Tag Archives: National Day on Writing

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


People all over the nation are celebrating the power of writing this week and next.  October 20th is the National Day on Writing…and with it falling on a Sunday, there are even more days to celebrate writing.

We’ve planned for multiple parts to our celebration of writing…in our classroom, at our school, in our district…and beyond.  And with the theme, write2connect, we’ve focused on how writing connects.

In our district every class has worked to create a puzzle piece highlighting student writing…that interconnects with the other puzzle pieces to create a collage of writing at each school site.  For our pieces (we have two since our class has two teachers and twice as many students) each student has a puzzle piece that interconnects to create the larger puzzle piece.  In their individual puzzle piece each student answers the question, how does writing connect us?  They included answers like writing letters to grandparents, sending emails, writing books and notes, and connecting with teachers in their Homework Writer’s Notebooks.


Our school-wide puzzle will be unveiled on Monday…stay tuned!

Today we also physically connected with older students at our other school to write together.  Nearly 100 students in grades one through five spent the morning playing with writing.  Using the Common Core text types as broad categories, they explored writing about the same topic in three different ways.  This whirlwind of writing was such fun…and successful.  Students wrote an amazing amount–and such variety, they wrote about soccer and horses and books and clubs and so much more.  In our last few minutes at the end of our allotted time, a few students read their writing aloud while the others guessed whether the writing was primarily narrative, informational, or opinion in nature.

I love watching writers at work!  They were so focused and engaged as they scribbled ideas into their writer’s notebooks.  They all wrote and wrote and wrote…and we didn’t have nearly enough time to hear all who wanted to share!


And we have more in store on Monday!  We will be participating in a large-scale “chalk talk” posted in our wall ball courts…and admiring our puzzles of connected writing.  We also plan to initiate our class twitter account and share some of the amazing and thoughtful ideas students are writing!  Check out the #write2connect hashtag on twitter!

How are you celebrating the National Day on Writing?

Remixing and the Cardiff Kook

Tomorrow my class is traveling up the hill (a mile or so) to the other school in our district to write with the older students in the other multiage class (many of whom were in our class a year or two ago).  We’re doing this to celebrate writing and the National Day on Writing and this year’s theme: write2connect.

In the spirit of connection and Jim Gray (the founder of the National Writing Project) and even the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we will “try on” writing about the same topic in three different ways.  While the CCSS text types (narrative, informational, opinion/argument) will constitute our broad categories, students will be able to fuse and mold the writing to fit their own interests and purposes.

So…to get students started thinking about opinion/argument, this post will be my attempt to create an opinion piece focused on the Cardiff Kook.  The Cardiff Kook, a piece of public sculpture officially named “Magic Carpet Ride,” has been the center of mischief and controversy in the small coastal town where I teach.


So here I go:

Love it or hate it, the Cardiff Kook has become an iconic image in the seaside town of Cardiff-by-the-Sea.  Guerrilla artists creep up to the statue originally named “Magic Carpet Ride” in the dark of night to creatively adorn the controversial surfer in any number of theatrical props.  It has been transformed into Oprah in celebration of the last Oprah show, engulfed in the jaws of a great white shark, and carried off by a prehistoric flying creature.  I love the Cardiff Kook. It’s a great ambassador for Cardiff, bringing in tourists from all over and creating opportunities for community building within the town.


It’s fun to see the kook all dressed up.  There is never a time when I drive by the statue at the intersection of 101 and Chesterfield Drive when I don’t slow down to take a look to see if there is a new creation.  For a while, a couple of years ago, the kook was transformed regularly and extravagantly. Lately that has slowed down and most days it looks like it did today when I took the photo in this post.  I love to take out-of-town guests and family members by to take a look at the statue…always hoping that it might be dressed up in some interesting way.

I recently read that images of the kook are now copyrighted and will be licensed to fund the upkeep of a public garden across the train tracks from the statue.  I’m guessing that was the thinking behind the Cardiff Kook calendar and maybe even the annual Cardiff Kook Run. These kinds of products and events can bring a community together as we all connect through our experiences with the kook.

Mostly, though, I just think the kook is fun.  I think the point of public art is to create conversation.  Some people will like some pieces and some won’t. But the conversations and arguments and conflict make us all think and engage and pay attention.  Not liking the original surfer sculpture resulted in creative and playful ways to re-envision this piece of public art.  And most of the time it remains unadorned as the sculptor created it…but every once in a while others add their own spin to the art, remixing the original artist’s vision with their own to create something new, different, interesting…and create a new conversation.  And for me, that is much more valuable than looking at a static,  unchanging piece of art day after day, year after year.  The Cardiff Kook reminds us to be playful, to have fun…and to connect with each other.

What do you think?


Learning to Code

It seems perfect that this month that includes the National Day on Writing and Connected Educators’ Month is also the time when we have ventured into teaching coding to our students (and ourselves).  My teaching partner and I talked about doing this last year during our 1:1 iPad pilot…but were thwarted by the fact that Scratch requires flash and won’t work on our iPads.  We had even thought about it the year before, that but 30 minutes of computer time per week just didn’t seem adequate.

So to push myself to realize this goal of coding with my students, I have been telling people that I want to do this.  I know myself enough to know that if I don’t make my goals public, somehow it is easier to push them aside when they feel “hard.”  And In our school district this year we have a new Educational Technology teacher.  A credentialed teacher who was hired specifically to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching–in addition to the tech people in our district who help when our technology isn’t working.  I mentioned our desire to teach our students to code in an introductory meeting with the Ed Tech teacher before school began…and he was interested and excited about the prospect.

And so last week he ventured into our classroom at a perfect time to talk…and pinned me down on getting started with coding.  He would come in and get students started–using the Beebot I had purchased at the end of the summer and the Hopscotch app he had learned about.


I love the way the simple, mechanical Beebot illustrates the basics of programming.  And I love that it also demonstrates how easy it is to have mistakes in your code, and the need to problem solve and “debug” through repeated trials and iteration.  My students were quick to understand the basics and very interested in the Beebot.  First graders could easily explain their thinking–and could figure out where they had made mistakes (older kids could too, and made mistakes too!).


After exploring how to make Beebot move, we turned to our iPads and opened Hopscotch.  Similar to Scratch, Hopscotch uses interlocking blocks to make the characters move.  After trying a few moves in common and learning to make their character spin, we set students loose to explore the possibilities.


And they began to “write” their own code!  We gave students the opportunity to share cool things they had figured out with all of us…and promised that we would give them more time to explore this app and create more code.

I don’t know any more about coding at this point than my students do, so we will continue to learn together.  And I think I am as excited about learning to code as they are.  I’m glad our Ed Tech teacher pushed us to set a date to start to work on coding with our students…and I’m glad he was there to get us started.  His checking in on our progress will also be an incentive to continue this with our students.  I have tons more to learn…but who better to learn it with than our students?

Planting Seeds

We planted seeds today…in the garden and in our writer’s notebooks.  There are many garden metaphors about learning and students–especially at the elementary level and as I watched my students today, I can understand why.

The beet seeds were small and for some of my students, hard to hang onto.  Some seeds slipped to the ground, blending in with the earth.  Those students needed another seed to plant in our garden bed.  Other students delighted in the tiny seeds and noticed every detail. They were able to keep track and carefully nestled the seed into the soil.


During our writing lesson a bit later, I noticed that some of my students took the lesson on similes and easily “planted” their ideas in their writer’s notebooks.  A few stretched even further and played with language and the technique of simile to create fresh and interesting images.  Others had dropped their “seeds” and needed some extra support to “plant” a seed or two in their notebooks.

In the garden, after planting our seeds, students carefully watered the soil to create an environment to support the seeds’ germination.  They managed the heavy watering cans and negotiated turn taking as fledgeling gardeners.


In the classroom, we left our writing seeds to germinate too after carefully sowing them in our notebooks.  Time was short and ideas were flowing…students can’t wait to come back to share their writing and extend their ideas.  This is an environment ripe for more writing tomorrow! Today we used Stubborn as a Mule and Other Silly Similes by Nancy Loewen to “prime the pump” and get us thinking about similes and how we might use them in our writing.

We planted beets, peas, arugula, spinach, beans, kale, and sunflowers today.  As our gardening teacher reminded the kids, we plant all the time because we want to eat all the time.  And as writers and learners, we need to write and play with language and writing so our ideas and stamina and capacity for writing and learning will also grow. We celebrate the National Day on Writing in October each year as a reminder of the importance of writing in our lives and learning.  But just as we don’t only plant our gardens in October, we can’t just plant our writing in October.  We have to write all year long, in lots of ways for lots of reasons to nurture our writing…and our writers so they too will grow strong and tall.


How do you nurture writers and learners?  What seeds did you plant today?

Make it Write: October’s Photo-a-Day Experimentation

Maintaining an extended photo-a-day practice (mine has gone on for over a year now!) means figuring out how to keep it interesting and creative.  I depend on my friends to help me think through new ideas and consider whether my ideas are feasible or not.

So Abby suggested making this month about writing since it is the month of the National Day on Writing.  And I was thinking about what that would look like.  I know I don’t want to have to take pictures of hands and pencils all month!  But I love the idea of exploring all the ways we “write” our world.  What inspires our writing?  What impedes our writing?  Where do we find people writing?  Where do we find writing in the spaces we inhabit?  Where is writing absent? What is the writing on the wall?  (How will I incorporate macro photography with this prompt?  Hmmm….)

So all month in our photos I invite you to consider writing in the broadest sense.  Where will this open-ended experiment take you?  Will you find it restrictive or inspiring?  And as always, take some time each week to reflect on your photos, write a blog post or comment sharing those thoughts, select a favorite photo, or create a collage and share it on this post.

And here’s a photo to get you started:


This is Jack, one of my two cats.  He’s wanting my undivided attention and definitely interfering with my writing as he snoozes on my computer!  (He even managed to type a few letters with his body in the process of being in the way!)

Can’t wait to see all the ways that writing can be interpreted in a photo…

Be sure to post your photo each day to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr using the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices.  (You can post anywhere—if you want others to be able to follow your photos, Instagram and Twitter are best!) For more information about posting click here.  At the end of each week you’re also invited to curate your pictures from the week and select one to highlight.  You might post it on your blog along with some musings about why you selected it.  If you don’t have a blog of your own, you have a couple of choices—you can create a blog (be sure to share it with us by including your blog address in the comments here—or better yet, tweet it using the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices) or you can post to the SDAWP Voices blog.

As the month goes on, come back to this post to link up your curated photos!  Click on the link up button below and add your favorites.  Or post a comment with an image on this post!