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Digital Cameras
Can Make Your Day

Teachers across the country and around the world are discovering the many valuable uses for digital cameras; uses that both engage students and make their own professional lives easier. So, what are you waiting for? Included: More than a dozen easy activities for using digital cameras in the classroom.

Just a few years ago, digital cameras were too expensive to be considered a staple of most school technology departments. Those schools lucky enough to own one were unlikely to consider it a tool for classroom use -- certainly not one that could be entrusted to a students clumsy fingers.

Today, however, many affordable digital camera models are available, and both teachers and students are finding a multitude of uses for digital photography in the classroom. Digital cameras are easy and fun to use and they offer teachers nearly unlimited opportunities to engage students and to incorporate technology into their curriculum.

Kids love to take photographs and with digital cameras, said Lelia Cross, computer teacher at Community School in Roanoke, Virginia. "Not everyone can pick up a pencil or paint brush and be happy with the results, but anyone who is willing to try can be really creative with a digital camera and some basic software! If you goof up, it's a simple matter to start over. Using digital cameras just makes you feel good.

I use digital cameras with students from kindergarten to middle school, Cross told Education World. Our younger students take pictures of one another and use them in All About Me pieces at the beginning of the year. Those photos are imported into Kidspiration or KidPix.

Our 7-10 year olds also do the All About Me project and, later in the year, use the cameras for the class yearbook, Cross added. They include photos from field trips, photos of teachers, special activities, and of course, the kids themselves. We just got new computers with CDRs (CD writers), so I'm thinking of putting the yearbook on CD this year. We will be able to include .mpeg movies (We have two Sony FD100 cameras that will record short movies without sound) and, in general, have a multi-media format.

Our middle school offers Wednesday Groups, which are a series of electives that run for six to eight weeks, Cross noted. We use the digital cameras for a newspaper group and a digital photography group.

We document class projects and special events with the cameras, Cross said, and the children incorporate photos into their reports and multi-media presentations. They can also edit the photos to create all kinds of art. This year, each student is creating a design for mouse pads to sell as a technology fund raiser. Some of the kids are embellishing photos of themselves for the mouse pads.

I also use photos on the school Web site, Cross pointed out. Its a way for parents to be more a part of their child's day, and it's nice for relatives who may not live near the child to feel more connected. This fall, Im encouraging teachers to use the cameras with their students to adopt a section of our campus and keep a photographic record of the seasonal changes.


Lori Miller, technology instructor at Wacona Elementary School in Waycross, Georgia, also is a fan of using digital cameras in the classroom. "Students love taking pictures as much as they love being in them," she told Education World. "And using digital photography helps students become more involved with the subject."

Miller, who uses digital cameras with students in grades K-5, offered the following suggestions for digital camera projects:

  • Snap pictures of body parts and allow students to make puzzles with them.
  • Photograph important places in the school, such as the main office, nurse's office, and media center, and display the photos to help students visually identify key places in the school.
  • Photograph parts of the daily routine and using them for sequencing activities.
  • Photograph objects that are the same color.
  • Take pictures of students and let them make trading cards with facts about themselves. Print the pictures and let students write basic favorites or facts. This is a good activity for the beginning of the year when they're getting to know one another.
  • Take pictures to represent nouns, or of students in action to show verbs.
  • Take pictures related to whatever topic you're studying. Display the pictures and have students write journal articles or short stories about them. The pictures provide a good visual prompt for creative writing.
  • If you really want to be creative, let students save pictures of their favorite cartoon characters. Have them take pictures of their own faces. Then, using a graphics-editing program, let students brush out the character's face and insert their own.

"A project our 5th graders will do later this year is compile an online directory of our school's staff and faculty," Miller added. "They'll take the pictures, put them on our shared drive, do any editing that's required, and upload them to our Web site. Then they'll make Web pages about each faculty or staff member, with a bit of personal information added so visitors to our site can 'meet' the people at Wacona.

"I allow students to use the camera themselves," Miller noted, "but younger children need constant supervision. (Keep one of your own hands on the camera as much as possible!) I also guide younger students in deciding what they will photograph and in determining the purpose behind a project. Then they are responsible for carrying out the project -- with my supervision."

"My older students decide for themselves what their projects will be and -- after getting my approval -- complete it on their own," Miller added. "They do, however, need to be taught to understand the integration of digital photography with other technology skills, to recognize the value and usefulness of the photography itself, and to make connections between the actual picture taking and the why of picture taking. The process becomes a cognitive one as students plan what pictures to take based on why each pictures is needed. Random snapshots are okay sometimes, but students need to learn to be selective when using the camera."


"The main issue teachers need to be aware of when using digital cameras with students is the risk of damage to the camera," Miller pointed out. "Digital cameras are still relatively expensive, so students must be taught proper handling and safety rules when using the camera. I do one-on-one training sessions with students to ensure that they understand how to handle the camera. Then, when students 'pass' the required training and demonstrate knowledge of the careful handling rules, I take their picture and issue an 'Official Photographer' pass with the student's picture on the front and the rules on the back. Whenever a student is to use the camera, he or she must show the pass (just like a photographer for a newspaper or other press)."

"The second most important issue to remember is ensuring that students take appropriate photographs," Miller added. "The ease of using a digital camera allows students to snap many nonsense pictures. Plan on spending some time going over basic photography rules with students and explaining how to frame or set up a picture before it's taken. Some casual snapshots are okay and encouraged, but they need to be aware that some are inappropriate and to be able to judge for themselves what they should or should not photograph. You should also teach students to be choosy about the pictures they choose to print. Although paper and ink are less expensive than the cost of buying film and developing regular pictures, students still can't be wasteful."

"Privacy is another issue to keep in mind is when publishing photographs," Miller noted. "Some students do not have permission to be photographed. Be aware of your school's policies and check with your principal before publishing any student picture, whether on paper or online."

"The most important tip for using digital cameras is, don't be afraid," Miller said. "Scan the manual that comes with your camera, but get your hands on it and use it as often as possible. Take snapshots throughout the day to let students get used to the camera. This will stop them from mugging every time they see a camera and it will give you a chance to become familiar with the camera and how it operates. Don't be afraid to push buttons to find out what they all do. That's the best way to learn."

"Above all," Miller added, "remember that digital photography isn't just about taking pictures; it's about using the camera as a tool to help explore and understand other subjects!"