Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Place to Treasure

We often think about treasures as those tangible trinkets: an irreplaceable family heirloom, the lock of hair from your baby’s first haircut, the multifaceted diamond in your engagement ring, the lucky penny you wear in your shoe.  They often carry sentimental value far beyond their monetary worth, representing events, memories, and stories to remember.

As I was thinking about treasure as the topic for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge at the Daily Post, I considered the treasures in my life.  Of course I have those tangible items infused with sentiment that carry treasured memories, but a walk on the beach today with my husband brought my treasure forward for me.

As someone who lives a few miles from the beach, it can be easy to take this treasure for granted.  I don’t think anyone would argue that the beach is beautiful, but there is so much more to treasure.

The beach is a chameleon.  It responds dramatically to nuances light and changes moods with even subtle weather changes.  It can be wild and ferocious or calm and playful.  Today was one of those picture-perfect February days that allowed me to roll up my jeans, tie my sweatshirt around my waist, and walk barefoot in the cool salty water.


I am continually fascinated by the wildlife, the geology, and the physics at the beach.  This egret caught my attention today and let me get quite close as it investigated close to the cliffs. Egrets more commonly hang out at the lagoon and I seldom see them on the beach.  This guy was quite interested in whatever lurked in the brush at the base of the cliff.  He seemed to move in slow motion, jutting his head forward with each step.  I tried to capture his movement in a short video, but he moved so slowly and deliberately I probably should have tried time lapse!


But what I treasure most about the beach is the opportunities it allows for time…time to think, time to reflect, and time to engage in deep conversation with a companion.  Somehow, no matter how many people are there, you can find space at the beach.

big sky beach

There is a vastness that has a way of wrapping itself around you, shouldering some of the tension that weighs so heavily.  Reflectiveness is a natural on the shoreline; the water and light play with each other, making connections and expanding views…creating opportunities for new understandings.


We left the beach after a long, meandering walk refreshed and relaxed having reveled in the natural beauty, the breaths of briny sea air, and the warm rays of sun that danced on our shoulders and cheeks.  I often play with my iPhone photos in editing apps, cropping and brightening or creating interesting effects.  All the photos in this post are completely unedited, shown the way the camera on my phone captured them, in their natural state.

I feel confident that those of you who live in other places, far from the sea, also have some natural treasures like the beach.  What are the places that you treasure?  What makes them special?  I look forward to experiencing your treasures through your lens and through your writing!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflection

Here’s the week 6 Weekly Photo Challenge prompt for the NWP iAnthology!  (Here are weeks 1234, and 5 if you want to look back.)

Reflection is one of those words that is layered with meaning for me.  It can be as literal as peering into a mirror or as abstract as considering the way that wind, light, and life transform an image.

In photography, sometimes reflection is obvious…sunlight on water is one of those I notice often, yet never tire of like this photo of the sun setting reflected in the lagoon.

lagoon reflection

Sometimes I only notice the reflections when I go back and look closely at a photograph after I get home.  In this shot of the fisherman my goal was to capture the sense of aloneness that comes with the overcast sunless sky.  But there is something significant about his reflection appearing wavering in the mirror-like water at the edge of the sea.

fisherman reflection

Similarly, this photo of the giraffe at the Oakland zoo almost suggests another life in the reflection where the fences are not visible, and you can see the trees and shrubs that are less obvious in the actual image.


I love this subtle reflection I found in a creek in the Muir Woods.  If you look closely, the forest is reflected in the water creating almost a multimedia collage with the leaves and sticks floating in the water.

forest view]

And today I was intentionally looking for a reflection to photograph and wondered if I was going to have to resort to a photo of the sun reflecting on water.  As I walked up to the Writing Project office I noticed the reflection of the courtyard in the windows of the building.  (It turns out that it is a bit of a “selfie” as well, you’ll notice I am there in the reflection as well.)


So this week’s photo challenge is to represent your image of reflection. Do you find reflection in water, in mirrors, on shiny surfaces?  Are your reflections lonely, filled with life, colorful? Share a photo that creates an image of reflection for you.  Post either the photo alone or along with writing inspired by the photo.  I also invite you to use others’ photos as inspiration for your own writing and photography.  I often use another photographer’s image as “mentor text” for my own photography, trying to capture some element in my own way.

I like to share my images and writing on social media…and I invite you to share yours widely too. (You might consider Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+) Use the hashtag #reflection and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy.  You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602.  I’d love to follow you if you share your handle.

You can also share your photos and writing by linking to this blog post or sharing in the comment section below.  I am excited to see how you represent reflection through your lens!

Playing with Shadows

Sunday’s prompt for #sdawpphotovoices had to do with shadows.  (It’s part of our exploration of photography techniques…light is this week’s focus)

And of course, Sunday was overcast most of the day.  So when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds in the later afternoon, I headed outside in search of some shadows.  The first shadow I noticed was my own.  But I’ve taken that shot before (see my post of shadow selfies).

At first it seemed hard to find interesting shadows…and then I started looking for shadows of ordinary things and I spotted this leaf near the hose…a still life with shadow!


Further investigation led to me to the sidewalk across the street where the shadow of the tree on the sidewalk along with the shadow of the curb created a shadow tree…not a shadow of an existing tree, but a new tree.


Further down the street I noticed that the neighbor’s basketball hoop was making a shadow on the street.  If you look closely, you can almost see the net within the square backboard.


As I headed back through the fence to my backyard, I noticed the shadow on the fence.  I love the ways the branches intersect in the shadow.


The sun ducked back undercover shortly after my excursion outside, but not before I caught a shadow inside, as the sun shone through the slates of the window blinds onto the floor creating an interesting repeating pattern.


I wasn’t excited about taking a picture of a shadow, especially when the sun wasn’t shining when I was out away from home.  But once I headed out and started re-seeing my neighborhood in a playful way…on a shadow hunt…I discovered more than i imagined, and I was having fun chasing after shadows.  There were more that I didn’t include here…including a couple of accidental shadow selfies!

Over coffee with a friend this afternoon, our conversation circled around to play…and the need for teachers to be having fun and playing while they are teaching and working with students.  You know if you, as the teacher, are not having fun, then your students aren’t either. And I don’t know about you, but I always find that I learn the most when I am having fun…almost not even noticing that I am making an effort!

How do you make learning fun?  What are you playing with in the classroom? Chasing shadows seems like it might just be a metaphor for finding play in the classroom…

Ups and Downs

You’ve probably noticed that I love the beach–I take lots of photos there and it’s a wonderful place for walking.  There’s the sea breeze, the beauty of the surroundings…and it’s pretty much flat, making walking easy.

So today, we decided to take a walk away from the beach.  In fact we went to a place that we knew would have some pretty significant uphill and downhill climbs.

And while there is something to be said about staying on the flat and keeping things on a even keel, there is value in the ups and downs too.

As we started up the gently slope it was easy to set a brisk pace even as I was looking around at the native plants and looking out over the vistas.  I could walk and talk and breathe.


The first part of the walk continued on a gentle incline.  We walked quickly without feeling labored and then began down a pretty steep decline.  Walking downhill does’t feel too hard…but I was remembering that I was going to have to walk back up that same slope.  And at the bottom there was a pretty steep incline in front of us.  And rather than turning around, we decided to continue up for a bit.  I could feel myself slowing down and my breathing becoming more labored as I headed upward.  And then, about halfway up I noticed a mushroom growing along the side of the trail.  Of course I had to stop, kneel low, and take a photo.


When we turned around to head back, lots of steep uphill was in front of me.  I could feel my muscles, my heartbeat, and each and every breath I took.  And yet, I kept climbing and kept walking.  I had to give up talking for a bit…I needed my breath for the climb.  At the hardest point in the climb, the place I was ready to stop, I found myself noticing and naming the native plants.  I recognized the black sage, the lemonade berry, the alkali heath…

As the grade eased, so did my breathing and I began to enjoy the scenery again.  We could see evidence of the rain in the plants, tender green shoots and colorful blossoms decorating these often monochromatic plants.


As the walk came to an end, I felt good.  The ups and downs made my body (and mind) work in some different ways than walking on the flat.  The peaks and valleys made me work harder, and I could feel myself working on both my stamina and my resolve as I walked.

There are many more steep trails that we haven’t yet tried, and in spite of the fact that I know they will feel hard, I can’t wait to head back and explore some more of them.  I have great admiration for the woman I watched run the same trail I had trudged.  I don’t aim to run that route, but I would love to improve my fitness by including more of these challenging walks in my repertoire.

I find myself thinking about ups and downs, peaks and valleys in the classroom too.  There are some climbs that leave us all winded, laboring to get to the next flat stretch.  But, like my experience today, the challenges help us build our stamina, increase our “fitness” for learning together, and remind us that even when things are hard, there are reasons to continue on.

What ups and downs do you experience?  What do they teach you about your life and learning?  I know that I will be including more ups and downs in my walking routine, but don’t worry, I’ll still make time for walks by the beach.

Do You Selfie?

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge on the Daily Post is the selfie–that ubiquitous self-portrait, usually taken on a mobile device.  They highlight the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, an exhibit of the art of the self-portrait or selfie.

I’m not much of a selfie taker.  I don’t love to post photos of myself on social media and there are just so many other interesting things to take photos of that it doesn’t occur to me to turn the lens on myself.

But when I saw the challenge, I realized that I do have a small collection of selfies.  This one, taken in the Natural History Museum in Denver, is one of my favorites.  I couldn’t resist the multiple mirrors…and then I used some editing apps to transform the image into an artistic interpretation of me.

museum selfie

I had fun playing with the colored light at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, creating a refracted light selfie.


A mirrored wall at the Getty Museum created an opportunity to catch a selfie of myself…with my son, and a little of the marble surfaces of the buildings and walkways.

getty selfie

And since so many of my photo are of landscapes and the natural beauty of the place where I live, I do snap of few shadow selfies.  (Is that a selfie sub-genre?)  This one was taken on an exercise walk…you can see my sweatshirt tied around my waist.


And then the classic shadow couple selfie…my hubby and I out on one of my picture taking expeditions.  I was loving the long and lean shadow here.


On social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) I see some people who document their actions through selfies.  They snap pictures of themselves at landmarks, with friends, eating and drinking…  It seems to be a way to create a scrapbook of sorts of the moments they want to remember.  And as you can see, I do a few of my own.  Most of my selfies come from moments where the picture of myself (or my shadow) emerges as a way to play with photography–to try something a bit different and maybe even to prove I am physically present in some way.  I do capture the occasionally accidental selfie–standing in my own light and causing a shadow, shooting a reflective surface and surprising myself with a picture of myself instead of the image I was after.

Do you selfie?  Do you have a signature style or a classic pose?  Do you favor using your front facing camera on your phone, shooting into reflective surfaces or capturing shadows?  Do you post on social media or just share privately with friends?  What do your selfies say about you?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

Here’s the week 4 Weekly Photo Challenge prompt for the NWP iAnthology!  (Here are weeks 123, and 4 if you want to look back.)

Every year Pantone, a company that describes itself as the authority on color, selects a color of the year.  This year’s color is radiant orchid (it’s a pinkish purple), last year’s was emerald.  The color they select shows up in fashion, interior design, and other places that color matters.

I notice that I am drawn to certain colors in my photography.  In the warm fall, I couldn’t resist the oranges and yellows of the sunset over the ocean.  I took many, many photos trying to capture the intensity of color as the sun sunk into the sea.


And I love trying to capture the colors in flower petals.  Using my macro lens, I got a close look at this orchid…and the beauty of the purples and the contrasting oranges.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

So this week’s photo challenge is to explore color. What colors are calling to you?  Do you have a color of the year like the Pantone company?  Share a photo that represents your exploration of color.  Post either the photo alone or along with writing inspired by the photo.  I also invite you to use others’ photos as inspiration for your own writing and photography.  I often use another photographer’s image as “mentor text” for my own photography, trying to capture some element in my own way.

I like to share my images and writing on social media…and I invite you to share yours widely too. (You might consider Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+) Use the hashtag #intersection and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy.  You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602.  I’d love to follow you if you share your handle.

You can also share your photos and writing by linking to this blog post or sharing in the comment section below.  I am excited to see how you express color through your lens!

Integrating Digital Learning

Today was Digital Learning Day.  And I’m all for focusing attention on digital learning to cast a spotlight and encourage more widespread participation.  But I’m also thinking about the ways digital learning doesn’t fit in a day.

A glance at my Twitter feed today showed students blogging, making movies, writing arguments, voicing opinions, speaking out against bullying, creating digital stories, exploring stop motion animation, using QR codes, tweeting 6 word literacy memoirs, having silent discussions on digital discussion boards…and lots of collaboration, experimentation, and students and teachers learning together.  I’m excited that so many of the examples of digital learning I saw were about students creating and producing rather than a passive use of the digital.

But I’m wishing for an “Integrating Digital Learning” day or week or month or year.  I feel like we need a push for districts and schools and educators to think carefully about the ways digital learning can and should be integrated into the overall school curriculum,  We could still have a “try something new” with Digital Learning Day to encourage experimentation and push educators and students to continue their learning about the possibilities of digital learning, but also focus attention on intentional integration of digital learning…which would also highlight the very real needs related to digital integration.

It’s hard to integrate digital learning when you don’t have access to digital devices, or when the internet is spotty…or sites you need access to are blocked.  When the digital devices can’t be depended on, it’s hard to make plans to seamlessly integrate their use into the day to day plans for learning.

As we talked about Digital Learning Day with our students this morning, they reminded us of ways we use digital tools that have become so commonplace that we take them for granted. They pointed out that we (their teachers) use our computers (and printer)  to print their math “sticker problems” and we depend on our Apple TV devices to allow us to share work wirelessly from our laptops…and our students to share their work from their iPads.  We use the document camera to display song lyrics and share poetry and computers for showing digital video clips.  My teaching partner and I also regularly use our phones to snap photos of students in action, documenting and highlighting student learning.

And then there are the iPads.  Many of our students gather in the classroom before school to work on programming with Hopscotch, continue a blog post, or practice math on a district-wide digital math program.  They love this informal “workshop” where they share discoveries and support each other in this unstructured learning environment.

We aim for our devices to become as invisible as pencils and paper.  Today we needed to count the money we had raised for our micro loan.  We suggested that students use the whiteboard function of Educreations to keep track of their calculations as they counted a portion of the cash.  They document their process…and we don’t need paper.  (Although we did have one group who found that they needed paper and pencil!)


We also embarked on our digital story project…an opportunity for students to tell the story of our micro loan project.  Students examined an example of a digital story, noticed the parts, considered potential tools, and set to work. In teams they will develop a digital story, so today was all about the planning…figuring out what story they will need to tell in their finished product.  They are already talking about the iterations they will need to go through…and can’t wait to draw pictures to digitize!  This is not a one-day project.  We hope they will be done by the end of next week!

The biggest difference for us on this Digital Learning Day was that we highlighted, both in class and publicly, the ways digital learning takes place in our class.  Digital learning is becoming routine in our classroom, and we often don’t notice whether we are using digital tools or not.  Some of our most successful digital projects often include more traditional classroom tools like pencils, paper, paint, and books as part of the digital process.  And I think that is what we want with digital learning.  Digital is another option.  Sometimes it’s the best option, sometimes it’s not necessary…but it’s nice when we can choose to use what works best, not what is least expensive.

Although Digital Learning Day has come and gone, our students will continue their digital learning.  What will learning look like in your classroom tomorrow?  How do you integrate digital learning in your teaching and your students’ learning?

Digital Learning Day

Tomorrow is Digital Learning Day. It’s meant as a way to draw attention to the need for digital learning in our schools, to showcase the potential of digital learning, and as a way to highlight what is happening in places where digital learning is taking place.

But I like some of the other conversations that take place because of the emphasis on digital learning. In some places we are talking about issues of access and equity. And we must go beyond buying the device when we think about access and equity. What are students doing with their digital devices?  How is access to the digital transforming the learning process for students?  What  expectations come with the devices?  What are student s expected to do outside of school?  Even though many of these conversations take place on a small scale, they are important.  And we need to have more of these conversations and keep equity (not just hardware) at the forefront of our thinking.

There are still many places where students don’t have regular access to digital tools.  Or they are doing things on digital devices that simply replace what they were already doing without those tools, without changing the task in any significant way. Or teachers have a single computer or other device for use with a class full of students.  Or teachers have a class full of devices without the background and professional learning to help them put them to effective use.  Or they have devices and a lack of infrastructure…no way to work out the technical issues that inevitably plague working with the digital.

I’m lucky at my school. We are in our second year of 1:1 digital devices in my classroom and we have technical support available. I’ve been fortunate to work with many inspired and forward-thinking educators, especially my colleagues from Writing Project sites all over the country and throughout the state, who have modeled the potential of digital learning.  My teaching partner is a willing risk-taker who will learn as she goes…and we support each other moving forward into the digital world that isn’t yet mapped out in the educational landscape.

That doesn’t mean that things are flawless in their operation or that moving toward digital doesn’t increase demands on my time as a teacher.  It doesn’t make planning easy or learning effortless…my teaching partner and I spend precious time learning and relearning and helping our students navigate the inevitable technical difficulties that go with this digital territory.

And even though tomorrow is Digital Learning Day my students are doing digital learning every day.  Our forty-plus six, seven, eight, and nine year olds have been working at getting their blogs designed and posts ready over the last few weeks.  We discovered some new wrinkles in the way the Edublogs app works on our iPads this year…different than last year.  You have the love the third grader who discovered the “back door” fix to uploading media to posts when the app says it won’t do it!

I’m more convinced than ever that “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” are simply the wrong terms to describe my students and their teachers (my teaching partner and me).  But we are digital learners…together.  And our students need and appreciate the guidance they get from us just as we appreciate their enthusiasm, effort, and ingenuity.  As soon as I can get back to our class blog (maybe first thing in the morning), students’ first posts for this year will go public…I hope I can get to them all for Digital Learning Day.

And, we will launch into some digital stories tomorrow…in honor of the spirit of trying something new on Digital Learning Day.

What will you and your students be doing on Digital Learning Day?  And how is it different from all the other days in your classroom?

The Rule of Thirds

I woke up this morning thinking about where I wanted to go today to take some photos.  I wanted to stay close to home…and I didn’t want to head to the beach since I take a lot of beach shots.  I finally decided to head up near a golf course not too far from home, thinking about some greenhouses I pass every day and never take the time for a close look.

For February’s #sdawpphotovoices, we are playing with photography techniques and spending a week on each of four different aspects of those techniques.

I headed out this morning specifically thinking about the rule of thirds–the technique of placing the focal element of the photo off to the side rather than centering it in the frame of the lens. This is a technique I do pay attention to, and sometimes it creates spectacular shots.  I notice that when I move the focal point off the center, I also allow something else interesting into the shot.


In the case of this watertower, it also allowed the beautiful flowering trees and the mottled clouds to enter the stage.  In some cases, moving into the thirds also works to simplify the scene and allows the viewer to see what you are looking at and not everything your lens might otherwise see.

windmill on golfcourse

As I was thinking about the rule of thirds in photography, I was also thinking about the value of applying that rule to instruction.  Sometimes the best approach to learning is coming at it from the side, letting context take center stage.

We saw evidence of this at the end of last week when we asked students to reflect on the service learning project we’ve been working on.  While we did revisit the importance of some kind of introduction and conclusion to a piece of writing, as students wrote about something they were not only intimately familiar with but also something that they were engaged and invested in, the writing flowed.  And we even had that wonderful experience of having students beg for more writing time!

Sometimes you barely notice the rule of thirds being applied.  You might remember that I mentioned greenhouses at the beginning of this post.  The area where I live used to be covered with flower fields and greenhouses.  Development has pushed much of the agriculture out of our area, fields and greenhouses now replaced by million dollar (or more) homes.  As I explored this morning, I captured some shots of one of the remaining operations–surrounded by a suburban housing development and across the street from the golf course.

Greenhouses with bird of paradise

In this case my focal point was the bird of paradise in the foreground.  The greenhouses and the sky serve as a beautiful backdrop.  I was wishing for the sides of the greenhouse to open. There are many days when I drive by and notice the plastic walls open, offering a peek at the colorful flowers within.

And finally, it’s sometimes the simplest of things that makes for a beautiful photo.  This tree and fence and clouds taken from the back of the golf course seemed a perfect candidate for a black and white application.  I think the white fence and the white clouds create the kind of contrast that is needed with black and white.

Black and White from behind

I had a lot of fun playing with the rule of thirds and exploring the local community.  It’s interesting to drive down side streets and behind the places I see so often only from my car window as I commute to and from work.  I’m thinking that a month focused on photographic technique may offer me many new ways to play…right here, close to home.