Photosharing Web Sites
Photosharing Web sites are free or low cost Web services that allow users to upload photos for public or private viewing. Some sites allow visitors to add comments which can facilitate student feedback from anywhere in the world.
The use of visual imagery addresses multiple learning styles and increases understanding to those with limited English proficiency.
Digital cameras capture images that can be uploaded to a Web site, printed, or included in student projects. Digital images offer a new medium and mode for students to document understanding, analyze change over time, or alter for creative expression. Many cameras also record sound and video, additional methods for gathering data.
Images help set the stage for understanding abstract concepts
Toni Rice teaches third grade in a rural community. Rice recently learned about a research-based strategy of organizing the curriculum around integrated themes. Convinced that integrated themes would help her students deepen their learning, she decided to use change as a yearlong learning theme.
Rice began her new social studies unit about change in the local community. She introduced the unit with a brainstorming session. She asked students to help define "change over time." Her students struggled to come up with any examples of change on their own. Rice realized that change over time is an abstract idea, and that her students would need help to understand it. As a way to scaffold their understanding, she designed a shared learning experience to help her students better understand the concept of change.
Noticing change involves perceiving differences, as well as discerning what is unchanged. Research shows this to be a critical component for improving achievement, with important implications for teaching.
There are five main ways of identifying similarities and differences: comparing, contrasting, classifying, analogies, and metaphor. Rice chose to focus on the first three, beginning with simple comparing and contrasting. Later she would introduce classifying.
Because observation is a key component of recognizing similarities and differences, Rice decided to use a digital camera as a tool to encourage her students to be more active observers.
Rice started by focusing on change close to home. The main road near the school, which her students traveled daily, was being torn up for a construction project. She decided to document the project for her class by taking digital photographs.
For two weeks, she took a series of photos at the construction site each morning. Using a projection screen, she showed the photos to her class. She used the images to help them look for signs of change. What looked the same from one day to the next? What looked different? They kept a record of their observations; later, they would record changes.
At first, Rice modeled the strategy of identifying similarities and differences by sharing her own observations. She began with: "Today I noticed something different about the size of the hole workers are digging." Or: "Today I noticed that the road surface was a different material than yesterday." Rice projected two photos side by side so the students could compare the site from one day to the next. She asked students to point out something in each photo that illustrated her observation statements.
Through this approach, Rice was guiding students to notice similarities and differences (Chen, Yanowitz, & Daehler, 1996). As the next step, Rice projected photos side-by-side, and asked students to point out what looked similar or different.
By the end of the first week, students had captured a variety of observations. Rice encouraged them to classify them according to the kind of equipment being used: human-powered tools (i.e., shovels) or mechanical equipment (i.e., tractors). She explained that classifying is a useful way to help organize observations based on similarities (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).
As the project proceeded, Rice signed the class up for an account on "Flickr" ( http://www.flickr.com/) a free online photo storage and sharing tool. Rice was already familiar with the site, because she used it to share family photos. Once Rice registered for the class account, she was able to upload the photos she took directly to the site. Students were then given the site Web address and instructions on how to log in to their class photolog. Students (and their parents) were able to log in from home or the library and add comments and notes as new pictures were uploaded. Flickr displays all the photos chronologically, allowing each student to see a complete record of the event over time.
Flickr has built-in features that allowed Rice to make the class photolog private (only her students had access). The tool also has commenting and note-taking built in. Once students had logged in, they could add a comment to each photo (or in their teams). They could also overlap a note on a particular part of the photo itself. Students collaborated in small teams to write captions and notes, describing the changes they observed. In words and images, they told a story of change over time.
Student discussions were more robust when students were asked to think critically about similarities and differences. The technology--digital photography--helped students become better observers. The photo sharing and saving site supported an archive of the class's first project about change--an abstract concept that they now understood.
With the help of digital photography students become better observers, and the photo sharing site supported an archive of the class's first project on change - an abstract concept they now understood.