Category Archives: Connected Learning

Take Action and Keep Reaching

One of the things I love most about photography is its complexity.  There is a pretty low floor, everybody can participate in the experience of taking photos–just point and shoot–and you’ll have a reminder of the moment you just experienced.

Because I’ve been posting a photo every day for almost five years now on Instagram (August 1, 2012 was my start date), I can track my progress as a photographer.  I can see how my choices in subject, framing, light, and overall composition continue to improve.  I can see where I have experimented with different techniques–a summer spent with a focus on my version of street photography that I called “Beach People” –and pushed my creativity and skill development.   (See #beachpeople: a documentary) I give myself new challenges to keep my photography fresh and energizing, especially since I take pictures as part of my everyday life, meaning a lot of the photos I take are at places I frequent regularly.  For me, many photos are taken at Moonlight Beach, a place where I love to walk.

Today, on our nation’s Independence Day, I was immediately drawn to the volleyball courts.  The American flags were waving, lots of people were gathering, and volleyball players were in action.  At first I wanted to capture the flags waving with the beach in the background, but then I started shooting.  My goal immediately changed and I wanted to capture a shot that showed the intensity of the play in action.  I could see that I needed to time my shot to catch the ball in play right over the net.  After a few tries, I was pretty sure I had at least one shot with the action.  Here is my resulting shot.

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The flag, the ball, the arms, and feet…and the bonus: the puffs of sand under the feet.  This image has not been edited or filtered, this is how I shot it.

Last week I was intent on capturing surfers in action during a surfing contest.  You can see my photo of Rob Machado here.  I was using my zoom lens, which makes it hard to focus and “see” the just right spot in the distance.  But I persisted and got a few nice action shots of surfers at their best.

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Leaving the beach today, we noticed some low-rider cars pulling through the beach drop off.  I started taking photos before they started showing off their hydraulics and bouncing the cars.  I was fascinated with the dance of the cars…a sort of call and response…with bobbing. popping, and even turns up on one wheel.

My camera gave me the time and focus to appreciate what these cars and drivers were offering.  I could see the complexity of the art of the low rider as I watched them maneuver their cars into position, “posture” with the hydraulics, and play with the crowd.

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I love that photography has a low floor, I was able to get started with very few skills and only minimal equipment.  My first several years of photos were taken with my phone camera.  But I also love that photography has a high ceiling.  As much as I learn, there is so much more to learn and reach for.  I still take photos with my phone and I also now use a Sony a6000 (a light, mirrorless, DSLR-like camera).  I take most of my photos in the automatic mode, knowing that there are also endless possibilities for manual adjustments.  Even in the automatic mode there are many choices that I make, from the focal distance to the framing and light.  I can see years of learning and improvement ahead of me.

Through my camera lens I am reminded that learners need both entry points and opportunity to stretch.  And that reminder carries over to my work as both a teacher of students and a facilitator of professional development for teachers too.  Let your learners in…and keep them interested in pushing themselves, in challenging “good enough” by reaching for possibility–not just completing assignments.  Just as I know there is no end to learning about photography…I also know there is no end to learning about teaching and learning.  And the goal of lifelong learning is not just my personal goal, but a goal I hold for all the learners I touch as well.

Getting Ready for #CLMOOC

While I haven’t participated in #rhizo15, I have been intrigued by the ideas behind rhizomatic learning and the thinking that learners can direct themselves, learn from one another, and transform learning in the process.  (If I have that wrong…someone please correct me!)  And the Connected Learning MOOC, known as the #CLMOOC (massive open online collaboration) is starting up in a few weeks!

So instead of cleaning my house or working on report cards last week, I started playing with some photo apps, creating some photo art.  And then yesterday Margaret Simon initiated a #digilit challenge…with the first week being focused on creating #photoart.  How could I resist?

So I started with the image I had created using the app Waterlogue, creating a watercolor version of the photo I had taken.  Then, because Margaret modeled adding poetry to hers, I decided to create a haiku to express why I had stopped and snapped the photo in the first place.  I shared this image with her on Facebook yesterday.

Preset Style = Natural Format = 6" (Medium) Format Margin = Small Format Border = Sm. Rounded Drawing = #2 Pencil Drawing Weight = Medium Drawing Detail = Medium Paint = Natural Paint Lightness = Normal Paint Intensity = Normal Water = Tap Water Water Edges = Medium Water Bleed = Average Brush = Natural Detail Brush Focus = Everything Brush Spacing = Narrow Paper = Watercolor Paper Texture = Medium Paper Shading = Light Options Faces = Enhance Faces

And then today I decided to do some exploring and mess around with Thinglink to add some other media to the image.  I started by adding a link to the original photo I had taken before turning it into a watercolor painting.  I also decided to add a favorite piece of music, so I linked a YouTube video of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.  And then, just for fun, I added the link to Margaret’s Pinterest page where there are examples of other’s #photoart.  Here’s my result:

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/659592420828119042

I hope you will also join in the fun…create some #photoart…and join us at the CLMOOC starting in June!

The Gift of Words

Inspired by a blog post on Edutopia by a colleague of mine from the UCLA Writing Project, our class began to explore the idea of gifts.  This is a hard time for young students, this season seems to make them want everything!  There is talk of what Santa will bring, what antics and gifts the elf carries, along with lots of decorating and baking and performances and outings…

So last week we began by reading a beautiful picture book that my teaching partner found at Powell’s books in Portland called Immi’s Gift by Karin Littlewood.  This gorgeous book about an Inuit girl is perfect for setting the stage for expanding the idea of gifts beyond what can be purchased.  And honestly, our students, even before reading the book had many ideas about those “priceless” gifts…of time, nature, acts of kindness…  And this simple book is filled with beautiful language, ideas, and images.

And then we gave the students the invitation to become word-sleuths…to be on the lookout for words, phrases, sentences..that were worthy of gift status.  Words that were special to them in some way.  They collected these words on yellow stickies and then carefully wrote them on some pretty pieces of paper to hang on the “My Gift of Words” board in our classroom.

My Gift of Words

The collections are growing–and students are not only finding words others wrote, they are writing their own too!  This third grader came in on Tuesday with this line that she had written in her notebook on her way to school.  (And I suspect also influenced by another book we read, What Does Peace Feel Like? by Vladimir Radunsky.)

peace like salt water

Here’s a glimpse at some of the other word gifts hanging on our board.

And suddenly, not only are my students noticing and appreciating words everywhere, but so am I!  At a meeting at school on Monday, one of my colleagues used this Michelangelo quote to call us all to action and urge us to dream big.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.  Michelangelo

A word fairy has been leaving inspirational quotes in our mailboxes at school this week…and a friend of mine just gave me this beautiful necklace with a quote from Albert Einstein on it.  (I love the sentiment!)

necklace

And the cherry on top of all these words is that at The Writing Thief MOOC our most recent make is a scavenger hunt for mentor texts!  It feels like I have been bathed in words this week, they are falling like raindrops, gathering in puddles, splashing ideas and inspiration into my thinking and writing and living.

And I see it with my students too.  They are tuned into words, catching them in their nets, and sharing them with each other, their families, and with us.  In this season of giving, the gift of words has been spectacular…and a tradition that I hope carries on into the New Year!

What words are inspiring you this holiday season?  What words have you given and received as gifts?  What are your favorite mentor texts?  And feel free to join us over at The Writing Thief MOOC and share some of your favorite words, phrases, sentences, and books…you’re all welcome.  Come join the fun!

Angular: Teaching and Learning on the Slant

For the last few days I’ve been in Washington DC attending the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, a conference for those connected with writing projects all over the country. In this space we come together to reconnect, learn together, and envision and re-vision possibilities for both our national network and our local sites. And while I was in this rich, intellectually stimulating space, I found myself thinking about angles, the slant that is essential in the work of learning and teaching.

Tell the truth but tell it slant.  Emily Dickinson

The hallmark of writing projects has been their longevity (we’re in our 40th year as an organization), which attests to their ability to adapt to new mandates and contexts in education, their ability to remain responsive to changing needs in the educational community while holding on to their core beliefs, and their ability to innovate as they strive to anticipate upcoming needs and trends and develop more effective and relevant approaches to supporting teachers with the goal of improving the teaching of writing. And even in our own community, what that means and how that looks does not assume that we all agree or even that we all understand our charge in the same ways.

And as I consider my own learning experiences, my observations of others, and continue to think about presenting ideas to my own students and to my writing project colleagues I realize that the straight path is not always the best path. I can’t assume what I have come to understand over a number of years will be clear to others as I explain what I now know. I have to find ways to communicate the truth…but find the slant that gives others access. Sometimes looking straight up or straight ahead actually works to obscure your view and understanding.

straight up

As I spent some time at the National Cathedral yesterday, I started to see the embodiment of some of these slants. What I noticed as I walked into the nave…the main body of the cathedral…were the incredible angles.

cathedral inside

Columns reached high, curved, and then met in angular points. In that expansive and intricate structure, I could feel the careful study of architectural soundness. I felt reassured that this long-standing building would continue to stand, in spite of some damage from a recent earthquake. And so I’m thinking about the underlying structures that inform work some of us as educators do around the concept of connected learning.  How do we make the structures and educational soundness visible?  What experience will adult and student learners need to feel the expansiveness?

There is a beautiful infographic that I’ve seen shown over and over again and that I have used myself, but like the beautiful stained glass windows in the cathedral, it requires not only a close look but an understanding of the underlying design, accompanied by some personal experiences related to the concepts to truly begin to make sense of it.

stained glass

And like the stained glass window, light shining from outside reveals details and intricacies that are not otherwise noticeable. Rubbing emerging ideas and persistent questions against those of my colleagues works like that shining light, revealing nuances and pushing me to rethink and reconsider my own understanding. When I can see my thoughts reflected through the ideas of others, they take new shapes and create new possibilities like these intricate shadows the wrought-iron work reflects on the cathedral walls..

angles of reflection

And while that sounds pretty easy and productive, it isn’t always that straightforward. There are more slants and angles to consider. Sometimes the learners and teachers must wander down seemingly endless corridors, making false starts and running into dead ends before finding their way in. But repeated opportunities to try and stumble, reflect and reengage eventually reveal a pathway—maybe not THE pathway—to understanding.

corridors

Sometimes you have to crane your neck while your nose is right against the window to catch a glimpse of possibility like I had to as I searched for gargoyles. And sometimes that view might be terrifying, monsters seem to come into view, until you realize you are not alone and there are other meanings to be made of what you are seeing and experiencing.

gargoyle

As I have reflected on my experiences this week, I am reminded of the value in taking a step back, considering other perspectives and the role that resistance (my own and that of others) plays in learning. How do I play the doubting and believing game (Elbow) in productive ways that opens doors rather than closes them? And how do I facilitate processes like these for my students and my colleagues?

looking upI know it’s about the slant, the angular nature of our personal biases and the complexity of learning itself.  And just like the straight path isn’t for everyone, I know that there are many slants to consider as we continue to learn ourselves and to support learners in this fast-changing, information-driven, connected world we live in.  My trip to the cathedral not only allowed me to explore this beautiful national treasure and take interesting photos, it also helped me think about learning and angles and envision the role I might play in creating entry points and interactions to extend opportunities to consider alternatives to our current educational system. I’m looking forward to exploring the slants…and I’m appreciating the angular.

 

Citizen Scientists: Researchers in the Wild

This morning someone shared an article about kids as citizen scientist researchers–observing and documenting ladybugs in their place, and learning about research and data in the process. I love engaging students in real work as part of the learning process…and teaching them that all of us, as part of our daily lives, can and should continue to learn every day.

On our rain hike in Yellowstone the other day I got to look closely at the environment around me, noticing details and appreciating the beauty.  Our destination was this natural bridge, a work of nature that I’m sure informed the first people who saw it.

natural bridge

And as we walked away from the bridge back toward the car, I noticed bubbles in the puddles as we passed.  I was sure I was noticing something in the bubbles…and stopped to watch.  It seemed that with the rain drops, a bubble would form with a white insect in it–magnifying the image of the bug–and then pop after it floated a ways.

insect drops

I had to look closer…what were these creatures?  And why do they form these bubbles?  Do they only come out in the rain?  Are they native to this forested area in Yellowstone?

insect bubble

I haven’t yet found out what these insects (I think they are insects) are…but I am curious to know more about them.  I’m hoping that someone will know something more and lead me to some research to answer my questions.  Here is a close up view…

insect bubble close up

There are so many interesting things to learn about when you take the time to notice.  As I start to prepare for the beginning of school, I’m thinking about ways to support and encourage my students to pay attention the world around them and then to document and further research the questions that interest them.  I’ll also be on the lookout for citizen scientist projects in my area (and would love any information you might have)…what a great way to engage students as researchers!

And if you happen to know anything about these bugs in the bubbles…I’d love some leads!

 

 

Play and Games

This first week of CLMOOC has reminded me again of the power of connected learning. Don’t get me wrong…I am a connected learner all year long, but there is something about the intensity and playfulness of the CLMOOC that amplifies the effect.  Earlier this week I had the opportunity to serve as a coach for an upcoming make, and when I learned the topic would be games I wondered just how much help I would be.  In online spaces when someone says games, I immediately think of Minecraft and Halo and other video games.

Instead, our conversation went to stories about games from our childhood…games we made up, unstructured time when we were left to our own devices and “forced” to entertain ourselves.  Terry brought up some research about the lack of games in children lives and I wondered how that could be true–aren’t people complaining that kids are too obsessed with gaming?  That’s when our conversation got really interesting…when we realized that game had different connotations in different contexts.  What we all worry about is how little time children seem to have that is unsupervised and free for imaginative play, exploration, making, and doing…not pre-structured by adults. (Many thanks for a rich, thought-provoking conversation Terry, Joe, Christina, and Michael!)

Here’s a link to the talk Terry had referred to:

My husband took today off from work and after we treated ourselves to breakfast out, we headed to the beach for a leisurely low tide walk.  It was warm and sunny, but not too hot, perfect beach weather.  And as we started walking I realized that my husband and I often make up our own games to keep our beach walks interesting.  Our latest “game” has been to search for beach glass as we walk.  It’s like a scavenger hunt, eyes tuned for the gleam of the glass worn by the tides.  We have very little glass on our beaches–probably in large part because glass has been banned on our beaches for a decade.  But when we started playing this game a few weeks ago, each find has become a treasure.  Here’s today’s haul.

beach glass

And Christina reminded me that my photography is a game.  And it’s become even more so managing both #sdawpphotovoices–a monthly photo a day challenge and a weekly photo challenge that I post on my blog and for the NWP iAnthology.  This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is #two…and I couldn’t resist snapping this photo of my husband fitting our flip flops in his pockets so we don’t have to carry them on our walk.  He puts one of each of our shoes in the pocket since mine are smaller (two of his shoes won’t fit in one pocket!).

two shoes

I also took some photos that I knew I would use to play around with filters and effects. This “still life” seemed perfect for trying out a new app (thanks Bonnie for pointing to it) called painteresque.  I love the effect!

beach stifflife paintereque

And then today I added yet another game to my photographic repertoire.  I’ve been wanting to take photos of “found alphabet” letters.  My rule (self-imposed) is that I have to photograph it as it is, I don’t get to arrange it.  Here’s a couple I found at the beach today.

Here’s a Y from kelp:

Y seaweed

An M I found in the cliffs:

m beach cliff

An O formed by a sea anenome:

o sea anenome

And who can resist the i made of bird poop!  (And it was washed away by a wave right after I snapped it!)

i bird poop

And part of the fun of these games is playing them with others.  It’s fun to search for beach glass with my husband, celebrating each find.  And taking photos is even more fun when others play along and we can share with each other and learn from each other.

I’m hoping that others will join me in the found alphabet fun.  I’m thinking I have two different “sets” I am searching for: found in nature and found on the beach.

What I love best about the CLMOOC is the spirit of playfulness and the ways we build on each others’ ideas and makes.  We are free to explore, to play, and to hack the structures presented. The connections are essential because they motivate and encourage and urge us on to try one more thing.  And thanks Terry, Joe, Christina, and Michael and the rest of you CLMOOC-ers for reminding me that I do know about games. Now I can’t wait for the game-focused make cycle! I’m already making up new games!

Making Biscuits

I’m a bit behind in my participation in the Learning Creative Learning MOOC, put on by the MIT Media Lab, P2PU and sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation.  So I am going back to last week’s activity, which involves reading Seymore Papert’s essay Gears of My Childhood and then using that essay as an invitation to reflect and write about my own childhood experience with object-based learning.

Unlike Papert, I don’t have an immediate memory of a particular object that influenced my view of the world from a very early age.  (It’s probably more of a memory problem than of a lack of interest in an object!)  But as I continued to think about influences on my outlook toward learning and curiosity, I found myself thinking of many different influences–most of them including important people in my life: my mom, my dad, and my Grandma Millie come immediately to mind.  And then I thought about my experiences making biscuits with my Uncle Bob.

Uncle Bob (actually my dad’s uncle–so my great uncle) lived in a trailer somewhere in the same county where we lived and we would visit on Sunday mornings (I think).  He would make biscuits and always invited me and my little sister to help him.  (He seemed old from the time I knew him and we were very little girls at the time)  We would climb up on a chair of the trailer table and watch closely as he kneaded and smoothed the floury dough.  Then he would roll it out and hand each of us a drinking glass, the same kind we would drink 7-up in a bit later, and we would carefully cut the biscuits using the glass.  He would then take the biscuits, place them on the pan, and put them in the oven.  I still love biscuits, especially when they are made from scratch like that!

And I think the important lesson I learned from that drinking glass/biscuit cutter is that the right tool for the job is often the tool you have access to.  Uncle Bob didn’t need fancy biscuit cutters that were just the right size, he just pulled a glass out of the cupboard.  And better yet, my sister and I each had one to work on cutting those tasty biscuits from the dough.  We all worked together and, in spite of our age, were trusted to do this important work.

And to this day, so many years later, I know that using what you have access to is an important truth to experimenting, to figuring things out, to designing, and to feeling like making is within your grasp.  I still don’t have to go out and buy the perfect kit or have the just right materials to get started with exploring…I just have to be interested, and it really helps to have someone like Uncle Bob (or my mom, dad, and Grandma Millie) around to support you as you’re getting started.

Uncle Bob