Learning from “Photography Mapped”

Photography has long been an area of intrigue for me. While I have taken thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of pictures in the last few years working as an instructor for MSUrbanSTEM, I still feel absolutely lost with my camera set on anything by “Automatic”. With this background shared, it is easy to see why I was drawn to the Wired headline “Learn How To Use a DSLR Camera, With This Nifty Web Tool”.

The article provided a brief description and link to a tremendous tool that was built by Simon Roberts, a London based designer, animator and amateur photographer. Within seconds of visiting his website Photography Mapped , Roberts background in design and animation is apparent.  The site is designed to have a gorgeous minimalist feel, which accents the power and beauty of his animations.

Simon Roberts

To explain the physics and settings of a DSLR camera, Roberts utilizes a still image, as well as interactive graphics. A visitor is offered the immediate choice between viewing the poster style still graphic or immediately diving into the interactive GIF.

The still graphic provides a beautiful overview of the camera’s settings, allowing the viewer to zoom in and explore the details of photography.

Inside the interactive  graphic one can adjust settings for light, aperture, shutter, sensor and exposure,  all while seeing the results of their manipulations play out on a photograph of a helicopter.

I spent a great deal of time marveling at the site, playing with the interactive graphic and reading the still image. What occurred to me was that while I was exploring information that had probably been explained to me countless times by either well meaning photography friends, tech blogs or YouTube videos, this time I was actually understanding it. A large part of this may have been my level enjoyment, but it felt bigger than that. As Margaret Rhodes so clearly explained in the Wired article, “Reading about photography felt counter-intuitive, because it’s an inherently visual process. Online tutorials can help, but watching video is a passive exercise. Robert’s hands-on infographic, on the other hand, simulates the experience of making a photo, and lets you explore how settings relate to each other.”   

Hearing about a visual process, or passively consuming an inherently interactive phenomenon, will always be inferior to active learning. Experiences like Roberts’ Photography Mapped website are something I really enjoy, because I know that I can very easily lose site of how difficult it is for my students to learn something brand new. I can fall victim to the temptation of assuming their understanding will come from reading or listening to others explain their knowledge. Experiences like this are a great reminder that often, learning occurs when we are given a chance to mess up the settings, turn the light and ISO all the way up and take some bad pictures.

Simon Roberts

PlaydateMI and the Importance of Play


I had the privilege of attending the PlaydateMI “conference” put on by the tremendous folks at Jackson ISD. The reason I say “conference” is because the Playdate model is one of the “un-conference”, meaning there is no formal presenter and no required structure to the sessions. Instead, each has a facilitator, which can be any attendee, who simple introduces the topic, keeps notes and helps document the conversation.

The beauty of this model is its ability to let teachers “play” again. What I found to be most rewarding about the experience was that when left to our passions, and prompted only by a topic title, the teachers dive in with an engagement rarely seen at more “traditional” conferences. Just as we ask teachers to be more student centered and interactive, this model allows teachers to learn in the same mode. Just as we ask students to take risks and try something new, this lets teachers attempt both.

While there is certainly a place for more structured conferences and formal presentations, I am glad that teachers have the opportunity to stop and “play” with ideas. Just as we ask our students to develop certain skills, it is important that teachers sharpen their collaboration, creativity and critical thinking skills, too.

You can check out the Twitter hashtag here, and take a look at the resource docs from the various sessions here.