Category Archives: making

Flanerie and a Doodle

I’ve been around the edges of CLMOOC this summer, connected to the planning through Slack and google docs and twitter and Facebook, but mostly staying on the sidelines–watching makes rather than making.  I can come up with excuses, but maybe this is my summer of peripheral participation or lurking as some call it.

But in some ways, I would say I’m making on my own terms this summer.  I’ve made time for babies–joyously playing with those sweet boys who know me as grandma, rolling on the floor, scooping them up for hugs and kisses just because, reading book after book after book until I know (and I suspect they do too) all the words by heart, crooning very old songs in my off-key sort of way and relearning all the Raffi songs I have long forgotten (have you sung “Apples and Bananas” lately?).  I’ve made time for reading–sucking in words: light fiction, mysteries, kid’s novels and graphic novels…I just finished The Handmaid’s Tale (scary), I’m diving into Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and at the same time hanging out with an old favorite author Natalie Goldberg through The Great Spring (a find from a wonderful bookstore in Mendocino, CA).  And I’ve made time for walking–sometimes long aimless walks on the beach, some days of hikes deep into the redwood  forests of northern California, exploring the nooks and crannies of the amazing place I live, of course taking photos all the while.

Yesterday I just had to go to the local beach…that place most of you are familiar with if you read my blog even semi regularly.  I hadn’t been in more than two week, having been out of town exploring other parts of California.  It’s summer, our weather is hot, especially in areas away from the coast so the beach was crowded.  The parking lot was jammed as were the streets nearby.  So I cruised the nearby neighborhoods until I found a parking space, beginning my walk from there.

I walked from the crowds towards the beach space less frequented by visitors, my space, the space I feel called to explore and wander.  As I walked and wandered (using my new word flanerie), I found myself “doodling” with words in my head.  Worrying that I would forget the words at the end of my walk, I stopped and sat on a rock and typed some of the words into my phone to play around with later.

Here’s my word doodle, a poem of sorts.

She’s calling my name in cools

blues, greens, frosted white

singing tunes that synchronize with my breath and heartbeat

inviting me to soak my toes in her earthy tea with each step

Yes, she’s calling my name

And to top it off, I found a face in the cliff.  I walk here all the time and this is the first time I have seen this face.  Maybe she was calling my name.

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Stories in Glass: Reflections on Making and Learning

Intense heat and human breath give shape to these vessels. Twirling, pinching, another breath, back into the fire, working and reworking until art emerges from what was once sand and rock. Is this what makes us human? The ability, the desire, the necessity to make…to create from the materials around us?

Evidence abounds, from cave paintings to stained glass creations, super-sized cloth installations that line valleys and islands and spray-painted graphics on the sides of railroad trestles and freeway overpasses. They all suggest a need to make and mark our world.

A visit to the Chihuly glass museum in Seattle served to pique my interest in this question of making and art. I love an art museum and had heard from others that this was a museum worth visiting. I had seen photos of glass art and had already visited a glass studio, just down the street from our favorite donut shop in Seattle. Yet, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, to see beautiful bowls and other vessels, delicate blown glass creations too pricey for my budget.

Instead, I walked into the first display and was mesmerized. My eyes were drawn to the white: shiny glass lighting up a dark room. Long stalks of lighted glass protruding like shoots from irregularly shaped bulbs. As in nature, the irregularities were an essential part of the beauty as this stalk curved, that bulb leaned. It was impossible to see where one piece ended and the reflection from the shiny black floor began, creating a sense of infinity that stretched the exhibit well beyond its actual size. This wasn’t a piece of blown glass that I was enticed to purchase, this was an installation of many glass pieces arranged and lit to create an effect. I was drawn to the description “…created by simultaneously blowing and pouring molten glass from a stepladder to the floor below…electrically charged by argon and mercury…” I stopped to take a picture or two, knowing that I would want to look at it and think about it again and again.

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I moved from space to space, now intensely curious about what each turn would offer. In one room an enormous sculpture twisted and curled to the ceiling; fish, octopi, and other sea creatures nestled within it. In another, the room was bare…until I looked up and found a glass ceiling filled with individual pieces that together created a stained-glass effect of intense color and variation. When did glass bowls and balls morph into something more: stories in glass, sweat, heat and breath?

I find myself thinking not just about the exhibits and sculptures, but about the maker and making behind the art. I’m a maker too. As a writer and blogger I use words to pull ideas closer so that I can think about them, poke and prod at them, turn them over and look under them, and invite others to look along with me. As a photographer, light becomes my medium to inscribe meaning through my camera lens. And I know that ideas in my head often don’t come out through my words or my lens in the ways I intend. But that, for me, is part of the allure…the seduction of making. I surprise myself with new understandings born from moving my fingers on the keyboard or ducking under the bench to get closer to the weed growing along the crack in the sidewalk.

I’m reminded of Seymore Papert and his theory of constructionism. In this theory, different from constructivism, learning happens when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity outside of their head that makes the learning real and shareable. The activity could be making something tangible like a robot, a puppet, or a model bridge—or it can be something less concrete like a poem, a conversation, or a new hypothesis. What’s important is that the making come from the learner rather than being strictly imposed and directed from the outside (from a teacher or an employer). This element of choice and ownership often propels the maker to tinker and improve their make to meet their own criteria for better, allowing for reflection and reworking based on that reflection. This self-directed making can be a challenge in the classroom.

Traditionally it is teachers who direct and make decisions about student learning. So it’s important to create spaces that allow students to see possibilities beyond their own experiences, yet still offer choice and opportunity for experimentation and iteration. Chihuly’s first experience with glass blowing came from a college classroom assignment that required him to incorporate a nontraditional, non fabric material into a weaving. He wasn’t directed to use glass, but may not have experimented with glass without the constraints and possibilities of the assignment.

Making is about transformation. Transformation of materials, like glass or words, or images through a lens. It is also about transformation of thinking and ideas. And it begins in playfulness. Mitch Resnick of the MIT media lab describes a cycle of learning (and making) based on his observation of young children. Beginning with imagination and spiraling out to creating, children make and learn based on their ideas. As they play with their creations and share the ideas and creations with others, they have opportunities for iteration and reflection on their experiences, which leads them back again to imagine new ideas and new projects to work on or ways to improve their original idea.

I could see this in Chihuly’s glass creations. Elements of one sculpture showed up in new ways in another, chandeliers hanging from ceilings in one display turned into bigger and more elaborate free standing sculptural elements in another. And yet, each also showed new thinking—about color, about translucence and light, about placement and size, about cultural references and interactions with the larger world. I watched a few videos that included Chihuly’s reflection on his work where he talked about how his experience with a particular exhibit gives him vision for the next. I was particularly interested in the garden beneath the Space Needle in Seattle and its origins. I learned that this space, formerly a parking lot, was a blank canvas for Chihuly, something he—in collaboration with the landscape architect—could transform to allow others to see the beauty of his hometown in new ways, to expand their experience beyond the glass into the fairyland where light and glass and flowers and bees play with the backdrop of Mount Ranier and the Space Needle. Chihuly’s reflective videos helped me see and understand the spiral of experience and design and how it propeled him to new ideas and new thinking about his chosen media.

Photography is like that for me. I find myself looking at my world through the lens of my camera, and instead of limiting my view, the lens draws my attention to details of light and shadow. I see the variation of blues in the ocean waves and the foamy white of the lacey breakwaters. The white head of the bald eagle catches my attention and I watch, rapt, as it dives and swoops and then soars into the trees. I have many photos that are not taken, where I’ve missed the moment because I moved too slowly, had the wrong lens in place, or simply had to stop and wait and watch. But those missed photos become inspiration and information for tomorrow’s attempts. As I imagine, make, share and reflect, new thinking emerges and my understandings transform.

I want this for my students too. Opportunities to make and create new understandings, to transform the world as we know it. Learning, like blowing glass, needs to nestle close to the flame—the flame of needing and wanting to know and understand—and then the learner takes a breath and blows out and maybe even includes the breath of another to add dimension, depth, and diversity. Learning needs to be shaped by the learner, to expand beyond basic facts and figures and matter in the world, and in the world of the learner. Learning needs space for reflection and nudging from co-learners and outsiders—and teachers and employers—to expand the realm of the possible. Maybe we need a museum for visitors so they can walk through the breathtaking beauty of learning at the hands of those who learn best: children.

Rather than pushing children to think more like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them. –Seymore Papert

Making Writers

Sometimes writing feels like standing all alone in the fog–shivering in the damp–uncomfortable and vulnerable, waiting for the worst.

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But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Writers write best in a supportive community, in a place where attempts are celebrated and seeds are planted–some intentionally and carefully like those meticulously cultivated gardens and some flung far and wide like dandelion seeds floating in the wind.

dandelion seed

And writers also need to play and break the rules, find their own voice in the cacophony of others.  Occasionally they need a nudge to take those carefully stacked plates and push them over, flinging the words here and there, then gathering them again to make meaning of the shards of ideas uncovered in the process.

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Sometimes writers need to lean in close, breathe in the sweet scent of what it means to create new life as ideas emerge from words rubbed together.

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At other times, writers need to step back and take in the long view.  What new understandings reveal themselves when you look from the heights, from places you hadn’t dare stand before? Writing can be a process of discovery, exploring new territory or old territory from new perspectives.

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Writers need inspiration, sparks that send them on wild chases and deep digs.  And to be inspired, writers must open themselves–listen carefully, look widely, pay attention to the mundane, and seek out the ordinary. Nothing is too lowly to inspire words and ideas. Consider even the cat, asleep, with its head in a box.

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But mostly, writers need to trust that they have something to say–to themselves, to their neighbors, to readers and other writers.  They have to trust that words matter, thoughts matter, and the world matters.  They must want to write, and need to writer, but most of all, they actually have to do that thing that so many resist, and WRITE!

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If you want to make a writer.

***Note:  This piece was inspired by the article Hey Matt by Molly Toussant where she writes about her beliefs about teaching writing.  This piece was created as a “found photo essay” inspired by a peek at my media library as a way to think about writing and writing instruction.

 

 

Poetry Play

We challenged the SDAWP SI folks to transmediate their own writing by adding sound and/or animation.  And that meant that I had to figure it out too!  I know I am most comfortable with still photographs and words, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone.  After some frustrating attempts at other applications, I turned to iMovie for my make.  I used my original photos along with a couple others had taken of our group, added a poem I wrote on yesterday’s writing marathon around the UCSD campus, and then recorded my voice.

Here’s my first attempt:

I am wishing that I had taken some video on the writing marathon to add some other texture to the piece. What suggestions would you make to improve this piece?

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!

Playing with Cyanotype

Early this year I decided on play for my one little word.  And I have been making time for play on a pretty regular basis.  A lot of my play is related to photography and making time to take photos has me seeking out opportunities to explore that I might not have done otherwise.  I’ve explored places in my community that I have never been before…and I am definitely spending lots of time outdoors, especially on the weekend, rather than doing housework or even reading!

For Mother’s Day this year a manilla envelope arrived in the mail from my son and daughter-in-law.  As I opened it I found a typewritten note and a smaller manilla envelope.  I love the note, knowing that it was typed on a typewriter that my son found left next to the dumpster near his home…and that he typed it.  The note explained that I would find specially treated cyanotype paper that he had prepared for me.  It gave me step by step instructions for using the paper…and included a few “negatives” that I could try if I wanted.

I played around a bit…and then got busy so it has stayed in the envelope until last weekend.  I started thinking about that cyanotype paper and what I wanted to play around with.  As I headed out for my beach walk on Saturday, I purposely looked for shell pieces that would work with this positive/negative kind of exposure (a rudimentary kind of photography).  As we walked I noticed so many different kinds of shells and rocks…and sea glass!  I seldom find sea glass on our beaches, but for some reason pieces of sea glass kept presenting themselves.  We also found quite a few shell structures with holes and openings.

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When I got home, I pulled out the paper treated with the cyanotype chemicals and laid the shells out.  I took them out for about five minutes of sun exposure, brought the paper back in to rinse to stop the exposure…and here is the resulting cyanotype shell study.

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I love the dimension of this print.  The way the shadows create an almost three dimensional effect.

This attempt excited me, so I gathered some plant pieces and created an arrangement on another piece of treated paper.

This created an interesting result, but I found that the lightweight plants blow when I put them outside…there were pieces of lavender on the lower left…and they left a faint impression when they blew away.

Then I grabbed a leaf branch from a tree in my backyard and created an arrangement with the beach glass as the grounding.

I like the way the beach glass produced an interesting effect when placed in the sun.  I tried another one today…and won’t subject you to the results.  Playing around with this printing technique is tricky.  Objects that are too dense or too thick create big light splotches that are less interesting and pleasing than those that have opacity or cast interesting shadows that create dimension.

I have only a few pieces of treated paper left…but my son tells me it is easy and relatively cheap to create my own.  I’ve had fun playing with this technique and created some interesting pieces. I think the shell study is my current favorite…although I do like this early piece I did with some dandelions and other weeds from the yard.

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I like that I have been playing enough that others are giving me encouragement and opportunity to play more.  And I know that taking time to play is good for me, good for my family, and good for my students.  I’ve noticed that lots of my play is about making…making photos, circuits, art, movies.  And I’m looking forward to some more play and making when the CLMOOC begins again on Friday.  So maybe this post is a preview of another summer of making…and playing with others through social media and connected learning.  Will you join us and do some of your own connecting, making and playing?

Lighting Up Writing and Art: a Design Challenge

My students love a project!  Project communicates to them that they will be doing some making, some designing, some problem solving, and probably a good bit of collaborating.  They also know that projects are about sustained time to create something they will value…and likely, others will too.

The project they did last week comes from 21st Century Notebooking: work I have done in collaboration with Paul Oh of the National Writing Project, Jennifer Dick of Nexmap, and David Cole of CV2.   I’ve had a few opportunities to explore the possibilities of “lighting up” my writing and art–and knew right away that my students would both love the opportunity and learn a lot from working with circuits and writing and art.  I feel fortunate to have the chance to pilot the use of LED stickers with my students and explore the ways a project like this works with young students (grades 1, 2, and 3).

On Monday we started with a pre-assessment to document what my students already knew about circuits and electricity (not much) and then to read a picture book to give them a bit of background knowledge about how electricity and circuits work.  We read Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger to give students an overview of electricity and circuits.  And while the book is a bit dated, it did pique students’ interest and generated lots and lots of questions.  “Breaks” in circuits in conjunction with switches created lots of confusion!

On Tuesday we began talking about how light might impact a piece of writing and art.  I showed students examples that I had created and then they began to brainstorm other possibilities…focusing on topics and things they cared about.  They were invited to come up with at least four possibilities and began sketching them in their writer’s notebooks.

Just this small selection shows the variety of ideas…and students were eagerly discussing not only what they would draw, but also what they would write.  And in typical fashion they were already questioning whether they had to write in the format I had written (I had written a Haiku as my example) or if they could write in some other way.  For me, this was a demonstration of the ownership they were already feeling as the creative juices flowed.

On Wednesday, students were asked to commit to a design and draw it on their folded booklet. Then I showed them how to draw a circuit diagram on the inside of their booklet that would allow them to put the light(s) where they wanted them to shine through.

circuit diagram

series diagram

Thursday was the day that the kids got their hands on the copper tape and LED light stickers. Before they tackled creating their own circuits, I showed them how to work with the materials, how to make turns with the tape, how to use the stickers to measure how far to run their tape…and then they set off to work.

working with led stickers

guiding copper tape

The room hummed with the 43 six through nine-year-olds all focused on getting their circuits constructed with the tape and lights.  Many worked with a basic one-light circuit and a few brave students tackled a parallel circuit that included two lights.  When the first circuit worked, the entire room lit up with the students’ excited energy.

circuit success

But as you might imagine, every student was not successful on their first attempt.  We suspected we might have to deal with a few tears of frustration during the course of the project…but, although there was frustration, everyone kept at it, and the spirit of collaboration and encouragement could be felt across the room.  Some students became expert debuggers–and helped their classmates figure out why their circuit wasn’t working.  And my teaching partner and I also became experts, giving recommendations and helping those little hands that had trouble keeping their copper tape smooth and getting their battery lined up and clipped on.  Even before everyone finished, it was time to clean up…and we reassured them that we would return to the project the next day.

On Friday we were fortunate to have our school’s science teacher design a lab to complement our project.  She had students work in groups of four to attach components to make a circuit with an AA battery and battery holder, a light holder and a small incandescent light.  Because of their experience with the circuits in their project, this was a fun review for them…and they loved that they were able to get their circuits to work!

science lab with circuits

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light with Joe

As part of the lab, they also explored conductors and insulators and noticed which materials allowed the light to light up and which interfered.  All of this was useful information as they returned to their circuit/notebooking project to problem solve circuit issues and continue with their art and writing.  By the end of the work period on Friday every student had successfully gotten their circuit constructed and their light(s) to work.  And we learned some important lessons along the way.  The stickers are pretty easy to work with, but grubby little hands can cause interference with the conductivity of the adhesive.  We had a few instances where we needed to pull the adhesive off and use tape to secure the sticker.  And sometimes our best approach was to peel the copper off and begin again.

Here are few examples of student projects:

circuit project-CJ

circuit project sophie

circuit project-elke

circuit project_Eva

We still have some final details to complete…including some writing about the science learning that took place during the project. And students are anxious to get a closer look at everyone else’s projects too!  So this week we will take some time to concentrate on the finishing details and already have a gallery walk planned for students to get a close look at all the projects.  The kids can’t wait to take these projects home…but they will have to wait until after Open House later this month.  We just have to have them on display on that night to allow families to experience the “wow” factor in the classroom.

With all the work we have done with the power of iteration this year, I am wishing for some more LED stickers to allow my students a second chance to use these materials.  I am wondering what they can do and would do now that they understand the possibilities.  Maybe I can talk Jen and David into scrounging up a few more just to see what my students would come up with…