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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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Rickey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I also agree. Our students (6th, 7th and 8th graders) use digital images in our school newspaper. We even devote a page titled "Scene Around" for candids taken around school. My students also photographed each other using digital cameras. We downloaded the images, burned them to CDs and the students used them as the centerpiece of a slide they created about themselves which we incorporated into a class PowerPoint. Each year we sort through all of our digital images and choose the best for our school calendar. The students love to have their photos show up in the calendar.
Sandy Beck's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Using digital cameras has been a large part of technology integration across the curriculum in the Forsyth County School System in Cumming, Georgia, for many years. I am an Instructional Technology Specialist in an elementary school, and am always looking for new ways to include digital imagery to promote learning. Another ITS, Kathy Adkins and myself, created a web resource, 'Picturing Literacy' that gives lots of suggestions for utilizing digital pictures in your reading/wrting programs. There are also technology resources for Math, Science, and Social Studies. In addition, there is a link on the Literacy page for another page I created, called 'Going Digital in Your Classroom', with more ideas. We have recently been using Microsoft's Photo Story 3 program (free download), to create digital stories with K - 5 grades. We have several examples on our school web site. I welcome any new ideas to pursue with K - 5!
John Jaques, Bath Maine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Every 7th and 8th grader in the state of Maine gets to use an Apple iBook for the school year. We are very fortunate to have 1 on 1 laptop access. At Bath Middle School we use iPhoto to manage our digital images. Students throughout the year use digital cameras to document their work. My hope is that we can use these to build a digital portfolio for every student. Electronic portfolios are another important componant of using digital cameras in the classroom. In iPhoto students can even build web pages using thier own digital images. Imagine all students with an online electronic portfolio at the end of the year! I agree, digital cameras are underused in schools today. Thanks for the reminder Jim!
Merilee Mickle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Hello, I would love to own my own camera but I am in graduate school for teaching so money is very tight. I work two jobs and go to school. Is there any programs or grants for cameras for future teachers like me who would love to have one for school? Sincerely, Merilee Loved the information!!
Marilyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Digital photography can build student self-esteem. Handing middle school students cameras and telling them to take pictures of anything they find interesting is a great start when they learn to use image processing software. Their engagement in the content is MUCH more intense when they are working with their own shots instead of stock photos!
Barbara Greenstone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I work with Jim Moulton in Maine and the first digital camera I ever saw was a Sony Mavica that he brought to my computer lab about 8 or 9 years ago. I've been hooked ever since. I see digital cameras as wonderful tools for promoting literacy across the curriculum. Many of our students are more comfortable communicating with images than with text. Having them document their school experiences with pictures can be a powerful way to build bridges for them between images and text. I know a middle school science teacher who takes pictures of students durng each step of a science lab. The students use the pictures to help them write lab reports Other teachers use digital cameras to document field trips and other experiences and write photo essays. One of my favorite activities for building bridges between images and text involves making comics or graphic novels with photos. Comic Life is a great tool for doing this but you can do it in any word processing program too.
Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Reading Sandy's comment that included the link to the page she and Kathy Adkins have created in Forsyth County, GA is a treat. I already make use of Kathy's spreadsheet resource, the To Excel in the Classroom page when I am working with educators and trying to bring them over the hump into becoming technolgy users. It, like the "Picturing Literacy" page shared here, makes clear that the technology resources work for the teacher and the students, not the other way around. Now I have another great tool. Thanks for sharing, Sandy!
Sue's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I love incorporating photos into my classroom. For the past two years I have been using my own digital camera in the classroom. Now, I think that it is time to get some funding for additional equipment. We have taken some fantastic shots through the microscope. I burn the images to a CD and run them as a slideshow throughout class. Every students recognizes the organisms that they photographed and the entire class checks the screen throughout the period. My final project in Marine Biology requires students to photograph, identify, and supply various information about all of the organisms that we have studied during the year. My normal screensaver on my school computer consists of images I have taken of beautiful areas all over the country. It is a good way to connect with all of my students, since they always have questions about certain shots and want to know more about the area shown, my trip, and nature in general. I, too, compile a bunch of student shots for the end of year. It is a memorable way to reflect on the activities of the year and the connections that we have established.
al's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Just introduced to Comic Life. Any projects that you have done that were especially successful?

I am thinking about a project where students can use comic life to introduce themselves to me and their class through a comic book that talks about them. Something like a personal interests inventory

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