TECHNOLOGY: Digital Photography in an Inner-City Fifth Grade, Part 1

By Riner, Phil | Phi Delta Kappan, April 2005 | Go to article overview

TECHNOLOGY: Digital Photography in an Inner-City Fifth Grade, Part 1


Riner, Phil, Phi Delta Kappan


IF I could, I would walk readers of the Technology column into Phil Riner's office at the University of North Florida to see the entire wall of photographs done by fifth-grade children from the inner city. If you didn't know the photographs were done by young children, you would assume they had been taken by intermediate to advanced photography majors at the university. Because of his inspired work with these at- risk children, I invited Phil to share his expriences, which will be the topic of this and next month's columns. Here is the first installment. - - Royal Van Horn

* * *

Research tells us we can learn complex tasks most easily if they are taught in "small sequential steps." This column is about the small sequential steps that unlocked the powers of digital photography, of portraiture, and of student creativity.

The strategies and ideas described here came as a result of working with fifth-grade students in an inner-city elementary school. The children and the cooperating teachers contributed greatly to the conceptual development of a program that would combine digital technology with the fragile human skills of perception and interpretation.

For the past two years, we have circumvented the technobabble barrier surrounding digital photography by using streamlined concepts and metaphors that compare photography to the students' daily decision- making processes. Our purpose was not to elicit great artistry but to teach students how to make better decisions. The artistic results have been outstanding and have clearly surpassed our highest expectations. But even more pleasing have been the students' modest, but meaningful, gains in developing and using prosocial behavioral skills. Photography is a powerful metaphor for understanding how we perceive events and how our perceptions and those of other people can differ in a number of very small, but very significant ways.

In this column, I would like to share with you some of the strategies employed in breaking down the techno-barriers surrounding digital photography and artistic portraiture for children. In short, I want to tell the tale of how "technology was tamed so that creativity could reign."

Selecting the Camera

Cameras for the young photographer need to be high-quality units, but they don't need to be state-of-the-art to be effective. Primary considerations include reliability, durability, and basic quality. Although techno-speak emphasizes the megapixel count, that is perhaps one of the lesser considerations for the youthful photographer. In general, a 2-megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom is more than adequate, especially if the camera is one of the top brands, such as Canon or Nikon. The megapixel rating refers to the number of small squares (measured in millions of squares) of information that compose the picture. The cameras we have used with children are 2-megapixel units and provide good-quality pictures up to about an 8- by 10-inch print. However, it may be hard to find cameras with such a low count, because 3-, 4-, and 5-megapixel units now dominate the market.

"Megapixel count" is only one factor affecting the resulting picture. It is far more important to consider the quality of the lens elements, of the CCD (a small chip that transfers light into digital signals), and of the small on-board computer that regulates the operation of the camera. Since there are few manual controls necessary for camera operation in these basic units, these cameras are usually referred to as "point-and- shoot" digital cameras. Judging the quality of the CCD and other elements can be rather difficult to do, but fortunately there are more straightforward, if less sophisticated, ways of selecting a camera.

The best way to select a camera is simply to go to your camera or computer store and take some pictures with the cameras you are considering. Many stores will print out a sample picture (they would love to sell you a printer, too). …

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