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Magazines > MultiMedia & Internet@Schools > May/June 2004
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Vol. 11 No. 3 — May/June 2004
Sharing the Vision with Digital Photography
by Johanna Riddle, Media Specialist, Samsula Elementary School, Volusia County Schools, Florida

But Wait … There’s More!

To link into further examples of student work described in my article, log on to the Adobe Digital Kids Club Web site at You will find student photography work featured in Adobe’s student showcase entitled “What Makes You Click?”

As I and my students have grown in proficiency with use of Adobe Photoshop Elements, we have found that the software enables us to edit photos, add special effects, include text, and print in a variety of formats. In our earlier work, we were using several programs to achieve desired results. It’s so much easier to use a single program.

Incorporating Photoshop Elements into our media program has resulted in creative outcomes, such as our electronic haiku book, with beautiful student photography that connects visual and text imagery. Students of all ability levels experienced success with this project.

As with other art forms, photography acts a cement to integrate many disciplines into meaningful learning components. I am also finding that the inclusion of photography as an element of the learning process is resulting in more team teaching and collaboration with classroom teachers.

The Depression era project that is described toward the end of my article was an outstanding demonstration of mastery by my fifth grade students. The photography and text outcome, produced through Photoshop Elements, reveals historical research, an understanding of photojournalism, poetic interpretation, and empathy and understanding of the plight of many Americans during the Depression. Lesson plans and student examples for this unit will soon be added to the Adobe Digital Kids Club Web site.

I am still learning, still figuring things out, still growing with my students in technological knowledge. We are excited about the creative journey that we are undertaking together, and about our ever expanding portfolio of meaningful, beautiful, and relevant photographs.

Several years ago, I entered my school media center with the goals of creating an environment that would cultivate lifelong love of learning and include everyone in the process. I wanted to keep students excited about learning, parents encouraged about participating, and teachers feeling supported and appreciated. In AASL's "Information Power," it said it could and should be done, and I believed it! New to the field of media education, I brought with me experience as an art teacher, a museum educator, and gifted and talented enrichment teacher.

Devising Strategies for Active Learning

Because I have always worked and taught in an "active learning" environment, I sought to find ways to continue that philosophy in the areas most commonly addressed in school media centers: literature, research, and technology. I found that most of the teaching strategies, tools, and resources in the media center were directed at the linguistic and auditory learner. In order to involve everyone, I resolved to create ways of experiencing learning that addressed multiple modalities. Mass media has bred a generation of "image readers" who must quickly interpret and inference a range of images and icons (an increasingly essential skill), and I felt it vital to teach my children to include, to interpret, and to create communicative imagery their work. Digital photography would address the styles of visual and kinesthetic learners, meet an important communicative need for all learners, and involve ordinary learners in extraordinary learning experiences.

Teaching in a rural, public elementary school, I had the advantages of a small and stable student population. The community took deep interest in its school and children. I worked with a technology-friendly administrator (also new to the school) who supported bringing technology usage and curriculum together in meaningful ways. It was up to me to create strategies to accomplish this! On the downside, I worked with a very small annual budget. I had little experience with technology. Outside the use of learning game software and interschool e-mail, technology integration was not a part of the consciousness of my larger learning community.

Now What?

I began to climb a steep learning curve through district-sponsored workshops, independent studies, participation in conferences, tutoring and advising from my techo-savvy teenage son, and much time spent in playful learning. I worked with the tools I had available: six networked computers; a scanner; a digital camera; and software that included Microsoft's PowerPoint, Word, and PhotoEditor, and CorelPaint. (Later, I would add a second camera, an upgraded scanner, a color printer, and a CD burner to my media collection, along with Adobe Photoshop Elements software.)

I decided to become comfortable with the reality of learning alongside students, parents, and teachers. After all, I didn't have to know all, be all, and do all—and who can, in the face of our ever-changing technological world? I just had to be willing to participate in the journey.

From Acrostic Poems ...

We began. One of our first forays integrated thesaurus skills, PowerPoint, and Word software with digital photography. Because time and resources were limited, the activity was broken into several learning sessions. Each student was asked to create an acrostic poem based on his or her first name and bring it to the media center. After a demonstration, half of the grade class buddied up and shot digital portraits. The other half were challenged to use a text or visual thesaurus to find interesting synonyms for the words they had chosen for their acrostic.

During the next session, teams reversed tasks. In small group sessions, students used PowerPoint, typing each word of their edited poem in a different font, typestyle, and color, and, finally, importing their digital image into the finished background of the poem. Slides were linked and looped to form revolving, and very popular, screensavers. This simple activity strengthened thesaurus skills, taught basic digital photo skills, and gave students specific software experience (see Figure 1 on page 24).

Success! Students were excited about what they had learned to do. Reference skills were coming alive in a meaningful way. Other students were looking at their work on the screensavers in the media center and asking for similar experiences. And they all wanted to get their hands on that digital camera.

... To Rock Projects

A fourth grade science research project provided a perfect venue for a collaborative and integrated learning experience. The class was studying rocks and minerals and learning how to use multiple sources for reference. The fourth grade teacher was comfortable with technology and willing to work through the process with me.

I began by displaying a collection of rocks and minerals in our media center. A hands-on brainstorming session with these beautiful and attractive objects helped fourth graders generate categories and standards for describing and identifying rocks. Each student selected a rock for study and took a digital photograph. A special research area was set up in the media center consisting of tools for testing rocks, field guides in a range of reading levels, and an interactive electronic flow chart for identifying rocks and minerals. Students integrated visual and text information into PowerPoint slides, selecting fonts, backgrounds, and animation. Slides were linked and became a "Virtual Rock Museum."

Skills and usage began to grow. Students discovered how to import Word Art, or import a Soundwave file into a PowerPoint slide, and began to teach other students how to add those skills to their base of knowledge. Book reports, science projects, even virtual valentines were finding their way into daily classroom activities. We were definitely on a roll.

From Fact to Fiction—And Back Again

We began to look at elements in literature and to create ways to interpret those ideas visually For instance, in Crossing Jordan, author Adrian Fogelin uses symbolism to communicate relationships, motives, and beliefs among the characters. After discussing interpretation of those symbols, I challenged students to create photographs to symbolize the relationship between the two main characters in the story (see Figure 2 above left). Digital art software played an important part in this project, as students manipulated photographs with the intent of communicating or emphasizing the idea behind the image. We used PhotoEditor and Corel Paint, which were readily available to us, and eventually also Adobe Photoshop Elements. We learned we could craft images to communicate specific ideas, just as we were learning to craft words.

References to Henry David Thoreau in My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George prompted an Internet research project. Students collected information to compose a philosophic statement based on Thoreau's ideas and experiences. They used text and online quotation sources to locate statements from Thoreau. We borrowed books through Sunlink, our statewide interlibrary loan system in Florida. Using a digital camera, students took photographs of nature reflective of the statement they selected, and then created a PowerPoint slide that incorporated their image with Thoreau's statement. As they presented their slides, students explained the rationale behind the visual and text choices they made (See Figure 3 on page 25).

Lifelong Learners in Action

With the donation of a second digital camera, we began to connect creative writing and digital photography in new ways. A grant from FUTURES, a local business-to-education support foundation, provided funds for photo paper, ink cartridges, CDs, and display materials. Students and parents began to participate in a camera checkout program, which allowed students a wider range of subject matter. Students manipulated original digital photographs and wrote poetry to accompany their work. Other students selected a photo taken by another student and responded to their visual work in writing. They were able to focus on subjects of personal meaning and to interpret them in new ways (see figures 4 and 5 above).

Much of this work began to take place before and after school, with students waiting and eager to come into the media center and much in charge of their own learning. Natural learning communities formed as children worked together to solve problems, collaborate on ideas, and lend their own interpretation to visual ideas. "It's so great to get use my own ideas, instead of always having someone tell me what I have to be doing," commented 9-year-old Charlie, who often mentors fellow students in new technology processes and platforms.

Most exciting for me, as teacher and facilitator, are the ways that digital photography has sparked meaningful, independent learning. For example, as preparation for reading Bud, Not Buddy by Paul Christopher Curtis, I asked fifth graders to generate questions about the Great Depression, then to select one for research. During that process, students discovered the documentary photographs of Dorothea Lange. Much interesting discussion was centered around her work. "Could we take photographs of ourselves dressed up like people [in these photographs] and write a living biography about a character?" asked one student.

A murmur of excitement rippled through the group, as a student suggested ways to create and research characters; another talked about possible backgrounds, props, and costumes; and a third suggested videotaping the segments as well. After agreeing upon elements that would reflect student excellence (including research from and citing of multiple sources), the class went to work.

As "guide on the side" (rather than "sage on the stage"), it is a thrill for me to observe these students using digital tools for research and communication with competence and creativity, producing outcomes that will educate and inform others as well as themselves, and fully engaging in the meaningful business of becoming lifelong learners.
Resources Mentioned (And Some More Information You Can Use!)

• Learn about Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Adobe Photoshop Album at

• Adobe's Digital Kids Club site [] is a wonderful resource for ideas, tools, skills, classes, and more to get you and your students integrating digital photography into their learning. It's a Must Visit. From there, you can learn more about the Digital America contest Adobe is planning to launch (as of press time for this article) in May.

• Microsoft's PhotoEditor ships with some—but not all—the Windows operating system versions. You can find tutorials for using it very easily on the Web. Try these, for example:;

• If you use CorelPaint, there are also Web-based tutorials to help. Here's a good starting point:

• For information on buying digital cameras, see Mike Ballard's article "A Look At ... Buying Digital Cameras" in the January/February 2004 issue of MultiMedia & Internet@Schools.


Johanna Riddle is the media specialist at Samsula Elementary School, Volusia County Schools, Florida. She is also an Adobe Master Teacher. She may be reached at

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