Thursday, October 23, 2014

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Tech Beat: Students can build digital cameras, focus on science lessons

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Rochester: Tech Beat: Students can build digital cameras, focus on science lessons
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The Big Shot Camera could arguably be the most valuable digital camera ever made, as it is intended to be constructed by children in a classroom environment. Shree Nayar, the chair of the Computer Science Department at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, is spearheading the design project.


"To use the camera as a platform for education, to try and use it as an opportunity to describe various engineering and science concepts to kids," says Nayar.

As part of the initial pilot stage of the project, students from schools in New York, India, Vietnam and Japan were given kits containing all of the camera's parts.

"The camera is presented to them as a kit. It's a set of parts that they put together and each component of the kids is used to convey, to teach an important concept," says Nayar. "For example, the camera has a dynamo or power generator that allows you to use it even without a battery. You can crank the camera a few times.

"So as you go along, piece by piece, component by component, we teach them various concepts ranging from mechanics to optics. In the case of lenses, even the physiology of the eye," continues Nayar.

Once they have constructed a fully-functioning camera, the children are then given some photography tips and asked to snap shots to upload onto BigShotCamera.org, in order to share their experiences and cultures with other kids from around the world participating in the project.

Developers say one of the keys to keeping kids interested and not just viewing the camera as a flimsy little toy is to give the model some functionalities that even the major manufacturers do not offer.

"It allows you to take three types of pictures. Just a normal picture like this camera, a panoramic picture that has about an 80-degree field of view, and finally stereo pictures which are 3-D pictures," says Nayar.

Teachers and parents cannot buy their own kits just yet, and developers are trying to find a partner that can help mass manufacture the kits so anyone can "snap" one up.

For more on programs that engage teenagers in science, technology, engineering and math, visit ConnectAMillionMinds.com.

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