Photography

Truthbombs from Ten Year Olds

Sometimes kids surprise you. Sometimes you think that, because they are kids, they don't understand the deeper connections between the projects we do in school, and larger life lessons.  Sometimes they prove you wrong. 

We wrapped our photography unit by having a discussion about things they had learned to be true about photography. Here is what they came up with (edited by me for clarity of expression, but basic concepts preserved):

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Sometimes 10 year olds come up with some pretty big #truthbombs. 

Truthbombs resonate, because they're... well... TRUE.  They're usually pretty simply stated, but they make a big impact because they're expressed in a context you, perhaps, had not thought of before.  We'll be spiralling back through these photography/life #truthbombs throughout our learning year. They are good ones.

My students hit me with another #truthbomb this week. I asked them to discuss the question, "Do you believe people are naturally good?" More than 2/3 of them said that they did not believe this statement to be true. This broke my heart. I expressed my surprise about their responses to some of my colleagues, which led to an interesting adult discussion about how it is possible that children's worldviews are being shaped by technology in a negative way. News is often sad and serious. People sometimes say horrible things to each other on social media. It is easier to dehumanize others and treat them in ways that are cruel when we can hide behind our screens to do it. It is difficult to escape the media and communication options that surround us and are available 24/7. We start to believe what we see, and much of it is negative. Knowing that the magic ratio of positive to negative moments in a day needs to be at least 5:1 for optimal emotional and physical health, are we seeing enough of the good stuff in our feeds, streams, and media? After thinking about all of these things, is it really technology that is the problem, or does it get an unnecessarily bad rap?

My questions at the end of this discussion were: 

How can we use technology for good? How can we harness its power to help our students see that we are all connected... that despite any perceived differences, we are all simply human beings who crave love and belonging and live on one planet that we all need to take care of together? 

How do we help people understand that all of us belong to each other, and that every time one of us hurts another, it hurts us all?  

How do we find wisdom in the way we use technological tools to help us get to the #truthbombs that allow us to make connections to our lives in ways that might induce positive change in our thinking, like we did with our photography projects?

I don't have all the answers, but I was really grateful for technology that allows anyone to share their story with others through video this week. Here are two videos that I watched that helped me to feel more optimistic. I shared them with my students. Some of them said it shifted their thinking about the inherent goodness in people.  Maybe they will help you feel better too.  If you have any thoughts or answers to the above questions, please share in the comments below or in our Facebook group.

#Eyebombing

Using photography to create a catalog of beauty was a great way of practicing being present, mindful, and grateful.  It was also a nice exploration into looking at things from a different perspective and considering how shifting a vantage point might change one's experience with an idea, object, or person.  I have been looking for some project ideas to do more perspective-shifting work with my students, and, as fate would have it, the perfect one came through my Facebook feed: #eyebombing. Watch the video below to learn more about the fun concept.

I learned about #eyebombing when I happened upon an amazing HyperDoc assignment created by my friend, talented California educator, Lisa Highfill, based on a lesson idea by Adam Randall.  HyperDocs are a transformative way of using collaborative technology, such as Google Docs & Slides, to create blended classroom instruction and engage students in learning activities. Find out more about HyperDocs here, or by reading Lisa's phenomenal book, co-authored with Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis. This particular HyperDoc merged writing, photography, creativity and FUN!  You can view the HyperDoc here (you can make your own copy if you are logged into your Google account - please maintain credit to the original creators in any copy that is made), or scroll through the Slides embedded below to learn more!

What was extra exciting for me was the fact that in this assignment, perspective was addressed in two ways. First was the idea of looking for ordinary things and seeing how we could shift/add something to experience them in a completely different way - one that might create a moment of joy for ourselves and/or others.  The fact that the simple addition of two plastic eyes made us see the object completely differently than we did before adding them was powerful in terms of understanding perspective shift. Second was the idea of writing a story from the perspective of the #eyebombed character. It made us think beyond our own feelings and try to understand those of another - fictional as they may be.  These will be really great concepts to build upon in future lessons.

For less than $3 (thank goodness for craft store coupons!) I was able to purchase a package of 160 self-adhesive googly eyes. This gave each student in my class six eyeballs (three pairs of eyes) to use to create characters.  They worked in groups of 3 - each group having a camera to document their creations - and set off to #eyebomb our school.  (*Note: I did email my entire staff the day before and let them know what I was planning so that nobody was caught by surprise).  We explored different areas of the campus - inside and outside - and found so many fun ways to create "faces" on inanimate objects. The joy was palpable - everyone was giggling for two reasons: they were having a ton of fun creating their own #eyebombs and appreciating what their classmates were designing around them, and they were anticipating the smiles that would be brought to others' faces at recess when everyone came out of class and noticed the #eyebombs. It was a really enjoyable activity to be a part of and witness to.

Check out some of my favourite creations from the project in the gallery below. So awesome!  We are still working on writing and editing our stories in Google Docs, but I have no doubt that they will be as fun as the creations themselves!

If you are interested in #eyebombing, you can follow the hashtag or the user @eyebombing on Twitter.  You can also check out the website Eyebombing.com

Have you done any activities with your students that help explore the idea of looking at things from a different perspective?

Have you planned to create any moments of joy in your lessons and units this year?  

Please share in the comments below, or join our Facebook group and tell us your stories there!  Your voice and ideas are important and valued. Please share!

Addendum: Check out this amazing iteration of the HyperDoc that Gina Ripley created and shared out on Twitter after reading this post! Even better than the original!

Also, check out this great vlog from Darin Nakakihara highlighting how he did this project with his 4th graders, and a fun interview with Lisa Highfill as well!

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A Catalog of Beauty

“I am not against critique, but the world’s need to nick pic everything is a dis-ease. What I crave is holiness. We are so far away from the heart, when only the head leads with only what is wrong. How about the million beauties you walked by today and did not see? Name them. The world needs/ I need your catalog of beauty. What is your catalog of beauty?”

- Glenis Redmond

I was excited to start the year with some photography projects. So were my fifth grade students.  They buzzed with questions and anticipation when they saw the kit of digital cameras arrive to our classroom from our district resource lending center, asking what I was planning for their use.  "I am so glad you are curious, " I responded happily and vaguely, much to their frustration. "I'm not telling yet. You'll find out soon".  I didn't make them wait too long. I was eager too.

Digital photography is a flexible medium that allows for a multitude of project options and opportunities for curricular integration. Photography is a great way to learn about elements of visual and graphic design, an amazing storytelling medium, and an incredible format for capturing thinking and learning in a visible way.  It's a great ladder into videography - another terrific format for developing creative muscles, and an excellent launchpad for discussion on digital citizenship and information privacy when talking about sharing work and peoples' likenesses online. Unlike my own early experiences with film-based cameras, the digital format is easy and inexpensive, there is no wait time to see what the photos turn out like, and you are not limited to 24 exposures on a single roll of film. It is easily accessible technology that almost anyone can learn to use successfully.

We started with a short lesson on some basics.  My friend, Nicole Dalesio, a talented educator and photographer from Los Altos, California, uses a great acronym that I shared with my students: SCARE. 

S - Simplify

C - Closer

A - Angle

R - Rule of Thirds

E - Even Lighting

I won't go into too much detail about what each of these terms mean in this post, but if you are interested, Stephen Davis gives a great description (and some nice project ideas) in this post from the CUE blog. We had some discussion around each of the above items, watched a few short, related YouTube videos to help with more in-depth understanding of the concepts, and then I let them loose on the school grounds to start snapping images. It was amazing to see what only 30 minutes of instruction around a few basic elements did to improve the quality of the photos they were taking. There was a high creativity factor, and everyone was excited and engaged. The students were proud of their work, and many expressed a wish to spend more time taking photos, or to at least plan another photo-taking activity for the future, when time constraints forced us to conclude our activity.

One valuable, and not often overtly recognized, gift of photography is that it can be an incredibly powerful way to be present and mindful, and to see things from a different perspective. My students were absolutely "in the moment" as they looked for beautiful and interesting things to take pictures of. They were willing to get on their backs or bellies and stand on top of objects to change their vantage point, and to see potential and art in the mundane things that we normally just walk past and take for granted. They were utterly and completely in the "now".  We had a good discussion about this upon returning to the classroom. I told them about how I have gone on photo walks during times when I am feeling stressed or worried - just me, my phone/camera, and my dog - in order to clear my head,  and stop lamenting about things that have happened in the past (which can lead to depression) or worrying about things that might happen in the future (which can lead to anxiety). Spending a small amount of time simply looking for beautiful moments to capture can be a very calming and effective mindfulness and gratitude practice. It always helps me feel better.  I encouraged them to try the same outside of school if they have the opportunity. 

As I was thinking about photography and the way it encourages us to be present in the moment, I was reminded of a passage from the talented poet, Glenis Redmond, that I have included at the beginning of this post.  I came across this quote on Rachel Macy Stafford's blog (which is a MUST read - so many beautiful stories that make you think and touch your heart) awhile back, and remembered it as I was thinking about writing this post. When I first read the verse, my breath caught - there was so much truth in these words. I felt happy when I recognized that my students and I were creating a catalog of beauty as we took our photos. We were noticing the "beauties" we normally walk by, and appreciating them fully, even if it was just for a small period of time. We were seeing with our hearts.  

I hope that we find more moments like this regularly throughout the year. Luckily there are other ways that we can continue this practice, even after we send the camera kit back to the lending library. We can use tablets, or webcams, or iPods, or phones. If I have even one camera that I can keep in the classroom, it can be requested for use by anyone who becomes aware of a moment of beauty that is just waiting to be noticed and captured into our shared catalog. We can use the same strategies without any technology simply by going on a walk and shaping our fingers into a rectangular "frame" and working hard to "develop" the image in our brains for future recall. This is a valuable practice to continue. The world needs more "beauties" to be collected and shared. We'll try to do our part.

I did not ask permission to use my students' photos in this post, so I have none that I am able to share, but I have been gleaning a lot of inspiration from amazing educator, Trevor Mattea, and his Twitter feed. He has been doing some great photography work with his students in the San Francisco area and posting them for others' enjoyment. Trevor has also shared some amazing and useful resources, such as his "Classroom Camera" slide deck, and a terrific playlist of helpful YouTube videos on photographic principles. Thank you, Trevor, for "showing your work" and sharing with others! It is such great stuff! 

Have you considered using photography as a way of appreciating the present moment?

Have you used photography projects in other creative ways in your classrooms?

Please share in the comments below, or join our Facebook group and tell us your stories there!

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