My analysis above provides suggestions for how historical and contemporary photographs may be used to teach concepts and principles in the environmental sciences. As a result, the sample lesson plans shown here provide little more than an outline of the different types of classroom activities that I use in this curriculum unit.
I. The Reading of Photographs
"Photographs furnish instant history, instant sociology, instant participation." (
, page 75)
As an initial lesson in the use of photographs to teach topics in environmental science, I project digital versions of the historical and contemporary photographic images on a large screen constructed in the classroom for this purpose. I encourage my students to "read" the photographs in a systematic way (see above). We are concerned with the subject matter of the images, the multiple meanings that are carried by the photographs, our perceptions of the photographer's intent in making each image, the scientific content that can be extracted from close examination of the images, and the artistic merits of the photographs. I identify each photograph with a brief statement about its subject matter. My students then begin an analysis of the photograph as they study its various details. The range and directions taken by student comments are not expected to be predictable in any way, although future use of the same images will enable me in time to construct a body of information that emerges from the perceptions of many students. Each image may require ten or more minutes of projection, particularly the first ones shown. Photographs that add to the environmental "story" that I endeavor to tell can be projected for equivalent or for shorter periods of time. In this fashion, my students and I will seek an understanding of the various dimensions and meanings of the photographs and how they communicate information about the natural and human-altered environments.
II. Writing From Photographs
In this classroom activity, my students are asked to compose an essay of at least four pages that addresses the environmental and artistic significance of one of the photographs studied in class. Our school district has placed increased emphasis on reading for information in all subject areas, with district-wide reading assignments being provided to all ninth and tenth grade students. I complement these reading for information assignments with "reading photographs for information" assignments. I feel that these assignments will generate similarly valuable skills in my students, such as enhancing their powers of observation, their assimilation and interpretation of content, and their ability to deduce and speculate about the intentions of the makers of the photographs. In fact, they will make deductions and speculate in ways that could not have been anticipated by the photographers. The written assignments will follow a pattern similar to that of classroom discussions, with students expected to address the environmental (scientific) content of the photograph, its "style" and artistic merits, the point of view of the photographer, the multiple meanings that can be found.
III. Matching Photographs with Quotes From the American Environmental Literature
". . . an increasingly common way of presenting photographs in book form is to match photographs themselves with quotes." (
, page 71)
My students are assigned medium-length readings from each of the key figures of the American environmental movement (see the Annotated Student Reading List). They include Thoreau's
Man and Nature
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There
The Sea Around Us
, and Wilson's
The Future of Life
. The task of each student, working individually or in a small group, is to match each of a series of photographs of environmental content with an appropriate quotation from the writings assigned. As Susan Sontag states, a number of well-known books have been reissued with accompanying photographs that support or reinforce the narrative views and beliefs of the authors. For example, I have copies of illustrated versions of Thoreau's
The Sea Around Us.
The task of my students is to provide some written explanation of their pairings of photographs and the author's quotations. I suspect that this assignment will encourage extensive research and original thinking on the part of my students. It also will lead to the identification of a collection of photographs that will be new to me and that will enhance the teaching of environmental science.