Kids Explore the World Through Science Photography at San Jose’s Children’s Discovery Museum

Bug on a Leaf" by John Magee, Grade 7
Bug on a Leaf” by John Magee, Grade 7

The insect hangs off a leaf edge, its body in perfect focus but partially obscured. The photo would never serve as an iconic shot of the species; instead, it’s a beautifully realistic moment in nature. The creature wasn’t anesthetized and carefully placed on a contrasting background. It was simply going about its daily business when it caught a seventh-grader’s eye — and his camera lens.

"Fading Flowers" by Yasmine Emami, Grade 8
“Fading Flowers” by Yasmine Emami, Grade 8

The photographer, John Magee, was a participant in a pilot after-school program at the Children’s Discovery Museum that combines media with environmental science education. “Discovery Youth: Science, Community, Identity” (DY-SCI) introduced seventh, eighth and ninth graders to digital SLR cameras and principles of photography such as focus, contrast and framing. It was also a first-time science experience for many students. At the Guadalupe River, which runs alongside the museum, they spent the year taking water samples as well as photos.

Magee’s “Bug on a Leaf” is part of the DY-SCI science photography showcase currently on display at the museum. Like the other images, it is accompanied by a statement from the photographer:

“I chose focus for my principle of design. I liked this photo because it had an interesting insect on it. I noticed that the bug may have tried blending in with the leaf. I wonder what kind of bug that is. If you really pay attention to nature you may find things you don’t expect to see there.”

“Witch’s fingers and twin trees” by McKenna Conners
“Witch’s fingers and twin trees” by McKenna Conners

That’s frankly a lot more coherent than many another artist’s statement I’ve read. And it’s chock full of sciencey goodness. Magee noticed not only the animal, but its behavior, and he formed a hypothesis about that behavior. He also referred to it as an insect and a bug. Usually, conflating those terms is one of my pet peeves, but in this case, both are actually correct! The specimen is a southern green stinkbug of the order Hemiptera–the “true bugs.”

The DY-SCI students’ statements all follow a similar format, as they were inspired by John Muir Laws to explicitly “notice” and “wonder” something about their photos. From this uniform prompt, the photographers headed off in surprisingly different directions: “I wonder if anyone has walked on the pointy part of the building.” “I wonder if the landscape was always this way.”

The answers to those questions lie in the memories of museum staff, but I can help 7th-grader Arran Robinson, who looked at his “Lemons” and wondered, “Why are there even leaves in winter on this tree?”

"Lemons" by Arran Robinson, Grade 7
“Lemons” by Arran Robinson, Grade 7

Winter is a time when all but evergreen trees lose their leaves. Evergreen is sometimes carelessly used as a synonym for pine, but just as with bugs and insects, pines are only one kind of evergreen. Citrus is one of the many “broadleaf” evergreens, which can only survive in tropical or warm temperate winters like in balmy San Jose.

The DY-SCI Photography Showcase is on display on the second floor of the Children’s Discovery Museum until the end of September. DY-SCI will begin its second year in October and is still accepting applications.

Kids Explore the World Through Science Photography at San Jose’s Children’s Discovery Museum 3 September,2013Danna Staaf


Danna Staaf

Danna Staaf is a marine biologist, science writer, novelist, artist, and educator. She holds a PhD in Squid Babies from Stanford and a BA in Biology from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She helped found the outreach program Squids4Kids, illustrated The Game of Science, and blogs at Science 2.0. She lives in San Jose with her husband, daughter, and cats.

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