Today’s blog is a guest post from my colleague Ramapriya Rajagopalan, known to most people as Priya. Priya is an educator based in Singapore. She has worked at Stamford American International School as an Elementary Teacher and EdTech Coach. She is an eternal optimist life-long learner, passionate about creativity in education. Connect with her on her blog and on Twitter.
Last week, I took the above two photos of my Grade 3 students for their class display board. I asked her which one she thought I should print. Within seconds she not only chose picture B, she articulated so well, the reason for her choice. She was very pleased with ‘picture B’. She said, “ I feel that I am so important when I see that picture, the background is clear (she meant the blur) while in the other picture A, the background can be seen a lot that I do not seem to be so important”.
I was amazed at her reply because she is an EAL student who needs support for reading and writing, but she could articulate her thoughts so well when I presented her with the visual image. I was also impressed that she observed the background blurring, focal point, and zoom, and understood the visual impact these make. I realized how it raised her self-esteem when she said, “I feel that I am so important when I see that picture”.
We are all born with observation skills, aesthetic sense, curiosity to interact, play and learn by ourselves. But somewhere in the path of growing into an adult, it gets lost. “The creative adult is the child who has survived”.
I believe the ultimate goal of education is to nurture children to develop into adults who can reach their fullest potential during their life and are able to pass that vibrancy to people around them.
Photography gives the students a whole new enjoyable way to learn, express and share their thinking. They learn to observe the world around them more in details to gain an in-depth understanding of our world. As educators, we know the importance of observation to learn. We do that day in and day out. We observe our students and interact with them to understand their thinking and learning. Our students also need to interact with their environment and observe a lot to learn. It is a key skill that we need to nurture. The process of learning ‘how to observe’, through photography is an exciting one irrespective of age.
When I say Photography, I don’t really mean any specific gadget or tool. It’s about the eyes that see and capture in mind, the details and beauty around us making us energized with the feeling of pleasure, gratitude. When I say Photography, I mean the power of creating something that means to us. In that perspective, Photography is a hands-on, open-ended task resulting in the meaningful making, connected to our real life and supports student agency.
The ability to share that learning & creation with the world has become possible with tech tools and digital photography. In the age where our students’ heads and eyes are lowered into a gadget most of the day, we need to provide opportunities for them to lift their eyes and observe the world around them through tools they enjoy and here is where tools like smartphone cameras, DSLR cameras, software etc come into the picture. With the advent of cameras in iPads and 1:1 iPad implementation in many schools, it’s much easier to get started with observing and capturing images that connect us with our learning.
The relation between Observation, Empathy, Aesthetics & Design thinking
I would like to quote from @spencerideas’ book “Launch cycle” – Look, Listen & Learn (observation) is the first step in the design thinking process which leads us to empathize. Great design work often has both creative functional solutions (which is a result of observation & empathy) and aesthetic design, which is the visual pleasure, both of which is excessively learned through photography.
I always used to wonder if photography is an art – as we love to capture the beauty around us and it provides such aesthetic pleasure, or a science – as we are trying to capture that light onto the sensor to form the image, or a math – with so many calculations involved in getting that stunning picture? or technology that just amazes us all with infinite possibilities to create and share what we experience with others?
Truth is that it helped me to realize the importance of the trans-disciplinary approach to learning where we need to understand one in relation to other, transcend beyond all the disciplines to authentically make connections in the real world. For some its a creative outlet, for some its a profession. Photography has the power to move people and can be used to give back to the community and for a cause. It can be a powerful communication tool for students to voice their ideas to the betterment of society through visual images. Photography and Kindness are the only two languages understood anywhere by anyone in the world.
Retaining and respecting the cultural diversity
Now more than ever, we need to appreciate and respect the cultural diversity amongst us, as we collaborate and work towards one common goal – ‘A fantastic future for our children’. In a school environment, I believe its very important to help students to retain and cherish their cultural identity and help them to appreciate and respect the same in others. It is vital for social-emotional development. Photography, with its open-ended nature, provides a great opportunity for students to explore & share their own and their peers’ identity, eventually promoting respect for the diversity. With 360 Photography and immersion technologies like VR, it is possible now to take students around the world to understand the beautiful heritage and history of places from which our students are from. As an educator interested in photography & cultural heritage, I have started creating 360 images of the places I visit, which I would eventually love to share with students. There are also many 360 images shared by photography enthusiasts on Google street view, which can be used with cardboard for VR experience.
Visual literacy & Visual teaching strategies
Photography can be a great teaching visual aid just like other artworks, to use in VTS and visual literacy. We can use work from popular photographers initiate a discussion on various topics. I believe it is beneficial to discuss the photographic work created by our own students too, to understand various perspectives.
There are 3 ways of using photography in the classroom setting:
1. Using Photos as a visual aid
2. Photography as a creative process to learn, create, express & share ideas
3. Integrating the mathematical and scientific concepts involved in photography with learning
All three ways are beneficial. The most important thing for students of any age is to observe, create, learn, share and collaborate. Here are my thoughts on benefits and use of photography in education as a sketch note: