15 Ideas for Using Digital Cameras in Science

1. Stop motion movies and flip books.

By taking multiple pictures, students would create a photo flip book or stop motion movie to demonstrate, as accurately as possible, a particular science concept or process. For some examples, see Dale Basler’s post Create stop-motion videos and learn physics. Another way to easily create stopmotion films is with SAM Animation software (more examples) and a webcam.   

2. Photographs of Lab Setups
Take photographs of lab setups so you’ll remember next year how you set it up. Embed the photos into lab handouts and add annotations and directions.

3. Science Photo Gallery

"Where Sand Meets Sea" by Kelsey Rose Weber

Students take pictures and explain the all of the science concepts present in their photo. Display student work in the classroom and around the school. It drives home the concept that science is everywhere! Exceptional work in physics could enter the American Association of Physics Teachers’ High School Physics Photo Contest

4. Photo/Video Analysis
This is different from #3 in that students would need to take a photo (student-created or teacher-created) and mathematically analyze it.  For example, students could photograph the water coming up out of the water fountain.  From the size and shape of the parabola, students could determine the initial speed of the water and the time it spends in the air. See also Speeding Problem and Kobe, Karplus, and Inquiry.

5. LED Motion Photos

by Amy Snyder, 2007

Students would take pictures with the shutter open a little longer than normal to capture motion.  Attaching LEDs to the subject would allow for “light traces” in the photograph.  See Sebastian Martin’s A Different Physics Class.

6. A super-accurate stopwatch
Many cameras have a video mode.  It could be used to film an event that takes such a short time (less than 2 seconds) that using a regular stopwatch would yield poor results because of human reaction time.  For example, students could measure the time it takes a ball to fall from the ceiling to the floor (which is less than 1 second) to determine the gravitational acceleration.  Recently, we were doing a lab where students studied how the spacing between dominoes affects how quickly the line of dominoes fall. Students were getting messy data because the falling times were so short.  If students had taken a video of the dominoes, they might have gotten more accurate falling times because they can look at it frame-by-frame at 30 fps.

7. End-of-year slide show for final exam review.

Make a  slide show from pictures of students doing lab work and participating in demonstrations.  At the end of the year,  use the slide show to review for the final.  Ask the students if they remembered what happened in the lab/demo and what concept it demonstrated.  Plus, it’s a great way to remember all the good times  during the year!

8. Video-based Labs
Sometimes, I only have one lab setup because the equipment is expensive or finicky. I used to run these as teacher-led demonstrations.  Now, I can take a video of the experiment in action and students get the data from the video and do a regular lab analysis.  Students must still recognize what data is important and know what to do with it, as with a traditional experiment.  For a great example, see: Coin on Rotating LP. (Be sure to click “Home” to see many more!)

9. Archiving Student Whiteboard Solutions


In groups of 3, my students often write-up problem solutions on large whiteboards and present them to the class.  Taking pictures of the whiteboards and archiving them on the class website would be perfect for student review and for students who were absent that day.  If that gets too much to handle (sheer volume), take a picture of an exceptionally well laid out solution and put it in the “Whiteboard Hall of Fame” or the “Whiteboard of the Week.”  Documenting exemplary work shows students the level of expectation we have for all of them! See more at Physics Whiteboards.

10. Mini Biography
Take pictures of students and attach to a mini biography students would submit at the beginning of the year.  Display bios around the room so you not only get to know your students, but they can learn more about each other! See an example from Dean Baird.

11. Picture Dictionary

"f=force" copyright AshleyJM

As a class create a picture dictionary where students take photos that illustrate a particular science concept (force, velocity, wave, force, charge, momentum, energy, equilibrium, etc). These pictures could be posted around the room, perhaps with equations added, as the year progresses. Much better to have student made posters than teacher ones! See the brilliant and clever Flickr photoset The ABCs of Physics.

12. Photo labels for equipment drawers
With all the equipment in science rooms, photo labels would be a great way to show the contents of the drawers to help students find things and to put them away. Plus, the photos would liven up the room!

13. Video lab reports

14. Safety Do’s and Don’ts
At the beginning of the year, all science teachers go over laboratory safety and have students and parents sign a safety contract. Creating a PowerPoint with photos of do’s and don’ts would be perfect! Plus, it could be pretty humorous. If the pictures were created by the class from the year before as a final project, the next year’s students would enjoy seeing their friends in the photos.

15. Demonstrations

In the above video, which cart felt more force? (i.e., which cart’s hoop flexed the most?) When debriefing after a demonstration, there are always a bunch of students who think they did/saw something that they really didn’t. They might be biased going in to the demo, and the demo doesn’t change that bias. By taking video of the demo, show them what REALLY happened. In the above video, students tend to focus on the speed of the carts, rather than the flexing of the hoops, even when you tell them to look at the hoops!

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5 responses to “15 Ideas for Using Digital Cameras in Science

  1. #16 Make a slideshow of class lab and activity photos. Have the slideshow playing on a TV behind you during Parent Teacher conferences. Amazing discussions happen as parents finish waiting their turn in line. “Your class looks so much more interesting than science was when I was in school.” “It looks like all your students are enjoying class.” My Favorite!!! “I saw my son – I had no idea you did such great work with him. Thank you.”

  2. #17 Similar to end of the year review collage, but keep a running blog which can then be sent to press at the end of the course. Students having this project in mind throughout the semester have a different sense of pride in their work knowing that they will be published.

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