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Journals and Digital Photographs – Powerful Teaching Tools

July 20, 2012

During the past week, I had an opportunity to talk with and spend time with two outstanding experts on the field of education. My visiting experts are 10 and 12 years old. I listened well to their conversation and comments. They feel strongly about several aspects of teaching and learning. They insist on choice, voice, hands-on activities, and curricular topics that they are interested in. They want to be engaged. They want to be respected by their teachers and not talked down to. They want to learn AND have fun at the same time. I personally think these are reasonable expectations for our students/consumers and for visiting nieces and nephews.

One of the ways we kept our time together stimulating and fun was to collaborate on our learning (vacation) activities. We used the very effective tools of choice, compromise, and trade-offs. We talked about what we were going to do, what we were doing, and what we enjoyed the most or the least. Yes. Reflection is a powerful tool in real-life and in the classroom.

Two strategies we used were personal journals and original documents.


On summer vacation as well as when students begin the school year, a journal is an excellent tool to record data, practice writing, sequencing, and for reflection.

  • Where did I go?
  • What did I do?
  • What did I like most and least?
  • What did I learn?
  • What would I like to know more about?
  • How can I describe this experience so that others feel like they are with me on the ride?

Most of these prompts can be used in the classroom  throughout the school year. Back to School sales have already started. Journals and notebooks are affordable and so very useful in the classroom.

Teaching with Original Documents and Digital Photographs

Everywhere we visited we gathered maps and brochures. Reading and interpreting the maps was of course a hands-on, real-life opportunity to practice important geography skills.

We also took hundreds (literally) of photographs on our mobile devices. Each day we uploaded these digital files to our local 1-hour photo shop for printing. Armed with scissors, markers, glue, photographs, brochures, tickets, maps, our computer and colored paper, we documented our adventures in scrapbooks. My experts chose different approaches. One chose a favorite picture from each activity and documented the entire week. The other chose their favorite activity and built the scrapbook around it. Pages included tickets, maps, graphics, and captions crafted by the individual author. We soon realized we had too many photos for the scrapbooks, so the others went into photo albums.

Think about your classroom. Digital cameras and even our mobile phones make documentation of learning so easy. Snap pictures of each student during the first week of school and periodically throughout the school year. Have these printed when there is a sale or you have a coupon. Students can paste these into their journals and document their learning all year long. Use extra photos to make a class scrapbook (digital or hardcopy) or make a classroom timeline.

These are two simple, but powerful tools to make learning fun and meet the curricular standards.


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