EAPrep STEM Camp Bolsters Students’ Creativity With Photoshop Lessons
In the computer classroom at the East Austin College Prep STEM Summer Institute, the students’ faces are aglow with the soft backlight of their laptop screens mixed with the natural excitement and curiosity sparked by the task at hand. Today’s class of seven to ten-year-olds is hard at work with Adobe Photoshop, editing green screen photos of themselves and their instructor, Mike Heath.
From a myriad of editing choices available to them, the kids apply a variety of filters to their images before selecting the perfect setting. The tone of the edited photos ranges from the avant-garde aesthetic of a pop art-style poster to heavy use of the plastic-wrap filter, rendering an image eerily reminiscent of a B-grade sci-fi film. One student chooses a rain-soaked look for his image, dowsing himself in a digital downpour.
Heath and assistant instructor Matt Frank, a student at Texas A&M University, manage the class of twenty or so energetic kids with impressive calm. Raised hands, persistent calls for help or admiration of a finished project, and students wandering about the room to check up on their friends’ work are met with Heath and Frank’s affable instruction. The two stop from computer to computer, giving reminders of how to achieve a certain look or execute a particular operation on the software. After three weeks of instructional material on Photoshop tools, Heath is proud to see his students applying the knowledge they’ve gleaned to their creative projects. While he acknowledges the inherent challenges of teaching advanced photo-editing software to school-aged kids, Heath appreciates their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. “It’s especially rewarding to see how engaged the students are with the program,” Heath remarks. “Some of the students really took off with it, making pictures of themselves with Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.”
A veteran of the 2011 pilot of the STEM Summer Institute and current IT Specialist and Globaloria Assistant at East Austin College Prep during the school year, Heath has high praise for the program’s progress. “The organization of the program has improved a lot since last year,” Heath notes. “It’s much better suited to the kids’ attention spans, and the schedule allows for extra reinforcement of what they’ve learned each day.” Halfway into his second summer teaching at the STEM Summer Institute, Heath is very pleased with the progress his students have made and the keen interest they show in his class.
With just a quick stroll through the classroom, it’s easy to see how much the kids enjoy working with Photoshop. Tasked with finding and applying a unique background image to their photos, student individuality takes the reigns. Evelyn, quietly industrious in her work, has chosen an enlarged picture of a Yorkshire Terrier as her backdrop. In her rendering, the fluffy pup (complete with pink bow) sits at equal height with her own image. With modest affection, she describes her aunt’s Yorkie puppies who inspired her photo creation.
A few desks away, Rodrigo imbues his image with an entirely different kind of charm. Working with a nonchalant photo of Mr. Heath, he plays with adding a pink princess crown atop the teacher’s head before choosing to place a character from the popular cartoon “SpongeBob Square Pants” (Mr. Krabs) into the background. The bulbous-bodied crustacean looms in the background, his eyes comically elongated in a look of permanent surprise, curiously staring in the direction of Heath’s image. Rodrigo attempts to rotate the photo of Heath so as to have the two subjects gazing at one another, but is stymied by the challenge. As it is nearing time for lunch, Rodrigo saves and closes his project, to be tackled later on a full stomach.
The young students’ display of Photoshop skills is impressive. Throughout the next several weeks of the STEM Summer Institute, the students will be moving forward with “Digital Storytelling” projects; in essence, creating digital representations—from comic books to live-action movies—of stories they have written. Having mastered some of the basic elements of Photoshop in such a short period of time, they have set the bar high for their upcoming projects. Check back in a couple weeks for an update on their progress!