac over at Autodizactic is asking folks to help him think about MOOCs.

I’m not sure I even know what I think about MOOCs.  Like Zac, I have signed up for MOOCs that I have then abandoned.  It seems easy to both sign up for something that sounds interesting and that you can “attend” asynchronously.  And then when it actually begins, it seems easy to let it go when life gets too busy or the tasks seem too arduous or mundane.

I’m currently signed up for a MOOC, led by people whose work I admire, focused on academic language development for English language learners…and I’m very interested in the subject matter.  But already I’m having trouble finding time to do the readings and complete the tasks assigned.  I’m pretty certain I won’t be completing this MOOC.

This summer I had a completely different experience with the Connected Learning MOOC, clmooc, through the National Writing Project.  And maybe the most important difference was in the way the acronym “mooc” was defined.  Instead of being a “Massive Open Online Course”, the clmooc was defined as a Massive Open Online Collaboration.

There were still facilitators.  And instead of assignments, there were make cycles.  And participants were invited to add to make cycles, interpret them in their own ways, create totally new makes…generally make the experience work for them.

I found the experience exhilarating!  I expected to “lurk” around the edges of this experience.  I knew when I signed up that this would be an extremely busy time for me.  I was coordinating the SDAWP Summer Institute, starting a new grant-funded project, and supporting resource development for another project.  But, because I found it relevant and because of the interaction with facilitators and participants, I was compelled to continue and experiment and learn and grow.

Drawing on Connected Learning principles, my learning was interest-driven, peer supported, and openly networked.  It was also production-centered, academically oriented, and had a shared purpose.  And best of all, it was fun.  Each effort made me interested in trying something else.

I was both connected and learning…and I have a badge to show for it!


I have many reservations about MOOCs, especially those that are trying to be courses.  I am all for open learning opportunities–I’m just not so sure that we need “courses,” in the formal sense of the word, to achieve the goal of opening access to learning.  And for me, the “course-ness” is the very quality that causes me to “drop out” of MOOCs.

So, Zac (and anyone else who is thinking about MOOCs), I’m not so sure my musing are helpful here…but this thinking is helping me understand why the CLMOOC worked for me and these other MOOCs haven’t.

And now about those badges…I’m not so sure I’m sure what I think about them either. And I have two of them…

Here’s my other one.  It was awarded me by a peer for being a connected educator.


What are you thinking about MOOCs…and about badges?


I spied this gorgeous hawk sitting in a tree not far from me as I was walking today.  I slowed and carefully positioned my camera, trying to capture this image.


And as I watched and then continued my walk, a short 25 word story (or maybe the beginning of something more) was brewing in my head.

Tucked in behind the gas station and across the street from the McDonalds, hawk oversees wild space…what is left of what used to be.

I took a minute at the stop light and jotted notes down in my phone to remember this thought when I got back home.  Thinking about what used to be interests me.  What caused developers to leave this wild space untouched?

Last week a parent in our class sent us this article about going outside to write when you feel stuck or uninspired with your writing, saying that it reminded her of us and our classroom.  (Such a great compliment!)  I’ve shared it with many others…and was thinking about it this morning as I headed outside for a long walk.

I knew I had lots of writing to do today (beyond my blog post) and told myself I needed to get outside and be active before settling down to work.  To make the prospect more appealing, I planned my walk with a mid-walk stop at the local Starbucks and had my iPhone handy for any interesting photo opportunities.

As I started my walk I noticed that my “monkey mind,” as Natalie Goldberg calls it, took over.  I could feel my attention pulled in a million directions as I noticed sounds (cars, birds, breeze, leaves crunching, bicycles whizzing by…), smells (the smell of water in the curb drains, car exhaust, the damp of foggy air…), sights (the lone purple flower in a sea of ground cover, scraps of paper interwoven in the brush, leaves blowing…), and physical feelings (the sheen of sweat building on my shoulders, the push of air as cars rushed past, the uneven sidewalk under my feet…).  Before I started my walk, I had thought I might continue on a theme of water photos started yesterday with a walk on the beach, but the first half of my walk didn’t offer any interesting possibilities.

And then I noticed the hawk.  It literally stopped me in my tracks as I looked closely, noticing the beauty of this bird.  Crows and pigeons are pretty commonplace on my walks…and hawks are mostly noticed from a distance, flying high above.  I loved the opportunity to look closely as I angled my lens.  He watched me as I watched him.  And then he spread his magnificent wings and took to the sky.  I only wish I could describe the sound of those large, powerful wings as they lifted the bird from the branch.

As much as people complain about “screen time” and lament that devices are keeping our young people indoors, inactive, and uninspired, I find that it is my device that gets me moving, heading outdoors, and paying attention to my surroundings.  As always, we need balance in our lives.  Opportunities for solitude and times to interact.  Playtime and sustained work.  Time in nature to notice and question and wonder and time with our screens to produce, write and connect.  It doesn’t have to be either/or…can’t it be both?

How does your device (or devices) impact the ways you interact with the outdoors?


I treated myself to a walk on the beach today after a writing project meeting at the university.  So instead of walking on the beach near where I live, I walked on the beach down the hill from the university.  It was foggy and cool, a perfect day for thinking and reflecting.

As I was walking I was thinking about the meeting…a follow up to the Invitational Summer Institute (a 4-week intensive leadership institute in the teaching of writing)…and the structures that we need as learners to move along the continuum from novice to expert (with the endpoint constantly moving) and from follower to leader.

The structure of the Summer Institute (SI) is designed to immerse teachers in writing, researching, reflecting on their practice, and critical conversations about teaching and learning.  The structure is strong and well built, based on the 40-year-old model developed by National Writing Project founder, Jim Gray.


This pier is also a carefully designed, well built structure made to withstand the battering waves of the Pacific Ocean and the relentless wind and sun.  I love the way when you look through the pier it narrows and provides a window through the corridor of surf out to sea just like the SI helps teachers look carefully at policy and practice and then focus on instruction that best supports the students in front of them.

And some of the structures we depend on are organic like these cliffs.


They are shaped by the natural environment.  I watched our SI participants create their own structures as well.  They gathered this morning, organically, catching up with each other as we, as facilitators, finalized our last minute plans.

And then there are structures that are light and flexible, like this feather on the beach.


It makes me think of our Twitter Fellow of the Week.  This playful use of social media supports more weight than you might imagine.  While we originally saw this program as a way to connect to one another within our project by giving each other a glimpse into a week in the life of an SDAWP educator, it has proven to do more.  When teachers use Twitter as a professional learning network, their interactions begin to impact their practice.  Suddenly they are reading more professional articles about education, “listening in” to debates about policy and practice, getting and sharing ideas from others (within our site and beyond our site), and making their own classroom practice more visible.

Today we asked our SI 2013 cohort to sign up as Twitter Fellows…and starting tomorrow we will begin to get a glimpse into their lives.  (You can follow @SDAWP_Fellow on Twitter) Those who are more confident on Twitter signed up first…but others are willing to dip a toe into this unfamiliar world of tweets and hashtags and mentions.  And they have the rest of the SDAWP community who are happy to help…and the others in their cohort will also be “listening” on Twitter, ready to respond and retweet and favorite…so they won’t be hollering into the dark.

My beach walk today was quiet and introspective as I thought about all the structures I noticed…and those we use to support learners.  Structures can help us stretch and reach and connect as we learn and grow.  What structures support you?  What structures support your students?

Horizons: The Edge of Learning

Today’s Weekly Photo Challenge on the Daily Post is about horizons…that place where the earth meets the sky.


And as I headed to the beach to capture one of my favorite horizon vistas, I found myself thinking about the comfort of familiar places like the beach…and the stretch of reaching for new horizons.

In some ways my horizon photo this afternoon represents my feeling of reaching for new horizons and feeling the “edge” of learning as I work with my students to learn computer programming.  There’s that sparkle and shine and thrill of the new along with the hazy sun and encroaching marine layer representing all of the unknown and uncertainty.

Today a parent in our classroom came in and shared his work as a video game programmer with our students.  He showed us a few of the games he has made…


the first with a team of three including him.  The most recent included a team of 1,000!

Then he helped to connect this work that he does with our work on Hopscotch (an app), built on the shoulders of Scratch (a program developed at MIT).  He showed us a few kid-made Scratch programs and had the kids make suggestions for changes.  In a matter of a few minutes, he showed how the iterative process is essential for programming.


At this point there were about ten minutes before recess, so we offered our students this short time to return to Hopscotch and try their hand at some more programming.  Students were quick to get set up…and were immediately focused and engaged with working with code.


I watched them try something and then go back and make a change and run their program again.  When students showed me something they had created, I also asked them to show me the code–and in many cases asked them explain their thinking behind the code–so I can learn along with them.  When it was time for recess, we offered students a choice…they could put their iPad away and go out for recess or they could stay inside and continue their coding.  Only 8 of our 44 students chose to go out.  The rest were totally absorbed with programming on Hopscotch!

I’m working at my edge on this new horizon of learning to code with my students…and it’s uncomfortable at times.  But knowing that this is also where learning happens is exciting.  I’ll probably spend some more time on Hopscotch (or maybe even Scratch) this weekend.  If you have any coding advice, I’m happy to receive it!

Here’s a great TED Talk by Mitch Resnick, one of the creators of Scratch, explaining why students should be involved in programming.  Maybe we should all try it out!

And if it’s not coding, what new horizons are in your future?  What are you doing to find the “edge” of learning?

Making…and Learning

Making…a powerful venue for learning.

Our students have been doing a lot of making…and learning lately.  Sometimes that making looks and feels a lot like play.  And that’s a good thing.

This week we were lucky enough to have the Lux Art Institute come to our classroom with The Story Box from their Valise Project.  On Tuesday our students spent an hour examining the wood carving, block prints, and sculptures of Jim Lawrence based on fairy tales…and were invited to either write their own fairy tale or pick a favorite to create a block print image today.

Our students were excited to think about fairy tales…and write their own.  The creativity of children is amazing…their stories sometimes meander a bit, but there is no shortage of imagination and wonder.

And today they had the opportunity to create their own “blocks” for printing.  Using styrofoam sheets, they used pencils to etch indentations of their image…and even learned some techniques for writing their names and other words backwards so they would print forwards.  (They made a few mistakes…but that, too, is part of the learning process.)

Using a brayer and paint, they smoothed paint onto the surface of their etching and then pressed it onto colored paper to create their prints.


They created beautiful images…whimsical, cute, fanciful, scary…and everything in between.

For more than an hour, my students were happily engaged with drawing, etching, painting, and writing.  They had to think critically and problem solve.  They had to practice patience as they waited their turn to paint.  They focused and produced.  They were making.  Making art.  Making stories.  Making memories.  Making connections.  Making understanding.  And they were learning.

What have you made lately?

Improving my Craft

Taking lots of photographs means that sometimes things start to get a bit mundane…I get stuck in a rut of taking the same photo the same way time after time.  I have to remind myself to shift my position, pay attention to the lighting, look for natural frames, and play around with angles.

On Saturday I took lots of pictures of trees.  And many turned out looking like pictures of trees, pretty enough but nothing that would make you take a second look.

But here’s one that involves an interesting angle that captures the light in a way that highlights the leaves.  This is the original photo–no cropping and no filters.


I’ve also been experimenting with taking pictures of things, paying attention to composition but not doing any arranging other than moving myself to create a better composition.

I like this one of metal tubs I found on my weekend adventures.  The haphazard arrangement and the mottled light creates interest and provokes questions for me.


I find myself examining my photos carefully and critiquing them–a lot like responding to a piece of writing.  I’m looking for what is working (even some lousy shots have some things that work) and noticing what I might do differently with the next shot I take.

I still have a long way to grow in my photography skills…but I’m having fun learning!

What do you do to improve your craft?  How do you challenge yourself? (And I welcome tips and constructive critique on my photography too!)

Thinking about Poetry

Over at The Nerdy Book Club, Cindy has invited readers to share their favorite poets or poems.

I love poetry…especially in the classroom.  Each week in our classroom we study a poem, noticing what the poet is doing and paying attention to the images it creates in our minds.  We read it aloud and notice how the words feel in our mouths.  Individual students read and together we read chorally.

Later in the week, we revisit our poem and create an illustration that captures our understanding of the poem.  We glue our poem and illustration into a composition book we call our poetry anthology.  By the end of the school year, students have read, studied, and illustrated more than 30 poems…over the course of the three years they spend in our multiage classroom, they have close to 100 poems collected and illustrated to take home and treasure.

One of my favorite poets to share with my young students is Valerie Worth.  I love her short poems.  They are accessible to children.  And I love that she writes about ordinary things.  But these are not simple poems…they are full of imagery, word play, and figurative language.

One of my favorites is Safety Pin.

safety pin

Valerie Worth

Closed, it sleeps On its side Quietly,
The silver Image

Of some Small fish;

Opened, it snaps Its tail out
Like a thin Shrimp,

and looks
At the sharp Point with a Surprised eye.


What poets and poetry do you love?