Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mobile Photo Blog

This week, after reviewing some of the basic photo techniques (zooming in, rule of thirds-see my example below, not centering things, etc.) one girl asked if she could show me a picture she took with her phone, which she wasn't supposed to have on in class. Needless to say, I said yes because it was a clear furthering of the educational process in this case. And, lo and behold, she showed me a beach picture she had taken that was a perfect example of the rule of 1/3s!

I had already been thinking that I really ought to find some way to leverage the camera phones and iPod Touches the kids already have with the classroom focus on photography skills, but as I thought about this student's great photo, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Through a micro-blogging service (such as Posterous or Tumblr), create an 8th grade Mobile Photojournalism blog, in which students could text or email in pictures to the site. Both of these sites are excellent ways to have kids put their work online nearly instantly. All they do is email their writing, image, video, or sound to a specific address and it's posted immediately (though you can set it up with pre-approval by the blog administrator required, which I had planned to do).

The only problem was that as I was setting up this blog, I realized that neither of the services I was planning on using allowed texting photos into the blog. This is a critical difference, because many of my students have cell phones, but few have smart phones that can send an email. (In fact, most of the kids don't have email addresses because they don't see the point.) The email address wouldn't be a problem to create; the wrong kind of phone is a problem.

So, now I'm not sure what I want to do. It seemed like such a great idea, but now I'm stuck because I don't know how to make it work. Yes, I could have them text my phone the pictures and I could forward them to an email, but I am NOT one of those teachers who give out their cell phone numbers to students. I could have them each make their own accounts on the blog service, but that would mean they'd have to know how to get their images from the phone to another computer and I don't have time to help kids with 50 different phones figure this out. So, if anyone out there has any good suggestions on how to make something like this work, it would really help me out! Sometime, an unfulfilled idea is extremely frustrating! (Sort of like when you think of the exact food you want to eat, but you're out of a key ingredient.) Let me know your ideas!

Beginning of the Year Observations

A few random observations from the first 2 or 3 weeks of school this year:

With my 8th grade Photojournalism students, I've implemented a photo of the day, in which every class starts by analyzing an interesting picture and identifying interesting, different, notable features. I knew this would be good practice for them, in terms of looking at (and taking) photos critically, but I've been impressed with the amount of participation I've had with it, as well as the interesting observations. For instance in this picture, they all thought it looked like a tornado was coming (mind you, none of them have ever seen a tornado. This is Arizona people!) A few others noted that it was odd that there were only 3 houses (because when you're in the city, 3 unsurrounded houses is unheard of). One day, when I didn't have the image up on the board right away, one girl asked me if we could please look at a picture and talk about it :-)

This was another picture I used with the 8th graders and 7th grade computer students. I used it to discuss symbolism, and how different items in a picture can create unique symbolism. In this case, we talked about what the White House is a symbol of, and what fences represent and how those contrast each other. When asking students for other examples of symbolism, it was really fascinating to see the different levels of brain development. For what the White House symbolizes, the 8th graders came up with things like freedom, power, justice, etc. The 7th graders said things like, the President, laws, Congress, etc. When they had to come up with their own examples, many 7th graders said a stop sign was a symbol. Clearly their developmental understanding of something concrete representing a very abstract idea isn't quite there yet. A good thing for me to remember at the beginning of the year.

As most teachers do, I spent my first session with each class going over the rules. However, since school started on a Wednesday and I like to start new content on Mondays, I had 3 days to kill during the second week, so everyone practiced keyboarding. Especially with 7th grade, I was absolutely shocked at how much they enjoyed the typing practice and games that I had them play. One student asked why we were teaching them this "fancy typing." Of course, this was after we had already discussed that virtually every kind of job these days would be easier if you knew how to type, so I thought of a couple additional examples to convince him :-) I always know a lesson is successful when kids ask for paper to write down the website so they can practice at home, and that definitely happened several times that week :-)

One of the things each class did during the first session was to read and sign a tech class contract. However, before they signed, we had a big discussion about what situations people sign contracts in. Inevitably, someone in every class came up with a cell phone contract (which I hadn't initially thought of). So then we discussed what would happen if they signed a cell phone contract without knowing that the payment was going to go up after several months and how they would be legally bound to pay it since they'd signed the contract. Needless to say, since this is in the near future for many of them, I had their attention. Yet again, it showed me how if you can find a situation that is relevant to kids right NOW, they will pay attention. Too bad those examples aren't always easy to find!

As usual, I forget how much kids keep me on my toes, coming up with things I never would have thought of. That's what keeps it interesting! :-)