Photography (8th Grade Unit/PBL)

“Freelance Project” taken by my 8th grader, Fall 2012

New this year, my students enjoy a range of photography experiences but in 8th grade we center an entire unit around digital photography and Photoshop.  I love introducing Photoshop to my students not only because I am able to expose them to something they would not normally be able to experience (usually) but I am also always, always…did I mention always, amazed at how quickly they take to t he program and before I know it, every trimester, no fail, I learn something new that they have figured out.

Rather than tell them what to take pictures of and what to do with said pictures, I try to open up the possibilities by creating an effective Project Based Learning environment in which I supply examples of possible projects and allow the creation of their own.  The three I highlight are senior pictures, mash ups, and alphabet photography – all areas we see a lot of in every day life.

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One student’s idea for her project was to make people look like they could levitate.

But again, if they have a completely different idea – as long as it has sustenance and holds a creative element with skill needed, I will approve outside ideas as well.  The possibilities become endless and students immediately gain control of their unit.

I use Edmodo for the online learning environment…our district does have Moodle but I’ve seen that students react poorly and don’t interact on Moodle because it’s clunky interface (update soon, please).  Edmodo allows for classroom discussion moderated by me; and students start each day with a bell ringer – not that quizzes them to give a grade but allows a chance for students to reconnect with the classroom and remember the path they are on.

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Day One simply consists of setting up Edmodo and looking at the class project website; a site that allows students to always know the expectations of each project option as well as supplies requirements and resources that might be helpful.  Weebly is a great website builder (I also enjoy Wix) and has allowed me to live edit when students bring up great projects.  We review the projects and possibilities as well as talk about requirements; very simple: three photographs edited with Photoshop using basic photography concepts surrounding a common theme (Senior pictures, etc).  The reason I keep it simple is well, time and because Photoshop can be a very, very overwhelming program if you don’t take the necessary steps.  That’s why I have handouts (virtual) that help students understand tools and commands that you can use in Photoshop.  The rule for class is to check those handouts before getting stressed – typically the answer is right in front of them.

Day Two and Day Three are simply exposure days – we sign a technology agreement, get used to the cameras and overview concepts like Rule of Thirds, Focal Points, Depth of Field, etc. They are allowed to go a little nuts with the cameras and take as many practice pictures as they can following these concepts.

Day Four and Day Five are Into to Photoshop days; we walk through the program basics together and I show a couple examples of how to be successful with their photography projects.  They are then set free to practice the tools and filters in Photoshop. As anyone might relate, filters are popular so it’s important to “talk the off the ledge” by reminding them that sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing (lose focal point, etc).

After these few “set up days”, students are given a deadline (I usually do 5 more days of class time) in which their photographs are due.  This may seem like a lot but in that time they must take the photographs, edit them, upload them…and if they need to, they need to go back and take more pictures because they were not thrilled with their other ones.  This also allows them to take more than three pictures, edit more than three pictures and not get overwhelmed with a new experience.

One student's Alphabet Photography (super creative finds).

One student’s Alphabet Photography (super creative finds).

The outcome is always fantastic.  Both regarding the classroom environment AND the end results.  Students get pumped up about this – technology, of course, but also doing something like photography that has so many possibilities.  Beyond that, they know they can make something of it (we discuss photography careers) in their future and their classmates are great at providing feedback.  They love having ownership of their time and allowing them to choose what they are doing each day (taking pictures, editing, etc), breaks the class up so I can really work one on one with some of the students who need it most.

Of course there are always 5-6 students who excel all expectations and before I know it, I am standing back and they have complete control.  This is why I love Project Based Learning and I love technology. Anyone that knows me knows I am a huge advocator about this. If you ever have a chance to give the reigns up and let your students control the learning, do it. Now. Immediately – be ready for set backs but it is totally worth it.

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