Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Promote visual literacy and extend learning with a photo contest

For teachers in the northern hemisphere starting or getting ready to start school for the fall 2007 term (or others already in school) a digital photography contest could be a great challenge to share with students as they return to classes.

The Adobe Digital Kids Club along with Technology and Learning are sponsoring the 2007 “Portraits of Learning” digital photography contest. According to the website:

The competition, open to all K-12 students, challenges you to capture—and share—your unique vision of the world in a “Digital Diary—Through My Lens.” If you have an artistic side, you also have the option to digitally enhance your photos with your favorite imaging software. The best digitally enhanced photo wins a special prize from Adobe. Other prizes include a digital camera, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and more!

According to Lynn Burmark of the Thornburg Center, the human brain processes a visual image over 60,000 times faster than text. That was a key statistic I remember from Lynn’s excellent presentation about visual literacy at TCEA a few years ago (I think in 2006).

If you are NOT using visual images in your lessons with students and encouraging them to use appropriate visual imagery, you are missing out on BIG opportunities for learning and idea retention. In many cases, images have a powerful capacity to burn themselves into our consciousness, along with emotions, sounds, feelings, and ideas which are associated with the image at the time. Some of this takes place at an unconscious level, but by using visual images consistently and appropriately as we learn and share our learning we can intentionally encourage this powerful process of transfer and retention. Flickr Creative Commons remains my favorite place to find images (by searching for keyword “tags”) to use in presentations, but YotoPhoto is also good. The Enid Public Schools’ technology department has created a good website on “Audio, Photo, Image Editors and Video Resources,” and that is where I originally learned about YotoPhoto.

Consider sponsoring a local digital photography contest for students in your school in the next several months. Create your own categories, and find out what local businesses will donate for prizes. Prizes don’t have to be expensive and flashy (although big items like digital cameras and iPods are always nice.) Kids can be excited to win something as small as a free treat at the local Sonic drive-in!

By inviting students to contribute their ideas, perspectives, and visions of the world in a digital photography or digital storytelling contest, we can invite them to develop a host of digital literacy skills which may or many not be frequently encouraged by their regular classroom teacher(s). In addition, and just as important, we can provide a venue to celebrate student work and student creativity. If your school principal and other district administrators are looking for ways to help students meet the new ISTE NETS-S standards for creativity and innovation (and they SHOULD BE) then a contest about digital photography could be a welcome idea.

Encourage students to use their cell phone digital cameras to take and contribute photos! The CellFlix Film Festival is an example of an educational digital storytelling contest using cell phones for short videos, but cell phones can certainly be also used for still photography. Because of the generally lower resolution and lower quality of many cell phone images, consider having separate categories in your school or district’s digital photography contest for images taken with cell phone cameras.

If students enter one or more images in your local digital photography contest, encourage them to enter their images in national and international contests as well, like “Portraits of Learning.” The world is increasingly flat (when people have access to the web) and no matter where you live, there’s no reason a student from your local area can’t win an award along with the international recognition which accompanies it in a contest like this.

Find tangible ways to encourage creativity and edify students for their appropriate and creative self-expression this school year. A digital photography contest is one way to advance this important goal. If you and your students are looking for great tips related to digital photography and videography, check out Marco Torres’ FLICKSCHOOL.

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On this day..



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5 responses to “Promote visual literacy and extend learning with a photo contest”

  1. Kevin Sandridge Avatar

    Great post, Wes. Teachers started back today, and I’ve already recruited a couple of my peers who may be willing to start using digital storytelling as part of their curriculum. As always, thanks for the update!


  2. Kristin Kakos Leclaire Avatar

    This is my first visit to your blog and my first day back at school; thank you for the inspiration. I have found digital storytelling to be an engaging way to publish my students’ work as well. Instead of posting my students’ work on the walls (I’m a high school English teacher), I now ask them to submit it digitally, and I use Photostory to turn their work into short videos to show the class. The music, captions, and fading grab their attention, and the end product is a fairly easy collaboration of their work and mine. My next step will be to publish these Photostories on our blog.

  3. Anthony Powell Avatar

    Great idea about incorporating digital storytelling into the curriculum. This should fit in nicely with our unit on poetry to start the school year. I would encourage students to create visual images to represent literary terms using cell phone or digital cameras. Of course, the challenge also includes finding a way for those who do not have access to this technology to participate. Still, I have always wanted to include digital photography as a part of my units of study and have students reflect on the photographs they have taken.

  4. Lynell Burmark Avatar

    I am honored that Wes would remember my presentation! Must have been the visuals that made it stick. 😉

    I do have a lot more compelling research to share. (If you want an LCD projector in your classroom, here’s the research to prove that you need to teach with images.) Administrators will love the fact that test scores go up 42% when the instruction is based on images. Lots more. Help yourself. Spread the good news. (Click on Publications and scroll down to articles.)

    As Wes alluded to, when the images are read (consumed) with emotion, they stick even better. I’m a huge advocate of music and humor used in conjunction with the images. And, of course, the teacher doesn’t need to be the producer/provider of all those images. As Kristin pointed out, kids are doing great things with Photostory (and iMovie).

    I attended the American Idol concert here in San Jose, CA. I’m sure I was the oldest person in the place and everyone had a cell phone camera. (The family in front of me — Mom and three kids — each had one.) Any of you out there old enough to remember outdoor concerts when the band would do a particularly emotional song and have everyone flick open their cigarette lighters? You guessed it. At the AI concert, the most emotional number was done to the light of cell phones!

    Thanks again, Wes, for remembering me and for starting this important discussion.

    Lynell Burmark

  5. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Wow, thank you Lynell for adding to this conversation thread, further clarifying and sharing links! I attended a Billy Joel concert here in Oklahoma City a couple of months ago with my wife, and yes, the cell phone is the concert cigarette lighter of the 21st century! (Seemed a lot healthier!)

    I continue to resonate with the idea that we are living in an emerging attention economy, and the ability to effectively use media to not only get attention but KEEP attention is a vital skill. Thanks to Lynell for helping educate so many on the benefits/value of both visual literacy as well as the effective uses of other media formats to improve learning and transfer. 🙂