On Thursday, Ziqi, Chamas, Adrian, and I began our two-day “Light Photography” project with a lesson on how a camera works. We wanted to emphasize how a painter’s tool is paint and a photographer’s tool is light. We gave the 5th and 6th grade students at Swifts Academy a half-sheet of paper, which they colored with a single color. Each student and their colored paper represented a ray of light. Then, I stood in the back of the classroom holding a paper that read “Light Source,” with an image of a sun. Each student walked to the “Light Source” then walked to the chalkboard and stuck their “ray of light” onto a frame, which represented a photograph. After this interactive exercise we explained how a photograph is comprised of millions and millions of these rays of light.
Students place their “ray of light” onto the frame to simulate how light makes a picture.
Then, we explained that to create a light painting, the background needs to be dark so that the flashlight is the sole light source. We made this an interactive discussion by asking the students questions and encouraging them to take guesses of how sample light photos were created. Afterwards, each student was given a sheet of paper to practice drawing what they intended on painting the next day in front of the camera. The main challenge was helping the students understand that they needed to write a word backwards because the camera captures the reflection. For instance, students would need to write “MOT” in order to see “TOM” on their picture. To practice we asked students to paint in reverse in front of the class, while classmates guessed the word they were trying to paint.
On Friday we rearranged the desks in the classroom for more open space, and with the help of three teachers, covered the windows with curtains and kitenges. We arranged two cameras on tripods back to back, and had six students in the classroom at a time with the rest waiting outside. Meanwhile, Adrian printed the photos in the room next door, so those who finished taking their photo could begin pasting and decorating their images.
Throughout the process, the students were engaged and excited. I thought our project exhibited LTP goals because the students were required to think critically and use their problem solving skills in a context entirely different than their typical classroom activities. For example, many students had a difficult time understanding the concept of writing in reverse, even after we spent a good amount of time the first day explaining and practicing the concept. On Friday, I worked outside with the students waiting in line to do the light photography. One by one we practiced once more, writing the words backwards with sticks in the dirt. When students felt the immediacy of taking their photograph, I noticed they made sure they were writing the correct way and memorizing it. For instance, the student who painted the word “DOG” initially drew one letter on top of the other. By Friday, however, she responded to our suggestions and moved her body right to left while writing and flipping the letters.
Initially, I was critical of the complexity of the process. My main concern was whether the exercise could be replicated in a classroom without us LTP interns, who have access to tripods, professional cameras, and technical skills with these cameras. (The focus of our LTP teacher workshops is to encourage sustainable methods of participatory learning with the available resources.) However, I found the exercise to be valuable in and of itself and to have a purpose of its own. It resonated with LTP’s philosophy in that we made the most of the resources available to us at the time. It challenged us as teachers to be creative and flexible in executing an ambitious exercise. For me personally, the success of this exercise reflects the potential of being creative with resources and working through new lesson plans.
Furthermore, the lesson about how a camera works is easily replicable with the resources available within a typical Tanzanian classroom. Even if the actual light photography on Friday was a special exercise for the students, teaching light (in a Science class, for example) in an applicable way (how a camera works) by having the students simulate rays of light when a photo is taken, is a fun example of participatory learning.
Finally, on a technical note, something I would do differently is to have a more organized method of communication about each of the stations (taking pictures, printing, decorating) for crowd control.