Tag Archives: photography

Tiny Perfect Things: SOLC #22

Today students continued their work with photography after we read Tiny Perfect Things. We took the iPads and headed out onto the track around the field to uncover our own tiny (or not so tiny) perfect things. We then used Elaine Magliaro’s poem Things to do if you are a Pencil as a mentor text to get started on a poem to accompany the photo each student selected.

We didn’t get to any sort of publication today, so I don’t have student texts to share with you. That will have to come later.

But, I did write with my students, inspired by this photo and our mentor text.

Popover Memories: SOLC #21

If you’ve read this blog over the years, you know a couple of things about me and food.

Today, my husband decided, would be the perfect morning for popovers. Unlike biscuits, popovers are not a food I grew up eating. In fact, I first had popovers a few years ago: at Acadia National Park in Maine.

I listened to the mixer whirl as Geoff prepared the ingredients to pour into the special popover pan that we purchased upon returning from our Maine exploration. It’s one of those pans that is specially made for just this purpose–so most of the time, the pan is buried in a lower drawer that we don’t frequently access.

While they baked in the oven we had a quick conversation with our 5-year-old twin grandsons, who love to see what grandpa is up to in the kitchen. After saying goodbye to their special friends (those special much-loved items that are always close by when they are at home), I heard the timer ring. When the oven opened, a warm eggy smell filled the air, mixing with the smell of coffee freshly brewed.

And as I bit into one of these tasty treats, smothered in butter and jam, my mind revisited that moment when I was introduced to this comforting snack on a cool summer day not far from Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

We had walked and walked, following a hiking trail that circled the pond.

My camera ever in hand, I couldn’t resist take photos of all the mushrooms. There were so many varieties and they were such bright colors! (So different from mushroom life here in Southern California!)

And we ended our adventure in a National Park restaurant–known for its popovers. So when in popover territory–and after hiking all day–try some popovers.

Today’s popover breakfast took me back to that wonderful Maine exploration. What a wonderful way to take a mini-vacation through my memories (and some photos) in the midst of this mind-numbing pandemic. I look forward to my next trip to Maine and some more popovers…sooner rather than later!

Fog: SOLC #20

I walked into a cloud, experiencing it now from the inside out. Water drops too small to see kiss my cheeks as they swirl and dance all around me. My vision is soft-edged, everything ahead of me in vignette. Cocooned in light as the sun’s rays, wrapped in cotton balls, bounce and reflect. The world feels close and small in the cloud. I can’t see too far ahead or too far behind, I’m forced into the here and now, noticing what is right here.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the cloud lifts and opens wide, like a deep breathe and the blue appears. The world expands and the view shifts. I walk out of the fog.

Photos and Small Poems: SOLC #16

I love the garden as an outdoor learning space for students. As you may have read yesterday, we began the process of experimenting with some photography techniques in preparation for some writing today. The PM group was rained out of the garden yesterday, but today was bright and sunny so they were able to catch up and try their hand at using the photography techniques.

Today students selected a photo from the garden, and in the spirit of Ansel Adams, transformed the photo to black and white using a filter in the iPad. This photo along with Eve Merriam’s poem, Peeling an Orange, became the inspiration and mentor text for their own original small poems. Before starting our own poems, we took the time to study Peeling an Orange carefully. We named what we noticed: the use of comparisons (similes and metaphors), the opposition of the words carelessly and meticulously (serendipitously, meticulous had been a vocabulary word earlier this year), the inclusion of sensory use (smell). Then I set a timer (something that I find focuses these third grade writers) for 7 minutes and off they wrote!

We shared a few, noticing the interesting comparisons, the use of strong verbs and other vocabulary and moved to the next step: creating a shared Google slide deck to display the photos and poems. While not everyone finished today, I did ask if students were okay with me sharing some of their writing on my blog. They were excited by the prospect.

Here’s a couple of student examples:

And one of mine (since I always write with students):

I’ve been intentionally prioritizing time for writing–from start to finish–in the classroom, in spite of the short time we have in our hybrid schedule. It is totally worth the time spent–and I am seeing the writing improve when students write in community. I look forward to more time for writing as my students return to the classroom for full days, in one group, beginning in mid-April.

Purple Beans: SOLC #15

With rain in the forecast (again!), I was thankful to be able to get my morning group of students out into the garden with their iPads. (No such luck with my PM group–but that is another blog post.)

In the fall, we had spent time in the garden clearing out overgrown beds, pulling weeds and enormous carrots that hadn’t been harvested because of our pandemic shutdown. We groomed the soil, sowed some seeds, made sure the irrigation was working–and then my attention turned to other instructional priorities, neglecting the garden.

This is the time of the year when I like to use photography as a tool to teach my students about perspective, about “seeing” the world in different ways, and about the role photos have played as advocacy. We’ve learned a bit about Dorothea Lange and her photographs during the depression and World War II and also about Ansel Adams and his photos of National Parks and Japanese internment camps.

So we headed into the garden to try on a few photography techniques: a bug’s eye view, leading lines, natural frames, and the rule of thirds. A lot had changed since our last visit to the garden before the winter holidays! We were greeted by 4 foot tall dandelions, beets bigger than a your head, and plenty of other surprises.

My students happily explored with their iPads in search of photographs. They laid on the ground seeking that bug’s eye view, looking up and under the masses of plants. They sought frames and lines, hopefully holding their devices still enough to prevent the inevitable blur that so many experience. They used those helpful grid lines to define the focus of their subject and carefully place it for their rule of thirds photos.

And they pointed out all the wonders they found. There was the little girl who worked diligently to photograph the roly poly that was trying to make a quick get away and the one who dug around in the garden bed and discovered that giant beet (above). They photographed flowers and beans, pinecones and weeds…and who knows what all else.

I found myself captivated by the purple beans. Lots and lots of purple beans and the mass of curlicues reaching up and around.

Tomorrow we will examine our photos, evaluating how well the photography techniques work in helping us look carefully. We’ll also do some writing, using the photos as inspiration and subject matter. And maybe we’ll also get back to some gardening. Weed those beds again, harvest our overgrown bounty, and start again with seeds. Seeds that will also help us grow–as photographers, writers, and advocates too!

Snowy Adventure: SOLC #14

I had a snow day today. Of course I know that most of you will be scratching your head and thinking, what is she talking about? It’s Sunday! But then you will need to know that, in fact, I have never had a snow day. Not once have I experienced one of those days that so many of you describe. No school, no work, just a snowy day for tucking in to read by the fire or to spend outdoors playing in the snow. (You may also notice some romanticizing that goes along with never having lived where it snows!)

I’m lucky enough to live in a place where within a two hour drive you can go to the beach, to the desert, or to the mountains. So this morning as we debated how to spend a wide-open Sunday, my husband suggested our local mountains. With rain last week on the coast, our mountains got some snow. We wondered if the snow was still on the ground, so we checked out the mountain webcam just to see what to expect. It looked like there was still some patches of snow at the highest elevations, so we dressed for snow, laced up our hiking boots, and headed east.

As we passed the 4000 ft mark, we started to notice small bits of snow on the side of the road. We zigzagged up the winding mountain switchbacks, at times feeling like we were right in the middle of the clouds. At about 5000 ft, the skies opened up to all the shades of blue along with bright sunshine…and snow! We started to find cars pulled off to the sides of the already narrowed roads and saw kids on plastic sleds and boogie boards slipping and sliding on available open roadside patches of snow.

When we got to the Palomar Observatory we found the parking lots closed and fences bolted. But not far from there, we found our own side-of-the-road space to pull into. We pulled on hats and jackets and headed out to explore. We stomped through some snow drifts, hoping to find some marked trails to hike. Instead, we found still fresh snow perfect for snowman building. So…we built (in a minimalist sort of way).

I love to explore through the lens of my camera. I snapped pictures of pine cones, of snow tucked in the nooks of trees, of rounded mounds on tree stumps softened by the sun. (I had abandoned my jacket by then–it was a gorgeous, warm snowy day!)

And we even found some places with stunning long range vistas of the valley below.

When we headed back down the mountain to the west, we decided to make a stop at the beach for a walk to get those exercise minutes logged on our watches since the hiking trails on the mountains just weren’t accessible to us snow novices. It was a mountains to the sea kind of snowy day adventure. And the perfect way to spend a wide-open, spring-ahead Sunday.

About Writing: SOLC #13

One of the things I like best about the Slice of Life Challenge is the way that the expectation of daily writing gets me thinking about what I will write each day. Something will catch my eye and I will find myself writing in my head, thinking about how to frame what I have to say.

Some days the writing comes fairly easily and I know generally where I am going with the writing. That is especially true when I’ve taken a photo that I know will guide my writing direction. Other days the writing is a struggle and I flounder around, flipping and flopping, grabbing onto this topic and that, finding it hard to land on what I want to say.

I’ve bounced from topic to topic today. I could write about interviewing an amazing group of teachers this morning for our upcoming Invitational Summer Institute. I love the way that this “work” is so energizing. There is nothing like teachers talking about what drives their instructional choices and clearly seeing their passion for students and their well-being to fill me with hope and possibility.

I thought about writing about two separate essays I read this week that serendipitously landed in my feed on consecutive days. One is an essay by Ann Patchett called How to Practice about downsizing belongings so that someone else will not have to do it after your death. This is an amazing piece weaving stories of belongings, why she has them and why she no longer needs them and the guilt that comes with getting rid of something that is still useful. The other called Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter is about groups of people, particularly refugees and those immigrating because of war and danger, who do not have the luxury of having items passed down for generations, of accumulation from childhood and how that shapes their view of belongings. My mind has swirled since reading these earlier this week–thinking about the different roles that belongings play in different phases of my life and why it is so hard to let go of some things, even when they have outlived their usefulness for me.

And now I am thinking about which of these articles is a mirror for me, reflecting my experiences and which may be a window into another way of thinking. Or maybe I’m just stretching for an excuse to include this photo from today’s walk of the clouds reflected on the shiny surface of the sand.

Enjoying the Clouds: SOLC #12

I think southern Californian’s may be obsessed with weather. Or maybe it’s just me. So much of the time we really pay no attention to it. A sweatshirt is the go-to jacket, flip flops are year-round foot wear, and that umbrella? It’s probably buried under the reusable grocery bags in the trunk of the car.

It’s been rainy this week–and I’m talking multiple days! It rained Wednesday night and last night, and there are still clouds that just might be holding some more rain hanging around. We can probably count a year’s worth of rainy days on two hands–and this year, rain has been scarce, even for us.

Luckier still, we’re getting much needed rain and it has been coming after we go to bed at night. That has left my afternoons available for those much-needed beach walks. Breathing in saline rich air while feeling the satisfaction of checking off exercise as done, calms my brain and is good for my body. And the bonus: the beach is never boring. The views change constantly, the terrain is varied from tide to tide, and no mask is needed on the wide-open shoreline.

As I headed back toward the car, the towering clouds above the old Encina power plant tower (headed for demolition) caught my eye. I couldn’t quite capture it with my camera held in its usual position, so I turned it to try to capture the height of the clouds.

Maybe we’ll have a bit more weather in store before this storm system leaves. For now, I’ll just enjoy the clouds.

Flotsam and Jetsam: SOLC #7

The sea was moody today. Thick clouds kept the sun at bay and also kept people at home. That’s a good thing for me–there’s nothing better than an empty beach for walking and exploring.

I love the way the beach is ever changing. Some days the shore is smooth and sandy. Lately piles of smooth beach stones have been pushed up into my walking zone. Low tides, like today, expose stretches of reef, some pieces algae-covered in reds and greens. I’m always on the look out for interesting finds on the beach. Unfortunately, we often find trash on our walks. Pieces of plastic and styrofoam, leftovers of foil wrapped burritos, and all too often straws of all shapes and sizes.

Today I noticed a glow stick on the reef. I know that fisherman often use these as part of their fishing routine, although I’m not sure exactly the purpose. I stopped to capture a photo and then we picked it up to throw away. (Lucky for our local environment, my husband always carries a trash bag when we walk on the beach.)

Next up was the shoe. Just one. Alone. It hadn’t been in the sea long enough to become a home for sea creatures, but it was soaked all the way through with sand inside. I wonder who lost this shoe and when they noticed it was missing. Does this child still have the other shoe tossed in the back of the closet?

Then I noticed the long white structure. Was it trash? No, seems like a bone. A closer examination made me believe that it is the remain of a pelican beak, long and thin and about the right size, washed up onto the shore. This piece we did not pick up–seems best to let it decompose and return to its native environment.

As I was documenting these finds with my camera, I was thinking about that term: flotsam and jetsam. Is one type of debris flotsam and another type jetsam? I turned to Google to check out the definitions. I learned that in maritime lingo, flotsam is wreckage of cargo that remains afloat after a ship has sunk and that jetsam is cargo or equipment thrown overboard from a ship in distress. I also learned that the phrase flotsam and jetsam has come to mean useless or discarded items. So I’m categorizing the glow stick and the shoe as flotsam and jetsam. The beak bone, just ordinary bird remains.

But what about this?

It seems that Shamus and Marisol decided to create some art on these beach boulders. It makes me wonder, did they bring paint to the beach with the idea that they would use beach rocks as a canvas? Was it made with water-based paint that will dissolve into the sea during the next high tide? Did they make it for their own enjoyment or for others to see? Or is it a call for help? (Notice the S.O.S.) Temporary art is common on the beach, there are sand artists who rake intricate designs into the sandy shore. There are rock tower builders, carefully balancing stone after stone after stone. And of course, the sand castle builders who create turrets and moats on castles adorned by seaweed and shells. All pieces meant to last only until the next tide sweeps it away.

I always leave the beach with questions and something to think about. And I always learn something. Regardless of its mood, the sea and the beach is never dull.