Images from the Past:Thinking Aloud

I wanted to flag this site, which I found when visiting this morning. Old Pictures has on display a collection of photographs taken over the last 150 years, and although being American in origin also has some interesting photographs from Britain, including its colonial past, and Europe. They have also displayed painted photos, which I think are great, as we tend to see the old days as being black and white, an interesting talking point for an ICT session, and perhaps an ICT lesson where we could use Photofiltre, 2 Paint a Picture or MS Paint to "touch up" some old pictures, suggesting how they might look today.
In their introduction the authors say "It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Even with a thousand words, how do you describe the look in a Mother's eye...," and it is this statement which set me off today, thinking about visual literacy and how I might use these images in the classroom. Not all of the images on this site might be considered appropriate for use with younger children, but many are evocative, and interesting starting points for discussion with older students. As a teacher resource or as a source of material for developing clsss based materials I feel this site has much to offer.

I think I would start by downloading one or two images, which I could use to make rub and reveal activities, in my Smart Notebook. With the image above for example, slowly rubbing out sections of an applied ink layer I would focus on parts of the image, encouraging inferencial activity to build up a class view of the context and what the woman is thinking or feeling, as information is gradually made available to the students. Views will change within the group as the picture is slowly revealed, ideas and vocabulary could be collected which we would build on from the stimulus towards perhaps a big write, or a guided and shared writing activity.

Perhaps using the searchlight tool to highlight specific areas of an image, and prompt question such as:
Who are these people?
What are they doing?
What do you think this object is?
What is it made of?
What do you think it was used for?
Does it remind you of anything?
Where or when do you think this photograph was taken?
I would seek responses from students and groups about the evidence they can find in the image to support their thoughts. We could change the direction of the discussion to form a starting point for historical enquiry, around visual evidence. I have also used this technique with paintings and photographs of archeological evidence, from the distant past.

In between questions I would use "talking twos" or "pair and share," to enable the students space to develop their own ideas, collect vocabulary, or "rehearse and write," around the image as a stimulus.

Having engaged together as a class with the image I might use prepared tasks, for students to work collaboratively, using prepared DTP or word processed files to carry out onscreen text development focusing on the images. Perhaps we could work in pairs to write a diary entry from the view point of the woman or the photographer, develop a newspaper report where the photograph informs the headline, and based on an imaginary interview with the subject, we might write an empathetic letter, or use the image to develop textual openers. As a paired activity in class based ICT areas I might provide simple texts developed through shared writing to encourage students to expand and develop, revise and review these to include WOW Words. We could also provide comparison charts for "then and now," where perhaps having explored an image of the "Wright Brother's plane," and made observations from the image, children could look for simailarities and differences between the aircraft and a modern counterpart.

My experiences of working with video tell me that a picture may paint a thousand words, but in all likelihood it will paint a thousand different words for every reader. So one of the purposes of written text in evoking shared understanding comes into play through such activities. In addition in photographs as with other images, we only see what the camera sees, or what the photographer wants us to see, images are framed and biassed by the choices orignially made by the artist. We don't see what happened out of shot. Using a portrait, it might be interesting to try to recreate the image through mime. Children could work in groups to set up their version of the shot, with friends replacing the real participants. Can they recreate the scene, including the expressions of the people featured? Using digital cameras their scenes could be used for comparison with the original and further discussion evolve around how the visual text is similar or could be altered to improve its accuracy. They might also try to create an imaginary view of what happened before the image was captured, and what might have happened next? Maybe they could use the original image, placed in the centre of a piece of paper, and try to expand the scene to show what might have been beyond the picture frame.

I also enjoy using the spotlight tool with students to focus on what we can see when sketching from images. By inserting a photograph to a notebook, or viewing it as a slideshow image, we can use the spotlight tool to highlight a starting point for a sketch. The children sketch what they can see, and then the spotlight is either moved to another area of the image to focus on, or is gradually resized to include more of the image which must be added to the previous section sketched. Using the idea of line, and mark making in observational drawing sessions such as this the students are frequently surprised by the quality of outcome created in their final sketches. I personally enjoy listening in on the discussion and langage use which evolves when children try to help each other or notice a feature and try to describe it to their friends. Ultimately though all of these activities contribute to the children's understanding of images as textual artefacts and how they evoke meaning and emotional response, and support the use of oral language in support of cross curricular and multimodal text development. I look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have on this site or post, or any other ideas you may have about the use of digital images in the classroom.


MS Powertoys for Windows XP, and Year Group Blogs

I downloaded 2 PowerToys yesterday which I think will be really useful in preparing materials for upload to our school website. Gaining ownership of our website has been a real challenge, since it is not an out of the box solution, but has been developed internally using MS Frontpage. The links provided by Anthony Evans in his post the other day, led me to the PowerToys page, and reminded me of a conversation with Scott one of our LA technicians who recommended Image Resizer.

Image Resizer adds a tool to right click menus which, after selection of images in Windows Explorer, enables batch conversion of images to predetermined sizes. The handheld option shown here we think is about the right size for upload to photo galleries to fit screen size 240 x 320.

Another potentially exciting tool from this space was the HTML Slide Show Wizard which runs from the programs menu as an application. Opening the wizard and importing your resized images, this "toy" creates a slideshow, by generating the page code to a local folder. From here the pages generated can be imported into an existing website, where with the addition of hyperlinks this becomes part of the site. Captions cannot be added to the images, but from an e safety point of view this is a potential benefit, and the slick windows XP feel to the show generated, with its familiar Windows navigation buttons makes the outcome, easy to use and look great too. Prior to discovering this I have used other web slideshow generators, but this is relatively simple, and in combination with the image resize tool above, should help enable less familiar members of staff and students, bearing in mind our esafety guidelines, to begin preparing materials for inclusion in our website.

We have also begun to develop the idea of year group blogs, as learning stories, to help with the regular update of site content. Hopefully over this term we will begin to see regularly published posts from students and staff about the work they have engaged in, in class. From humble beginnings I hope these will expand to wider possibilities as students and staff become more familiar with the affordances of these tools.


Big Kid! New Toys!

Have spent quite a bit of time playing with Comic Life over the holiday and had a blast, but also discovered at the same time a new role for MS Publisher, an old favourite of mine. I have used this with children from Year 3 to Year 6, for everything from drag and drop sequencing tasks to building web pages and combining graphics and text to develop picture books, advertisements and poetry, see previous post"We've been doin' bold today", but never considered using it until this week for making comic strips.

Many of the how to handouts I have made to support staff in the past, have probably ended up as supports for wobbly desks, rather than guides to software and how they might be used. These have often been overly wordy with the inclusion of screenshots to help. I hope though that My new Wilbur Helps Out guides might be a bit different. Wilbur as a character emerged a couple of years ago to act as a guide for a web design initiative I had to develop within my Masters Course. Over the holidays though Wilbur the Book Worm, has aquired a new role, as a guide to new software, appearing in his very own comic strip for student and staff how tos. I have been impressed by the way this format strips away the often longwinded explanations, and how a carefully selected image or series of images, combined with captions and speech bubbles can clarify the most seemingly complex of tasks. I will be trying these out with colleagues and students first, before uploading them to my webspace and our school website for sharing.

During the week I also made a surprising discovery... This is probably really familiar to everyone else, so I'm going to look really silly.... Do I care! Not a jot, as it came as a complete surprise to me and was really exciting too... I was familiar with being able to drag images from Windows Explorer into open documents and files, but while playing with the Mac on the web last weekend discovered how you could drag images off a web page in the Safari Browser, directly onto the desktop. What I didn't realise however is that you can now also do this with Internet Explorer on the PC. Never again will I spend hours saving images to file from right click. I can now simply open or create a new folder and drag the image from the page directly to it. Since then I have also discovered that images can be dragged from the web page directly into open documents in some applications, or image editors. So in making for example smart notebooks, opening the notebook software, tiling it onscreen alongside Internet Explorer, the image can be dragged from the web page straight into the notebook. This process also works with text, by highltighting the text you want in the browser, then dragging and dropping it directly onto the page, as a text object.


On Video Data, Comic Strips and Learning Stories

Finally got back to my Masters Dissertation this week, and began by reading a thought provoking paper, by Lydia Plowman and Christine Stephen, of the Interplay project based at The University of Sterling. I had the priviledge of meeting Lydia a few years ago, at the CAL'05 Conference. Some colleagues and myself, had also presented our emerging work from a Research Project based at The Graduate School of Education in Bristol, as a symposium. Our methodology then as mine does now involved the analysis of video data collected in my classroom, and since this medium was also used by Interplay I was very interested to hear what Professor Plowman had to say. In the case of my current project, the data was collected by colleagues during the InterActive Project. It involved video capture during 8, Year 4 numeracy hours, where the students used Excel in guided investigations, to support exploration of the functions of graphs and charts. As my Tutor can verify, and I have to say she has been incredibly patient with my perfectionist attitude, I have spent a considerable time stumbling around the methodological process, not the analysis per se, but the sheer volume of data collected, and how I am actually going to write it up. There is also, an at times, alarming character based facet to this, in that everytime I come back to it I find something new, and with this a new set of questions emerge. This is an unfortunate by product of a rambling mind and not a lack of focus in my questions.

We have used the idea of "iterative cycles of review" as a way of facilitating "ways of seeing." Video at first hand seems to offer a cornucopia, but it is easy to make assumptions that what we see is what we get, and to assume that everyone will read the data and see the same things that we do. This however is frequently not the case. Lets take the example of a visit to the cinema with friends. On leaving we may have all watched the same movie, yet from the discussions which emerge you could be mistaken for believing differently, as the group identify different parts of the film to talk about. Taken out of context, by an outsider listening in, these apparently disperate episodes would seem disjointed, even alien and have little meaning. There may be common high impact moments, but more often than not we highlight very specific individual moments of interest, parts that stood out and had personal impact and meaning for us, and which are very different to those of our friends. Even the same episode, might be described from a different perspective, the visual effects, the protagonists reaction and so on. As the discussion evolves we might eventually come to focus on specific moments, as the outing was a social event and we seek to create a common experience from the whole we have shared. Our approach to "Iterative cycles of review," involved a similar idea, a number of "viewers" worked together collaboratively to identify common themes within data collected, and using our shared experience over time set out to negotiate common meanings through discussions mediated by the data we had engaged with, attempting to tell a shared story based on the common experiences presented in the evidence we had evaluated. Within the analytical process for the symposium above we also used the Studio Code software environment, to tag episodes from the video which corresponded to instances of events and actions within categories we had agreed upon and identified in the data. This introduced some interesting questions for me around perceptions of what happens when children are learning in teacher designed ICT mediated situations, the role of the teacher, and what learning looks like during ICT supported tasks, and so my return to the original InterActive Project data I am using for this project.

In the Plowman and Stephen paper, the authors have used Plasq's Comic Life, to present screen captured video data alongside captions and examples of dialogue between adults and students in the preschool/foundation stage playroom to exemplify particular forms of what they call "guided interaction." They use comparisons between ICT and non ICT based activities as frames to support "ways of seeing," and presenting how interactions observed within more traditional activities, might be developed, evolve and compare with interactions mediated by ICTs as learning tools. The use of the comic strip format sets out to share what has been learnt from their research and as well as forming part of the frame used in data analysis, is intended to support the dissemination process of findings to pre school staff, helping them to identify examples of guided interaction within their use of technology.

I am very much an amateur Mac user, and "emergent researcher." My Mac has largely been employed for multimedia work, video editing and the like, but I was so inspired by what I read, I felt I ought to try out the software, which I feel may help me present the data I want to discuss in my project submission. It also has the potential to extend my current assessment for learning practices and evidence collection activities as I prepare my porfolio for NAACE Mark assessment. In previous assignments for my degree I have presented data from video as "snippets from Learning Conversations." or as "Narratives of Learning." using text supported by images captured from video, or linear presentations using PowerPoint to support observations, analysis and presentation of visual evidence. These digital PowerPoint learning stories (Narratives of Learning), have proven to be useful tools in presenting classroom learning as it unfolds through linked events emerging from the class as a community of practice. I have however become increasingly aware through engagement with video captured of my students at work of the dangers of focussing solely on "the moment," and using dialogue and conversation as evidence when observing students using ICTs. I have also begun to think about what I have come to see as "meaningful inactivity," times when students seem not to be involved physically or verbally with a task at the computer, but when asked about this are able to discuss what they and their partner have been doing or what they have learned from the experience. This type of action has drawn into focus, some practical everyday issues, like those annoying moments when a student who has apparently not engaged with a class task, is then able to relay what has been happening around them. There are also occasions when single word utterances between students seem enough to change the direction of a computer ( or non computer) based task, however when these utterances are viewed within the original context of the video, gestures and visual feedback from the screen become part of a more complex picture than this apparently simplified student discourse would tend to suggest. Language may be a key support in the movement of a task, but the other tools used also seem to mediate and facilitate changes in direction through feedback, with the gesture and motion of the participants communicating what they would like to happen. The richness of the visual and verbal context presented in the video from the activity system which evolves around in this case the computer presents a much broader context to the activity from which so much can be lost, as elements are removed during analysis. And here in lies my conundrum, how to present this richness. I have used a range of methods, including transcription and an emerging framework for multimodal analysis of the data so far, but this is heavily dependent on detailed description, and reliant on the written word to provide context for the activities and actions of those involved. Maybe a multimodal approach to presenting data, will help support the refining of the analytical and presentation process. It will be interesting to see whether using the comic strip format will enable me to engage with the data and tell this particular set of learning stories, while enabling me to visualise and formulate more clearly what the evidence seems to be telling me about what learning looks like as action in ICT mediated situations.