Category Archives: Slice of Life

Something Fishy: SOLC 2019 Day 27

Just when we thought the week couldn’t get any fishier, it did!  You already know about the angle fish and the wire fish…today was all about real fish.

Wednesdays are our science lab day and our science teacher always goes to great lengths to make things relevant and hands-on for the kids.  I knew that she’d gone to a grunion run last weekend…and the grunion were running.  If you’re not from coastal southern California, you may not know about grunion.  They are small silver fish, about the length of a dollar bill…and they’re pretty special.  They are the only fish who come onshore to lay their eggs in the sand and they are found only along our coast from northern Baja to southern Santa Barbara.  They spawn from March to June, riding high tides onto the shore to lay their eggs.  A couple weeks later, at the next high tide, the eggs are washed back into the ocean, requiring the wave motion to hatch.

I remember grunion runs from my own teenaged days.  Since grunion only surf onto the beach late at night, it was the perfect opportunity for groups of preteens to head to the beach, hanging out in the moonlight, trying not to scare off the grunion.  (I don’t know who talked the adult drivers into that duty!)  If you’re under 16 you don’t need a fishing license to pick up the fish…not that I can ever remember wanting to pick them up!  Lucky for us, our science teacher was able to collect some grunion (and eggs) on her grunion run last weekend for our students to study.

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Students were able to touch the fish (yeah, they were dead), measure them to determine their age, and gently squeeze them to determine whether they were female (if reddish eggs came out) or male (if a milky liquid came out).

As you can see, they were eager to handle them, some with gloves and some with their bare hands.

We also took the opportunity to present our science teacher with a gift of fish from us. Each student contributed one of their wire fish (Calder inspired) to our collective fish mobile.  The best part was that each student figured out their own fish’s balancing point, tied a piece of fishing line to that point, and then small groups hung their fish together.  We tied each string of fish from a piece of drift wood that I found on one of my beach walks. The result was stunning!  I’m including a photo–although it doesn’t begin to do it justice!

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Next week students will string their own individual fish mobiles…and continue their study of grunion.  If we’re lucky, we will be able to get some of those grunion eggs to hatch…right in front of our eyes!

Dad’s Camera-a mini book review: SOLC 2019 Day 26

Tonight I asked my students to write about a book they have read recently for their entry in their Learning at Home (LAH) notebooks.  I asked them to tell a bit about what the book is about, include big ideas and concepts the book brings up, and make a recommendation about whether or not their classmates (or me) should read the book.

So…I think I’ll take that same writing invitation.  I’ve been carrying a book around in my teaching bag that I plan to use with my students one of these days.  Dad’s Camera by Ross Watkins grabbed my attention a year or so ago, before it was available here in the United States.  I’m always interested in books about photography, so when this one became available, I was quick to purchase it.

While this book is a children’s picture book, it is not really a book for children.  This book tackles the heavy topic of Alzheimer’s disease and the confusion and devastation that families face as they deal with it.  The author describes this book as a tool for opening up conversations with children…and with adults to talk about Alzheimer’s.

I love the idea of photography as activism.  In this case, the book uses photographs as a way to talk about memories and memory loss.  The dad photographs ordinary things, things most people don’t photograph.  “Dad took photos of the things he didn’t want to forget.”  What he didn’t take photos of were his family, much to the frustration of the mom in the story.

Disease, memory loss, confusion, and frustration are all strong themes in this book. Communication breaks down and the dad does things the mom and kid don’t understand. The dad’s deteriorating memory makes it hard for him to explain the whys behind his actions.  And while the book does not tie up in a neat package, the ending is satisfying.  (No spoilers here!)

Although this is not a typical children’s book, it is one I plan to use in my classroom.  I want to use it along with some other books about photographers, including Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange who both used photography as a ways to shed light on issues they were passionate about.  How can we use our own passions and art, like photography, to make the world a better place…in ways big and small?  I think I’ll have more to say about this book and what happens in my classroom once I take this ideas from seed to implementation!

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With a Twist: SOLC 2019 Day 25

School has a reputation for being routine, dull even.  Students learn through reading, writing and repetition.  Take in information, lather, rinse, repeat.

But does learning have to be like washing your hair?

I’ve learned over my many years of teaching that novelty and doing are essential to learning, but both need to have a purpose integral to the goals of the learning.

Today was all about the wire.

We’ve learned some fish basics in preparation for a deeper inquiry into grunion–a very special fish native to our area that depends on the pull of the moon for the signal to lay their eggs on our sandy beaches.  We studied about angles, creating fish from the 360 degrees of a circle, then cut a mouth and caudal fin measured with a protractor to understand categories of angles.  And, inspired by Alexander Calder and his circus (have you read Sandy’s Circus?) as well as his magnificent mobiles and stabiles, we made wire fish.

My favorite kinds of projects are those that people can’t believe are possible for kids. Long strands of pokey wire and pinchy pliers are not the usual fare of an elementary classroom.  And yet, students couldn’t wait to handle these materials.  Equipped with floral wire and pliers, students turned and molded.  They twisted and pulled, curved and bent, all the while telling the story of their emerging fish.  Buttons became eyes and scales, even the lighted appendage of an angler fish.  I coached and encouraged, pushing students to elaborate on their basic ideas–to push past my example and envision new possibilities.

Students also encouraged and informed each other as I watched new ideas take hold.  I noticed confidence in students who are sometimes tentative, the challenges of the intricacies of wire.  We commiserated about the problems that come with sweaty hands. Eventually, little hands, emerging stories, and big ideas twisted together with  buttons and colorful wires became a school of fish.

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The next twist is still to come as we assembly each small collection of wire fish into a fishy mobile swimming from a piece of driftwood.  There’s a special surprise as well…but I’m not ready to tell about that yet.

 

 

 

 

Shhhh: SOLC 2019 Day 24

Shhhh…I missed a day of the Slice of Life Challenge.  It was one of those days–rare in my teaching career–when I couldn’t get myself up and out to work.

On Tuesday night, after a long day and a late meeting, I headed to bed feeling chilled and achy.  I’m pretty good at sleeping, so I figured I would feel better in the morning. I felt myself toss and turn throughout the night, trying to find a position where my head didn’t hurt, where my body felt relaxed.  I woke up before my alarm feeling the heaviness of a dread I tried to push away.

As I wrote on Tuesday’s slice, I had great plans for Wednesday!  We would be creating wire fish, a project including science, engineering, math, technology, art, reflection, creativity…  So when I woke up with the horrendous headache and body that felt on the verge of collapse, I pushed back.  Of course I could go to work, I would will myself to feel better.

I stumbled to the shower, sure that the not-too-warm water would ease the pains and refresh my mind.  When I found myself sitting on the shower floor trying to muster the energy to stand, I knew work wasn’t a possibility for me.

But now what?  I texted my favorite sub with crossed fingers, hoping she didn’t already have a job for the day.  All the while my pounding head was searching for what learning opportunities would replace my plans–plans that exist only in my brain.  Flat on my back–the only position I could bear–I texted my team partner.  Did she have some kind of a math lesson she could easily pull together for my sub?  My phone on my stomach started to buzz.  Yes, my sub could come in, but would be late since she wasn’t yet dressed for the day.  Okay–that could be handled.  Another buzz…of course a lesson could be prepared.  Appreciation and relief flooded my still pounding head.  I am so fortunate to work in a community of educators who pull together and support each other.

I’m not sure when I moved that phone off my stomach.  Once my class was covered and my mind was at ease, sleep was the only option.  By about 1:30pm, my headache had eased and I could finally lift my head.  It was 4:30pm by the time I finally got out of bed.

My feeling of dis-ease left as suddenly as it came.  In less than 24 hours, I felt sick and then not sick again.  I missed my teaching day on Wednesday, the afternoon time when I had planned to work on report cards, and had to cancel an early evening meeting…and of course, my slice for the day.

It feels like I have been playing catch up every day since.  But shhhh, don’t tell anyone that I missed a day of my month-long challenge!  (Maybe I’ll have to write two slices on another day!)

Sky View: SOLC 2019 Day 23

I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky.  Our usual monochromatic blue or gray skies were replaced by deep blue textured with white.  My first view this morning was as we headed off to run errands.  We have this quirky spiky tree near the driveway that I am obsessed with photographing.  It always makes an interesting backdrop to photos of the sky.  This morning I noticed the tree was beginning to get leaves (again–this tree gets terribly confused with year-round spurts of spring and summer weather) as I looked up into sun infused clouds, with the neighbor’s palm tree in the background.

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Later, after the errands and some shopping at the outlet mall, my husband offered to stop along the coast in San Clemente so I could get out and take some photos.  My eyes were drawn to the contrails playing with the clouds against the brilliant blue of the springtime sky.

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The coastline is always beautiful, and today was no different.  It was high tide when we stopped and I picked my way down close enough for photos–but trying to avoid another oops like I experienced yesterday!  The sky appeared to have stripes…and you can’t really see it in this photo, but the sea had dozens of sailboats in the distance.  I like the way the white of crashing waves echo the white of the contrails and clouds in the sky.

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Even the traffic couldn’t ruin the day.  Accidents and heavy weekend traffic made a 30 mile trip take more than 90 minutes, something that is unfortunately all too typical. (I suppose it is a price we pay for living near the coast.)  Our too-often-brown hillsides were wearing their springtime best and bursting with lush and vibrant green and so many yellow flowers…you can almost feel the softness with your eyes!

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Although I missed the photo opportunity as we left Costco and headed back home, my eyes took in yet another playful interweaving of contrails and clouds.  I looked up and noticed an enormous hashtag in the sky.  #skyview

Oops! SOLC 2019 Day 22

Ah!  The briny air filled my lungs as the gentle spring sunshine warmed my back.  There is nothing better than a walk on the beach at the end of the work day.

I wondered at the beach goers in bathing suits more than waist deep in the still cold Pacific ocean.  (Even in summer, 72 degrees is warm water–refreshing when temps are in the 80s.  Today’s water temperature of 60 degrees is hardly balmy.)  Low 60s do not constitute bathing suit weather in my opinion.  I was thinking about how San Diego is really not a spring break destination.  We’re often mistaken for a tropical location, with warm weather year round.  In reality, we are a temperate climate.  It’s seldom too hot here, and we don’t even know snow unless you drive high into the local mountains.  But March is predictably sweatshirt weather–and I almost always wear shoes on the beach at this time of year because of all the rocks.

I digress.  I walked quickly, trying to have this clear-my-head walk count as some kind of exercise in a week that left too little time to move my body.  I found myself on the uncomfortable slope of rocks thrown high by the surf as I climbed to avoid the waterline, slipping and sliding on the uneven piles.

I’m never bored along the coast, there is always something to see.  Today I watched surfers, dressed in their black wetsuits, as they headed out into the glistening sea.  There is seldom a day without surfers around here, even when the weather and waves are less than ideal.

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Looking up I noticed a modern day pterodactyl, our native pelican, gliding on the currents.

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At my turn around point, I got bold, walking further out away from the rocks.  Walking on the sand just felt so much better than slip sliding on the rocks.  I knew I was taking a calculated risk–walking in my jeans and relatively new tennies so close to the water.  I know all about rogue waves and watched as I was walking.  About halfway back to my car, I could see it coming.  Just as I reached the point of no return, I saw the wave rushing toward me.  I spied a rock jutting up higher than the sand and jumped on it.  Seconds later I felt the cool salty water rush over my feet, my ankles, wicking up my pant legs.  With nowhere to go, I stood, waiting for the water to recede.

My walk the rest of the way was of the squelchy variety as my wet socks and wet shoes squished with each step.  I was less careful at that point.  I was already wet, so I took the easier, if wetter, pathways on my way back to the car.  I had to laugh at myself, maybe I should have just taken my shoes off and walked barefoot for the entire walk.  If I were more like those bathing suit wearing beach goers, I wouldn’t be squelching my way back to my car!

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But neither wet pant legs or squishy shoes could take away my pleasure and delight in my beach walk.  There is something healing and rejuvenating about a walk on the beach!

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Now back home, my shoes have been rinsed, the insoles removed and are sitting on the spare bathroom counter drying.  I wonder how long til they’re dry enough to wear on my next beach walk?

 

 

What’s Your Angle? SOLC 2019 Day 21

When was the last time you used a protractor?  Drawn a circle?  Measured an angle? We spent time earlier this week doing all of those things in my classroom.  There’s nothing like a new tool to pique students interest…and the protractor did just that.  Students were fascinated that protractors also have rulers on them, they couldn’t wait to experiment with them!

We used those protractors to draw a half circle on the fold and then open the full 360 degrees of circle.  Each student then had to measure an angle–one randomly assigned–and cut that angle out of the circle.  The cut out angle became the mouth of an “angle fish,” the piece removed became the caudal fin.  Some designing soon resulted in a whole school of individual angle fish!

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Why bother with angles and protractors?  Simply for a cute crafts project?  You probably know me better than that.  My students are just beginning to pay attention to angles, to recognize those perfect square corners that measure 90 degree.  To understand that triangles exist that are not perfectly equilateral, with equal angles as well.  They are starting to understand that attributes can categorize without diminishing the diversity of possibilities within those categories.

I hope geometry lessons can teach ideas that transfer far beyond polygons, sides, and angles.  I want my students to recognize that each of us brings our experiences, genetics, family backgrounds, and opinions to who we are.  That they will learn to see diversity and difference as opportunities to enrich their own experiences, to add value to our world, to push beyond their own status quo.  That they will step outside the comfort zone of sameness, and consider the view from another perspective.

I’m pretty sure my students understand the categories of acute, right, and obtuse angles…the rest will continue to be a work in progress.  After all, I’m still working out my angles too.