Category Archives: Slice of Life

Bubbles

With the school year coming to a close, I wanted to come up with an activity for students that felt like play–like a party–and still provide academic content to satisfy my ever-present need to make use of all available instructional minutes. (Yes, even in the last week of school)

So, when I came across a blog post about making giant bubbles and bubble art, I knew I could turn this into a meaningful day of learning and fun…all wrapped up in a soapy bubble! I’m pretty fascinated by bubbles. I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing giant bubbles at the beach and I’ve written about the “bubble man” a time or two (or more). I know that the trick to great bubbles is the solution–so prior to having my students explore and experiment, my husband and I tried our hand at bubbles over the weekend.

The basis of all bubbles is soap and water. But if you want the bubbles to be big and to have a bit of staying power, a bit of corn syrup and some glycerin need to be added to the mix. Using smoothie straws and yarn, I created a bubble wand that my students would be able to make on their own and started dipping and waving in my own attempt to create bubbles. This bubble thing is harder than it looks! I didn’t immediately get big beautiful bubbles flying from the wand. But with some patience, some tinkering, and some exploration of how to get a thin film filling with air onto my yarn…bubbles happened. At that point, with bubble solution pre-made, I was ready for a day of bubbles with third graders!

We started with a very interesting TED Talk titled, The Fascinating Science of Bubbles, from Soap to Champagne. We learned about surface tension, the geometry of bubbles and so much more. (If I were to do this in the future, I think I might devote an entire week rather than a whole day to bubbles!) Then we made our bubble wands and headed up to the field to make bubbles.

In spite of warning students that making these bubbles would take patience and experimentation, there was plenty of initial whining that “it’s not working!” I reminded them to keep trying. And then it happened…the first child experienced success! Like wildfire, bubbles emerged, filling the air with irridescent spheres.

The soap solution ran out before student interest waned, which is probably the best possible result! We headed back to the classroom with soapy hands, happy hearts and filled with visions and language about bubbles.

These young scientists are also prolific readers and writers, so after studying Valerie Worth’s short poem, Soap Bubbles, we created a list of bubble words and a list of potential bubble metaphors and then set the magic 7-minute writing timer and started writing. Like bubbles, colorful, delicate, evocative poems floated up, emerging from the points of students’ pencils.

Here’s a couple:

To complement the poetry and the elusive, temporary soap bubbles, we got out paper, pencils, water-based markers and some water and created bubbles…as art! Each artist created their own composition, tracing round shapes, adding a space where a light source reflected off each bubble. Then they added marker and finally, using just water and a paint brush, urged the marker to follow the water, creating beautiful dimensional bubbles on watercolor paper.

There is so much more we could have done with bubbles–including exploring the mathematics of spheres. Overall, it was an amazing day. Students could not believe that an entire school day had passed before they even realized it. Engagement was high, work quality was inspiring…it was an amazing last Monday of the school year! Based on this success, I know I will be working some bubble science into future teaching and learning!

Is it Worth it? Reflections on Poetry

I wrote a poem a day during the month of April and challenged my students to do the same. And while not every student wrote every day, they did write a lot of poems. When you put that much effort into daily writing, it seems that something more needs to happen. I knew from past experience that drafting a poem each day is just the first step in moving my students toward seeing themselves as writers. So as the month of April wound down, my students and I started the process of curating a personal anthology of poems.

It’s not enough to simply select a poem and call it done. I had to move my students toward meaningful revision–and that meant giving them strategies and techniques to make their poems better. They re-read each poem they selected and considered how they might add a comparison (simile or metaphor), how they might personify an animal or object, how more specific details could help the reader “see” the ideas being expressed. So no matter how small the change was, each poem was revised. Because I had 16 page blank books for each student, we selected and revised ten poems and created five art pieces to go along with them.

As we worked through this intensive process, I kept asking myself, “Is it worth the time and energy–theirs and mine–to put this anthology together?” As I read poem after poem (25 students times 10 poems each), I started to see these young writers in a new way. They had gained confidence and knew what it meant to revise. I watched them own each poem, claiming their writing and making changes that satisfied each of them. I noticed some started poems from scratch. For them, the original poem was simply a pre-writing activity and a new idea emerged when faced with revision. For others, revision meant adding on to a poem, further developing the kernel of an idea that they had started earlier. Some revisions were the change of a single word–the poets were satisfied with their original effort and only went through the motions to satisfy the revision mandate.

And as we finished the last touches, gluing the final poems into place and typing up a table of contents I asked myself again…was this project worth it? There is no Open House celebration this year where families will come through and admire displays of student work products and ooh and aah the hard work done specifically for their benefit–something that has always made projects like this a necessity in the past. But still…my answer is yes, this intensive focus on poetry for more than a month has been totally worth it. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Students see themselves as writers. They confidently write daily and have developed both fluency and style. All those poetry techniques also make other kinds of writing better.
  • Revision has become ordinary. We do this routinely and resistance to going back to a piece of writing has dropped. Writers revise and we are writers.
  • All of our writing matters in our community of writers. Everyone will share their writing and everyone can pick out bits of excellence when they hear it in each other’s writing.
  • A project gives everyone a reason to persist. No one wants a half-finished book, so everyone pushed through, developing stamina as they worked through the revision of all ten poems.

250 student poems later and ten more of my own and we have created 26 individual anthologies of poetry. They are beautifully imperfect and incredibly perfect at the same time. And totally worth the time and effort.

61 Days: A Reflection on Writing

Why commit to writing and posting for 61 days in a row? Trust me, I asked myself that question many times during the past two months. During March’s Slice of Life Challenge, once I began the challenge, it was the writing community that kept me accountable. There is something about hundreds of people writing and sharing and commenting that keeps the urgency up. And since so many are writing every day, reading their posts also creates topic possibilities and keeps the momentum moving.

Writing and posting a poem a day, especially without that dedicated writing community, is a bit more challenging. But I know me, without telling myself I will write AND POST a poem each day I simply would get lazy and not write each day. So why did I want to write a poem each day? Because I wanted my students to write a poem each day–and I know that if I am writing along with them, not only do I have more credibility, but I am also looking for ways to support them and their writing when those doldrums inevitably sneak in.

So after writing for 61 consecutive days (62 if you count today), here are some things I have learned and/or am thinking about:

  • Writing every day breeds more writing. When I am committed to daily writing, I write more and more often. I am in a constant search for topics, for inspiration, for meaning making.
  • I find myself coming up with strategies to keep myself writing. I take photographs, I pick up objects, I collect words, I listen to what others are saying. I’ve learned to put words on a page, even when i’m not sure where they are going.
  • I can post even when I don’t love my writing that day. This is especially true with poetry writing where I spend a of time judging myself. I tell my students that the most important part about writing is to get started, we can always make our writing better. So that commitment to write and post the poem each day means that I have to get all the way through a draft and get something that I deem post-able.
  • It’s okay to write short. Sometimes when I’m really stuck, I pull out a Haiku (17 syllables) or a 6-word story. Even if it’s short, I’m still writing (and posting).
  • Revision is important. I keep looking for ways to help my students understand the possibilities for revision–like signs along the hiking trail–pointing to techniques to try, reminding them of things that other writers do, giving them access to the power of revision.
  • Writing more gets me reading more and my reading changes when I am writing. I find myself looking behind the stories and poems to examine how the writer is putting their words together. I look for more variety in my reading, searching for writers who are doing fresh and interesting things and who represent viewpoints different from my own. And I find myself sharing what I am learning from my reading with my students, pointing out sentences, ideas, and strategies that I notice as I read.

And as April turns to May, for the last several years I find myself facing the same dilemma, do I continue my daily writing and posting? Will I write daily if I don’t post? I don’t know the answers to those questions for this year. What I do know is that over the previous two years when I didn’t commit to the daily writing and posting, my writing decreased (I still always write with my students) and my posting became infrequent. I’d love to be the person who can commit to posting 2 posts a week, writing daily with that goal in mind. Maybe this is the year.

Cloud of Birds: A Slice and a Poem (NPM #6)

After more than a year of staying close to home, we ventured out this week, spending several days away from home. This morning represented our final leg–knowing we would land at home later in the day. We didn’t have a concrete plan when we woke up. We knew we had about 4 hours of a drive–and were in search of an adventure somewhere along that path. We considered some lakes (up in the Grapevine) and even talked about walking on our local beach once we got home. The beach! Why not explore a beach that is not close to home?

We decided we would head off to Malibu. A beach everyone has heard of, but so many people have not visited. We programmed the navigation and set out through the mountain pass. Clearly there are others who are also itching for some travel. LA’s freeways, while not at peak gridlock, were plenty full. Midway there, Google maps offered another route–one that would save us 11 minutes. We took it.

Once parked, we set off to explore the beach. Right away we heard the shrill sound of birds. What was that? Seagulls? What was going on? We watched as a huge cloud of birds lifted, screeching and calling. It happened again and again.

Cloud of Birds

A high pitched cloud

swirls up from the beach

whirling, cartwheeling

somehow sensing each wing

each beak

flying high, flying low

over the surfers, above the shore

moving in synch, as one

a crowd in perfect unison

terns turning

Is it murmuration?

®Douillard

A bit of investigation on our drive back home led me to discover that these are likely least terns, a tern variety recently at risk. I really don’t know if murmuration is specific only to starlings, but it was fascinating to watch these birds rise and fly and move as a group.

We loved our morning in Malibu. The weather was perfect, the crowds minimal, and the traffic manageable. A perfect ending to a bit of a spring break.

Reflections on Writing: SOLC #31

On this 31st day of consecutive writing and posting, like so many others, I’m taking a moment to pause and reflect. I have to begin this post with thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for creating a challenge that is also an amazing community of thoughtful and welcoming writers and responders. Writing everyday is possible when there is a responsive community that makes the task feel both worthwhile and enjoyable–and keeps me accountable, if only because of my own sense of commitment.

This daily writing reminds me:

  • Writing begets writing: I always find myself most challenged in the first days of writing when it feels so hard to come up with anything to write about. I’m guilty of setting impossible standards for myself, paralyzing my writing brain. But I find that when I know I will write each day, I start to mine the ordinary for writing topics. This is such an important reminder for my teaching too. When my students expect to write each day, they begin to figure out what they want to write about. It’s important to establish a predictable practice.
  • Reading other writers is a treasure trove: I noticed tricks and structures that others used in their writing. I’m wishing I kept better notes about all the different approaches that I want to try on for myself and the ones that I want to offer to my students. And after reading some of theirs, I found myself inventing my own structures like Saturday Satisfactions.
  • Responses to my writing encourage more writing: I find more internal motivation to write when I know that someone else is reading it. It’s such fun to find another blogger returning to comment. And I often head off to that person’s blog to see what they are writing about…and how they are writing too.
  • Photography and writing (for me) are interrelated: When I find myself stuck, with nothing to say, I head out with my camera. And when photographic inspiration is not immediately evident, I have to figure out how to look in new ways. That search for an image also unlocks my blocked thinking about writing. I’ve found myself pondering a collection of photos to find a way into the day’s writing.
  • Writing for a public audience pushes me to find a positive slant: I don’t want to complain on my blog. I want to write my way into a more positive view of my world, my work, and the children I work with. Knowing someone else might be reading my writing pushes me to examine negative thoughts and look for potential solutions. I sometimes write myself into action.

I leave this post on the 31st worrying. Without this challenge will I write tomorrow? Luckily the Slice of Life Challenge is followed by National Poetry Month and I have already challenged my students to write a poem a day during the month of April. I know myself well enough to know that I will do it ONLY if I post the poem here, on my blog. So beginning tomorrow I will post a poem each day, continuing my writing practice for another 30 days!

Chasing Ladybugs: SOLC #30

Today was the last day for students to attend school in our hybrid AM/PM schedule. They will be remote for the rest of the week to allow time for parent conferences and then after a week off for spring break, the class will unite and become one whole class that attends school all 5 days together. I look forward to this coming together–and hope that the two halves of my class will complement each other.

The PM group is the half that NEEDS their fresh air break. They burst from the classroom doors when it is time, unleashing the energy that they have tried (not always successfully) to contain in the classroom. Today started no different. Most of the kids skipped eating a snack and headed straight for the playground equipment. But a couple sat on the grass to eat a bite…and before I knew it, they were chasing ladybugs.

And catching them.

Gently cupping them, they lifted them from the grass to bring them to me to photograph. (I love that they know that I will want to take photos!) They transferred these brilliant red polka-dotted beauties from the cupped palm to rest on the arm so I could get close for a clear, close up photo with my phone. Somehow they could find these tiny gems when they were not visible to others. Like jewelry, they wore these insects as they danced around the field. Sometimes the ladybugs rested patiently on the arm, other times they spread and fluttered their tiny wings in a blur of red.

These kids never stop talking. They kept up a torrent of descriptions and theories as they ran and collected these friendly insects. One theory they floated was that the number of dots was equal to the age of the bug. (Were they thinking days? Insects don’t tend to live very long lives!) Luckily I had just read an article on ladybug varieties, complete with gorgeous photos (who knew that would come in handy!), so I was able to talk to them about the large number of varieties of ladybugs that exist.

An impromptu break chasing ladybugs was the just right way to end this current mode of teaching. Moments like these remind me how much I enjoy the exuberance and energy of children–and the ways they fuel my teaching and my own learning.

Planting Seeds: SOLC #29

We’ve been writing in 7 minute intervals. Every day. Sometimes several times a day. There’s something about the timer that seems to help my students focus intently on the writing. And when the timer sounds, someone always wants to share.

Of course, that 7 minutes is only the smallest part of what it means to write. That timer-influenced writing usually follows a stimulus of some kind (often a picture book or poem), conversation as a group and in partners, studying a mentor text and the moves that writers make, and sometimes drawing or some other kind of art.

Today we wrote about a place we love. But first, last week we read My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero. We noticed how she focused on places she loved in her community and on her dad and family. We studied her writing. We marked the action words she used: zigzagged, cruised, revs, and roars. We notice the way she uses senses, including sounds and smells and textures, in her descriptions. We paid attention to her comparison of the experience of riding the motorcycle to a comet in the sky. Then we started to name places we love: Tennessee, Legoland, grandma’s house, the kitchen… We sketched a map of this place. And finally, after a quick demonstration of how I might use the mentor text to get started with my writing, I set the timer.

A hush fell over the room. Pencils raced across the page. And when the timer rang, hands started going up. Unfortunately, there was no time to share today. We’ll have to start there tomorrow. I can’t wait to hear how these much-loved places will be transformed into words on the page.

Writing with students is all about planting seeds. I can’t wait to see what blossoms.

Lines: SOLC #28

Exploring with my camera is a way to clear my head, to relax, and to pay attention to the world. But I have to admit, the monotony of a lockdown year has taken its toll. I’ve had to work to find new ways to look at the things I have seen over and over again.

For a change of pace, today we headed up the coast to a seaside town about 30 miles north of here. We did a bit of shopping and then, of course, headed out to the beach to walk and take photos.

I know, I know…I take beach photos regularly. But a different place offers a different vantage. Today I found myself focused on lines. We parked near the train station and right away my eye was drawn to the parallel levels of lines…the train tracks, the fence line, and the horizon line of the ocean behind. (And the blues were magnificent today!)

As I stepped up closer to the fence to peer over at the ocean, a series of horizontal lines came into view.

We had intended to walk the seaside trail parallel to the shore, but on the east side of the train tracks. Unless the tide is low, there isn’t much beach to walk on this beach. We started off–but the summer-like weather brought out the crowds–and the trail was feeling pretty uncomfortable with a combination of runners and walkers, dogs on leashes, and bikes (both electric and pedal-powered) whizzing past. At the first staircase access to the beach, we headed to the sand, realized the tide was low and getting lower, so decided that the shoreline was out best walking choice. There were still people, but they were much more spread out–in the water and laying in the sun–giving us a wide, unencumbered walking space.

As we passed the pier, I could hear aircraft. Helicopters are pretty usual. We have military bases nearby, coast guard copters, and of course people out to see the sights from above. But when I looked up I noticed a small plane cruising by…right over the pier. More lines.

Every time I visit a pier I feel compelled to take a few shots from beneath. There is something about the view of the ocean through the elaborate under structure that fascinates. Each pier is a bit different–some have a specific “door” to look through. This one does not, but it does have lots and lots of different lines to look at.

Even the pigeons managed to get in on the line action today. They were hanging out not far from the fishing people on the pier. Just waiting.

So is there anything significant about all these lines? This would be the time for the pithy conclusion to give meaning to a series of photos featuring lines. Instead, I appreciate a day slightly different from the ones that preceded it. And a perspective that took my eye in some different directions. Hope you also enjoy these lines, in all their insignificance.

Saturday Satisfactions: SOLC #27

I figured a listicle would be in my future sometime during 31 consecutive days of writing for the Slice of Life Challenge. And today is the day. So the following is my short list of satisfactions from this Saturday in particular.

  • Sleeping in. Somehow my body hasn’t quite adjusted to the “spring forward” command from weeks ago. I keep wanting to go to bed early each night and then find myself awake before my alarm clock. Even with no alarm clock set today, I found myself awake before my usual 5:30am wake up time. But it was Saturday, so after scrolling through some news on my phone I cuddled back under the covers and went back to sleep for a while. It felt heavenly!
  • Breakfast…with love. Most days I grab a yogurt, sprinkle a few berries and some granola on top, and voila, that’s breakfast! But today my husband made french toast–not the toaster kind–the real kind dipped in an egg mixture and topped with powdered sugar and served with a side of bacon and fresh grapefruit. Definitely a Saturday Satisfaction!
  • An egret sighting on the low-tide beach. I love an egret sighting anytime. I didn’t think it was going to happen today. I was more than halfway back when I noticed an egret fly in for a snack. I picked my way across the slick reef, trying to get close enough for an interesting photo. It didn’t stay long…there were too many people exploring the tide pools today…but I did get this straight on shot!
  • The exuberance of young people. I love watching young people on the beach. I am reminded of the verve and energy that teens bring to life…which reminds me of the importance of diving in, following my own passions, and embracing each day as it comes.
  • Living close enough to have the beach be my daily happy place. While I don’t go quite every day, knowing that I can access the beach with a short drive is a gift. When our beaches closed last year during the pandemic, I was heartbroken. It was hard to stay away, hard to see the ocean from a distance but not with my feet on the sand, and hard to find joy in my replacement neighborhood walks. Each day I revel in the wonders of living near the sea–and try hard not to take it for granted.

What satisfactions would you list this Saturday?

Underfoot and Overhead: SOLC #26

What is under your feet and over your head today? A much needed walk took me to the beach, where after a rainy yesterday the sun shone brightly this afternoon.

I tied on my ratty sneakers, the ones with hole in the toe, knowing that I’m always at risk for a salt water foot bath, or the sneak attack of some sand covered blob of tar on the beach.

In my usual fashion, I start out walking quickly trying not to let all the sights and sounds and smells distract me as I attempt to earn my exercise minutes, and then slow down letting the environment speak to me as I pull my camera to my eye.

This jelly was nearly invisible, an almost clear glob of gelatinous organic matter. I sometimes see bits and pieces of jellies, but seldom a fully formed (and quite large) creature like this one. I’m not sure what kind of jelly this is–maybe a moon jelly? I’m happy to not have stepped on it, even though it is no longer alive.

A beautiful spring day also meant a healthy breeze blowing. I’ve been noticing more and more people playing on the beach, throwing balls, building castles, and flying kites. This one was really soaring, getting lots of loft and lift into the bright blue sky.

What did you find underfoot and overhead in your place today?