Tag Archives: inquiry

Photo-Inquiry…Art, Science, and Writing

I’ve been taking pictures every day for more than a year now.  Some days it’s a struggle, other days it’s pretty easy.  But one of my favorite things about being a photographer (albeit, amateur) is that it makes me pay attention…and ask lots of questions.

Yesterday I was up in our local mountains enjoying all that fall brings…colors and pumpkins and apples…on a warm fall day.  As I was photographing some beautiful leaves turning orange and red and yellow, I noticed this beautiful pine tree.

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Looking closely, I was fascinated by the texture of the bark on the tree.  And an even closer look revealed all these tiny holes…with many filled with acorns or other nuts.

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That observation set off a million questions…how does this happen, what animal does it? Does it hurt the tree?  Is it squirrels?  And then I noticed this nearby fence post.

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So it’s not only about trees…it’s about wood.  I noticed the nearby utility pole also had holes and nuts.

With all these questions running through my head, we continued our adventure and I continued to look for interesting subjects for my photography.  A while later, at the edge of a little pumpkin patch I looked up and saw a beautiful blue bird with red markings high up on a utility pole.  I thought it might be some kind of jay, but my husband was quick to point out that it was tapping the pole…a woodpecker!

We watched closely, listening to the persistent tapping as it pecked into the top of the pole.  I attempted several photographs…but one thing the iphone camera is not good at is long distance photos!  Here’s an attempt.

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If you look closely you can see a tiny silhouette at the top the pole.  As I watched I started to make connections to the pine tree and fence post I had photographed earlier.  These holes with the acorns in them were the work of an acorn woodpecker!  A little internet search today led me to this information:

The group will guard their territory, and will often have a single tree in which they store their acorns; known as a granary. A single granary may contain tens of thousands of acorns. The acorns themselves are placed individually into a hole drilled into the tree. Acorn Woodpeckers also feed on insects (including aerial flycatching), sap, and fruits.

I love that photography always ends up teaching me interesting things about nature and about the world.  It makes me pay attention, notice details, and ask questions.  It makes me curious…and makes me wonder…a perfect tool for inquiry!  And as I write this on the National Day on Writing, I get to share my photography and learning with you!  #write2connect in action!

How do you write to connect?  What do you learn from the activities you love?

Condor’s Egg: #113texts

Jonathan London is probably best known in children’s book circles as the author of the Froggy books, but he has many wonderful books that are varied in content and well written.  I mentioned Dream Weaver a couple of days ago as my contribution to the #113texts Mentor Text Challenge.  Today I want to tell you a bit about Condor’s Egg by Jonathan London.

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Condor’s Egg is a realistic story about a family of California Condors in the wild.  As is typical with London, the language is lyrical and carefully chosen.  His use of verbs evokes movement and creates a sense of action.  And as an added bonus, there is factual information about California Condors at the end of the book as well as a guide to using the book with children.

During the 2012-13 school year, after reading the book as part of our study of birds, we used a number of sentences from this book as mentor sentences for our students to study and then to replicate with their own content.

Here’s one sentence we studied: Circling, he rides the warm air, higher than the tops of the clouds. This is a tricky construction with the main part of the sentence between the parentheses where extra information is often deposited.

T (a second grader) created this sentence–a close approximation:  Roaring, they start their engines, then the drivers shoot off the starting line.

J (another second grader) came up with this one:  Building, Steve builds a square house, nice and safe!

Here’s one from a first grader (Okay–I know it’s not fair–this is a talented writer!): Running, she goes through the house as fast as she can, trying to get away from the pretend monster.

And here’s one more second grader: Diving, she is determined to catch it, landing on the dusty floor of the canyon.

We used many sentences from this book and explored creating our own sentences following the pattern of London’s sentences.  By doing this my students had opportunities to try out new sentence structures, which later showed up in their own writing.

I was thinking about the Jonathan London titles that I use…here’s a few:

  • Dream Weaver
  • Condor’s Egg
  • Puddles
  • The Waterfall
  • Like Butter on Pancakes

How have you used London’s books?  What titles do you like?

On Noticing

One of the reasons I love taking pictures is that it helps me notice.  Instead of going full-speed-ahead about my life–checking this thing or the other off my ever growing to-do list and worrying about whether I will ever get caught up–noticing helps me slow down, appreciate interesting things around me, and then I find myself asking questions.  When I watched this caterpillar wiggle its way into a chrysalis, my curiosity about everything related to monarch butterflies became insatiable.  (This incredible process happened in the planter box right outside my classroom.  I was also experimenting with using a macro lens on my phone–as seen in the top two photos–helping me to really look closely and focus carefully.  More on focus to come!)

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As a result of what I had noticed and photographed, I wanted to know more.  I researched on the web, found and read non-fiction books, watched some incredible videos, talked to people around me, and enjoyed reading some fiction as well (Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver came out at the just the right time for me!).  I think that everyone around me also learned–whether they were interested or not–about monarchs and their life cycle!  But most importantly, this event heightened my noticing behavior.  Everywhere I went, indoors and out of doors, I was noticing: paying attention to patterns, colors, numbers, textures…subtleties in the world around me.

This article a friend of mine who works at the San Diego Natural History Museum referred me to reminded me of the importance of noticing–not just for me, but also for my students.  My favorite question to my students is always, “What do you notice?”  I ask that about text, about songs, about pictures, about math and science and social studies…about just about everything!

And even though we do a lot of noticing, I wonder if there is enough time in schools for noticing, for curiosity, for inquiring into things that are interesting.  As I photograph and write my way through the summer, I will also be thinking about that question–and the actions that I will take to make sure my students have ample opportunity to notice as part of their learning experience.  What do you do to help yourself (and the young people around you) notice?