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Worth a Thousand Words-The Photography Essay

Kathleen H. Hartwig
Ladue Junior High School, St. Louis, Missouri

Subject: Social Studies/Photography
Grade: 7-8 (Gifted Education)

"A camera brings out the hidden personality behind people, places, projects, and events."

Purpose and Description of Project

One of the objectives of the school's program for the intellectually gifted was to teach creative problem-solving methods and to have students apply these skills in solving a "real life" problem. One such problem at this school was a lack of understanding of giftedness among the other students and staff, and a lack of knowledge of the value and interrelationships of existing programs on the part of the gifted. To facilitate mutual understanding and knowledge, the 10 gifted students who participated in the project decided to create photographic essays on different facets of the total school program.


After students were introduced to the problem, they were told to act as a public relations firm representing the school district and to use photography to develop positive attitudes toward all programs. Students brainstormed alternative methods to use photography and selected the photographic essay. Each student worked on one particular program -- math, language arts, science, social studies, physical education, or one of three other categories -- and for the spring open house, the essays were combined into a display.

Students prepared questions and conducted interviews with the principal, 10 teachers, and a high school photography teacher and one of his students. The teachers were interviewed for about half an hour each on their curriculum, feelings, and possible topics for the essays.

The students watched four filmstrips on taking pictures and were given a demonstration on the 35 mm camera and how to use it before they actually photographed the topics of the essays. Each student took 10 to 20 photos that highlighted happenings within each program. Only one student experimented with developing his own photos and reported his experiences to the group. Students then captioned their photos and assembled the display. The essays were evaluated by Hartwig, the resource persons, and the students themselves.

Materials, Resources, and Expenses

Four 35 mm cameras (two of which were loaned) and a variety of lenses were used.

Outcomes and Adaptability

Students strengthened their problem-solving skills as they defined the problem, selected the best solution, organized information, and implemented the project. As they worked together in units, the cooperation and communication that took place stimulated creative ideas, and the quality of their work was raised by the constant peer evaluation. "Most important," says Hartwig, "students learned to direct their own learning and think for themselves." In comparing the results with the original goal, Hartwig found "newly developed attitudes about the gifted, and... newly understood concepts by the gifted about 'everything else.'"

Hartwig sees any number of variations for the project, from describing special programs (art, music) to highlighting special happenings in any curriculum. In a school situation, sufficient resource persons who could contribute an hour or two of their time for interviews and evaluations would almost always be available. She suggested that her project is even feasible with elementary students if simple-to-operate cameras are available.

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