Developed by Julie Crace
Springboro High School
Grade Level: Middle School & High School
During the Advanced Teacher Training Seminar in New York City, Muse Machine advisors are always exposed to inspirational speakers. Muse regularly brings producers, singers, actors and directors into the seminar so that the teachers can hear firsthand what it is like to be working at a high level in the performing arts. In 2018, one particular speaker struck a note for many teachers. Michelle Agins, a photojournalist from the New York Times, spoke about her work and the struggles she faced as a black woman trying to be successful in a male-dominated field. Not only did she make it to the top in her field, she wonthe Pulitzer Prize in 2001. Julie Crace from Springboro High School was so inspired by Michelle’s talk that she and two teachers from Wogaman Middle School in Dayton teamed up to bring a photo-inspired lesson to all of their students. The students and teachers met at the Dayton Metro Library and took photos together. Everyone was a bit nervous about how the joint meeting would go. Much to the relief and joy of all, they worked together with ease. It was a lesson learned far beyond expectations and beyond the classroom!
The students are going to learn about Michelle Agins and her life as a journalist. Composition rules will be reviewed. Students will take photographs of Dayton communities using journalistic styles. They will enter their photography in a contest judged by Michelle.
(Visual Arts) 1PE Analyze interdisciplinary connections that influence social and cultural contexts of visual imagery. 3PE Compare and contrast the styles in artworks by artists of different cultures and historical trends. 4PE Explain how individual artists impact cultural developments.
(Writing) W.11-12.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
The students will create photos that portray the cultures in their neighborhoods. They will identify the composition rules that were used in their photography.
Structured Inquiry: I will lecture/show the Michelle Agins interview and discuss good photograph composition. Students will experiment with angles and subjects and will analyze which photographs best use the composition rules to enter into the contest.
Rubric. Creating photos that depict their neighborhoods with good use of the composition rules.
Google Slide presentation about Michelle Agins. Google slide presentation with composition rules and samples of Agins’ photographs.
Teacher Information: C-SPAN video interview with Michelle Agins and information that I learned about Michelle during the ATTS talk back with Agins.
- Prior Knowledge: General understanding of good use of composition and basic grammar and writing skills.
- Student Voice: Students will meet students from other schools/communities and work/learn with them.
- Vocabulary: Pulitzer Prize, Journalism, Rule of Thirds, Elements and Principles of Design (see bottom of page).
Evidence/Assessment of Outcomes
The students will use real world application to provide evidence of learning. They will use journalism skills to take photos implementing the rule of thirds and elements and principles of design and will identify them in the attached rubric.
The students will leave this lesson with information on a career in art/photography and better understand what a journalist does on a daily basis. They will also learn about the educational background of a photo journalist and gain knowledge about the challenges and benefits of this career. Students will also learn about how African Americans and women have progressed in the working world and see that Michelle was a leader in this movement.
Prompt: Students will watch the interview of Michelle Agins on YouTube and another short video following her on a photo shoot.
Hooks: Discuss women in history that have paved the way for women’s rights particularly in the work force today.
Essential Question(s): How do artists shape, as well as reflect, a culture? How do we decide if the world as it is today, is better or worse than it was in the past? How can one individual’s experience reflect the struggles of an entire nation? What would journalists photograph in your neighborhood? How do we critique/discuss good/bad photography?
Resources: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Panel: A Celebration of Black Women in Photojournalism (YouTube).
Teacher and Student Performance Tasks
- Day 1: Students will watch the YouTube interview with Michelle Agins and the short video “On Assignment with Michelle Agins”. Teacher will go through the Google Slide presentation about Agins and discuss other women in history that have impacted the Women’s Rights Movement.
- Day 2: Teacher/students will discuss Michelle’s photography using terminology from the Elements, Principles of Design and rule of thirds handout and show the Google Slide presentation.
- Day 3: Springboro HS students will meet Wogaman MS students at the Dayton Public Library. We will first do some quick icebreakers to get to know each other. We will discuss/review about Michelle and show samples of her photography along with some quick tips in getting good photographs. Students will then work with a buddy from the other school to get some good photos inside and outside of the Dayton Public Library. They will utilize the elements, principles of design and composition rules discussed in class.
- Day 4: Follow up lesson: Springboro HS students will pick their four best photos from the field trip and share them with the Wogaman MS students. Wogaman students will write articles to go along with the photos. The articles will be sent back to and Springboro students and they will Photoshop the photos and articles to look like a newspaper. Both schools will choose one of their four photographs to enter in contest judged by Michelle. All will be printed and displayed at Muse.
Final Review: Students will complete the attached exit slip and graded on a rubric.
Students really seemed to enjoy this lesson. They particularly enjoyed the field trip to the Metro Library with the students from Wogaman. Their photos speak for themselves!
Bio: Michelle Agins
Michelle Agins joined The New York Times as a photographer in June 1989. Prior to that, she had been a staff photographer for The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer since December 1987.
Ms. Agins began her career in photography as an intern for The Chicago Daily News and in less than a year became a sports photographer.
In 1975 and part of 1976, she became affiliated with Project Upward Bound and taught photography first at Loyola University and later, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. From 1976 to 1977, she worked briefly as a photojournalist for the South Shore Sentinel Newspaper in Chicago.
In 1977, Ms. Agins became a photographer and audio-visual specialist for the City of Chicago’s Department of Human Services and in 1983 she switched to the mayor’s press office where she became the mayor’s office photographer, a position she held until 1987 when she joined The Charlotte Observer.
Ms. Agins’ photographs have been widely exhibited. In 1981, in Chicago, she received the Mayor’s Award for Photographic Excellence and staged a one-woman show titled “I Saw You.” She exhibited in a show titled “Faces” at the 1987 National Black Journalists Conference in Miami, and in 1990 she was awarded citations by the New York Association of Black Journalists and the New York Associated Press.
Ms. Agins has received two Pulitzer Prize nominations, first in 1990 for her coverage of the Bensonhust protests and then again in 1995 for her work on the Times series “Another America: Life on 129th Street.” In 2001 Ms. Agins and her colleagues won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for their series “How Race is Lived in America.”
Studio Vocabulary and Definitions
- Elements of Design: Line, Shape, Space, Form, Color, Value.
- Pulitzer Prize: An award for an achievement in American journalism, literature, or music. There are thirteen made each year.
- Journalism: The activity or profession of writing or photographing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast.
- Rule of Thirds: Breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have nine parts and then placing the focal point in one of the intersecting points. It also suggests that you place the horizon in the bottom third of the composition.
The PDF version of the lesson plan includes Google Slide images and the art rubric: click here to view/download.