Digital Cameras for Learning

For the past several years, the Upper Saddle River School District (K-8) has been using digital cameras, both still and video, to enhance learning, provide motivation, and as a convenient tool to empower both students and teachers. Such cameras are becoming easier to use, smaller, cheaper and yet more powerful. Thus our teachers and students can now readily produce and use digital images with ease in any learning area. They have the freedom to experiment with photos that encourage a willingness to learn. They can view their pictures immediately and erase those they don't want. They can produce high quality prints from inkjet printers, order prints online, get them printed at a one-hour lab, send them via Email, or post images on the district Web site. For this to happen, the district has made an effort to obtain equipment, provide staff development and incorporate digital cameras into the curriculum.

Equipment - What Do You Need?

For quality digital pictures you'll need:

  • a 2 to 4-megapixel camera;
  • image-editing software. Some software comes bundled with the camera or you can purchase a basic package like Microsoft Picture It! Photo or Adobe Photoshop Elements;
  • a color inkjet printer;
  • a CD-RW drive for making backup copies of photos on compact discs;
  • extra memory cards or a 256mb card that can store approximately 200 pictures;
  • extra rechargeable batteries and a battery re-charger.

In each school, cameras are available to all teachers through a sign-out procedure from a centralized location. Included with each camera are rechargeable batteries and recharger, a compact flash memory card, and a USB card reader or a PC/MCI card reader. All district computers have the necessary software installed for card readers. Currently, district-wide, there are 17 digital still cameras, including one Apple Quicktake 100, several Kodak Zoom and EasyShare Digital Cameras, two Cannon SureShot G3's and three Cannon Digital Video Recorders. School funds and PTO donations have helped us buy cameras. To save money, at the end of each school year, we raid the lost and found and recycle old lunch boxes. They make great camera cases and students are very comfortable carrying them.

Staff Development

For the past two years we've offered staff development courses in "Beginning and Advanced Digital Camera," "Importing and Manipulation of Digital Images," and "iMovie and Photoshop Elements." Through these courses, teachers learn the basics of using a digital camera, how to take pictures, download the pictures, import them into Word or PowerPoint, manipulate the images, use still images in an iMovie, create an iMovie and how to create a Web photo gallery using Photoshop Elements. As part of each class, teachers are also required to create a digital camera lesson to be used in their classroom.

Curriculum Ideas

In the beginning teachers used the images to document field trips, document a school event, create worksheets with photographs, create pictures for newsletters, and for student use in presentations. Now, our teachers use the camera to enhance lessons, for student assignments, for collaborative projects, to enhance their class Web pages, to display student work, to assist in teaching world languages, to encourage effort through immediate recognition of achievement, and to record student progress. In all cases, use of digital cameras has been highly motivational and has contributed to greater integration of technology into the curriculum and an effective method to improve communication. As our teachers became more comfortable with the cameras they encouraged the students to use them as well. Many projects and activities can be correlated to areas of the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and the NJ Technology Literacy Standards and the NJ Core Curriculum Standards. Listed below are sample lessons used by our teachers:

  • Kindergarten teachers give the cameras to their students to photograph their favorite color. They then use the pictures to create a graph of favorite colors.
  • Using pictures that the teacher takes, students use Kid Pix to create their favorite animal but use their face as the animal's face.
  • Students create the letters of the alphabet which the teacher photographs to create an Alphabet book. Students supplement the book by taking pictures of items around the school and make a picture dictionary.
  • At the beginning of the year, teachers take pictures of their students. At the end of the year they take another picture. Students import pictures and write about what they learned during the year.
  • In science, students use the camera to learn about types of clouds and weather. They use the pictures to create an "All About Weather" book.
  • Fourth-grade students create a virtual reality tour of Upper Saddle River while studying the local community.
  • Fifth-grade students, document the year to create "A year in the Life of a Fifth-Grader." The images are used to create an iMovie that is shown during the last day of school. Students manipulate the images using graphics software. They crop the image, change the contrast/color balance or carry out a whole host of 'artistic' touch-ups.
  • Art teachers use the camera to create an electronic gallery of student artwork. The gallery is posted on the district's website.
  • Art classes take pictures of themselves to create a digital self-portrait and compare the portraits to those hand-drawn.
  • After building a bridge, students used iMovie to create and watch a time-lapse movie of the bridge collapsing and discuss why it collapsed. Students were able to pause or rewind the movie repeatedly to view and analyze the collapse.
  • In health class, students take images that capture different emotions and discuss these emotions.

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