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Essential Lens


found in: science; 6-8; 9-12

Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across The Curriculum  is a professional development resource that provides photographs, activities, and analytical tools in the sciences and humanities for middle school and high school teachers. The images are copyright cleared.

Five introductory videos explain how photographs can be used to facilitate learning. A Closer Look  (21:13) introduces guiding students through photographic exhibits, talking with students about photos, and curating exhibits. The remaining videos, all approximately 20 minutes, address witness, lives, evidence, and story.

Focus In presents a four-step method for analyzing photographs: observe, build on observations, make inferences, and formulate questions.

Collections  Each collection provides a series of photographs, background information, and classroom activities. Collections can be browsed, searched, and limited by subject and grade level. For example, Immigration, Urbanization, and Identity: The Progressive Era City examines rapid urbanization at the end of the 19th century. The collection includes 27 photographs, many documenting child labor. The entire collection of photographs can be downloaded. Photo #3002  shows young boys in 1909 working in a fabric mill. Subject connections, references and further readings, and standards are listed. The collection includes learning objectives, essential questions, prerequisite background, and six activities. One activity, Images as Supporting Evidence,  explores the work of Jacob Riis who photographed the living conditions in New York City in How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (1890). Students work independently and in small groups to analyze photos and make claims about living conditions, supporting their arguments with evidence in the photos. An extension activity is suggested.

Resources include a guide to researching photographs, additional sources of photographs, a brief history of photography, and a glossary.

The Archive  has more than 400 images from the activities and stills from the videos.

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