Snow Cancels Dover Conference

Originally we’d scheduled the Dover Outreach Conference for December 3.  We’d scheduled well in advance, and we thought the date would be good for everyone.  As it turned out, that night was right after Thanksgiving, and Paula Tucci and the teachers from Dover just were not ready for a conference.  Paula asked if we could reschedule the conference for January.  We did.


Paula created flyers to invite teachers from throughout her county.  She secured rooms and AV equipment.  Tony Nigro, Kelly Goodpasture, Jacqui Rebillot, Ardath Nigro, Andreas Johansson, Paula Tucci, Roni Yaxley, and Janie Talbott prepared PowerPoints and handouts for January 14.


Janie spent a day with me in Wooster reviewing her presentation and gather material.  In the days before the conference, I’d talked with just about everyone, including Rich Horton, who would make the introductory presentation.  We were ready and excited.


At noon on January 14, Ardath called to tell me that her school was closing at 1:00 because of snow.  She asked me if we were still on.  “Of course!” I told her.  Roni called at 1:45 to tell me that the roads were bad.  She had taken a ½ day of personal leave, and was driving from Euclid to meet me in Wooster.  She would not make it by 2:00.


Roni made it to my house by 2:20.  At 2:30 Paula called to tell us that Dover had cancelled all after school activities and planned to close the buildings at 4:00.  We had no choice but to cancel.  Roni and I dialed all of our brave people to tell them not to make the trip to Dover.  We reached everyone except Rich, who had his phone on vibrate and didn’t feel the calls come in.  We did not reach Andreas, either.  He’d left his cell phone at home.  Both men crawled on the snowy roads only to find Dover High School locked. 


I begged Roni to stay the night in Wooster, but she was afraid she’d get snowed in.  She told me if Euclid had a snow day, she’d rather be in her own home.  So, she crawled on the snowy roads back to Euclid.  I froze the cookies I’d prepared, and I pouted for the rest of the evening.  (I just can’t stand it when I have no control.)


Paula and I agreed to reschedule.  The snow has really been a formidable foe.  At this point, I am doubtful that we will be able to find a date.  I am waiting for Paula to call me and tell me she’s found an evening when the good people of Dover and surrounding districts will be able to hear our message.


I have all the materials that my friends at Curriculum Associates donated to our cause.  I also have THE GREAT MIGRATION books for all those who attend.  I will just have to wait to hear from Paula.  I hope I will be able to share a glowing report soon of a successful conference. 


Such brave hearts!  I thank you for your valiant efforts.

Stirring Pride

Like most Americans, I spent January 20 in front of the Television watching history being made.  I scanned the crowd looking for Steve Testa and his students.  Steve was the only person I knew that attend the inauguration.  He took 12 Nordonia High School Students with him.  Here is the clip from the Beacon Journal:


AND the second page with Steve's photo:


Outreach Conference in Nordonia: November 18, 2008



Joe Culley plays his drums to welcome teachers to the Nordonia Conference.


I am self-proclaimed conference junky!  I love to attend'm…I love to present at them, and I love to orchestrate'm.  I can not remember a more glorious time than last night. 


From my heart, I thank all of you who presented.  I thank those of you who worked to recruit fellow teachers to attend.  I thank those of you who filled your car and transported your friends to our great night.


Thank you Steve and Andreas for attending to the fine details of the conference.  Your posters indicating room assignments were professional.  Thank you for arranging for the rooms and the hot chocolate pot.


Joe, thank you for playing your drum at the beginning of our conference.


Ah!  I was a lucky one last night!  I had the opportunity to observe teachers as they left Session I and as they came into the library from Session II.  When they saw me, they told me again and again how great the session they attended was.  One teacher said, "I am just so sorry that more people didn't attend.  This is so wonderful…and it is right here in our school!"


Cheryl Carano gave me a gift when she said, "It is not about the number of people who attend.  The people who  need to hear us are here."  Wow!


As she did in Euclid, my best friend, Bonnie Blatnik, served as our hostess, greeting people as they entered and distributing the packets.  Roni Yaxley had picked Bonnie up in Euclid, and they were in Nordonia High School before 3:30.  Bonnie met us at the door and escorted us to the library.  She told me over and over again how glad she was that she attended.  She really enjoyed meeting all of you. She loved being at Nordonia High School.  She really enjoyed Rich Horton's presentation on the Doan Brook.


As you know, I packed my car with people.  I wish you could have been in the car on our way home listening to the conversation!  The people I recruited had to rearrange their schedules to attend last night.  They were so happy that they did not miss the evening.  One-by-one they gave reports of the sessions they'd attended.  Believe me; it was glorious.


I was happy to hear Andreas and Steve say that they wanted to present in other places and to other groups of teachers.  I think you ALL should apply for the state organization for social studies teachers.  I think you should all apply for the national organization for social study teachers!  You have such great ideas…and you are so good with people.


I hope you know that when you stand in front of other educators, you give them more than the information you'd planned to deliver.  You stand in front as a tribute to our profession and as a model of good teaching.


I was impressed by the principal of Nordonia High School, Chuck Vrabel.  I enjoyed his opening joke when he welcomed us, "I am happy to welcome you to this conference.  I am also happy to know that there really IS a 'Rivers, Roads, and Rails.'   My teachers kept saying they were attending a Rivers, Roads and Rails workshop, and sometimes I wasn't really sure what that was." 


I almost wept as Mr. Vrabel walked  toward Debra Rumble.  "There is someone very important in the audience tonight.  This is Debra Rumble, and I began my career teaching with Debra."


 Mr. Vrabel's message about the friendships we develop as we teach together was really important to me.  His words confirmed what I already knew about teaching.  We struggle together; we grow together; we become friends.


I am proud of you.  You did a GREAT job last night.  Thank you for everything, my friends!



Janie Talbott and Timothy Gallagher discuss what they've learned in their sessions.




Attendees examine the sample packet of materials provided by Curriculum Associates.P1010003

Interpreter and Naturalist Gathering

On November 6, I met Rich Horton at Sippo Lake Park to attend the Interpreter and Naturalist Gathering.  Dr. Mark Tebeau had asked me to attend, and I was glad to do so to honor the work of our RRR partners, Jennie Vasarhelyi and Steven Roberts. 

As I listened to Jennie, I looked around the room at the faces of other attendees.  They were captured by what Jennie was saying about the importance of the Canalway and all the work that had been done to preserve it and promote it.

My mind drifted to one of the first recruiting meetings Dr. Tebeau and I hosted.  It was at the Club House at Sippo Lake Park.  There, Sarah Buehl shared the dream of a new new building just across the lake.  And here, I was, three years later realizing the dream.

I felt the excitement and enthusiasm in the room grow as speaker after speaker gave updates on completion of sections of the towpath.  I was transported back to our visit to Mittal Steel Plant as I listened to the work being completed around Steelyard Commons.  I remembered our work  at the J. E. Reeves House and Magnolia and the Perkins Mansion as other speakers gave their reports.

The tourr of the grounds brought back memories of wetlands at Shaker Lakes where we began our study of the Doan Brook.  I stood on the walkway looking across the lake to the clubhouse where learning about the canal began for me.  Then, we went inside to the Congressman Ralph Regula Canalway Center Exhibit Hall.  A young guide walked us though the interactive displays and explained how tours of children related to the exhibits.  We also toured the distance learning room with its high-tech potential to bring science and nature into the classrooms.

The luncheon speaker was Stephen H. Paschen, Assistant Professor and University Archivist, Kent State University.  His topic was "History and Nature are Inseparable!"  He showed us slides of Akron before the canal days, during the canal days, and after.  We saw Cascade Park and the skeleton on a canal boat.  He showed us images of actual canal boats and the Saint Helena at Canal Fulton.  The final part of Paschen's talk focused on collecting oral histories.  He talked about his own work of gathering oral histories and he mentioned thebook he'd written.  I was very surprised when I checked Amazon for the title of his book.  Paschen has written a number of books including: CATCHING STORIES: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO ORAL HISTORY and SPEAKING OF SUMMIT: AN ORAL HISTORY HANDBOOK and  SHOOTING THE CHUTES: AMUSEMENT PARKS TO REMEMBER.

The four concurrent sessions in the afternoon were: "Canalway Nuts and Bolts:  Where am I, where is everyone else, and how is it all interconnected?"  "Managing Interpreters:  Tools and tricks for helping your staff combine site and Canalway Interpretation"  Creating Innovative Programs Using Canalway Interpretive Themes" and "Nature in the Canalway: A resource for Naturalists"

My mind retraced all we'd done during the three years.  I was amazed by how far we'd come in our understanding of the canalway and the various ways to teach place-based history.  I thought about Nordonia High School initiating a new course, "Village Voyages," based Steve Teta's lessons. 

Of course, I came back to Amy Sumen's comment after the very first RRR workshop.  "The Ohio & Erie Canal is right in my back yard, and I never knew it!"  Her comment reflects the way we all felt about our time in Cuyahoga National Park, in Zoar, in Dover, in Wooster, in Cleveland.  It has all been such a wonderful journey.

I smiled as I remember Mickey Krivak's story of a parent/teacher conference.  "Ever since you started going to those Rivers, Roads and Rails workshops, my son likes history.  He never liked history before." 

Ah!  Isn't that why we did it?  Hasn't it all be great?

Evaluation of Euclid Outreach Conference–October 30, 2008


For all of the RRR workshops held during our three years together, we used  the same four-point evaluation questions.  We wanted our same people to answer the same questions about each workshop so that we could compare data among workshops.  Since we would be presenting to different people in each different region for the RRR Outreach Conferences, I chose an open evaluation design.  Here is a sampling of what people wrote:


New Things I Learned

I learned that these people really enjoyed being together

I found an awesome website on canals


Map development

I learned several new websites to use in the classroom

I gained knowledge of a book I can use with my high school students

All about the Cultural Gardens

I learned the two-finger method of speeding up cursor to move up and down

Great U of Va. resource—library census tool

I think I would like to visit the Cultural Gardens

I  learned new information about the Ohio Erie Canal


The Best Thing About Tonight

Learning about Maureen’s application of the Cultural Gardens

Being with teachers stretching, growing, flying

Being with friends

Websites and resources


How to apply the Ohio & Erie Canal to other content areas

The enthusiasm of the presenters

Lots of great people participating in an awesome workshop

Super Ideas

The Cultural Gardens Website

The diversity of the presentations…books..canals…

I have driven by the gardens…now I have to stop and enjoy them


Transfer to Your Classroom

Use some of Mike Sears’s resources for the canal

New ideas for canal study

Life and Death on the Canal…I learned a lot

Field Trip suggestions…I wish I could take my class

Use of new Web sites

I loved the bag of resources.  I can use all of them

I would like to take TROUBLE DON’T LAST to my classroom

I will share with my friends!

Cultural Gardens lesson plan was fantastic

Cultural heritage when we talk about celebration

Looking around me.  Knowing what’s near to teach history


Suggestions for Improvement

Are you kidding? 

How can we do a better job to get the word (and people) out?

More!  More!  More!

NONE!  This was great

I loved it!  I am so glad I attended


I wish I had more time to visit all of the sessions…instead of choosing only two

More people should have attended

Great opportunity for sharing


This type of evaluation does not give us data.  What it does is recognize in writing the great effort of the presenters.  My own sentiments echo wanting more people there.  I, too, wish I had a way of “getting the word out.”  The superintendent and the building principal, however, reassured me that they were please with the number of teachers who attended.  Teaching is a difficult job and teachers usually want to go home to their families.


In a perfect world perhaps all professional development would be scheduled during the school day.  In my years leading professional development in the public schools, I know that teachers complain about having to give up class time for professional development.  They’d rather have the time to draft lesson plans or collaborate with colleagues.


We have what we have.  I am not unhappy with the conference.  The comments indicate how well those who attended received our message.   Most of all, I am proud of our RRR presenters.  They could not have given more if there had been a thousand teachers in their audience. 


As I listened to our people interact with other teachers, I became aware of how much they had grown.  I became aware of how much I have learned in our three years of work.  It was a great day for me when I agreed to be a part of this project.


Our next Outreach Conference is in Nordonia!  I will use the same evaluation and I will report on our efforts there!

RRR Outreach Conference–Euclid

We are in the final mile of our three-year experience.  Teachers have prepared for the workshops by reading books, reading articles, and researching web sites.  During the workshops, teachers interacted with historians, authors, and college professors.  As a culminating activity of each workshop, teachers wrote lesson plans evidencing ways they will transfer what they've learned to their classrooms.  In the process teachers have built a professional learning community.

We have scheduled three Outreach Conferences as a way of reaching other teachers face-to-face and sharing our classroom-tested lesson plans.  We have selected three school districts as sites for the conferences, Euclid, Nordonia High School, and Dover High School.  Scheduling the conferences in school buildings allowed us to reach teachers in the northern, central, and southern regions of the canalway.  Using the public school buildings also allows the school districts to partner with us.

The work began by contacting the schools to form the partnerships.  Our first conference was in the John McGowan Professional Development Center located in Memorial Park school in Euclid.  Principal, Ken Ferlito was delighted to host our conference.  The school provided the coffee and we brought veggie trays and cookies.

Teachers who live in the northern region of the canalway received invitations to present.  All other participants were invited to attend to support the presenters.  Central office administrators received personal e-mail messages and phone calls.  All principals in the Euclid District also received personal invitations to bring their teachers to the conference.  Every high school teacher received a flyer.

We had six teachers who made two presentations in Euclid on October 30.  We had 24 audience members who selected two different sessions to attend.  Superintendent, Dr. Joffrey Jones, attended the conference.  Principal Ken Ferlito also attended.

Exciting things happened during the conference.  Every presenter had technology to use in their rooms.  LCD projectors and computers were up and waiting for them.  Michael Sears actually had a mobile cart of lap tops that he could offer those who attended his session.  To our surprise, he took his audience to the RRR website and this blog.  Those who attended were enthusiastic about what they heard.  They asked if it were too late for them to join our group.  It is always fun to see what other schools are like. 

At the closing of the conference, RRR participants added comments about their work during the grant.  Once again, all that the RRR participants had learned and the commitment they continue to share with each other was obvious…and glorious.

Our next conference will be in Nordonia on November 19.  I am looking forward to writing another glowing report of teacher outreach and leadership. 

Valuing Reflections

Reflections on the Oral History Interviews: Friday morning, June 20

We give time to what we value.  I value leading teachers in reflection, and I budget time for reflecting. Each morning of the residential week of RRR Summer Institute begins with a reflection of what we have done the day before.  I believe in every-member-written reflection.  Sometimes we share the reflections aloud, and other times, I just collect the cards and type a summation.  I have compiled these reflections word-for-word.  Jann

Being on the outside—cutting the fruit, preparing coffee, and running for water—the best part was watching as the interviewers and the interviewees came from the interviews laughing and enjoying themselves.  I enjoyed listening to the highlights and the growth moments of everyone.

I made a giant moose that terrified a guy in a canoe (stamping thank you cards).  Wow! Bocce ball court with Steve and Josh.  I was humbled and honored to hear so many inspiring stories of people who want to—and have changed our landscape for the better.  I had a great time with you, Jann, touching your head and your computer screen…working on the computer with you.  Loved…and am still eager to work with Roni.  I was honored to be in Jeff’s company with all that he is going through.  I felt incredibly interconnected with our communiteeeee.  I contributed lovingly.  I laughed authentically.  I cried honestly.  I learned enthusiastically.  I journeyed joyfully.  I ate tremendously.  I walked constantly.  I dreamed intuitively.  I played childfully.  I mediated presently.

Yesterday was an amazing day…not only for the RRR participants, but also for the people who were interviewed.  Everyone was thrilled with the process.  During the day I witnessed the thrill of victory and the agony of technology defeat…ultimately VICTORY!

Stretching and growing are not comfortable.  They are not easy.  When you are challenged in ways that are not the usual way that you would do things, there is a REAL learning curve.  That is growth—stretching and learning.  Understanding the importance of long-term consequences of settlement and construction is important enough to be worked into the consciousness of citizens—young or old—learn its effects on the long-term future.  The value of seeing and working with dedicated, passionate educators is beyond description.  The synergy that is developed grows along with the respect for the individuals as well as their work.  This has been an unqualified, excellent experience.

Interviewing—the people we interviewed were just as nervous as I.  It was so wonderful to hear how dedicated Ron S was to his cause—West Creek.  It was a great learning experience, and I now feel more comfortable to do the interviews next week.

Hearing first-hand about the experiences of the individuals involved in making a difference in the West Creek project…making history…was a magical experience.  You could not help but get excited for them when you heard the excitement in their voices.  You could feel the emotion.

I really felt anxious going into the interview, knowing my person is an “icon” in local conservation.  Upon listening, I realized that he is a regular person, living almost two separate lives.  I am most intrigued by the fact that he is an industry man by day and a conservationist by night.  This interview also gave me confidence to take an oral history from the “high profile” subjects.  P.S.  I felt really good about myself that I helped a few RRR’s during the week that I had not interacted much with previously.

At the beginning of the day I was very unsure of how the interviews would go.  But ever since the interview, I’ve been amazed at how fun and interesting it was.  You hear of all the things people accomplish in these projects…but what you don’t hear is each individual’s struggle and everything they have to battle.  It makes you realize that amazing things don’t come easy.  Of course the card stamping was a great time and watching bocce ball and having Steve’s expertise was good, as well.

Teaching is so much more valuable to children when the teacher understands their inner self.  This past week was delightfully filled with the collegial validation of enhancing our inner selves through visual reflections of our history and the history of the environment.  I personally place so much value on experiences such as this.  I love the exhilarating growing experience.  WOW can’t come close to putting it in words.  I have at 61 years again really stretched and grown and I can’t wait to impact a new class of students.  I will so miss the WOW of this collegial group.

It’s hard for me to listen to someone and not verbally respond to what they’re saying.  The interview taught me how to just listen.  I liked the way the interviewer felt nervous at first and then slowly became empowered by the fact that someone was interested in their story and viewpoints.  I could see the person work through their answer in their head as their story unfolded.  Oral history is a treasure chest of memories that will never be buried or lost again.

Great job with working equipment (handouts especially helpful).  Fabulous job by Rich (on the Doan Brook tour).  I would have liked to see West Creek in Parma.  Interview—learned a lot!  They all love and admire Dave Vasarhelyi.  I felt well prepared.

I enjoyed the experience of the whole process from doing the technical equipment to doing the interview.  I was definitely nervous at first when I was conducting the interview, but once I started talking with my interviewee, I felt at ease.  I thought I came up with enough questions, but I think for my next interview, I will write more—just in case my interviewee answers with short precise comments.

What an incredible day.  With the tools you gave us that we sharpened and refined during the week, we had the opportunity to step into the life of an individual, walk beside him for a moment and learn about all of his passions.  What a privilege!  Thank You!

Fear Anxiety!  Apprehension!  That was the beginning of my day.  There is nothing like having to spend an hour with someone you don’t know, but put two peers in the room watching you, and the stress mounts.  “Smiles, relaxation, confidence” was the end of the day.  Stamping…as I always told my kids, you don’t need drugs or alcohol to feel good.  The best feeling you have come from getting high in life’s simple moments.

My magic moment was meeting our interviewees informally as they gathered.  I was struck by their enthusiasm…no, more…their passion to make a difference on the landscape of a watershed where people, natural world and commerce come together.

Prepare:  Research the project area to gain “gut” knowledge.  Start with the questions from our training.  Pre-call interviewee helped, but not something to dwell on if no connect is made.  During:  LISTEN.  Work to get “comfortable friend-to-friend conversation.”  Relax.

I really learned from the oral history interview.  Both interviews in the group went very well.  Our team worked very well together as we are a driven and directed team.  I was MOST disappointed that after one interview that I was the “taper” for, the information appeared lost off the card.  I felt like I let down my team.  Some people said that I didn’t tape correctly.  Eventually, the interview was retrieved…AHHHHH!  It only upset me that I had to find out through the grapevine that the interview was located on the card!

What went right:  We had some great attitudes with people who were patient with us and the technology.  All the interviewee came!  What went wrong: Some people had bad attitudes about things that had to change and didn’t want to “go with the flow.”

I was stressed by the shortage of time to make the phone calls to our people.  I was trying to get mine as the bus was pulling up to leave on Thursday after leaving a message on Wednesday.  I enjoyed the interview and after hearing two, I had a new appreciation for West Creek.  I will add oral interviews as primary resources.

Yesterday, I interviewed and facilitated.  Both subjects we interviewed were eager to share their experiences.  I really don’t think the interviews could have gone any better.  I am looking forward to doing horal histories in Berea.

I will admit that I was very skeptical about the oral history piece.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was a great experience and I am looking forward to Monday and Tuesday.  The boat ride really brought the environmental piece home for me.  I do think that next summer I will volunteer sometime with the Canalway.

I enjoyed the enthusiasm of those involved.  Very refreshing!

I enjoyed the fellowship with other teachers and the appreciation of nature that they bring.

I learned about how to start collecting oral histories.  This is something I want to do in my classes.  I was…at first…not sure I could do this, but after yesterday, I am confident that I could do this project with my students.

I was really nervous and apprehensive about interviewing.  As I facilitated the first one and asked follow-up questions, I felt more confident.  As I conducted my interview, I easily formulated follow-up questions.

We had a fun time talking with our subjects.  They wee willing to share a lot of information.  Lots of learning o the fly as the questions either ran out or didn’t work.  I like Justin’s metaphor of oral historian as archeologist.

I was glad that I was a facilitator first because I learned so much doing that.  I felt bad for the guy that was being interviewed, because he seemed so nervous.  After the first 5-10 minutes things seemed to get on track.  So, later, when I was doing the interview part, I worked to make sure that the person being interviewed was comfortable.

The more we saw the “pros” demonstrate an interview the less I got nervous about the interview.  When Mark said, “You already know enough to interview.  You are experts in the Cuyahoga Valley,” all my anxiety left.  In fact….it was easy and fun.

Fresh and Flowing Water

John_bennett In an effort to connect the reading of THE DOAN BROOK HANDBOOK and the CUYAHOGA NATIONAL PARK HANDBOOK, we asked participants in the RRR Summer Institute 2008 to find fresh and flowing water near their homes.  The intent of the assignment was to deepen understanding of the Doan Brook by observing water in the neighborhoods.

John Bennett called me excited about what he’d discovered about Yellow Creek.  He knew that the water was near his home, but he didn’t know the name of the stream, nor did he know the history of it.  I reminded him that he had only 25 words or fewer to s compare his stream with the Doan Brook.

Jann I always do the reading and complete any task I assign to the participants.  Like John, I was amazed with what I learned about the fresh and flowing water near my home in Wooster, Ohio.  Throughout their childhood, my four children played in two creeks on opposite sides of town.  For the past three years, I have been walking each morning in another park that takes me over a small creek.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were all the very same creek.  The headwaters began in the park I know best, and the creek continues through town to the other two parks before it dumps into the Killbuck Creek.  I have lived in Wooster for more than thirty years.  I took this stream for granted all that time.

Timothy Timothy Gallagher connected the reading to his own childhood memories.  Notice in this picture reflects the rule of thirds, and we hadn’t even talked about it yet.

Like many other photographers, Timothy was able to catch the reflection in the water.

Andreas  Andreas e-mailed me his water photo before the first day of the Summer Institute.  I almost wept when I saw what he’d done. 

Around his beautiful photograph, he’d written the word for water.  Then he’d written statements in English with Swedish beneath.

I was touched with his creativity and the risk he took with this assignment.

Janie You can find Janie Talbott’s fresh and flowing water in rural Ohio.

Janie wrote a poem about her babbling brook.  She has a dream of authoring and illustrating a children’s book about this brook.

Her photo is framed with the leaves in the foreground.  Capturing the brook on a diagonal gives the image energy and direction.

Dawn_2Dawn Cancelliere’s photo is rich with depth and texture.  I almost wish her words were not at the top of the image so that I could see more of the photo.Her words, however, demonstrate the depth of the research she completed for the assignment.

SteveSteve Testa realized that he had spent his entire life on some bank of Weills Creek.  Like Andreas, Steve expressed his feeling for the creek in a poem.

His photograph is rich with detail. 

Steve’s words show the inner connectedness of the stream and his life. 

I was so pleased with the assignment.  This is the first time we required an assignment before the Institute began.  I am glad we did.  Everyone was proud of their image.  Everyone wanted to share.

As Justin reported in one of his entries, we spent Tuesday and Wednesday morning reviewing the images.  Reviewing each one provided the opportunity to honor each work and each voice.

I scanned twelve assignments and posted them on the RRR Flickr site.  I hope to scan all of the images in and post them on Flickr.  Look for it! 

Foundation of Building a Community of Learners

Flag  The majority of participants in RRR program are veteran teachers.  Most of them are master teachers, as well.  Preparing a conference for master teachers can be a daunting task.  We always keep the learners in mind as we prepare.  We always try to model best practice.

Believing that everyone in the group has something to teach the others is a foundation  block for building a community of learners.  As a member of the design team for the RRR Summer Institute 2008, I try to base my sessions on that belief.  In a traditional beginning to the session on photography,  the presenter might focus on themselves.  The presenter might show his/her own photographs, cite awards won, and dump everything known on the participants.

Instead, each participant wrote the best piece of advice for taking photographs.  They wrote with magic markers on a 3" x 4" peel and stick paper. Participants read the response, and then posted it one of two tag board sheets at the front of the room…one for camera advice and one for photographer advice.

The size of the paper is important, because it limits the amount the individual can write.  Peel and stick paper is important, because it eliminates problems with tape.  Using markers forces participant to write big.  Walking to the tag board to post is important, because brain-based learning teaches that the act of standing sends 10% more blood to the brain, helping the participants to stay alert and facilitating their learning from each other.

Here is the complete list of the responses:

Advice to Ourselves

FOCUS, Grasshopper

Take a lot of shots and don’t “fall in love” with any picture

Your best shot isn’t always your first one

Look at the entire image within the frame

Always look at the entire picture to make sure you have the result you want

Pause before you take the picture to make sure the shot looks as you expect

Frame the picture

Consider the background

Look at texture, contrast, vague detail in the background

What is your intention?

Lighting, lighting lighting

Watch for back lighting.

Keep the sun behind you

Keep your finger off the lens

Keep your thumb out of the way

Hold your arms from pits to elbow at your they are glued and don’t breathe until shot is complete

Do not pose your subjects

Picture should tell a story

Remember the composition of thirds

Put your subject slightly off center

Center your subject begin sure that you have not cut off heads

Know how to work the zoom

Want a better picture?  Get closer.

Select one subject to focus on.  Do not try to cram multiple things in your picture

Many, many shots will be ho hum.  1 or 2 will be WOWWEEE

Operating the Camera

Take the lens cap off

Make sure batteries are charged

Take extra batteries with you

Make sure you use the flash in a dark area

This structure did not give the presenter the opportunity to share award-winning photographs.  Instead, each participant reviews what s/he already knows about taking a good photo.

In second half of the 60 minute session I showed work of famous contemporary photographers.  Participants saw work of William Weggman, Sandy Skoglund, Robert Mapplethorp, Annie Leibowitz, and Lauren Greenfield.  They learned three steps of art criticism: Describe, Interpret, Criticize.



Off they went to capture an image on the Case Western Reserve Campus that reflected their own personal landscape. 

You can see those images and what they wrote on the Tumblr site.