Saturday, May 30, 2009

Impending Doom or am I just paranoid?

Do you ever get that feeling that the work you put into something will backfire? I have this vague foreboding sense that the unit I have spent 2 weeks crafting will not be received so well. Like maybe I have some stuff missing or it isn't clear enough. Let me back up and start from the beginning.

It's March and I start a new class on teaching science and math in elementary schools. The major message is to combine science and math with other topics, aka integrate. The prevailing focus, no matter what our prez has recently said, is on reading and writing. That is where the money is and that is where the focus is. It makes sense to focus here but to ignore science and math is not that great. Of course teachers aren't ignoring math or science. At a lot of schools I have been a Mad Scientist at, the students are familiar with the topics we are discussing and know a lot about them. What these smart teachers are doing is finding ways to make science and math work hand in hand with reading and writing. The message of this class is a good one, these subjects aren't really that far removed from each other if you take the time to think them through. Just because it's a science lesson doesn't mean they can't improve other skills as well.

So our final project is a unit of our own devising. One that incorporates science, math, reading, writing and anything else you can fit in. I, being a bit of a rogue, decided I need a unit that interested me. The thinking behind this idea was that I need motivation to get the unit done on time and maybe even early. The problem was that I failed to explore pre-existing topics for items that might interest me. At first I was thinking of this map to GPS device kind of evolution unit but then I got excited about cameras. My niece, Katie, is a camera enthusiast and I decided to purchase a used 35mm slr camera for her. I ended up doing a lot of research to make his a reality and the more I talked to photograph enthusiasts the more excited I became. I began seeing possibilities for a unit incorporating cameras. We could make pinhole cameras, learn some history, do a cool photo essay project and learn how a camera lens works. I was patting myself on the back while smarter classmates were finding ideas from lesson plan sites. Most of my lessons would be created in my own head without much help from a pre-existing lesson plan. I did glean some ideas for the photo essay project and a lesson plan on Kodak's website inspired my math lesson but the rest was just me. Well me, the internet and several fantastic books.

When it came to write out the lesson I had trouble knowing what to include in the sequence and what to leave out. The result of this being that I am not sure if I met the right balance. I could have supplied too much information or I could have supplied too little. There is no doubt in my mind that I could teach the lessons or properly tell my classmates the ideas and highlights of the unit. The questions and the sense of dread stem from not really knowing if I have hit the required marks of the lesson plan I am turning in. Is it just an outline that would require a lot of research by a teacher or is it overkill on description and possibly too much info to throw at 5th graders? I don't know.

Either way I turned it in. I am not going to spend anymore time on it at this point. I may retouch it later so I could use it again (for my future classes or my actual teaching) but that would be about it.

As far as the unit goes we start with the Camera Obscura which was around for centuries. Some artists used it to sketch scenes and add realism to a painting or drawing. A lot of places had Camera Obscura booths where people could go in and gaze at the view projected upside down in a dark room. In fact there is one of these places still in operation at the Cliff House in San Francisco. It closed before I had a chance to check it out, it closed while we were waiting for a table. Anyway the kids learn about them and how they work and then get to build one for themselves.

Then we discover how we went from the camera obscura to the cameras we see today. One invention leading to a series of successive inventions. We travel from the first photograph to the digital age. We also discuss how cameras have been used and are being used.

Then we talk about the camera lenses. How they work, how they are built, the difference between convex and concave. They get to see the various effects of lenses (28mm, 50mm and the telephoto). I was even thinking of taking apart a damaged lens and allowing them to see the pieces up close and personal. My dad has one and I have one in need of cleaning.

Next we talk about how photos are used. We discuss famous photos and get reactions to them and then give the background behind the photo. We compare the initial reaction to the reaction coupled with knowledge. Then we talk about how people set up shots and the thought behind them. We talk about how the photographer can really control what we focus on and what we see.

Then we use a camera. In this lesson we hunt for objects that are 3 dimensional; ie., the cube, pyramid, sphere. They will take photos of these objects and create a shape book where they identify and define the shape under their picture.

Finally we end with a photo essay project. Students will write about and photograph their neighborhood and ultimately present them to their fellow classmates.

Two things I would add would be a unit on creating pinhole cameras and experience mixing chemicals to develop those pictures captured on the pinhole cameras. I was starting to worry about expense of this unit and decided not to include them. The other thing that prevented me from creating them was I would have needed more research into the development process and I was running out of time. The final reason I did not create the unit was that I only needed 5 lessons and I already had 6. Although in hindsight the lesson on photo development would have been a great science and math lesson. If I was to teach this lesson in a classroom we would definitely build the pinhole camera and we might partner with a photo enthusiast group and see if they would help us learn to develop photos. The community involvement angle may help defray costs a little. Anyway I need to shower and head to the university to present my unit. Wish me luck on the teacher's unit review.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Sounds cool to me. One other way to bring more math in (since you breifly mention the digital age), would be to talk about megapixels and some of the tech behind digintal cameras.