This project began as something teacher-centered, but (thankfully) it fell apart. Later, I repackaged it and spun it into something that was much more student-centered and, therefore, cooler.
It began when my colleague, Mike Kaufman and I decided to make a series of history-related videos for our classes. The videos would feature the acting talents of ourselves and other teachers, so the students could instantly connect to the stories.
So, around May of 2015 we wrote a number of scripts and began our filming.
It was much tougher than we thought. You need to gather equipment, props, locations, willing/talented actors, and that most elusive of qualities: free time. There are shots from various angles. There are goofs and technical glitches that necessitate reshoots. After all that, you have to sit down and edit the whole thing together.
Our grand plan was to film about a dozen videos.
We made one. And we didn’t even get around to making an audio track for it. Buh.
Fast forward to the 2016 school year and I was beginning a unit on Christopher Columbus. I remembered the one video my colleagues and I actually managed to shoot – the silent movie about Columbus and his dealings with the King and Queen of Spain. It stars our 7th Grade Math teacher, Tim Kennedy, as Columbus, my colleague Mike as King Ferdinand of Spain, and Mike’s wife, Jen Legra, as Queen Isabella.
The video, despite the lack of sound, went over really well with students. They loved seeing their teachers playing out this story. And, from a teacher POV, it really did help students understand what was happening.
Later, I decided to create an assessment activity to the video. It seemed a shame to simply play the video and forget about it. The question was, what could I come up with?
It seems so obvious now, but – duh! – I decided to challenge my students to take the information we had gathered about Columbus in class and then apply it. Students would create a script for my soundless video.
To provide students with as much creative freedom as possible, I made the end-product as open as possible. Students could deliver to me the following:
- A hand-written script
- A typed script in Google Docs
- A storyboard of the video
- A comic/illustrated version of the video
- An actual recording of a voiceover for the existing video
- Their own version of the video – complete with video and audio
The most surprising thing to me was how many students chose the latter option – making their own video. And, what also surprised me was how quickly they jumped into the filming. One group actually filmed a quick scene at the back of my room and I didn’t even notice them at work!
Some groups set up scenes in other classrooms and the teachers in those rooms sent me “behind-the-scene” videos of the action. It became a big deal around the middle school for a few days.
Damage to classroom supplies – I have a lot of costumes/props in my room (hats, crowns, wigs, coats, etc.) and students were anxious to use them in their videos. But, young people can be a little careless and it was disheartening to find coats rolled up in a ball on the floor, items broken, and other items simply missing. In one case, items were removed from my room when I wasn’t there – somehow students convinced cleaning staff to let them in my room and take items. Shocking. It is tempting to freak on the students and ban the use of these items for future projects, but one has to realize that the majority of students do respect other people’s’ belongings and do return things in the same condition in which they found them. Punishing the group for the actions of a few really takes away the fun and energy that the costumes/props were designed to bring. And, a little wear and tear does mean that objects were being used for the purpose they were designed for. Having said that, if you are at all sensitive about your stuff, then take the time to set boundaries for borrowing supplies and expectations for how they are to be treated and returned.
Difficulty in submitting work – When students create videos on software they are not familiar with, there are often headaches when it comes time to submit the work. I had a student come to me with an Apple iMovie video and they had no clue how to share it with me. The student didn’t know how to name the file or where to find the file on their laptop’s hard drive. Another potential concern is a video uploaded to YouTube, but marked “private” so you can’t view it. It is frustrating that students don’t come to me for help until the very moment I am collecting the work in class. It pays to remind the students that they need to work out any tech hiccups PRIOR to the due date!
While some of the work was ho-hum and predictable, other students really blew my mind with their creativity and audacity. It made me grateful for offering students so many options for delivering the ideas. Some samples are posted below.
Applications in other Subject Areas
I was reflecting about this project with my colleague, Mike Kaufman, and he threw a ton of other possible applications my way:
Science – teacher films an experiment and students must either a) duplicate the experiment in their own video, or b) students narrate teacher’s video, explaining what happened and why.
Drama – students could be given a link to an actual silent movie and have to dub in dialogue, showing that they understand what is happening in the story.
Math – the teacher films an equation being solved on the board. Students must explain, through an audio track, what is happening and why.
Metacognition via Confessional Videos
Another option my colleague suggested is for students to film a “confessional” style video – like the ones they use regularly on reality TV shows, or in scripted shows like The Office or Modern Family. Here, students are alone and making a private video, providing private insight about an idea or historical personality. For instance, they could pretend to be George Washington at Valley Forge. In character, they could be having a frank confession about challenges faced or mistakes made.
The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and your openness.
But, enough of my blabbing. Here’s what you really need to see:
Give your students room to be creative and then get the heck out of their way! You’ll love the results!
Bonus – a colleague interviewed me about the experience for a video blog. Hopefully this provides a little more insight!