Monthly Archives: February 2015

Connecting to Learn and Grow: March’s Photo-a-Day Challenge

I’ve been studying the concept of Connected Learning for a couple of years now, and have spent lots of time working to understand how the information in this infographic is relevant to me as a learner and how it might also impact my students.

Connected Learning

And through my studies I have become a connected educator…and a connected learner, especially when it comes to photography.  I learn so much from my fellow photographers and following their blogs.  Joy and Margaret and Janis and Cee and Naveen and Connie and Lynn and so many more people inspire me, teach me, encourage me, and support me as I explore what it means to take photos every day, striving to improve my skills and challenge myself.

So for this month I thought it might be fun to highlight connections in our #sdawpphotovoices photo-a-day challenge.  The connections might be environmental like those that Janis makes. Janis is passionate about keeping the beach clean and regularly posts gorgeous photos of trash she collects on the beach using the hashtag #litterati on Instagram.  Here’s an interesting post called Yuck! she wrote about the trash she collects.  Yesterday, maybe because of our stormy weather, the beach where I do most of my walking and photographing was much trashier than usual…and like Janis, my husband always walks with a trash bag to pick up the trash we find along the way.  Here are a couple of pieces of trash we picked up (and disposed of) yesterday.

love lost litterati

found float litterati

Many of the photographers mentioned above highlight the beauty of the natural world in their photos…often capturing the uniqueness of the place where they live.  Connecting with the local environment means paying attention to the details that others might overlook.  I’ve been pretty obsessed with seagulls lately and have tried to capture in photos the variety of seagull behavior I observe. Quirky is often hard to snap…but if you look closely, you can see that this seagull is shouting out directions to the others around.  What you can’t see is that there are lots of other seagulls nearby, seeming to respond to his directions!

seagull sounding the alarm

I’ve also noticed the ways the gulls gather during low tides, milling around together in pretty large groups.  They don’t seem to be eating, but do seem to enjoy hanging out together.  I notice when I walk toward them, they start walking away from me.  If I get too close, they often take to the air!

seagulls with clouds

And there aren’t many lifeguards on duty in the winter, but the few who are there make regular runs in their trucks when the tide is low.  I always love seeing the red lifeguard trucks on the beach!  (No one else drives on our beaches…and during high tides, there isn’t much beach exposed!)

lifeguard truck

Other photographers I connect with highlight the urban experience in interesting and unusual ways.  I find myself having to stretch to take interesting pictures in the suburbs where I live.  (I’m much better when I visit interesting urban, metropolitan places.)  But I did notice the balloons against the cloudy sky over the newly opened Petco.

balloons over the strip mall

And these rows of flags when I looked up.  The flags remind me of swimming lane lines…and I purposely included the palm tree peeking into the frame!

flags and palm

Then there are the photographers that take gorgeous images of flowers.  I love macro shots…but yesterday I only had my phone with me when I came across many native species seeming to thrive after the morning rain as I headed to my car after presenting at a science conference on a local community college campus.  These California golden poppies caught my eye!


So March’s photo-a-day challenge is to connect…with another photographer, with nature, with the environment, with architecture, with your place, with the unique quirkiness of the subject… and more.  Here is a list to help inspire you as you connect.

1.  weather

2.  plants

3.  work

4.  transportation

5.  environment

6.  animals

7.  people

8.  inspired by a photograph

9.  nature

10.  household

11.  sky

12.  architecture

13.  interaction

14.  explore

15.  color

16.  sound

17.  celebration

18.  green

19.  ugly

20.  ordinary

21.  beauty

22.  connecting to art

23.  taste

24.  local

25.  exotic

26.  pets

27.  tree

28.  signs

29.  children

30.  movement

31.  still

Let’s spend March making connections…to each other, to our place, to ideas and passions.  Let your interests drive your subjects…and your peers support your continued growth. Pick a single photo to post each day or create a gallery of your efforts. Post a photo or gallery 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 would like to expand your exploration, write the story that the photo tells, compose a blog post about a photo, a week’s worth of photos, write a photo essay, or make a video or slideshow. 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!

You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life. You can post your pictures in the order of the prompts or post the one you find on the day you find it–or make up your own prompt for the day or the week! You get to make your own rules…and find your own connections. Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!

Let’s connect through our photos, our passions, our goals, and our interests.  I can’t wait to see what connections you make through your lens!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

One of the things I love about photography is playing around with composition…either while I am shooting or in the editing process.  The Daily Post this week focused their challenge on the rule of thirds…so I think I will piggyback this challenge with theirs.

You’ve probably seen more seagull photos from me than you ever wanted lately.  And I’ve been playing around with different angles and compositional elements.  Here’s an unedited one of a seagull standing on the rocks in the surf.


And this one is also unedited…on a gray day I captured this seagull in flight, in the upper lefthand third of the frame.


And it’s not always seagulls that capture my attention.  This pelican pair flew overhead, cruising the shoreline…they are almost in the bottom third of the frame.

IMG_4373And this egret was wading in the koi pond at Balboa Park…I especially love the colors and the way its mouth is open in this shot.


This was a favorite from the other day, taken with my iPhone…walking across the Target parking lot my eye was drawn to the gathering storm clouds in the sky…and the birds perched in this bare tree.

birds in a tree

And just to prove that all my photos don’t include birds, here is a shot of a monarch caterpillar munching its way toward creating a chrysalis.  This shrub was full of caterpillars…and people were delighting in pointing out the crawlers.  We also saw a bright green chrysalis and a few butterflies too.


So, for this week, let’s play along with the Daily Post challenge and work on shots that follow the rule of thirds.  (For more information about the rule of thirds, look here)  You can frame your shots as you take them or play around with the composition in the editing process.

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #ruleofthirds for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So play around with composition this week and see how the rule of thirds impacts your photos.

Learning in the Intersections

You all probably remember them, those iconic experiences of heading out on a school day with your classmates and teacher to a local museum or art gallery to extend and enhance what was going on the in classroom…a field trip!  And in the best of times, those field trips are memorable, often motivating learning beyond the school curriculum.  Maybe one of those experiences even fueled your passion for a particular field of study.

But often, field trips are fraught with conflict.  Are you heading out of the classroom to “do school” somewhere else?  Is it a free day of fun with friends where the learning is incidental and accidental…if it happens at all?  What role do teachers and museum personnel play in the field trip experience? What about chaperones?  And what about students and their interests and passions?

Through Intersectionsa project funded by the National Science Foundation through the National Writing Project and the Association of Science and Technology Centersthe San Diego Area Writing Project, in partnership with the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center,has been exploring the conflicts and tensions surrounding field trips.

In our second year of investigating how to support student learning in the context of a field trip, we have learned a lot.  Most significantly, we’ve learned the power of the interaction and co-learning of formal educators (those who work in school settings) and informal educators (those who work in out-of-school spaces like museums).  We discovered that our goals for student learning are mostly the same, and through our interactions, we have reconsidered how we might achieve those goals.  But first we had to let go of all that we have no control over–including exhibit layout and signage, field trip costs and transportation, and the uneven qualifications of chaperones, especially when it comes to facilitating student learning.

We’ve decided this year to focus on ways to support students as agents of their own learning, depending less on the adults who accompany them and trusting that a rich museum experience will result in meaningful learning–even when students do not complete worksheets that ensure they have learned specific facts or answered a series of questions delineated by grade level standards.

So we have asked teachers to prepare students for their trip by asking them to explore the exhibit, noting what interests them, and taking back interesting tidbits and lingering questions for further investigation through the creation of some kind of project back in the classroom following the trip.  And to better understand how this works in action–with a variety of grade levels and school contexts–we are observing students in action through a series of field trip pilots.

Today we observed sixth graders in action.  They came with a charge–to notice adaptations of plants and animals evident in the Coast to Cactus exhibit so they could create a project displaying their learning back at school next week.


We watched students looking closely, in conversation with each other as they observed live animals in the exhibit.


Students working alone, taking notes from the exhibit signage.  And others in pairs and triads, some taking photos, others sketching, and some simply flipping buttons and spinning dials.


This student seems to be under surveillance by both the researcher and the stuffed deer as he takes notes from the informational placard.


Some students found cozy nooks to meet and write–like inside this Bambi airstream that is a part of the exhibit.  While others took a bit of time away to see how many boys would fit inside the hollow tree trunk while a classmate looked on and snapped their photo!


And the questions linger.  How much like school should a field trip be?  Do students need to “on task” by completing forms, taking notes, answering questions…  Or can they be talking to each other, turning dials, inventing their own competitions and games related to the exhibits, crawling through tunnels and squeezing into tree trunks…and still be learning?  Do they need to “do” the museum, reading each sign, looking at each artifact from start to finish?  Or is it okay to  focus their time and attention on the areas that most pique their interests?

I’m interested in what these students will create when they head back to school.  How will the visit to the museum influence their project?  What will they remember most about this trip?  Will they come back on their own, with their families?  How would they use the museum if left to their own devices?

We are paying attention to the intersections of formal and informal learning, of writing and science…and of student interest driven inquiry and teacher/adult directed learning.  And with each pilot field trip, I have more questions about supporting student learning as we work to help students initiate and shape their own learning using field trips as a tool.

How do you view the iconic field trip?  How do you prepare your students/your own children for out-of-school learning experiences?  What outcomes do you hope for when you think field trip?  We’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences!

Shades of Gray

It’s not what you think…this isn’t about the book or the movie.  Instead, this is about winter and all the grays I’ve been seeing lately.

I’ve noticed icy grays…not here at home, but while I was in Chicago and the temperatures hovered between negative numbers and teens I noticed icicles hanging from the bumpers of cars in the parking lot while I was taking a brisk stroll around the hotel where I stayed.


And after some adventures in the airport, I found myself in a window seat in the last row of the plane.  On the positive side, I was able to take photos throughout the flight, including this one as we began to taxi to take off for the flight to San Francisco.


So much of the country we traversed from high in the sky was covered with snow.  At one point when I looked out I noticed this snowy map, with roads and rivers etched into the landscape below.

snowy map

I came back home to much more reasonable temperatures and headed off to Los Angeles to spend the day with my son.  (You saw some pictures on this post)  The historic Bradbury building offered a glimpse of some different gray…with lots of ornate metalwork including this amazing working elevator.

bradbury elevator

As we headed out of the downtown area, we traveled through this tunnel.  And because I wasn’t driving, I got to take a photo and capture the gray textures illuminated by the row of lights.


From up on Mulholland Drive, the entire city skyline including the Hollywood sign were on display.  Unfortunately, the day was gray and hazy, making the skyline a shadow in the distance.

la gray

And back at home, I made my way back to the beach.  It wasn’t cold…sweatshirt and bare feet weather…but it was gray.  I’ve been a bit obsessed with seagulls lately, and found myself taking shot after shot.  This one captures the shades of gray visible on the beach this week.

seagull on a gray day

So, for this week, as we head toward the end of February, look for shades of gray.  Will you find them outside or inside?  The result of weather, the color of metal, or on the feathers of a local bird?

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #gray for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So go out in search of gray…all the shades you can find!  Let’s reclaim those shades of gray and capture images that reflect the range of grays that we see.  I’m looking forward to seeing all the shades of gray in your life…through your lens!

Exploring Symmetry…LA Style

I know that symmetry is a mathematical concept…one of precision, perfectly matched halves. But mostly, in the world, symmetry is not so perfect.  But there are echoes of symmetry all around us.  My eyes were hearing the echoes of symmetry the other day as I explored downtown Los Angeles with my son.

There is something so special about spending the day with my son and our cameras.  We walk and talk and take photos, noticing details, trying new shots, seeing the world through each other’s eyes.  And there’s a certain symmetry in that too.

My eyes were drawn to this old building visible from the parking garage.  The symmetry has been spoiled by graffiti, age and disrepair.  But there is still something beautiful about it.

old building

In contrast, this old historic building has been preserved, both inside and out.  Inside, the exquisite marble floors and intricate wrought iron frame the antique mechanical elevators.  And outside, I had to angle my shot to exclude the modern Subway sandwich sign and stoplights to capture the beauty of this elegant old building.

Bradbury Building

We also ended up climbing flight upon flight of stairs as we explore the is old rail system called Angel’s Flight.  Built in 1901 it traveled up and down a block…and after scaling the stairs…I see why they wanted a railway!

angel's flight

Grand Central Market was an explosion of colors and smells…and quite a tasty place for lunch! I was drawn to these cactus pads…there is a certain symmetry in these bins of produce and the jumble of price signs rising out of them.


I’m not sure that any of my photos fit the mathematical definition of symmetry…but for me they communicate the idea of symmetry, the creation of purposeful balance and arrangement. Just like my day with Nick…the perfect balance and arrangement of time, exploration, and connection.  And the cherry on top…dinner with my daughter-in-law!  Symmetry!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spirited

Summer has burst into the middle of winter this week in San Diego. (Sorry east coast and mid-west friends…I know your weather has been brutally cold!) Blue skies, warm sun, and lengthening days have put many in great spirits. And this warming trend has people reaching for their summer wardrobe…flip flops are back in evidence, along with sundresses, tank tops, and the ever-present shorts. You can see some confusion about the seasons in the ways kids are dressing this week. I watched a second grader on the playground the other morning in his shorts and t-shirt…and thick gloves and ugg boots! His mother, who was watching him nearby, said he insisted on the gloves, and had even worn them to sleep overnight!

A week ago, our third graders club at school hosted a school-wide spirit day: Sports and Hobby Day. And students came to schools dressed in their favorite sports gear or somehow showing their interests through their attire. One of my students showed her artistic flair through her hair-do, sporting paintbrushes extending from her ponytail.

spirited-hobby hair

Later that same day, we headed out for an opportunity to engage in a popular new skill game that our students have become obsessed with. Kendama is a wooden skill toy from Japan—a ball on a string attached to a carefully crafted wooden handle. Since not all the students had Kendamas, my teaching partner asked students to gather in triads with the goal of having the Kendama owners share what they have learned so far and give those without Kendama a chance to try out this game. It was Ms. Esther’s last day with us before she flew back home to Australia, and at 85 Esther is a most enthusiastic learner! (She had shared her skydiving DVD with us before lunch.) It was such a spirited exchange to watch this second grader teach Ms. Esther how to use the Kendama…and then to watch her joy at trying! (He coached me too—this is not an easy game!)

kendama with esther

With a kitchen remodel underway, my cats have spent their days cooped up in our upstairs bathroom. So when we get home at the end of the day, they are quite ready to come out and explore the house. In some ways they seem to be getting more exercise than usual (they are 16 year old cats)…seeming energetic and spirited in the evening. After all that running up and down and exploring every nook and cranny of new in the kitchen, I love that I caught this big wide spirited yawn of Jack with Phil resting in the background!

spirited--yawning cat

Over the weekend, we headed off to the beach for a low tide walk…my first in bare feet in a while. These boys caught my eye…both because of the brilliant green of the wetsuit and because they were so animated and playful. I just love their spirited energy!

spirited-surfing kids

And with my telephoto lens in place, I explored taking pictures of seabirds. The light was just right for capturing reflection in the wet sand and there was enough light for colors to be brilliant. I love the spirited mood of this seagull caught in mid strut!

struttin' gull

Yesterday was the warmest day all week. 85 degrees at the beach! At the end of the work day, before the sun began to set, I headed to the beach just to see what was going on. There were lots of people on the beach…engaged in lots of spirited play. I was nearly beaned by a flying object as I watched waves instead of people playing while walking on the beach! My eye was drawn to this red bucket…and the spirited mood of summer on this February afternoon.

spirited-bucket at the beach

So, even if it is not summer in February where you are, where do you see spirited activity?  Go out in search of that energy of spirit, in nature, with your pets, in the cold, in the warm…  (And you may see some “colder” looking photos from me next week…I just arrived in chilly Chicago!)

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #spirited for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So go out in search of spirited…it might just raise your spirits!  Can’t wait to see what spirited looks like through your lens.

“Do we get iterations?” : Creating a Culture of Innovation

Over the last few years, my teaching partner Margit Boyesen and I have been working to help our young students develop persistence and grit…and to see themselves as producers in the learning process. We’ve been trying to explode the notion that learning is something that takes place only within the walls of the classroom and is assigned by teachers. We aim to have students learn more by doing than by listening, and as much as we can, we try to have students engage in meaningful projects that extend the learning environment beyond the school and whenever possible connect them to others who are interested in or engaged in similar endeavors.

These are lofty goals—and like other classroom teachers we are faced with state standards, accountability measures, and even the often slow to change expectations of parents, the community, and the educational system. But we also believe that students who are persistent problem solvers, designers, and communicators will have the skills they need to succeed in testing situations and in the world. But mostly, we believe learning should be fun…for our students and for ourselves.

And we’re lucky. Margit and I co-teach a multiage class of first, second, and third graders. Twice as many students, two interconnected classroom spaces, and students we get to teach for three years. Unlike many teachers, Margit and I don’t teach in isolation and our planning involves starting with an idea and building on each other’s thinking, adding to and challenging the whys and hows until we land on the lessons we will facilitate with our students. Two teachers in the classroom give us flexibility in supporting students…and in challenging them.

Thanks to our San Diego Area Writing Project colleague, Abby Robles, we added an advanced vocabulary routine to our instruction a few years ago. We include the target word without defining it (last week’s was precarious) in our morning message and ask students to think of possible synonyms based on the context. Students refine their guesses through the week, continuing to use new context clues from each day’s message until the definition is revealed on Thursday. Students help to generate a gesture to use each time they hear the word…a gesture that also helps with remembering the meaning.  We select words to enhance the learning we have planned–to give authentic context for using the word and for our students to incorporate it into their personal vocabulary through experience.


Because we are interested in design and making, last year we introduced the word iteration to our class…and the practice of iteration as an intentional part of our teaching. (I wrote last year about a project that focused on iteration here.) And not only did our students learn the definition of the word iteration, they also began to recognize the value of iteration in their learning. It was obvious when we started programming using the app Hopscotch, that computer programmers value iteration. And that language of designing: imagining, trying out, testing, and improving as a continual loop began to permeate our classroom. Instead of talking about writing as drafting, revising, and final drafts…we started to talk about iterations, and gave students opportunities to plan, write, try out, improve. Another iteration became a much friendlier and positive way to talk about revision…and better yet, students started to ask for opportunities to iterate, in their writing and in all their projects.

hands scratch jr

“Do we get iterations?” became a common question as students began a new project or a new writing piece. And Margit and I found ourselves asking whether we had given students enough opportunity to iterate when we saw the elevated level of work and the increased creativity of products students produced when they could go beyond a single try.

As school began this year, we intentionally built opportunities for iteration into our instruction. And when we forgot, we often revised our lessons to allow for time to iterate. On our first day of school this year we planned a “mini make” out of a piece of aluminum foil and before the end of the lesson, we added time for a second iteration the following day. This practice of iteration has developed a culture in our classroom that supports collaboration, persistence and innovation. I was reminded of this today as students were working on an Alexander Calder-inspired mobile design challenge. Our forty-four students were at different stages of work on two projects: getting their individual blog titled and about me page posted and gathering materials to start on the mobile project. While it was “a lovely mess” in the words of my teaching partner, it was calm, productive, and collaborative. Margit and I each helped individual students…with their blogs, with cutting pipe cleaners and ribbon lengths, threading strings through “doo-dads,” and more. And what’s better, students were helping each other too. They were free to move around, collect materials as needed, be the second set of hands for tying a tricky piece of string or holding the growing mobile from the top as the creator worked on balance elements. And as time flew by, I could feel the flow of learning our students were engaged in.

hands mobile

When I think of cultivating a culture of innovation, I think of the power of iteration and the design process. In order to risk doing something new or different, its important to know that your first effort isn’t your only effort. When students ask about iterations, they are asking if they can try something new, if they can start over again, if they can learn from their attempts—even those that didn’t work the first time around. And they learn to persist and help each other out too, because that’s what we do in this culture of exploration and deep learning.

And even better, this attitude toward learning changes our teaching too. We also find ourselves in a culture of innovation, as teachers and co-learners. We can try that project that involves something new that we aren’t even sure exactly how it will work—especially with a classroom full of students—because we know that our first attempt isn’t the only attempt. Like our students, we get to iterate too, refining our teaching, our expectations, our processes as we innovate and work to provide meaningful learning experiences for this generation of learners.