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Can-Do Camera: New Uses for New Technology

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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When a FedEx truck pulled into our driveway to deliver my new digital camera the other day, I headed down to the driveway to help the large panel truck get turned around, only to see it back up with seeming abandon, coming perilously close to a sporty red Honda Civic that belongs to a visiting friend.

Seeing the truck get as close as it did on the first three-point maneuver, I moved more quickly. And when I saw that it was about to do it again, I jogged up and called out, "Whoa!" when the rugged step bumper was less than 2 inches from the Civic's formed-plastic bumper.

The young driver, hearing the angst in my voice, slid his window open and calmly said with a smile, "Don't worry. I've got a camera. I can see the car." Still a tad antsy, I walked to the back of the truck and saw the device, discreetly mounted at the top of the truck, peering down at the car's bumper.

I took possession of my new camera, thanked the driver, and started back up the hill to the house. But seeing this incredible act of maneuvering made possible through electronics got me to thinking about this and other technologies we see every day and how they might be made best use of at school.

Take, for instance, the remote camera that allowed the FedEx guy to navigate like he had eyes on the back of his truck. How might that device be used in academic settings beyond school-security applications? How about setting up a camera to watch what the classroom hamster really does when no one is watching? Or what about using one to collect real-time data on traffic in the school zone outside your building, analyzing what you collect, and sharing that information with community planners?

What about hitching a wireless remote camera to a bunch of tethered helium balloons and making a lesson on perspective and point of view in writing come to life?

And take a look back at one of Ron Smith's posts, in which he discusses cell phones. So, now you tell me: What technologies do you see in your life outside of school that might be used effectively in the classroom?

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Steve's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Believe it or not, my vote would be for the phone. While kids text, e-mail, surf, snap photos, and download, the art of holding an intelligent phone conversation...and dare I say, how to leave a voice something that deserves direct instruction. It should be treated no differently than other communication skills required in the English k-12 curriculum.

Joanne Thibault's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a foreign language teacher, I find technology essential in supporting my effort to bring language and culture in the classroom environment. Thanks to the easier availability of technological tools, I am always learning more ways to deliver content that is authentic, diverse and actual, more ways to trigger reflection and meaningful communication, more ways to evaluate my students communication skills. I find satisfaction in working to become a more effective foreign language teacher and students show satisfaction in taking a more active role in their learning.

Jim Burke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I visited my daughter last week at the Iron Spring Horse Farm at which she is employed in Coatesville, PA. She has a B.S. in equine sciences and is responsible for the health of the Dutch Warmbloods and Friesians. I was able to tag along as she did her work one morning. She showed me the farm lab with the prominent large tank of liquid nitrogen that is used for freezing semen that can last indefinitely and which is shipped by Fedex, etc. to all parts of the world. The farm records are all digitized and readily available via the computers at various places.

While there, Lissa assisted a veterinarian who was taking perhaps three dozen X-ray shots of a horse using a laptop, a camera (x-ray generator) that was perhaps the size of an older-style VHS camcorder. This is all preventative and not because the horse had any particular issues. Each X-ray takes only 6 seconds to render on the laptop at which time they could look for the beginnings of any possible problems and then move on to the next shot. All the images are archived and backed-up immediately, giving a history over time of changes in the horse and available for immediate call up should a problem arise.

This portable X-ray machine has been in use for 2 years on this farm, and though initially expensive, has paid for itself already in problems that are caught much sooner and thus can get early intervention for these very high-priced creatures.

Now I certainly don't recommend that students work with X-rays, but doing series of standard photos over time to see changes certainly would be a valuable activity in understanding connections and relationships. The important concept of planning ahead through understanding of the past can be put in concrete terms.


Folwell Dunbar's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Over the holidays I bought a Chuckit ball launcher for my dog. The red plastic gizmo allows you to hurl a tennis ball over a hundred yards! It's actually a throwback to an earlier, much, much earlier technology. It's basically an atlatl, a primitive weapon used by our ancient ancestors to bring down wooly mammoths and other large beasts. I brought it to my class to demonstrate the effectiveness of this relatively simple, no-nonsense tool. This led to a discussion about the appropriateness of various technologies: interactive white boards vs. chalk, laptops vs. notebooks (the kind filled with paper and not hard drives), automobiles vs. horses, etc. We also looked at other modern applications for "old school" innovations: windmills to generate power, shutters for storm protection (I live in New Orleans where my 170 year-old house survived the wrath of Katrina.), the "new" urbanism, etc.

Sometimes the best lessons are found in new uses for old technologies...

Patricia's picture
Kindergarten teacher from MN

Wow! It is amazing how much you can do with those very small devices! I really like you idea of watching the classroom hamster in action. I am currently designing a non fiction unit on animals and I am looking for ideas on how to incorporate more technology into my lessons. Observing an animal in action is a wonderful idea. The video can be played multiple times to allow sufficient time to the children to develop their observation skills and gather ideas about the animal's habits and characteristics whereas a one-time "live" observation might not give the children enough time to do that.

Amanda's picture

I am going to use a digital camera with my 10th grade Geometry students who are to go out in their neighborhood and take pictures of the different classifications of triangles (example: acute isosceles) that they see. This will help them to understand that math is all around them and that is why they need to learn it.

Kandi Kopel's picture
Kandi Kopel
Center Based DCD teacher

This makes me wonder what the implications could be for a student who has sensory difficulties; perhaps a virtual/camera view of a classroom would help a student who has difficulties with smells, sights, sounds, etc. find alternate ways to navigate their school and world.

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