Using Digital Cameras In the Classroom

Why Use a Digital Camera?
Is There Anything I Should Be Concerned About?
Where Do I Start?
Lesson Ideas
Online References and Links

Digital cameras are becoming more and more popular, especially for classroom use.  They have many advantages:  pictures are immediately available, pictures are saved in graphic format, and they are easily transferred from the camera to the computer.

The purpose of this web page is to provide some ideas on how to use the digital camera in the classroom.  The ideas have been collected from various educators.  If we have used your idea and not given you credit, please let us know.  Thanks to all who have contributed!

Remember, it's not really about taking pictures, but using the camera as a tool to help you explore and understand other subjects!

One important note:  Check with your school's policy before posting ANY pictures of students on the internet.

Why Use a Digital Camera?
Students love taking pictures as much as they love being in them.  They benefit from using digital cameras because they learn firsthand the ease and immediacy of using digicams.  Most of my students aren’t aware of the different types of graphics, but they can understand how it’s much more convenient to save pictures onto a disk which can be popped into a disk drive and transferred to a computer right away, as opposed to taking pictures with a regular camera, sending film to be developed, getting the pictures back, and then discovering that half of the pictures they took weren’t usable.  They also realize that they’re saved the trouble of scanning, saving, and doing a lot of editing of photos, since this is all done on the camera itself.  They also learn that pictures can be easily viewed on a screen or Smart Board, or emailed as attachments.

Using digital photography helps the student become more involved with the subject.  I guide the younger ones in “deciding” what they will photograph and the purpose behind the project.  Then they are responsible for carrying it out, with my supervision.  Older students can decide for themselves what the project will be, and after my approval, they complete it.  The process becomes a cognitive one as the students reason and plan what pictures to take and why those pictures are needed.  Random snapshots are okay sometimes, but the students quickly learn to be selective when using the camera.

It's also very easy to simply print out pictures onto paper (laser printers do a good job of keeping the pictures clear).  You can purchase actual photographic paper to print on, but for most projects copy paper works just fine. 

Is There Anything I Should Be Concerned About?
The main issue is damage to the camera.  Digital cameras are still rather expensive, and the students MUST be taught proper handling and safety rules when using the camera.  Do training with students one-on-one to ensure that they understand how to handle the camera.  When students "pass" the required training and demonstrate knowledge of the careful handling rules, take their picture with the camera, and issue an "Official Photographer" pass with their picture on the front and the safety use rules printed on the back as a reminder.  Whenever a student is to use the camera, he or she should show you the pass (just like a photographer for a newspaper or other press).

The second most important issue to remember, according to Pam Fields, is ensuring that students take appropriate photographs.  The ease of using a digital camera also allows students to snap many nonsense pictures (goofy faces, posture, or catching subjects in awkward situations).  Plan on spending some time going over basic photography rules with students and explaining how to frame or set up a picture before it's taken.  Some casual snapshots are okay and encouraged, but they need to be aware that some are inappropriate and be able to judge for themselves what they should or should not photograph.

A third issue to keep in mind is privacy when publishing photographs.  Some students do not have permission to be photographed.  Be aware of your school’s policy regarding pictures and publication of pictures.  Check with your principal before publishing any student picture, whether on paper or online.

When printing pictures, teach students to be choosy and not to print every single picture they take.  Though paper and ink are less expensive than film and the cost of developing regular pictures, they can't be wasteful.

Where Do I Start?
The main tip for using digital cameras is don’t be afraid!  If you’re not sure how to use the camera, hand it to one of your more responsible students.  I guarantee they will figure out how to use it, and they love the opportunity to teach the teacher how to do something.  Walk around your classroom with the camera and take snapshots throughout the day to let the students get used to it.  This will stop them from mugging for pictures every time they see a camera.  It also gives you the chance to become familiar with the camera and how it operates.  Don't be afraid to push buttons to find out what they all do.  Scan through the manual or handbook that comes with your camera, but get your hands on it and USE it as soon as you can.  That's the best way to learn.

The second tip is to be creative and encourage your students to offer input when planning digicam projects.  We’re just beginning to realize the potential of what digital photography can do for us.  Embrace it and share your ideas with others who might be hesitant.  Brainstorm with your students and fellow teachers.  Then try ideas.  Write down what works and what doesn't.  And then brainstorm again.

Once you learn how to use the camera and want to learn more about actual photo editing, search online for a good tutorial or check around your school to see if anyone knows how to do this (cropping, changing photo types from .bmp to .jpg, etc).  The more you learn, the more you will want to learn about digital photography.

Lesson Ideas
As an alternative to showing students' faces on the internet, let them draw caricatures of themselves and paste these over their faces in photos. - Kenton Letkeman, Tisdale School Division, Tisdale, SK, CA
Give students a portion of a digital picture and have them guess what the picture is of.  A great site with examples of this is: - Paula Fleischer, Peachland Elementary
Give students a list of items to look for in the classroom or in the school.  They must take pictures and compile a presentation (slide show, web page, etc.) of the things they found during their scavenger hunt to prove they found them all.
Take pictures during plays, sporting events, or other special events.  Make a slide show of these activities.
Take pictures of various staff members and teachers.  Create a slide show or digital handbook to give new students.
Take pictures during the day to give a photographic record of classroom procedures.  Print the pictures out and post them so students can review the procedures as needed.
Photograph places in the community (parks, libraries, etc.).  Have students compile reports to go with the photographs and print a brochure about their community.
First of all load a variety of bitmaps to you My Documents folder from various 'famous' sites around the world: Eiffel Tower, Wall of China, Buckingham Palace, Castle at Disney World, etc. Take a photo of the children, one at a time and then have them import them to the site. Depending on how well they cut around themselves, it looks like they are actually there.  - Earlene Saulnier, Immaculate Heart of Mary School
1. Have each kindergartner choose a letter.  Then, go on a walk around the school or in the neighborhood. When the child finds something that begins with that letter, take a picture of the child with that object.  Use the pictures to create a class alphabet chart.
2. After a field trip on which you have taken at least one picture for each child or pair of children, download the pictures and have the children write a summary or memories or something else related to that picture.  Make a class book.
3.  After a field trip, immediately download and slide show or  use the feature some cameras have for plugging into a VCR.  Use the photos to help you debrief the field trip.
4.  Use the cameras for a phrenology project.  We had a prairie at my last school and I always wanted the kids to create a field guide for the prairie by photographing the same plant every month.  They'd combine the pictures from one year onto a single page and include information about the plant.
5. Use still photos to create educational iMovies.  My current school has a turtle week to raise funds and raise awareness about the plight of sea turtles.  A fifth grade teacher worked with the high school art teacher to create a great educational video that was shown to the entire elementary. Being written by kids, it ended up at the correct level.
6. For years my colleague has taken lots of pictures throughout the year. At the December and June portfolio nights he would run a slide show of the pictures so families could see their child learning.  He duplicated and sold them at cost.  Kids would come back many years later and tell him they still watched their video. - Susan Sedro, Mont'Kiara International School
Take pictures during students' science experiments.  If participating in a science fair, use the pictures as part of the display boards.  You can also use pictures to give a visual representation of each part of the scientific process.
I use my Sony Mavica in school. I have a disk wallet with 24 disks and a stack of sticky notes. The disks are numbered. When we use a disk a brief note about the pictures is written on the sticky note and that is put on the disk before it is put back into the wallet. That way when we get back to the classroom we know who needs which disk to complete their work. For my own pictures I use the same system sometimes adding a notebook for more detailed notes. For example on a recent trip I took pictures of different flowers, fossils, minerals, and historic exhibits (I checked with museum personnel before taking any photographs.) My notebook has notes about each picture that I can use to make posters or add to handouts. I'm burning the pictures to CD for the kids to use in their reports when they can not get a photograph themselves. - Kimberly Herbert
Take pictures of your classroom to make a virtual tour.  Compile these into a brochure or slide show or web page.
Take pictures to document other growth, such as plants, butterflies, frogs, etc.  Use these pictures to illustrate life cycles or stages of growth.
Take pictures of objects in the school or familiar places in your community.  Let the kids use the pictures to learn the names for them (i.e. book, pencil, library).  The students can compile these into a book which they can read.
Let students take pictures of themselves and make trading cards.  They love exchanging these cards with each other.  A trading card can easily be made in Word or other word processing program by making a table with 2 columns.  Students should include information about themselves (name, birthday, favorite class, favorite cartoon, etc.)
Take pictures of students throughout the year to illustrate how they grow.  This is best done outside in full light, with students lined up against a wall and with another object in the photo or a mark made on the wall so that difference in sizes through the year can be easily seen.
Use the camera to take pictures of the Students of the Week.  Print them out to display on their certificates.
Take lots of pictures on field trips.  Then display the pictures by either printing them or displaying them on a computer screen or television.  Have students write about these experiences.
Take pictures during open house.  Display the pictures in the classroom.  Good way to remember what each students' parents look like until you become more familiar with them.
We take pictures of school events, classroom projects, art projects, music programs, and just every day pictures. We have a local cable station that creates a Power Point type program with captions. The station show the presentation several times a week. it is great. You might want to check with your local cable station and see if they will do it. Also, this coming school year we (which means me) are going to create a Power Point program ... of different events, classroom projects, etc. When we have parent teacher conferences we will have TVs set up showing the presentation of what has been happening in our school. - Sheryl
I use the digital camera during the first week of school to take student pictures. Students then design posters and glue their
pictures on the posters. Students must discuss what is on their posters and we display them for the month of September. I use it to take pictures of students completing activities, such as readers theater, cooperative group activities, etc. Its instant feedback and students love it. I also take pictures the last week of school and students complete Venn diagrams on themselves and share how they are still the same and how they have changed over the year. Our tech coordinator takes tons of school activities with the camera and posts the pictures on a bulletin board in the main lobby. A final thing she did this year was with these pictures make an 8th grade power point presentation for graduation. What a great summation of a challenging year! Kids loved this! Just some ways we use cameras at our school!  -  Jamie
I use my digital camera to take pictures of my students all year long doing normal things like working and also on field trips and doing any special activities. Then at the end of the year I make a power point slide show of the pictures I took set to music. I hook my computer up to my tv/vcr and I record the slide show onto a vcr tape then make copies. On the last day of school I surprise the kids by showing them our class slide show then when it is over and they are all saying how neat that was I hand them each their own personal copy as a parting gift to remember their last year (they leave me and go to middle school) they love this, and parents love it too. - Maureen
I use my digital camera EVERY DAY!  I don't know how I'd live without it!
I use digital pictures to:
- -make locker magnets
- -make thank you notes
- -use with pen pal letters
- -make stickers with student name and picture
- -make a monthly bulletin board highlighting special activities
- -make a memory book for the students for the year
- -publish student books, they draw pictures and I take pictures of their illustrations with the digital camera and print them on the same page as the text.
- -have students interview each other, take pictures of each other, and print off the interview and pictures -make a weekly newsletter
- -white out the background of the student and have them draw a picture around a photo of themselves -make bookmarks with their picture on it
- -students make junk sculptures, then write about it and put the picture and writing together for a class book
- -take pictures of projects or events to put on the web site
- -take pictures of the various life stages of butterflies grown in the classroom
- -take pictures of different stages of a science experiment
- -take pictures of different places in the community to make a community ABC book
- -use the pictures of the community to make postcards to be sent to relatives, pen pals, etc.
The skies the limit. If the school furnishes you with printer cartridges and paper, it's a whole lot cheaper than film!
I use the camera to coordinate as much as possible with writing activities.
- Nancy
I use digital cameras in my classroom all year long. These are some of the things I did this year: 1) bought seasonal packs with holes in the center & they took their picture and placed in it in the cut out space for cute bulletin boards, name tags, etc. 2) used their picture on large manila envelopes and laminated for take home things, 3) used pictures all year long and made a Christmas photo album for mom and dad (It was titled "A Day at School" and I took pictures of them in all their different classes and they had to write the name of the subject and then on the next page was them working at a task in that subject. The parents loved it!). 4) at parties and special things going on, their pictures would be displayed in the hallway. Some I printed in color and some in black and white. 5) also used my camera at workshops, etc. to take pictures of things I wanted to use in my classroom. I have iMacs at school and took the pictures from the disk to Appleworks and sized them. I hope this sparks some ideas for you to try. - Joanne
In my Middle School Math Classes I have taken black and white headshots of each student (with our Sony Mavica), sized it to a quarter page with a box frame around it ... then added a blank box beside it (the same size as the framed picture). This would take up the top half of the page. I would repeat the process with another student's headshot and empty box below that first one. Then I'd cut the page in half giving each student their own headshot and blank box on the half-sheet. The students then draw 1/2 - 1 in. gridlines in pencil on both the headshot and the empty box next to the headshot. They label the gridlines as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc., going each direction. They try to duplicate their pictures by drawing only what they see in each box. They make amazingly accurate drawings of themselves! - John Schwartz
-Take a walk around the school taking pictures of important areas. Have students draw a map of the
school, importing the pictures to show there locations.
-For young students, take a picture of each student. Write the students name below the picture and use this
on bulletin boards instead of the name alone or use it to label the students seat, locker, coat hook, etc.
-Take pictures of everyone in your class. Use the photos in a seating chart.
-Have each student take a picture. Students then trade pictures. Students then need to write a story to
explain what is happening in their picture.- Travis
We have had great fun with students at all grade levels using an online service called PhotoIsland at

We have kids use the digital cameras to take head shots of each other.  Then we load the photos on the computer.  Using the Internet, go to PhotoIsland. Select Photo Workshop.  There are six neat things to do with the photos. Our favorites are iMorph (where you morph one photo into another) and Funhouse (where you insert your face into a character).  When PhotoIsland has created the requested photo, you right click and save it.  Then insert it into another application (often Word) and use it.

It does take several lessons to complete the assignment first time (1-take photo & load onto computer, 2-upload, render new photo, and save, 3-complete assignment).  I'm not sure what your time frame is with students.  Teachers catch on very quickly.  In addition, once the pictures are taken they can be used again.   After using PhotoIsland, they don't need future instruction. We use the photos to spark creative writing with the students, look at historical time periods, and think about future aspirations.

Several cautions... First, our school is 95% African-American and it is sometimes difficult to find a photo to match their skin tone.  Second, too many users makes the system run slow.  Five to ten at a time seems to work. Finally, there is an option to be a member and store photos on the Internet. I would not recommend this because of safety/security issues with student information/likenesses.- Leigh Forbes

Online References and Links
1001 Uses for a Digital Camera - Casio's site with GREAT lesson plans involving digital cameras
Teacher to Teacher - Teachers share ideas of projects they're doing in their classrooms using digital cameras
Using the Digital Camera in the Primary Classroom - Great ideas of simple projects integrating other curriculum areas
Why Should I Use a Camera in the Classroom - Terrific ideas with examples of work shown
Using a Digital Camera in the Classroom - List of ideas broken down by topic or curriculum area
Use, Choose, and Integrate a Digital Camera - Advice for choosing a digicam and lesson plan integration


This page created by Lori Miller, Technology Instructor
at Wacona Elementary School
June, 2002
Updated February 24, 2003