Last spring I blogged about macro photography using a drop of water on the iPod and iPhone lenses. I got several emails asking if I was crazy, getting my iDevices wet. I had enjoyed the resulting pictures but I saw what these people were saying. Getting my iPhone wet regularly was a risky proposition, so I purchased an Olloclip, a lens attachment specifically for the iPhone with wide angle, macro, and fisheye lenses.
What followed was a summer of almost daily photo expeditions in my back yard. My own children joined me often. I have accumulated close to a thousand images of insects, flowers, leaves, mushrooms, drops of water, and crystal structures. Here is a sampling of the pictures. If you are interested, you may view more of them on my Flickr page.
But, as cool as some of the pictures are, the coolest part has been the learning. After posting a few pictures where friends could see them, I started getting questions: What kind of bug is that? Are those eyes or nostrils? Where is its mouth? I got curious, too, and as weeks have gone by, I’ve built my own collection of resources to help answer those and many other questions. From joining the Project Noah community, to digging through the Garden Safari website, to emailing Wikipedia editors, I have looked for answers that only fed my own curiosity. I have learned about the habits of assassin bugs (who knew there was such a thing?) and the life cycle of katydids, and the wing structure and physics of dragonflies. We’ve learned chemistry, physics, biology, ecology, plant pathology, and all other kinds of subjects from examining my pictures closely and executing a few Google searches.
There is a “schooly” point to this post. Believe me.
Several times during the summer, I either listened to speakers or participated in discussions where the topic was engaged learning. My kids and I have been engaged in learning about insects all summer. How can we replicate this in schools?
What if we encouraged students to take pictures of what interests them and learned from that? What if, instead of spending so much time worrying about copyright this and that, our students made their own pictures, hand-drawn or photographed? The making of a picture inevitably draws attention to details that go often go unnoticed when we just grab the image off websites. Think back on all the times in your life when you’ve learned something because you found out an interesting detail, something that hooked your intellect.
We have the technology. Let’s use it creatively. Let’s help students find what interests them and learn from those interests. The experience of creating a collection of reliable resources, joining a community of people with shared interests, and discovering answers on your own rather than from a boring textbook is valuable. And don’t ignore the pride in sharing what has been created with others within these communities. These are things people do every day, for work and for life.
At the Scratch conference in Boston last month, one of the speakers said we should educate kids for life, not for jobs. It is probably the salient quote of the summer for me. I think tapping into student interests is the perfect step in the right direction.