Search form

Quick! Get the
(Digital) Camera!

Craig Nansen, technology coordinator for the Minot (North Dakota) Public Schools shares some of the ways his students use both digital and non-digital photography in the classroom. Included: Education World offers two dozen digital camera activities guaranteed to make life easier for you and more interesting for your students.

"We use digital cameras in just about all grades, from kindergarten through high school," Craig Nansen, technology coordinator for Minot (North Dakota) Public Schools, told Education World. "We use digital cameras to take pictures of students for use in the classroom, and to take pictures of projects and activities to show at open houses and (with parental permission) to publish on the Web.

"For example," Nansen added, "In our area, [the expedition of Meriwether] Lewis and [William] Clark and Sakakawea are big events; some of our students created on our Web site a virtual reality movie about Sakakawea that was done with digital pictures taken during an elementary field trip."

Other Minot students created a Web page about the area's history that includes pictures of the Mouse River Flood. Although the photos were not taken with digital cameras, students worked with the local newspaper, obtained original photos of the 1969 flood, scanned the pictures, and posted them online. The Web page also includes a section about Minot's downtown featuring two pictures taken by Minot elementary students that were award winners in Technology & Learning's photography contest.

"One of the main goals of students using technology (after the normal ones of getting comfortable, doing research, and putting the results into a project) is to become creators of content," Nansen said. "Pictures of field trips or area events, local historical or geographical sites, of the school and city, documentaries of athletic and cultural events, and artistic photography all are great examples of students creating content.

Sally Jenkins, who teaches Minot's gifted and talented students pointed out another good reason for using digital photography in the classroom. "Careful, purposeful observation is one of those skills that is not spelled out in the curriculum, yet is fundamental to many of the skills and 'pieces of content' we want our students to master," Jenkins said. "Looking through the eye of a lens gives another perspective that is so important when looking for the 'big picture' or zooming in on a detail. Both viewpoints can be a starting point to draw conclusions, test a hypothesis, or creatively interpret what we see. Common things become uncommon; the expected becomes a surprise -- all because our skills of observation are bound by what we see through the viewfinder. You can see this skill put to practice in the work of an artist (Georgia O'Keefe for example) or in science or in..."

Quick Digital Camera Tips

Craig Nansen shares the following tips for using digital cameras with your students.

* Purchase inexpensive cameras for student use and more expensive cameras for teachers. That way, students have the experience of taking pictures, but you make sure you get good pictures of important events!

* Let students work with the images, cropping, editing, and so on. Students need to learn how to optimize images for the Web and get images down to a useable size.

* Photoshop Elements, which runs on both Macs and Windows, is worth investigating. Have at least one computer set up with Elements and such plugins as PhotoGraphicEdges to fix up the images.

* Consider having pictures printed locally at a one-hour processing center; it's less expensive and produces much better quality than using ink-jet printers. In our area, I pay reprint prices of 29 cents for a 4-inch by 6-inch print, and bring the images to them after burning just the ones we want on a CD-ROM. Make sure photos are cropped to the 4-inch by 6-inch ratio before taking them to be printed.


The best way to get started using digital cameras, according to Nansen, is to "Just jump in. Take pictures of each student in the room and put them on the bulletin board or use them in a computer presentation. The worst thing that can happen is that you'll make mistakes and waste a little time -- but that is part of learning too."

Why not "jump in" today by trying one of these two dozen activities for using digital cameras in the classroom!

  • Photograph students dressed up as what they want to be when they grow up and use the pictures to illustrate career reports.
  • Take lots of pictures while on a class field trip. Have students write a caption for each picture, post the photos and captions to a Web site to create a virtual field trip.
  • Photograph a day in the life of your classroom" for parent Open House. Create a slide show to run as parents tour your classroom.
  • Store a photograph with each student's electronic portfolio.
  • Assign pairs of students to walk through the school to find such examples of geometric shapes as circles, triangles, parallel lines, obtuse angles, and so on. Label each photo and create a geometry book.
  • Photograph community landmarks and have students create a brochure about your community.
  • For younger students, take pictures of easily recognizable signs in your community and assemble the photos into an "I Can Read" book.
  • Use photographs to illustrate the process for complicated projects or for science experiments.
  • Write a class novel and illustrate it with live-action photos of your students.
  • Take pictures of class procedures and display them in the classroom as a reminder.
  • Create a seating chart with photographs for substitutes.
  • Take pictures of each childs eyes, nose, feet, or mouth only. Have children try to match each student to his or her body part.
  • Make picture frames for a Mothers Day or Fathers Day gift. Glue each photo into a decorated jar lid and glue a magnet to the back.
  • Document the growth of classroom plants or animals with daily or weekly photos.
  • Take photos of school staff performing their duties. Write a caption for each photo and create a Community Workers book.
  • Snap a black-and-white headshot of each student, size it to page, and place a box frame around it. Place a blank box the same size as the framed picture beside it. Have students draw -inch to 1-inch gridlines in pencil in both boxes and label the gridlines 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on in each direction. Then have students try to duplicate their pictures by drawing only what they see in each grid.
  • Take a photograph of each student at the beginning and end of the school year. Have students complete Venn diagrams of themselves, showing how they have -- and havent -- changed during the year.
  • Compile a set of file cards naming such abstract concepts or emotions as freedom, love, hate, honor, joy, sorrow, patriotism, responsibility, and respect. Have students select a card at random and take a photograph illustrating that concept.
  • Have each student choose a letter and find an object that begins with that letter. Take a picture of the child with the object and use the pictures to create a class alphabet chart.
  • Arrange students into groups and assign each group one of the five senses. Have each group photograph the appropriate sensory organ and then have them take pictures of objects that organ might best perceive.
  • Take pictures to illustrate such science concepts as food chain, biodiversity, biome, and so on.
  • Have students go on a photographic scavenger hunt, taking pictures of the objects they find rather than retrieving the objects themselves.
  • Take pictures of plants or animals in your community and use them to create a field guide of local wildlife.

We're just beginning to realize the potential of what digital photography can do for us," Lori Miller, technology instructor at Wacona Elementary School in Waycross, Georgia, told Education World last week. "Embrace it and share your ideas with others who might be hesitant. Brainstorm with students and fellow teachers. Try some of the ideas you come up with, write down what works and what doesn't work, and then, brainstorm again. The more you learn, the more you'll want to learn about digital photography."

For tips about using digital cameras in the classroom -- and for more than a dozen additional digital camera activities -- see last week's Education World article Smile! Digital Cameras Can Make Your Day.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World

Updated 05/02/2008