Monthly Archives: December 2013

Making and Learning into the New Year!

2013 has been a year of making for me.  It’s not that I haven’t made things in the past…but this last year I have been making things with the focus less about the product and more about what I learn through the making process.  And throughout my making, I’m also thinking about my students and how they might approach a similar make…and what they might learn from the process.

Photography has been a focus of my making this year.  I’ve gone from taking pictures to crafting photos and creating images…and I love the way that the focus on photography and continually working to improve my craft influences the way I view the world and think about learning and making.

So tonight, on New Year’s Eve, I am enjoying a quiet evening at home with my husband, youngest son, and daughter-in-law.  The fire is roaring in the fireplace, the house is filled with delicious smells, and we’re catching up on stories of all the time we spend away from one another since they live in another city.

And…with my son’s help, I made my first stop motion video!

We started with a basic concept based on fireworks on New Year’s (after he showed me a few examples by making some quick stop motion videos in front of me using found items in the living room).  Using a combination of drawing and paper cut outs, we prepared our materials before starting to film.

Together we created our video shooting frame after frame as we built up the motion, carefully moving elements for each shot.  Our goal was not a fancy professional level video–but instead something that my students would be able to do on their iPads.  We shot the entire video on my phone using the imotion HD app.

Since we had shot the video with a white paper background, we searched for ways to invert the colors and make the background black to give the video an evening sky quality.  We looked for apps to use to create the effect, but finally gave up and used After Effects on my son’s computer.  (My students wouldn’t have this ability–but I may also find out about some other apps before then!)

Finally, I loaded the video to Youtube, edited it to loop (since it was only 4 seconds long) and added some New Year’s music from the Youtube library…and voila!

I know I will need to spend some more time trying out stop motion for myself and experimenting with the possibilities.  But already, I know enough to be able to get my students started! Our only problem in the classroom is figuring out how to fit in all the learning and making we want to be doing!  There is simply not enough time in the school day…or in the school year for all the learning we want to be doing!

Happy New Year to all of you!  What did you make and learn on this last day of 2013?  What plans for making and learning do you have for 2014?  If you have any advice for making stop motion videos with students, I’d love to hear it!

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 8.41.56 PM

P.S.  If you are interested in trying out a photo-a-day challenge and need some prompts to get you started, check out the photo-a-day prompts we are using in January by clicking here.

Taking Action in 2014: January’s Photo-a-Day Challenge

Happy New Year!  The New Year is typically a time for resolutions and goals—generally aimed at improving your health or your life.  Unfortunately, they are also easily abandoned and left unrealized.  So maybe instead of focusing on weight loss or exercise or one of those other hard to realize goals, we can take some inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this month, and focus on action each day instead.

So for January we have a list of verbs…one for each letter of the alphabet and five more thrown in…to inspire action through photography.  As always, you are welcome to interpret the prompts in whatever way inspires your creativity and pushes your photographic eye. Maybe the action is captured by the photograph.  Or maybe the verb reflects the actions you use to prepare your photo—with filters and editing, camera lenses or photographic techniques.  This might be the month  to explore light and shadow, the rule of thirds, and a variety of angles.  (Let us know if you’ve tried a specific technique so we can all learn from you!)

After you shoot, post a photo each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twitter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the better!), so that we can all enjoy the posts.  If you are game for some extra action, compose a blog post about a photo, a week’s worth of photos, write a photo essay, or try a learning walk!  (More about learning walks here and here) You are invited to create a pingback by linking to this url or post your blog address in the comment section.  It’s fun for me to see what others are doing with the same prompts I am using!

Here’s the list:

1. analyze

2. build

3. create

4. climb

5. dash

6. examine

7. focus

8. generate

9. help

10. innovate

11. jumble

12. kick

13. lick

14. mentor

15. make

16. nudge

17. organize

18. peek

19. program

20. question

21. resolve

22. renovate

23. submit

24. teach

25. understand

26. utilize

27. vouch

28. write

29. eXamine

30. yearn

31. zip

Let’s make an impact in 2014!  Have fun, be creative, explore the limits of your photography…January is the perfect time to follow through with what you have been meaning to do for a while.  You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life.  Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!

And here’s a photo to inspire you to get started!


The Joy of the Unexpected

As a photographer I am attracted to things I find beautiful…interesting shapes, saturated colors, cute furry animals, sweet children.  But today was different.

Using my macro lens, I was taking photos of a paperwhite bulb that is beginning to emerge, capturing the brilliant green shoots emerging from the jar.


But I wasn’t done exploring with my lens.  I noticed the orchid in the kitchen window still hanging onto the dried blossoms.  I should probably pull off these dead remnants, but instead I aimed my macro lens and captured a beautiful image of the dried and withered petals.


I headed outside into the unusually warm December morning, still looking for opportunities to get close.  I noticed this dried blossom on the hedge and leaned in.


Then I noticed the old wires on the part of the sprinkler system that has been disabled.  There’s a certain elegant beauty to the turquoise plastic revealing the coppery wire within.


I headed around the corner toward the hibiscus plant.  It has tiny shoots of green emerging along with dried remains of previous flowers.



And I have a love/hate relationship with spider webs.  They can be elegantly beautiful like delicate lace, especially when they capture drops of dew or rain.  And they can be a messy nuisance.  But when you look closely, you can see past the mess and notice the intricacies of design and the way the sunlight plays with the thin strands.


I found myself looking for things I would otherwise think of as ugly as I photographed with my macro lens this morning…and I found unexpected beauty and experienced the joy of discovery in my re-seeing.

All of these unedited photos are yet another reminder that there is plenty of beauty to find in our world if we take the time to look past the obvious and consider perspectives beyond what is conventionally accepted.

Where do you find beauty?  Do you find joy in the unexpected?

Airport Reflections

My blog has been dark these last few days as I’ve taken time to ready my home and my head for holiday celebrations.  With school in session through the 20th and home renovations that same week, little things like cleaning and decorating…and bigger things like Christmas shopping got pushed off to after the break began.

As I headed off to the airport yesterday (the day after Christmas) to pick up my oldest son, I found myself thinking about the ups and down of the airport.  Anticipation, dread, excitement, drudgery…they are all part of the airport experience, depending on the reason for being there.

Traffic was light and parking was easy as I arrived at the airport.  I parked in my favorite 60 minute parking zone and knew I had a bit of time for some photographs before Andy’s plane landed.  I thought I might see crowds of people ascending and descending the escalator either arriving in our sunny city or departing for parts unknown.


But instead, as you can see, it was pretty empty.  As I got to the top of the escalator, I realized I could see the cityscape in the distance…as well as the sea of cars parked in the parking lot. (The illusion of emptiness was just that, an illusion!)


Crossing the bridge from the parking lot to the terminal I noticed the line of shuttles below. Who will get into these cars?  Are they visiting family? Vacationing? Working? Were they for visitors to the Poinsettia Bowl?


When I arrived in the terminal, I immediately went back outside (into the 75+ degree weather) to take photos of the people.  You can see that there were lines of people checking their bags…and there were also lines inside of people checking in for their flights.


And then I noticed this big crowd of people dressed in red.  I first saw them near the baggage claim…and then they headed outside together.  There were lots of them and they all wore red t-shirts that said something like, “Brown Family Christmas 2013.”  There were little children in red shirts, teenagers, adults, and some grandparent looking folks too.  Once outside a big fancy tour bus pulled up and they all began to load their bags and themselves onto it. And I wondered…did they all come from the same place to spend Christmas in San Diego? Did they come on different planes from different places?  Do they do this every year?  Who makes the arrangements and the t-shirts?  I was reminded of a colleague I met this summer whose family collects dues to put on a family reunion each year…something that has never occurred to me!


And then I got my gift…my son arrived!  Now that my children are grown I don’t get to spend every special occasion with them.  I share them with their wives and in laws and jobs and friends.  And instead of feeling like I am missing out, I feel grateful for the time I get to spend with them.  And in that moment yesterday, the airport was one of my favorite places!

And even though Andy is here, the airport will continue to be present over this next week as my daughter-in-law arrives tomorrow and my other son and his wife board a plane to fly back this direction the following day.  And then, all too soon, they will go back to their homes and their lives and their work.

I’ll be boarding a plane in not too many days too as I head off to meet with colleagues about some interesting ideas for our work.  Many people focus on either the excitement of the airport as they travel off on exotic vacations…or the hassle as they get stranded, stand in long lines, or searched in the security process.

But the reality is, in so many ways the airport connects us.  It shrinks the miles between us and brings us together…as families, as colleagues, as friends.


Airplanes bring my kids home to me…and who can complain about that?

One of Two

We have two cats.  Black and white “tuxedo” domestic short-hairs.  Brothers and litter-mates.  They’ve been together since birth…and in our house since they were 16 weeks old–almost 16 years ago.

I take lots of pictures of Phil and Jack.  They are pretty patient photography subjects who let me experiment and intrude on their space…and they are pretty photogenic and look cute most of the time.

I notice that I seem to go through phases of focusing my photos more on one of them than the other.  For a while, Jack was subject…my sons even asked if something had happened to Phil.  But in the last week or so, I notice that it is Phil that is featured in many of my photos.

Phil is definitely the one who loves to explore…and checks out every new situation in the house.  This last week we’ve had a number of workmen here: painting, installing a new floor, hanging blinds.  And when I go to take a photo, there’s Phil.


Phil has a mind of his own.  Sometimes he will patiently pose for pictures…and at other times I catch something more like this.


I can always trust Phil to find interesting places to lay.  One of his favorite places to nap is in a decorative basket on a shelf high in the entertainment center that holds our TV.  Today we found him basking in the diffuse sunlight on a low countertop that will eventually feature some piece of art (we think).


I love the interesting shadow echoing the black and white of Phil’s coloring (I had to sneak up on him for this shot!).

But sometimes Phil will pose…and let me focus my shot.  Later today Phil was sitting on a chair in some warm light.  He looked up just right, allowing the sun to highlight his eyes.  I love the way the light works in this photo.


And sometimes Phil will let us play.  Last week he let us put this cute Christmas hat on him and take photos.  He seemed to understand that we were having fun and was unusually patient with the whole experience…humoring us as the one cat who manages to look good no matter how silly his people are!


Phil has ended up being the one of our two cats who was photographed most this week. Not because he’s our favorite or because we singled him out, but because he made himself the natural focus of the pictures.  I notice that my students do that sometimes too.  I’ll find that one of my students will show up in photo after photo…and then another week it will be another student.

So this week, Phil is the one.  Who is the one in your photos this week?

Exploring My Community

When people think of the beach, first thoughts usually go to sunny days, warm sand, and frothy waves crashing on the shore.

And for those of us who live in the beach community and see the ocean in all its glory every day, it can be easy to take this natural beauty for granted.

As I work to grow my photographic eye, I have been paying attention to conditions that will produce photos that are different than those I have taken before.

Today was a rainy day with a dark sky filled with ominous clouds.  Sun broke through periodically…and as I was driving through rush hour traffic to an appointment this afternoon, I decided to stop by the beach to see if I could capture the ocean against the dark sky.

Traffic was worse than usual–a typical side effect of rain in our community–and I missed many beautiful photo opportunities as I drove through the heavy traffic towards my destination (and convenient parking).  When I did park, I wanted to capture darkness…with the light peeking through.


This is an unedited photo as the sun was sinking behind the thick clouds.  You can see the gray rain clouds above…and the spot of clearing lighting up the sea.

As I was enjoying the dusky beach, I noticed what appeared to be a bride in the distance at the water’s edge.  iPhone photography is not great for distance shots…but I shot anyway, hoping to capture a glimpse of the bride (and her groom) in the distance.  I used Camera+ to crop the photo and the clarify filter to bring the bride into view.


It’s a bit pixilated…but I kind of like the effect.  (Can you spot the bride in the distance?)

And after I stopped for a cup of coffee (a favorite evening habit), I noticed these palm trees against the darkening sky.  I stopped in the parking lot, set my coffee down on the ground and snapped this view.


This is another unedited photo.  I love the way the wet roads reflect the street lights and traffic lights and the palms stand tall, an iconic beach symbol.

Paying attention to the nuances of this beach community where I live helps me to appreciate its unique qualities in deeper and more thoughtful ways.

What nuances make your community home for you?


Over at A Word in Your Ear, the word a week challenge this week is wind.  So how do I show wind in a photo?  Remember, I live in a place with little in the way of weather.  Our usual is a bit of fog and some gentle sea breezes…and this week (remember, it’s the week before Christmas) we had HOT weather.  The kids were back in shorts and their sweatshirts are littering the playground!

Earlier this week one of my students came to school is a sweater dress, tights, and fur-lined boots.  By recess it was already about 75 degrees.  I noticed a mom at the door…and she had a bag of clothes for her daughter.  After a few minutes in the restroom, my student returned in a skirt, t-shirt, and tennies!  (And boy, did she feel better!)

But this morning change was in the air.  I knew that the day would be cooler.  I parked at school, and laden with too much to carry, I felt the wind and heard the pulleys knocking against the flagpole.  I looked up and noticed the flapping flags against the beautiful cloudy sky.

Carefully balancing my phone in one hand (my other was full), I managed to snap this photo of the flags and the sky.


I love that I managed to capture the movement of the wind in the photo…and the interesting dimensions of the sky in the background.

The day turned out to be nice and sunny…and we’re expecting rain tomorrow.  If it arrives as expected, it will be an exciting school day…a rainy day schedule the day before school lets out for winter break!

A Gift to Ourselves

Is there ever a good time to work on your house?

For some reason we seem to get motivated sometime around Christmas to do major home renovation.  Last year a plumbing issue initiated some major work shortly after Christmas.  And this year we had planned to replace the floor in our living/dining room so that it would be done before Thanksgiving.  But given our hectic schedules, we are deep in the midst of it right now…a week before Christmas.

This weekend was spent tearing out carpet and throwing away draperies that had seen better days.

renovation collage

The emptiness of the room creates a cavernous echo that magnifies every sound in the house.  And the cats are not quite sure what to make of it.  They did spend a good portion of time on Saturday in supervision mode…making themselves comfortable in the midst of pulled up carpet.

cat supervisors

I’m amazed at the difference paint makes on a space!  It feels fresh and clean, ready for the new floor that will be laid tomorrow.


So we may or may not get a Christmas tree up and decorated this year…and somehow that feels okay.  There is something about the process of clearing out, reevaluating what we need and want to keep, and donating usable goods to someone else that is satisfying.

The neighbors are curious.  They’re wondering if we are planning to move since that often happens when people do major work on their homes.  But this work is a gift to ourselves…updating and improving our home to make our living environment more comfortable and welcoming.

It sure takes a lot of work and discomfort to make things better.  I can’t wait til the end of the week when we have a freshly painted room with a new floor and new window coverings.  There’s no furniture…guess we’ll have to stand to admire our freshly transformed living room.

Poverty and Programming…and Questions

My internet crashed last night.  The TV wasn’t working, my computer wouldn’t pick up the wireless, and the micro-cell that boosts the cellular phone signal was down too.  I had digital devices…but no connection at all.

I had big plans…to watch some Sunday night football, to do some online holiday shopping, to put together a blog post, and to catch up on some reading of posts made by others.  Instead, I finished my book, put some laundry away, and went to bed a bit earlier than I might have otherwise.

My internet is back up and working today…but my experience last night turned my thoughts to issues of equity and access for students.

It seems that when people think about access to technology, devices are at the front of their thinking.  If only we could put a device in the student’s hand, issues of access are solved.

But there is just so much more to access.  Last night I had access to devices…but none of them would connect me to the internet or allow me to connect in any other way (text, phone, social media, even TV).  I thought about getting in my car and heading down to the local Starbucks to have a cup of coffee and accomplish some of what I planned to do at home.  I didn’t have any hard deadlines…and I knew that I would have internet access when I got to work this morning, so I decided to stay home and do without the connection.

But what if I were a high school student with a Monday morning deadline?  What if I didn’t have reliable internet access in my home…and what if I didn’t have transportation as an option to get me to the Starbucks, the library, or even a friend’s house with internet access? Even if the school provided me with a device, there are so many things I couldn’t do without internet access.

I know there are programs to provide internet service to families with limited means, but I also know that they require paperwork be filled out…and may even require some kind of bank account or credit card to pay the nominal monthly fee.

So why am I writing about this?  I’m thinking about the amount of school work that is assigned as homework. to be completed outside of school and the role that digital tools increasing play in our lives and I’m wondering about how access impacts our students.  Can they create digital portfolios to showcase their learning?  Can they access the information they need to locate resources for research, find scholarship and grant opportunities, secure internships or apply for employment?

How does access change when connectivity is only available outside of your home?  In public spaces?  Places with limited hours of operation?

And what do we take for granted?  We ask students to blog, to research, to reply to discussion boards, to collaborate with Google docs…often outside of the school day.  Which of our students have access…and what happens to those who don’t?  Do our students who come from the poorest families see themselves as producers of technology?  Who is learning to code?  Who is primarily consuming in our digital world and who is producing?  How often do we ask those questions…and how do the answers change the way we think about access and equity?

Last week on Teachers Teaching Teachers, we were on a Google Hangout talking about the Hour of Code and about Dasani.  Two disparate topics…or are they?  Poverty and programming…and questions of equity, voice, agency… What roles do schools play?  What roles should they play? What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century?  How does “producing” change the learner…the learning?  I have many more questions than answers…and I would love to continue the conversation.  What do you think?