Category Archives: Photos

Inspiring Words From a 9-Year Old

This week, students wrote letters to themselves which we will revisit in June. Take a look at what this student wrote. I was so proud of him for doing all of this on his own and for expressing such beautiful sentiments.

This student writes, "I will always believe in myself."

Assessment with Investment

Today, I presented my students with a challenge. In their mind, they were just making pictures using base 10 blocks. In essence, yes, that’s what they were doing. In my mind, however, they were taking their first math test of the school year.

We have worked on place value (ones and tens) since the beginning of the school year. Kids are improving in their grasp of the concepts, which perhaps I have not always done the best job of helping them understand. On day one, we looked at a 100s grid (our school is pushing them big time this year), and practiced counting by 2s and then 10s. When I tried to transition from 0-10-20-30-40…100 to more difficult tasks like 3-13-23-33… it was difficult. I guess I had to get back into teaching mode, so I scrapped this for base 10 blocks (which are obviously more concrete). This unlocked something in most.

Inspiration struck one day when, before the lesson, I told kids to take 5 minutes to play with the blocks (just to get it out of their system). I noticed they began to build sculptures with them. I capitalized on this the next day and asked them to make sculptures again. This time, we counted the blocks by 10s and 1s to see the total value.

I spun this into today when I provided the class with nine paper 10s and nine paper ones, which they had to color and cut out. Their challenge was to use all or some of those paper base 10 blocks to create a scene on paper. I modeled with a baseball field and encouraged them to create their own scene, rather than copy mine.

They were thrilled to do so. It was silent in the room (in a great way, because they were so invested in their work). And, to be sure, they came up with some amazing products.

Tomorrow, I will ask them to complete a sheet (this becomes the real assessment) in which they indicate how many tens and ones are in their scene. They then, simply, have to write how they figured out their answer (math writing is another big push this year, and I am amazed how much my kids enjoy it so far).

This isn’t a quiz or a test in the traditional sense, but it is an authentic assessment to see how independent students are with the topic. I am much happier to give this assignment to them than the other options. This keeps school fun, active, and creative, and that is so very important for kids with disabilities.

This Year’s Classroom: A Field of Dreams


***Note: For some reason, when I returned to this page, I saw the formatting looked horrible. So I moved the photos to a gallery format. It looks neater, but unfortunately the photos are not near the text to which they apply. So I guess you’ll have to play a little matching game. Sorry about that! ***

This is the first time in my career I had enough time to set up my classroom so that kids aren’t coming in on day one and tripping over boxes and staring at ugly walls. Although the room has a decidedly obvious slant in favor of my dear New York Mets, the theme for the room is “Field of Dreams.” I will explain during this brief photo tour (after all, the kids are almost here!)

Our Field of Dreams

I wanted students to enter through a bright, inviting door each day, and one with a message. I want them to understand three things from this door. One, our classroom is a field of dreams, where if you dream it, you can achieve it. I want positive vibes in my classroom so my students will feel good about themselves and each other. Two, the sign of the player diving for the ball says, “Dare to try.” I think we will read this together everyday as a reminder that it’s good to take a leap of faith. Finally, the people are dressed in Mets colors, with each child’s name (blurred out here) and number. I will take photographs of each child, myself, and my paras, and put the faces on the heads. This is a symbol for the family/team element that I always preach in my classroom.

Dare to try.


I always display the Central Park John Lennon mosaic in my room. It inspires me and fits in perfectly with a theme where dreams are encouraged, not dashed. To boot, I am also going to be pushing Angela Maiers’ message, “You Matter.” I want this to be a message to everyone in the room, including the students, my paras, me, and any other adult or child that comes into our room.

You matter.

Leveled library.

Our book nook carries through with the baseball/Mets theme, with reading levels written in Mets colors on baseball gloves. Students choosing to use the book nook can sit in bean bag chairs, use the listening center, and read to stuffed animals like this monkey. As an added wrinkle, one of the Mets stuffed animals in the book nook was a gift from a student my first year teaching.

Read to me?

World Series Writers

Continuing the baseball theme, students’ published writing will be hung on a board that says “World Series Writers” with a pennant commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Mets 1969 World Series win. As you can see, pennants are common through the room. One of the activities I am so excited for is having students create their own pennants on which they write their dream for the school year. They will hang in our room as reminders for us to work to achieve our goals, whether as Grand Slam Scientists or Major League Mathematicians.

Major League Mathematicians

Grand Slam Scientists

Community supplies

My community supplies idea took on a different look once I got to setting up the room. Here are some less frequently used supplies that table leaders will be responsible for retrieving. On the tables, there are already bins with scissors, pencils, pens, erasers, post-its, staplers, staples, and glue. That way, no one is ever without something they need. Not a novel idea by any stretch, but certainly a step in the right direction for someone like me, who is almost chronically disorganized.

Making global connections

This is one part of the room that almost became an afterthought because I didn’t plan for it properly. However, my goal is to have students mark on the world and United States map any blog comments or Skype sessions we have. I am excited about broadening my students’ worldviews this way.

Some surprises...

An elementary teacher needs not lose sight of the fact that it’s elementary school. Because of that, I hung some Mets decor that doesn’t really serve an educational purpose, but rather just lightens the mood. I think it will surprise the kids when they see it, plus, it’s just fun. It’s not in a place that interferes with instruction, so why not? Of course, as colleagues have stopped by this week, I have dealt with my fair share of ribbing and accepted my fair share of compliments on the Mets stuff. And for anyone who asks “What about the kids who don’t like the Mets?” I say, “They’ll like them by June!”

...just for fun!

Beautiful Things Await

As I watched coverage of Hurricane Irene barreling up the eastern coast of the United States and eventually situating over New York last night, the photographer in me kept saying, “Oh, but what a sunset it’s going to be when she leaves.”

We weren’t disappointed tonight. Although this picture doesn’t do it justice, the sunset was absolutely stunning.

This week, I head back to school to begin setting up my classroom. As I was preparing some things to take, I was reflecting about some of the stuff that happened at school last year – both in my control and out of – that I didn’t like. There were some storms I had to weather, no doubt. By the end of the year, though, the sun was breaking through, and what was at times a difficult experience resulted in a beautiful payoff.

This year, when the storms hit, I will do my best to remember tonight’s sunset. I will try to weather those storms in pursuit of the beautiful things that await.

Yes, I Underestimated Them

A tweet came across my desk last night as I was preparing for today’s return to school. In the tweet was a link to a site offering ideas about how to use digital cameras in the classroom. I was intrigued due to my own experiences with kids and cameras. Clicking through, I read one idea that’s not new to me, but wasn’t on my mind when it should have been: give kids cameras to document science experiments.

With our class taking the next month to immerse ourselves in reading and writing science, I figured it’d be a great way to help the kids observe our plants and provide information about them. This was also a spin on an idea I presented in one of my professional development courses, where students could visit a garden to photograph plants rather than draw them. I figured we could do something different and enhance engagement for the children who struggle to draw and write. I pulled the cameras out of the closet at home and set them with my other bag to bring into school.

Of course, when I got into my room this morning, reality struck. There simply wouldn’t be enough time to charge up all the batteries and organize everything. Poor planning? Perhaps. I’ll take the hit on that. Well, the show must go on.

I thought back to the class’ previous experiences drawing plants when observing them. Nothing too special. The artists did it gladly and well, but most did a very quick sketch without detail that wasn’t an accurate representation of anything earthly. I knew they needed me to show them how a scientist draws – with details, and big enough for someone to learn from. That was my push – “You need to draw a picture of the seed and pretend the person looking at it never saw a seed before. You need to show people what a seed really looks like.”

With my modeling and an authentic, understood purpose, they were able to do it. Some kids struggled to comprehend the size they should draw at, and that it’d help to subtly change colors as seen on the seed, but other than that, what an improvement.

I put the cameras back in the closet and locked them up. I don’t think we’ll be needing them for this anymore.

The First Pictures Come Back

Six photographers have been born in the last few days in my class. The first round of students to take cameras home in an effort to capture their neighborhood in an image have returned with some interesting shots. (Read about The Mosaic Project here).

Presented for your consideration, then, are a smattering of the first photographs created by my students this year. Enjoy, and when you’re done, go take a look at some of last year’s work by clicking here.

Mosaic Project Gaining Steam

Just wanted to pop on here to let you all know that the first round of photographers in my class brought back some images today. Three more will tomorrow. I will post some of their best work in the coming days.

(Click the link to the Mosaic Project for more information).

You Can Help a Class Learn Photography

As you know, I am teaching my class about photography. We recently received cameras from Donors Choose – yet we still can’t start without your help!

My 28 fifth graders are all living in poverty. They are anxiously waiting to start taking pictures and apply their newfound knowledge of photography. They are eager to show themselves and others the amazing work they are capable of doing.

We have a big problem, though. While we were thrilled to receive three beautiful new digital cameras through the generosity of folks on Donors Choose, we were disheartened to discover that the vendor no longer carried what we requested. We were expecting memory cards and cases to come with our cameras, but they didn’t.

Now, we need your help. Without these essential accessories, all we have is cameras that can’t do anything except sit idly by.

We need memory cards to capture our bound-to-be-beautiful photos. Camera cases will protect our cameras when our teacher allows us to take them home.

With cameras, cases, and cards, we will be able to tackle the challenge of capturing captivating photographs of our bustling neighborhood, and then share them with the community.

This is a wonderful opportunity for you to help a group of eager young photographers. Please provide us with the funds to purchase memory cards and camera cases. Please provide us with memories for a lifetime


If you’re able and willing, I’d be ever so grateful for any amount of money you can donate to help me purchase some resources essential for The Mosaic Project.

Please follow the link to Donors Choose and give! Thanks so much.

Haiti Horrors Renew Journalism Debate

As an undergrad, I studied broadcast journalism and saw myself someday working in the radio side of the industry. I really enjoyed journalism but came to realize that as fun as it might be, there was nothing tangible to motivate me. There was no reciprocation of my work that could motivate me. Seeing my name in print, hearing my voice, and eeing my face on tv could sustain the professional side of me, but were not going to be factors that could sustain the human side of me. So I abandoned journalism for teaching (the right move and one I’d make a million times again).

Anyway, one of the most interesting facets of my journalism education was the ethical side of it. My journalism ethics class was fascinating, and I am reminded of the most spirited discussion we had in the class. The debate was about the journalist’s obligation to journalism versus the obligation to humanity. Our talk centered on Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer winning photograph, taken in the Sudan, of a seemingly malnourished and dying baby lined up in the sights of a vulture, clearly about to become the bird’s prey. When Carter ended his life at age 33, not two years after snapping the photo, many felt that he did so as a response to the internal battle his conscience was waging with his professional obligation to report the news objectively.

Photo by Kevin Carter

The question was posed to us: As a journalist, what should the photographer have done? Should he have snapped the photo and left the baby there (as he did)? Or, should he have snapped the photo and taken the baby to safety? To me this is the essence of my frustration with journalists.

Now, I will be totally forthright in saying that I have purposely avoided watching coverage of the disaster in Haiti. It’s not that, a) I’m not fascinated by large scale news stories like this, or b) that I am indifferent to the plight of the devastated Haitian community. Rather, it’s the combination of those factors that keeps me away: I am worried that if I inhale the nonstop coverage, I will become indifferent to the crying, screaming, and endless piles of bodies. And if I did that, I would cease being myself.

Despite not having watched much coverage, I have read a little. And today, I read online in the New York Times that some reporters were overstepping the bounds of professionalism as they covered the story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to see humanity from these otherwise ruthless individuals. Yet there is a significant part of me that feels, in a very traditional sense, that the journalist’s role is to give us, “just the facts, please.”

By the end of the Kevin Carter debate back in college, I was one of a smattering of people holding out on one side of the issue. While most said Carter should have removed the baby from harm, I argued that what he did – as a journalist – was totally proper. Had he helped the baby, he would have been interfering in the story. My human heart told my professional heart it was crazy, but I am one of the ones who feels that in the field of journalism, you are a journalist first and a human being second. That’s one of the reasons I wanted out. (From Time: Carter was painfully aware of the photojournalist’s dilemma. “I had to think visually,” he said once, describing a shoot-out. “I am zooming in on a tight shot of the dead guy and a splash of red. Going into his khaki uniform in a pool of blood in the sand. The dead man’s face is slightly gray. You are making a visual here. But inside something is screaming, ‘My God.’ But it is time to work. Deal with the rest later. If you can’t do it, get out of the game.”)

People will read this and say I am a dreadful soul. However, I truly believe that journalists exist to just tell a story. It’s not the journalist’s duty to do anything else, and, in fact, becoming involved diminishes the credibility of the reporter and the organization.

This brings me to another issue I pondered today. In the above linked column, I also read that CNN was airing footage of Dr. Sanjay Gupta running through the streets to help a victim, showing it ad infinitum while he was speaking, effectively making him part of the story, if not the story itself. What service is done showing Gupta this way? He is only one doctor dealing with an overwhelming situation. It also made me wonder what role he is serving in Haiti. Is he a doctor or a reporter? Can you be both?

The line is so fine in journalism now that hardly any truly objective outlets still exist. Am I stuck in a time warp when I complain that journalists are allowing themselves to be human? Maybe I am.

Let me just be clear. I think any human being sincerely showing compassion and aiding the recovery efforts in Haiti – and doubling as a journalist – is a good person. As a journalist in the purest sense of the job, though, it might be time to reconsider your role.

I realize these may be unpopular opinions, yet I’ll stand by them. That’s just the world as I see it.

It’s a time for all of us to open our wallets and give any amount to the Red Cross that we can. The earthquake will come to define Port-au-Prince and Haiti for decades, and we have a responsibility, from our comfortable, safe homes, to assist with what we can. Please donate.

Off and Writing

As a teacher, I look to assign work through which students can make a deep personal investment. Every teacher knows that if work relates to a child’s world, their dedication to achieving success in the work will be that much greater.

Our Mosaic lesson today focused on cultivating thoughts that would motivate  the students to capture photographs that spoke about them as members of the community. I shut the lights, asked them to put their heads down, close their eyes, and get comfortable. I prayed the phone or fire alarm wouldn’t ring and that no student would immaturely sabotage the meditation activity I was about to lead the class through.

(I should take this opportunity to mention that so much of the wonderful work I was able to get out of my students last year – and anticipate this year – is due to the mentoring of one of my favorite photographers, and friends, Jessica Fei. She is the one who suggested, among countless other ideas, the meditation exercise as a way to stimulate thinking. Her site showcases her breathtaking photos.) 

The meditation required the students to visualize themselves in an elevator, that, upon opening would deposit them on their neighborhood block. Eyes closed, I asked them to look around, noting colors, shapes, sounds, tastes, textures, smells, feelings, voices, and languages. I had them return to the elevator, and when it opened this time, they’d be back in the classroom. When I gave the command to open their eyes, there was to be no talking or questions. They opened their notebooks and started writing immediately about what they experienced after they got out of the elevator.

Bliss ensued. Pencils flew across the pages as students fought to record the words as quickly as their hands would allow them. No one spoke. It was an unspoken understanding as we all united in passion for this experience. No one wanted to break the sanctity of the creativity and silence. I tiptoed through the room, lights still off, trying to remain unobtrusive as I excitedly fought to read their passages. For a solid 15 or 20 minutes, my charges dedicated themselves to total detail recall.

Maintaining my calm voice I told the students that, if they chose, they could continue to write down details. The others, though, should proceed by reading what they wrote and condensing it into one sentence beginning with the words, “My neighborhood is”. For some, this was a major challenge, given the amount they wrote, but they approached it with similar gusto. I remained elated and inspired. I eagerly and greedily skipped around the room, anxious to see what gold they were mining with their words.

When we joined together 10 minutes later, I told the class that they would each be required to read one of their sentences to the group. There would be no commentary. It would just be an opportunity for us to all hear, enjoy, and ponder the different viewpoints. For some students, sharing personal, intimate work like what they did today is terrifying. Yet, they all spoke clearly and proudly when they read their amazing sentences.

Two stick in my head tonight as I reflect on the day with my blossoming storytelling photographers. One girl wrote something along the lines of, “My neighborhood is a place for family and memories.” I just loved how she recognized the impact of the neighborhood in formulating memories. She’s also set herself up for wonderful possibilities and some creative thinking. I asked her on the way out how she planned to capture such a sentence. She said she’d bring her family outside into the street (I think there is great potential here). I was really intrigued by the question I left her with, though. I wanted to know how she planned to show a memory in a photo. I can’t wait to see what ideas she brings back.

The other sentence that really touched me was constructed by a boy who, unlike any of my students, immigrated to this country less than 3 years ago. He’s a quiet young man, who is older than his peers, and while I wouldn’t call him shy, I would say he’s withdrawn. His sentence carries the impact that makes this project so wonderful. When he read it to the class, it was very longwinded, and he knew he had to get it to be more succinct and clearer.

As he left the room, I remarked how much I enjoyed the thoughts he was seeking to convey. And he told me that he had figured out how to say what he meant. He struggled to get the words out properly, and said “My neighborhood is where I was born.” I reminded him he wasn’t born here, and he clarified, saying “It’s where I started a new life.” So I said, “Do you mean to say ‘My neighborhood is where I was reborn?” That was it, he said, and he positively beamed when I told him how fantastic his idea was. I’m just tickled pink that a student of mine took this so much to heart and unlocked a piece of himself that can be let out creatively.

The Mosaic Project, year two. New students, new thoughts. A project, and teacher, reborn.