Tag Archives: Photography

Another Case for Cell Phones in School

It’s 2012, so of course that means that one of the most ubiquitous tools at our students’ disposal is also one of the most reviled in NYC. Cell phones are simply not allowed in schools. There are too many people in positions of power who see them as texting, calling, and gaming devices as opposed to cameras, computers, and encyclopedias (ie. something that could enhance one’s education rather than take away from it like, I don’t know, test prep).

My kids are too young to have smartphones, but I’m a big boy so I get to have one. Today, it came in handy.

This year’s class got their first experiences using my set of digital cameras today. I thought I had one per customer, but as it turns out, I was two short. Nearly everyone was armed and ready to go on a scavenger hunt collecting pictures of arrays, but I had to improvise for the two who got shut out. So, one got my iPad and the other got my, you guessed it, phone.

There they were, traipsing about the halls, looking for arrays. Flashbulbs popped here, flashbulbs popped there. A girl held an iPad up and snapped away. And there was my cell phone user, happily capturing arrays all over the building.

Without a cell phone, she would have been excluded from the activity. That’s the way some would prefer us to have it, but it’s not the way I prefer to operate.

Without a cell phone, at least one of my students would not have been able to participate in our array scavenger hunt today. Instead, she was able to complete the same task as her peers.


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.

Portrait of a Former Student

Last night, I was tidying up my blog by categorizing posts into groups consistent with the phase of my career during which they were written. I started this blog on the eve of 2010, thinking it would cover photography, cooking, and teaching, erroneously and embarrassingly fancying myself as someone worth reading when I had no expertise in anything. It has evolved a lot since then, and as I was poring over some old posts, I was recalling some of the things that have happened in my classroom since I first welcomed a handful of readers into it. It was truly a pleasure to find myself saying, “Huh, I remember that” as I read, and doing so helped me realize just how much has gone on in my rooms since I began blogging. It’s impossible to get a handle on it all when you’re in the thick of it, so the blog provides me a nice time capsule and opportunities to reminisce.

One of my regrets was that I never had the opportunity to blog about my first year. It was all so fresh to me and I had a really unique group of students with wonderful stories to share. I wasn’t turned on to Twitter and blogging until the middle of my second year, though. And so, I thought it slightly ironic to be walking outside the school playground to my car this afternoon and hearing my name being screamed by a bolt of black clothing running toward me. Turns out it was one of my old favorite students from way back in my first year.

Normally, when a former student and I cross paths, they are so reluctant to speak that the only word that they are able to muster in response to anything I say is, “Good.” I had seen this girl once or twice since she graduated, but never did we have the chance to speak, either because of her shyness or just the fact that we were passing too quickly. But today she was so excited to talk that she practically climbed over the chain link fence.

We talked about how school was and who she’s still friends with. I remembered her motivation to learn photography and in our very brief previous conversations she indicated she was the official photographer for her sister’s wedding. As it turns out she’s taken on more photographic responsibilities: a cousin’s communion and documenting her niece’s first days. She is so into it.

My assistant principal told me during the first year of The Mosaic Project that giving the kids cameras was like giving them gold. In the case of at least one former student, it appears the investment was a good one.

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.

Cross-Country Collaboration Continues to Amaze

We are spending time each day in my class at least talking about our upcoming collaboration with Pernille Ripp’s class in Wisconsin. On some days we are doing work related to the project. On others we are simply discussing. Today, when I broached the topic with my students, David felt the need to opine indignantly, “Mrs. Ripp, Mrs. Ripp, Mrs. Ripp. Everything is Ripp, Ripp, Ripp!” Had David gotten the message I got this evening, perhaps his thoughts would have been different.

I received a very exciting note from Pernille around 4:30. She notified me to say that her class’ care package was in the mail, and I could expect it in 3 to 5 days.

And I was totally like, “WOO HOO!”

Honestly, our collaboration has taken on a life of its own. I never dreamed there would be gifts involved. And food! I never thought I’d be trying so hard to outfox and outmaneuver Pernille and stay a step ahead of her in terms of what my class can present to her’s. (I think I’m falling behind…)

Nor did I envision my students starring in a video tour of the school. We plan to share it with Mrs. Ripp‘s class. I especially didn’t expect three of my quietest girls to stand shoulder to shoulder for their line and say it with such confidence. It’s odd – whenever the still camera comes out when I want to document their learning, notebooks become shields and faces miraculously disappear behind hands. However, for the video, there was no such trepidation or angst. The girls stood tall and proud, sharing information about their school.

This is fast developing into a project that I can begin to consider a hallmark in my career. There is such an in-sync sharing of ideas and inspiration. I’m amazed at what is transpiring in my class because of this, and I feel the potential is somewhat limitless.

There are benefits for me and cross-country collaborator Pernille, but they’re incidental to what we’re seeing from our kids.

What a Way to Start a Day

I woke up to several unexpected inbox items this morning, and happily, I can say the urge (read: overwhelming need) to use the bathroom 15 minutes before my alarm sounded gave me a chance to enjoy them before work. (Sorry for the borderline TMI there. Don’t turn away).

First of all, I was treated to a bevy of unexpected, unsolicited, blog comments. Okay, here, “bevy” means two, but I’ll take it. Most uplifting were the complimentary thoughts left by newbie blogger Gingersalad, who wrote,

“Hi! I admire your not-so-hearty liking of the educational system, your ingenious Mosaic project, and your genuine concern for your students. I wish I have teachers like you in my school. Ah well. But thank you, thank you from across the country, thank you for being a teacher who cares.” 

And, thank you, Gingersalad, for taking the time to so thoughtfully acknowledge what I’m trying to do. (Side note: check out the burgeoning blog, linked above. Looks like Ginger is feeling out what the focus of the blog will be, but there’s some good writing already up).

This reminded me of a colleague of mine (text-to-self connection!) who spent weeks preparing an ESL lesson for a dozen administrators, and later learned it was the best one seen that day (according to our principal). The way this intrepid teacher put it was along the lines of, “One compliment and suddenly I love being a teacher again.” In a profession where there is so much negativity, we live for the dangling carrot of sincere appreciation. It’s nice to know people out there still appreciate teachers! 

Next up for my review was an email from one of last year’s students, who experienced the Mosaic Project in all its seminal glory. She wrote to say that her sister is getting married and “l keep begging her to let me be her photogropher.” Okay, maybe the spelling remains the same, but it is wonderful to hear how much photography has become a part of her being. Her sister relented, because the email concludes with, “she said ok and i got so excited,because i love taking pictures”. This was particularly wonderful to read just a couple of days after writing here about how different – and not in a good way – this year’s Mosaic was going to be. Perhaps this year’s class is not getting quite the same experience, but maybe there’s a spark being kindled for their future.

Lastly, the published versions of what students were working on for the Mosaic Project (ie. “painting” a picture with words, rather than taking one with a camera as a way to project one’s image of the neighborhood) were due today. Only 15 came back (this class does have major issues with homework), but some of them were really sincere. They carried an almost nostalgic quality to them. Very deep for fifth graders. Here’s a sample (I’m attempting a foray into pseudo-pseudonyms, so let’s see if I can keep this straight):

Nick: “(My neighborhood) smells like fresh plants on a spring day…When I (run) as fast as a cheetah, the wind (feels) good like if I were flying with my wings spread out. In winter, I always play snowball fights. And the best part in winter is hot chocolate. When it’s fall, I invite my friends to come. We gather leaves chipperly.”

Leo: “The wind is just floating and it says nothing.”

Compatible Felicia: “It is so quiet that I could hear the air blowing.”

Esperanza: “I am humble about (my neighborhood). Some people might think it is grotesque, but to me, it’s a jewel. I consider people very unfortunate that they don’t have a neighborhood like mine.” (No, you haven’t tuned into NBC, despite the plethora of properly used Olympic words).

Bradley: “I don’t know why some people walk and some people drive…But if there were no cars, this neighborhood wouldn’t be the same. It would be too quiet, and I’m not used to that…Who ever made this neighborhood probably brags a lot because it’s like a jewel, so it’s too pretty to be humble about.”

Gladys: “There is a bakery on the corner of the street. Just filled with different kinds of scents. Like fresh cookies out of the oven. And the chocolate melting. And also like cheesecake and angel food cake. It’s heaven in there.”

Mighty Mouse: “In the summer…I will only think about should I stay home, drink cold water, and eat fruit? Or go buy ice cream in the hotness.”

Pinky: “I do feel safe and comfortable. It is where I originated. I don’t feel danger in my neighborhood because I know everyone in my neighborhood. Even though they don’t know me.”

Capt. Potential: “What I like about my neighborhood is when I wake up, I hear birds singing.”

Santa Claus: “I know my neighborhood blindfolded, no one knows more about this neighborhood more than I do…My neighborhood is sometimes scary, all lights off or gangs passing by and there’s a conflict between them. I avert them.”

Many of them used their Olympic words (which are working out much better than earlier in the week), as well as similes, and very few forced them in. We’re going for organic, and we’re getting organic!

Thanks for stopping by and checking in. Enjoy the weekend!

Shattered Mosaic

The Mosaic Project should have been one of the highlights of my students’ final year in elementary school. They would be studying photography, learning about different types of phtographs, and taking the cameras home to capture shots of their cultural and neighborhood experiences.

Why not? That’s what I did last year in my first year of the project, so at worst, this year would be a repeat. At best, I would improve on last year’s and continue doing so throughout my career.

Unfortunately, the best laid plans often find a way of going to waste, don’t they? With the restructuring of the all important testing schedule, so that my dear children will face double the pressure in a span of less than 2 weeks (rather than 3 months), all designs of a wonderful Mosaic experience have essentially been shattered.

Last year, my students produced over 100 photographs. Everyone displayed a shot of their neighborhood and most produced photos of their cultures. This year, cultural photoraphy wasn’t even an option, given the time constraints. (The enrichment project effectively ends next week, rather than May, like last year). Weather-related closings and the simple fact that I don’t trust cameras in the rain have made it difficult for me to send students home with them. With our deadline looming next week, I have sent a camera home with a grand total of only seven students (out of 28). Yikes.

Today, I let the class know that there would be absolutely no way everyone would be able to have a photograph displayed, given our looming deadline. Yet, I’m fully aware that all my students need to feel some connection to this suddenly uninviting, exclusive project. So today, I asked the students who won’t wind up taking photos to revisit their notes from our meditation exercise of some time ago, when we naively, exuberantly stood on the precipice of what promised to be an unforgettable learning experience.

I knew I had to do a serious sell job on this, considering envious eyes were watching as I distributed colorful, intriguing papers to the students who had already taken the camera (they were charged with a different, photo-related task). Basically, I framed the work for the non-photographers this way: even though you won’t have an actual picture to display, you can paint a picture with your words. So, let’s look at this as an opportunity to create a real tribute to your neighborhood. Maybe you love it. Maybe you hate it. But take the time and the effort to craft something – something almost poetic – that will show our guests what your neighborhood means to you.

Well, some bought it, and are taking very seriously the disappointing task set before them. It’s a let down, but it’s the best I can do at this point.

It’s a tough spot, and just another reason to give thanks to the deity that is the standardized testing culture. Hey, without them, my students might have actually been able to fulfill their photographic potential. But why would anyone want that? There’s no point. It’s all about the tests.

Snow Day Stinker

“Our expectation is that major streets will be totally cleared over night. And that will mean that city public schools will resume classes tomorrow. Sorry about that, for those that wanted another day off…We need to make sure that our kids get the education they need to enjoy the great American dream, and that means showing up in the classroom.”        – The Hon. Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Of course, in announcing his intention to open schools tomorrow, the mayor fails to take into account the reality that is digging out the car for the morning commute. (He missed a golden opportunity to plug the MTA here! WHY?)

This is the view from my door at about 8:40 pm, Feb. 10, 2010. Shoveling at this point is well, pointless.

After his sagacious announcement I immediately donned my boots, threw on my sweatshirt, zipped up my coat, and slipped into my gloves so I could dig out my car in advance of 4 am tomorrow (as Mayor Mike seems to expect teachers will). Seeing that it had been plowed past my windshield, I deduced that, given the still falling snow at 6 pm, it might not make much sense for me to overexert myself in the name of having to do it all over again tomorrow.

Mayor Mike may be fond of espousing the virtues of him riding the rails to City Hall each day (and today, the train was only 3/4 full, he told us!), but he failed to mention that he’s in all likelihood not the one digging the driveway out at Gracie Mansion.

Adding insult to injury, Bloomberg’s announcement was issued in a snide, condescending way. He smiled mockingly as he delivered the line apologizing to “those that wanted another day off.” Must be an inside joke he and his pal Klein were sharing, because the only sound you heard after that little doozy was the seething of every teacher in New York. Yes, we’re fully aware you don’t appreciate our value or our opinion, so PLEASE, BloomKlein, just rub our noses in it! We already know you think your teachers stink (DON”T THE TEST SCORES SHOW IT, AFTER ALL?) Please, please, PLEASE, continue to take every opportunity to broadcast that to the entire city and try to turn popular opinion against one of the most noble professions in the world and some of the most dedicated people working in the city.

If only for one day, Bloomberg could come down from his undeservedly high horse and situate himself in a teacher’s shoes. He takes only $1 in annual salary, but he more than makes up for it with the riches of his ignorance.

Don’t read this as a bitter teacher looking for another day off. Believe me when I say that days off benefit no one less than they do me.

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.