Monthly Archives: March 2015

Enormous Smallness: April’s Photo a Day Challenge

Photography reminds me to appreciate moments, to slow down and notice light and shadow, a fleeting smile, the graceful curve of a limb and the reflection in a mirrored wall.  Another blogging photographer I admire, Joy of Joyfully Green, just today said, (photography) “…literally lets me stop time for a split second.”

There is something enormous about capturing the smallness of moments–making time stand still–so we can look more closely, study the details, and savor what is often unnoticed.  Paul Strand (among others) did that with his photography.  A friend of mine recently gifted me with some Paul Strand photo postcards from the recent exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art…and I am inspired by the simplicity and grandeur of the everyday moments he captured.


And I borrowed the title of this post from the title of a picture book I ordered today about the life of ee cummings–a poet who captured enormous smallness through his poetry.  It seems fitting to celebrate the special qualities that photography and poetry share during April…typically a month that celebrates poetry (at least in schools).

Just this afternoon I was mesmerized by the buds on the orchid plant that nearly didn’t survive some time outdoors during our recent kitchen remodel…and the afternoon sunlight highlighted the enormous smallness of these emerging blossom.


And this tree that grows near my driveway often appears in photos when the sky catches my eye…like this sunrise a week or so ago.


Sometimes the enormous smallness is found in places where I share experiences–and food–with friends and family.  And the people who accidentally appear in them serve to enhance that quality, like this photo of the Shake Shack in Washington DC…


or this from the inside looking out from Milk and Honey in Baltimore.  (I like the way the words are reversed since I was photographing from the inside rather than the outside.)


Sometimes it’s in the grandeur of the mirrored high-rise that I notice the reflection of the neighborhood…


or the durability of historic architecture that reminds me that there is much to be learned by reading the world rather than solely depending on books.


Then there is the interplay of past, present, and future in our nation’s capitol–the place where government resides, but doesn’t live.  Our laws and values are enacted in our neighborhoods and cities, but there is something about buildings like the capitol building that remind us that what is national is also local.


And in my local community where this historic movie theatre still hosts first run films, a place where people gather in the shadows of those who settled this area before the streets and infrastructure that we take for granted existed, we see that our lives interact with those who came before and will influence those who come after us.


So April’s photo-a-day challenge is to seek out enormous smallness, the beauty in the everyday, the complexity in simplicity, making meaning of seeming chaos.  If you need them, here are some prompts to get your started:

1. April Fools

2.  history

3.  place

4.  outdoors

5.  new

6.  family

7.  work

8.  poetry

9.  laughter

10.  inside

11.  misery

12.  in front of

13.  behind

14.  tears

15.  life

16.  tired

17.  energetic

18.  writing

19.  fear

20.  house

21.  wheels

22.  doors

23.  nature

24.  advocate

25.  old

26.  near

27.  eyes

28.  food

29.  small

30.  enormous

So for April, find the poetry in the everyday…be on the lookout for enormous smallness. 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 poem or the story of the photo, 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 as you seek out your own enormous smallness. Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!

Appreciate those moments…and be on the lookout for instances of enormous smallness in your life.  I can’t wait to see what you capture through your lens!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monumental

Yesterday Abby and I spent our day on Capitol Hill talking with congressional reps, exploring the history of our county, and thinking about the multiple meanings of words (more details of that here).  So as I thought about a weekly photo prompt, the word monumental came to mind.

There are the obvious images of monumental, like watching the sun rise behind the Capitol building. (It’s being renovated, giving it an almost Minecraft-like cubism.


There’s some less obvious uses of monumental too–at least in my mind.  Like the monumental effort it took to capture this image of the squirrel sitting on this piece of branch, facing out, eating breakfast.  I wanted to get close, but not so close that I would cause him to dash.  So I did a bit of editing to bring him more into focus so you could get a glimpse too.


And what teacher wouldn’t love a monument made of books?  I was a bit flabbergasted by the enormity of the stack–tower–monument of books written about Abraham Lincoln on display at Ford’s Theater.


I was also thinking about my visit to the desert near my home last weekend…and the monumental majesty of the mountains that frame our local desert spaces.  I love the blooming ocotillo in the foreground, bringing a touch of color to the endless palette of browns against the brilliant blue sky.

mountain and flowers

And then there is the monumental beauty in the ordinary…like these yellow flowers that somehow find enough water to survive…and thrive and bloom in this dry, hot environment.


Back to my day on the hill yesterday…I had a monumental amount of fun with Abby.  We worked hard, talked a lot, and Abby’s playfulness is contagious!  After me filming her dancing on the steps of the Supreme Court (she was tempted to ask the armed security guard to dance with her!), she asked to take a photo of me…and encouraged me to move, react, not just stand still.  I’m no Abby…but I appreciate the invitation to push out of my comfort zone of standing back, out of the limelight, to take in the sun on the hallowed steps of this historic place.


So…what seems monumental to you?  Is it a place?  An event?  An experience?  An emotion?

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 #monumental for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So explore the multiple meanings of the word monumental and represent it in your way through a photo (or two or three).  I can’t wait to see monumental defined through your lens!

A Day on the Hill

Representative government, a staple of our democracy, is something we often learn about in school…and yet seldom engage in beyond voting.  But for the last several years, through my interactions with the National Writing Project, I have had the opportunity to push myself to delve more deeply into the governing process as I visit the congressional representatives of our region to advocate for our organization by heading to Capitol Hill in Washington DC.  This means making appointments with our congress people, meeting with them to talk about the work we do locally, and often making a request that they sign onto a Dear Colleague letter or support a particular piece of legislation coming up for a vote.

And for the last few years, my friend and San Diego Area Writing Project colleague, Abby Robles, has been coming with me, setting up appointments, and helping to build relationships with the representatives and their staffs.

There’s something larger than life about this city.  Monuments loom large, bringing the history of our country into focus.  The streets teem with people…and when you are on Capitol Hill, most are in dark suits rushing here and there.  Armed sentries stand at attention and the entryway to all governmental buildings require passage through metal detectors.

Like hives, the houses of representatives buzz with groups of people in conversation.  Tiny elevators carry people from floor to floor of massive marble hallways, old fashioned clocks beep and wink indicating voting in progress.  Impossibly young interns man the phones, handle queries, and usher people in and out for appointments.  Each office is decorated with artifacts of “home,” the place the congressperson represents.

Last year Abby decided to make a movie about her trip to DC to show her students.  So we talked through her plan, scoped out potential shots, and considered how we could use our time in at the Capitol to tell a story.  With Abby as the star, I was pressed into service as cinematographer, filming pieces of our visit that she would stitch together into the movie.  It was great fun…and the movie was quite a hit!

And so this morning, Abby was eager to make a new movie for her students and we began talking as we walked to the Capitol for our meeting.  A conversation we have had before is about the word capitol with an “o” and how it is different from the word capital with an “a.”  This led us to the discussion of the multiple meanings of words…and what ultimately became the inspiration for the story Abby would create for her students.

I was studying carefully today, taking in Abby’s process as we thought about the different movie scenes and planned the shots.  I have tiptoed into some movie making…but have only used photos…no video at this point.  (Here is a movie I made a year ago) We had lots of fun with word play as we considered the many possibilities for words that had meaning in this place where our government lives. And as we shot each scene, we were thinking about what would come next…knowing that we would ask our representative, Scott Peters, to play a role in the video.  And what a great sport he was, not only agreeing to play along, but also adding his own twist to the plot, creating complexity and authenticity.

Making the movie kept our day lively, as each place we went became fodder for our thinking about multiple meaning words.  And by including the congressman in the movie, our conversation with him became more genuine.  We laughed, shared stories about our work and his, and engaged his staff in our video vision.  The making made us curious…about words, about this place, about angles and light and sound.  And it felt good to find a suitable end piece…and a crazy coda with Abby dancing on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Abby pieced the movie together…some during our lunch in the House of Representatives cafeteria…and the rest in the hotel bar as people came together to share the results of their day on the hill.  And here it is!  A lovely movie that reflects Abby’s thinking and her hard work…and I can’t wait to share it with my students too!

I think I’m ready to try a movie of my own.  I don’t think I will be starring in it…I don’t see myself as quite the actress that Abby is.  But I’m ready to try my hand at thinking through scenes, planning shots, and creating a story through the process.  Wish me luck!

Fresh Eyes

I live in a place where there are plenty of beautiful and interesting things to see…and I work to see my place anew each day.  But it’s hard sometimes.  And sometimes I end up seeing the same things I always see.

And I think that happens for students too.  The classroom becomes familiar and learning looks like the same old thing.  That’s where field trips come in…they offer opportunities for students to see learning through fresh eyes, in a different context, in a different place.

I was definitely feeling the need for some fresh eyes today.  After working for eight straight Saturdays, today was rare free one and we made plans for a “field trip” to the desert.  We’re lucky here in San Diego, we have coast–beautiful beaches–near where I live and not even two hours to the east, we have the desert.  So today, we headed to the desert to see what spring had to offer.

We were hoping for a riotous spring bloom knowing that we’ve had a bit of rain since the new year.  But once we arrived, we learned that spring had sprung…in February!  Luckily, there were still beautiful desert flowers in evidence–maybe not a riotous display, but definitely worth the trip.


Our first glimpse of the desert this morning came from above.  As we looked over the valley below, we noticed the quiet.  I caught this moment of my husband drinking in the silence.


The desert is already warm this time of year, so we set out early for a hike, knowing it would likely be near 90 degrees by the time we got back to our car.  We watched for desert flowers, for snakes (especially rattlesnakes), for big horned sheep, and birds and bugs too.  And we weren’t disappointed.


The cholla cactus (the first photo), was pretty plentiful and many were blooming.  The prickly pear was less obvious, and many were not blooming.  I felt lucky to catch this one right near the end of our hike!

Lizards skittered across our path, sunned themselves on rocks, and raced into cracks in the rocks.  Butterflies, moths, and bees were drawn to the plentiful yellow flowers.  I noticed this caterpillar hanging from a slender stalk.  (Love that caterpillars will pose!)


The snake we saw was slithering in the spaces between rocks…and luckily we only caught a glimpse…and it didn’t appear to be a rattler.  We didn’t linger–no sense tempting fate when it comes to snakes!  But we did catch sight of some big horn sheep.  There was quite a group–12, I think–coming down to a stream near the oasis we hiked to.  Here are a few we watched from some rocks above.


Their coloring is amazing–making them nearly invisible in the rocky locale.  We saw babies as well as adults…you can see them stopping to check out whether to bolt back up the hillside!

It was surprising to see a waterfall deep in the desert.  We could hear the running water before we saw it.  And the California fan palm, the only palm tree native to California, completed that iconic image of oasis.  Shade, water…and a nice place to rest before heading back into the hot sun to finish our hike.



My husband snapped this shot of me traversing a shallow portion of the small stream!

I feel like I got to view spring through fresh eyes today.  I was looking closely and responding to novelty.  I snapped photos and then when I returned home, looked up information about some of what I saw.  I had to try and retry framing my shots, not sure how to capture the tall ocotillo reaching up toward the hot desert sun with the desert cliffs as backdrop.

IMG_4834Today’s field trip was just what I needed…a chance to see the world with fresh eyes, to go beyond the familiar and rekindle my interest in learning about this place I call home.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Study


Anyone who reads my blog with any regularity knows that I spend plenty of time on the beach. And with my camera in hand, I find that I often begin to study the things that I see through my lens.  I’ve been drawn to seagulls lately…as evidenced in the photo gallery above (all images posted on my blog over the last few months).

And as I take photos of seagulls, I have also studied them.  Noticing their habits, their preferences, their personalities…and more.  As I walk along the shore, I am drawn to the crowd of seagulls.  They seem to be social creatures, gathering together to hang out.  They seem to have some favorite spots…and I walk through them on a regular basis.


I love the way they casually walk away from me as I come near.  Seldom do they take flight as I approach, they just seem to shuffle over a bit as they keep a close eye on my movements.

I am always surprised by their adaptations.  The runoff from the storm drains flows into the ocean near the lifeguard station at our local beach.  I am assuming that this is fresh (ish) water (at least not salt water).  I often see seagulls taking a drink from this runoff–in spite of the fact that we humans get regular warnings to stay away from this water–especially after the rain because of the risk of bacteria.  I caught this guy in action, taking sip from the flowing runoff.


I love to watch seagulls in flight.  They seem so carefree and graceful in the sky…when they are not squabbling with one another over a bit of food.  This guy today was nice enough to fly right in front of my camera.


And there are times when it seems that the gulls take to the sky in a carefully choreographed dance, floating on the air waves, dipping and turning, swooping and gliding.  I notice this most often in the late afternoons when I squeeze a walk in after I am done with work.  There was a beautiful performance going on this afternoon as I headed back to my car for my drive home.


So…what are you studying through your lens?  Nearby birds? The light in the afternoon?  The way snow melts? The plants in your garden or the tree you pass on your way to work each day? If you haven’t yet studied…this is your week for a mini study!

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 #study for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So take a look around…what are you noticing?  What questions does it raise?  Use your lens as a tool for closer study…  I can’t wait to see what you are learning as you study through your lens!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Action!

Summer has come early here in southern California…with temps in the 90s on the coast today! This is not our normal weather…but it has people flocking to the beaches to play.  People are shedding their clothes and there’s lots of action on the shoreline.

The water is not warm yet, even though you wouldn’t know it by looking at people playing in the surf.  The sign on the lifeguard tower said 64…and my feet agreed as I walked along the shore. These boys show the contrast between the air and water in they way they are dressed…one in a wetsuit, the other in trunks…as they pull the kayak up on the shore.

IMG_4679I love the spring in the step of this little guy.  He just exudes energy!


There are lots and lots of games to play on the beach…frisbees and footballs and smashball are usual.  I’ve been noticing this game lately…where you bounce the ball off the mini trampoline, with the goal of keeping the ball moving within the group.  These boys were playing an extreme version, throwing themselves to the ground to assure the ball stayed in play!


And there’s lots of fun to be had just playing in the waves, jumping and screaming with each surge of water.IMG_4689

And when the tide is low, the bikes come out.

IMG_4693And people aren’t the only ones in action!  These birds, pelicans I think, must have found something good to eat as they gather, hovering and plunging into the waves.


And if you look closely you can see both the action of the seagull in flight and the waves rolling and crashing here.IMG_4688

I love this one where the seagull is still and the waves are caught in action,  I love the colors that are so hard to catch in a photo!IMG_4694

So, for this week, be on the lookout for action.  What’s going on in your little piece of the world? Are people playing? Working?  What about plants and animals…are they in action?  Or like me, you might even notice the action of water…or weather.

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 #action for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So take a look around, where is the action in your life this week?  I can’t wait to see what action you find through your lens!




Architecture: The Structure of Learning

We have a beautiful urban park here in San Diego.  Open space, trees, a lily pond, fountains, trails, museums and restaurants…including some ornate and historic architecture that dates back to the Panama-California exhibition in 1915.  In these storied surroundings, I’ve been spending time with a group of formal and informal educators investigating ways to improve school field trips through a project we call Intersections.  (I’ve written before about it here and here.)

As I spent the day at the San Diego Natural History Museum today, observing a group of high school students on a field trip, I found myself thinking about architecture.


As the educator-researchers in our group discussed what we observed watching students during their field trip today, our conversation moved to the carefully planned structures that support students’ independence and dispositions toward learning.  Field trips have traditionally depended on adult-centered structures that keep students “on-task,” ensuring that the trip has documented educational value in the form of completed packets of answered questions rather than trusting students to be interested in what they find in front of them.

Over lunch, our Intersections leadership team chatted with an external evaluator–a part of our larger National Science Foundation grant– about our observations and tentative conclusions. And we found ourselves thinking about and talking about all the learning that happens that we are not able to document.  When we take students outside the classroom, what are we hoping for?  What can they learn that the classroom environment doesn’t offer?  And why then, do we keep trying to make field trips more like school?

As I look at this photo of a young woman using her cell phone to photograph an owl, I wonder how we encourage students to use tools and processes they use outside of school to support their own learning.  How will this student use this photograph?  What was she aiming for as she composed the image?  How can students’ digital lives interact in positive ways with their school lives?


And as my colleague described her understanding of the development of social capacity, a concept important in her binational work, my understanding of the learning that happens on field trips continued to evolve.  A field trip is not a classroom lesson, it is a social event, a shared learning experience outside the school environment.  And while students certainly learn some content, they are also developing social capacity–as representatives of their school and class in a public arena.  They are navigating unfamiliar spaces, coming in contact with people they don’t usually see, interacting with adults–docents, volunteers, vendors, scientists, researchers–and exploring materials not present in their classrooms and schools.


And in the best of situations they are figuring out how to interact with the space, people, and information in meaningful ways.  I loved this informal game I observed today…a chaperone and his group spontaneously started counting the animals they spied in this coastal sage environment.  Someone saw 9…and another saw 12, someone else saw 15.  They started pointing them out to each other, looking closely, naming what they saw.


And another researcher watched a pair of students challenge each other on the native/nonnative quiz in the patio area.  The goal was to win…and the game was calling on prior knowledge and combining it with what they were observing in the exhibit.  And they were having fun…being social, laughing, enjoying themselves…and learning.

So what is the underlying architecture of a successful field trip…that structure that enables students to engage in learning on their own terms?  That takes advantage of the place and the richness of expertise and artifacts that aren’t present in the classroom?  And that honors the beauty and elegance of learning…not for a grade or a test, but because we are inspired and motivated to learn because we are learners–driven to make sense of our world, on our own terms.