The Power of Images

I teach a digital storytelling class to middle school students in grades 6 through 8. I rarely teach anything the same way twice because I get bored and if I am bored well the kids are lets just say bored too. I often give them the opportunity to move the class in a different direction then what I planned as long as it deepens their understanding of a topic. This happened a few weeks ago when we started manipulating digital images for our stories. Based on conversations in class I kept getting the feeling that they did not understand how prevalent image manipulation is in our society and that they need to question everything they see.

They next day I showed them Girl Power – Retouch I had used it before and knew some of the reactions I would get. The last time I used it two eighth grade girls created this:

This class found it fascinating. We talked about images being changed to communicate something and for a reason. One student joked about not manipulating the image of a shoe. I knew I had to find a shoe that had been changed.
I was fortunate to find Greg Apodaca’s website with a shoe that had been manipulated. I also found Glenn Feron’s site called “The Art of Retouching.” Both sites were amazing with many examples of photo manipulation. You can mouse over most of these images to see how they were changed. I showed the kids a woman’s face, a man’s face, the close up of an eye, the close up of skin and a stomach.
The discussion with the class was impressive. They were trying to figure out why even knuckles are changed. They (girls and boys) made the connections that they may never be able to look like the models in magazines. (The boys got into a discussion about the movie 300.) This is such an important lesson at this age. They also discussed how these images influence what they buy.
I also asked some essential questions that came into my mind about this topic. So we discussed: What is truth? What is beauty? and What is real? In the context of these images and more. The discussion was amazing. No answers were considered wrong. (We did some of this in iChat which is limited to my room. The students who usually don’t chime in will make comments in iChat.)
A day or two later this appeared. It was a request on reddit.com to see if the community could help this person fix a picture of his mother. The online community came together and did a beautiful job:

Now I did not in anyway want to pass judgement or take this lightly. I have been in the same position and have a similar picture of my mother that I have debated editing. But, I wanted to see what my students would say. They took evaluating the picture and the situation seriously and most said that it was a wonderful thing to do. Then one girl in the middle row raised her hand and said, “But it’s not real.” This led to a debate that blew me away. Some quotes I remember were:
“But reality sucks in this case. He wants to remember her smile not the tube.”
“If he doesn’t want to see that tube in the picture, he’s going to have trouble dealing with her dying.”
“How come they got rid of the straw and ripped chair. Does everything have to be perfect?”
“Will it change his memories?”
The last one brought tears to my eyes.
Middle school students are interesting. They are both young and old all at the same time. They are capable of adult thought without the adult experiences to back them up. They don’t need to be taught what to think, but how to think and how to question.
I am becoming more focused on essential questions. I recently took a course on curriculum with a focus on Understanding by Design. I used these lessons to create a unit I plan on using in the future. You can find all of the links above and the unit here: http://smorraubd.wikispaces.com/

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