Category Archives: celebrating

The Power of Community

Our students are writers, but even a few short weeks ago many didn’t see themselves that way.  They were worried that they didn’t know how to spell, that their writing wasn’t “right,” that others knew something that they didn’t about this mysterious practice called writing.

Like we do every year, we’ve been working to build a community of learners and writers in our multiage class of first, second and third graders. And like Margaret Simon reminds us all in her #digilit post this week, that requires practice, patience, and persistence. Margaret was talking about the use of digital tools–but I would argue, it is the same with or without the digital tools.  But I want to remind us (and myself) that practice doesn’t mean drudgery.  Instead it means establishing a practice, regular opportunities to write in meaningful ways.  It means low stakes opportunities to explore the possibilities of writing, to play with words, to share your attempts with others who are also trying on and experimenting.  And it means knowing that your first attempt is not your only attempt, that writing takes time and multiple iterations that come from layering inspiration, mentor texts, and supportive instruction.

A week ago, we were inspired by the life and poetry of e.e.cummings.  (If you have not yet read the picture book biography of cummings by Matthew Burgess, Enormous Smallness–you should.  It’s quite a treat!) Burgess’s description of cummings exploring the world with “his eyes on tiptoes” made an impression on our young writers.  After studying love is a place by cummings along with a few other poems by various authors as mentors, our students set out to compose a poem about something they love.

They wrote these poems in layers–a little each day over the course of a week–and in a community of other poets (including their teachers) working to express their thinking and visions about something they care about. We read our works-in-progress, noting language we loved, noticing techniques we could borrow, and learning how to “fit” something into a page already full.  (A major impediment to revision for young students…we continually work to show our writers how to make changes without erasing or starting over!)

The resulting poems are magical…and incredibly varied.  From the one that begins, “Shall I compare winter with a magical place…” (inspired by her own knowledge of Shakespeare and her love of snow and ice) to the one that ends, “Time doesn’t exist on a boat on the ocean when fishing,” my heart swells knowing that the power of our writing community has taken hold.

And sometimes you get the piece that feels momentous, a powerful expression from a student who previously didn’t claim writing as something he even wanted to own.  But he is feeling the magic of his words and wants to share them, giving me permission to share them with other writers and learners.  Surrounded by a community of writers and learners and inspired by the mentor text, Trouble, Fly by Susan Marie Swanson and the story, The Waterfall by Jonathan London, B knew he had something to say about writing that is worth sharing with others.

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B’s effort shows the results of practice, patience, and persistence.  But this didn’t come from a single lesson.  Instead, it is the result of cumulative effort now in its third year for this student.  B expects to write for many reasons and in many ways on a regular basis. That’s what we do in our learning community.  On Thursday, the National Day on Writing, students put some of those reasons for writing in print to express #whyiwrite to the larger community of writers on Twitter.

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As I think about myself as a writer and as a photographer, I know that practice, patience and persistence also apply to me and my own learning. I wrote last week about writing with light through my photography.  This morning as I walked the beach in a light rain, I wanted to capture the quality of light and feeling of expanse I experienced.  As I poured over and thought about the photos I took, my mind wandered back to one of my photographic mentors, Ansel Adams.  And I found myself inspired by his words…and by his use of black and white to express nature’s powerful beauty.  I took my photo and used a filter to transform it from color to black and white, capturing the mood and expansiveness…and the quiet I was looking for.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.   Ansel Adams

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Enveloped in Possibility

I love this time of the school year.  At least the part that is about my students.  (Yeah…there are too many meetings, too much drama about which students are going where for next year, too much paperwork…filling in forms, checking off boxes, signing off forms for this and that.)

As a friend of mine recently said in an email, this is a time when we get to witness a fuller blossom of our students.  We get to see what they can do when given time and space and opportunity…if we give them time and space and opportunity.

Like this slightly chewed and fully blossomed tulip, students open up at this time of the year. They dig into projects and expose their interests and thinking.  They are enveloped in possibility.

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Our students recently went to the San Diego Natural History Museum on a field trip.  Their goal was to explore the new Coast to Cactus exhibit that features San Diego’s diverse ecosystems and find something that interested them.  When they returned to the classroom. they researched this interest and then create a movie or blog post to teach someone else about what they learned.  With time and a bit of technical support from us, our students inquired, composed, and created.

Here’s a couple of examples:

Ana (a third grader) got very interested in ghost shrimp…and couldn’t wait to learn more.  She researched and wrote…working hard to explain what she learned in her own words and voice…and included her own drawing of a ghost shrimp.  Here’s an excerpt:

Moist, murky water embraces the wetlands, cattails sway in the salty breeze, lush growth is everywhere. The wetlands are teeming with life. They are homes to birds, fish, and many mammals. However, many people ignore what’s happening deep down in the mud flats. The mudflat is a home to an amazing creature, the ghost shrimp

You can see her work here.

Eli (a second grader) noticed a mouse at the museum and couldn’t wait to learn more.  And when he didn’t find the answers to his questions during his time researching in class, he went home and got his parents to help him with his research.  He has also become our residence expert on iMovie…mentoring many of his classmates, helping them record and upload their own videos.  Here’s his movie.

And those two are just the tip of the iceberg of what is happening in the classroom.  Our students have cross-pollinated, pushing each other to consider new possibilities.  Like the bee on this sunflower, they depend on each other as they reach and strive for new heights, solidify what they already know, and reach with a helping hand to lift their classmates.  They are enveloped in a community of learners that allows them to bloom, to stumble, and to get up and try again.

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And I am so lucky, because I am part of this community too…reaching and learning, enveloped in the energy and excitement of possibility.

Blog Birthday: A Reflection

Today marks one year since I began this blog.  I began with a 30 day blogging challenge for myself–creating an urgency to blog every day for 30 days in a row.  And in retrospect, that was a smart move to help me establish a habit of writing every day, day in and day out, even when I wasn’t feeling like I had anything to say.  In the last 365 days, I posted a blog post 293 of them…that’s a little over 80% of the days in the year!

This morning I had plans to read all 293 posts and then create some kind of reflection based on that reading.  And while I think it’s a good idea to go back and read all my posts, I only managed to get through the first 30 days before my life called and I was off to the beach and running those errands that just don’t get accomplished during the work week.

(Making time to photograph and play pushes me to create more balance in my professional and personal life…a good thing, I think!)

I’ve noticed lots of bull kelp on the beach in the last week.  There is something beautiful and fascinating about these large floats…definitely evokes the wabi sabi for me!

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So instead of reflecting on the year’s worth of posts, I decided to highlight five from those first 30 days that continue to speak to me…and I know that I returned to their themes throughout the year–and may continue to return to them.

1.  Dandelions: A Photo Essay – I noticed that I had a number of posts about my fascination with the ordinary, and what I learned about myself and my students by paying attention to small details.  This particular post continues to be one of my favorites.

2.  Fireflies – This is another post about something little–that many people take for granted.  I loved learning that fireflies are the most ordinary of insects, and the most extraordinary!  We southern Californians miss so much by not having these lights in our everyday lives!

3.  Spaces for Learning – Hmmm…I just discovered I have two posts from last July with the same title!  I like this one that talks about “third spaces” for learning, outside the spaces claimed by hierarchies and organizations.  These are the spaces we claim for ourselves as learners.  I’m not done thinking about this idea… and it keeps emerging over and over again in my life…as a teacher, as a learner, and as a human.  (The other post was about Genius Hour, which is related…)

4.  A Small Orange Bead – This post is really about the power of connections and connectedness as a learner.  Opportunities to learn in a community create deep pathways and provide support that matters to learners.

5.  Boys and Bears – There is a physicality to learning that we sometimes forget as adults.  My observations of boys at the polar bear exhibit pushed me to think about how physical interactions have the power to pique curiosity and deepen learning experiences.

A year of blogging has taught me so much about myself as a writer, as a learner, as a photographer, and as an explorer in the world.  It has heightened my senses as I lean closer to my surroundings to understand them and myself through my writing and photography.  When I chose the blog title, Thinking Through My Lens, I wanted to play on the word lens to represent more than a camera’s eye…I also wanted it to represent my own biases, questions, and goals.

I look forward to another year of Thinking Through My Lens…and hope you will continue to bump your thinking against mine, sharing your insights and discoveries so that we can learn more about our world and ourselves, together.

 

Gardeners and Art: A Juxtoposition

I love museums!  These spaces highlight opportunities for learning and encourage an appreciation for curiosity and inquiry.  I’ve learned to not just look at the exhibits for what they hold, but to also think about how they are constructed and curated to tell a particular story.

Earlier this week I was in Los Angeles at the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum which sits adjacent to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  On a sunny, warm winter day I had the luxury of wandering the grounds of both museums, enjoying the exhibits, the outdoor sculptures and art, the beautiful gardens, and the expansive well-groomed lawns.

As I explored the sculpture gardens I noticed the gardeners hard at work, mowing and raking…making sure the museum grounds were pristine.  They also seemed highly aware of the museum visitors and tried to avoid obstructing camera views or otherwise interfering with the visitors’ experience.

And I found myself wanting to capture the juxtaposition of the celebrity of the art with the unassuming work of the gardeners.

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I noticed that the gardeners were highly aware of the visitors and made every effort to be unobtrusive as they went about the work of maintaining the pristine landscape.  I actually had to work to capture their photos…especially this first photo where I really wanted both the sculpture and the gardener with the lawnmower in the image.

And then I worked with editing apps to create images that featured the gardeners and captured the essential, beautiful nature of their work.

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Why is it that we celebrate the work of artists and scientists, but ignore the work of gardeners, cleaning staff, waiters and waitresses?  These are the people who make our places comfortable and beautiful.  They make sure that things are in working order, that trash gets deposited out of sight, they make our places smell nice and look nice.

So this post acknowledges the juxtaposition…and celebrates the work of those whose work is just under the surface of our attention.  These gardeners are essential to the experience I had on the museum grounds earlier this week.  They contributed to the aesthetics of the art and are essential to the museum experience.

Making and Learning into the New Year!

2013 has been a year of making for me.  It’s not that I haven’t made things in the past…but this last year I have been making things with the focus less about the product and more about what I learn through the making process.  And throughout my making, I’m also thinking about my students and how they might approach a similar make…and what they might learn from the process.

Photography has been a focus of my making this year.  I’ve gone from taking pictures to crafting photos and creating images…and I love the way that the focus on photography and continually working to improve my craft influences the way I view the world and think about learning and making.

So tonight, on New Year’s Eve, I am enjoying a quiet evening at home with my husband, youngest son, and daughter-in-law.  The fire is roaring in the fireplace, the house is filled with delicious smells, and we’re catching up on stories of all the time we spend away from one another since they live in another city.

And…with my son’s help, I made my first stop motion video!

We started with a basic concept based on fireworks on New Year’s (after he showed me a few examples by making some quick stop motion videos in front of me using found items in the living room).  Using a combination of drawing and paper cut outs, we prepared our materials before starting to film.

Together we created our video shooting frame after frame as we built up the motion, carefully moving elements for each shot.  Our goal was not a fancy professional level video–but instead something that my students would be able to do on their iPads.  We shot the entire video on my phone using the imotion HD app.

Since we had shot the video with a white paper background, we searched for ways to invert the colors and make the background black to give the video an evening sky quality.  We looked for apps to use to create the effect, but finally gave up and used After Effects on my son’s computer.  (My students wouldn’t have this ability–but I may also find out about some other apps before then!)

Finally, I loaded the video to Youtube, edited it to loop (since it was only 4 seconds long) and added some New Year’s music from the Youtube library…and voila!

I know I will need to spend some more time trying out stop motion for myself and experimenting with the possibilities.  But already, I know enough to be able to get my students started! Our only problem in the classroom is figuring out how to fit in all the learning and making we want to be doing!  There is simply not enough time in the school day…or in the school year for all the learning we want to be doing!

Happy New Year to all of you!  What did you make and learn on this last day of 2013?  What plans for making and learning do you have for 2014?  If you have any advice for making stop motion videos with students, I’d love to hear it!

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P.S.  If you are interested in trying out a photo-a-day challenge and need some prompts to get you started, check out the photo-a-day prompts we are using in January by clicking here.