Slice of Life: Two Bugs Meet on a Bridge (Anatomy of a Shot)

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16This is a different kind of Slice. I wanted to step back from a photo that I took in the woods and analyze the shot from an analytical viewpoint. I am no photographer (but I play one on my blog). However, I am interested in composition, and composing with images is always an intriguing topic. With so many camera lens available these days to so many of us on phones and mobile devices, we can do some interesting photography.

First, look at what I ended up with:

I saw these bugs (not ants, I don’t think) almost by accident. I was in the woods with my son and his friends, who were playing as I was walking our dog. I kept close because of the river and I was “the adult in charge.” (I recently wrote a slice about another day of them playing for another post. They like these woods. I like that they like those woods.)

I had my Android phone out because I was keeping track of a college basketball game (UConn!) as I was keeping an eye on the kids and watching the dog watching me. I was stopped at a new fence over a rebuilt foot bridge on the bike path when I looked down and saw these ant-like bugs scurrying over the handrail. They’d stop, run, stop, run, stop, run. Sometimes, they would run at each other and stop right before collision, like some strange teenagers on bicycles playing Chicken.

I wondered if I could get close enough to get a good shot of the bugs but the closer I got, the further they scurried. Finally, after many random shots that I hoped might yield something useful, I got a picture that did the trick: two bugs, mostly in focus, on the wood, seeming to meet. Actually, the closer bug is a little out of focus but it works as a compositional strategy. Our eyes move from that bug to the farther one, which has more detail.

The problem was that the bugs were too small on the shot itself, and the wood handrail took up most of the frame. I went into my photo folder, called up the shot and used “edit” to tinker. I cropped the shot down to focus the eye on the bugs (and the shadows of the bugs, which is something I did not notice when I was taking the shot).

I decided something more was needed, to keep the eye moving towards the two bugs, and the focused bug, in particular. I used a framing tool that provided some darkening edge — a light touch, not too obvious — that helps guide the eye inward, at the bugs. It also helped crop out more of the surroundings.

There’s something about the grain of the wood (you can tell is it rather fresh and not yet weathered by New England’s shifting seasons) and the bugs meeting, and the shadows, that just makes this a rather intriguing picture. Or, at least, I think so.

Peace (and process notes),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: Coral Reefs (Cities of the Ocean)

The First Second Publishing company, one of my favorite sources for interesting graphic novels, has started up a new educational graphic novel series around science. Called Science Comics, the books are designed to help readers dive deep into scientific ideas.

I just finished reading one of the first in the series, called Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, and it is a fantastic example of how graphic novels can impart important information in a fun and engaging way, with humor mixed in with facts in a very visual way. Author/illustrator Maris Wicks works as a program manager at the New England Aquarium, so she is well versed in all things related to the oceans.

The book introduces us to our narrator, a little Bony Fish (known scientifically as Osteichthyes .. lots of content-area vocabulary in here), with big glasses, whose witty and funny and curious about the world. The reader, entertained by the narrator, comes to learn about such concepts as classification of animals (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species), the impact of pollution and global warming on the seas, and a wide array of creatures who live in the ocean.

But, as the title suggests, we also learn a whole lot about Coral Reefs, which are amazing structures that have a vital importance to the world as home to many fish and plants, and other smaller beings who helped filter our air and water for the rest of us, even though we rarely show our appreciation.

We learn about Coral as a living creature, and how Coral Reefs are formed, and the symbiotic nature of Coral and other creatures. We also learn about the fragile nature of Coral Reefs in the era of Global Warming. It’s not all gloom and doom, as Bony Fish gives us suggestions for what we can do to protect our oceans, even if you live nowhere near it.

The artwork here is very engaging, and integrates complex information in ways that should hold the interest of any reader interested in the ocean and Coral Reefs. Unlike some content-area graphic novels out there in the world (and I have read more than my share) that seem thrown together to make a buck off the graphic novel movement, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean seems more like an act of love by someone who is deeply immersed in the ocean, as Wicks is.

A likely target audience would be upper elementary into middle school, although younger readers would still get a lot out of the book, even if some of the vocabulary was too dense.

Peace (in the sea),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Flower Power

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16My wife and I attended the annual Bulb Show at Smith College, in our small city, yesterday afternoon. It’s been a few years since we have ventured into the greenhouse and been awed by the powerful display of colors, smells and pure life on display. It’s a pretty amazing experience, to be walking down aisles of amazing flowers, and I was drawn to look inside the flowers themselves. So I pointed my camera down into the heart of the flower as much as I could, and created this collage.

Smith College

In another part of the greenhouse complex, there is a room of tropical plants, and this tree was dropping this seed pod, which looked like the furry tail of some strange creature. I could not resist a shot of it, and the way the sun filtered in the back of the photo gives it an interesting glow.

Odd tree

Peace (is beautiful),

Kevin

Slice of Life: Who Stole My Hour?

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

That hour ... Gone

Not much more to say here … my hour went missing last night and now I am wondering where it went … the only good news about Daylight Savings is that Spring has to be right around the corner, right?

Peace (in the leap),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Hearing Voices of the Past

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16You ever have one of those strange moments when you hear a voice on the radio and you think: I know that voice but you can’t for the life of you remember why or who?

That happened to me yesterday on my drive into school. I was listening to New England Public Radio and this commentator came on, talking about dogs and cats and spit and love.

I know .. interesting, right?

But as I listened to the piece and wondered about the dog/cat debate (I used to be cat; now I am dog), I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew that voice — that timbre and tone and rhythm.

Who was it? Come on, memory banks. It’s not that early in the morning! You’ve had your coffee!

I never got to the answer on my own, but thankfully, the radio helped me out. The commentator was Robert Chipkin. Not many of you know him (and if you do, it would be really weird but it would also very cool), but he was an important person in my “life before teaching.” Before getting into education, I was a journalist for a decade with the larger daily newspaper in Western Massachusetts, and “Chip” was my first city editor there.

He was a patient man, it seemed to me now in retrospect, since I didn’t know what the heck I was doing when I got the job. Or maybe I knew just enough to get hired but not enough to know what to do when I was there. You know the drill, I am sure. (Turns out, the same thing happened when I got hired as a teacher at the end of one summer. I’m still trying to figure it out.)

Chip helped shape my stories and talked to me about the finer points of newspaper writing. He wasn’t a mentor, per se, but a decent editor who taught me some of the ropes of being a journalist and the politics of the newsroom. I was not a star by any stretch. Not rising nor falling. Just an average reporter, in it more for the chance to write every day than the glory of breaking some huge story.

Hearing Chip’s voice in my car, and connecting his voice to his face in my memory … that sent me on one of those time tumbles, where you are taken back to your past. There I was, at my desk in the newsroom, wondering what the heck I was going to write on deadline, knowing my editors would be needing something any minute now.

I’d better get writing …

Peace (in the past),
Kevin

PS — Chip left the newspaper before I did and yet he writes a humorous column from the narrative voice of his dog at the newspaper. Talk about strange twists.

 

Slice of Life: One Reader, Many Texts

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16One of the more significant “shifts” in any version of Common Core-aligned curriculum in the upper grades (and maybe even some lower grades) is having students reach across varied texts and then synthesize what they have read in a piece of developed writing. I am trying to do more of that with my sixth graders, but still find the coordination of texts, graphic organizers and thoughtful writing components is a lot to ask of many of my students.

We did some work with this ‘reading across texts’ yesterday in class. It was one of those “teacher-led, think-aloud” days, where we worked together with the reading (the passages were about zoos and animals, so there was high interest by many), the annotated highlighting of passages, the breaking apart of the inquiry question (compare/contrast), building on graphic organization strategies from the whole year to adjust to more than one text, citing evidence from the three passages in a single piece of writing,  and then talking through the writing piece.

It was fruitful but exhausting, in many ways, and some students still had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes. We’ll be doing this more than a few times this year, of course, and normally I go deeper into multiple texts and synthesis writing later in spring as we move more into argumentative writing. But our state is moving some of the PARCC style components into our state test this month, and waiting for my curriculum map to catch up to us would be an injustice to students who likely will be confronted with these multiple-text questions (we saw some last year, too, but this year, the state has told us there will be PARCC components).

I’m not saying being able to read and comprehend, and write about, varied text is not a good skill to have. It is. I just know I, as teacher, need to keep learning more varied and better ways to teach it because even after what I think was some pretty decent teaching (if I do say so myself), I know it was not enough. And I have been thinking and working with this for quite some time now. I even led some PD with my colleagues a few years back.

But we always can learn more …

Peace (here, there, everywhere),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Face on the Floor

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16One of the best things about Slice of Life (there are many, of course) is that writing about moments every single day focuses your attention on things otherwise forgotten or ignored. You are always on the look-out for something you missed.

I was walking down the school hallway yesterday morning, taking a break from an early morning of filling out report cards, when I saw a face that I see every day, and think: I should take a picture of that.

So, I did, knowing that I would be writing about it this morning. This Face on the fFloor, shaped by the construction of the floor tiles — and a chip in the tiles that has expanded into a sort of mouth — and the emergency door system, is just a wonderful surprise, and sometimes, I try to imagine what it is thinking all day long. (Heck, that just might be a Daily Create suggestion in the future).

Face in the Floor

The Face seems contemplative about the world around it, doesn’t it? Almost … amused. 

We all see the world in different ways and I never asked students, How many of you have noticed the Face in the Floor? They pass over it and by it a dozen times a day. They are more likely to be chatting with friends, or thinking of lunch, or juggling books and binders, or looking at the artwork on the walls.

This might be a good writing prompt in my classroom …

Peace (on all of our faces),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Hanging Out With Teachers

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16Our students had a half-day yesterday because of teacher professional development session, but the presenter for our afternoon session on literacy was sick so a collection of us teachers in grades four through six spent the afternoon talking about writing in the content areas.

It was fruitful, if only to have time to meet and talk with colleagues in other grades about teaching. We only rarely have time to collaborate with colleagues outside of our grade areas these days, given schedules and district priorities and such. To be honest, we also all have report cards on our mind (they go out on Monday).

After my school day ended, I zoomed off to the second session of a course I am co-facilitating with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project around using the Library of Congress digital archives for primary source and student inquiry projects. It was another great session, even though everyone was tired after a long day in the classroom. We spent a lot of time working on creating primary source text sets and developing lesson plans, as they will be teaching a lesson with primary sources and bringing student work back to our last session in three weeks.

I wrote about this professional development course and the work we are doing with the Library of Congress at Middleweb, if you are interested.

In both cases — at my school and at the PD session — the level of discussions, questions and sharing reminded me of the power of teachers coming together. While the impromptu session at my school could have used more structure, the conversations were valuable. In the evening session, the exploration of something new with student inquiry as the focus remains a spark of celebration. I am grateful to have been part of both.

Peace (and connect),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Sitting Down with Mike

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16My friend, Michael Silverstone, has started up a monthly podcast series in which he is interviewing folks along a wide range of ideas … with creativity at the center. Michael is a teacher, musician, songwriter, published writer, and a colleague in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. He asked if I would join him for a conversation for his First Saturday Podcast series, and we talked about writing, teaching, technology, kids and more.

These kinds of conversations, where someone asks you questions, give you an opportunity to evaluate our thinking, to reflect in the moment and peruse your view of the world, out loud. I did not know what questions Michael would be asking before I joined him, although I had some ideas given our similar paths, but I enjoyed the flow of the discussion as we sat in his living room.

The podcast (30 minutes long, just so you know) went live this weekend and I just got to listen to to it yesterday as I was getting my classroom ready for the school day. It’s an odd experience, to hear yourself like that, but I think we did a nice job of moving through important ground, even with my numerous “uhs” that peppered my thinking out loud.

Thank you, Michael, for inviting me into your podcast.

Peace (in the reflection),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Looking at Trees

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16My youngest son asked if he could invite some friends over to go play in the neighborhood woods. Of course, we said yes, and I was tasked with being the ‘adult nearby’ during the nearly three hours they played Capture the Flag, and then Manhunt, and then various forms of Hide and Seek.

Three hours of fresh air in their lungs on a sort of cold day and lots of running and playing. Their clothes were all muddy when they were done. Not that they cared.

My dog was my companion, and as the kids were playing and needing no help from me (and I purposely kept myself aloof from their planning and playing), I started to notice the trees.

I dug out my phone camera and began to take shots of the various trees, moving closely in to get textures and slight colors, and I love how this collage captures the variety of tree trunks I examined.

Trees

Peace (in the observation),
Kevin