Covid, the back yard, and a camera – Serendipitous moments

Sometimes photographs just present themselves! On Monday we got our first batch of peaches from a yard we seem to be spending more time in now, courtesy Covid-19.

Having just co-taught a photography class, I am revisiting how depth of field, and ISO settings on my trusty (old) Nikon might make a still image more interesting.

There’s also the serendipitous moment when the morning sun filters through the trees on to a beaten up old log that the Montessori kids use for woodwork.

And yes, the peaches, about the size of large strawberries, are really, really sweet.

Photoshop, Photography and Web Design in final week of school

This was indeed a weird semester! So to end it on a high note, I taught classes on image manipulation, digital photography, and Web design on three consecutive days. Using Google meet, of course.

Photoshop was something all my students had asked for. It’s an opportunity to also connect it to real-world issues such as doctored images in news –a blood relative of ‘fake news’ — digitally altering historical figures –Churchill without a cigar, MLK at a cleaned out podium on the Mall — and simply knowing how to be aware of what could be Photoshopped.

Photography may not seem related to a computer class, but we all know that taking pictures, editing, and sharing is now a given in a young person’s life. Any device is now a ‘camera.’  To make it more interesting, I invited a photographer from Sri Lanka to co-teach the class. (This is distance learning after all, so what’s another 10,000 miles?) Nazly Ahmed, a photo-journalist uses various cameras, spoke of lighting and composition, depth of field, framing, why aperture settings and ISO are important.

As for web design, the goal for the class was to give students an opportunity to design a site that could be home to their digital portfolio, or even a rudimentary business.

I also added a photography contest, so that students could go and use the techniques they learned. The winners are announced on my class website, here.

10 STEM Vacation Ideas

It may be time to box up the microphone and the rocket, the robots and the VR headsets. But truth is, we could do a lot of interesting things related to science and technology during the long summer break.

So here’s what I am asking my students to do in July and August.

  1.  Become a ‘Maker’ – Build something. A tree house? Make a parachute out of a plastic bag, or a scarf, and a large eraser. Drop it from a balcony (or that tree house!) and change the way it lands.
  2. Create a Rube Goldberg device. Use scrap material, some dominoes, a tennis ball, a discarded cardboard tube, and a flower-pot… Watch this amazing example for inspiration
  3. Practice Coding. Work on a project at Code.org, or Scratch.Mit.edu
  4. Create a paper airplane or rocket contest. As we learned at the recent STEAM Night, some of the rockets that flew the furthest cost nothing, and were made of paper!
  5. Conduct a potato battery experiment! Two potatoes, a few nails, copper wire, and a light bulb from a flashlight. Ask an adult to download the steps here.
  6. Build a robot. Wrap a shoe box in tin foil. Add wheels and axles using bottle caps and skewers. For accessories like an antenna, and a probe, cut a coat hanger, and bend it into shape.
  7. Take up photography! Last year I taught a class using point-and-shoot cameras, and (the horror) phones! Figure out how depth-of-field, and back-lighting could enhance your pictures. No (Instagram) filters required.
  8. Write a short story! Try your hand at science fiction. Write your friends into the plot, and see where the story takes you! Check out these YA sci-fi authors
  9. Produce a skit. Before there was this thing called the Internet, we kids down the street created our own ‘drama.’ Find a friend who could help you co-write a short play about pollution, or landing on Mars.
  10. Build a solar oven. Start with a pizza box. Watch this video for inspiration! 

Summer boot camp: SLRs, Robots, and a Solar Oven

Last week, students at the summer boot camp I conducted here at Li’l Sprouts Montessori got to work with different technologies. From building robots and circuits, to using cameras and a solar oven. They also used one of the oldest ‘technologies’ that tend to be overlooked – pencil and paper.

But besides motors, and learning the software (to program the robot below) students also learned about engineering design, using toothpicks to build a bridge and a tower.

They did a fair amount of writing, maintaining their journals each day. They worked on essay writing, a news story, and poetry.

On the final day I introduced them to the solar oven, and Tanu helped them bake cookies. One batch got done in just over 30 minutes!

Summer camp with Photography, Writing and Robotics

So next week I teach a summer camp for students involving three ‘ingredients’ – photography, creative writing and robotics.

The goal is to get students to connect visual and language arts, with technology. They will also tinker with robots, and understand how to design and program them.

This is one of the simplest bots (the NXT model) we use for the FIRST Lego League competitions. It has four different sensors, and can be modified with several wheel sizes. Students will learn to program them using Mindstorms software.

Robots don’t always have to look like this, They could be made from everyday objects found around the house. For instance, students will also experiment with ‘brush bots’ – tiny devices made from the heads of toothbrushes, of all things!

 

As for photography, there’s plenty of material to photograph right here in our back yard!

 

Surprising things happen when Digital Natives get their hands on old-school cameras

Here’s a batch of pictures taken by my students yesterday. Cameras may seem ‘old school’ but there’s always an interest in the basics of aperture, lighting, and perspective. In my Ed-Tech class, 5th and 6th graders can’t seem to have enough of this, as the results show.

An accidental homage to Silicon Valley?


Digital City?

Two very different perspectives of a robotic arm

There are much more! Who knows what ideas they will come back with after Spring Break?

Digital storytelling on Digital Learning Day

Today, being Digital Learning Day, I plan to get students to rethink cameras. How could camera create digital ‘stories’?

  • How would a background give your subject context and proportion?
  • What could you filter or manipulate a picture before you take the shot?
  • How could you change the ISO settings to get a different result with the same subject?

Who knows? Some of my students may turn out to be journalists, or take to photography in some shape or form. Despite the fact that most pictures today are taken on phones, understanding lighting and perspective will always be an asset. My 5th grade class was divided into three groups. One with a Digital SLR, and two with regular digital cameras and two tripods if needed.

Here is how one group shot a Lego device. Interesting how one chose the robotics table, and another chose the Moon landing poster as a backdrop.

lego_2

lego_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or take how they approached this subject. Long shot with an outdoor context vs a close-up shot, adding the human element.

rose_1     rose_2

 

 

Sri Lankan teaches GoPro to my class (Never mind the time the difference)

Nazly_profileThanks Nazly Ahmed, for taking the time to teach a 35 minute class to my 4th graders this morning. It was 8:45 am Arizona time, and 9:15 Pm in Colombo, Sri Lanka. But what’s a few time zones when it comes to learning from experts?

This technology class was a bit of a ‘planned surprise’ for them. Some have even seen a GoPro in action. I happen to have one in class, so before I introduce the hardware, I wanted to bring in a user to talk about it. There were three cameras in class – not counting the one on the PC for our Skype call. Nazly used screen-share from his end, to explain different camera perspectives. Forget drones with cameras. We watched the flight if an eagle mounted with a GoPro!

And students wanted to engage, so the class was (nicely) interrupted by many questions. One student volunteered to document the session on a regular camera. Everyone said they wanted to work with the GoPro, which will be in a forthcoming class.

Now if I could only find an eagle that’s willing to participate in an Ed-tech experiment 🙂 

GoPro class

 

Telling a story, by removing its subject

The world’s biggest photography competition on sustainability, by Swiss bank Pictet et Cie, awarded the first prize to a photographer from Canada, Benoit Aquin. The winning entry had no “water” in it.

Take a look at the other entries, too.

As a photographer, I am always intrigued in how we could tell a story, by reducing the “subject” to a form of minimalism. It’s too easy to describe your trip to Rome with pictures of the Colosseum, or a birthday party with the kid-blowing-candles shot.