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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Digital Camera: Inside the Classroom and Out

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Do you use a digital camera in your classroom? I bet you have access to one, either one that the school owns, or your own. And I don't mean using it for special events like field trips or culminating activities, but really for the day-to-day. You see, I believe digital imagery in the classroom is an underused tool, and that there are some really easy and effective ways to step it up! Here, let me explain what I've been thinking.

As the son of a marine biologist and a zoologist growing up along the coast of Maine, I've always been fascinated by the ocean and the life that fills it. Snorkeling in Caribbean waters and watching its life has long been a favorite experience of mine (perhaps also because of growing up in Maine and experiencing some five decades of Maine winters), and I have been attempting to capture photographs of that special ecosystem for a long time.

My only success in the film-based efforts came not with the $150 underwater 35 mm camera I once bought, but rather with single-use waterproof 35 mm cameras. I have long since misplaced the negatives from the two pictures worth printing from three trips' worth of attempts -- gorgeous shots of green turtles calmly feeding along the bottom of Salt Pond Bay on the island of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands -- so you will just have to take my word for it.

But then I took digital below the surface! Last December, my wife and I returned to the sunny Caribbean in celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary, and I took along an underwater case for my Canon s410. The results, if I say so myself, were stunning. In these 4-megapixel images, a green moray eel is only partially hidden by a waving purple sea fan as it peeks out of its reef home, an octopus flares opal blue-green in warning before sliding back into the safety of its nest, and turtles stroke gently toward the surface and air before more feeding on the turtle grass meadows below. Ah, the turtles . . .

I remember being told of a famous nature photographer once having been asked how he was able to get such fantastic pictures. His response was quite simple: He took many, many pictures and occasionally found a gem or two tucked away alongside the junk.

That is what underwater digital photography has done for me. It is not unusual to come back from a long snorkel with fifty or more images, and for me to sit in the relative comfort of our tent cabin and cull that number down to fifteen or so worth holding on to. Not all gems, but reasonably high quality.

So, there you have it. My advice is to first take pictures. Lots of them! And it doesn't have to be you behind the camera. How about inviting some former students back into the classroom to collect images, or asking a parent volunteer to do the same? What if you were to hand the camera to the principal and ask her or him to collect a few snappers to add to your collection? The result in every instance would be unique contributions -- focused and framed as a result of each photographer's perspective -- of life in your classroom.

I know that you will find a host of uses for the images you collect, but do carefully mine them for your own gems -- that image that just captures one child's fascination with a favorite book, the way morning light fills the science corner, or your look of humane exhaustion at the end of yet another day of exhilaration and exasperation!

Use these images as writing prompts or frame them and hang them on your walls. Insert them into the newsletter, and burn a collection of them to a CD at the end of the year and create a digital memory book that families will cherish forever. Take a look at the images I've attached, and understand that I am a persistent photographer and not a gifted one. I simply collected a bunch of images, and happened to get some good ones. Trust me, you can, too!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Comments (28)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Patricia's picture
Patricia
Kindergarten teacher from MN

I am a kindergarten teacher and I am new in using technology in my classroom. I would like to get more ideas on how to use a digital camera with my students. Is it better if each student has his or her own digital camera or should/could a group of 4-5 students share? And where do you find the money for a set of cameras for your classroom?
In addition, I just would like to add that I really like your idea of involving former students, parents, and even the principal!

Chad Powers's picture

I am looking forward to utilizing digital cameras and camcorders in my science classroom. Any advice on the the quality of camera you would use? As with every school, money is tight. However, I'm hoping to secure a bit of capital to obtain a camera or two. Am I better off getting a higher quality camera, or can I get by with a couple of cheaper ones? Or maybe some flip cameras? My worry is that I will get inadequate equipment, or not enough units to spread around. After seeing students with their cameras/camera phones/smartphones, etc, I know they will love it. Implementing digital photography into curriculum is a great idea, and will no doubt be effective if used wisely!! Thanks for the article and the great info!

Chad

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Amanda's picture

Do you have any interesting ideas for using the digital camera in a high school math class? I am new to the idea of utilizing a camera for the purpose of education and would just like a few ideas to look into.

Kandi Kopel's picture
Kandi Kopel
Center Based DCD teacher

I love using digital cameras in special education. I have made several sequence strips utilizing real photos taken with a digital camera. Recently I have been considering allowing my students to take pictures to document class projects; do you have any ideas on how to make digital cameras more physically assessable for students with fine motor difficulties?

Kim M's picture
Kim M
K-5 Visual Art Teacher

I just started talking to my third grade students about using digital cameras in the classroom. We were going to document our community project that we are currently working on. I had that students start simple and they took picture of each other. We also talked about how it takes several pictures to get the perfect shot, so if the first picture isn't right take more pictures and soon you will get the picture that you are looking for.

Shawn Krinke's picture
Shawn Krinke
Junior and Senior Language arts Teacher, North Dakota

I enjoy the idea of documenting the school year digitally and creating a cd at the end of the year for students.
Do you have any other ideas that might apply to a high school Language Arts teacher?

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