Thirty out of thirty one days in March I wrote a blog post and made it public. (I missed a day somewhere along the way because I was sick.) Today is the day to think about just what writing a slice of life each day has meant.
I know that writing every day makes writing every day just a bit easier. Early in the month it felt hard to come up with topics, each day felt like a stretch. And then, just like I tell my students, I started to live more like a writer. Each and every experience I have during the day becomes fodder for thinking and writing. I like that writing makes me pay more attention. I notice details, make word associations, connect seemingly disparate parts of my life as I write and reflect.
I know that photography helps me generate writing. It is yet another tool for paying attention to the world around me. With my camera around my neck, the world slows down allowing me to notice what I might otherwise overlook. When I go back later to view the images I captured, new thinking floods my brain, filling in the stories between the shots. I re-view the things I noticed that I wasn’t able to capture through my lens and I see my experiences anew.
I know that the Slice of Life Challenge community is a gift to me as a writer. As I posted my permalink each day, I knew someone would read and comment on my writing. This community is accepting and generous. Encouraging words keep a writer moving forward. As I read slices from others, I shared my thinking with them and learned from their words too. I posted because I said I would, and because I knew that a community was there to listen. That encouraged me to write, to revise, to push myself to continue to grow as a writer and as a responder.
And I love that writing each day creates a record of my thinking and my experiences. I can return to my thinking later, reconsider those thoughts in light of new insights and experiences. And as someone who tends to be an introvert, it invites others into my life in ways I don’t often make space for verbally or in casual in-person interactions.
March and my daily slices end today, but tomorrow I am taking on a new challenge. My students and I will be taking a 30 day poem-a-day challenge for National Poetry Month. So look for a poem from me…and if things go well, poems from some of my students as well, each day of April!
With reports cards written and parent conferences ahead of me, today was low-key. Sandwiched between errands, lunch out, and a chiropractic appointment, we fit in a noticing walk on the beach.
Today is part of a warming trend in our parts, sunny and clear, breezy with temperatures in the low 70s. Beach goers were out in full force, taking advantage of a beautiful spring weekend. (This has definitely been an in like a lion, out like a lamb March!)
Some days at the beach I have no idea what I’ll take a photo of. I have tons of beach photos from all seasons, so I’m always alert to something new or unusual in some way. We walked a different beach today, one further north than my usual Moonlight Beach, just because it was on our way from one errand to another. As I walked my eyes were drawn to the maze of stairways from multimillion dollar homes on the cliffs zigzagging their way down the steep bluffs. I took several shots, trying to capture that effect in my photo. (There are more–I was wishing to get an even wider view through my lens!)
As I pressed the shutter, my husband called out to me. “Do you see that? Right there on the ladder…see the osprey?” I didn’t at first (even though I had just photographed that very ladder!), my husband had to direct my gaze to see the bird in the distance. We carefully moved closer, picking our way across the stones in our bare feet. We photographed and watched, mesmerized by this majestic bird of prey. After a few minutes of close observation, we walked back closer to the water’s edge. As we took a last look over our shoulder, we saw it flying away in the other direction. I am so glad my husband saw what I hadn’t noticed!
We continued our walk, and I found my eyes alternating between watching the brilliant cobalt blue sky where sea birds soared and searching the sand and rocks for sea glass. Looking up, I saw a variety of gulls and terns, ravens, and even an egret in flight. And always a favorite, pelican squadrons made their runs up and down the coast.
As we headed back the car I couldn’t resist a close look at the wildflowers growing along the beach path. I noticed the bees busily buried in the centers of these native yellow beauties.
While I ended up spending the majority of my day out and about, it was a day for relaxing and noticing rather than hurrying and worrying. I watched and wondered, taking time to breathe deeply and enjoy time out with my love on this perfect spring day. I can feel my energy levels charging–just what I’ll need for the week of parent conferences that are just around the corner!
I often find myself taking the same photo over and over again. Obviously my eye is drawn to the subject. I do try different angles, shifting every so slightly to capture the best light, something different in the background, or looking from another direction.
Sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m taking the same photo until I’m reminded–by a scroll through my images or a reminder of a memory from Facebook or my photo album.
But today I knew.
My Friday schedule let me take advantage of a nice low tide at midday. I could feel the sun’s warmth as my bare feet traveled over the wet sand and was glad for my light sweatshirt in the low 60s early spring sea breeze. When the tide is low and I don’t feel rushed for time, my turnaround point is lifeguard tower #19. #19 is also a favorite local surfing spot and a popular dining spot for sandpipers.
If you look north from #19, you can see Swamis–another popular (and famous) surfing spot with its iconic palm tree topped hillside. I often take a photo or two with that view…like I did today.
And as I looked through my photos, also back in November and December!
Occasionally, I find myself taking another perspective, giving yet another view of #19. (The tide was too high on this day for my usual perspective, I was forced up the hillside to avoid getting wet!)
I’m not sure what all this says about either the lifeguard tower or me as a photographer. But I did find myself thinking about William Carlos Williams and The Red Wheelbarrow. (April is National Poetry Month and I’m planning ways to motivate my students to write a poem a day for the 30 days of April!) So, using The Red Wheelbarrow as my mentor text, I played around with thoughts of the blue lifeguard tower. Here’s my attempt:
I keep photographing
a blue lifeguard tower
sprayed with sea mist
watching the sandpipers and surfers dance
As I walked down the beach this afternoon my eye caught the juxtaposition of the massive cliff walls and a small stack of beach pebbles. I found myself thinking about magnitude–the contrast of big and small.
I chatted on the phone earlier today with someone from an organization not directly related to education. She was describing the struggles they have in their organization with clear, concise communication of complicated ideas. The same struggles we are always talking to teachers about…from kindergarten to college. Add the equity piece, the fact that some people have tremendous access and opportunity–often based on financial status and skin color–and the dilemma goes from a stack of small stones to an enormous cliff that crumbles and slips at unexpected moments.
Those cliffs keep me up at night, my efforts dwarfed by their magnitude, overwhelming me with the impossibility of the lift. I find myself drawn to the pebbles. They fit perfectly in my hand as I rub my fingers over their surface, smoothing and soothing as I follow the path nature left before me. I pick one up, adding it my carefully balanced stack, wondering how many I can carry before they topple.
Luckily, I’ve come to the place in my career where I don’t have to decide between the cliffs and the pebbles. I try my best to exert influence where I have the agency to do things that matter…even if they only matter to a few. But my eye remains on the issues of magnitude…maybe if I keep stacking those small stones near the small stones of my colleagues and allies our stacks will grow to solutions of magnitude. Those nightmares that keep me up at night will transform into dreams come true. Maybe this art I found on the beach today is a talisman for the future.
Just when we thought the week couldn’t get any fishier, it did! You already know about the angle fish and the wire fish…today was all about real fish.
Wednesdays are our science lab day and our science teacher always goes to great lengths to make things relevant and hands-on for the kids. I knew that she’d gone to a grunion run last weekend…and the grunion were running. If you’re not from coastal southern California, you may not know about grunion. They are small silver fish, about the length of a dollar bill…and they’re pretty special. They are the only fish who come onshore to lay their eggs in the sand and they are found only along our coast from northern Baja to southern Santa Barbara. They spawn from March to June, riding high tides onto the shore to lay their eggs. A couple weeks later, at the next high tide, the eggs are washed back into the ocean, requiring the wave motion to hatch.
I remember grunion runs from my own teenaged days. Since grunion only surf onto the beach late at night, it was the perfect opportunity for groups of preteens to head to the beach, hanging out in the moonlight, trying not to scare off the grunion. (I don’t know who talked the adult drivers into that duty!) If you’re under 16 you don’t need a fishing license to pick up the fish…not that I can ever remember wanting to pick them up! Lucky for us, our science teacher was able to collect some grunion (and eggs) on her grunion run last weekend for our students to study.
Students were able to touch the fish (yeah, they were dead), measure them to determine their age, and gently squeeze them to determine whether they were female (if reddish eggs came out) or male (if a milky liquid came out).
As you can see, they were eager to handle them, some with gloves and some with their bare hands.
We also took the opportunity to present our science teacher with a gift of fish from us. Each student contributed one of their wire fish (Calder inspired) to our collective fish mobile. The best part was that each student figured out their own fish’s balancing point, tied a piece of fishing line to that point, and then small groups hung their fish together. We tied each string of fish from a piece of drift wood that I found on one of my beach walks. The result was stunning! I’m including a photo–although it doesn’t begin to do it justice!
Next week students will string their own individual fish mobiles…and continue their study of grunion. If we’re lucky, we will be able to get some of those grunion eggs to hatch…right in front of our eyes!
Tonight I asked my students to write about a book they have read recently for their entry in their Learning at Home (LAH) notebooks. I asked them to tell a bit about what the book is about, include big ideas and concepts the book brings up, and make a recommendation about whether or not their classmates (or me) should read the book.
So…I think I’ll take that same writing invitation. I’ve been carrying a book around in my teaching bag that I plan to use with my students one of these days. Dad’s Camera by Ross Watkins grabbed my attention a year or so ago, before it was available here in the United States. I’m always interested in books about photography, so when this one became available, I was quick to purchase it.
While this book is a children’s picture book, it is not really a book for children. This book tackles the heavy topic of Alzheimer’s disease and the confusion and devastation that families face as they deal with it. The author describes this book as a tool for opening up conversations with children…and with adults to talk about Alzheimer’s.
I love the idea of photography as activism. In this case, the book uses photographs as a way to talk about memories and memory loss. The dad photographs ordinary things, things most people don’t photograph. “Dad took photos of the things he didn’t want to forget.” What he didn’t take photos of were his family, much to the frustration of the mom in the story.
Disease, memory loss, confusion, and frustration are all strong themes in this book. Communication breaks down and the dad does things the mom and kid don’t understand. The dad’s deteriorating memory makes it hard for him to explain the whys behind his actions. And while the book does not tie up in a neat package, the ending is satisfying. (No spoilers here!)
Although this is not a typical children’s book, it is one I plan to use in my classroom. I want to use it along with some other books about photographers, including Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange who both used photography as a ways to shed light on issues they were passionate about. How can we use our own passions and art, like photography, to make the world a better place…in ways big and small? I think I’ll have more to say about this book and what happens in my classroom once I take this ideas from seed to implementation!
School has a reputation for being routine, dull even. Students learn through reading, writing and repetition. Take in information, lather, rinse, repeat.
But does learning have to be like washing your hair?
I’ve learned over my many years of teaching that novelty and doing are essential to learning, but both need to have a purpose integral to the goals of the learning.
Today was all about the wire.
We’ve learned some fish basics in preparation for a deeper inquiry into grunion–a very special fish native to our area that depends on the pull of the moon for the signal to lay their eggs on our sandy beaches. We studied about angles, creating fish from the 360 degrees of a circle, then cut a mouth and caudal fin measured with a protractor to understand categories of angles. And, inspired by Alexander Calder and his circus (have you read Sandy’s Circus?) as well as his magnificent mobiles and stabiles, we made wire fish.
My favorite kinds of projects are those that people can’t believe are possible for kids. Long strands of pokey wire and pinchy pliers are not the usual fare of an elementary classroom. And yet, students couldn’t wait to handle these materials. Equipped with floral wire and pliers, students turned and molded. They twisted and pulled, curved and bent, all the while telling the story of their emerging fish. Buttons became eyes and scales, even the lighted appendage of an angler fish. I coached and encouraged, pushing students to elaborate on their basic ideas–to push past my example and envision new possibilities.
Students also encouraged and informed each other as I watched new ideas take hold. I noticed confidence in students who are sometimes tentative, the challenges of the intricacies of wire. We commiserated about the problems that come with sweaty hands. Eventually, little hands, emerging stories, and big ideas twisted together with buttons and colorful wires became a school of fish.
The next twist is still to come as we assembly each small collection of wire fish into a fishy mobile swimming from a piece of driftwood. There’s a special surprise as well…but I’m not ready to tell about that yet.
Shhhh…I missed a day of the Slice of Life Challenge. It was one of those days–rare in my teaching career–when I couldn’t get myself up and out to work.
On Tuesday night, after a long day and a late meeting, I headed to bed feeling chilled and achy. I’m pretty good at sleeping, so I figured I would feel better in the morning. I felt myself toss and turn throughout the night, trying to find a position where my head didn’t hurt, where my body felt relaxed. I woke up before my alarm feeling the heaviness of a dread I tried to push away.
As I wrote on Tuesday’s slice, I had great plans for Wednesday! We would be creating wire fish, a project including science, engineering, math, technology, art, reflection, creativity… So when I woke up with the horrendous headache and body that felt on the verge of collapse, I pushed back. Of course I could go to work, I would will myself to feel better.
I stumbled to the shower, sure that the not-too-warm water would ease the pains and refresh my mind. When I found myself sitting on the shower floor trying to muster the energy to stand, I knew work wasn’t a possibility for me.
But now what? I texted my favorite sub with crossed fingers, hoping she didn’t already have a job for the day. All the while my pounding head was searching for what learning opportunities would replace my plans–plans that exist only in my brain. Flat on my back–the only position I could bear–I texted my team partner. Did she have some kind of a math lesson she could easily pull together for my sub? My phone on my stomach started to buzz. Yes, my sub could come in, but would be late since she wasn’t yet dressed for the day. Okay–that could be handled. Another buzz…of course a lesson could be prepared. Appreciation and relief flooded my still pounding head. I am so fortunate to work in a community of educators who pull together and support each other.
I’m not sure when I moved that phone off my stomach. Once my class was covered and my mind was at ease, sleep was the only option. By about 1:30pm, my headache had eased and I could finally lift my head. It was 4:30pm by the time I finally got out of bed.
My feeling of dis-ease left as suddenly as it came. In less than 24 hours, I felt sick and then not sick again. I missed my teaching day on Wednesday, the afternoon time when I had planned to work on report cards, and had to cancel an early evening meeting…and of course, my slice for the day.
It feels like I have been playing catch up every day since. But shhhh, don’t tell anyone that I missed a day of my month-long challenge! (Maybe I’ll have to write two slices on another day!)