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.
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. …