Illustrative Examples of Units of Practice

Visual Exploration of a Natural Environment


In this several day lesson, students use the visual sense to explore a small natural environment. Using a viewfinder and camera, students document, describe and comment on the meaning they find in this small place. Individuals bring a range of prior knowledge to the setting and will make varied observations of it. As a collective, the students conduct primary research and visually represent their developing understanding for an audience of their peers. In the process, students learn to safely use and care for the digital camera. They develop a language base to discuss why and how their images "work" and could be improved. Students collaborate to learn. They improve in providing constructive critique and support to fellow learners. As with the writing process, an initial draft digital image of a subject is reviewed by oneself and others who describe what appeals in the image, the clarity of the intended message, and how the communication of the message could be improved through recasting the idea, reframing the image, working particular visual elements, and eliminating distracting content. A second draft of the image is readily constructed. Further manipulation of the image by the student will allow for additional refinement of the message.

When exploring an environment visually, students attend closely to that place.

These are the questions students seek to answer for themselves through the images they make.

Subject:                     Language Arts -Viewing and Representing

Learning Levels:     Grades 7-12

Author(s):                 Nancy M MacDonald


A walk through a small wood brings students into intimate contact with the landscape for sensory discovery and response to the space. Students conduct visual explorations of a small natural environment using a viewfinder and camera to gain an overall sense of the landscape and the elements within it. They answer for themselves through the visual exploration and documentation of the place, "What does this place mean?" and "How may I communicate that meaning visually to an audience?"


Nova Scotia Information Technology Integration Learning Outcomes for students at various grade levels.

Grades 4-6

BOC 6.1 Basic Operations and Concepts

Students will be able to use calculators; media and computer equipment; and relevant peripheral devices, such as scanners, cam eras and printers.

BOC 6.9

Students will begin to understand the health and efficiency reasons for using IT in an ergonomically correct fashion.

PTS 6 .9 Productivity Tools and Software

With the assistance of their teachers, students will use tools for observation, measurement and calculation to explore scientific, mathematical and geographic concepts under study.

Grades 7-9

BOC 9.1 Basic Operations and Concepts

Under general supervision as they research, design and create products that represent their learning, students will be able to independently and safely

CT 9.1 Communications Technology

Students will represent their learning in a range of media, including print, video, audio, and multimedia , with growing confidence and competence.

RPSD 9.2 Research, Problem Solving and Decision Making

With the assistance o f their teachers, students w ill select and u se appropriate form s, styles, med ia, and sources to access, manipulate, assess and present information meaningfully for different audiences.



Getting Ready for the Field Experience

This field experience makes a number of assumptions about student prior learning. If students are unfamiliar with or inexperienced in handling a camera, using a viewfinder, making photographic images and communicating about images, their meaning and how students control image elements to craft a particular message visually; the documents attached in the URL below will be helpful background information and activities which build to the field experience. When the teacher is comfortable that students have sufficient experience talking about and controlling the message of images they make, the visual exploration field experience produces an interesting range of communicative images.



The Learning Experience

Activating Studentsí Prior Knowledge, Understanding and Experience

Prior to the field experience, tell the students where they will be going and ask them to identify what they already know, understand or have experienced in that environment. Record any questions about the environment which arise during the discussion. Create a thought web of prior knowledge on the board, chart paper, or by using software such as Inspiration 6 and a large image projection device such as a data projector. Use the "What Does This Place ĎMeaní?" sheet to support student thinking. (See handout "What does this place mean?" attached in the link below.)

Visual Exploration without a Camera or View Finder

A walk through a small wood brings students into intimate contact with the landscape for sensory discovery and response to the space. Preferably, students conduct an initial exploration without the camera or viewfinder to gain an overall sense of the landscape and the elements within it. The questions contained on the "What Does This Place ĎMeaní?" handout included with this unit of practice should be top of the mind during the initial exploration of the place. 

Students should show each other and discuss what they are discovering in the place. Discussion and showing help all students to more deeply engage with the landscape and supports peer collaboration for learning. Through discussion, students articulate what the place "means" and how their collective prior knowledge and current observations expand individual and collective understanding of the place. In pairs or small groups, students may choose to make jot notes or make quick sketches of observations on paper in their binder.

Large Group Discussion and Further Development of the Thought Web

Upon return to the classroom, assign students to add additional ideas to the thought web based upon class discussion of their observations. Which prior understanding and ideas were confirmed, enhanced or refuted by the direct observation of the environment? What new questions do the students have about this small place?

Extending the Visual Exploration with a Camera or View Finder through a Re-Visit of the


Once students have had an initial exploration of the environment, placing a viewfinder and camera at their disposal, presents them with the challenge and opportunity to visually represent this new understanding and response during a second visit. It also provides the opportunity for students to extend their initial understanding and response through reflective talk, additional observation, and the visual search for and documentation of the inter-connectedness of elements within the environment. Essentially, students should begin to answer for themselves, "What does this place mean?" and "How may I represent and communicate this meaning using my visual sense and the technology of the camera?" (For instructions see the handout "Safe Care and Handling of the Digital Still Camera", below.

Letís Look at the Images We Have Made About this Place!

Connect the computer and projector and project studentsí images for a whole class discussion.

The focus is on the communicative value of the images. Each image should be projected for 5-15 seconds and initial responses should focus on the particular appeals of the projected images. As a collection, what do the images tell the viewer about the "Place"? What range and diversity of meaning does the place hold for students as communicated by the images?

For support in developing students experience with this discussion, please consult and adapt from the handout "Discovering How Images Communicate" (imcomm.pdf) attached in the URL below.

Personal prior knowledge of the environment, and discussion of the images they make, lead students to seek richer and more precise language to communicate the meaning they attribute to particular images. 




Assessment rubrics and processes are described in the handout "Discovering How Images Communicate" and may be freely reproduced and adapted by classroom teachers for use with their students. (See the URL below.)