Tag Archives: Balboa Park

Architecture: The Structure of Learning

We have a beautiful urban park here in San Diego.  Open space, trees, a lily pond, fountains, trails, museums and restaurants…including some ornate and historic architecture that dates back to the Panama-California exhibition in 1915.  In these storied surroundings, I’ve been spending time with a group of formal and informal educators investigating ways to improve school field trips through a project we call Intersections.  (I’ve written before about it here and here.)

As I spent the day at the San Diego Natural History Museum today, observing a group of high school students on a field trip, I found myself thinking about architecture.


As the educator-researchers in our group discussed what we observed watching students during their field trip today, our conversation moved to the carefully planned structures that support students’ independence and dispositions toward learning.  Field trips have traditionally depended on adult-centered structures that keep students “on-task,” ensuring that the trip has documented educational value in the form of completed packets of answered questions rather than trusting students to be interested in what they find in front of them.

Over lunch, our Intersections leadership team chatted with an external evaluator–a part of our larger National Science Foundation grant– about our observations and tentative conclusions. And we found ourselves thinking about and talking about all the learning that happens that we are not able to document.  When we take students outside the classroom, what are we hoping for?  What can they learn that the classroom environment doesn’t offer?  And why then, do we keep trying to make field trips more like school?

As I look at this photo of a young woman using her cell phone to photograph an owl, I wonder how we encourage students to use tools and processes they use outside of school to support their own learning.  How will this student use this photograph?  What was she aiming for as she composed the image?  How can students’ digital lives interact in positive ways with their school lives?


And as my colleague described her understanding of the development of social capacity, a concept important in her binational work, my understanding of the learning that happens on field trips continued to evolve.  A field trip is not a classroom lesson, it is a social event, a shared learning experience outside the school environment.  And while students certainly learn some content, they are also developing social capacity–as representatives of their school and class in a public arena.  They are navigating unfamiliar spaces, coming in contact with people they don’t usually see, interacting with adults–docents, volunteers, vendors, scientists, researchers–and exploring materials not present in their classrooms and schools.


And in the best of situations they are figuring out how to interact with the space, people, and information in meaningful ways.  I loved this informal game I observed today…a chaperone and his group spontaneously started counting the animals they spied in this coastal sage environment.  Someone saw 9…and another saw 12, someone else saw 15.  They started pointing them out to each other, looking closely, naming what they saw.


And another researcher watched a pair of students challenge each other on the native/nonnative quiz in the patio area.  The goal was to win…and the game was calling on prior knowledge and combining it with what they were observing in the exhibit.  And they were having fun…being social, laughing, enjoying themselves…and learning.

So what is the underlying architecture of a successful field trip…that structure that enables students to engage in learning on their own terms?  That takes advantage of the place and the richness of expertise and artifacts that aren’t present in the classroom?  And that honors the beauty and elegance of learning…not for a grade or a test, but because we are inspired and motivated to learn because we are learners–driven to make sense of our world, on our own terms.





Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

Here’s the week 8 Weekly Photo Challenge prompt for the NWP iAnthology!  (Here are weeks 123456, and 7 if you want to look back.)

If we’re lucky, there are places in our communities where cultural experiences take place.  That word culture has lots of different meanings depending on your frame of reference.  But commonly, culture has to do with access to music, art, and other learning opportunities.

In San Diego we are lucky to have Balboa Park, a beautiful urban park right in the downtown area.  It has many museums, our world famous zoo, a botanical garden and lily pond, international houses, a theatre, an organ pavilion, gardens, a world class restaurant, lots and lots of walking and hiking trails and so much more.  It was the site of the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, and is about to celebrate its centennial anniversary.

balboa park fountain

This iconic fountain is a favorite place for people to meet, to relax, to cool off, to people watch, and to enjoy the outdoors.  Even on a rainy day like today (hooray for rain!), you can sense the beauty and specialness of this place.  And for me Balboa Park is a cultural experience–whether I am exploring the museums or simply people watching, this is a place where culture is alive and well.

So this week’s photo challenge is to share a photo that represents culture to you. What image stirs up a cultural experience or helps you explore your own culture?  Share a photo (or several) that pictures culture in some way.  Post either the photo alone or along with writing inspired by the photo.  I also invite you to use others’ photos as inspiration for your own writing and photography.  I often use another photographer’s image as “mentor text” for my own photography, trying to capture some element in my own way.

I like to share my images and writing on social media…and I invite you to share yours widely too. (You might consider Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+) Use the hashtag #culture and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy.  You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602.  I’d love to follow you if you share your handle.

You can also share your photos and writing by linking to this blog post or sharing in the comment section below.  I am excited to see how you represent culture through your lens!

Carousel Horses: What Stories Do They Tell?

With my photography this week, I have been focusing on curves.  And somehow, when I am out taking pictures that concept/word “curves” keeps getting translated in my head to “round.” Now I know that round and curves are related–that curved surfaces often result in roundness. So yesterday when I parked for a meeting in Balboa Park–our city’s urban park–the carousel immediately drew my attention.  I could hear the festive music as the merry-go-round started its trip around and around.  I took a few pictures as I thought about this curved trajectory and the combination of movement around and up and down.


I like the way this photo (with no filters applied) shows the movement of the carousel horse.  I can also see the curved lines above.  The people riding–adults and children–were energetic, giving off that feeling of summertime fun.  I decided to move to my hipstamatic app–and dialed a couple of film types and lenses.  One of them, this gangsta lens creates a round frame.


And while the curved frame works for my photo-a-day theme, what I love about this picture–and I knew it when I tapped to take the picture–is that somehow I had caught the guy with the while cowboy hat in the frame.  In some ways this particular picture feels timeless–the “tough” guy in the white cowboy hat (doesn’t that make him a hero?) with the white t-shirt and jeans on a carousel horse with the young woman nearby.  He’s on the outside so he can reach out for the brass ring, showing everyone his skills on this classic summertime ride.


This third photo is another hipstamatic photo using Americana film and lens that gives a retro feel to the picture.  It also gives the sense of movement–but doesn’t have the same feel of summer as the other more colorful photos.

I’m wondering how photos like these might prompt my students’ writing and storytelling.  How does the visual invoke the powers of imagination?  What evidence is contained in these photos that leads to character development?  An advertisement?  An argument of some sort?  Where would you go with one of these photos as a prompt?