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9-12 | The Arts | Digital Storytelling

Station MPB in Mississippi

My Classroom Innovation

I wanted students to use the history of photography as a spring board and create a slide-based presentation that could only happen with today’s technology. My questions were these: Can you use today’s technology to look back at history? Can you use still photos to make moving images? Can you star in your own story and depend on someone else to take the photos?

The project, “Putting Yourself in the Story”, required students to look forward and backward. Students looked backward as they reviewed 20th-century American photography and searched for historical images. Students looked ahead by using a variety of technological approaches and devices to tell their story. The students themselves were the pivot, reinforcing the human aspect of life whether in the past, present or future.

The class had previously viewed the PBS program American Photography: A Century of Images. For the project, each student selected a segment of the show to explore in greater depth. Some students chose to amplify information presented in the show, finding resonant images. Other students chose to push against what was presented, finding images counter to those presented in the program.

The project explored the relationship between moving and still images. Class members watched a DVD (moving images) but then were challenged to take still photos, which they would put together using technology so that they seemed to move.

Students also had to consider their roles as photographer and subject. In photography class, the students are usually the photographer. Here they photographed their classmates and were photographed in turn. It was disconcerting for some students to anticipate what photos their classmates would produce.

At the end of the project each student had created a slide presentation with programmed transitions that placed the student in the stream of American photography.

How Students were Engaged

The project engaged the students as actors, as researchers, as creators, as photographers. They had to use both sides of their brains and their bodies as well. Some students learned that they were more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. Some students learned that they can’t mimic Richard Nixon’s victory sign. Some students learned that it was more important to them to look cool in front of their classmates than to fully engage in the process.

Some student learnings were technical. They learned to use giant projected images as a photographic backdrop. They learned not to wear clothing with anachronistic logos. They learned how to time presentations and make the most of a “fade” or “dissolve” feature.

Some of their learnings were academic. They learned more about the Great Depression and D-Day. They learned more about weather patterns in the United States. They learned that the DVD they watched five weeks ago wasn’t as irrelevant as they thought it was.

Some learnings were real-world skills. They learned that if you don’t take photos until Thursday you can’t get them from your classmates until Friday. They learned that if you don’t get your photos until Friday, it’s almost impossible to review images, crop them, create a slide presentation, practice transitions and turn in a project on time.

Some learnings were interpersonal. They learned that sometimes you must depend on others to produce elements of work that will have your name on it. They learned that if you want others to give you good elements for your work perhaps you should give them good work for theirs.

Will they use these learnings in other situations? We just finished the project, so I don’t know yet. But they are currently working on their semester exam projects. My fingers are crossed.

PBS Program/Content Used

American Photography: A Century of Images