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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Photo Essays

I love interesting photos almost as much as I love a good lab. I know the labs teach more but there is some really unexplored teaching potential in photography. This is especially true with the cheaper digital equipment that is available today.

One of my teaching friends contacted the big box stores (Target, Best Buy, Wal Mart and Shopko) and asked them to donate some older cheaper cameras that she could use with her students. She now has 20 really nice easy to point and shoot cameras. What she can do with this equipment is endless. She has decided to start with location specific photo essays.

In this technique you select a specific location and photograph is over time. You can take a photo each day, each week, each month or any variation of time. What you get is a view of that location through the seasons or all sorts of different weather. I love these essays where one student selects a tree. That tree does go through some amazing changes over time. These changes are not as obvious to kids as we would think. What changes and what stays the same makes for an interesting observation.

Likewise we overlook some simple things in our day to day observations. UNICEF produces a photo essay on children and water.
http://www.unicef.org/photoessays/31695.html

Having kids take on a scientific phenomenon like clouds and use photographs to show what they know is powerful. I think that a scientific problem is a better subject. Water in the community, flooding, trash, weeds, land use, traffic flow, or energy efficiency could all be great topics. In my city we just had a huge 4th of July celebration in a local park. Over 50,000 people left behind piles of trash. One student with a camera would have seen that event differently with before, during and after photos. I am guessing that this student could make some amazing suggestions of where to place trash receptacles to prevent the problem next year. This observation and evidence technique could work for trash around the school or in any area of the city. Time magazine ran an online photo essay on trash in Italy a while back. It is a good example of illustrating a problem with photos.
http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1702831,00.html

A host of student photo essays are archived at this site:
http://www.isep.org/students/photo_essays/student_photo_essays.asp

The Elementary Science Integration Project outlines everything you would want to know about photo essays on their site.
http://www.esiponline.org/classroom/foundations/writing/photoessays.html

I know that kids notice different things than adults in any environment. This is especially true in schools where most of the adults are very familiar with the halls and classrooms and students are often new. Handing your students a camera and asking them to document a day in the life of a student would make for some interesting beginning of the year ice breakers in any classroom.  Being a science teacher I might give the students the challenge of taking photos of places where you see science happening, examples of chemistry, biology, earth science or even environmental issues.

Even a simple plant in the room can be the subject of a photo essay. These photos require descriptions or perhaps a narration so they would be excellent opportunities to collaborate with your Language Arts teacher or to infuse some good writing across the curriculum strategies in science. The best part of this digital revolution and the archive of photos is that you can have a plethora of photos for students to use in their online science notebooks, blogs or other products.  One photo has a thousand uses. Happy hunting.

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