Electronic postcards

10th July 1998 at 01:00
At last, term has ended and you're flying off for some sun and relaxation. You look out of the aeroplane window, see a landmass below and think to yourself, "Now that might be useful for geography when I get back." You reach for your camera - but, no, you weren't prepared and it's in the overhead locker. Ignoring the lighted "seatbelt on" sign, you get up and rummage through to your bag, upsetting neighbours and airline staff in the process. There's your camera - you drag it out, wondering whether it'll focus well through the window. But you haven't put any film in it. You load it up, look out the window and you're too high see land any more; you're flustered, upset and you've annoyed everyone else too.

Okay, it's only daydreaming, but so often when I'm travelling I've wanted to record something to take home to use with a class. Now among the essential items I take on my travels are a pocket-sized camera, tape recorder, notebook and a plastic bag - a mobile system to create multimedia on my return.

What sort of multimedia do I mean? Well, let me give you some examples.

On the computer screen is a photograph of a child's hands holding some soil. "This is the Earth. It has living things in it," the child tells you as you click on the image. This pupil is one of a small group that had walked around the school grounds looking at and photo-graphing rocks, soil and flowers as part of a multimedia presentation to discover what was alive and what was not.

Pictured on another computer screen is a large ladybird, the answer to a series of questions to find the correct "minibeasts". Children from a Year 2 class had searched on their hands and knees to find different creatures that they photographed through a magnifying glass and added to their branching multimedia piece called What Am I?

A third computer screen shows a tour of a Tudor maze. You encounter portraits of assorted characters and you choose to click on a small image of a child. A screen appears with a montage of a Tudor domestic scene, made up of different photographs pasted together electronically. A Year 6 class had visited a Tudor house, tried on costumes and photographed themselves in that environment, and then added the images to their electronic travels through Tudor history.

The common feature of these projects is that, in order to create the effect they wanted, the pupils had to thoughtfully collect the data they needed. Your holiday can be fertile ground to make a record of your summer so that it isn't forgotten three days into the autumn term. At home you can recreate it on your own computer as post facto electronic postcards and to support the curriculum.

Images are the main element: photographs of the sea, areas of geographical interest, caves, aerial views, maps, signs, exhibits, art and people - tourists, locals, the museum guide and family.

A school in Brent, north-west London, looking at Signs of Autumn, used aerial views of the area, taken from a helicopter, to complement their own shots.

With a small camera, snaps don't take much time. Each image needn't be complete, because you will be able to add to it later with sound and even animation.

f you take a number of images of the sea, animating them will make the waves flow. If you take images of a view at different parts of the day, you can create a feeling of time passing. You could also, of course, use video, but that's more time consuming and trickier to fit in your pocket.

Shells, sand and stones can be collected and used, hence the plastic bag.You can scan travel tickets, a piece of jewellery or a feather. A primary school in Hackney, east London, that was running a project on Greek myths and legends made collages with wool and material to tell the story. Pupils scanned this work on to the computer, creating a three-dimensional effect.

If you're like me and return from your holiday with brochures with pictures you could never take and tourist guides to castles with maps and postcards that were evocative or amusing but just didn't get round to sending, keep them. To complement the images, add sound.

Most of this can be recorded on your return as voice-over explanations, but some background sound can be recorded and brought back with you. Evocative sounds include conversations, animals, the guide explaining points of interest, the roaring sea. Record anything that's unusual and won't easily be recreated back home.

A middle school in California made a multimedia piece about the creek near their school. They recorded frogs, birds and lots of sloshing about in mud, to good atmospheric effect.

Of course, you won't remember everything, so jot down key points, interesting and amusing stories to tell, names of people and places.

So, rather than completely forgetting about school and simply relaxing in the sun, have fun collecting.

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