Tag Archives: education

Considering Scale

Exploring different camera lenses changes my experiences with scale.  With the macro lens, I am able to magnify things that are small and make them appear larger than life.  The blossoms on this flowering tree look much different when you get up close.

cherry tree

cherry blossoms

Yesterday I was playing with my telephoto lens, and exploring the options it gives me when I take photos.  Pelicans up close are huge birds…here’s an old photo I took on the Oceanside pier with my iPhone standing pretty close to the bird.

pelican in flight

Here’s another I took yesterday using my telephoto lens looking out into the distance as I watched the pelican soar over the waves.

peleican in flight

I also noticed these hang gliders in the distance as the fog began to roll in.  They are tiny specks in the distance, framed by the beach cliffs.

hang gliders in the fog

I also had the opportunity to zoom in as the glider came closer and closer to me.

hang glider up close

What I know is I have a lot more exploring to do with determining which kinds of shots lend themselves to which lenses.  I was wishing for my smaller lens at some points during my beach walk yesterday when I had my telephoto with me.  And I definitely have moments when I am wishing for my telephoto when I have my smaller lens.  I’m not all that comfortable changing lenses in the moment…maybe I just need to accept that I will work with the lens I am using at the moment.

And as always, I find myself thinking about how this idea of scale works in the educational area. When do we need to pull back and look at the big picture, dismissing the fine details to see the overall view?  And when do we need to zoom in…with the telephoto to bring things that are in the distance closer or with the macro to magnify the small details and make them visible?  I definitely love the way my camera helps me think about my work…the macro, the telephoto, the big picture, and the individual learner.  Scale definitely matters.

Reflecting on Weeds

I’ve been pretty obsessed with weeds over the last few weeks.  These much maligned plants are resilient, tenacious, and often quite beautiful…traits I admire.

On my way home from work today I noticed that the greenhouses I passed were ablaze with color, so I pulled off the road, parked and walked to take a closer look and a few pictures.  And on my way I noticed this weed growing along the cement wall in a crack between the sidewalk and the wall.

urban weeds

When I got home I noticed that today’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge was reflection…and instead of thinking about the many photos I take of literal reflections (mostly involving water), my mind immediately went to this photo of a dandelion weed growing in the crack of a sidewalk.

I’ve reflected on many aspects of weeds in the last couple of weeks: their beauty, the role of a negative label, and about things that we see as expendable. Every time I see a weed I find myself thinking about its positive qualities…and wondering if a particular plant is seen as a weed depending on the context.  After I photographed the dandelion weed I also noticed the salty susans growing wild in the dirt where the sidewalk stopped.  I wondered…are these weeds or are they native plants?  And really, what is the difference?  If these yellow blossoms were in the crack of the sidewalk would that make them a weed?

salty susan

And as I finished my parent-student-teacher conferences today I was thinking about the qualities the educational establishment values in learners.  What about the students who don’t quite fit the profile of the ideal learner?

I heard a piece on the radio this morning about the rate of suspension and expulsion in schools of students of color…and know that there is no reasonable explanation for these statistics. These children are being seen as “weeds” in the system, intentionally or unintentionally, and this has to change.  How we talk about kids and how we define success plays a huge role in the ways kids are treated in schools and other contexts.  Plucking them out is not a viable solution…and there’s plenty of research to support that premise.

I think the answer lies in broadening our definitions of school success.  I also think we need to consider what we expect of students.  Do we want them to sit quietly or do we want them to learn?  Is reading from a textbook or listening to lectures the best pathway to learning?  How do we support students in finding their own experiences in the content we teach?  What environments do we cultivate to encourage the growth of students who are quite different from each other?  How do we engage families and learn from them and with them about their children?

For me, weeds are an object of reflection…and of fascination.  And they generate question after question for me to consider as I strive to improve my teaching practice.

And watch out…I might just have an entire garden full of weeds one of these days!

Poverty and Programming…and Questions

My internet crashed last night.  The TV wasn’t working, my computer wouldn’t pick up the wireless, and the micro-cell that boosts the cellular phone signal was down too.  I had digital devices…but no connection at all.

I had big plans…to watch some Sunday night football, to do some online holiday shopping, to put together a blog post, and to catch up on some reading of posts made by others.  Instead, I finished my book, put some laundry away, and went to bed a bit earlier than I might have otherwise.

My internet is back up and working today…but my experience last night turned my thoughts to issues of equity and access for students.

It seems that when people think about access to technology, devices are at the front of their thinking.  If only we could put a device in the student’s hand, issues of access are solved.

But there is just so much more to access.  Last night I had access to devices…but none of them would connect me to the internet or allow me to connect in any other way (text, phone, social media, even TV).  I thought about getting in my car and heading down to the local Starbucks to have a cup of coffee and accomplish some of what I planned to do at home.  I didn’t have any hard deadlines…and I knew that I would have internet access when I got to work this morning, so I decided to stay home and do without the connection.

But what if I were a high school student with a Monday morning deadline?  What if I didn’t have reliable internet access in my home…and what if I didn’t have transportation as an option to get me to the Starbucks, the library, or even a friend’s house with internet access? Even if the school provided me with a device, there are so many things I couldn’t do without internet access.

I know there are programs to provide internet service to families with limited means, but I also know that they require paperwork be filled out…and may even require some kind of bank account or credit card to pay the nominal monthly fee.

So why am I writing about this?  I’m thinking about the amount of school work that is assigned as homework. to be completed outside of school and the role that digital tools increasing play in our lives and I’m wondering about how access impacts our students.  Can they create digital portfolios to showcase their learning?  Can they access the information they need to locate resources for research, find scholarship and grant opportunities, secure internships or apply for employment?

How does access change when connectivity is only available outside of your home?  In public spaces?  Places with limited hours of operation?

And what do we take for granted?  We ask students to blog, to research, to reply to discussion boards, to collaborate with Google docs…often outside of the school day.  Which of our students have access…and what happens to those who don’t?  Do our students who come from the poorest families see themselves as producers of technology?  Who is learning to code?  Who is primarily consuming in our digital world and who is producing?  How often do we ask those questions…and how do the answers change the way we think about access and equity?

Last week on Teachers Teaching Teachers, we were on a Google Hangout talking about the Hour of Code and about Dasani.  Two disparate topics…or are they?  Poverty and programming…and questions of equity, voice, agency… What roles do schools play?  What roles should they play? What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century?  How does “producing” change the learner…the learning?  I have many more questions than answers…and I would love to continue the conversation.  What do you think?

Making Time for Making

We’ve been doing a lot of making in our classroom this past week and a half.  Snowflakes, poinsettias, Hopscotch projects…  It’s not that we don’t make at other times, but it seems that we have really gotten in the flow of making lately.

I love it when we can give ourselves and our students the time to plan, design, improve, and finalize a project.  Our snowflakes were just such a project.  Math and science, reading and writing, along with problem solving and some systems thinking all came together to create animal shaped snowflakes that will be accompanied by original snowflake poems later this week.

I wrote about the start of the project here and the value of tenacity and iteration for students.  Our students had at least four opportunities to create their snowflake designs–with time to study their own and others’ attempts in between.  And yesterday, all of our students successfully created an animal-shaped snowflake of their own design.  (We did not provide templates, although we did help the few students who needed some additional scaffolding.)

Here are a few examples…and remember these students are 6, 7, and 8 years old!

If you look closely you will notice a moose, a giraffe, a squirrel, and a lizard in these four designs.

Students also created winter scenes using computer programming yesterday.  You can read about it here.  And then today, in addition to writing about snowflakes, we began assembling the poinsettias we are making from the paper we painted on Monday.

They still need their finishing touches…but already are beautiful!  And students have learned a lot about poinsettias and a bit about their history.  (The Ecke family, locals from our area, established themselves as primary producers of poinsettias around  the world!)

But what I love best about this making is the productivity and collaboration from our students.  They love making…and once they get past the fear of failure, are willing to take risks and try new ideas to improve their products.  And we see evidence of students taking these ideas home and trying them out there.

One of our students came in this morning with a huge snowflake…a good three feet across…that she made at home.  She had talked her mom into a trip to Michaels to get the big paper that she designed (a butterfly), cut and decorated…and then brought to school so we could see what she had done.

I know there are people who might call these activities “fluff” and complain that this isn’t real learning.  For those people, I wish they could see the energy and enthusiasm, the collaboration and problem solving…and all the reading, writing, math, science and history that are learned in the process of the making.

Have you made time for making lately?

It’s the Little Things

Yesterday I dug out my macro lens and started playing with it again.  It’s one of those things that I love, but I have to stop what I’m doing, take the cover off my phone, unscrew the macro lens from the wide angle, attach it and then lean in to photograph my subject.  Using the macro means coming close, taking time to steady myself and my breathing, and holding still for the perfect shot.  It’s easy to get the focus wrong and come away with a blurry shot.

And in spite of all of that, I love the vantage the macro lens offers.  I get to see small things in new ways.  Things that are easily overlooked suddenly come into focus, creating a stunning new way of understanding the subject.

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A familiar TED talk also crossed my Twitter feed this morning.  Angela Duckworth talking about her research about what makes students successful…was it intelligence or something she calls grit?  She found in case after case, holding all other variables steady, that grit made the difference.

This 6 minute video is well worth your time.  But it’s also important to think about not just students and how hard they work, but also how teachers view persistence and effort.  A growth mindset, as described by Carol Dweck, means that errors are seen as part of the learning process.  Mistakes are an opportunity for learning, not an indicator of lack of effort or lack of intelligence.

So back to the macro lens and the little things.  With the help of the macro lens I can appreciate the beauty of things I hadn’t paid much attention to before, like this half blown dandelion in my yard.

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And with a growth mindset I can also appreciate the little things about my students as I notice how they approach a math problem or understand a science concept or even where their struggles are with decoding.  Instead of seeing what they can’t do, I pay attention to the beauty of what they do know and help them use their strengths as tools to make progress where things seem hard.

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Like these tiny, ethereal dandelion seeds, learners can take the seeds of understanding from one subject and plant them in others.  And as teachers paying close attention, we can help our students identify their strengths and repurpose them in other situations.

When I went outside this morning the cactus flower blossom in the pot near my front door was closed…looking droopy and like it might be ready to fall off.  But since I was playing with my macro lens, I leaned in and got close…and captured this.

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Without the lens, my eyes did not capture the beauty and colors that my camera could see (all of these photos are unedited originals).  I noticed later in the day when the sun had reached the door that the blooms opened, yellow and vibrant.

I’m glad that I took some time with my macro lens today…and with Angela Duckworth’s TED talk.  Tomorrow I return to my classroom after a week away for the Thanksgiving holiday. And I’ll be looking closely and leaning in to notice all that my students bring to the learning…even when it seems hard…to appreciate their strengths and re-view their mistakes. We’ll be developing our grit…together.

Working from the Why

Everyone loves a field trip…right?  Or maybe not…  As a teacher I like the way that field trips give my students a shared experience and helps to make abstract science or social studies concepts more concrete.  I also like to give my students access to experts in the field and help them imagine professions where this content learning is applied.  But…to get these outcomes, teachers have to plan carefully and connect classroom learning to the resources of the field trip destination.

The San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), along with the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM) and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (Fleet) are partnering in a National Writing Project (NWP) and Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) initiative investigating the intersections of science (or STEM) and literacy (with an emphasis on writing).  Yesterday we launched our work  with ten formal educators (who work in public schools) and ten informal educators (who work in the museums mentioned above), with a particular focus on field trips.

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The facilitation team (of which I am a part) decided to launch our work by focusing on the why of the work.  Why is it important to re-examine field trips and consider ways to improve the experience for students and to create supportive structures for teachers and other adults who accompany young people to museums and other field trip sites?

Inspired by a TED Talk by Simon Sinek entitled How Great Leaders Inspire Actionwe spent our first (of 5) sessions focused not on the what or how of our project.  We sent teams of educators out into the museums to observe and experience an exhibit through a set of prompts that invited them to look and try through a variety of different lenses, and write about their experiences.  They critiqued the exhibit–not to find fault with it–but as a way to consider what structures might support learners’ interest, inquiry, and pique curiosity.

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Our short, but intense day left us with a desire to take action…to figure out how to make field trips amazing learning experiences, with students at the center.  One comment from the end of the day reflections is still bouncing in my head,

…the “why”has the power to transform educational practices.  From field trips to worksheets to projects, I wonder how many educators push past the “what.”

Our goal with this project is to do just that–to push past the what and consider the why. The why is where the action sits…and we want to take action toward improving field trip experiences for students by supporting the adults who facilitate them: teachers, museums educators, chaperones, and parents.

I can’t wait to see where this project takes us…  If only I had a window into the future to get a hint at just what the possibilities might be!

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What do you love about field trips?  What does your ideal experience look like, feel like, leave you thinking about?

Structures

I treated myself to a walk on the beach today after a writing project meeting at the university.  So instead of walking on the beach near where I live, I walked on the beach down the hill from the university.  It was foggy and cool, a perfect day for thinking and reflecting.

As I was walking I was thinking about the meeting…a follow up to the Invitational Summer Institute (a 4-week intensive leadership institute in the teaching of writing)…and the structures that we need as learners to move along the continuum from novice to expert (with the endpoint constantly moving) and from follower to leader.

The structure of the Summer Institute (SI) is designed to immerse teachers in writing, researching, reflecting on their practice, and critical conversations about teaching and learning.  The structure is strong and well built, based on the 40-year-old model developed by National Writing Project founder, Jim Gray.

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This pier is also a carefully designed, well built structure made to withstand the battering waves of the Pacific Ocean and the relentless wind and sun.  I love the way when you look through the pier it narrows and provides a window through the corridor of surf out to sea just like the SI helps teachers look carefully at policy and practice and then focus on instruction that best supports the students in front of them.

And some of the structures we depend on are organic like these cliffs.

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They are shaped by the natural environment.  I watched our SI participants create their own structures as well.  They gathered this morning, organically, catching up with each other as we, as facilitators, finalized our last minute plans.

And then there are structures that are light and flexible, like this feather on the beach.

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It makes me think of our Twitter Fellow of the Week.  This playful use of social media supports more weight than you might imagine.  While we originally saw this program as a way to connect to one another within our project by giving each other a glimpse into a week in the life of an SDAWP educator, it has proven to do more.  When teachers use Twitter as a professional learning network, their interactions begin to impact their practice.  Suddenly they are reading more professional articles about education, “listening in” to debates about policy and practice, getting and sharing ideas from others (within our site and beyond our site), and making their own classroom practice more visible.

Today we asked our SI 2013 cohort to sign up as Twitter Fellows…and starting tomorrow we will begin to get a glimpse into their lives.  (You can follow @SDAWP_Fellow on Twitter) Those who are more confident on Twitter signed up first…but others are willing to dip a toe into this unfamiliar world of tweets and hashtags and mentions.  And they have the rest of the SDAWP community who are happy to help…and the others in their cohort will also be “listening” on Twitter, ready to respond and retweet and favorite…so they won’t be hollering into the dark.

My beach walk today was quiet and introspective as I thought about all the structures I noticed…and those we use to support learners.  Structures can help us stretch and reach and connect as we learn and grow.  What structures support you?  What structures support your students?