Tag Archives: NWP

Weekly Photo Challenge: My Place

Some colleagues over at the National Writing Project iAnthology asked me if I would be willing to post weekly photo challenge prompts for their site.  Personally, I enjoy weekly photo challenges and find that they also tend to prompt writing for me as well.  I often participate in the weekly photo challenge at the Daily Post…I love that I have an entire week to figure out how to respond to the prompt, visually and/or in writing…and I love seeing the different ways that each prompt is interpreted.

So along with posting this challenge over at the iAnthology, I thought I would also post it here on my blog so others could participate.  Here’s my first weekly photo challenge prompt:

Photography gives me the opportunity to explore the places I see everyday and come to know them in new ways.  Sometimes I zoom in and discover the beauty of something I had walked by hundreds of times before or just pause and appreciate something I had otherwise taken for granted.  Once in while, a change in the weather or other conditions paints my place and when I take the time to look through the lens, I see what on the surface seems to be an annoyance as an opportunity to reflect, learn, and appreciate another layer of my place.

Here’s a photo I recently took on a stormy day (a relatively rare occurrence) in my place.  Rain makes the roads crazy (even just a light drizzle) and people grumpy, but taking photographs has encouraged me to seek out the beauty and wonder that stormy days have to offer.

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Share a photo of your place…either the photo alone or do some writing inspired by the photo.  And feel free to be inspired by the photos of others…and either write based on another’s photo or shoot another photograph of your place based on the inspiration of someone else’s photo.

If you also share on other social media (Twitter, Facebook, google+, Instagram), use the hashtag #myplace and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy!  You can find me @kd0602.  Be sure to share your media handles too!

And if you are reading this on my blog, feel free to share your photo/response by either linking your photo or your blog to the comment section below.  I am excited to see “your place” through your lens!

Making and Learning

Instead of thinking about teaching on Tuesday, I spent my day thinking about learning.  On the plane Tuesday morning I sat next to a young family who had vacationed in San Diego to go to Legoland with their two young boys…and got stuck Monday night because of the domino effect of the weather in the midwest and east coast.  For being pretty tired, the boys were great.  The littlest guy (maybe 3 or 4) was playing a game on his DS system.  Whenever he got “stuck,” he would hand the game system up to his older brother (who was maybe 5) in the seat in front of him and ask for help.  Brother would play the troublesome spot and then hand the game back and little guy would go on with his play.  After his brother tired of helping, mom would help…and coach as she did so.

At the same time I was reading Invent to Learn, a book about the maker movement and the value of engaging learners in meaningful activity to maximize learning.  It begins with the theory behind making as learning…including information about Piaget, Montessori, Dewey, Vygotsky, the Reggio Emilia system, and folks at MIT, including Seymore Papert.  The book emphasizes what they call the constructionist (rather than the constructivist) theory of learning.  Their argument is that through the concrete construction of meaningful projects, learners gain rich, layered skills that serve them in school and beyond.  They also emphasize the value of play.

I landed in Oakland and made it on time for my 9:00 meeting at the National Writing Project offices in Berkeley with a small group of like-minded educators interested in the maker movement, interested in the intersections of literacy and science and STEM-related learning, interested in meaningful learning, both in and out of schools, for young people in their community. We gathered to consider ways schools and writing projects might collaborate with other organizations to further these goals.

I wrote about my experience in Boston with paper circuitry here, and today we met with Jen Dick and David Cook to continue to build our relationship and thinking about the ways writing and circuitry enhance each other and might support student learning in and out of schools.  We began by talking about our own experiences with paper circuitry and the benefits and barriers to bringing it to our own contexts.  Lou had managed to secure some LED stickers from Jie in Boston and returned to his high school class in Northern California where he introduced his students to the paper circuitry project.  He described the success and excitement his students experienced and what he learned from both his students and his own children who also tried out the process.

We took our circuitry learning a step further and programmed mini controllers to make our LED lights blink on and off at intervals we selected.

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We also learned about some other exciting new developments on the horizon for merging the science of circuits, technology with programming, and writing.  I still find myself thinking mostly about what students learn when they make a plan and then need to troubleshoot and iterate to get it to work the way they intend.  Systems thinking is a powerful tool that we employ throughout our lives across subject matter and circumstances.

Jie, the designer of the LED stickers, also Skyped with us after we worked with the circuits and we all thought together about how these stickers impact the experience of working with the circuits..and with the the experience of the creating of writing and imagery with the lights.  I appreciate Jie’s attention to the aesthetic experience of composing writing and art and how it is enhanced or impeded by the circuits rather than putting the circuits themselves at the front of the project.  By considering the work as a whole…light and drawing and writing…she reminds us that it is the integration of these elements that create the meaningful result.

The morning ended with the group thinking about how we might put these LED stickers to use back in our classrooms and at our writing project sites.  There was much more to the day…but that will have to be another post.

And I am left thinking about learning.  Those little boys on the plane, the book I was reading, my experience programming to create a blinking light all remind me that the best of learning is meaningful, active and interactive, and collaborative.  Even though I understand the basics of circuitry, sitting next to Peter and examining his working circuit informed my thinking…and since I ran out of time before completing my mini project, I will finish it on my own, at home. I’m confident that I know how to make it work and if I do run into a problem, Peter and my others colleagues are just a tweet or email away.  If you want to see Peter’s finished mini project, see his Vine here.

I can’t wait to share my experiences with my students and with my colleagues.  I look forward to exploring all the ways that writing can enhance and expand this circuitry work along with how the circuitry and lights can add another dimension to the writing.

Lighting a Spark

In my last blog post (here) I touched on that idea of work and play and the way that they are often interconnected in the way I experience my life and work.  And as I am thinking through some of my conference experiences, I see the blurriness…and maybe even more than that, the overlap of work and play.

When one of my colleagues asked me about what sessions I intended to attend at the conference, I told her that I was planning to make my selections based on what sounded interesting and fun rather than what I “should” do for the good of my writing project site or someone else’s expectations.  I was already pre-registered on Friday for a session about Scratch, the platform designed for teaching computer programming to kids, and a session on e-textiles involving puppet making and circuitry.

When I arrived at the welcome event for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting on Wednesday, I was drawn to a table near the door loaded with little notebooks…that upon closer examination had copper foil, watch batteries and LED lights.  Chatting with David, I learned about Jie’s graduate work and interest in the intersections between art, writing, and engineering.  Right away I knew that Jie’s session was one that I would prioritize!

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After two other sessions where I presented, a stimulating and thought-provoking plenary panel (more on that later), and a networking lunch, I headed off to the session with Jen, David, and Jie called Hacking the Notebook.

You could feel the energy surging in the room as we were handed notebooks, copper tape, a battery, and LED lights.  We listened to Jie share some of her work and thinking behind the idea of “lighting up” notebooks and stories and doodles…of combining science, technology, engineering and math with literacy and art (that STEM to STEAM connection).  She showed us an amazing work of art she created of dandelions that you could blow on to light up the puffs of white fluff.  (I encourage you to take the time to view this vimeo)

And then she walked us through the template she had created to teach about circuitry in these little notebooks that are a combination of background theory, documentation of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, instructional diagrams, sandbox for experimentation, engineering notebook…and more!

Our first task was to follow specific instructions and a diagram to lay down the copper tape, attach the LEDs, and then attach the battery to make the lights light up.  We followed a very specific diagram while learning (or being reminded) about the basics of circuitry.  That part was pretty easy…we just had to make sure that the pluses and minuses were facing in the right direction, that foil touched the electronics and didn’t touch places that would make a short.  And when we were successful, turning the page resulting in the light shining through the page and illuminating a lightbulb that we were then invited to draw and write around.

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And that’s when the task took us to the next level of thinking.  Taking what we had just learned about circuitry, we turned the page and were to create our own light up design with copper and bulbs.  We had a number of lights…so were encouraged to move beyond our simple experimentation of the previous page.  Jie encouraged us to notice how the copper tape could curve and how pieces could combine to create whatever we could imagine.  And…we had to remember how to make the lights go on.  I tried to get a bit tricky, adding two lights in a series…carefully lining up the poles to ensure it would work.  And it didn’t!  What was wrong?  Was it a connection (or lack of connection), an overlap that redirected the current, too much demand by the lights to allow a single battery to power them?

Problem solving and iteration became essential as I traced and retraced my circuits.  I consulted with my tablemates and observed their works-in-progress.  And I enlisted the help of Eunice, a graduate student helping out in the session.  With Eunice’s help I figured out that the serial circuit was likely requiring more power that my battery had to offer (my first light in the series would light, but the second stubbornly refused to light, even after making adaptations).  She suggested I try a parallel circuit design instead, explaining how if the lights were side by side they would require less energy to light.

And after more iteration and problem solving, I got both lights to light up!

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But what I wasn’t able to accomplish in that short, 90-minute session was both the science and a creative story-driven project.  I knew that for me, I wanted to focus on figuring out how to make my lights work and consider the possibilities before working on the story.  I struggle with the “creativity on demand” mode…but do have some more copper tape and lights…and my battery, so I plan to go home and do some more exploration on the creative, art and language-based, side of my project to combine with my knowledge of circuitry.

But my experience was not everyone’s experience.  Some people knew exactly where their stories and drawings would begin…and followed them as they experimented with their copper and lights.  And some people were so flummoxed by the science that progress was slow and frustrating.

In talking with Jie later that evening at the social event she said that she had learned a lot by working with us.  Writing project teacher leaders do a lot of meta-narrative thinking and talking, examining their own processes and experiences in service of the work they do with students and teachers.

And I did ask her how that dandelion art works since I couldn’t figure out how blowing would make lights go on!  She said the lights were connected to sound sensors and the blowing caused the sensors to hear the breath, like wind, and cause the lights to illuminate!

I can’t wait to get home and lay out my supplies and think and work through a piece of writing and art that will light up.  And I can’t wait to share this work with others as I consider how I might do this with students…my own and/or others that we might work with through the writing project.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’re interested, here is page that lists the supplies and where you can get them.  I’d love to know what you create and discover when you play with circuits and lights in your notebook!

Work and Play

I’ve been accused–more than few times–of being a work-a-holic.  And maybe there is some truth to that notion, but it is because my work is so much fun that a lot of times it seems like play.

I headed out at the crack of dawn Wednesday morning to fly across the country to join my writing project colleagues in Boston for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting that is held every year in conjunction with the Annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference.

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The Annual Meeting is an opportunity to gather with writing project people from all over the country, to learn from each other, to share ideas and reconnect.  And it is fun!

This conference begins by seeing old friends and learning about what is happening in their places and then offers more formal opportunities for learning from each other.

We’ll spend all day Thursday and Friday in more formal settings, thinking about our students and our teaching…and thinking about how to support teachers and their learning too.  We’ll consider writing in all possible contexts, across all content, across platforms, and across ages and experiences.  And even though we will think hard, write a lot, and at the end of each day feel exhausted, we will continue our conversations over dinner, walking to and from our hotels, over an evening cocktail, and maybe even into our dreams as we finally sleep.  Because these moments spent face to face with our colleagues from all over the nation are to be savored.  They are work and they are play.

We’re here, Boston!  Ready to work and play in this special place.

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Listening: Becoming a Connected Educator

Earlier in the week I posted about being a Connected Educator.  Since then I’ve also been thinking about those educators who are connected but not yet putting their voices out in the digital space professionally.  Lurker is the term I’ve heard to describe people who read on social media but don’t comment or post themselves.  But lurker has such an evil sound to it–as though they lurk in order to gain information for underhanded reasons.  In some ways they seem to me to be listeners, like those students in my classroom who are soaking everything up like sponges but can’t yet bear to raise their hand and make a public comment.

Like the students in my classroom, I suspect that those digital listeners will at some point begin to comment and post for themselves, they just aren’t ready…yet.  And since I started this blog (almost three months ago), I have had many instances of people making comments about my content when I’ve had no evidence of their interaction.  It feels a bit odd at first.  Almost like someone is eavesdropping on a conversation that they are not participating in.  But then again, I am making a choice to put my writing and thinking out in the public sphere.  And whether people chose to comment or “like” my blog post is a decision for them to make.  It also reminds me as a reader of blogs and other social media that I read substantially more than I comment or otherwise indicate my presence.

And I also know that sometimes it just takes the right condition to get someone to dip their toe into the social media waters.  If you listen to the NWP radio show on being a Connected Educator you will hear Abby and Janis and Barb talk about getting started and how much it helps to have support, like when our SDAWP teachers take on the Twitter account as @SDAWP_Fellow for a week.  (We adapted that idea from Sweden’s practice of having a citizen take on the country’s Twitter account.)  It’s also like having Barb and Matt’s support when trying out blogging on our collaborative blog, SDAWP Voices.

Today for my #sdawpphotovoices photo-a-day I took a photo of what I thought was some kind of fungus making a silky white coating on the leaves of our hibiscus plant.  When I posted it to Instagram and Twitter, I got a response from one of my colleagues from my school site via Twitter telling me that this “fungus” was in fact white flies.  I knew my colleague had a Twitter account, but she seldom tweets.  I do try to nudge my colleagues when I see something that I think will interest them by “mentioning” them on Twitter.  (I know I’m more likely to respond when someone “elbows” me and points me to something that has been posted.)  I did this on Friday with my colleague when I saw an app I thought she might find interesting.  And she acknowledged that tweet by replying.  And then today, without a nudge, she shared valuable information with me about my plant.

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There are stages to being connected.  Most people start slow (I know I did) and then work up to more active participation.  For most of us that’s how we learn to do a lot of things.  We watch, we listen, we test, we get some feedback and then continue to increase our confidence and participation–or abandon that thing altogether.  As educators we can’t afford to abandon digital literacy or being connected educators, but it isn’t necessary to jump in the deep end. There are lots of support systems out there.

In what ways are you connected?  What is the one thing you will do in the next week to increase your connectedness?  Will you comment on a blog?  Respond to a tweet?  Tweet a link to an interesting article or blog post?  Start a Twitter account?  (You are welcome to follow me @kd0602)  I’d love to know if you are willing to post your goal as a comment!

Spaces for Learning

Over at the Connected Learning MOOC on Google+, Terry posted this article by Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post about the struggles dedicated teachers face in our current climate.  He also invited us to respond…in a crowdsourced way.  Here’s my contribution:

I’ve just spent the past month with twenty educators passionate about improving their teaching and the learning experience of their students.  During this time they’ve read extensively, discussed and debated ideas and practices, demonstrated a practice from their own teaching setting in front of these peers, written and responded to writing—personal and professional pieces, all creative—and laughed and cried, dealt with worry and nerves, and invested countless hours because THEY want to be the best educators they can be.  Their districts and schools didn’t send them or pay for them—they came because they chose this experience.

Many #si13 discussions take place on these #orange chairs and cubes.

Many #si13 discussions take place on these #orange chairs and cubes.

These “third spaces” like writing projects, the CLMOOC, and Twitter have become more and more necessary for educators to thrive in our challenging profession.  These are the spaces where teachers experiment, innovate, and most importantly, find support when they feel that our educational system isn’t working for them or for their students.  In the face of daunting constraints, teachers like the ones participating in the SDAWP Summer Institute and those making like crazy in the CLMOOC continue to seek out practices that support learners and celebrate the joy and purposes of learning.  In these spaces we make sense of our world, we build relationships, we blaze trails for learning for those that feel pinched by constant test prep and narrowing curricula and in doing so we stay the course.  Because like Valerie said,

But some teachers are fighting these trends. Teachers believe that education is not just teaching students to pass tests. They believe that education is not just about how to make a living, but also about how to make a life. They believe that school should be a place of joy in learning, not learning in fear. They believe that play, imagination, and creativity have a place in school, just as much as mastering difficult material. In fact, play and mastery go hand in hand. And these teachers are fighting to work harder than ever so they can continue to find ways to be creative in the classroom despite the pressure not to be. These teachers have classrooms you’d love to have your child in.

What kind of classroom or learning spaces do you want for your child, for your students, for yourself?  I’d love to hear about your “third spaces” or alternative ways of dealing with the constraints that are strangling the love of learning and passion for teaching.

Eat…and Lead Locally

Local Love.  That was the phrase that caught my eye while enjoying some yummy gelato for my mom’s birthday on Sunday.  EscoGelato makes a point of highlighting all the ways their products are local—using local bakeries for their breads, local farms for their avocados, eggs, strawberries…

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Yesterday I ate locally again.  At Urban Plate with my friend and San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) colleague Abby, I also noticed signs in the restaurant pointing to the sources of the local produce and other food products.  It feels good to eat locally—in both places the food was delicious and the feel in each place was friendly and welcoming…accessible.

As we ate, Abby and I caught up on the progress of our summer and moved to the topic of professional development for teachers.  We talked about how teachers need to not just hear about some new approach or instructional technique, but to try it out and think about how and why it is useful for themselves as learners and for their students before they can truly implement effectively in their own classrooms.  And that, as professional developers, our hearts drop when participants say, “Can’t you just come to my classroom and teach it for me?”

Abby and I talked about the power of connectedness and collaboration for professional growth.  How opportunities to talk about our ideas caused those ideas to grow and develop and transform into something more than where they began.  And how that collaboration makes us a bit braver and more willing to take risks with our teaching practice…and in the process we grow as educators.  We also talked about how important it is for someone in your local place—your school site, your district, your writing project or other organization—to see you as a leader.  We grow leadership when we nurture leaders.

At the SDAWP, we’re right in the middle of the Invitational Summer Institute…a place for nurturing local leaders.  And I’m not so sure that all of the participants see themselves as leaders—yet.  But we’re ready to help them and to ease them into some accessible spaces where their leadership can emerge and continue to grow whether that is in their own classrooms, at their school sites, or beyond.  Maybe that, too, is local love.