Thursday, January 9, 2003

Grants bring digital cameras into Cape classrooms

Published in the Current

Second-graders in Cape Elizabeth are getting photographed far more often now. Teacher Sarah Lewis got a grant from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation to buy a Nikon digital camera, and it’s getting a lot of use.

So far, the project is a “work in progress,” Lewis said, with various teachers trying out ways they can use the camera in their classes.

Lewis has used a camera before, documenting a project she did while on sabbatical last year taking graduate classes.

She needs a refresher on how to put text together with photos for a words-and-pictures slide show, but so far has put together several slide shows displaying students in various stages of classroom activities.

The second-grade teachers will have a training session with district Technology Coordinator Gary Lanoie in the next week, to learn more about what the camera can do, as well as ways to work with the images once they are downloaded to teachers’ computers.

Once Lewis re-learns how to put text with photos, she wants to pass that knowledge on to her students. “I ideally would like to be able to show the kids how to do that, so we could make slide shows together,” Lewis said.

Other second-grade teachers are using the camera as well. Teacher Rindi Martin has pictures of her students doing a “Readers’ Theater,” in which kids
learn to read expressively. She can show the students what others were doing, and offer feedback on where to hold the script, posture, gestures and other aspects of their performance. “I thought that it brought another whole level to what they were doing,” Martin said.

Later in the year, Martin will also photograph a process of making paper that her students do each year. In future years, using the photos, she will be better able to prepare students for the project.

“They could view it before we actually sit down and did the paper-making,” Martin said. “I think visually kids are much more apt to remember things,” she said.

Using the camera also can help keep kids motivated, Lewis said. She has her students do a book project each year and will use the camera to take author photos for their “about the author” pages, as well as using photos to illustrate parts of some books.

That may get some students more interested in the project than they might otherwise have been, which she said would be a big payoff for a small investment.

The next step, Lewis and Martin agreed, is an overhead projector. Now, students can only view the photos on a computer screen, making it hard to do group projects or show a large group a set of photos.

The camera is also making itself useful for teachers’ professional development. Teachers at Pond Cove School are reviewing each other’s teaching methods using a Japanese-style lesson study method, in which a group of teachers construct a lesson and then watch it being taught by one of the group.

When Lewis recently demonstrated a lesson, in front of eight adults and a class of second-graders, Martin was there taking pictures.

Immediately after the lesson was concluded, Lewis was able to see how it worked and watch her own gestures, which she said was valuable feedback to get immediately.

“The more we use it, the more it’ll happen,” Martin said.

Other uses are appearing all the time. Lewis put a photo in her most recent weekly newsletter home to parents and plans to do more of that, allowing parents to get a glimpse of life in the classroom.

Lewis is grateful for the support of the education foundation and expects more teachers will take advantage of the resources as they become familiar with the benefits other teachers are finding from grant money. The foundation, formed last year, raises private funds to support innovative projects in Cape schools.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing,” Lewis said.

She said she would next think about applying for a grant to take a field trip. Excursion money was cut from the tight school budget last year and is unlikely to be reinstated in this year’s budget process, expected to be at least as difficult.

Field trips, she said, are “a real void taken out of our curriculum and practices of the past,” and could be available again through CEEF money.

Fourth-grade teacher Ogden Williams did just that, recently taking a number of students to Norlands Living History Center in Livermore using foundation money, which paid not only for the trip but also other resources to support the lessons learned at Norlands.