Monthly Archives: November 2013

Uncovering History: A Photo Essay

Photography takes me to interesting places.  Today my search for interesting and different subjects for my photography took me to a place I had never been–practically in my own backyard!

Traveling back in time I met Leo Carillo, of The Cisco Kid and Pancho fame. (Old cowboy movie from the 50’s) Turns out he was Angelino (from Los Angeles) and an actor turned rancher who needed a place for weekend respites away from Hollywood.  As he said (in the short video I watched), “My birthstone is adobe…”

The Leo Carillo Ranch is a park not far from where I live that transports you to another time. Old adobe buildings are set in a valley just enough removed from housing tracks and road noises that you don’t notice you are in a middle of a bustling suburban development.

The first thing I noticed as I walked around were signs asking for people not to disturb or feed the pea fowl.  Pea fowl?  That piqued my curiosity!  I started looking around for evidence of pea fowl…and boy, I was not disappointed!


Peacocks and pea hens were everywhere!  And they were totally nonplussed by people taking photos.  The woman who works in the visitor center told us that these pea fowl are all descendants of the original six that Leo Carillo brought to the ranch.  There were the showy males with their bright blue heads and gorgeous tail feathers that they spread and show, smaller and plainer females in shades of brown, and smaller still were the youngsters. There must have been at least 50 that I saw strutting around the grounds.  Apparently Leo brought them because they eat snakes and lizards and are loud enough to keep coyotes (which are very common in our area) away.  I love this guy posing on top of the truck!


This park is the result of an effort to preserve historic buildings and provide open spaces in the community.  There are antiques windmills and rustic old buildings…beautiful to look at and fun to photograph.  We saw many professional photographers shooting family Christmas photos throughout the park.



I love the old adobe buildings…and I found myself photographing windows and doors. There is something beautiful about the imperfections…and the colors are amazing!


The foliage was also gorgeous.  Bright orange birds of paradise, the most enormous prickly pear cactus I’ve seen, palms and eucalyptus…and even a “young” redwood (60 years old). These are only a fraction of the photos I took today!


I had a wonderful adventure today and learned some interesting history about my area.  I look forward to taking others to see this hidden treasure…I’m sure I will enjoy some more afternoons exploring the past and envisioning the future.

What treasures lie undiscovered in your place?

‘Tis the Season: December’s Photo-a-Day Challenge

Short days, long nights, decorations, parties, presents, shopping, vacation, lights, food, family, and friends…  December is full of fun, frenzy, tradition, and celebration.  No matter your religious beliefs, December is filled with signs of the season–whatever that season means to you.

Let’s take this month to interpret the season in ways that make the most sense for us as photographers.  Here’s a list of 31 seasonal prompts to be used in whatever ways stir your creative urges.  You can use the prompts daily in the order they are displayed…or you can pick one to use all month, you can mix and match them, combine them, focus a week on one or two…it is totally up to you!

Be sure to post a photo each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twitter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the merrier!), so that we can all enjoy the posts.  If you are feeling daring, you might compose a blog post about a photo…about a week’s worth of photos…create a photo essay…the possibilities are endless!  Be sure to link back here to create a pingback by linking to this url…or post your blog address in the comments (or create your entire response in the comment section).  It’s fun to see what others do!

Here’s the list to get you started:

1.  green

2.  deal

3.  gift

4.  garland

5.  candle

6.  bargain

7.  decorate

8.  poinsettia

9.  feast

10.  red

11.  Santa

12.  hearth

13.  tradition

14.  elf

15.  tree

16.  present

17.  holiday

18.  star

19.  festive

20.  frosty

21.  winter

22.  candy

23.  celebrate

24.  bells

25.  wreath

26.  fruitcake

27.  retrospective

28.  light

29.  party

30.  parade

31.  new

Have fun, be creative, explore the limits of your photography…after all, 2013 is nearly over!  You can post every day, once a week…or sporadically throughout the month, whatever works in your life.  Be sure to share…and to tag your photos so we can all find them!

I hope you’ll join me as your photos help you express your experiences of the season!


Let There Be Light: A Light Study

What started as a photo-a-day challenge for a month over a year ago has become a daily practice, a hobby, and maybe even a passion for me.  I’ve noticed how my photographic eye has changed over time and how I am now thinking carefully not only about the subject of my photos, but also playing with framing, considering the rule of thirds, thinking about foreground and background, and studying light and its influence on the photo.

Today…Black Friday in the commercial, frenzied bargain hunting world…had us out early on this rare rainy day-after-Thanksgiving checking out bargains and enjoying time spent together.  And after the errands and lunch, I desperately wanted to go to the beach on this stormy (at least by our standards) day.

As we drove along the coast toward home, I was on the lookout for an interesting place to stop with a clear view of the beach.  We frequently go to the same beach, so today’s goal was to find another place–a new view–to explore.

We stopped at Ponto.  And it was surprisingly crowded.  The waves were big and the surfers plentiful.  People were in bathing suits, full wetsuits, shorts and flip flops, and boots and jackets…it is Southern CA after all.


I already had my eye on the jetty in the distance.  I knew I wanted to climb up on the rocks to get a great view of the sea.  But on the way I was sidetracked by the collection of lifeguard towers and found myself trying many different angles to capture the light and the ocean in the background.  I was struck by the dramatic differences in light and shadow. All of the photos were taken with my iPhone and are unedited and without any filters.

lifeguard tower study

I know the rule about having the sun at your back for the best photos, but sometimes I find myself wanting to shoot into the sun.  I love the way that shooting into the light creates silhouettes like in this picture of my husband looking out into the ocean.

beach silhouette

And I also played with angling the light behind me to capture more light…and in this case, the movement of the water and waves as well.

waves crash

When I pivoted 180 degrees in the other direction, the light my camera captured changed dramatically.

sun on water

Understanding the light and being aware of the source of the light makes a dramatic difference in photography.  By studying my photos I’ve learned some techniques that help me make more intentional choices rather than only happy (or unfortunate) accidents.  It’s fun to play around and see how shifts in lighting change the photos.

Light can change the mood and tone of the photo, make it more pensive, more dramatic, or lighter and more playful.  It changes colors, brightening or softening, creating depth and layers.  Earlier today I was trying to capture raindrops with my iPhone, without much success…because light and reflection were working against me.  I just couldn’t get enough contrast behind the drops to make them show through my lens.  But you can be certain that I will keep trying…whenever the next rainy day comes along.

What have you learned from the light today?

Picture Perfect

Today was one of those picture perfect November days…if you like sunshine and mild temperatures.  And it was a perfect day to play around with taking pictures.

You’ve probably noticed that I love the beach…and so when my son and daughter-in-law wanted to take their dog–a chihuahua named Elli–to the beach, I was eager to go with them.

After a bit of research to find which nearby beaches allow dogs…on leashes…we headed off with Elli and her leash.  This was Elli’s first beach outing, and she loved it!


And I was also on the lookout for other interesting photo opportunities as we walked and Elli explored.  I love this scatter of shoes on the shore while the family dipped their toes in the (cold) ocean.


I wonder where the paragliders (the ones with motors) take off from.  This guy was cruising the beach from high overhead…but I doubt that he came from the glider port in La Jolla.  It seems more likely that he took off from the beach.


And I decided to play around with some apps too.  I just got a new app that lets you adjust the depth of field.  That seems to mean that you can focus on a particular place/item and the other areas get blurry.  It also has some filters that create interesting effects.  Here is little girl who was working at balancing on this surfboard in the shallows.


Sketch also creates some interesting effects…and works better on some pictures than others.  I like how crisp and visible the signs on the lifeguard tower are when it become a sketch.


For this piece of kelp I played around with the HDR effect in PicsArt.  It seems to make the image crisp and brings out the graininess of the sand.


Even spending the majority of my life in this city, I am continually awed by its beauty.  I’ve been hearing the news stories about the storms and snow and ice in the midwest and the east and feeling a bit guilty about our beautiful, warm and sunny days this week.  It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow for Thanksgiving, but who can really complain about low to mid 60’s on Thanksgiving?

Wherever you are, I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy your place for its own beauty…and if you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you are surrounded by those you love as you appreciate all that the day brings.  Happy Thanksgiving!

An Unexpected Appearance

I’ve been on the lookout for unexpected since I saw the Weekly Photo Challenge over at the Daily Post.  But when you are looking for the unexpected, somehow it just doesn’t show up.

With a day off from work today, I decided it was time to tackle that pile of odds and ends that ended up in an unused room because of some work we had done on the house…and we have some new urgency to get it dealt with since we are doing some more work on the house.  This is the pile that ends up in a cupboard somewhere because you can’t quite part with it, but you really don’t know what to do with it either.

Anyway, I picked up a green bound book that I thought was an old address book (back before we kept our contacts on our phones or computers).  When I flipped it open I discovered it was an old photo album.  Most of the pictures were of my husband when he was a baby with a few other odds and ends tucked into the pages.  And then what I thought was a postcard fell out.

It was that perfect postcard size that is so often used for advertising.  It had that “old school” look that modern apps work so hard to achieve.  But upon closer examination I discovered it was a picture of me!


This is a picture of the photograph taken with my iPhone, so you lose the actual size and some of the background off to the sides.

This unexpected photo brings back so many memories…most of them good ones.  I worked for McDonalds for more than 12 years before I went into teaching.  I learned so many skills and practices through my management experiences that have helped me as an educator.

It’s kind of scary to read those menu board prices (hamburgers 39 cents!) and realize that I was quite competent at calibrating that soda machine behind the counter (back in the day before serve yourself soda machines).  I inventoried and ordered all the raw product, scheduled employees for their shifts, kept ledgers of all the sales, hired, fired and trained employees (mostly teenagers a few years younger than I was), and so much more…

While it wasn’t rocket science or engineering, I did lots of systems thinking in my work at McDonalds.  There were many interconnecting components to consider each and every day…and sometimes I had to suffer the consequences when the decision I made didn’t have the intended result.

I like the way the unexpected spurs thinking.  This old photo has me thinking about so many things…my McDonald’s experiences, the changes in photography, wondering what happened to my old friend I used to work with and haven’t seen in years, and even the changes in fast food and the restaurant business.

My youngest son and his wife are coming home tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with us.  I think I’ll leave the photo out for him to see…

Close to Home: Adventures with My Sister

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Boston–an interesting town that I only got a tiny taste of because of the demands of the conference schedule and my own travel constraints. I’ve been to Boston before and hope to go back before too long just to explore and revel in all there is to see and do!

And my sister arrived here in San Diego Saturday for a short visit to my parents (who live near me), so we made plans for a little adventure to the zoo today.  My sister consistently visits twice a year, in the summer and at Christmas, usually with her family.  So this unexpected, solo, pre-Thanksgiving visit is a treat!  And although we invited our parents to come along with us today, when they declined we had a great time exploring, chatting, remembering…just the two of us.

Unlike Boston, San Diego is a place I know well–sometimes so well that I take it for granted. Today was a perfect November day.  It was mild and sunny, perfect for walking and talking. Kristie and I grew up in this town and have been to the zoo more times than we can count. We remember the days when the zoo was always free for kids 16 and under…and spent many a day exploring the zoo without an adult in sight.

And although the zoo has continued to expand and evolve, much remains the same.  We followed familiar paths and enjoyed watching the animals lounging and playing the early morning sun.




And when I caught a glimpse of the historic bridge from afar, I wanted to find a place where I could take a photo.  So we tried to remember a place where the bridge was visible…and as we walked down the path, Kristie found that perfect spot where we could see it through the leaves.


I love the way this landmark is framed by the oranges, reds, greens and browns of autumn in San Diego.

We headed from the zoo to lunch at El Indio’s, my sister’s favorite Mexican restaurant and then off to the beach.  Even though I live near the beach, I can’t go there often enough…and for my sister who no longer lives near the beach, an opportunity to smell the briny air, feel the sea breezes, and walk on the sand is a welcome treat.

We left our sweatshirts in the car and walked along the shoreline to the pier and back.  It was so clear we could see far off into the distance…breathtaking!  (Even when I see these views regularly!)


And then off we went to the glider port–a place we don’t remember going to as children, but a place with views that are amazing.  We rumbled down the dirt road to the dirt parking lot, which was surprisingly full for a Monday afternoon.  My sister called me optimistic as I navigated toward the end of the lot where we wanted to be…and she saw the perfect spot for us to park, just a few steps from the pathway to the cliff’s edge.


And although there were no gliders in sight today, we could see the pier where we had just walked.  We looked over the steep cliffs and noticed erosive handiwork of the wind and water.  The ocean sparkled and gleamed a brilliant blue in the November sun and we watched surfers hike up from the steep path to the beach…and walked partially down it ourselves for a closer view of the beach below.

We spent a few minutes watching someone get a hang gliding lesson, holding tightly to the giant parachute as he learned to control its movements.

It was a wonderful day to spend together, exploring this place that we know so well and yet has so many more experiences and secrets to discover.  This is the place where we spent our childhood together and as adults have to steal away time from our families and work to share time and space and memories.

So many people have been expressing their gratitude during the month of November.  During this week of Thanksgiving, I am thankful to have spent time with my sister on an adventure, close to home.

Systems Thinking

In addition to learning about circuits in the Hacking Your Notebook session, that I described here, at the NWP Annual Meeting in Boston, I also had the opportunity to participate in a three-hour workshop about e-textiles where we made puppets.  This session also involved the basics of circuitry and using a small battery to light up LEDs.

But Melissa and Kylie framed their session in the theory of systems thinking, which has continued to occupy my mind and thoughts ever since I left the session.  They talked about the ways we often simplify explanations in our society by turning to a binary cause and effect model.  Here’s an example of the cause and effect model: if we elect a new president, then the economy will turn around.  Actually, there are many other factors that impact the end result…and in fact, who is president may not even be the most important factor.

Our educational system (and our government) seems to spend a lot of time in the simple cause and effect model, rather than helping our students think more deeply about systems and the ways there are multiple factors, interconnections, and possibilities at work in the outcomes we see.  So the making of puppets in this workshop was about more than learning how circuits work or developing language and writing related to the puppet, it was also a way to think about systems and the problem solving and iteration that it takes to understand and make changes to the overall system.

So…with systems in mind, we proceeded to explore circuits with a watch battery, LED lights, and wired alligator clips.  Because of my work with circuits the day before, this part was super easy!  And then they asked us to explore how a switch would work.  It didn’t take much to figure out how to touch the switches to each to open and close the circuit, lighting the LED, and then separating them to turn off the light.

Our goal was to make a puppet that had a light (or two) that would light when you turn on the switch (or make a connection that closes the circuit and turns on the light).  We had two pieces of felt cut out in a puppet pattern, a battery holder, a LED light, and two switches (small pieces of conductive material) along with a host of buttons, ribbons, fabric, yarn, and other materials to use to decorate the puppet.

We began by making a plan.  Tracing our puppet on paper, we drew a diagram of where we would sew our battery holder, LED light(s), and switches, labeling the +/- poles and drawing in the stitches we would sew in with conductive thread.  Having our model in front of us to plan was a perfect step.  We could test and physically trace how the connections should flow as we drew the diagram.

Like in yesterday’s post, there were trickier plans I could have tried, but I opted for a simple plan that I knew I could complete in the time allotted.  And then I got to work.


As people worked through their plans and settled into sewing their circuit the room hushed and you could see the intensity of engagement.


For some the sewing was the hardest part, for others it was working through the circuitry, and for others it was totally about creating the puppet character they had in mind.  Here’s my end result…his heart lights up when his hands touch.


There are definitely some things I would do differently the next time I make a puppet.  I learned after I had sewn my circuit in that putting the hands together covered the light…you can see a glow, but it isn’t the effect I had in my head.  Other people were working on pirates and butterflies, some with eyes that lit, some with noses that lit.

And my takeaway has much more to do with systems thinking than it has to do with circuits. I find that I have a better grasp of how to explain some of the approaches I use in my classroom.  Like why design is so important to student learning, why mistakes are valuable to learning…if you take the time to work through what you did and figure out a better outcome, and why students need space to create their own plans and work through the spaces where things are not working the way they intend.

It also has me thinking about other learning opportunities.  I learned to sew as a child, and making clothes and other project definitely involves some systems thinking.  You have to think fabric, including weight, texture, stretch…  Even using a pattern, you have to think about how to lay out the pattern to make best use of the fabric, work with the grain, match the design if the fabric has one…

I’m worried when we make things in the classroom too “neat” that we are working harder and learning more than our students.  That’s one of the things I love best (and hate the most) about teaching writing.  When it’s at its best, it’s messy.  I can have an overall plan in mind for the outcome, but my students benefit from getting “just right” instruction along the way.  And not all my students need the same instruction…and some benefit from learning by watching and listening to their classmates.

After all, the classroom is another system.  When you tweak one aspect, there are many working parts that are impacted.  As an educator it’s important to problem solve and iterate.  It is impossible to make a year-long (or even week-long) plan that won’t change if you are really paying attention to the needs of your students.  We can help break things down for our students, but they also need to figure out how to examine the pieces of a system for themselves in order to understand how the parts interact with the whole.  After all, our students today will be the leaders of tomorrow!

What do you do in the classroom to help your students understand and work through the complexities of systems?

Lighting a Spark

In my last blog post (here) I touched on that idea of work and play and the way that they are often interconnected in the way I experience my life and work.  And as I am thinking through some of my conference experiences, I see the blurriness…and maybe even more than that, the overlap of work and play.

When one of my colleagues asked me about what sessions I intended to attend at the conference, I told her that I was planning to make my selections based on what sounded interesting and fun rather than what I “should” do for the good of my writing project site or someone else’s expectations.  I was already pre-registered on Friday for a session about Scratch, the platform designed for teaching computer programming to kids, and a session on e-textiles involving puppet making and circuitry.

When I arrived at the welcome event for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting on Wednesday, I was drawn to a table near the door loaded with little notebooks…that upon closer examination had copper foil, watch batteries and LED lights.  Chatting with David, I learned about Jie’s graduate work and interest in the intersections between art, writing, and engineering.  Right away I knew that Jie’s session was one that I would prioritize!


After two other sessions where I presented, a stimulating and thought-provoking plenary panel (more on that later), and a networking lunch, I headed off to the session with Jen, David, and Jie called Hacking the Notebook.

You could feel the energy surging in the room as we were handed notebooks, copper tape, a battery, and LED lights.  We listened to Jie share some of her work and thinking behind the idea of “lighting up” notebooks and stories and doodles…of combining science, technology, engineering and math with literacy and art (that STEM to STEAM connection).  She showed us an amazing work of art she created of dandelions that you could blow on to light up the puffs of white fluff.  (I encourage you to take the time to view this vimeo)

And then she walked us through the template she had created to teach about circuitry in these little notebooks that are a combination of background theory, documentation of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, instructional diagrams, sandbox for experimentation, engineering notebook…and more!

Our first task was to follow specific instructions and a diagram to lay down the copper tape, attach the LEDs, and then attach the battery to make the lights light up.  We followed a very specific diagram while learning (or being reminded) about the basics of circuitry.  That part was pretty easy…we just had to make sure that the pluses and minuses were facing in the right direction, that foil touched the electronics and didn’t touch places that would make a short.  And when we were successful, turning the page resulting in the light shining through the page and illuminating a lightbulb that we were then invited to draw and write around.


And that’s when the task took us to the next level of thinking.  Taking what we had just learned about circuitry, we turned the page and were to create our own light up design with copper and bulbs.  We had a number of lights…so were encouraged to move beyond our simple experimentation of the previous page.  Jie encouraged us to notice how the copper tape could curve and how pieces could combine to create whatever we could imagine.  And…we had to remember how to make the lights go on.  I tried to get a bit tricky, adding two lights in a series…carefully lining up the poles to ensure it would work.  And it didn’t!  What was wrong?  Was it a connection (or lack of connection), an overlap that redirected the current, too much demand by the lights to allow a single battery to power them?

Problem solving and iteration became essential as I traced and retraced my circuits.  I consulted with my tablemates and observed their works-in-progress.  And I enlisted the help of Eunice, a graduate student helping out in the session.  With Eunice’s help I figured out that the serial circuit was likely requiring more power that my battery had to offer (my first light in the series would light, but the second stubbornly refused to light, even after making adaptations).  She suggested I try a parallel circuit design instead, explaining how if the lights were side by side they would require less energy to light.

And after more iteration and problem solving, I got both lights to light up!


But what I wasn’t able to accomplish in that short, 90-minute session was both the science and a creative story-driven project.  I knew that for me, I wanted to focus on figuring out how to make my lights work and consider the possibilities before working on the story.  I struggle with the “creativity on demand” mode…but do have some more copper tape and lights…and my battery, so I plan to go home and do some more exploration on the creative, art and language-based, side of my project to combine with my knowledge of circuitry.

But my experience was not everyone’s experience.  Some people knew exactly where their stories and drawings would begin…and followed them as they experimented with their copper and lights.  And some people were so flummoxed by the science that progress was slow and frustrating.

In talking with Jie later that evening at the social event she said that she had learned a lot by working with us.  Writing project teacher leaders do a lot of meta-narrative thinking and talking, examining their own processes and experiences in service of the work they do with students and teachers.

And I did ask her how that dandelion art works since I couldn’t figure out how blowing would make lights go on!  She said the lights were connected to sound sensors and the blowing caused the sensors to hear the breath, like wind, and cause the lights to illuminate!

I can’t wait to get home and lay out my supplies and think and work through a piece of writing and art that will light up.  And I can’t wait to share this work with others as I consider how I might do this with students…my own and/or others that we might work with through the writing project.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’re interested, here is page that lists the supplies and where you can get them.  I’d love to know what you create and discover when you play with circuits and lights in your notebook!

Work and Play

I’ve been accused–more than few times–of being a work-a-holic.  And maybe there is some truth to that notion, but it is because my work is so much fun that a lot of times it seems like play.

I headed out at the crack of dawn Wednesday morning to fly across the country to join my writing project colleagues in Boston for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting that is held every year in conjunction with the Annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference.


The Annual Meeting is an opportunity to gather with writing project people from all over the country, to learn from each other, to share ideas and reconnect.  And it is fun!

This conference begins by seeing old friends and learning about what is happening in their places and then offers more formal opportunities for learning from each other.

We’ll spend all day Thursday and Friday in more formal settings, thinking about our students and our teaching…and thinking about how to support teachers and their learning too.  We’ll consider writing in all possible contexts, across all content, across platforms, and across ages and experiences.  And even though we will think hard, write a lot, and at the end of each day feel exhausted, we will continue our conversations over dinner, walking to and from our hotels, over an evening cocktail, and maybe even into our dreams as we finally sleep.  Because these moments spent face to face with our colleagues from all over the nation are to be savored.  They are work and they are play.

We’re here, Boston!  Ready to work and play in this special place.


The Power of Confusion

I love questions!  Not the one right answer kind of questions, but the kind that tickle your brain and keep you thinking in search of possibilities.  The kind that operate right at the edge of confusion.

I love questions in my classroom and in my own learning.  Some of my favorite questions are, “How do you know that?”  “Why do you think that?” “What do you think?” and “What do you notice?”  Sometimes a question as simple as, “What do you think?” can open up rich avenues of conversation.

I think the key to good questions is being interested in the answers.  If you ask but really don’t want to know the answer, then you might as well not ask.  Taking the time to listen is key to the value of questions.

As I was facilitating student-parent-teacher conferences today, I heard some parents who use questions in powerful ways with their children.  I loved the mom who explained how she responds to her son’s questions about spelling with, “How do you think it’s spelled?” and then engages in a conversation about what the child understands about the spelling of the word. The parents who ask genuine questions and listen for their child’s response create opportunities for learning.

Figuring out how to ask questions that you are curious about…those right at the point of your own confusion…can be a catalyst for your own learning.  I love when students ask the question that suddenly gives me insight and clarity into my own teaching and learning.  And I know when I can actually verbalize what is confusing me, and ask the question, that I will make progress in my learning.

Sometimes questions can involve some heavy lifting…figuring out what is confusing, which questions to ask, and how to respond to the questions of others.  I love this image I found on a utility box in Oakland, CA–be sure to bend and lift those questions with your legs, not your back!