Category Archives: Slice of Life

Monday Musings: SOL23 Day 13

I have a colleague who shouts out an alliterative greeting to everyone she passes for each day of the week. There is no day when she utters a negative term or skips her greeting. Positivity is her way of being in the world.

Me, not so much. Some days are hard and I do think we have to face both the positive and the negative. But honestly, I weirdly like Mondays. Somehow they symbolize a new beginning each week–and who can turn down a “Magical Monday” greeting?

So today I’ll use my slice to consider some things I appreciate about Mondays.

  1. I love our “3 words about your weekend” beginning to Mondays. It’s short enough that there’s time for each of my students (and me too) to say something about our weekend–and also creates conversation starters to lean on as the day goes on.
  2. My students get to spend time in the garden on Monday mornings with our garden teacher. Today they combed the clover in search of 3 and 4 leaf clovers. One student found a 5 leaf clover! (Is that even a thing?) She came back convinced of her luck–even after she promptly lost it. I love first graders’ belief in the magic of things!
  3. I read The Lion’s Share today–a book about fractions (and some selfish, not very thoughtful animals). I love when a book provokes interesting math to be done on the spot. This one goes from “halving,” back to doubling–something we had worked on last week. There’s nothing like watching the wheels turn as students strive to solve harder doubles (64+64) and (128+128)!
  4. It’s Ability Awareness Week in our district, so we learned about a student with Cerebral Palsy who wanted to raise money to build a playground where she could play with her friends. My students immediately recognized that our playground equipment would also not be inclusive, leaving children with physical limitations out. They loved designing a playground that would be inclusive and enjoyed learning about this student who they appreciated for, in their words, “standing up for herself and for other kids.”
  5. And after a gloomy, foggy weekend I came home to sunshine this afternoon (thank you Daylight Saving Time) for my walk around the neighborhood. And to top it off, dandelion puffs were in their full glory in the couple of grassy patches we pass along the way. They always make me smile.

Mondays really are magical when I take the time to consider all that they have to offer. What will Triumphant Tuesday have to offer?

A Collection: SOL23 Day 12

I love books and I certainly have more than my share–in bookcases, stacked in piles, loaded on my Kindle, and in my classroom. Over the last decade or so, I have been making an intentional effort to diversify the books that I read in the classroom.

I’m always on the lookout for great new books–and there are so many to choose from. While I understand the value of a fine classic, I don’t think that today’s learners should have a steady diet of the same books we read as children. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to introduce students to books they might not pick up on their own–titles that might not be on the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble or might not show up as the most popular books…yet.

I’m learning to be discerning. To check out the authors. To be aware when a book written from a native perspective is actually written by a native person, and to prioritize #ownvoices when possible. I want to read books that offer students windows and mirrors, representing the widest possible array of backgrounds, cultures, abilities, and perspectives. I want the books I read to open conversations, to allow students to see themselves and to see those different from them. I want them to provoke questions, to spur action, and to offer possibility.

Some of the many books I have read to my class this year include (I limited myself to only 10 here):

All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele

Listen by Gabi Snyder

The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt by Riel Nelson

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez

Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard

Keepunumuk by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten

Fitting In by Haruka Aoki and John Olson

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

I love to talk books with teachers and others. What are some of your favorite books to read in the classroom? How do you make decisions about what to include?

A Listening Day: SOL23 Day 11

Today was a listening day. After yesterday’s afternoon and overnight rain, today dawned gray and foggy. But if I have a choice about taking my walk around the neighborhood or heading to the beach, I’m at the beach–regardless of weather.

The clouds hung low, almost touching the ground. Nearby cliffs smudged the perimeter while foamy waves rushed the shore. Without dazzling views illuminating every shade of blue, my ears took on the prime role today.

I match my breaths to the breaths of the sea, in and out, again and again. My feet begin to feel the rhythm of the bass as my ears fill with the hushed music of water. Worries take flight, joining the osprey riding the gentle currents over my head. My brain quiets as I listen to ocean’s song.

When I emerge from my private sound studio, I am calm and reenergized, ready to take on the weekend chores in front of me. My daily walk doubles as meditation today, an exercise in listening and breathing, soaking up sound and nature while my body moves in syncopated motion. I love when my walk feels like a mini vacation.

Let’s Go On a Scavenger Hunt! SOL23 Day 10

The rain held off until after lunch, so my students and I headed out to explore our school campus through our camera lenses (iPads for them). Yesterday I wrote a post about teaching students some photography techniques, today we put those techniques to use as we tracked down and photographed ten items on our scavenger hunt. I adapted some ideas from the book, Go Photo! An Activity Book for Kids, with some more concrete subjects (something bumpy) and some more abstract subjects (speed). And even when my students wanted answers, I encouraged them to figure out what to take a photo of to represent the item on the list.

Students set off to explore our playground area in search of the items on their list. I encouraged them to take their own photos and not to all take the same photos (first graders do like to copy each other). I love watching the creativity and engagement when students have a task to complete and open-ended possibilities to accomplish it. On our gloomy about-to-rain day, reflection was a challenge. When I asked a student about it, he pointed me to a piece of plastic under the climbing structure that was reflecting light. I like that kind of creativity. Water was another challenge–and it wasn’t long into our exploration that I heard a student saying, “The ocean is right over there!”

While I watched students and photographed them in action, I also participated in the scavenger hunt. I missed a few items along the way, but enjoyed the creative process as well. For reflection, I cozied up to the play structure, thinking metal would reflect. I managed a glimpse of my student’s red sweatshirt reflected in the metal. I used to bug’s eye view technique, getting low and close.

I noticed the group of 4 soccer balls, just sitting there, for my “rest” photo. Again I got close and low. I like the way the macro feature on my phone camera blurs the palms in the distance.

Like my students, I was also drawn to the ocean as my water shot. I used the palm trees as a way to frame the water in the distance.

When we returned to the classroom I had students go through their photos and list what technique they used for each item on their scavenger hunt list. I like that they needed to examine their photos carefully and determine which item was which, and what techniques they had put to use.

So now it’s your turn. Head outside or even take a look around the house. What photos might you take to document each item? What photography technique will you use to frame and enhance your photo–or just give it a more unique perspective? I’d love to see and hear what you come up with!

Taking Pictures: SOL23 Day 9

In addition to having students observe, sketch, and write under the influence of nature outdoors, I also like to have them use their iPads to take photos. I’ve learned over the years that most students take better photos if I take the time to teach them some photography techniques. So earlier this week I taught my students three photography techniques: bird’s eye view (shooting from above, looking down), bug’s eye view (getting low to achieve a low perspective, sometimes looking up), and using the rule of thirds where they use the grid feature on their camera to frame their subject thoughtfully off the center.

Once I showed them photos of the three techniques and we noticed how the photographer used their camera, we headed outside to try these techniques. The only rule: no photos of people. We were short on time (this has been quite the week), so I asked students to take 2 photos using each technique. We spent about 7 minutes outside taking photos–with me taking photos too. What I love best is that they were actively engaged in trying out the techniques. I had kids laying on their back shooting the underside of plants, kids holding their iPads up high to get that bird’s eye view, and careful framing using the grid lines.

After our reading groups and lunch we came back and took a look at the photos we captured. Each student examined their photos, remembering which technique they used for each photo. I had them pick a favorite and tell us what technique they used and why it was a favorite. Some of the images were stunning! Some were ordinary. But all students felt success–and came up with photos that were intentionally framed and for the most part, did not include their classmates. Here’s the one that resulted from the image I captured above (Thanks L!). Can you guess which technique was used?

Tomorrow we will go on a photography scavenger hunt to give students a chance to put these new skills to use. Wish me luck as we head out to explore and photograph our school campus!

Research: SOL23 Day 8

When people think beach, I think most imagine warm summer days filled with water play and sand castles. One of the things I love most about the beach is that it makes research evident. It’s not unusual on a low tide day to find scientists and students out in the tidepools with measuring tapes, notebooks, and cameras capturing the status of sea life and ocean conditions.

Recently, UCSD researchers have been conducting research where they put non-toxic pink dye in the river mouth that leads to the beach so they can document how the water moves. (I’m sure there are many more details involved, you can read more about it here.). Luckily, on one of the dye dumping days, my husband happened to be at that beach and snapped a few pics.

After a cliff failure (unfortunately this disaster happens all too often), research trucks with equipment mounted on the hood drives along the shoreline. And today, it was an ATV-like vehicle that seemed to have a camera or some other device mounted on it. It cruised up and down the coast, at times doing figure eights leaving deep ruts in the sea softened sand. At one point, the vehicle came back with another trailer-like device attached on the back. What kind of data were they collecting?

Making research visible and regular reminds us of the wonders that nature has to offer and also of the fragility of this amazing resource we call ocean. I love that I get to see research in action as a regular part of my daily routine…and that my students do too!

Art…Found: SOL23 Day 7

I love art. The kinds in museums like the MOMA and MOCA as well as many other smaller and less well known museums. I love the kind of art that kids make in school, especially the versions that allow space for individuality and creativity.

And I love the kind of art that shows up unexpectedly. Like a face peering up out of the sand, a small array of rocks, perfectly arranged to show the flip of the hair, monochromatic and striking in its simplicity.

Then there is the abandoned collection, carefully selected and arranged. Tiny shells and shiny rocks, bits and pieces of sea life laid out to be appreciated.

I love the art that is composed, either by human or by nature, with attention to an out-of-place detail that draws the eye and says, “look at me!” A single delicate blossom, maybe swirled in the briny breeze until it landed, planted in contrast to the worn edges of the sea-tossed rocks.

And the abstract composition that can only be crafted by nature’s hand, reminiscent of the polka dots Yayoi Kusama is known for, carved by wind and water. Is it art or an apartment building for sea creatures, algae, and insects?

I love that art is both made and found, and that it is open to the interpretation of the maker and the viewer. As the mom of an artist, I recognize that art emerges, oftentimes without a fully formed narrative that explains its creation, meaning, and significance. It emerges from materials, from a spark, from a moment…or from struggle, wrestling to free itself to find the light and maybe a new audience.

What art have you made, found, or supported today?

Keeper of Wild Words: SOL23 Day 6

Today we read The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith. My students were immediately drawn into this story about a grandma (Mimi) and her granddaughter (Brook). Mimi is worried that important “wild” words will disappear if we don’t use them, know them, write them, and care about them. Mimi and Brook have a list of wild words and set off into the outdoors near Mimi’s house to find the words (natural things) on the list. From wrens to dandelions, minnows to drakes, Mimi and Brook identify and appreciate all of the words on the list. In the author’s note at the end, Brooke Smith tells about her inspiration–an article about removing over 100 natural words from a children’s dictionary to make room for words like vandalism and MP3 player.

After we read and talked, we started our own lists of wild words. We had talked about how some people were already being keepers of wild words, noticing one of our students with the name River is keeping a wild word from disappearing. Of course, we had to add River to our list. You might not be surprised to learn that these southern California first graders were quick to add ocean and sunset to their lists of wild words. I had to add egret to my list–my students know I am obsessed with this quirky shore birds with the bright yellow feet.

These young naturalists were inclined to add general words–trees, sky, and clouds, so I encouraged them to be more specific. One student started writing phrases to capture her ideas more fully (she definitely wanted constellations on her list after some sky gazing over the weekend with her family).

Words matter and paying attention to wild words is another way of focusing attention on our natural world. Appreciate for and knowledge of nature and our environment is essential. I’m hopeful that the next generation will reclaim wild knowledge as they work to regenerate the resources that are on the verge of disappearing, just like the wild words Brooke Smith brought to our attention.

Curves and Angles: SOL23 Day 5

Pretty much every day is a great day to walk on the beach, and today was no exception. The weather was cool (mid 50’s) and the sun was mostly under cover, but the breeze was light and the ocean offered a nice wide walking beach.

After all the rocks yesterday (find that post here), we headed south a couple of miles for today’s walk. Rocks were few, sand was plentiful. As we walked I noticed the progress on the seawall repairs, a few brave sunbathers in bikinis, some wet-suited fishers, and a couple who seemed to be getting engagement photos taken.

As the distinctive lifeguard tower came into view, I found myself thinking about both curves and angles. Perched out on a rocky “corner,” this tower is all about the angles. It has views of the ocean to the south, to the north, and directly in front as well. And while the shape clearly has sharp angles and squared off corners, there are curves too, its shape seeming to mimic a wave swell about to break. I’d love to know more about the architecture and design process, is this shape ideal for its function?

A bit further on I spied a shore bird (I’m pretty sure this one is called a curlew). I love their long curved beaks, ideal for finding sand crabs and other tidbits buried in the sand. And as I knelt closer for a photo, the bird pulled up its wings, creating even more curves as it ran toward the water.

At the turn around point at Dog Beach, the channel that runs from the lagoon to the beach was full and running strong, creating a long curve angling from the bridge that also serves as part of the road along the coast. Just beyond it , if you look closely, you can see the horse racing grandstands at the Del Mar fairgrounds angled to have both a wonderful view of the horse racing as well as gorgeous color displays as the sun sets into the ocean.

As we headed back to the car after about four miles on the beach, I noticed a bright orange kite in the distance, curving up to catch the wind. I thought for sure it was a kite boarder heading down to the water with a surfboard. To my surprise, it was skateboarder (or something like a skateboard) on the sidewalk in front of the beach working the angles to propel himself along the ocean front.

I love the process of wandering and wondering as I walk down the beach. Today’s walk with all about curves and angles. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

Rocks to Ponder: SOL23 Day 4

As I slipped and slid over mounds of rocks today, he announced, “You know, walking over uneven surfaces is good for people our age.”

What the $%@*!

I was not feeling the joys of rocks and their slippery unevenness as I walked along the beach today. And “people our age,” what does that even mean?

Hmmpf! But I must admit, mounds of rocks do not keep me away from the beach. Even though I am a bit confounded by just why our beautiful sandy beach turns into a rock monster in the fall and winter.

Then I started noticing the different rock qualities. Does smaller gravelly rock count as an uneven surface? It is definitely easier to walk on, less slipping and sliding and maybe even a bit less sweating involved.

The larger rocks, ranging in from the size of my fist to the size of my foot, definitely create more unevenness and I find myself needing to concentrate on my footing to stay upright while trying not to turn an ankle or worse. They seem to roll and rumble, mini avalanches always a possibility. And while the photo doesn’t capture it well, they always seem to be piled up on a slant.

But then I started thinking about some non-beach rock experiences with much bigger rocks. In hiking terminology climbing up larger rocks is called scrambling (at least that is my understanding). My most vivid memory of this kind of climbing was on a hike in South Dakota a few summers ago where we scrambled to a peak with gorgeous views. It was not my favorite kind of hiking–lots of feeling like my feet were ready to skid out from under me. My solution was to lower my center of gravity and use my hands.

So just what exactly is supposed to be good about navigating over rocks or other uneven surfaces? I’m guessing this is about working on balance, building up the kinds of muscles that help with balance, maybe even developing confidence that traversing these surfaces is a possibility. Now I’m wondering, does this also apply to surfaces like snow and ice where footing is also sometimes in question? And is this physical activity also good for the brain where concentration and problem solving are needed, taking the automaticity that we take for granted on smooth surfaces?

Hmmm…more to ponder.