Tag Archives: learning

Take Action and Keep Reaching

One of the things I love most about photography is its complexity.  There is a pretty low floor, everybody can participate in the experience of taking photos–just point and shoot–and you’ll have a reminder of the moment you just experienced.

Because I’ve been posting a photo every day for almost five years now on Instagram (August 1, 2012 was my start date), I can track my progress as a photographer.  I can see how my choices in subject, framing, light, and overall composition continue to improve.  I can see where I have experimented with different techniques–a summer spent with a focus on my version of street photography that I called “Beach People” –and pushed my creativity and skill development.   (See #beachpeople: a documentary) I give myself new challenges to keep my photography fresh and energizing, especially since I take pictures as part of my everyday life, meaning a lot of the photos I take are at places I frequent regularly.  For me, many photos are taken at Moonlight Beach, a place where I love to walk.

Today, on our nation’s Independence Day, I was immediately drawn to the volleyball courts.  The American flags were waving, lots of people were gathering, and volleyball players were in action.  At first I wanted to capture the flags waving with the beach in the background, but then I started shooting.  My goal immediately changed and I wanted to capture a shot that showed the intensity of the play in action.  I could see that I needed to time my shot to catch the ball in play right over the net.  After a few tries, I was pretty sure I had at least one shot with the action.  Here is my resulting shot.

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The flag, the ball, the arms, and feet…and the bonus: the puffs of sand under the feet.  This image has not been edited or filtered, this is how I shot it.

Last week I was intent on capturing surfers in action during a surfing contest.  You can see my photo of Rob Machado here.  I was using my zoom lens, which makes it hard to focus and “see” the just right spot in the distance.  But I persisted and got a few nice action shots of surfers at their best.

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Leaving the beach today, we noticed some low-rider cars pulling through the beach drop off.  I started taking photos before they started showing off their hydraulics and bouncing the cars.  I was fascinated with the dance of the cars…a sort of call and response…with bobbing. popping, and even turns up on one wheel.

My camera gave me the time and focus to appreciate what these cars and drivers were offering.  I could see the complexity of the art of the low rider as I watched them maneuver their cars into position, “posture” with the hydraulics, and play with the crowd.

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I love that photography has a low floor, I was able to get started with very few skills and only minimal equipment.  My first several years of photos were taken with my phone camera.  But I also love that photography has a high ceiling.  As much as I learn, there is so much more to learn and reach for.  I still take photos with my phone and I also now use a Sony a6000 (a light, mirrorless, DSLR-like camera).  I take most of my photos in the automatic mode, knowing that there are also endless possibilities for manual adjustments.  Even in the automatic mode there are many choices that I make, from the focal distance to the framing and light.  I can see years of learning and improvement ahead of me.

Through my camera lens I am reminded that learners need both entry points and opportunity to stretch.  And that reminder carries over to my work as both a teacher of students and a facilitator of professional development for teachers too.  Let your learners in…and keep them interested in pushing themselves, in challenging “good enough” by reaching for possibility–not just completing assignments.  Just as I know there is no end to learning about photography…I also know there is no end to learning about teaching and learning.  And the goal of lifelong learning is not just my personal goal, but a goal I hold for all the learners I touch as well.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Scrutinize

Kids love big words…and we delight our students each week by including a new (big and sophisticated) word each day in our morning message. They use context clues to guess the meaning, building on their understanding each day (and if they listen carefully, by our use in our conversation and instruction too).  Once we reveal the word at the end of the week, we also come up with a gesture…and forever after, whenever they hear the word they use the gesture to indicate their understanding.

I often find myself using the vocabulary word more often once it debuts in our classroom–and this is certainly true of this week’s word: scrutinize. I was scrutinizing the abundance of frothy foam on the beach…resulting from the aftermath of rain (wind and runoff).  It was like someone’s washing machine overflowed on the beach.

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I noticed some kids on the beach…in wetsuits and winter hats playing in the foam.  It seemed to echo what I imagine its like for kids to play in the snow.  I couldn’t resist snapping a shot.  You can see it here.

We recently launched a study of some photographers…by reading a couple of fine picture book biographies.  Both Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange are inspiring our students to try their hands at photography.  We sent them out on a photography scavenger hunt, asking them to take photos from various vantages (worm’s eye, bird’s eye, side view, find lines…).  We set them loose on campus and let them explore.  And of course, I was also exploring.  Shadow was one of the categories…

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I love the intergenerational learning going on here with one of our third graders mentoring our lovely 80+ year old Esther on the scavenger hunt. You can see the two of them scrutinizing their checklist.

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The following day we asked them to scrutinize their images and figure out how to improve one.  We set out again–and I worked to improve my photo of the swing set.  I was working to capture the lines (diagonal and straight) in the side view.

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And I couldn’t resist this one of a student laying on the ground under our tall palm tree, shooting straight up in his attempt to improve on a photo taken the day before.

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As the rain moved out, sunny but chilly weather moved in.  I’ve been out walking most every day, delighting in the low tides this week.  For two days in a row now I’ve come across a great white egret feeding in the tide pools–and even though my lens isn’t quite zoomy enough to get great images, I’ve been watching and photographing this guy.

Today as I chatted with a fellow photographer (she said she’s seen this egret three days in a row), I caught a shot of the egret scrutinizing itself. Actually, it was probably scrutinizing the water for food but it’s fun to think this gorgeous, elegant creature was simply admiring its reflection in the water.

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And what is a tide pool visit without a glimpse at a sea anenome.  I often scrutinize these flower-like creatures in the pools of water revealed at low tide.  The algae is colorful this time of year creating a little garden under the briny water.

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So, what are you scrutinizing this week?  What’s making you look closely and pay special attention?  Is your camera helping you notice something you haven’t seen before?  In the words of Dorothea Lange:

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #scrutinize for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Scrutinize your world and let your camera teach you how to see…and share your results with the rest of us!

One Little Word 2017: Possibility

I’ve never been a resolution maker.  The idea of changing my life by making pronouncements on January 1st just never appealed to me…and I know me, sticking to “rules,” even those I make, doesn’t seem likely over the course of a year.  But when I heard about the idea of one little word a few years ago, I was intrigued.  The concept of choosing a word as a muse, as inspiration and aspiration seemed like a perfect idea.

In 2014 I chose the word playand let it guide my year.  And play I did.  I took some time for reflection on my word before choosing a new word here.  In 2015 my word was explore.  Explore helped me take play to a new level.  It had me searching for new experiences and seeking out new places.  I know that I surprised my husband with my willingness to do things he didn’t think I would do–and I know I surprised myself as I faced fears and branched out in new ways.  By fall of 2015 I learned that 2016 would be a year of change for me and my family as we welcomed new family members–babies!  I selected expand for 2016, going beyond the literal meaning of adding family members.  I knew that I would need to expand my horizons and perspectives in addition to embracing my new role as grandma to three baby boys!

Learning the power that one word can have on my life over the course of the year raises the stakes on choosing a new word.  I often wait a few weeks into the new year to make my selection; pondering, trying on, discarding.  I like to see others’ choices and read their thinking as another window into the selection process.  This year has been the same.  I’ve been reading the choices of others, reflecting on my past choices and considering potential words for 2017.  And even though it’s only the second of January, I feel convinced that I’ve found my word.

I’ve been looking for a word to help me push beyond my usual boundaries, to see past barriers–perceived or real–that limit my thinking.  I want this year to be about possibilities.  Possibilities like dandelion seeds, taking root where they land and thriving in unexpected places.

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I want possibility to encourage me to be kind and curious, strong and creative.  To reach out to others and seek new collaborations with possibility as a signpost.

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I want possibility to frame my thinking and take me to new understandings…and new actions.  I want to keep growing, personally and professionally, going beyond the usual and predictable and maybe even comfortable paths I have already traveled.

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I look forward to a year with possibility as my muse, a reminder to branch out, consider alternative solutions, blaze new trails, and push myself and my thinking.  I want possibility to help me build stronger relationships with family and friends and create better learning opportunities for my students.  I look forward to the possibilities that photography offers as I explore my world, familiar and beyond.

Right now, the possibilities seem endless.

 

 

Stories in Glass: Reflections on Making and Learning

Intense heat and human breath give shape to these vessels. Twirling, pinching, another breath, back into the fire, working and reworking until art emerges from what was once sand and rock. Is this what makes us human? The ability, the desire, the necessity to make…to create from the materials around us?

Evidence abounds, from cave paintings to stained glass creations, super-sized cloth installations that line valleys and islands and spray-painted graphics on the sides of railroad trestles and freeway overpasses. They all suggest a need to make and mark our world.

A visit to the Chihuly glass museum in Seattle served to pique my interest in this question of making and art. I love an art museum and had heard from others that this was a museum worth visiting. I had seen photos of glass art and had already visited a glass studio, just down the street from our favorite donut shop in Seattle. Yet, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, to see beautiful bowls and other vessels, delicate blown glass creations too pricey for my budget.

Instead, I walked into the first display and was mesmerized. My eyes were drawn to the white: shiny glass lighting up a dark room. Long stalks of lighted glass protruding like shoots from irregularly shaped bulbs. As in nature, the irregularities were an essential part of the beauty as this stalk curved, that bulb leaned. It was impossible to see where one piece ended and the reflection from the shiny black floor began, creating a sense of infinity that stretched the exhibit well beyond its actual size. This wasn’t a piece of blown glass that I was enticed to purchase, this was an installation of many glass pieces arranged and lit to create an effect. I was drawn to the description “…created by simultaneously blowing and pouring molten glass from a stepladder to the floor below…electrically charged by argon and mercury…” I stopped to take a picture or two, knowing that I would want to look at it and think about it again and again.

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I moved from space to space, now intensely curious about what each turn would offer. In one room an enormous sculpture twisted and curled to the ceiling; fish, octopi, and other sea creatures nestled within it. In another, the room was bare…until I looked up and found a glass ceiling filled with individual pieces that together created a stained-glass effect of intense color and variation. When did glass bowls and balls morph into something more: stories in glass, sweat, heat and breath?

I find myself thinking not just about the exhibits and sculptures, but about the maker and making behind the art. I’m a maker too. As a writer and blogger I use words to pull ideas closer so that I can think about them, poke and prod at them, turn them over and look under them, and invite others to look along with me. As a photographer, light becomes my medium to inscribe meaning through my camera lens. And I know that ideas in my head often don’t come out through my words or my lens in the ways I intend. But that, for me, is part of the allure…the seduction of making. I surprise myself with new understandings born from moving my fingers on the keyboard or ducking under the bench to get closer to the weed growing along the crack in the sidewalk.

I’m reminded of Seymore Papert and his theory of constructionism. In this theory, different from constructivism, learning happens when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity outside of their head that makes the learning real and shareable. The activity could be making something tangible like a robot, a puppet, or a model bridge—or it can be something less concrete like a poem, a conversation, or a new hypothesis. What’s important is that the making come from the learner rather than being strictly imposed and directed from the outside (from a teacher or an employer). This element of choice and ownership often propels the maker to tinker and improve their make to meet their own criteria for better, allowing for reflection and reworking based on that reflection. This self-directed making can be a challenge in the classroom.

Traditionally it is teachers who direct and make decisions about student learning. So it’s important to create spaces that allow students to see possibilities beyond their own experiences, yet still offer choice and opportunity for experimentation and iteration. Chihuly’s first experience with glass blowing came from a college classroom assignment that required him to incorporate a nontraditional, non fabric material into a weaving. He wasn’t directed to use glass, but may not have experimented with glass without the constraints and possibilities of the assignment.

Making is about transformation. Transformation of materials, like glass or words, or images through a lens. It is also about transformation of thinking and ideas. And it begins in playfulness. Mitch Resnick of the MIT media lab describes a cycle of learning (and making) based on his observation of young children. Beginning with imagination and spiraling out to creating, children make and learn based on their ideas. As they play with their creations and share the ideas and creations with others, they have opportunities for iteration and reflection on their experiences, which leads them back again to imagine new ideas and new projects to work on or ways to improve their original idea.

I could see this in Chihuly’s glass creations. Elements of one sculpture showed up in new ways in another, chandeliers hanging from ceilings in one display turned into bigger and more elaborate free standing sculptural elements in another. And yet, each also showed new thinking—about color, about translucence and light, about placement and size, about cultural references and interactions with the larger world. I watched a few videos that included Chihuly’s reflection on his work where he talked about how his experience with a particular exhibit gives him vision for the next. I was particularly interested in the garden beneath the Space Needle in Seattle and its origins. I learned that this space, formerly a parking lot, was a blank canvas for Chihuly, something he—in collaboration with the landscape architect—could transform to allow others to see the beauty of his hometown in new ways, to expand their experience beyond the glass into the fairyland where light and glass and flowers and bees play with the backdrop of Mount Ranier and the Space Needle. Chihuly’s reflective videos helped me see and understand the spiral of experience and design and how it propeled him to new ideas and new thinking about his chosen media.

Photography is like that for me. I find myself looking at my world through the lens of my camera, and instead of limiting my view, the lens draws my attention to details of light and shadow. I see the variation of blues in the ocean waves and the foamy white of the lacey breakwaters. The white head of the bald eagle catches my attention and I watch, rapt, as it dives and swoops and then soars into the trees. I have many photos that are not taken, where I’ve missed the moment because I moved too slowly, had the wrong lens in place, or simply had to stop and wait and watch. But those missed photos become inspiration and information for tomorrow’s attempts. As I imagine, make, share and reflect, new thinking emerges and my understandings transform.

I want this for my students too. Opportunities to make and create new understandings, to transform the world as we know it. Learning, like blowing glass, needs to nestle close to the flame—the flame of needing and wanting to know and understand—and then the learner takes a breath and blows out and maybe even includes the breath of another to add dimension, depth, and diversity. Learning needs to be shaped by the learner, to expand beyond basic facts and figures and matter in the world, and in the world of the learner. Learning needs space for reflection and nudging from co-learners and outsiders—and teachers and employers—to expand the realm of the possible. Maybe we need a museum for visitors so they can walk through the breathtaking beauty of learning at the hands of those who learn best: children.

Rather than pushing children to think more like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them. –Seymore Papert

Poetry Play

We challenged the SDAWP SI folks to transmediate their own writing by adding sound and/or animation.  And that meant that I had to figure it out too!  I know I am most comfortable with still photographs and words, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone.  After some frustrating attempts at other applications, I turned to iMovie for my make.  I used my original photos along with a couple others had taken of our group, added a poem I wrote on yesterday’s writing marathon around the UCSD campus, and then recorded my voice.

Here’s my first attempt:

I am wishing that I had taken some video on the writing marathon to add some other texture to the piece. What suggestions would you make to improve this piece?

Watch Them Soar

I can watch them for hours as they coast on the air currents high above my head. They seem to play with each other…follow the leader, tag, red rover red rover won’t you come over… Some arrange themselves in perfect formation, vees of aerodynamic perfection performing intricate maneuvers in mid flight. Others fly solo, seemingly free from the attachments of family or community.

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Birds are hard to photograph.  Maybe that’s the draw for me.  They don’t sit still and the slightest movement sends them to the sky.  They seem spare and compact, unlimited by the constraints of time and space.

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”

Robert Lynd

Birds require patience and silence.  I have to sharpen my senses, still my heart, and settle into the landscape to have a chance to watch them in action.  And when I pay close attention I learn a lot about the unique qualities of the birds I am watching–and maybe something about myself too.

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Watching birds is a lot like teaching.  The most important part of my work is getting to know my students.  I have to recognize the subtleties of their behavior, knowing when to let them grapple productively and when to step in and offer support–a place to perch until their wings are ready for the next flight.  I have to remember to be still and let the learning come rather than force my pace. Patience and silence are important here too.

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Like students, birds often seek cover, blending in with their surroundings rather than risk standing out in the open, exposed and vulnerable.  But when the space is safe enough and if you listen carefully, you’ll hear their song.  And with time you recognize those voices, even when you don’t see them.

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When the light is right for a mirror-perfect reflection, I realize that I love birds in the wild but resist the idea of caging these creatures. Yeah, they’re easier to get close to and photograph in a cage–but something essential is missing.

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But mostly, birds and students give me hope.

In the words of Emily Dickenson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Watching birds reminds me to expand my self-imposed limits and to give my dreams flight–to take to the metaphorical skies and soar.  And that’s what I want for my students too.  Their lives are awash in possibility. I hope that my small breath under their wings helps lift them to pursue their interests and passions.

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So they can soar.

One Little Word: Expand

It’s that time of year…time to choose a word to guide my year.  I’ve already selected and rejected several, testing them only to find out they were too literal or too confining, not the inspiration or guide I am looking for.

Last year I chose explore…and indeed I did explore.  I looked under rocks, climbed up mountainsides, and discovered landscapes beyond my usual experiences.

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A mushroom fairyland found in Olympic National Park near Seattle, WA

The year before that I chose play for my one little word.  Play reminded me to find the fun around me, to push against my seriousness and to make time for myself.

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On top of Iron Mountain

This year I am anticipating change.  I will take on an important new role in my life.  Very soon I will be grandma to not one, not two, but three baby boys!  And I can already feel my heart expanding as our family grows.  Over the last several years, I’ve been watching my sons walk the path toward fatherhood, becoming loving and attentive husbands and dog dads…and now nurturing, caring dads-to-be.  My amazing daughters-in-law are big in belly and heart, one carrying identical twins, both women already imagining how they will balance motherhood and work, family and friends.  I had such fun spending time with them over the holidays–talking about their dreams and fears, and watching the babies push and bump, making their presence known from the inside out.  I am lucky that even when I am not with my sons and daughters-in-law, I am the recipient of updates and what were at first mysterious sonogram portraits, becoming more familiar and now revealing hints of the features of the babies that will soon enter the world outside their mothers’ bodies. As grandma, I anticipate building new relationships with my sons and daughter-in-laws…and with these little boys who are my grandsons.  (I can’t wait!!!  The time has passed both excruciatingly slowly and in a blink of an eye, it won’t be long now!)

And I want to continue my growth in other areas of my life as well.  I am continually looking for ways to expand my understanding of teaching and learning.  How do I create conditions where learning can happen–both for my students and for myself and other adults in the room?  How do I facilitate learning within our writing project community–for myself and the others who comprise this inspiring group?  How do I ensure there are pathways that welcome new voices and new perspectives, enriching our educational community by increasing the diversity within our community?

I also want to continue to play and explore the world on my own terms. My photography continues to be a tool that encourages me to try new things and expand my visions of what is possible.  We already have some places to explore on our wish list…as nearby as Yosemite and some international destinations as well.

And so, my one little word this year is expand.  I hope to expand my heart and mind, my understanding and empathy.  I am striving for an expansive year of growth, of love, of adventure, of relationships (and not of my waistline!).

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Space to expand…both in front and behind!