Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

Tonight was Open House at my school, that wonderful evening of celebrating all the learning that has happened all year.  The third graders (and their parents and teachers) are feeling a bit melancholy, realizing that the end of three years is in sight and there is change in the air.

In addition to spending time chatting with families we currently teach, we also met many of the students who will be our first graders in the fall.  Those shy, unfamiliar faces will soon be a part of our learning community.

Tonight’s Open House featured MACville–our student created community made up of twelve 32 x 32 inch grids.  Each grid was planned by a group of four students working within the constraints of a building code.  Here’s a peek at our cardboard community.

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And when I got in my car to head home after a very long day, the sea and sky called to me.  The weather forecasters have been predicting rain, but we often get a chance of rain in the forecast that comes to naught.  But with the sun setting into the ocean and storm clouds gathering, I headed toward the beach with my phone in my pocket.  As the wind whipped my hair and my jacket billowed around me, I snapped shots of the amazing colors of the sky and sea.  No editing was needed, the light and clouds and water did all the work.

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So where is the change in your life right now?  In the weather?  In your classroom?  In your personal life?  In your art?

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 #change for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Change is the air for me right now.  What change will you capture through your lens?

The Quandary of the Invisible

I’ve wrestled with this before…and yet, solutions are as invisible as the issue itself.  How do we value and acknowledge what we can’t see?

On a windy day, we can see air.  It moves flags and leaves and kites and pennants.  We see it because we recognize that the movement means the wind is blowing, air is moving.

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But when the air is still, we don’t notice the wind and the air becomes invisible, something we no longer notice or pay attention to.  Work can be like that too.  And so can learning.

We notice when someone is standing in the front of the classroom delivering instruction–that looks like work. We notice when someone leads a workshop, guiding teachers forward with their learning. But there’s so much work that is invisible to others.

We can see learning when students complete assignments, answer questions, lead discussions…  But when that notebook is blank, when the assignment doesn’t get turned in, when the student fidgets with the shoelace instead of answering a question or contributing a comment, an absence of learning is often inferred.

In those moments when I get to talk to a student individually, having a casual conversation about a topic we’ve been learning about, I can sometimes recognize what was previously invisible to me. There’s more to learning than completing an assignment or answering a question. Just like there is more to work than punching the time clock or attending a meeting.

Behind every workshop, every lesson, every assignment or project are hours of invisible work. There is the planning and the thinking behind the planning. And behind that there is often reading and research, collaboration–sometimes in the form of a conversation over coffee or lunch, the gathering and production of materials…and more.  And behind that, there are the phone calls, emails, and meetings that initiate the workshop planning.  So much of the work we do is invisible to others and it’s easy to dismiss what we can’t see.

The trunk of a tree doesn’t sway in the breeze…but that doesn’t mean that the air is not there.

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So how do we acknowledge, measure, and value what we can’t see?

Looking Beyond Ugly

When I walked into the house today after work I noticed that the tulips in the vase on my dining room table were ready to throw out.  They were leaning over, their dried blossoms hanging upside down nearly touching the table.  I started to move them to the trash can…and then the afternoon light through the window shining on the near-dead plant caught my eye.  And suddenly I could see the beauty in the crumbling blossoms that had seemed so ugly only moments before.

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A  photography tip aside: It was just last week that Joy from Joyfully Green had posted an article where she described the place–her dining room–that served as a photo studio because of the light it offers.  (Joy has many tips to share…about photography and about living green.)

As a teacher, it’s my job to look beyond the ugly–the spaces where learning isn’t happening in the ways we want or expect–and figure out how to find the light that transforms.  And it isn’t always easy.  Sometimes it just seems easier to place blame, give in to frustration, or pass the buck.  But then the light shines through my dining room window and I can look beyond the ugly and find the beauty.

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(Five Stories…not sure if I followed the rules, but thanks for encouraging me to tell a story today!)

Enveloped in Possibility

I love this time of the school year.  At least the part that is about my students.  (Yeah…there are too many meetings, too much drama about which students are going where for next year, too much paperwork…filling in forms, checking off boxes, signing off forms for this and that.)

As a friend of mine recently said in an email, this is a time when we get to witness a fuller blossom of our students.  We get to see what they can do when given time and space and opportunity…if we give them time and space and opportunity.

Like this slightly chewed and fully blossomed tulip, students open up at this time of the year. They dig into projects and expose their interests and thinking.  They are enveloped in possibility.

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Our students recently went to the San Diego Natural History Museum on a field trip.  Their goal was to explore the new Coast to Cactus exhibit that features San Diego’s diverse ecosystems and find something that interested them.  When they returned to the classroom. they researched this interest and then create a movie or blog post to teach someone else about what they learned.  With time and a bit of technical support from us, our students inquired, composed, and created.

Here’s a couple of examples:

Ana (a third grader) got very interested in ghost shrimp…and couldn’t wait to learn more.  She researched and wrote…working hard to explain what she learned in her own words and voice…and included her own drawing of a ghost shrimp.  Here’s an excerpt:

Moist, murky water embraces the wetlands, cattails sway in the salty breeze, lush growth is everywhere. The wetlands are teeming with life. They are homes to birds, fish, and many mammals. However, many people ignore what’s happening deep down in the mud flats. The mudflat is a home to an amazing creature, the ghost shrimp

You can see her work here.

Eli (a second grader) noticed a mouse at the museum and couldn’t wait to learn more.  And when he didn’t find the answers to his questions during his time researching in class, he went home and got his parents to help him with his research.  He has also become our residence expert on iMovie…mentoring many of his classmates, helping them record and upload their own videos.  Here’s his movie.

And those two are just the tip of the iceberg of what is happening in the classroom.  Our students have cross-pollinated, pushing each other to consider new possibilities.  Like the bee on this sunflower, they depend on each other as they reach and strive for new heights, solidify what they already know, and reach with a helping hand to lift their classmates.  They are enveloped in a community of learners that allows them to bloom, to stumble, and to get up and try again.

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And I am so lucky, because I am part of this community too…reaching and learning, enveloped in the energy and excitement of possibility.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

There’s a storm heading our way (or promised, at least), and clouds have gathered.  I’ve caught myself staring up into the sky, noticing the ways the clouds race across the sky, gather in delicate puffs, and capture light.  At UCSD today, I was mesmerized by the clouds behind the Geisel Library…a very space ship looking building.  I played around with the app Paintereque…I love the way it draws attention to the sky.

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I’ve been paying a bit more attention to the ways my surroundings impact the way I feel…and have been picking up flowers now and then and putting them in my dining room.  These red tulips were closed buds on Saturday, began to open up on Sunday, and yesterday I noticed them drooping gracefully and casting delicate tulip shadows when I got home from work.

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With a late meeting earlier this week I couldn’t resist stealing away for a few minutes at the Torrey Pines Glider Port.  This interesting place just a few minutes from the university offers breathtaking views of the ocean and, as an added bonus, opportunities to watch the hang gliders float on the breeze.  From a distance they are like delicate birds, surfing the currents.  Up close, they are much more ungainly.

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Up in the mountains over the weekend, I explored the forest and meadows and noticed forces of nature as they whispered.  The quiet was soothing and as I breathed deeply, I noticed this delicate butterfly (or is it a moth?) that settled long enough for me to take its portrait!

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I loved all the wildflowers carpeting the forest.  I noticed that many of the flowers were small and delicate…and often close to the ground like these tiny beauties.

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And there is also a delicacy to these large, old oaks.  Looking up I could appreciate the delicate branches reaching into the sky.  Some were lush, with brilliant green leaves and others, like this one, seem to be declining.  Maybe because of our persistent drought?

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So what evokes delicate for you?  Is it in the flight of a man-made object or the curve of a tree branch?  Maybe you notice delicate in the smile of a child or the whiskers of your pet.

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 #delicate for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So take a look around, what strikes you as delicate?  I’m looking forward to expanding my understanding of delicate by seeing it through your lens!

Quiet Forces of Nature

When we think of a force of nature, our thoughts often turn to those terrifying and often devastating earthquakes, tornados, avalanches, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, and wildfires.  But sometimes in nature, forces whisper and almost go unnoticed.

In the solitude of the hiking trail, the rhythm of our boots joined the whoosh of the wind as it races through the tree tops.  When I look closely I can see how the wind shapes those tall sentinels, bending and curving them with its quiet force.

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Could have been wind or water (or the lack of water) or something else that worked this tree trunk loose from the ground.  Now it continues to contribute to life in the forest as it decays, providing a home to insects and fungi, enriching the soil…and providing a natural frame for this photo!

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Tiny flowers spring up, planted by the wind and passing wildlife, watered by the increasingly rare raindrops, and nibbled by the local inhabitants.  In the meadows they create a carpet of color, a delight for the eyes.

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Look closer and you can see the individual blossoms as they sway in the breezes, their beauty fleeting…it won’t be long before the blooms dry up and fall off and this colorful carpet will turn to dry brush.

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The barbed wire hints at the cattle that graze these spaces.  As I see the fences I remember a photo recently posted by a friend…and it becomes a mentor for one of my own.

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I hear birds and look up.  On this hike I have seen birds of prey floating on the wind currents and what I think are local woodpeckers, with bright red heads, chatting with one another in the tall oaks high above me.  I see other evidence of their presence, the creation of granary trees where they store their acorns.

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There are so many forces of nature at work in this magnificent place in our local mountains.  Nature’s forces weren’t roaring, but they whispered their power, begging me to take notice and appreciate the intricacies of her systems at work.  I’m part of this system too, and when I care I can make a positive difference, remembering that my needs and desires need to stay in balance with those of the trees and the birds and the wildflowers.

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