Tag Archives: learning walk

Following the Tracks of Lights

It’s December and the frenzy of the holidays is in full swing.  With only a week until school breaks for the winter there are projects to complete, plans to create…not to mention the shopping, decorating, event attending and more that comes with the season.

Our neighborhood is one that hangs their Christmas lights on Thanksgiving weekend, with each house just a bit more sparkly than the one next door.  With the short days and early dark I notice the lights coming on as I head home on the evening.  We’ve been talking about taking time to go out and walk our neighborhood after dinner one night so we can look closely at the lights rather than simply drive by them on the way home.

So, in spite of being tired on a Friday evening after a busy, work-filled week, we headed out tonight to follow the tracks left by the lights.

Bundled up in heavy (Southern CA heavy) jackets and with camera in hand, we set off.  We decided to go in the direction that we don’t see on our way home each day, up and around the corner.  In addition to the lights on the houses, we also noticed the tracks left by the stars in the sky.  As I photographed electric lights, my husband searched the sky for tracks of constellations (and consulted his constellation app for more information about what he was seeing).

The traditional white icicle lights are definitely the most common decoration in the neighborhood.  But there is no shortage of the traditional trappings of Christmas.  We found Santa…with a couple of arctic bears.


And a variety of versions of reindeer, including the red-nosed Rudolph.  I’m partial to this more natural version set in among the trees (even if they are palm trees).


And it wouldn’t be Christmas without a trail marked by candy canes!


A couple of houses sported these inflatable characters.  During the day they appear to be melted as they sit deflated until they are plugged in at dusk.


We saw twinkling lights, flashing lights, lights that were all red, lights in trees, on bushes, wrapped around pillars and poles.  Lights arranged in the shapes of trees and wreaths. Sometimes the simplest were the most beautiful.


I often wonder about the electric bill of the people with the most lights.  Do they plan for the increased usage as part of their annual budget?  I have to admit, my house is one of the unadorned with only the porch lights to penetrate the dark.  And yet I enjoy the display of lights my neighbors set out, adding light to the long nights of December.


Following the tracks of lights was a perfect ending to a busy week.  Walking in the crisp cool evening was energizing and it was fun to notice the details of the displays and even get some new perspectives on decorations I had only previously seen from a particular angle.

I might just add this activity as a December tradition…and maybe even branch out a bit further to take a look at how others create tracks with lights.  This was definitely a learning walk…my first focused on lights!

A Jury Duty Learning Walk

I did my civic duty this morning–I showed up for at the county courthouse at 8am for jury duty. And after a full fifteen minute pep talk from a judge trying to convince us all about the importance of our presence and the value of the jury system…and even quoting (from memory, as he pointed out) from the Declaration of Independence (not the preamble–the “stuff” in the middle), the mood in the room still seemed that of obligation, anxious waiting, and whiling away time.

The next fifteen minutes were spent on a video that reiterated the importance and value of serving as a juror and explained a bit about how the courtroom operates.  (Don’t take it personally if the lawyer excuses you, it’s all part of how the law works!)  And then we spent the next ten minutes or so filling in the back of our summons assuring that we were legally qualified to be jurors, signing our names and including a contact phone number.  As we passed the paperwork in, the approximately 300 potential jurors were entitled to our first ten minute break (we’d been there less than an hour).



As you can see, the jury lounge is not a particularly comfortable or visually stimulating place. There are a few tables around the edges of the room for those who want to work on their laptops (although not nearly enough electrical outlets) and some free, although spotty, internet access.  People read, chatted, knitted, played with their devices, slept, and some did work (I can raise my hand for that one!).  After about another hour we were granted another break–the difference between a break and not being on a break is that you can wander out of the jury room although the coffee cart in the hallway wasn’t much different than the vending machines inside.

After three hours in the jury lounge, we were summoned for an announcement.  There would be no need of jurors today and all 300 + of us were excused.  Be sure to clock out on your timesheet and leave your badge holder and pencil for others to use.

Whew!  I was relieved to be dismissed.  Not because I don’t want to serve on a jury, but because the uncertainty of the when and how long make my life complicated.  As a teacher, it’s hard to be at the courthouse wondering if I will be asked to return tomorrow–and then needing to arrange for a sub, make plans for someone else to carry out and miss all the intangible evidence of learning that can only be understood by being there.  So I’m happy to have finished my duty for at least a year.  But I do worry about how this system works…and who is actually willing and available to serve on juries.

After being dismissed I took a little time to walk through the buildings and take a closer look at this public place.  To be honest, the place is bleak.  Long hallways with institutional white walls. No decoration, harsh lighting, guards at the doors, and lots of worried looking people waiting, and waiting, and waiting.


As I left the building I took a few minutes to appreciate the beautiful fall day.  Warm with a little breeze…and some silky, billowy clouds in the sky.  As I looked back at the courthouse I noticed that the clouds were reflected in the high windows above the entrance.  This bit of beauty remains imprinted on today’s experience.


Taking time for a learning walk always changes my experience…for the better.  Slowing down, looking closely, and taking time to reflect creates opportunities for learning and new perspectives.  I hope you make time for a learning walk soon.

Does Design Matter? A Terminal Walk

A week or so ago Bart over at the #clmooc shared this blog post about classroom design and it’s impact on teaching and learning.  Yesterday I spent the day traveling from New York back home to San Diego and in the process spent time in three airport terminals.

Since I had a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I took the opportunity to take a short learning walk to give myself the opportunity to think about my experience through the photographs I took.

Airports are funny places.  Institutional, highly regulated, and not terribly comfortable.  The food is pricy—and not usually all that good, the restrooms are not as strategic as we would wish, and there are never enough plugs to recharge those electronics that are so necessary these days.  And yet, as travelers we spend significant time in these places.

As I walked through the terminal I noticed the usual features—the Starbucks, the strategically placed trashcans, and the lettered and numbered gates.

And then I looked up.  I noticed the green glass (or plastic or Plexiglas) on the ceiling.  In some places the same design was yellow and others more of a tan color.


Down the main corridor looking up meant seeing flags from countries all over the work—and a world sculpture all under the latticed ceiling that lets natural light into the terminal.


I saw plenty of vehicles of the golf cart variety.  Some were moving with flashing lights and beeping noises as they transported travelers who needed some extra help getting from gate to gate.  I also found a place where three vehicles were parked…and loved watching the little boy “driving” the one with the awning.


The chairs designated for those with physical handicaps were red in this terminal.  I did notice right away that they were different from the other chairs.


I also noticed some new, more unusual design features.  There were the walls of plants on either side of a bank of chairs facing the windows.  A closer look revealed that they hold potted plants arranged to fill both sides and the top so it looked much like a shrub.  I also saw the interactive big screen game…challenging those who pass by to try to beat the latest fastest time.

plant wall


These last two features remind me a bit of a hamster cage with the wheel for exercise or a fish bowl with the castle to make the glass bowl seem like an undersea world.  They are still containers meant to keep the pets both healthy and restricted, but probably serve the pet owner more than the animal they hold.  The plant wall and the interactive game don’t change the terminal experience, people are still contained inside the terminal building–and often experience boredom associated with waiting and waiting…

These props seem almost like bean bags in the classroom for reading.  They make things a bit more comfortable, but don’t fundamentally change the experience of the space.  Bart talked about the workbenches he wanted for his classroom–to shift the experience for learners from recipients of knowledge to makers as learners.

I’m thinking about the ways the design of spaces impact our actions, our feelings, our experiences.  What are the implications for classrooms?  For airport terminals?  For living and learning?

Breaking Through #Orange

I love the challenge of taking and posting a photo every day.  I could just take a picture, but the daily/weekly prompts push me to reframe and rethink what I choose to photograph.  This month’s challenge–a different color every week–has posed some new considerations for my photography.  Red and yellow pushed at my choices and had me thinking about and looking for ways to highlight those colors photographically.  I was still finding interesting scenes and objects…at least one each day that “fit” in the color frame for me.  This past week was orange and I began to feel that the task was hard.  I could find orange–but it seemed so ordinary and overdone–caution cones, warning signs, and flowers.  So I photographed a mural, those ever-present cones, some orange furniture, and made a mural collage.


But my photos were feeling boring–I wasn’t inspired.  Apparently, somewhere in the process of spending a week focused on a color I had raised the photography bar for myself.  I wanted interesting, provocative, artistic shots–and they still needed an orange focus.  The orange umbrellas from Friday were a bit better–I like the framing of the shot.


On Saturday serendipity struck and I was given a small orange bead that became the focus for both my photo and a blog post.


And then on Sunday (the last day of orange) I had a breakthrough of sorts.  My learning walk gave me the time, space, and focus to tune into the orange around me in interesting ways.  I ended up posting these three:


berry with orange


And there were a few others that I haven’t posted yet.

So today begins green.  I like taking the opportunity to reflect on the week of photos and think about my growth as a photographer and my thinking about how the constraints of the photo-a-day challenge (self-imposed) support and/or interfere with my creativity.  What am I missing when I focus on a theme or prompt?  What do I gain when I force myself to “see” through a constrained lens?

I’d love to know what you think!

Learning Walk: a Photo Essay

I made time for a learning walk this morning, just a 30 minute or so ramble up the paths around this conference center in the woods.  For me a learning walk is a quiet introspective time for noticing the world around me.  I find that in addition to looking for interesting images to capture with my iPhone, I am more attuned to sounds during a learning walk.  This morning’s walk in the warm, but not too warm sun of Westchester, New York was accompanied by a symphony of birds as they called to one another and flitted through the leaves and branches of the plentiful trees.  The backbeat percussion was provided by the hum of cicadas.  Occasional scurrying sounds suggested that I was not alone on my walk.


As I headed up the hill I noticed this rustic chimney on a building along side the path.  I went around the other side hoping to find a beautiful old building, but really, the chimney was the outstanding feature.  I noticed a sign pointing the direction of the tree house.  A tree house?  I was intrigued and continued my walk.

tree house

This isn’t my definition of a tree house.  Looks more like a conference building near trees–not stunning or particularly interesting.  But…I took a few minutes to sit on a picnic bench and attach my macro lens to my phone and then set off to explore some of the plant life.



I love the texture of this thistly plant…and its spiky stem and leaves.  But this week is orange in my photo-a-day challenge, so while I was drawn to this beautiful purplish-pink I continued to look for examples of orange.

orange berries

berry with orange

I discovered that these berries that I had seen as red, had a stage where orange was prominent.  And I love the hint of orange highlights on this berry!

As I looped around the tree house to head back I noticed some other buildings and happened on this interesting little building…with a rusty orange stovepipe!

rusty pipe

I backtracked the way I had come, noticing things I had missed on my way up.  A tree stump with a hole.  I wonder what might live in there?

tree hole

I also wondered if there were storms here in the winter.  These roots from a very large tree are facing up instead of anchoring the tree in the ground.


I came across this clearing…a surprise opening in the otherwise moderately dense woods.  I wonder why this space is open?  Does it have a use?  Is it a pasture of some sort?  It looks freshly mowed.

open field

I returned to the conference center with lots of interesting things to think about.  I love taking the time to notice and wonder.  It’s a great way to explore a new place and also to allow for re-seeing someplace you already know.  For me, the photography aspect keeps me from turning my learning walk into a work-out, speeding by without taking the time to stop and notice something that catches my eye…or ear.  I saw so much more than I captured with my camera…the elegant white moths that fluttered around the plants, the way the sky looked through the trees, the tiny white flowers that were enough off the path that I didn’t venture through the brush in my flip flops.

I want to provide time for my students to take some learning walks this year.  We might take our ipads and do some photography.  Or we might take our sketch pads and stop to capture our noticings that way.  We might even head out with our writer’s notebooks.  Whichever tool we choose, the important part of the process is taking the time to notice…and then taking the time to think and reflect to make sense of the experience once we return.  I hope to share some of our class learning walks when school starts in the fall.

I invite you to try a learning walk.  I’d love to know what you notice and learn along the way.

Being Intentional

Barb’s blog post about her yellow walk on Wear the Cape Tuesday takes me back to a week or so ago when I first heard of something called streetview that seems to be some version of something we are tagging in the Connected Learning MOOC as a #learning walk.  The streetview/learning walk is not really something new, it involves that ever important skill of noticing that I wrote about the other day and adds another intentional element: documenting the noticing.  The documenting described in the sreetview make was photography—convenient for me!

I tried my own version of a learning walk last week focused on the parking garage at UCSD.  I took some pictures, found an app that would let me put them in a collage (many collage apps seem to have a six photo limit—but I needed more), and then thought about what that composition said to me about my experience.


I love that this composition takes away a lot of the cold, institutional feel of the garage and highlights the icons, textures, and angularity.  It would be interesting to capture the smells and sounds of the garage as well as the things to see–capturing more layers of the garage experience.  Mostly what occurs to me by doing this exercise is that I was more aware of interesting details, noticing things I hadn’t noticed before.  (I hadn’t been aware of the electric cart parking space–is that for the all the golf cart-like vehicles?  I’ve never seen one parked in the parking garage!)

In addition to my streetview and Barb’s yellow walk, on Wednesday Linda @hirshmiller, who is also participating in SDAWP Photo Voices photo-a-day, read a piece of writing about her increased noticing as a result of her search for yellow this week.  We were all incredulous as she described her amazement at noticing that her cat, Flounder, had yellow eyes.  And how that discovery sent her on a mission to wake the sleeping pets and peer into their eyes to see what color they are.  (For me, that would have been a small job…for her with her husband’s animal rescue mission and her kids’ aspirations toward animal-focused careers, that meant checking the eyes of 55 animals!)

These experiences are reminding me how important it is to be intentional as we move through our lives, to be open to noticing new details, and to uncovering interesting connections.  Writing does that too…when I write regularly (like I am doing now with this new blogging adventure) I pay close attention to the world around me and make connections in unexpected ways.  What have you noticed lately?