Tech Salad

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Learning Through Photography

With all the talk about 1:1 computing coming to Goochland, there has been a lot of talk about inquiry-based approaches to teaching and creativity. We have moved away from discussing what apps to use and towards how to use every feature of every device for the benefit of the students. One of the features I believe is a bit underused is the camera.

Some of you know I have been interested in photography since I was in elementary school, and I devote much of my free time to macro photography with my iPhone. If I had had this as a kid… Ah… The pleasure of having a camera within reach all the time, of taking pictures and seeing them immediately still makes me smile. Our students have this now. Every student in our 1:1 pilot has outstanding photographic tools right there, every day, all day. The iPad is a camera, a darkroom, a photo-editing light table, a portable gallery. We have so many opportunities for teaching students to use photography as art, for communication, and most of all, for exploration.

Of course, having a great tool does not mean we will have 100% beautiful pictures from all kids. We must guide students, and we must learn with them.

Nicole Dalesio has been incorporating photography into her teaching practice for a long time, and she has very helpful advice for all of us in this article published in THE Journal last year.

Dalesio wants her students to learn how to take effective photographs, so she teaches them the “SCARE” principles in a little checklist:
  • Simplify: Get rid of excess objects — the water bottle on the picnic table, the junky papers — that clutter up the background; make the canvas as “blank” as possible.
  • Close/closer: ”A lot of times people take pictures too far away,” explains Dalesio. Get close and closer to your subject. That doesn’t mean using the zoom option; it means “Zoom with your feet.”
  • Angle: Be creative as you’re taking your picture. Try to find an unusual angle from which to shoot. That could mean standing on a picnic table or tree stump and looking down or lying on the grass and shooting up.
  • Rule of thirds: The best compositions are often the ones where the main subject is either in the right third or left third of the image. So shift the image that way.
  • Even lighting. “You want even lighting,” says Dalesio. If there’s some kind of shadow across the face, move the camera or the subject around to eliminate that. “Usually the best time to take pictures is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the lighting isn’t as harsh,” she notes. “Foggy days are great for taking pictures — or overcast or even rainy days.”

Here is my own advice:

  • Start small. Take pictures inside your classroom. Have kids share their pictures and discuss them in small groups.
  • Look at pictures students see regularly in posters, books, and magazines and discuss what makes them good. Also discuss how they could be better, or more to the kids’ taste.
  • Discuss how different types of photography are intended for different purposes: artistic versus scientific research, documentation versus marketing, etc.
  • Build a collection of student-created images to use in class projects.
  • Give your students an audience. Use your blog, use Edmodo, organize a photo exposition for Back to School Night, share student photographs with the team assembling the school and county newsletters.
  • Most of all, have fun. Let kids follow their own interests and curiosity and feel good about the images they capture.

Of course, as always, I’d love to help. Just email or drop in for a visit.

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