Davis on the Map

Wow! Check Out These Photos

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.”davis-on-the-map-teachers-and-students-photos-0069
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.davis-on-the-map-teachers-and-students-photos-0364

More Student Photographers Discover Neighorhood


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.”

Student Photographers Go On Field Shoot


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.

Students Take First Neighborhood Walk


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.

Students Start Learning About Photography


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.

Curriculum Integration – Photography


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.

Arts Integration: Getting Started


In a few weeks, I will start my work with second graders at Davis Magnet IB World School, teaching photography as a way to deepen their study of their neighborhood. I wanted to start by exposing students to great documentary photography. I thought immediately of Roland Freeman, a photographer whose work I admire and who has been a friend of our family for more than 30 years. Freeman, winner of the  National Endowment for the Arts 2007 Bess Lomax Hawes Award, has two projects that I thought fit particularly well: “Stand By Me: African American Expressive Culture in Philadelphia” (some photos from this project made up a National Geographic spread/article) and “The Arabbers of Baltimore.”


Choosing Freeman made good practical sense, too, because I am able to create a portable “gallery” for the students to view. I’ll take framed posters of these exhibits from my walls at home and set them up in the school auditorium. The above image is from the Arabbers exhibit. Freeman’s photographs document neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Baltimore that our students will likely find familiar, but also different.


Another early step was deciding just how the students would take photographs. We wanted to take digital images, but we had limited money to spend on materials and supplies. I learned that Davis already owned two digital cameras that students could use. They were Kodak Easyshare 863 cameras. We decided we would take the students out on their photography field trip in groups of six students; we wanted to have at least three cameras so they could pair-up. One student would take photos; the other would take notes. Because we found these cameras at a great discount and because the PTA pledged some money to the project, we were able to get two, which brings the Davis collection up to four. This way a teacher and/or parent helper will also be able to take photographs and we’ll have a back-up if something goes wrong. Some projects I’ve read about use disposable cameras, but one of the goals of the Ask For More Arts collaborative is that the schools will be able to continue these projects in future years, without the aid of an artist. We needed to make sure the tools would continue to be available after the grant ended.

In order to get the students ready to use the cameras, the teachers will ask the students to develop a set of essential agreements for using the digital cameras. I developed a hand-out that will serve as a basic how-to manual, photocopying selectively from the company’s manual. Each student will make a how-to book during the lead-up to our photography field trip — during a center time in the classroom. In my next post, I’ll share the curriculum objectives we will meet with this project and how they inform the content of my first talk with the students.

Arts Integration — Photography


Making a living as an artist is not always easy and it often involves developing skills unrelated to making art. Over the next two months, I will be working with second grade students and teachers at Davis Magnet IB World School. This project is being made possible by Parents for Public Schools of Greater Jackson and its Ask for More Arts collaborative. Participating schools are charged with developing a unit of study around the theme “community.” It must meet curriculum objectives  both in the arts and in traditional academic subjects such as language arts, math, social studies and science.


I had two reasons for being enthusiastic about this project — first, my three sons attended Davis. It was with Davis students and teachers that we first shared the story of our wolfsnails. I learned much of what I know about writing for children by making books for and with Davis students. There was “Growing Salad” (photo illustrated and bound in a standard school folder) with first graders who planted seeds and “How the Princess Got Her Name” (illustrated by Richard with markers and slid into the pages of a photo album) with kindergartners who were learning about naming.


The second reason is that Davis is an International Baccalaureate school and teachers are trained to take a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching. Signing up for this project meant I would join a team of teachers and other school staff members to create a model lesson for arts integration. Working from the community theme, the Davis team decided they wanted to develop a unit for their second graders, who were scheduled to spend six weeks learning about how individuals and groups work together to build and maintain a neighborhood. They asked that I join the team in the role of artist — but this time they wanted my expertise in photography, not writing. I will be working with second grade teachers Karen Jones and Beth West, gifted education teacher Kacy Hellings, IB coordinator Julie Frate, literacy coach Rose Willis, and parents Phaedra Robinson and Terrence Spann.


We’ve spent time together three times now; the first two sessions involved brainstorming, planning, and a little training. During our third session, yesterday, we did a preview of the central activity we’ll do with the students: we took a walk around the Davis neighborhood, visiting people in houses and businesses near the school and discovering for ourselves some of the things we expect the students will discover on their walk. The students will have digital cameras so they can photograph the neighborhood. I took the photographs that are interspersed in this post. I’ll talk in future posts about the process of developing a lesson plan that integrates photography into the study of a neighborhood. The other subjects are reading, language, math, and social studies.