Tag Archives: Photography

Happy Snappy

RockpoolOn January 1 this year, thanks to a bit of prodding from my mate John Pearce, I started a 365 Photo Challenge… whereby I planned to take a photo every single day this year and post it to the web. I’d tried doing this once before but never made it longer than a few days before I lost focus and let it slip away.   So here we are nearly 11 full months into my 365 Days of Light Photo project and I’m pleased to report I haven’t missed a single day yet! ( I’ve been late to post them a few times, but never more than about 48 hours behind schedule either, which I think is pretty darn amazing!)

I post them all to a Posterous site I set up called 365 Days of Light, which in turn crossposts to Twitter, Identica,  Flickr. and PicasaWeb (which is really Google+).  It also used to post to Facebook until I quit my account there).  Here is a link to the collection so far… (minus the first few days of January which I forgot to include back then)

Part of the challenge for me was that I didn’t want to take a photo of just anything, but rather to try and find something of real visual interest each day.  I wanted it become to a collection of interesting artistic images, not just a bunch of point-and-click happy-snaps. Whether I’ve actually achieved that aesthetic goal is probably debatable and certainly not every photo has been a winner, but I must say that there are quite a few photos in the collection that I’m very, very happy with.  It really has forced me to try and be both disciplined and creative every day. Trying to find a new angle, to not be too cliche or derivative, and to still find something interesting each day has been a real challenge, but I’m pleased with how it’s gone so far.

I’m looking forward to the final month ahead, and to get to the end of the 365 days.  My plan is to turn them into a printed coffee table book as soon as I finish taking all 365 photos, and publish a few copies for family and friends. In the meantime, feel free to +1 any you like… I know which photos I’m happy with but I’d be curious to know which ones you like.

Snap Happy

With nearly two week down in the 365 Day Photography project I’m starting to get my head around some of the more useful tools for photography on the iPhone.  There are lots of interesting photography apps to choose from in  Apple’s App Store, and I’ve had a good play with many of them – something I probably wouldn’t have done if I didn’t have a project to focus on.  That’s one of the reasons I like doing “projects”, and one the reasons that Project Based Learning works so incredibly well. When you have something to focus on, even something as innocuous as simply taking a photo each day, it opens up a whole range of new learning experiences.

This blogpost outlines some of the more useful and interesting iPhone photography apps I’ve been using (or plan to use).

Firstly, I should acknowledge that the camera in the iPhone 4 is pretty damn impressive to start with. It has its limtations, sure, but it really can take some pretty extraordinary photos if you work at it. It’s only 5 megapixels which is actually pretty good for a phone camera, but clearly less than a “real camera”.  Mind you, I own a few “real cameras” and I usually step down the resolution as I rarely shoot anything I plan to turn into a poster size print. It’s perfectly adequate for my needs.  In my opinon, it’s far more important to have good glass on a camera than it is to have super high megapixels numbers.

As an aside, the obsession with megapixels has always intruiged me… ignorant salespeople in consumer electronics stores will usually try to convince you that one camera is better than another based on higher megapixel numbers, but I think that’s really misleading.  For most people, shooting at over 5 megapixels just consumes a lot of hard drive storage space for no real reason, and leads to excessive transfer times as they share their photos online to display at 72dpi!  Anyway, better not get me started on that topic.

So, the most useful photos apps I’m using are…

HDR Pro

I mentiond this a few posts ago, and I think it’s the single most used photography app I use.  It takes 2 shots of the subject at two different exposure setting, then puts them together into a single image using the best exposure levels from both images.  When it works well, the result is much closer to what the human eye sees, since the human eye typically has a much higher dynamic range than a camera.  It lets you see detail in both the shadows and the brightly lit areas – something that a single shot always has to compromise with.  If the contrast is too high, such as shooting into the sun, the results can get a bit odd looking as the merging algorithm struggles to blend the two extreme exposures together… you typically end up with a halo effect around the darker silhouetted shapes as it tries to smoothly blend light into dark. Sometimes HDR makes the photo look worse, but mostly it works really, really well.

It’s mentioning that although the iPhone 4 has HDR built into the standard camera app, it’s nowhere near as good as the HDR Pro app.  I’ve read that Apple’s built in HDR takes three shots in rapid succession and then combines them, but I’ve heard other people say it’s actually simulated HDR.  Either way, it’s just not as good as the dedicated HDR Pro app.

Camera+

If you want to easily apply a range of special effects to your photos there are plenty of options to choose from. Camera+ (not to be confused with another app called Camera Plus) is the best I’ve found. It was masterminded by Lisa Bettany, an outstanding young photographer and iPhone developer, and it has lots of very cool looking effects built into it.  For taking photos, it offers an image stabiliser, a timer and a burst mode for taking multiple shots in quick succession.  Once the images are taken, they are sandboxed into their own storage environment called the LightBox, separate from the iPhone’s Camera Roll.  In here, they can be edited in lots of ways from simple rotations and crops, to a sophisticated set of preset styles that might be just what you need to make your images look great.  You can adjust the colour, retro, and special effects, and there’s also an in-app purchase option for additional analog-style film effects. Once edited, there is a range of fancy borders that can be added to the image to finish it off.  When you’re done making changes to the image it can then be exported out of the LightBox and back to the Camera Roll where the photos are normally kept on the iPhone.

It’s actually pretty amazing to see what sort of image processing power is available now on a device that fits in your pocket. Not so long ago, you needed Photoshop running on a fairly grunty desktop PC to do this sort of stuff, but now you can shoot and edit full resolution photos with the same sorts of effects and filters that Photoshop provides, all on your phone.  It’s pretty impressive really, and makes you wonder what the next few years of intense development in the mobile space will bring.

Photoshop Express

Speaking of Photoshop, yes, you can get a version for your phone! Adobe makes Photoshop Express and it offers a range of manipulation tools for improving your images.  As well as the basic crop, rotate, straighten and flip tools, you can makes adjustments to the exposure, saturation, tint and contrast, convert a colour image to black and white, apply blur and sharpen filters, as well as a bunch of borders and special effects.  It sounds similar to Camera+, but where Camera+ tends to bundle a whole lot of effects together into different visual styles you can apply, Photoshop Express allows you to apply and manipulate each effect individually.  There are no control sliders as such… to vary the amount of an effect you just drag a finger left or right on the screen itself, which is actually a pretty neat interface for a mobile device.

PhotoStudio

If you want to delve into a whole lot of sophisticated effects and filters for your images, check out PhotoStudio.  It has an extensive collection of 181 different filters that can be easily applied individually or collectively, as well as being favourited or grouped together into effect styles. It’s like Photoshop Express on steriods, and anyone familiar with the Filters menu in the full version of Photoshop will recognise many of the effects this mobile app offers. I think they need to redesign their overly cutesy main interface, but the quality of the filters this app offers is very impressive.

ColourSplash

Ever seen those images that are all in black and white except for one thing that’s in colour?  That’s exactly what ColorSplash lets you create. Take a shot, then the app converts it to black and white and lets you paint back in the colour wherever you want it.  It can be a little tedious if you want to get right into the detail, since you have to pinch and pan and zoom to navigate around the image as you paint, but it gives you a lot of control over the process. I’ve seen other apps that do a reasonable job of auto-masking for you, but they never seem to get it quite perfect.  Doing it yourself is a little more work, but I think you get a much better result.

Retro Camera Plus

If you want to go for some old style photo action, then give Retro Camera Plus a shot.  It provides five different classic old camera styles – The Barbl, The Little Orange Box, the Xolaroid 2000, the FudgeCan, and even a Pinhole Camera. Each of these classic effects has a built in set of filters and styles that simulate the effects of film, and can provide some really interesting aged looks to your images.  Great for experimenting with different looks and feels for your photos, or just kickin’ it old school!

Autostitch Panorama

AutostitchPanorama enables you to shoot a series of images, left to right, overlapping slightly, which it then brings together into a single panoramic image.  It seems to do a great job of compensating for the varying exposures that you inevitably get as you rotate the camera around at different angles to the light, and the final product always seems to have a really smooth exposure transition. Great for scenery and other very wide shots and definitely the best results of any of the panoramic apps I’ve tried so far.

360 Panorama

360 Panorama does a similar thing to Autostitch in that it makes panoramic images, but it does it in a different, but very interesting, way.  You activate the app and then simply pan your camera around in a full 360 degrees and it “imprints” the scene into the panorama as you move around.  There’s no post processing involved, it does it all in real time. It also has a feature that can Tweet the photo to your Twitter account, linking to both the panoramic image as well as a dynamic 360, rotatable version of the scene using its own custom VR player.  It does take a bit of practice to get a decent result, but when you get it right the results are amazing!

PocketBooth

Remember those old style photo booths that you’d sit in with your friends? You’d put a coin in, pull the curtains shut and smile, and it would spit out on a long strip of four grainy black and white images.  That’s exactly what PocketBooth does.  I have such fond memories of those photo booths growing up with my friends… It gives you exactly the same sort of grainy image quality those old photo booths gave, shot in a 4-up filmstrip mode, and I really like the look of the final product.  Well worth a look.

PicPosterous

As well as taking the photos, you also need to get them online to share them. For my own 365 Day Photo project, I’ve been using the excellent Posterous blogging platform. Posterous (which by the way is, according to the developers of the site, pronounced with a short “o” sound as in “preposterous”, because it’s preposterously easy to use)  The neat thing about Posterous is that really is preposterously easy to use – you can create new posts simply by sending an email to the service and it will take your text, images, audio, video and package them up into a neatly presented blog post with no further intervention from you. I’ve been getting lots of our teachers at school creating class blogs using Posterous because it’s just so darn easy to use.

The other cool thing is that it Autoposts on to other services. So, once your post goes online at Posterous, it can then automatically crosspost to WordPress, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, and about a dozen other online services of your choice… all this from a single email!  It also generates all the RSS feeds, so if you email audio files it can create podcast feeds really easily as well.  It truly is an amazing, friction-free service and is perfectly suited to a project like 365 Day photos.  If you don’t have your own free Posterous account, go get one now!

The PicPosterous app takes this ease of use even further by providing an interface specifically for adding photos to your Posterous blog.  Just select the photo, write an optional short description about it and tap send. Done.  In my case, it adds the photo to the blog then also crossposts to Facebook, Buzz, Flickr, Picasa and Identica.  (I’ve noticed that they are also turning up in Twitter as well…  not sure how that’s happening, I suspect that I may have originally told Identica to crosspost to Twitter… it does get a little confusing if you don’t keep track of these things!

FlickIt

If you’d rather do it the regular way, you can always just upload your photos to Flickr directly (although I don’t know why you wouldn’t just let PicPosterous do it for you)  Enter FlickIt, a very easy to use uploader from your iPhone to Flickr.  The nice thing about FlickIt is that it gives you the option to add tags to your images (something I really wish PicPosterous did) as well as a description and title.  Easy to use, reliable, and great for photos that you aren’t adding to a daily photo blog but you simply want to get up on Flickr.

Project 365

I didn’t discover this app until after I started my daily photo project, but its an app made especially for doing 365 day photo projects.  It has a calendar style interface where you add a photo each day, filling the calendar squares with images over time.  It also uploads your images to its own online service.  It’s a nice idea.  Although I don’t use it for my project directly, I do use it to keep a running record of my photos so I can see that I post each day. Although it involves a second process on top of the main upload to Posterous, it only takes a few seconds to do and it keeps me on track (since missing a day would leave a blank spot on the calendar, and that would really bug me!) It provides a good overview of all the photos I take for the project, and it also creates a daily reminder to take a photo which has been handy.

So there you go, that’s a quick peek into some of the more useful photography apps I’ve found for the iPhone.  There are others I own that I haven’t mentioned, and of course there are probably lots of others I don’t know about.  It really is pretty amazing what a “camera phone” is capable of these days, and you only have to look at some of the images being taken as part of all the 365 Projects that people are doing this year to realise that we’ve entered a really interesting time for mobile photography.  The fact that so many people I know are doing the photo-a-day challenge is also testament to just how easy it is now to publish regular content online.

If you have suggestions for other photo apps you’ve found handy, please take a moment to drop it into the comments so we can all learn from each other.  And keep taking lots of photos!

A Photo a Day

The Twelve Apostles, taken on my iPhone using HDRI like photography. In fact I like imagery in general, which is, I suppose, why I enjoyed art school so much. The combination of not only interesting images, but also interesting ideas, made the four years I spent at art school some of the best years of my life.

However, it was only after I taught art for a few years that I discovered that, while I liked art, I didn’t necessarily like teaching art. I’ve since spoken to many people who proclaim that the quickest way to kill your passion for something is to do it for a living. I’m not sure that’s the case… what I do now, working with kids and technology and the future, is what I love doing. But I understand what they are saying… for many people, their passions need to be unshackled from the daily “must do” so that they can be enjoyed as a “want to” instead.

So, working with imagery and design and graphics and photography remains something I enjoy simply for the sake of it. I like to take photos, or mess about with Photoshop or Illustrator, but I like to do it on my terms not someone else’s.  And yet, with such a laissez-faire attitude to these things, it’s easy to let these interests slip away in the busy-ness of life, where they simply don’t happen with any regularity.

I’ve seen people doing the 365 Day Photography Challenge over the last couple of years, and I really like the concept.  Take a photo each day for a year and publish it online. It’s a nice idea.  I’ve tried to do it myself for the past few years, starting several times, but for one reason or another I’ve just found it difficult to maintain the momentum of doing it.  All that messing about, taking photos and uploading to the computer each day and then publishing to a blog.  Sure, blogging a photo is a pretty easy thing to do, but I’ve just lacked the discipline to do it every single day.

Coincidentally, I visited my buddy John Pearce at his home near Portarlington last week. John is a far more disciplined blogger than I am and over the last few years he’s been particularly good at taking – and blogging – a photo a day.  As we walked along the beach in front of his home, he was telling me what a rewarding experience he’s found doing his 365 Day Photos. He extolled the virtues of it forcing you to look at your surroundings a little more carefully, of the discipline it creates in doing something every single day, and his enthusiasm for the idea just generally made it sound like a good, fun thing to do.

Even more coincidentally, our conversation took place on January 1. The first day of the year. I mean seriously, if you’re going to start a 365 Day program for anything, is there a better day to start it than January 1?

The thing that really clinched it though, was John’s enthuiasm for a couple of software tools that would clearly make this a far simpler, more doable, proposition.

One was Posterous.  I’ve been dabbling with Posterous for a few other projects lately, and it really is a very impressive blogging tool. It’s ability to take content from something as simple as an email, and to manage any associated digital media files like photos, videos and audio is super impressive. It’s rather remarkable ability to then automatically crosspost to other services like Twitter, Facebook, Picassa, WordPress, Blogger – you name it and it probably crossposts to it – made the whole idea just too interesting to pass up.

Then John told me about an iPhone app called PicPosterous, which specifically uses the phone’s camera (and on the iPhone 4 it’s a pretty darn good camera!) to enable images to be sent directly to a Posterous blog from the phone.  Yes, I know it can be done with a simple email, or a dozen other easy ways, but I really liked the elegance of the PicPosterous solution.  I dabbled with it over our lunch, and was really very impressed with its simplicity and ease of use.

So. A good camera on the iPhone. Easy upload with PicPosterous. Nicely packaged into a blog with Posterous. Broad distribution with the crossposting options. Oh, and of course, it was January 1.  With all of that conspiring together, how could I say no? The fact that we were going to be driving the Great Ocean Road the following day – possibly one of Australia’s most photogenic areas – might have also helped!

So, I’m in. 5 days down, 360 more to go.  You can find my daily pics at http://365daysoflight.posterous.com, where there is even a nice RSS feed to subscribe to. I also send them to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Identica and Buzz. (I didn’t include Twitter… I figure I already make enough noise there)  It will be interesting to look back over the photos this time next year to a) look at a neat visual record of my year, and b) to see if my photography has improved any. I’m looking forward to that. Not to mention that it’s a great way to engage with new tools, new techniques, new ideas that I may not otherwise dabble with.  This is how you learn stuff.

As my own enthusiasm for the project has grown, I’ve found myself taking a lot more notice of some really interesting photography apps for the iPhone. Having a focus of taking a photo a day has made me much more interested in finding out what I can do with the iPhone as a camera. I’ll probably write a post in the next little while to share a few of the cool photography apps I’ve discovered, but one I’ll just mention now quickly is HDR Pro. With a hat-tip to Allanah King, another 365er, who showed this to me at ULearn last year, it really is a pretty amazing app. It uses HDR – High Dynamic Range – techniques to produce some stunningly good looking images. Shooting in HDR takes multiple images of the same scene, one underexposed and one overexposed, and then merges then together to form a single photograph with near perfect exposure in every part of the photo. The example you see above is shot using HDR Pro and I think it’s pretty good for a phone camera!  Even though it was shot looking almost directly into the sun, the exposures are still pretty good with plenty of detail in the shadowed areas. That’s what HDR does really well.

So, enjoy the photos on my Posterous site, and don’t forget the check out the blogroll as it links to a whole lot of other 365ers taking some great daily shots. And if you’re a 365er yourself, let me know so I can add you to the blogroll!

Good Morning Vietnam

After leaving Shanghai the other day I traveled south to Hanoi, Vietnam.  My Sydney school has an “arrangement” with a Vietnamese school here.  The school is called the Vietnam Australia School, or VAS Hanoi, and the arrangement is that as well as the school offering a standard Vietnamese curriculum it also offers a scaled down and modified Australian curriculum focusing on English and Commerce.  This Australian component is taught by native English-speaking teachers, using courseware and textbooks developed by staff back at PLC Sydney, and the goal is to get the kids leaving school with qualifications in two languages and two countries.  I’ve been keen to get to VAS for a while to see what it’s all about, so when I asked my principal for permission to attend Learning 2.010 in Shanghai he suggested that I drop into VAS Hanoi on the way home and do some training and support for the staff here.

So for the past few days I’ve been at the school, seeing how it operates, talking to staff, meeting the kids, and generally trying to offer some support where I can.  There are certainly places where that support is needed, so it’s rewarding to be able to offer it.  Now that I have a clearer understanding of what’s going on here at VAS Hanoi I’d like to visit again at some point to really follow through on a few things.  For now though, that’s a decision that’s out of my hands.

I can’t say I’ve fallen in love with Hanoi though.  Don’t get me wrong, it has a definite charm, if charm is the right word.  Perhaps ‘character’ would be a better word.  The city of Hanoi is celebrating its 1000th birthday this year, so although I don’t know much else about its history, 1000 years is a long time, and it’s had plenty of time to cultivate that character.  The people are generally friendly, the food is excellent and inexpensive, there’s plenty of interesting culture, and the Vietnamese women are amongst the most beautiful in the world.  So what’s not to love?

While I’m enjoying seeing a new place and experiencing a new culture, there are a few things about Hanoi that I simply couldn’t deal with long term.  The obvious one is the traffic.  It’s crazy.  I mean, seriously crazy.  It’s one of those places where people can tell you it’s crazy, but until you see it for yourself you just have no idea.  I made a little video below to give you a look at what I mean.

The traffic also creates another problem… air quality.  The pollution from all those millions of bikes is frightening. I’ve had a hacking sore throat from almost the minute I stepped off the plane. At times it’s been hard to speak and hard to swallow, and I really don’t think I could live here for an extended period because if it.  In heavy traffic, the swarm of bikes also kick up a cloud of dust that further dirties the air.  I just couldn’t live with it long term.

The other thing that tarnished Hanoi a little for me is the fact that my iPhone was stolen the first night I got here.  I went for a walk along the streets to do some sightseeing, and a couple of rather pretty local girls pulled up on a motorcycle and asked me if i wanted to go for a ride around the block with them.  Naturally I said no… I wouldn’t jump on a bike with total strangers in a city with sane traffic, but especially not in Hanoi!  One of the girls was standing next to me, and started to rub me on the arms and shoulders and was trying to convince me to get on the bike, while the other talked to me. I basically said thanks but no thanks, spoke them to them for another minute or so, and then started to walk away.  As they rode off, I reached into my pocket to see what time it was, and there was no iPhone in my pocket.  I was so pissed off!

Luckily, I’d taken out travel insurance for this trip.  I don’t normally take insurance, but it seemed like a good idea for travelling in South East Asia just for the medical coverage so I ticked the box for that option when I booked the plane tickets.  I was a little less pissed off when I remembered that I had the insurance because it meant that the phone would probably be replaced, probably with an iPhone 4, so given that the insurance cost me all of $10, I’m very glad I took it out!  However, what won’t be replaced is the data added to my phone since the last sync, including a few very special podcast recordings and photos, etc.  Gone for good! So annoyed!!!

The insurance company said I needed to fill out a police report before they could process the claim, so I went to the local station, conveniently just across the road from my hotel. What a pack of losers. I’m told there is massive corruption in the police force here, and while I can’t personally vouch for the truth of that, I can certainly say there is massive unprofessionalism. The police on duty were a bunch of slobs; dirty, lazy, slow, unsure about how to fill out a report, and they treated the whole thing as a bit of a joke.  They seemed more than a little put out that I was actually making them do some work instead of leaving them alone to sit and watch television. Of course, they didn’t speak a single word of English, so I had to go back across the road and get the hotel concierge to come over and try and translate for me; this seemed to annoy them even more, since when they thought there was a language barrier they figured they could just fob me off. I think the concierge did an ok job of the translation, but really, who would know?  Overall though, if that’s the level of service and professionalism you got from official bodies like the police, I could never enjoy living here.

The other big reason I’m probably not enjoying Hanoi as much as I should be is just the fact that I’m on my own here.  Shanghai was fun because I had so much to look forward to, meeting people that I was genuinely excited to be hanging out with.  When you’re “hangin’ with your peeps” things are always lots more fun.  In Hanoi I don’t really know anyone, so it means eating meals on my own, sightseeing on my own, spending time on my own. Not a whole lot of fun really.  At this stage I’m just really looking forward to going home to my Linda.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of photos I took on my walk tonight if you’re interested. I took them with the new Nikon S4000 I picked up duty free as I left Sydney airport, and for a camera without any manual controls (and the fact that I didn’t have a tripod with me) they aren’t too bad for night time shots.  The traffic is particularly bad because today is the day of the annual Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations, so it’s somewhat crazier than usual!

Oh, and here’s the video…

Redesigning Learning Tasks: Part 3

My role at school is all about trying to helping teachers leverage technology to come up with more interesting and engaging ways to help their students learn.  Some of our older students are in laptop programs which gives them fulltime 1:1 access to their own computer but many still do not, especially in the junior years. Which is a bit of a shame since there is, I think, so much scope in the younger grades to use technology in interesting ways that support the curriculum.  Unfortunately, with the way things are structured at the moment, our primary kids get scheduled into a single one hour lesson in the computer lab each week.  That’s not really my preferred option, as it’s hard to get technology integration working in an ongoing, embedded way when it involves trotting off to the computer room once a week.

Ironically, all our primary classrooms do actually have a small pod of four desktop machines in them, but unfortunately I don’t really see them getting used in any consistent, meaningful way.  Technology integration is still, by and large, reliant on that one hour a week of “computer time” in the lab.  However, whether I like it or not, it is what it is, and until the system changes it’s a limitation I have to work with.

Ludus - our school Blog ServerOur Year 4 students are doing a unit of work on Australia at the moment, so I started the term by having a planning session with the Year 4 teachers to look at how we might weave ICT into the unit.  A couple of years ago, the ICT component was – you guessed it – making a PowerPoint about Australia, but thankfully we’ve tried a some new approaches over the last few years. For the past two years we’ve been using blogs to get the kids writing about Australia, in fact I think we’ve come up with some good ideas for structuring the writing process when blogging.  We started off using Edublogs, but after having a particularly frustrating series of outages, the school decided to set up our own WordPress MU server and gave every student their own blog on that system. It took a bit of fiddling to get the feeds on the front page working the way we wanted, but that internal WPMU site worked quite well for us.  Because we run Moodle, we recently installed Mahara as well, which also provides blogs for students and so I guess we’re a bit spoiled for choice at the moment when in comes to school blogging.

Although the blogs had worked quite well for us in the past, for the unit of work on Australia the Year 4 teachers felt that they wanted to try something a bit different, so we brainstormed some ideas and came up with an idea that I think has worked very well.

For me, ICT integration becomes far more interesting when it involves lots of little skills used in a lot of different ways that student have to piece together into a finished product.  I like it that way because it give them a broader understanding of the way that technology tools fit together, and I think helps their understanding of how technology can assist them cross over into many areas.  I also like the idea of providing a structure, a scaffold, so that even our struggling students have a clear framework to work within.  However, surrounding that scaffold should be flexibility, options, choices, and a way for more able students to scale their work up and allow for that important differentiation.

What we came up with was a project called 25 Moods of Australia.  We brainstormed a collection of words (it started as 25 words, but grew to 50) that described various moods – haunting, hostile, creepy, effervescent, etc. Using a free wiki (where every student and teacher was given their own login) we published a list of all the words.  Working in pairs, the students then adopted a word from that list. There are 50 students in the two Year 4 classes, so working in pairs required 25 words.  The reason we came up with 50 was to give them a choice of what word they wanted to select, and to provide some extra words in case any students wanted to do a second one.

Armed with their chosen words, each student pair started by creating a new blank page on the wiki for that word. Then they had to find a clear, concise definition for the word (so that they understood it) and they then added that definition to the wiki page.  They used both regular paper dictionaries as well as online dictionaries. It was useful to compare the two.

The next job was to use Flickr to find a photograph taken somewhere in Australia that they felt captured the meaning of that word.  This was quite tricky… the Flickr search engine is not as sophisticated as Google’s and so to find a photo that both described their word and was taken in Australia required some thinking.  It involved looking carefully at the images, at the tags, at the captions, and using a bit of detective thinking to find photographs that met all the criteria.  To make it even trickier, we had a talk about copyright and the use of other people’s photographs without permission, which led to an interesting discussion about Creative Commons.  The students picked up on this idea very easily, and now know how to use the Advanced Search feature in Flickr to find photographs that are free of traditional copyright restrictions.  (I was feeling very encouraged to hear from their teachers that they are also now being much more mindful of copyright in other areas of their school work, and they’ve been observed looking for Creative Commons images for other projects as well! I consider that a major win!)

Once they found an image they like, they then used the All Sizes selector in Flickr to find the 500 pixel, medium-sized version of the photo and they copy it to their desktop. They also copy the URL of where they got the image so it can by pasted into the photo caption as an attribution, required by all CC licenses.  Once the photo is copied to their computer, they then upload it into the wiki (we used Wikispaces) and insert it into their page.

The next job is to go to Google Maps and find the location of where that photograph was taken on the map. This is also tricky, since not every photo makes this clear.  Some photos are geotagged with the exact location of where they were taken, but many are not.  We talked about geolocation.  We learnt to look at the tags, the keywords, the captions, the other photos in the Flickrstream, and to look for clues that might give us an idea about where the photo was taken.  And sometimes, when their were no clues, we had to make educated guesses about where the photo could have been taken.  Once we decided on a location – either a definite location based on real clues, or an imagined location based on common sense, the students found that place in Australia on the map.

Using the Link option, they then generated the embed code for the map, copied it, went back to the wiki and created a widget. They pasted the embed code into the widget and saved the page to reveal the embedded Google Map of their best estimate for the location of the photograph.

The last step is for the students to then write a couple of paragraphs talking about their photograph and why they think it represents their focus word. This can be quite a challenge, as they have to think very carefully about how exactly they will justify their selection, describing the photo and linking it back to the key ideas in the definition of their word. They also need to write about the map location and explain how they knew (or guessed) that the photo was taken in that place.

As you can see, it’s a task that contains a LOT of small pieces.  It contains lot of ICT skills and techniques and understandings in a number of areas. It is a task of small pieces loosely joined.  It’s also not a task that can be plagiarised.  It’s not a task where there is a “right answer”, as any answer could be right if it was justified well enough.

Remind yourself, these kids are 9 and 10 years old. And they have shown themselves to be perfectly capable of moving information around, remixing, repurposing and restructuring it in fairly sophisticated ways.  They quickly pick up the ideas of bringing all the pieces together to make something new. I think they are using some reasonably advanced information skills, as they learn to search, evaluate, synthesize and create with the information they find, and then add value to that information by interpreting and summarising and justifying it.  In short, I’ve been really impressed with what they can do. And even more impressed with what they can’t do, but can learn to do.

You can visit the wiki at http://ausmoods.wikispaces.com, although at the time of writing it is still a work in progress.  The final stage, when everything is complete, will be for them to use the discussion tabs on the individual pages to leave comments and feedback for each other.

I think it’s been a really good task, with plenty of really worthwhile ICT skills built in, as well as an integrated use of literacy, writing, geography, thinking and reasoning, collaboration, and so on.

If only we had more than an hour a week to do this stuff…

Meme: Passion Quilt

Another meme is doing the rounds of the edublogosphere at the moment, called the Passion Quilt meme.

I was tagged to contribute by Woody Delauer, a teacher from Maryland in the US, and asked to keep this meme going. (I think I was tagged by this a few weeks ago by someone else but we were in the middle of moving house at the time so it slipped through the cracks – sorry!)

The Passion Quilt meme works like this…

  1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students
  2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons (or even find one marked as copyright but then write to the owner to ask permission).  You can also make/take your own of course.  This picture should capture the quality that YOU are most passionate for kids to learn.
  3. Give your picture a short title.
  4. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to the blog entry that tagged you.
  5. Include further links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

For me, the thing I am most passionate about is getting students to develop their sense of curiosity about the world.  The idea that I might be able to to stimulate a kid’s sense of curiosity and wonder about the world, to build their sense of needing to know more about how and why the world works the way it does, to provoke their need to ask questions and find the answers… that’s what makes it worth going to work every day.

Curiosity makes the need to teach almost redundant.  Kids who are curious don’t need to be taught – they are too busy learning.  They question, they play, they wonder, they discover. They want to know how things work, and why.  They like to change things that make no sense to them, and in the process they can end up changing the world itself.  Students who are curious about why things are the way they are, and who question things endlessly, are the ones who are most likely to be able to change the future.  These kids don’t need teachers, they need wise guidance.

Yes, my passion is to give my students a sense of curiosity.  I liked the photo by gigglejuice, because I thought it captured that sense of discovery, of reaching out to touch new things, of crossing boundaries.  I’m going to title it, simply, “Discovery”.

So, what’s YOUR passion in education?

To keep the meme going, I’ll tag the following people…

Yes I know that’s 6 people, not 5, but I wanted to balance the guys with the girls…

Over to you!

Making your photos worth 1000 words

This is a joint post between Sue Waters and myself about integrating Flickr with Picasa, and has been cross posted on each of our blogs.

Let’s start with a little background on this post’s origin

After spending some time yesterday migrating Linda’s entire photo collection (well, most of it… did I mention that regular backup is very important?) into Google’s Picasa photo management application and then giving her a bit of a tutorial in how to use it tonight, she asked the next obvious question… how do I put some of these photos onto Flickr? A good question. After all, Flickr is without a doubt the best online photo sharing website around. With amazing tools and options, an incredible online community for sharing and learning from each other, and a huge array of APIs that enable Flickr to work with a range of different online and offline services, the decision to use Flickr as your online photo storage tool of choice is a bit of a no-brainer.

However, on the desktop it’s a different story. Flickr is purely a Web2.0 service, and there is no local desktop component offered with it. This means that while Flickr is wonderful at managing your photos online, when it comes to dealing with the photos stored on your hard drive the only real options you have is whatever tools are already on your computer. If you have a Mac, iPhoto does a great job of photo management. It’s free and comes with every Mac. If you are more serious you can always look at Adobe’s Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture, but these are quite expensive applications. On the Windows side, there are probably dozens of “photo management” applications but most of them are pretty awful, and some are also expensive. Most people just settle for managing their photos directly in Windows Explorer which is an average solution at best.

Using Picasa for your offline photo management

Enter Picasa from Google. Picasa is a wonderful free piece of photo management software and lets you sort, arrange, adjust, crop, rename and generally manage your photos on your computer. It really is an incredibly sophisticated yet simple tool for photographers and the price tag can’t be beaten…. you can’t do much better than free. It is available for Windows only, which makes perfect sense since it essentially does most of what iPhoto already does on the Mac. As well as the desktop app, there is also a “Flickr-like” online photo service from Google called Picasaweb. I say “Flickr-like”, because although it lets you store your photos online it lacks the same community and API sharing that makes Flickr so compelling. If you’re serious about photos online Picasaweb could be a little disappointing. However, being from the Google stable of products, there is some common functionality for exporting photos directly from Picasa on your computer to Picasaweb on the net, which is a nice touch.

The trouble is that while Picasa may be an obvious best choice for local photo management, Flickr is the obvious best choice for online photo management. It would be nice to have the option to manage your photos locally with Picasa and then send your best shots up to Flickr to share with the world. Nice, except that Picasa is owned by Google and Flickr is owned by Yahoo!, and when companies are in direct head to head battle like Yahoo! and Google are, the last thing you want to do is anything that promotes your competition. This is unfortunate, since the losers in that battle are you and I, the consumers. We just want to manage our photos using the two tools we like, but it’s not as quite as straightforward as that.

Connecting via Twitter

Talk about synchronicity. As I was pondering this question tonight, the exact same question floated through my Twitter feed. Mrs_Banjer , sujokat and Sue (dswaters) were discussing the very same issue – how to manage your photos on and offline, what service to use, how to integrate them, and essentially they were tweeting on the very same things I was thinking about. One thing led to another, so via Twitter we discussed, chatted, talked and shared links. We pontificated on the pros and cons of Flickr versus Picasa. This is just one example of the power of an always-on personal learning network. Eventually though, I felt I needed to clarify a point in the discussion so rather than overTweet to the world, I Skyped Sue Waters in Perth and chatted about it directly. While we were talking a tweet came through from sujokat asking “someone do a blog on this please this is fabulous but all too quick for me to take it all in”. Sue and I decided that we’d do that… write a post about the pros and cons of Picasa and Flickr, but we’d do it as a joint post. So this is being written in Google Docs and is a collaborative effort between Sue and I… over to you Sue.

Now for My Thoughts On Picasa vs Flickr

Getting photos off the Camera

One of the best aspects of Twitter connectivity is the challenging of your thoughts, beliefs and making you really think; often about issues you had not considered. This was definitely the case with Picasa vs Flickr. I have rarely used Picasa as Window Explorer and Picture Manager have been adequate for my needs but really into Flickr. In all fairness to Picasa more likely that I have not spent enough time exploring the virtues of Picasa — it did take me 12 months to realise the benefits of Flickr. So my homework for the next few days is to throughly road test Picasa and report back to ensure I have done my usual through research.

It is definitely benefical to import photos from your camera directly into Picasa because it means you don’t import multiple copies of the same photo.

Uploading to Flickr

For Mac users, there are several options for getting photos to Flickr. As iPhoto is a standard application found on every Mac it is a much simpler proposition for developers to create APIs that hook directly between iPhoto and Flickr, so there tends to be a number of uploading tools available, the best known of which is Flickr Uploadr. As well as the Flickr Uploader, there are free tools like FFXporter that plug directly into iPhotos Export option to offer direct Flickr integration. Another option is to use Flock as your web broswer… Flock has Flickr uploading tools built right in.

Uploading

For Windows users who like Picasa as their photo management tool, uploading images to Flickr from Picasa is also a relatively simple process, even if not quite as obvious or integrated as that enjoyed by Mac users. Just download and install Flickr Uploadr on your desktop, open the Flickr Uploader and Picasa windows alongside each other, then drag and drop the images from Picasa library onto the Flickr Uploader. Simple!

Final Thoughts

Also worth checking out David Jake’s thorough information on Flickr (thanks sukojat for the link) and Philip Nichols’s guide to Picasa.

Besides learning a lot more about Picasa it has been amazing collaborating with Sue to write a post together; using Google Documents, Twitter and Skype.

Sue and I would love to learn more about how you manage your photos.

What are your thoughts? Do you use an offline photo management software? What features do you like about the software you use? Do you share your photos online at Flickr or do you use another photosharing website? And if so, which one and why?

Please take this opportunity to drop past Sue’s post and leave some tips for her as well.