Photography is Critical to Learning

Our children are growing up in a technology-driven age of immediacy. Should they want to talk with someone, they pull a cell phone from their pocket and make a call – or send a text message, or even transmit a picture of themselves. Digital photography is a wonderful innovation for this “instant results” generation, and it should be incorporated into the educational process because of its power to quickly create a visual impression and promote lasting learning experiences.

Digital photography allows the user to view his/her picture within seconds, providing immediate gratification. It is a tool that can boost confidence. If someone doesn’t like the picture it can be re-done in less than a minute.

Whether it’s math, science or essays, creating accompanying visuals stimulates children to dig into their creativity and express themselves. Just as the PBS program “Sesame Street” so successfully utilized images and fun characters in the learning of words, mathematics, and even social skills so digital photography can be an effective, creative teaching tool. Photography can help expand the imagination with an assignment, for example, that asks students to shoot images of objects that start with a certain letter of the alphabet or that resemble specific items. For a Biology class that could be a list of plants, trees or animals while for an art class it could be shapes, colors, textures or patterns. For an English class, digital images strung together with words and paragraphs become a compelling essay assignment.

According to some psychologists, taking pictures of each other as the school year progresses also gives students a sense of achievement as they see themselves grow and change. In addition, digital photography hones children’s observational skills, as they must focus on a subject in order to photograph it or concentrate on the meaning of the image they are trying to get across.

And this teaching tool is highly cost-effective. Schools can acquire a half-dozen digital cameras for a fraction of what a computer once cost. And, speaking of computers, just one can become the file cabinet, display case and digital darkroom for an entire class of student-photographers.

Setting up a reward-driven competition that ultimately results in achieving educational goals is one of the strongest ways for children to learn, and digital photography can be incorporated as a classroom exercise. The Hamilton Museum of Art, an online digital museum “curated” by an elementary school art teacher, is a destination for classroom learning. It is an online digital gallery where teachers and students can easily and securely share digital photos and curriculum ideas, while competing in various categories for monthly prizes. Also, students can upload their digital images and thus share them with their parents at home, simply by accessing the museum Web site on their home computer.

The exciting thing about digital photography is that there are virtually no age limits. From Pre-K to grade-12, the digital camera can become an easy-to-use tool. Studies indicate that art education helps children develop problem-solving skills, to communicate ideas, and to be in touch with things happening around them. Unfortunately, art education programs are the victims of tightened school budgets and funding cuts. But digital photography can help teach the necessary skills.

Nicole Laster, PR person for Sheldon Goldstein.

Technology as a Creative Tool

With more than 64 million digital cameras sold last year alone, digital photography is more popular than ever. Digital imaging can be used to educate children about their world, technology, the arts and self-expression. In fact, the use of digital photography as a creative tool is occurring in more and more classrooms across the country.

Digital cameras and computer programs designed to manipulate images expand students’ imaginations and engage them in the learning process. Students may use digital cameras, scanners, imaging software, printers and computers to explore the artistic potential of new imaging technology and solve visual problems.

With digital photography, students can learn how to plan and produce images that express their vision of their world and demonstrate an understanding of composition, light, color, visual impact and art history. Hands-on digital imaging projects include digital painting, documentary photography, image manipulation and graphic design problems like CD and magazine cover designs. What’s more, students become active learners and work in an interactive medium that engages them and keeps them excited about the educational process. Digital photography’s use in schools extends beyond the art room into all subjects including math, science and language arts classes helping students to visualize concepts, express ideas and document experiences.

When I first started teaching digital photography in 1989 few people had digital cameras or understood the revolution in photography we were about to experience. In a short 6 years the digital revolution has transformed photography and given the average student, parent and teacher the power to create digital images that visually records their world and expresses their feelings and ideas. The images look great too! On open school night when parents see what their students are learning about digital imaging in my classes, they all say they would like to take the class. I always suggest that they let their children teach them.

Harold Olejarz is Curator of the Hamilton Museum of Art.