classroom activities

Visiting Bailey Middle

Today I visited an advanced 8th grade English class at Bailey Middle School. Mrs. Camille Magee, the teacher, taught my three sons at Chastain Middle School.

Bailey Magee's classWe made instant books and talked about the steps in the publishing process. We started with Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and spent some time on the new fractal book.

More than a few hands went up when I asked if any of them liked to write. What a great group!


Photography and Bookmaking After School

I spent a delightful hour with the Poindexter Park After School Club. I read my books, guided the students in making an instant book, and turned them loose to take macro photographs.

Sarah Campbell with Poindexter Park After School Club members

After just a few minutes of “practice” with private eye jewelers loupes, the students took turns taking photographs using the macro setting on my Canon elph. These are some of the best images. Others were blurry, but most of us have to take many, many images to get any useable ones. I look forward to seeing how the photography improves and to reading the books they’ll make.

ferns and crown of thorn blossoms


crown of thorns

Growing Patterns Featured in Book on Mathematical Literacy

I contributed a short essay to a book published this month that encourages teachers to use trade books in mathematics instruction. I wrote about how I conceived of, wrote, photographed, and designed Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.

cover art for math litTitled Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and High School Grades: A Modern Approach to Sparking Student Interest, it was written by Dr. Faith Wallace and Mary Anna Evans and published by Pearson. (ISBN: 9780132180979)

My essay appears in a box in Chapter 5, titled “Picture Books: Where Math, Text, and Illustrations Collide.”

The authors contacted me in the summer of 2010, a few months after Growing Patterns was published and asked me to contribute. I am thrilled to be included in this book. The inside cover includes a chart showing how teachers can use material and activities in the book to meet Common Core standards for grades 6-12.

It’s particularly satisfying to have this book come out a month after I co-presented a workshop on Visualizing Math Stories at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference.

Using Digital Photography to Illustrate Math Stories

I’ve been so busy with students I haven’t had much time to blog. We are in the final stage of our bookmaking, and the books look great. The third graders did a terrific job!

six books on desk

Students created stories in the broad categories of patterns and measurement. We had six groups of students. Four groups had four students each, and two groups had three students each. The groups worked together to brainstorm, write, storyboard, and take photographs.

After an initial visit, during which I talked about my Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature (read about it here), Beth West worked with the students to talk about what all math stories need. Together, she and the students developed a checklist. The group writing was a challenging part of this project. In order to facilitate the process, Beth and I worked with each group for about an hour — to help integrate disparate drafts and press for coherence in the math methods being deployed.

s writing

We spent the next full school day, working individually with groups to storyboard the photographs and then take them.

s and f talking about storyboard

After the photographs were taken, we asked the groups to self-select for four tasks: chartist (to create any chart needed for an illustration on good paper), folder (to make the instant book out of the good paper), assembler (to order, trim, and glue photographs into the book), and scribe (to write the final text into the book). So, on our final two work days, we worked with groups according to their tasks. All six folders made their books at the same time. All the chartists made charts at the same time, etc.

d making chart

m doing chartf foldingcutting

g making a bookt assemblingj assemblingk taking s through booka gluingk pressingb helping select text for pagesa and t writing final textt writingt explaining text choicesj writing final textb helping jmrs L enjoying the booksThis final picture is of the classroom teacher, Mrs. Lieb. She has been very patient with Beth and me as we invaded her classroom. Here she is enjoying reading one of the books for the first time. Thank you, Mrs. Lieb.

Patty Crosby took all but two of the photographs in this post. She also had the task of capturing the whole project on video. Thank you, Mom!

Thank you, also, Beth.

My Sample Math Story

I learned a long time ago that anytime I planned to do a project with students, I’d better try it first myself.
sample book knitting
So, today, I’m sharing my attempt at a math story illustrated with digital photographs. This is my current project with third grade students at Davis Elementary School. (Read this previous post for background.) Arguably, I’ve done this before. My Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature is a model text for this lesson.

My co-teacher, Beth West, and I aren’t asking the groups of third graders to write and illustrate a 32-page picture book, though. We’re asking them to write and illustrate an 8-page math story problem. The broad topics we asked them to write on were: patterns and measurement.

Beth created two useful documents to help students with this project: a graphic organizer and a checklist. I wrote a story titled Toby Knits a Blanket. In it, Toby wants to use a growing pattern to make a red, white, and blue baby blanket. The seeds for his growing pattern are 4 and 1.

inside pages model math bookYou can see how I filled in the graphic organizer.

graphic organizerThen, I used an instant book made from a sheet of manilla paper to create a storyboard. I used it to match the photographs with the text.

storyboardI spent about an hour last week meeting with one of the third grade groups. Beth met with another group at the same time and their classroom teacher, Mrs. Lieb, had charge of the rest of the class. The group I worked with is writing a story about trying to find a library book in a library where the cataloging has gone crazy, but in a patterned kind of way. Beth’s group was writing about predicting which student might win the most classroom incentive prizes over a designated time period — based on a pattern established in the first few days of the competition.

I go back tomorrow to work with a third group. We have six groups in all, and we are eager to get started on the photography part of the project.

lego dudes as models for third grade classesI dug these lego figures out of my boys’ containers so I could use them as models for my other story — involving measurement. These lego folks represent a classroom of students who are going to eat pudding at a party.

Some statistics and Murrah Quiz Bowl Pictures

getting closeAs my regular followers know, I am in the middle of a photography project with fourth graders at Davis Elementary School. With educators from the Mississippi Museum of Art and teachers at Davis, I am helping the students make field guides of the museum’s Art Garden.

I thought I’d share some statistics from our project.

Students: 43.

Cameras: 14.

Photographs Taken By Students: 1,493.

Field Guides: 10.

Photographs Selected for Field Guides: 46.

finding the live stuffThe students are busy with research and writing now. They will begin publishing soon. I can’t wait to see finished guides!

Murrah High School Quiz Bowl Team

I spent Friday evening and most of Saturday with Murrah’s Quiz Bowl team. The team participated in a tournament at the University of Mississippi; three of us parents drove. Both teams competed with great aplomb — the ‘B’ team, consisting of 5 freshmen and 1 junior, lost two before lunch. The ‘A’ team, three juniors and three sophomores, didn’t lose the second time until the finals of the B bracket. I was proud of them. (One fun fact about these quiz bowlers is that nine of the 12 are also members of the varsity soccer team.) Here are some photos.

In the lobby discussing rules.


emily g

B team captain.


More rules.

a team

The 'A' Team, ready for action.


The Latin teacher does a quick explainer of logarithms.


Mr. Everson, coach and Latin teacher.

Just think how tough we’ll be the next time we have our lone senior!

Davis Students Paint Watercolors

v watercolorFourth grade students at Davis Elementary spent part of their morning completing watercolor paintings inspired by their photographs from the Mississippi Museum of Art’s Art Garden. (You can see more about earlier stages of this project here.) Today’s lessons were taught by Carol Cox Peaster with help from Elizabeth Williams and Ivy Alley. I stopped by to take some photographs and help where I could. I was struck by what the students did to interpret their photographic images in the style of Walter Anderson.

I’ll show you a step-by-step by one of the students.

A starting her drawing on watercolor paper.Here, she is beginning her final sketch — on the fine watercolor paper.

A with blackHere she is applying the black watercolor paint to the outline elements.

A beginning with colorHere she is beginning to apply color.

finishing color

Finishing the color.

Now, here’s a look at the image she took at the Art Garden.
a's flower

Peaster used several books to showcase Walter Anderson’s style, including The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass.
Carol using Hester's bookHere are some other examples of student work:


stinkhorn again
stinkhorn moreYou can see that he is using his photograph as a reference. Here it is:

stinkhornSome students were taking photographs of living things; others of textures and art sculptures.

J and M

J detail
Now, for his photograph:
magnoliaAnd, finally.
manhole covercover 2Now, for her photograph:

manhole cover photo

Choosing Photos for Field Guides

I spent two days this week at Davis, guiding fourth graders as they chose photographs for their field guides. It is always fun to spend time looking through photographs, and these students took some interesting ones. You can see some of their images in previous posts here and here.

Sarah leading selection

We had a few challenges as we worked through this process. First of all, we had a hard time making the 1,490 images accessible to students at school. There is a computer lab at school and there are a few laptops. We did not have/nor could we get permission (central office IT department permission) to save the images to the computer network. There was only enough hard drive space available in the computer lab to save one teacher’s groups’ photos to the hard drive of one computer. What ended up working was saving all the images to four separate jump drives, attaching each one to a computer in the lab, and accessing the images via the usb port.

I worked with each group for about 30 minutes. For the first three sessions each day, I had the help of the classroom teacher. Thank you, Mr. Gunther, Ms. Cross, Ms. West, and the other helpers who taught the rest of the students in the classroom.

Selection worked like this:

  • Each student wrote his/her name and group number on an index card.
  • Each student chose his/her top three photographs. Each student noted the photograph’s file number and a brief description.
  • Then, each student shared with the group the descriptions of his/her top three photos. When there was overlap in photo subjects, I asked each student to pull up his/her image. Then, we talked about which image we preferred and why and took an informal vote. Generally, reaching consensus was pretty easy.
  • It helped to remind the students that we wanted each page in the guide to have unique content, and it helped to remind them of the topic of their particular field guide. (In one instance, a student really liked her photo of a worm, but the group decided that her photo of a fly better fit the topic, which was insects.)
  • As final selections were made, the student circled the image file number and short description on the index card.
  • We printed each image on regular copy paper (by sending a print job to the school’s main copy machine in the office) for reference.
  • At home in the afternoon, I uploaded the selected images to a local photo store, and ordered 4 x 6 inch prints.

discussing an imageI made a sample field guide this week using some photographs of mine. It helped today to have the model with me so students could visualize what their field guides will look like.

At this point, my involvement with this project will shift gears. I have completed my contact sessions with students. Next week, students will make watercolors with Carol Cox Peaster and Elizabeth Williams of the Mississippi Museum of Art. They will also continue their research, and begin to write the text that will accompany each photograph.

More Photographs by Davis Students

pansy with shadowThis is my 500th blog post, a milestone I could hardly have imagined back in August 2007 when I launched this blog. Given my twin passions for teaching and photography, it is fitting that today’s post should showcase photographs by fourth graders I’ve been teaching. These images were all taken at the Mississippi Museum of Art in the Art Garden, using Kodak Easy Share cameras. If you want to see a photo displayed larger, just click on it.

If you want to read more about this project, check out this blog post by Elizabeth Williams, curator of education at the museum. Her post features photographs of students.

texture 1

bas relief 1


through the cheese grater

trunks and blue

texture again

flower sculpture

tree with fungus

lady buggrubantsmushroommushroom 2

Students Photograph Images for Field Guides

cameliaI spent the last two mornings at the Mississippi Museum of Art with Davis Magnet School fourth graders. On the first day, it was overcast and threatened (then, delivered) rain. Today it was cold, but very sunny. Two very different photography challenges. Each group, ranging from three students to six students, went out with an adult leader to captures images for a field guide. The categories ranged from flowers to sculpture to textures to non-plant living things. Students took as few as six photographs and as many as 68. We were working with 12 cameras owned by the museum and two of mine.


I had a fairly elaborate backup system set up to transfer images from the cameras’ memory cards to my Epson photo viewer and my laptop. During the times when students did not have cameras, they worked on sketching. Each had a clipboard with some blank journal pages and a pencil. We also had plenty of field guides and other reference books available for onsite research.

Here are some of the shots that jumped out at me on first glance. I don’t know which ones the students will select next week because it will depend on what makes sense for their field guides. I thought you would like a preview.


purpleseed podspurple 2bare barkcameliaswater from fountain against convention centergreen green greenyellow orangepurple leavessculpture hangingIf you’ve made it this far, you know that many of the students were intent on documenting the plant life in the garden. The students who chose insects had a tough assignment.

lady bugbeetle