Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You've got to see it to learn it!

"A student not engaged is a student not learning," says Scott Smith, director of Instructional Technology at Visalia Unified School District (and current president of California's Computer Using Educators). When I visited his district to lead a digital camera workshop, Scott addressed the participants to start the day and this was his opening remark. The district had been under a lot of pressure to improve their test scores, but rather than give into a program of remedial instruction that doesn't include technology, Scott argued "if you have access to technology and you're not using it to teach the base program, then you're not teaching the base program as well as you could be." The participants and I proceeded to spend time discussing how to use digital cameras and Picasa (a powerful and free program for editing, organizing, and sharing photos) to engage students and to differentiate instruction for all students, including English Learners and Gifted students.

Marzano's (2001) strategies for increasing student achievement are important in Visalia (and in many other districts), so we discussed ways digital cameras (and Picasa) could be used to support several of these research-based strategies, including the following:
  • Ask students to compare or classify images.
  • Ask students to delete, edit, or re-order images to facilitate analysis of the information at a deep level.
  • Create a slide show to recognize student effort, achievement, and mastery.
  • Create a slide show to illustrate time-sequence, or cause-effect patterns.
  • Use images to document individual and group accountability - or to facilitate group reflection.
  • Use images to support “corrective” feedback. (The instant nature of digital
    images – and means of sharing digital images – can facilitate timely
  • Use images taken with your digital camera as cues and advance
In preparation for the workshop I also combed the web for inspirational ideas using digital cameras and Picasa in the classroom. I offered the participants a list of a dozen ideas:
  1. Slideshows for Back to School Night or Open House
  2. Slideshows of Performances, Celebrations, Assemblies, or Field Trips
  3. Photo Yearbooks (For a school, a class, or a club!)
  4. Photo Journalism, Documentaries, or Dramatizations
  5. Time Lapsed Photography (Especially in science!)
  6. Class Books (Think big books!)
  7. Story Books (“Digital Story Telling”)
  8. How-To Guides (Address non-fiction standards!)
  9. Exercises in Classifying, Categorizing, or Compare and Contrast.
  10. Photos as Anticipatory Sets, Writing Prompts, or Review
  11. Document Learning (Great for parent conferences!)
  12. Photo Portfolios (Can be used for student presentations, too!)
This list is hardly meant to be exhaustive, and if you can add to it we'd love to hear more inspirational ideas from you in the comments here at the ITM. :)

During the workshop, participants also learned to operate their new cameras and capture great photos. You can find tips for classroom photography in many places online, including these ten tips from the Apple Education site (just swap Picasa for iPhoto in #7 if you're on a Windows machine).

Next we walked through the features of Picasa. You can download Picasa for free for Windows and now for Linux. Mac users can use iPhoto in place of Picasa. Google even provides a plug-in for iPhoto that allows Mac users to take advantage of the popular Picasa Web Albums feature to share their photos on line for free. This is a great way to share images of student work, presentations, or field trips with parents using public or private online albums (with permission of course).

Learn all you need to know about getting started - and about organizing, editing, and sharing - your classroom photos at the Picasa support page.

Learn more about using Picasa in education, including more ways to use digital cameras to support Marzano's strategies, at the Picasa in Education Wiki I've started. The wiki also includes links to additional resources and to free image galleries you can use with your students. Please feel free to contribute your own ideas and links to the wiki - or in the comments here.

I'll finish the post with a final tip: take your images one step further by using Microsoft's free and easy to use PhotoStory 3 (Windows Only) to create slideshows of your photos, complete with titles, captions, narrations, and a sound track. Photostory has the best ease-of-use to cool-payoff ratio of any program I've seen in a while. The final product is a Winows Media Video that can be played on any machine for free, making Photostory perfect for creating "enhanced" podcasts on a Windows machine.

Educational technologists often talk about digital photography being the "gateway drug" of technology for teachers. I know this post is a break from the usual Web 2.0 fare here at the ITM, but I hope the ideas presented in this post will get you (or your colleagues) off to an exciting start using technology with your students - or provide a "shot in the arm" to re-energize you about using digital images in your class.