Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Pink Fedora

It was a pink fedora kind of day.  What does that mean, you ask?

This is parent-student-teacher conference week.  I love the opportunity to talk to families and yet, it’s a tough week for teachers.  Three hours of back to back to back conferences takes its toll…and it takes those precious after school moments usually devoted to planning and preparation and pushes them aside to make room for the conferences.  And, in conversation after conversation I find myself reminding students to be playful in their learning–that learning doesn’t mean routine and boring and something you dread.  You have to find ways to make it fun and interesting.  And that, in turn, reminds me to be more playful in my teaching and other responsibilities.  I have to find ways to make my hard days fun and rewarding too.

It seems odd to remind children to play, but when it comes to school and learning they seem to think that the path to learning is narrow.  They are looking for the one right way, which sometimes transfers to battles at home about that thing called homework.

I want “homework” to be curiosity and experimentation.  I want students to go home and explore ideas that came up in the classroom.  I want them to play with numbers and play with language.  I want them to figure out new ways to express their ideas in words…and in pictures. And I want them to come back to school and spread that energy and excitement around.  And some of my students do.

This morning, one of my students arrived at school wearing a pink fedora.  It was the first thing I noticed when I walked out to pick up my students this morning.  I could see him from quite a distance…smiling broadly and walking with the air of assurance that comes from knowing with confidence that a pink fedora makes a statement!

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Somehow that pink fedora represents that playfulness I hope for in our learning community. Playful doesn’t have to mean silly or distracting…and that fedora was neither today.  For me that jaunty pink hat was a talisman of fun, of individuality, of style, with a bit of hopefulness and joy thrown in.  I’m not so sure that the hat will arrive at school again…and that’s okay.  One day of the bright pink fedora reminds me…and helps me remind my students…to find the fun and the playfulness in our work and our learning.

I hope you had a pink fedora kind of day too!

Dancing with Sandpipers

A while back there was a photo challenge on the Daily Post called three, which I misinterpreted to mean a photo about something with three in it.  Instead, their focus was to tell a story in three photos.  Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to tell a story in a series of photos.

Yesterday while walking on the beach, I noticed a group of sandpipers on the shore.  I love these birds with their long thin beaks and gangly teenager legs.  Most of the time I see them in twos or threes, but seldom in a large group.  I walked toward them with my phone, wanting to edge closer to them to capture a photo.  As I walked toward them, they walked away.  If I curved around the other side, they moved together at another angle.  I felt like I was herding these birds as they countered each of my moves with one of their own.

And then, all at once, they lifted off, wings in unison and landed in the surf a short distance away.

sandpipers on shore

taking flight

in the surf

And instead of a story told by these photos, a poem emerged. I’m not so sure it’s right yet.  I want to capture the elegance and the musicality of these birds on the beach.  I’d love your feedback.  What works for you?  Where do you wish for something more, or something else?

Dancing with Sandpipers

They move to the rhythms of the waves

and the tides

to music felt rather than heard.

In perfect unison

they pirouette on long thin teenage legs

dipping skinny beaks into the spongy sand

in search of tasty tidbits.

I move in close

and they echo, like dancing with a mirror

until the choreography takes them to the sky

leaving me behind

to solo

alone with my lens.

Stars Emerge

Writing is hard.  Teaching writing is harder. And every once in a while the effort of teaching writing and supporting and inspiring writers comes together in ways that make your heart sing and tears flow.

I had one of those moments yesterday.

The first, second, and third grade bloggers were hard at work in our classroom.  The room was filled with the productive hum of writers at work.  I moved around the room, helping with inserting youtube links to the digital stories we had created, troubleshooting technical issues, and helping those emerging writers get their ideas pinned to the digital page.

One of my students called me over, asking for help with a formatting issue.  And that’s when I noticed the poem.  “Where is the poem from?” I wondered.  “I wrote it,” he replied.  “Will you read it to me?” I asked.  And he did.

Stars

A poem

Two stars diverge sending each other down to earth like eagles mating, gripping each other so hard that before they descend and hit the ground they turn into dust. As all the stars shine and shimmer with a shine so big it blinds eyes.

The portal of time, a hole, may it be a dimension to another world? Might it have different forms of life? Or does it hold the keys to the past as you turn the engine?

May it be a beach of darkness or is it truly where your body is when you pass away.

Still a star inside, you shine, a star big enough to fill this sad place with colors and light up the world.

Are all the stars just a puzzle or are they illusions that move and move as you play the game, the game of life?

I have loved watching this writer go from a reluctant and troubled writer to a creative, confident, and willing writer over the three years in our class.  Writers don’t follow easy, uncluttered pathways, instead, like stars and diamonds they emerge from from pressure and heat and time and the tumultuous intricacies of the universe.  I am so lucky to spend three years with my students, it often takes that long for writers to emerge–finding both confidence and voice as writing instruction, practice, and a supportive writing community come together over time.

I’m still thinking about Brit’s poem…great writing does that.  It ignites a fire in the reader, kindled by the writer.  It’s burning bright and hot.

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You might want to stop by Brit’s blog and leave a comment.  I know I will.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

Here’s the week 10 Weekly Photo Challenge prompt for the NWP iAnthology!  (Here are weeks 12345678, and 9 if you want to look back.)

It seems like spring is a tumultuous time of the year, the seasons shifting erratically–not quite sure whether to let go the grip of winter or to emerge into the growth of spring.  Even in sunny San Diego, I’m not sure whether to head out in flip flops and a sweatshirt or to pull on my boots and cozy jacket…and sometimes I need both on the same day!  But whether it has arrived or not, it seems that we yearn for spring as March progresses.  St. Patrick’s day is right around the corner with its show of green and by the end of next week spring will be official.

I find myself wanting to capture images of spring lately.  I couldn’t resist buying some daffodils at Trader Joes and then using my macro lens to look closely at the emerging bud.

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I did the same with the shamrock plant, focusing in on the small white flowers that decorate the beautiful three-leafed plant.

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But I was reminded that it isn’t all buds and blossoms when I walked on the beach and came across this lobster trap tossed up against the rocks in the storm last week.  Strong waves wrestled with the anchored traps…as well as the kelp plants holding tight to rocks on the ocean floor, ripping them from their moorings and rearranging the beach.

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So this week’s photo challenge is to share photos that conjure spring. It can capture the emerging life or the harshness of winter’s end…or something I haven’t even thought of yet!  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 #spring 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 spring through your lens!

Considering Perspective

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
― Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

With play as my word this year, I’m trying to approach my life and work by playing more and looking through a more playful lens.  But sometimes it’s hard and those feelings of being overwhelmed and overworked creep up.

I’m lucky though.  I work with kids in the classroom every day.  And they remind me that when we are having fun, even while going about our work of learning, time flies by without us even noticing.  This week has been like that.

And it’s not that we have done anything so very different than usual…but I think it’s just about the way we’ve been looking at our work.  One example is playing with our math.  Today a small group of third graders were challenged by a tricky math problem.  They knew they needed to multiply 62 and 27, but they didn’t know how to multiply those numbers.  Some tried adding 62 twenty seven times…but it’s so easy to make mistakes doing that.  They consulted each other to see if someone had a workable strategy.  And there was some good thinking going on.  Another student tried breaking the numbers down to multiply easier combinations–more good thinking–but didn’t quite have all the pieces in place.  Yeah–I had to work at it too…and think through where they were going wrong.

The point is that even though we were trying to figure out the correct answer, we were learning through our efforts and through our errors.  As we talked through our strategies we could see where things weren’t working and wondered why a promising approach wasn’t quite right. But it was fun and we weren’t ready to give up…even when we ran out of time.

Perspective is everything.  When I remember to be playful, my students play more too.  When I look for the light, the darkness doesn’t seem so daunting. I love this image of Jack, my cat, finding the light.  Cats are like that…they seek out the sliver of sun and squeeze themselves into that space to soak up the warmth.

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I’m working to keep my perspective positive and playful this week.  In spite of too many meetings, writing report cards, trying to adjust to Daylight Savings Time, and so many people being sick (what is the deal with the horrid cough that everyone seems to have?), I’m looking for the metaphorical garden.  And better yet…I’m finding it.  It’s all about perspective.

Invent to Learn: A Book Review of Sorts

Airplanes are great places to get some serious reading done.  The forced sitting, no access to the internet, no television…make perfect conditions for finishing that book I’ve been wanting to get back to!

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager is a book I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard about it last summer.  I started it a while back and got about half way through it before my overflowing to-do list pushed it back behind a pile too high to see over.  And okay, I admit, I did sneak a bit of “junk food” novel reading in there too!

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Anyway, I got back to Invent to Learn last week and remembered all the reasons I wanted to read this book.  One of the things I appreciate most about this book is the  theoretical foundation it lays down at the beginning.  I like the historical context of the Maker Movement and seeing where my own beliefs and learning experiences fit into it.  I also like the way that it extends making to include building with cardboard and other “old school” examples but also makes a case for including computers and digital technologies as well as electronics, circuitry, movie making and more.

In lots of ways this book confirms practices I already value and reminds me that messiness and time are essential elements of the learning process–not indicators of failure.

But, in spite of all my interest and good intentions to include a makerspace in my classroom, I haven’t gotten there yet.  We have done making and worked to help our students experience and understand iterative processes.  They have “made” with paper, with fabric and thread, and with digital programming.

So what are my obstacles?  Time is the big one.  I’m still figuring out how to balance the demands of curriculum, traditional learning expectations, and the value of making within the school day.

So I’m trying to be patient with baby steps, carving out small but consistent opportunities for making (of all types).

I encourage you to read Invent to Learn–definitely the first half–to think about why making and tinkering and engineering are such valuable practices for the classroom.  And then I would love to know more about how you will implement some version of making in your classroom. What works for you?