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Kids, Your Eyes Are Like Cameras: Take Pictures, Please

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Certainly this is the new age of photography. And I always thought the 70’s were the real photography revolution with your Nikons, Canons, and, of course, Paul Simon’s song,  “Kodachrome.” Find it with lyrics at https://youtu.be/N4ltLp30KVs before reading any further.

I remember buying Kodachrome slide film and shooting, sparingly, because processing was expensive. Not so today because you can take hundreds of digital images with smart phones, DSLRs, view them on your computer screen, and share the images with the world. I know I do, all the time. What a difference a revolution makes! And don’t forget those “Selfies” we take ad infinitum…

But in my classrooms I would like to take another approach, a creative, contemplative technique and skill you can teach children from grades 4 on up. This requires an imagination and openness. What I’m offering is something kids would appreciate and understand. They haven’t lost their creativity yet, at least on elementary and middle school levels, despite what Common Core throws at them. And as a veteran classroom teacher I’m always looking for ways to improve and expand kids’ concentration. The upcoming lesson is an experiment to enhance students’ ability to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and to be there while navigating the world around them. 

So what is this imaginary concept I would like to teach students? “Your eyes are like cameras that take pictures when open.” Huh? What do I mean? Just what the statement says: Introduce and motivate the idea by saying to the class:

“Imagine your real eyes are like cameras taking pictures of what you see. You record and store those images in your mind. Then, you will use your inner eye to re-view the ‘photographs’ you took on the outside. You go from snapping pictures of what you see in front of you with your real eyes to seeing them again inside your mind with the inner eye. Maybe this sounds a little complicated, so let me take you through the process step-by-step”:

Step 1: “Pretend your eyes are like cameras. Let’s say you’re walking in the street, park, or schoolyard. You see something you really like, whatever it might be, person, place, or object. You think about drawing or writing about what you see once you’re home. But how can you remember the ‘picture’ without having a camera, smart phone, or pad-and-pencil?”

Step 2: “Let’s say you’re walking and you see roses all decked out in their reds, yellows, pinks, and whites in a garden, or humongous cumulus clouds drifting across a brilliant blue sky. What can you do to remember them for a drawing or writing a story? If you had a digital camera you could take pictures of these nature scenes, click, click and click. Then you would re-view your shots on the LCD screen to see the images and load up the memory card on your computer to see them ‘bigger.’”

Step 3: “How can you take photographs without a camera in your hand? But before answering my question, let’s try an experiment: I’m holding the American flag and would like you to stare at it for 30 seconds. When you finish, turn around and look at the back wall of the classroom. Focus on the ‘X’ I drew on the wall for 5 seconds. Now tell me what happened.”

Please note: If all goes well kids will see the flag after focusing on the “X.” I won’t get into the exercise’s details except to say that if children concentrate carefully on “things” they see in the world outside, it will leave an image, impression, or “mind-photo,” a visual aftereffect, of what they have taken with their camera eyes. All these “mind photos” can be used for creative writing, non-fiction writing, as well as art. The resulting visual aftereffects of the flag-on-the-wall help to demonstrate the prior statement. Go to www.colorbasics.com/Optical-Illusions for more information about this recommended activity.

Step 4 (after students have given their hypothetical responses): “Yes, it’s amazing that you see the flag again after first staring at it and then looking at the ‘X.’ This phenomena is called a visual aftereffect (optical illusion). It is what remains in your head after observing things very carefully. You do something similar with your ‘camera eyes’ when you observe things closely, snap your pictures mentally, or in your mind, and create a mind-photo/picture.”

Step 5: “For homework, please take a 15-minute walk in your neighborhood and find things you like, that really stand out and catch your eye, whatever it might be. Then, stop, focus your eye cameras, and take a photo.”

Step 6:Re-view the images you shot. How? Take another step in ‘the twilight zone’ with me. Use your imaginary inner eye to view the ‘photographs’ you snapped. What are you looking at? Describe the images or mind-photos you see. ZOOM IN on the details. Contemplate, or study, all you see for a moment. Did any feelings, thoughts, ideas, reflections, or experiences come up after contemplating the mind-photos?”

Step 7: “Did the lesson improve your focus, concentration, and ability to observe the world outside and visualize that world on the inside? Check it out when you walk. Take CLOSE-UPS of your IMPRESSIONS and enjoy yourself in the looking, seeing, contemplating, and creating. See flowers, trees, people, animals, birds, or clouds-that-look-like things in a new, exciting, and different way.”

Step 8: “You can even try to place imaginary filters over your camera eyes/lens. Pick a colored filter like red, blue, or yellow filter to light up a scene. Or, try a ‘soft-focus’ filter to ‘blur’ or soften the world and create a certain mood. Use a prism filter to create rainbow fantasy images, colors, and worlds. The choice is yours: go as creative as you would like. Use the inner eye to re-view all ‘photos’ you took as well as the filtered ones.”

Final notes to educators: You’re always trying to find ways to get kids focused and into present time, the NOW. Get students to key in on what’s happening in front of them by pretending their eyes are cameras snapping real-life photographs with the inner eye processing and developing the film, digital images, or mind-photos.

Students learn about outer/inner concentration, contemplation, how to view, re-view, and to visualize the   photographs they shoot, as well as the triggered feelings, thoughts, and experiences, all skills and fundamental tools needed in writing, reading, critical thinking, art, creativity, and let’s not forget the real world…  

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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe. Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”). One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM. Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record." Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum. Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul.

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Guest Tuesday, 25 October 2016