Teaching through the camera lens: 10 activities with photos and video

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, October 20, 2016

Teaching through the camera lens: 10 activities with photos and video

[callout]This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own.[/callout]

Once, it was so handy to carry one of those disposable film cameras around in our pockets.

Once, we were so thankful for our point-and-shoot digital cameras because they made instant photography so much easier.

So many people carry cameras with them everywhere they go -- in their smart phones. Here are activities for the classroom that can harness that power. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

So many people carry cameras with them everywhere they go — in their smart phones. Here are activities for the classroom that can harness that power. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

Today, so many of us carry cameras around in our pockets. We pull them out at a moment’s notice. Many of us have exponentially more photographic evidence of our lives than we ever did before.

(True story: My wife’s decision to upgrade to an iPhone from a traditional, non-smart phone (a dumb phone?) was largely because of its camera!)

Students of all ages are carrying them around more and more. And with the proliferation of photo-based social media like Instagram and SnapChat, they’re pros at sharing them.

Students have these phones with them at any given moment.

They can share images and videos in an instant.

Why not tap into that potential in the classroom?

Whether your classroom or school is 1:1 (a school-provided device for every student), has a “bring your own technology” policy or none of the above, many students have these high-powered devices in their pockets.

Photos and video are visually rich, personal ways to connect learning to our own lives.

This all sounds like a match made in “edtech” heaven.

Here are 10 ways you can get your students engaging with your class content with visuals using their cell phones:

1. Capture your year with the 1 Second Everyday app. This app encourages you to select one second of video for every day of the year. In the end, it creates a fascinating video year-in-review mash-up. It’s a great cumulative look at how students have changed and a fun walk down memory lane.

2. Interview family, friends or community members with a video. There’s a wealth of experiences, opinions and ideas locked in the minds of people in our own communities. Video interviews can set them free and let those thoughts resonate with others. An interview with a veteran on Veteran’s Day will do so much more than a dry reading from a textbook.

3. Take personalized pictures of class content with photos from students’ world. For most material covered in class, there’s a connection to students’ lives or the world at large. Students are like your on-the-spot journalists for your class. Encourage them to take pictures of something that illustrates what you’re learning. Then display those images to their classmates. That’s a step toward student-driven learning.

4. Shoot a breaking news report with a video. Give students the reporter’s microphone and let them shoot a breaking news report — real or fictitious — about your content. Let them pretend they’re witnessing Custer’s Last Stand or the final scene in the novel you’re reading. It will encourage them to describe it accurately and dig into the details of what they’re learning.

5. Create stop-motion animation with an app and a mobile device camera. Stop-motion animation lets students take practically any concept they can conceive in their minds and display it in animated glory. Students can make meaning of the most abstract concepts — like the sodium potassium pump or mitosis — by creating an animated video. They can use apps like Stop Motion Studio and Lego Movie Maker.

6. Snap a picture of important notes from the board or a paper. If you’ve just finished a brainstorming session on the white board during class, consider letting students snap a picture of it. Call it the lazy way out, but they may be more apt to study that image on their phones than a page of notes. (Be sure to balance photos of the white board with hand-written notes, though. Brain research suggests huge benefits in taking notes by hand.)

7. Illustrate projects and other student work with self-created images. Sometimes, students need a picture of a basketball or a grapefruit or a certain toy. Instead of rushing off to Google Images to find one, why not have them shoot their own pictures? Having students use their own images is a way to respect others’ intellectual property, a key part of digital citizenship.

8. Display growth with a photo each day. Want to see the change in the color of the leaves in a very tangible way? Or watch the progress of a growing plant or the setting sun? Have students take pictures each day and review the change later.

9. Use a time-lapse video to show change over time very quickly (or the reverse — slow motion). Time-lapse videos give a unique perspective into motion. They can show a filling gymnasium, a construction project or a Civil War reenactment in seconds. The converse — slow motion — has similar effects. Use a free app like Hyperlapse and Lapse It to create time-lapse videos or a slow-motion app like Slow Motion Video FX.

10. Create animated GIFs. These fun, moving images are all over social media. They’re short and can capture an idea in an instant. Plus, because they loop continuously, it lets us watch over and over and really absorb what’s happening. Google Photos will create an animated GIF automatically for students. Just shoot a burst of photos (or lots of quick photos in succession) and the Google Photos app will recognize it and create the image for you.

What if your students don’t have smart phones? There are several ways to handle that:

  • See if they can borrow a friend or family member’s phone to shoot photos or video and submit them to you.
  • Do a smart phone drive. Ask parents to donate old smartphones that still work that they won’t use anymore. (Make sure to request the cord, too!) Students can check them out during the school day or to go home.
  • Does your school have a digital camera that students can check out? This could be an alternative to using a mobile device.
[reminder]How could you see these activities fitting in what you do in the classroom? Have you used cameras with students in other ways?[/reminder]

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