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9 Outstanding iPhone Photography Projects to Try With Your Students

instagram iphone student iphotography

Nicole Dalesio is a fourth grade teacher in the Pleasanton Unified School District in Northern California. She's also a digital artist who uses her talents and skills to promote learning in the classroom through photography and video projects, a practice called "iPhoneography" or iPhotography (although it's definitely not limited to Apple i-devices). Here Dalesio shares nine tips for projects and practices to help you implement "iPhotography" with your students.

1. Schedule BYOD Days for Taking Photos

Dalesio's school doesn't have a device for every student. So she has cobbled together a two-prong program. The fourth grade shares a Chromebook cart, which her class gets one day a week. Plus, she has set up a small bring-your-own-device program, in which the students write up agreements that their parents have to sign in order to participate. Then on a set schedule they bring in their own iPhones, iPads, Android smartphones, and what is turning out to be the most popular device among her students: iPod Touches. For those kids without access to devices, the class provides some extras or the kids just double up. The only common denominator: Each device has a built-in camera.

2. Start with Basic Photography Skills

Dalesio wants her students to learn how to take effective photographs, so she teaches them the "SCARE" principles in a little checklist:

  • Simplify: Get rid of excess objects — the water bottle on the picnic table, the junky papers — that clutter up the background; make the canvas as "blank" as possible.
  • Close/closer: "A lot of times people take pictures too far away," explains Dalesio. Get close and closer to your subject. That doesn't mean using the zoom option; it means "Zoom with your feet."
  • Angle: Be creative as you're taking your picture. Try to find an unusual angle from which to shoot. That could mean standing on a picnic table or tree stump and looking down or lying on the grass and shooting up.
  • Rule of thirds: The best compositions are often the ones where the main subject is either in the right third or left third of the image. So shift the image that way.
  • Even lighting. "You want even lighting," says Dalesio. If there's some kind of shadow across the face, move the camera or the subject around to eliminate that. "Usually the best time to take pictures is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the lighting isn't as harsh," she notes. "Foggy days are great for taking pictures — or overcast or even rainy days."

She also advises her students to take a lot of pictures. "You better your odds and get more practice," she tells them. That also helps them to become more discriminating. They don't share every picture; they learn how to choose their favorite one.

3. Teach Students Basic Tech Skills, Too

Dalesio's school uses Google Apps for Education. An advantage of this mostly free cloud-based service is that it allows even underage students to have their own email accounts and file folders. So she teaches them how to save their images from the camera to their Google drives. In the process they learn about concepts such as "servers" and "subfolders" and other aspects of computing that most fourth graders never think about. "I think they're a lot more tech savvy than a lot of other students," she declares. "I've had teachers say, 'My kids in high school don't know what these students in fourth grade know.'"

4. Take Photo Walks and Get Students Outside

student iphotography outdoors perspective

Early in her use of iPhotography among students, Dalesio would lead "little photo walks." She and the class would walk around the school to take pictures of elements of art, such as textures or lines, or specific kinds of leaves or trees. This practice got them to "look more closely at the things around them, to [become] a lot more aware of their environment."

That led to science lessons in which the photographs would be used as a way to record observations. One parent told Dalesio that her daughter was "more attuned with nature."

She notes that most of her students use their devices primarily for playing games. "They never think about taking pictures. I have nothing against gaming, but I like the idea of using technology to get them outside."

5. Combine Photos with Writing

student iphotography baking steps

An obvious use of iPhotography is to integrate photos with writing projects as part of digital story-telling. Dalesio has gone in several directions. One is simply to use images as prompts; students look at an image and write a story around it or to read a story or article and find an image that illustrates it. Another use is to explain a process. Last year, she had her students "teach about something they knew." They had to do a "how-to" writing assignment — baking cookies — and then take pictures of different steps in the process. She has also encouraged the kids to take pictures of the places they visit and then do multimedia presentations about those locations using the photos to complement the writing.

6. Use Photos to Help Students Learn Geometric Shapes

Other teachers frequently ask Dalesio, "How do you have time to do this in your classes?" She figures out ways to integrate what the kids need to learn — Common Core math, for example — with photo projects. "You could have them take a picture of an acute angle or intersecting lines or parallel lines or a square or a cube," she explains. "It really makes the learning they're doing in the classroom so much more meaningful, because then they can see it in a real-life setting."

student iphotography symmetry nature

She's done the same to teach her students the concept of symmetry to help them visualize what it means.

And she's done a "flip" of the flipped model, allowing the students to demonstrate their mastery of a math topic. "The kids videoed themselves teaching a math concept. They were creating tutorials. The kids continually exceed my expectations of what they're able to do."

7. Collaborate on a Class Buddy Project

student iphotography umbrella

Last year, Dalesio's fourth graders had kindergarten "buddies" who were learning letter sounds. So the teacher put together a collaboration project — a stop-motion alphabet book — for her students to work on with their buddies.

She had the students walk around the playground and "look for things." The idea wasn't necessarily that it would help illustrate the letters in the book, but that turned out to be the outcome. "I was walking around with the umbrella," she recalls. "This little kid said to me, 'Mrs. D, why are you walking around on a sunny day holding an umbrella? Oh, u, uhhh.'" That image, taken by one of the students, ended up in the alphabet book.

8. Use Photos to Teach Social Studies and Living History

Although fourth graders aren't old enough to get an account on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, Dalesio has found it be to useful at times to share images from these photo-sharing sites, especially Instagram, to help her students understand current events by using a hashtag and searching for pictures online. "You can say, 'I wonder what's happening in Sweden?' and then ask questions of these people."

She says that when Occupy Oakland took place near her school a couple of years ago, she looked up images with the #occupyoakland hashtag and had her students come up with questions to ask the people posting those photographs. "Kids are so motivated by getting feedback from others. Getting 'likes' is a huge deal to them. It makes them more motivated."

9. Try Projects that Encourage a New Perspective

student iphotography students exploring nature flowers

Dalesio pushes her students to get "artistic" with their picture-taking. That means changing the angle from which they capture images but also suggesting, "Imagine you're a flower or a bird flying over." By doing that, they start to look at things in a different way, she says. "We might have a focus for the day — taking pictures of textures, [flaking] paint, cement, something grated, manholes, even little things like cracks on the ground."

The result this long-time photographer and teacher is seeking with her iPhotography work: "to teach my students to look around them instead of being oblivious. The more you do this, the more you develop your eye. You notice things. Everything becomes more beautiful. I want that for my students as well."

For more, check out Nicole Dalesio's blog, which shares many of the apps and techniques she uses in her own iPhoneography, or find her on Instagram @magrelacanela.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.