Tag Archives: Photography

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).

Taking Steps Toward Tolerance and Acceptance

There’s been a consistent gnawing at my cocoon of happiness regarding my class this year. While, in general, I find them to be an amiable, enjoyable bunch, I find that many of them lack one of my crucial requirements as a member of my classroom community – sensitivity toward others. 

It might be that they are unnerved easily. This might explain why, when we broached the topic of the Haiti disaster for the first time, and one of the students said she heard a lot of people died, two girls immediately burst into laughter. I was appalled and angered. The topic of death, or even the mention of someone dying, seems to bring out chuckles from this group. It always surprises me. I never expect it. 

The catalysts for today’s afternoon lesson (which I took some liberties in teaching – sometimes time is of the essence, though) were a couple of events that transpired over the previous two days. 

Before we left for the Broadway trip on Wednesday, I spoke with the ones who were going and made it clear how I expected them to handle themselves among their peers when they returned to school on Thursday. I knew they were listening and processing my words because everyone of them wore that slackjawed, tongue-wagging visage that says, “This guy is saying something important. He isn’t messing around. I can’t miss this.” Eyes were locked upon me as I told them they were not to discuss the trip with anyone who wasn’t on it unless asked. And if they were asked, they should say something like, “It was very nice. Thank you for asking. I’m sorry you weren’t there.” (As previously reported, this whole experience was difficult enough as it was without the ‘chosen ones’ pointing their noses in the air). 

Of course, Thursday morning, the class was particularly chatty. I have a pretty smoothly run classroom for the most part, save for maybe a couple of couplets that disrupt the others during quiet times in the day (such as reading). But on Thursday, it was a constant murmur. I was letting it go, just to see how it would play out. (I also feel there are some days when the kids align their stars in such a way that battling them isn’t worth the trouble, and as long as they’re staying on task for the most part, let it be. I mean, they are kids, after all). Anyway, I felt like Broadway was the topic fueling the chatter, and I have little doubt some of the play attendees were stoking the fire with their newfound sense of entitlement. 

Now, the lunch aide who monitors my class usually has nothing but lovely things to say about them. Truth be told, my class may be the only one quiet when I return to them after eating. But when I came back yesterday, she was incensed. They hadn’t been listening to her, she said, and that’s what set me off. So I launched into one of those slackjawed, tongue-wagging speeches, and the day proceeded beautifully. I made special mention that I was aware of what the kids who went on the trip were doing, and then laid on some pretty thick guilt, which, I’m sorry to say, is sometimes necessary. Today continued the smoothness of Thursday afternoon. 

The second issue that had me thinking occurred as we waited outside the doors of the theater before the show Wednesday. A man with a noticeable limp, being aided by a crutch and a companion, came down the stairs. On cue, and in unison, 15 heads turned to stare at him (slackjawed, tongue-wagging heads, I might add). There was down time, and they were enjoying eachother’s company, but here I stepped in to engage them in conversation about the theater. Much attention returned to me, but several remained fixated on the man as he walked down the stairs. 

When the students had remembered themselves (or gotten my point about not staring), I noticed one boy still fascinated by this man. I called him over to sit with me for a moment. He’s one of the top students in the class. Extremely studious, dynamic personality, and the kind of kid who ‘gets it’ when you talk to him about respecting others or doing the right thing. I told him that that man was just another person. Maybe he had something happen to him that made him need help walking, but he was still a person, just like us. There was nothing to look at, I told my student. He nodded, and I sent him back. 

(Kids will be kids, surely. I was much more understanding of incident number 2, the staring, because kids are always fascinated by something new to them, and I suspect many of them have hardly been in contact with a person with a disability. I chalk it up to inexperience and innocence. Incident number 1, though, I categorize as maliciousness toward fellow classmates – something for which I have a firmly stated zero tolerance policy). 

Last night, with frustration bubbling in me, I debated whether to stay home today and catch a break. Yet, knowing it was a two prep day and a couple of things were working in my favor for the afternoon, I figured I’d go in and see what I could do to take some steps toward tolerance. My class enjoys music, and I knew I wanted to do something through song. I pored over the internet for a couple of hours, trying to find a school-appropriate version of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Don’t Laugh at Me” and accompanying lesson plans and ideas. (Note: I’ve since ordered the kit to teach this wonderful song. You can do so here.) 

When that didn’t materialize, I considered Kermit’s classic ode to individuality, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” I decided it was a little too lower elementary for my class, and that the slow tempo might turn them off. So, finally, I settled on “What a Wonderful World,” with the idea that the students would conceptualize their vision of a wonderful world and then illustrate it. Down the road, I planned to have them transfer these ideas to the bigger concept of our responsibilty to each other as humans. 

I copied the lyrics this morning and went to prepare the CD (I keep a box set of Louis Armstrong’s in the classroom). The only problem was the song was not on the set. So I defaulted to option number two – another Peter, Paul, and Mary recording, and an iconic American song, “This Land is Your Land.” I had the CD in school already, so I printed and copied the lyrics. 

I introduced it in the afternoon by asking the students to look at the lyrics and discuss the theme of the song. What was Woody Guthrie trying to say when he wrote it? Responses were fairly simple, but pretty much on the money: anyone can live in the U.S. freely; it’s not just yours or mine, but ours, etc. I gave them a little help on some of the lyrics and emphasized the notions of Americana in the song, and then we listened. 

(One thing that tickles me about this class is their love of music. Getting last year’s class to sing was about as easy as getting an elephant to sit down at the dinner table and use a knife and fork. This group really likes to hear music and sing along – which only motivates me to sing things to them wherever I can). 

We gave it a couple of listens and they took notes about what they saw in the song – what they could draw or create to symbolize the theme of the song. After two listens, one of the girls – one of the ones who laughed about Haiti – said, “Aw, come on, one more time!” How could I refuse? I played it for her, “by special request.” They were singing now – all of them – and enjoying themselves. After the third listen, I put their task in front of them: they would be responsible for creating a picture that symbolized their interpretation of the song. 

And they were off! Here came the markers. Here came the scissors. Here came the fresh glue sticks (but only after they informed me matter of factly that the old ones had all died). Paper was passed, both white and construction, and they were pondering with pencils in hand what they would draw. Then inspiration hit. Looking to combine The Mosaic Project with this initial foray into tolerance, I distributed old photography magazines and encouraged collages and creativity.

"All of U Fit In" - one of the messages I hope to impress upon my students. (More work below).

That was it. They worked for over an hour planning and pasting their scenes. (I couldn’t resist, and started creating my own!) The range was large, and the sensitivity was evident. 

It’s a beginning. I plan to explore “What a Wonderful World” and “Don’t Laugh at Me” in the future. With my guidance, I am hoping these impressionable sponges get my message: that this land is our land and you shouldn’t be laughing at each other. So realize it’s not so bad being green and help make our classroom a wonderful world of caring citizens. 

Consider This. (Test to Follow)

I recently discovered a blog written by another young NYC male elementary teacher – we are a rare breed – and this week, “bronxteach” shared some of his concerns about the still controversial No Child Left Behind Act, particularly its perspective on standardized testing.

“bronxteach” writes: “Let’s start with testing. NAEP test scores have risen under NCLB and NYC test scores have risen under Mayor Bloomberg. Awesome news.” Yet, he continues by questioning what test scores actually tell us and whether they actually mean anything.

What’s the awesome news, then? Who cares if test scores have gone up? I know of no colleague who sees scores as an indicator of student ability or readiness for promotion. There are several logical qualms that consistently arise (not that education officials seem be the type that ever rely on logic).

One issue is the fact that test scores can be manipulated – in various ways, too. For one, year-to-year, test difficulty can change. The assessment of whether a test is easier or harder than the previous year’s is largely subjective, but the manipulation and scaling of scores can’t be passed as such. Last year, I’m told the range of raw scores was set in such a way that more students would show passing grades on the tests. This year, the prevailing thought is that, since the tests are later in the year, while the subjective difficulty of the tests might stay the same, the scales might be narrowed, thereby making it harder to achieve the almighty 3s and 4s.

What does this say about our students, then? How about nothing?

In this pursuit of the golden rings of ‘success’ that supposedly rest atop the wrongly glorified mountain of test preparedness, our poor, not knowing any better students are being shortchanged. They are forced to become mini machines with an ultimate goal each year of getting a 4 on the tests. It’s all they care about, so there’s no intrinsic motivation.

When schools exist solely to churn out robots that lose the experiences I hold so dear to my heart from my school days, there’s something very wrong. Too many students now come into the classroom, not with wide eyed, eager smiles, and a thirst for learning about their world, but rather with droopy eyed, perfunctory smiles and the knowledge that today will be another one spent doing rote work for the seeming sole purpose of their school career – the test.

Another significant factor in questioning the validity and integrity of test scores is the issue of promotion. If the test scores are supposed to measure a student’s abilities relative to grade level, why, pray tell, are students promoted when they get 1s and 2s? What’s the point of the test scores if they aren’t enforced? Am I making any sense? Because this testing codswallop sure isn’t.

Why put the kids through the drudgery and pressure of “doing well on the test”? They think that’s the be all, end all in education. Are these the learners we want to send into the world? When there’s no thirst for learning, there’s no desire to quench. There’s nothing to quench.

Obviously there needs to be some kind of standardization on which students are assessed. That’s the world in which we currently live. But that can’t be all. When our students are out in the world on their own, I highly doubt their test-taking skills won’t be what they need to succeed. Their analytical skills, creativity, ingenuity, and other higher-level thinking skills will carry them farther than anything else.

But we’re not cultivating these things, at least not with the same emphasis of test taking.

Consider these points a rambling rant brought on by the nonstop conversations around these issues that I have with my colleagues. Consider them a bunch of bosh. Consider them poorly written and confused. But whatever you do, consider them.

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.

My Neighborhood Is…

Here is a sample of my students’ (unedited) observations about their neighborhood, crafted after the elevator activity described in an earlier post.

My neighborhood is…

My neighborhood is the best because I'm surrounded with the people that love me.

…the memory of myself and my whole familly.

…a cat city with cats everywhere.

…the best because Im surrounded with the people that love me.

…cold, has trees and short building but nobody can forget the loveing of it neighborhood.

…quit and joyful place and that the place I was born again.

…interesting because amazing thing happen here that were really special to me when I move in the first time ever.

…a place that is very crowded, it is full with feeling, and joy.

…the world and it’s filled with people that has diffrent culchers.

…awsome because I live nere friends and family.

…really quit that you could hear the air blowing.

…fun and croded in the day time and in the morning is quet.

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.

The Photographer’s Photograph is the Viewer’s Story

Today began my students’ long-awaited foray into digital photography. Although they are somewhat aware of photography as a ‘thing the teacher does,’ my goal is to make them aware of photography as a powerful tool to tell stories and move peoples’ emotions.

I took a few minutes at the beginning of our lesson to have the students write the word “photograph” on one side of index card. Then I asked them to write the first word they thought of when they heard “photograph.” We then shared them with each other. To my chagrin, about 20 said “photo.” What an obvious and disappointing response! I often wish students would push themselves past the easy and push themselves! One student offered “family” as his association, and another said “memory” as hers. These were the answers I really wanted. I think tomorrow I’ll try the activity again, not allowing “story”  as an option, because that’s what I picked and that’s what we spent the lesson discussing.

To stimulate their thoughts of photographs as stories, I displayed a picture of a grey-haired man, dressed in a suit and smiling, leaning against a wall. I asked them to think of a story that made sense for this picture. Of course, I prefaced the activity with the typical “There is no wrong answer.” They didn’t seem enthused. Finally, hands began to go up. Here are some of their thoughts:

What do you see happening in this picture?

– Perhaps this man was at a party. He’s smiling because he just found an old friend who he hadn’t seen for a very long time.

– Maybe he was looking at his wife, and trying to get her to come take a picture with him.

– Possibly, that day, he did something really good or important, and all the photographers lined up around him in a semicircle.

– Could he be looking at some children laughing and playing?

– Maybe he is shy and doesn’t want his picture taken, so he’s looking away.

The winner, in terms of hilarity, was this, though. One student raised her hand, and addressed me, saying, “Well, he kind of looks like you. Maybe he’s related to you?” I asked her how he might be related. She said, “He might be your grandfather?”

When I told my dad this story, he laughed heartily. After all, the man in the picture is related to me. It’s not my grandfather – it’s my dad.

We then talked through about 5 photographs. Two student produced photos really sparked lively discussions. One of them depicts a man and woman eating at the dinner table, their faces serious, and neither looking at the other. On the right side of the frame, a teenage girl’s body has been cut off, leaving only her arm and part of her face (no eyes) in the picture. There was plenty of discussion about what was going on in the photo, and why this girl was cut off. We talked about whether it was her own decision to be placed in the picture like that (did she try to get away from the camera?) or the photographer’s (did she subconsciously or even consciously decide to cut the girl off as a statement?)

This photograph ignited a vivid discussion about the roles the subjects play, as well as the motivations of the photographer.

Then I posed this question, and it’s one I want to focus on more as the project progresses. I asked the class which they thought would be easier: for the girl to remove herself (ie. get away from the camera) or for the photographer to get the girl’s picture (ie. she could get the picture no matter what.)

They thought about it, and were pretty evenly split. Some reasoned that an unwilling subject could simply hide their face or leave the photographed area.  Then I demonstrated something with one of the boys. I told him to pretend he didn’t want to be photographed, and that I would try to photograph him. He lowered his head so I couldn’t see his face. I allowed him to think he was triumphant, but just for a few moments. I then took my imaginary camera and slipped it under him to take an imaginary photo. Just like that, I illustrated to the class the power a photographer has.

This is a very basic representation of a fantastically powerful fact. Photographers, as people who document life, are immensely powerful. The camera is an unique tool for evoking emotion and impacting change. I hope, through today’s introduction and our subsequent lessons, the students come to appreciate and internalize these ideals. This internal knowledge is so much more crucial than knowing simply how to work the camera. Armed with it, I expect the students to overwhelm me with their work.

I look forward to continuing toward that experience.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to a blog about this very topic. Interesting to see someone else writing about the same thing.

Back to Business

Students view peers' photos during an exhibition last year.

Tomorrow is the first day back at school for those of us here in New York, and for me it begins the second half of my second year of teaching.

NYC teachers  toil under certain curricular stresses that can make the job daunting. I am very fortunate, however, to work in a school where I have the opportunity to breathe my passions into my classroom as supplements to the traditional literacy and math programs. So this week, I will be commencing, for the second straight year, a unit on photography. If it’s anywhere near as successful as last year’s, it will be a wonderful experience.

Last year, armed with cameras and accessories I secured through the wonderful Donors Choose, my students captured fantastic images of their culture and diverse neighborhood. As they brought their original pictures to me throughout the process, I was continually amazed and inspired.

Students found inspiration to photograph their neighborhood through a meditation process a friend of mine (who herself is an outrageously talented photographer) led them through. At the end of it, students composed a sentence that depicted their personal vision of the neighborhood. I was astounded, not only at the range of descriptions, but at the stark differences between my opinion of the neighborhood and theirs. Truly an eye opener.

Toward the end of the process, around May, the popular opinion among my colleagues and others who saw the neighborhood shots was that they must be honored in a permanent display. One of my proudest moments as a teacher came in November when we unveiled and dedicated a selection of photos to the school as a gift from me and my students last year. It really touches me to see the students in the building stopping by the photos on their way through the halls. The diversity of the shots come together to form a stunning display of the neighborhood.

This week, I embark on year two of what I am beginning to think of as The Mosaic Project. More cameras, when funding comes through, are on the way. I’ve secured funds to purchase rechargeable batteries. So things are definitely looking up. I am nervously excited about the challenge for this year – rather than having to display the work for parents in May, it is expected in March – so there is a lot less time to get the students inspired and making pictures.

However they do given the limited time will be based largely on how effectively I motivate them. I will share my progress and some photos periodically. Here’s hoping you enjoy them as much as I have and will.

Below are some of the best photos students took last year. (Click them for a larger photo).

UPDATE: I have established a separate Flickr account so you can view photos from last year’s students as well as this. Also linked on right.

Also, I again came upon this link to a project I discovered in doing my own research last year. Celebrando Cultura focused on many of  the same cultural aspects I did last year.

Welcoming a New Year – and Wondering What it Will Bring

Blowing the Shofar in Israel

Originally uploaded by matthewray

One of the first things I saw when I woke up on New Year’s Day was a tweet from @yokoono (next to her War is Over! icon), asking people to send her “interesting questions”.

I feel John Lennon really became the man he wanted to be when he met Yoko (not that I know either one of them, but from anything I’ve ever read) and so I’m interested in what she’s up to. The things she says today are the same things that turned John Lennon into who he was destined to be.

Anyway, my immediate idea for a question went something like this (I was inspired by the year’s dawning as well as her War is Over! icon): “When war is finally over, how will you react?”

Now, I’m not a pacifist, and I take war as such: it is a sometimes necessary tool that brings expected – and accepted – risks for fatalities and devastation. I’m not a fan of war, but that’s what war is to me.

Recently, I was approached through my Flickr photostream by an Israeli who wants to use the above photo on a brochure in Israel. For whatever reason, this picture has sparked something fervent in many people. When I came home from Israel, my parents were thrilled with it and other family members reacted in kind. I was surprised to see that it’s generated more favorites on Flickr than any other picture I own. (For the record, I never thought it was that special compared to other shots I’ve got, but it goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder).

When I took that picture, I was a first time visitor to Jerusalem. Just moments earlier, 80 of us were standing blindfolded in a whipping wind, gripping a cold metal railing, with no clue what we’d see when we were told to remove the blindfolds.

When I finally was told to remove the blindfold, my eyes met the most breathtaking and inspirational sight of my life. The brilliant orange sun was setting behind the Old City. So many were moved to tears, and momentarily, I could react with nothing other than “Wow”.

I snapped plenty of pictures that evening atop the Mt. of Olives, including the one above. It shows a man blowing a shofar (best known for being sounded to announce the Jewish New Year) to trumpet our arrival. Around him, we danced in a circle and celebrated. Later, standing there, looking over the city, sun igniting clouds, I thought about how improbable it was that such a brilliant sight could bely the terrible things that have happened because of peoples’ claims to it. That time spent on the Mount of Olives was perhaps the most spiritual and peaceful experience of my life.

And that brings me back to Yoko. As we begin this New Year, with a picture that could have been taken on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I wonder what’s to become in our world. Will this be the year when some breakthrough allows us to move closer together as humans, rather than further apart as Jews/Arabs, Blacks/Whites, etc.? Will 2010 be the year we look back on one day and say, “This is when we began to desire that war is over, and that peace reign upon us?”

Wouldn’t that make for a happy new year? Wouldn’t that make for a memorable sight?