Two librarians who blog about children’s and young adult books at Bookends: A Booklist Blog gave Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator their new two thumbs up. The twin grandsons of one of the librarians posed for the thumbs up. I love seeing young readers who are excited about Wolfsnail. According to Lynn Rutan, “the text of the book is simple yet fascinating and respectful of the young audience, blending perfectly with the astonishing pictures. This is an ideal book for small naturalists, wonderfully suited either for reading with an adult or for solo examination.” Read the entire review here.
Second graders at Davis Magnet IB World School took these photographs as part of a project called Davis on the Map.
I am not going to write captions here or identify the student photographers. These came from a quick pass through many (but not all) of the photographs.
Some of the great photography observations: “It is easier to take photographs in the shade than in bright sunlight.” “I noticed the star pattern. I didn’t see it when I wasn’t looking through the camera.”
Students studied the photography of Roland Freeman before they began taking their own pictures. They also spent time looking at books with many different kinds of photographs. I think the preparation shows.
The second class went out photographing the neighborhood today. We had fully charged cameras and enthusiastic students. Once again, our neighbors were welcoming and gracious. I modified my explanations a little based on my experience on Monday. Before heading out with each group of six, we talked about why the camera seems to go off unexpectedly; we talked about horizontal and vertical photographs; and we reminded them that the purpose of the trip was to capture photographs of the neighborhood and our neighbors — not each other. (That might be a project for another day or another group — portraits.)
Here the students are meeting Carlton Reeves, an attorney who works across the street from Davis Magnet IB World School. Later, writing in a journal, one of the students wrote that he had learned that some lawyers work right across the street: “I will want to join that job.” Reeves is part of the firm Pigott, Reeves, and Johnson. Brad Pigott answered many student questions, including: “What tools do you use?” “What kinds of people come to you for help?” He showed them the firm’s library (now tiny because of internet access to law books), the copy room, the offices of his partner’s, and, most importantly, his desk.
Several students brought small notepads with pens or pencils to take notes during the visits. The teachers, Ms. West today and Mrs. Jones on Monday, also took notes. In between last week’s preview walk and this week’s photography field trips, the students wrote in journals and composed questions. Here is one student’s summary: “We went walking. I saw a lot of places. We got a lot of information. We talked about our neighborhood. We saw a fountan too. We took a long walk. We saw a big party house too. We did not know our neighborhood was like this. And I learned that our place is not that bad. Our place is good. This place in Jackson is special to me. We almost went to every house. Every house we came to the people that was there were all being nice.”
Here we are at The Commons at Eudora Welty’s Birthplace. Jonathan Sims, the resident artist, played a little music in a building (once a house) that is being renovated to house a restaurant. Here’s what one student wrote after last week’s visit to the Commons: “Eudora Welty was real special because she was a famous writer. Eudora has a statue of her because she won a big prize for being a good writer. The thing I want to know is was Eudora Welty real tall.”
Davis second graders went out today on their photo shoot. After walking around the block last week on a scouting trip, the students chose four destinations: The Commons at Eudora Welty’s Birthplace, the law firm, the restaurants, and the mission house. In the photo at the left, this student is taking a photograph inside a restaurant. The building was built in the early 1900s and featured some interesting woodwork, brick flooring and walls, and some copies of archival photographs.
The co-owner of the restaurant is talking here about how she visited the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and found photographs of the neighborhood in its earlier days. In one photograph on the wall on the right, the street that Davis is now located on (Congress Street) is a dirt road.
By this point in the day, we were using four cameras. (We started the day with only one charged camera. One was showing a low battery; the other two had not been charged at all. We had a breakdown in communication so no one took care of charging the cameras. This will go under our lessons learned column.) As you can see, even the student without the camera is modeling picture taking.
Once we explained a few simple things about the cameras — how to turn them on, zoom in and out, and view photos — we found that the students were remarkably self-sufficient. Several had used digital cameras at home. They were very quick studies. In order to keep track of which photos were taken by which students, we asked them to take a self-portrait at arms length at the start of their shooting session.
Here some students are on the balcony at the Tattered Pages Bookstore in The Commons at Eudora Welty’s Birthplace. The fountain on the plaza had to be the favorite subject of the day — especially when a friendly employee offered to show the students how the fountain looked when the water was set at a higher pressure. Wow!
For those you who were curious about Eudora Welty’s birthplace, here’s a photograph.
It’s been a while since I wrote about what we’re reading around here. I am still reading The Iliad to D, my fifth grader. It is much more exciting to read than I expected — though it does get repetitive. I am finding it very easy to read, perhaps that’s because it was originally crafted for oral performance. I find the line widths flow very nicely. On his own, D sped through a favorite from my childhood, The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill. He is now working his way through Lloyd Alexander’s Pyrdain books. A few years ago I read them to the boys during a summer. D keeps asking advice on pronunciations; I was just making them up as I went along so I decided to look them up. Sure enough, I found a website with a pronunciation guide. I was off on quite a few; D says he might not adopt the “correct” pronunciations because once he has begun to use a pronunciation, he tends to keep it. Of course, he’s not reading aloud so it is interesting to me that pronunciation comes up. I find that when I am reading a book that has difficult names in it, I gloss over the them.
G, my eighth grader, asked for Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game so I requested it through the library. It finally came in and he closeted himself for several hours, devouring it. He begged for a trip to the bookstore after a recent visit to the doctor revealed a light case of pneumonia at the tail end of bronchitis. I felt for the kid so we trooped off to the local chain store for another of Card’s books. When I asked where he had come across Ender’s Game, he said Boing Boing. I think he got turned on to that after I bought him a copy of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.
N, the seventh grader, is sticking with the Legend of Drizzt books. He carries them back and forth to school each day and often reads them at bedtime. Richard is working on a star wars novel. I read Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter for book group and have mostly been sticking to magazines lately. I found last month’s Scientific American (the one dedicated almost entirely to Darwin) fascinating. I also read through my friend’s old stack of New Yorker‘s.
Richard took this photograph of me spreading lotion on my face. He used photoshop to create the textures. I like the way it turned out. You can see a hint of a duplicate image on the right side; this was created by the beveled edge of the mirror. What do you think of the technique?
Davis second graders set out for their first neighborhood walk today, accompanied by teachers, parents, and me, the resident artist. We walked along Congress, Barksdale, West, and George streets to meet neigbhors of all kinds: lawyers, homeowners, missionaries, labor unionists, restaurateurs, developers, and public policy analysts. All the houses we toured were very old, but had been renovated for various uses.
In several places, students noticed photographs hanging on the walls: in two places, the photographs were hung as artwork: a law firm had a small gallery of black and white photographs of old buildings around the state and a restaurant had copies of very old photographs of Jackson in the early 1900s. In the family home we visited, there were many family pictures displayed in the hallway and on the dining room walls.
We spent time with some Christian missionaries who open their homes for church services, prayer meetings, meals, and who give away clothes and Bibles. The students had many questions for the two women: “Where do you get the money to buy all these houses?”
“Do you also have toys to give away?”
“Do you know your neighbors?”
“Do you walk around in the neighborhood?”
“Why do you have all these pictures on the walls?”
In several cases, the current owners of the houses were able to tell the students about the first occupants of the house. Across Congress street from Davis is the childhood home of writer Eudora Welty. One stop along our tour was a new development called The Commons at Eudora Welty’s Birthplace. Old homes around the newly built plaza now house a coffee shop and bookstore. Another house has been renovated for a restaurant. In addition, there is a brand new building — built in a style consistent with the surrounding houses — for large events such as weddings.
In the center of the plaza is a water fountain, which the students loved. All in all, the tour took about two hours. We stopped in on eight of our neighbors. Now, students will reflect on what they learned, do some more research, and select the places they’d like to go back and photograph. That will happen next week.
We began our photography project with Davis second graders today. I did an introduction to photography, in general, and to Roland Freeman’s documentary photography, in particular. The students made insightful observations and asked great questions about Roland’s photographs from two exhibits: The Arabbers of Baltimore and Stand By Me: African American Expressive Culture in Philadelphia.
“He looks proud of his work.” (comment on a photograph of a woodcarver)
“It looks like they pray over the food at Holy Heaven.” (on a photo of a soul food restaurant)
“Why are the people dressed like they are from Africa on the streets with buildings like the ones around the corner from us?” (drummers lined up at the opening of the Africamericas Festival)
“The pictures look like they are old.” (black and white; of horses and wagons; vintage clothing and cars).
Students made connections between the people, places, and things they saw in Roland’s photographs and what they might find in their photography around the Davis neighborhood.
When I introduced myself as a photographer I shared a copy of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. We talked about a few pictures in it and I taught them the term macro photography. We then went on to talk about Roland’s work.
The students were particularly exited to see photographs of Roland when he was young (age 5 and age 12). Several of the groups asked whether I would bring Roland with me when we went out on our field trip around the neighborhood later this month. I would love to, of course, but I told them Roland lives in Washington, D.C., and won’t be able to come. We are going to share our photographs of the Davis neighborhood with him via the blog and see if he has any feedback for us. The students wanted to know what Roland looks like now so we’re going to make sure they have a chance to do some research on the internet.
I want to thank Kacy Hellings, one of Davis’ two gifted education teachers, for taking the photographs in this post. To see previous posts about this project, which is being funded by Parents for Public Schools of Greater Jackson, click here, here, and here.
I am continuing my work on the photography unit I’ll be doing with second graders at Davis Magnet IB World School. I introduced this in two previous posts: first, here, and then, here. Today, I’ll discuss how I prepared my introductory workshop for students. First, the team and I talked about the nuts and bolts: I will be working with two classes, totaling 49 students. We decided that the introductory workshop will take place in the auditorium and I’ll do four 45-minute sessions — during each time slot, half the class and the classroom teacher will join me in the auditorium and half the class will remain in the classroom with a teaching assistant.
In order to put together my talk, I had to make some broad decisions. First, as we talked as a team, we realized that my primary goal is not to teach the students photography, but to equip them to use photography as a tool to help them learn about the school’s neighborhood. It helps to keep focused on the central idea: “Individuals and groups work together to build and maintain a neighborhood.”
The second helpful step was to review the visual arts curriculum objectives for the unit. I had pulled these objectives from the Mississippi Department of Education’s Visual Arts Curriculum. For artists who don’t have experience in elementary school classrooms, these objectives are a wonderful resource. In particular, they help with making sure the material is at the right level. For example:
5a. Identify art that tells stories and expresses ideas and feelings.
5b. Know ways that artwork and design communicate ideas, actions, and emotions.
2b. Identify foreground, background, and middle ground in a work of art.
2e. Recognize dominant elements of art in art work. (line, shape, color, texture, form, pattern.)
So, in my talk I will introduce myself as an artist; and then as a photographer. I will tell them why I take photographs (i.e. what I want to communicate and what I want to learn). I will then introduce the photography of Roland Freeman. Together we will look at and analyze some of his documentary photographs. My talk is peppered with questions for the students. They will get up from their seats to examine the photographs; they will listen to my observations, but they will also make their own.
In addition to my talk, I developed two activities: one we will do in the auditorium and one will be done in the classroom. The first is a cutline matching activity. I will read the cutlines and the students will try to identify the photograph that it belongs with. I want the students to understand that photographers also use text to communicate. We will talk about how the photographer collected the information in the cutline. (I created a one-page sheet of thumbnail versions of the Roland Freeman photographs we’ll be talking about so students can continue to refer to them in the classroom: they will be writing about them in journals.)
The second activity is a simple one that will get students thinking about framing. Students will use paper, a pencil, and a ruler to make a frame. The teaching assistant will supervise this activity in the classroom.