Also run in March 2005 for the Benesse Corporation 50th Anniversary Exhibition Visions for Education (Okayama)

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workshop: Time looking glass

Keio Gijuku Yochisha Primary School, Tokyo (2003)

Early in the summer of 2003, we visited a class of third-year pupils at Keio Gijuku Yochisha Primary School and ran a workshop-style lesson with homeroom teacher Hideki Suzuki (photo).
The lesson had its origins in the germ of an idea that emerged when we were putting together A DAY for the Time! Time! Time! exhibition at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

About the workshop:
During the making of A DAY, we combined video editing software with the interval shooting feature of the digital camera to produce time-lapse video.

As we shot more and more photos, we began to comprehend the possibilities of this as a new kind of tool for observing nature.
Apparatus such as microscopes and astronomical telescopes allow us to observe things outside the scale of the human body. This could be similar: a tool for modifying the scale of time to observe nature; a sort of temporal magnifying glass.

We would take cameras into the classroom, where the children would decide for themselves what they wanted to photograph and do so, then investigate things they noticed in the resulting images, and present their visuals and findings to their classmates. For their research, we would have them make use of the various resources accessible at a primary school, such as the library and the science teacher. Thus we hoped to run a kind of workshop-style lesson.

The workshop would not only extend the children’s expressive capabilities, but allow them to share the joy of observing things closely. They would develop the ability to form questions from their observations.
It would be a mini-project with the teacher Hideki Suzuki acting as the lynchpin for discussion about what the children discovered.

Week 1:
May 20. We visit a class of third-year pupils at Keio Gijuku Yochisha Primary School, and after a brief greeting and introduction, show the children several examples of the time-lapse photography images used to make the exhibit (see video above). As they view the images, we encourage them to mention anything that catches their eye. “The leaves are moving!” “An insect landed on the flower.” “See the shadow of the cloud!” And on it goes.
Change the time scale, and from everyday scenes we take for granted emerge all kinds of discoveries.

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The children split into groups of four, and begin eagerly discussing what they want to photograph.

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Each group writes three ideas on a piece of paper provided by Mr. Suzuki. Things that can be photographed at the school: what will we see if we take pictures of what? The children discuss their ideas with the teacher, and eventually 11 different photography plans are formulated.

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Using time at recess and after school, the children promptly commence preparations for shooting. Here we see them photographing a planter of cabbages.

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Note the white wall behind the planter. Nothing on it, is there? Later they make a surprising discovery.

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The other groups start taking their photos too. Now on to the second week.

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Week 2:
May 27. Following some rudimentary lessons from LW, Mr. Suzuki takes the pictures shot by the children and assembles them on video files (a mammoth task for which he graciously gives up his weekend). The groups will now get their first view of the photos they’ve taken.

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They are fascinated by the footage they’ve shot, running the videos over and over again. Next they tap the cursor to view them one frame at a time. They start to discover lots of things that never occurred to them before they took the pictures, as well as things that puzzle them.

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This group photographed cabbages. In the footage, green caterpillars are chomping away at an incredible pace. Then several of the caterpillars crawl over the edge of the planter and out of the frame. Where are they going? The pupils look up the cabbage white butterfly in an encyclopedia and find that the caterpillars move about in search of a place to spin their cocoons.

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An immediate search around the planter reveals three caterpillars that have now formed cocoons on the adjacent wall!!

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This group observes a hamster, discovering that “It has favorite places,” “It eats at night,” and wondering “Why doesn’t it drink much water?” and “Why is it active at night?”

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A tortoise kept in the classroom is photographed. “Its wet shell dries in an instant.” “It hardly ever lowers its head.” “How come it can twist its neck that much without spraining it?”

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A zelkova tree in the schoolground. “Why are there no birds on it?” They notice that behind it, there is traffic on the expressway all night. “Why are those cars on the road?” A tough question perhaps, until the teacher supplies information from the Metropolitan Expressway Company, in which they find a graph showing a breakdown of the number of vehicles on the road by purpose. Apparently this was the breakthrough they needed to solve the mystery.

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A stag beetle in the classroom. “It’s always hiding under the log, so what will it do if the log is moved?” To find out, the log is taken out and the beetle filmed for another 24 hours.

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Twenty-four hours in the library. Interested in what happens to belongings forgotten by other pupils, the children apparently go to ask the person in charge of cleaning the school.

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A catfish. “It’s nocturnal but it moves about an awful lot during the day as well.” “It yawned (?)!” At one stage the fish seems to be eating waterweed, but the photos have in fact captured it devouring a pond snail. Later the children investigate and find that catfish are carnivores.

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The eastern sky. “The color gradually fades as the moon rises in the sky.” “Why is the bottom of the moon slightly red?”

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Cucumber vines. The children notice that “the vines wind around the thicker stakes first, then the thinner” and that “the tendrils revolve searching for something to grasp onto”.

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An eel. “It doesn’t usually look like it’s moving, but actually it moves a lot” and “It’s still awake at midnight.”

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A tree called a juneberry in the schoolground. Wondering if “it really is growing, because it doesn’t seem to be,” the children start a daily fixed-point observation. This day there just happened to be a PTA meeting on. Some children used the footage to count how many people attended.

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The aim of this exercise is to give children an opportunity to rediscover the world. We wanted the children not only to learn techniques for self-expression, but also to get a taste for how interesting close-up observation can be. To this Mr. Suzuki added that he hoped it would help the children learn to formulate questions, and develop the ability to take a fresh look at things they would normally take for granted.

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Taking with them their photographs, the children go to ask science teacher Mr. Takanashi some questions. It’s really great to be able to run this workshop at a school, where specialist teachers can help the children learn while joining them in making new discoveries and being surprised (and occasionally excited).

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The library is buzzing as everyone goes there to look things up. Even if you find the right book, there’s no guarantee what you want to know will be written there plain to see. Perhaps the children are getting some idea how hard it can be to find information. And so on to the third week.

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Last day:
June 3. Having completed their investigations, each group shows their video to the others and presents what they have noticed and learned.

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Not yet very accustomed to speaking in front of others, reading from their scripts the children seem more tense than usual. Some however manage to get through the whole talk without referring to their notes.

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Then, a final presentation from Living World. Two weeks earlier we had observed the opening and closing of an oxalis plant, so if the plant was placed out of the sun entirely, how would the leaves move? The experiment lasts only a day, but confirms the influence of both the biological clock in the oxalis, and the sun’s traverse across the sky. It was an explanation on the run though, and perhaps a little difficult for the children.

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A few days later, the class came to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation to see Time! Time! Time! Thanks a lot guys!
(Photos: Hideki Suzuki, Living World)

Held: 2003.5.20 – 6.3
Planned by Living World
Conducted by Hideki Suzuki (Keio Gijuku Yochisha Primary School) + Living World

Equipment assistance: Ricoh Japan (Corporate Design Center, Yuko Suzuki)
Special thanks to Mahoro Uchida, Akiko Yabumoto (MeSci); Yusuku Iwai, Tsugumasa Suzuki

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