I had to spend quite a lot of time thinking about how I can use photos in class to improve instruction.

For the most part, I refer to specifically chosen videos, animations and diagrams in order to explain science concepts. Furthermore, it’s quite a chore to find precisely what you want to show students via searching Creative Commons images. In fact, although it does have a place in the science class, it might not be the most robust or fruitful avenue for supporting curriculum. Still, it’s another source that can be used.

One example that I came up with is something I’ve used before, but could change the way it’s used in the future.

The photo above (and featured image) are both of Cloud Gate, a piece of art in Chicago with a curved and reflective surface. Science nerds may call this a ‘convex mirror’! This is a great object to use as a hook when introducing the idea of curved mirrors in Light and Optics units.

No matter where you stand, or what object you look at through the convex mirror, it will always appear smaller than its actual size. Note you can see a span of about twelve buildings within the width of this part of the structure, which itself it much smaller in width than just a single building. Once the students are engaged and discussing their observations of the photos, you can move into the theory of why and how through ray diagrams. They can also recall specific examples of where they’ve seen these types of mirrors and what practical purposes they can serve.

In the past, I’ve shown images of Cloud Gate after explaining how to draw ray diagrams to find images in curved mirrors. I think putting it first in the lesson sequence will generate more interest as well as help understand what exactly we are doing with the diagrams.

Things get even more crazy when you look at concave mirrors. Some awesome stuff happens with these, depending on how far away you hold the mirror and if you move towards or away from it.

Everyone’s seen a shaving/makeup mirror before. We know it makes objects appear larger if you are close to the mirror. What a lot of students don’t realize is your image actually flips upside down if you move far enough away. The above image could serve as a discrepant event (ohh, teacher’s college lingo!) and get them wondering what is going on.

Another way to use photos is for an example. Below, I have included two versions of a photo of myself on a beach. The students in my Digital Media class are learning how to manipulate images using GIMP (because it’s free and very useful). One assignment I have been considering giving them is to choose a photo they’ve taken that didn’t turn out as well as they had hoped. Then, use the tools in GIMP to ‘rescue’ their photo and make it look as good as possible, while retaining the realism and avoiding any special effects.

The photos below are what I would use as an example of before/after potential. Not the best or most drastic difference between them, but it communicates what I am expecting them to do much more effectively than using words.

The 'before' photo, without processing.

The ‘before’ photo, without processing.

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The ‘after’ photo, with a few quick adjustments and lens correction.

These photos could also be used to illustrate a totally separate point: why taking photos in RAW format gives you much more flexibility in processing as it contains far more colour information than a standard JPEG.

Featured Image: kern.justin via Compfight cc