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Digital Cameras & Digital Imaging in the Classroom



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Why Digital Images?

"When students take the pictures and actively use them for purposeful knowledge, you have a dynamic combination for engagement and active learning." (McAnear, 2004, p.4)


Your students come to you with ideas of what math is. Unfortunately, for most of them their ideas consist of worksheets, textbooks, chalkboards, extreme boredome, and the feeling that they just can't get it. They may have had some good teachers in the past who taught with manipulatives or had them use the computer for some drill & practice.

I am sure that almost none of your students would ever include digital cameras or images as tools they associate with math. This is one of the reasons why they can be such a powerful tool in the mathematics classroom--they change the way students view math. No longer is it a class where the teacher lectures about & defines procedures related to a new concept before handing out a worksheet or assigning pages in the textbook for homework. Interesting and engaging projects can be designed around the use of digital cameras and images, projects that have the potential to motivate students at a far greater level than a simple worksheet. Indeed, digital images can make many concepts come alive. In addition, the selection of subjects and their use requires critical thinking and reasoning on the part of students.


A Framework for the Use of Digital Images in the Mathematics Classroom

In the May, 2004 issue of Learning and Leading with Technology, Glen Bull and Ann Thompson provide readers with a four-step framework for the use of digital images across all content areas. Any activities mentioned below fall under one of the four following steps:

  • Acquire: Where does one find digital images to use in the classroom? One way to acquire digital images is to use an image search engine, like Google Images. Another way is to simply take photos with a digital camera and import them into your computer.
  • Analyze: Use of images can involve many kinds of analysis on the part of the student. Our goal is to get them to see mathematical concepts in real-world images.
  • Create: Educational activities often involve products. Many technologies make it easy to incorporate digital images (see blogs, Flickr, PowerPoint).
  • Communicate: Products are not always meant to be read only by a teacher, but also to be communicated to a larger audience. (Bull and Thompson)


Printable - 38 Uses for Digital Images in the (Math) Classroom (PDF)


Acquiring Digital Images for Classroom Use

Using Digital Cameras

The NCTM theme standard Connections states that students should be able to connect mathematical concepts to the outside world. Teachers who use digital cameras can get students out of the classroom and into their environment to capture real-world examples of mathematical concepts. Perhaps the most common example of this that I have found is having students find geometric concepts around the school grounds (see an example lesson on The Apple Learning Interchange). Students can easily find examples of parallel lines (sidewalk cracks, power lines), right angles (bricks on a wall), shapes, geometric solids, and on and on.

The sidewalk cracks are examples of parallel and perpendicular lines.

The bricks form right angles.


Digital cameras and images can also become the basis for project-based learning artifact. In the 2004-2005 school year, I had my 7th grade math students complete a probability project. Throughout the project I took photos of them playing games with a digital camera and then had them use the photos in a blog entry describing the theoretical and experimental probability of the game they played.


Using the Internet to Acquire Photos to Use in the Classroom

The Internet is a gold mine for finding digital images to use in your classroom. On numerous occasions I have found photos from Google or another photo site and used them on worksheets, in a blog entry, for writing prompts, or for something else. Below are some of my favorite sites for finding photos to use in the classroom.


My Favorite Sites for Acquiring Photos for Classroom Use
  • Flickr - Millions of users, million of photos. This is Web 2.0 at its finest. This photo sharing site allows users to tag their photos, or add keywords to them when they upload. When you search for photos here, you enter a tag into the search box and any photo that has been tagged with that keyword is returned. Tips for using Flickr:
      • Try a tag search for math nature and you will get photos from folks who have tagged photos with those words. Go to the site and try this.
      • You can also do a group search for photos. Do the same search from above and your results will show groups who have uploaded photos with the theme math nature.
  • KidsClick - This page contains links to special image databases under the following categories: Art, Astronomy/Space, Animals, History/Society. Some of the links include Astronomy Picture of the Day, FWS Image Archive, and American Memory Collection.
  • Yotophoto - From the site: "Yotophoto is a search engine for free-to-use stock photographs and images. These are images that are either in the Public Domain or released under generous Creative Commons, GNU FDL or similar licenses."
  • Stock.Xchng - This site is full of stock photos for professionals. It is still full of photos that are great for classroom use.
  • PixelPerfect - Another site meant for professionals but full of of photos appropriate for classroom use. This is a comprehensive site on digital photography with tons of information on cameras, reviews, links, and more.
  • Pics4Learning - A copyright free image library for teachers. I can't say I'm real high on this one--there just isn't the depth here that you'll find in the sites above.


Analyzing Photos & Communicating Concepts with WritingPrompts

One of the best ways to assess whether students understand a particular mathematical concept is to use a photo as the basis for a writing prompt and have students solve the problem. The photo in the problem below provides context for a writing prompt that assesses student knowledge of perimeter:

Mr. Williams would like to put a fence around the Verity School playground. The rectangular playground surface has a length of 85 ft. and a width of 120 ft. How many feet of fence does he need to purchase to enclose the playground?

I have numerous examples of photos I have used as writing prompts at my classroom blog from two years ago. Check them out at


Photo of the Week - Analyze & Communicate

I am currently implementing a project on my classroom blog called the Photo of the Week. Each week I post a photo that I have found on the Internet in which a mathematical concept is evident, to me at least. It is up to my students to do some research to find out what the concept is and then post their guess at the Photo of the Week blog. Below are some photos that I have labeled with a mathematical concept.

Like what you see? Check out the following:
Great photos from flickr members
Parallel Lines

Check out the above photos and see what thoughts come to mind. Do you see something different than I see? Think of a problem that you could write about each one.


Creating Products with Digital Photos

So you've sent students onto the school grounds to take photos. Now they have cameras full of digital images waiting to be placed somewhere. So what are the options? Here are a few...

Flickr: The Ultimate Photo Organizer! If you are serious about using digital photography in your classroom, then you must go to this site and bookmark it right now! (well, after you've finished reading this page) Flickr is a Web-based photo organizing system that has many powerful features. Here are a few:

  • The first and most impressive feature of Flickr is it allows you to post photos to your blog. This makes the blog another canvas for your students' work. For example, the real world connections photos above could be posted to a blog with full description. See some examples from my class below. (Danger: Millions of photos reside on this site and it is easy for students to come across something they don't need to see!)
  • Students can create slide shows with the photos they upload to the site.
  • Because Flickr is Web based, you don't have to worry about whether it or will work on your PC or Mac. You also don't have to worry about how to get your photos to the Web, if that is one of your goals.
From the Classroom: flickr

Ciara's Blog

Brian's Blog


Slide Shows

Once students have acquired their photos and imported them into the computer (another topic itself), they then have multiple choices for slide show applications, depending on the platform. For PC users, the most common application is PowerPoint. On a Mac, they can place the photos into an Appleworks document and create a slide show from that document. The best application is for creating slide shows on a Mac is iPhoto. This application does it all: imports, organizes, edits, & exports albums as slide shows (& Web pages, photo books, & individual photos). In addition, iPhoto allows you to put music to the slide show.



Just about any blog host allows users to upload photos to their blogs and use them in an entry. Have students use their classroom blogs to post photos of assignments that they have completed in class with a description of the process and results.

Check out more on blogs in the classroom:


Classroom Blogs allow teachers to assess and enrich classroom learning.

Student blogs allow students to create amazing multimedia projects and to communicate and dialogue with another.

Writing with blogs in the mathematics classroom allows students to record their learning in a digital format.

Digital portfolios allow students to demonstrate growth in an electronic format.

Resources for Blogging in the Classroom - Books, links, and even more links.

Word Processing Documents

Another option for using the digital photos is simply to insert them into a word processing document and add text for each photo. From there, any one of a number of products is possible.






McAnear, Anita. "The Power of Images." Learning & Leading With Technology, May, 2004: 4. 

Bull, Glen . "Establishing a Framework for Digital Images in the School Curriculum." Learning and Leading with Technology 31 (2004). 05 Apr 2006 <>.




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