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Teaching Digital Citizenship in 2017

Teaching Digital Citizenship in 2017

Digital citizenship is often cited as the fastest changing subject in the K-12 curriculum. Thinking back 10 years to 2007, when I first began rolling out a digital citizenship program for my district, we were using iSafe, a curriculum that focused on keeping students safe from others. “Stranger danger” was a big concern, with much media coverage – and a bit of hype.

By 2008, we were concerned not only with keeping students safe from others, but also with keeping them safe from each other and from themselves. By now both the federal government and our state government had started issuing legal mandates, including the federal E-Rate/CIPA requirements. Through a district task force (which had morphed from the Internet Safety Task Force to the Digital Citizenship Task Force), we made a commitment that all students would be firmly grounded in what it means to be active, contributing (digital) citizens in all the communities to which they belong, within and beyond the school day. The Task Force agreed that out of multiple topics related to digital citizenship, we would focus on four themes: Taking a stand against cyberbullying, building a positive digital footprint, protecting privacy, and respecting intellectual property.

Elk Grove Unified's digital citizenship logo

We encouraged – and then required – that all schools teach digital citizenship, using whatever resources and teaching practices worked best for their school community and culture. For those who preferred having ready-to-go lessons at their fingertips, we recommended Common Sense Media’s k-12 curriculum. We even provided a suggested scope-and-sequence – which, to avoid an overload of content, did not include Common Sense Media’s media literacy lessons.

Times have changed.  In an age of “fake news,” media literacy should be embedded across the curriculum.

Fortunately, excellent FREE resources are available. In addition to Common Sense Media’s robust curriculum, Google, in partnership with iKeepSafe, Family Online Safety Institute, and ConnectSafely, has just released Be Internet Awesome, an interactive curriculum for grades 3-5, which includes Don’t Fall for Fake as one of five core topics.

Google's Interland Graphic

I had the good fortune to be invited to Google last Monday to join a team of Googlers and Google Certified Innovators to explore the Be Internet Awesome package and to participate in highly interactive panel and group discussions on the critical need to be teaching digital citizenship skills in the 2017-2018 school year and, as you can see from the video below, the importance of including parents in the conversations.

At the heart of the Be Internet Awesome curriculum is Interland, a “playful browser-based game that makes learning about digital safety interactive and fun.” Award-winning YA author John Green, has even joined the Google team and recorded messages for the Be Internet Awesome Challenge, a video series aimed at igniting conversations in the classroom and at home too on what it means to be smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave online; in other words, how to “BeInternetAwesome.”

As we head into the 2017-2018 school year, I want to acknowledge my appreciation for Common Sense Media, the Google team, and other national organizations, including:

for scrambling to find much needed resources for teaching digital citizenship in a “post-truth” era.

 

Teaching Kindness

Teaching Kindness

It’s become quite clear that modern education must encompass more than just academics, and that matters of the heart must be taken seriously and nurtured as a matter of priority. Lisa Currie

The Challenge: Can kindness and empathy really be taught?

This morning I re-read Lisa Currie’s October post for Edutopia: Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reducing Bullying. In the past couple of months, the impact of school-wide bullying in the Sacramento region has been disturbingly newsworthy: the tragic suicide of an 8th grader in one district; a bullying lawsuit in an adjoining district; a number of student suspensions for racist activities at another; and an embarrassing parent confrontation during a regional cyberbullying public event for another.  This recent stream of bad press highlights the need for districts to teach – and expect – kindness and civility (AKA good citizenship) – face-to-face and online.

In my current position as a technology integration specialist for a large public school district, I am a regular visitor in K-12 classrooms. Many school sites display banners and/or posters around the campus reflective of the sites’ character education programs. Many have added cyberbullying to their character ed programs or are offering it as a stand-alone part of their digital citizenship curriculum (all sites are required to have some type of #digcit program in place). I am proud of the way many of our students, particularly at the secondary level, have stepped up to the challenge of confronting bullying. At one site, for instance, through their Unbullyable project, I know students have had a positive impact on their own campus as well as on their feeder elementary and middle schools.

 

I am grateful I have not yet opened the SacBee to find one my district’s schools featured on the front page for hurtful or hateful acts. And I applaud the efforts of K-12 teachers across the district to support their students in standing up and speaking out against bullying/cyberbullying. Yet a number of times, at several high school campuses, as I make my way through throngs of students exiting at the end of the school day, I hear them yelling out to classmates with rude, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., comments. As tempting as it is to keep walking (it’s just kids being kids, no? … I’m not actually a faculty member here, right?, etc.), when I stop and face the offending student (who probably had not realized there was an adult in their midst), he or she basically always has the same reply: “Oh … Sorry… I was just kidding.” It takes my standing there a while longer before they will generally say once again that they are sorry. It think/hope the difference is that the first “Sorry” is because I heard them; the second “Sorry,” the one that matters, is for having said the unkind slur in the first place.

 

Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.” Maurice Elias, Rutgers University

Stepping Up to the Challenge

But really, can kindness be taught? Can school districts serve as hubs for promoting these essential, timeless life skills? As evidenced in the Unbullyable project, I think so. Part of my job involves checking that all sites are teaching digital citizenship. In the first quarter of the school year, each site submits how it plans to meet e-Rate requirements. So teaching a few lessons during an advisory period, for instance, from Common Sense Media’s wonderful offerings, meets the requirements and often generates thought-provoking, possibly behavior-changing conversations. But some sites go above and beyond the minimum requirements by supporting a variety of student-led initiatives. These sites recognize that, with bullying/cyberbullying, the most impactful campaigns are student-initiated and student-led. At several of these same sites, teachers are weaving discussions of current bullying issues (local, national, or global) into their literature and social studies units. Although I’ve not set up any type of formalized student surveys, I’d be willing to bet that at these sites bullying incidents are becoming less frequent and, hopefully, less devastating.

Tips and Resources for Teaching Kindness

So how do we teach kindness to our students? I believe in the power of stories to transform hearts and actions. Thankfully, there is a wealth of powerful literature, starting with picture books, that teachers can use to ignite ongoing conversations on what kindness looks like. Common Sense Media’s Books that Teach Empathy list is a great K-12 resource and includes some of my favorites, such as R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.

There are also a growing number of websites that offer action-based lessons, such as the National Council of Teachers of English’s  Read, Write, Think site. Their Living the Dream: 100 Acts of Kindness lesson/challenge would be a wonderful literature extension for primary grades to use in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s,legacy and upcoming birthday. For middle and high school, I recommend visiting Facing History and Ourselves and checking out their Bullying and Ostracism Collections for resources to help students “think critically about the dynamics and impact of bullying in schools and communities.”

It is from stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, recent or from the past, and the ensuing conversations, that students often come to understand the role of the bystander in allowing bad things to happen, from bullying on the playground to unthinkable, unspeakable acts of government sanctioned brutality. Students need examples of what it means to cross the line from bystander to upstander. They need opportunities for grade-level and cross-generation conversations on how the courage of a single person to stand up and speak out against bullying and social injustice can change the school climate or even the history of the world. One of my favorite upstander’s tools is the Upstanders, not Bystanders VoiceThread. I co-curate this VoiceThread with my Digital ID partner/National Writing Project colleague Natalie Bernasconi. In the two years since we started the Upstanders, not Bystanders project, we’ve come to value how all voices and stories matter, from our kindergarten contributors to our Rwandan genocide survivor. Teaching kindness and civility needs to start in the primary grades and continue through adulthood.

One tip I have for readers is to document the work of your school sites. In the Sacramento bullying samples I mentioned above, I believe three of the four districts are currently in the process of developing district-wide digital citizenship plans. The fourth district has curriculum and procedures in place, but refers to the program as digital literacy rather than digital citizenship. Although the broader title makes sense, in the likely need to CYA, I think it’s wise to intentionally single out how each site specifically implements the teaching of citizenship/digital citizenship. A simple procedure my district has put in place, in addition to each site submitting an implementation plan at the start of the year, is requiring each principal to sign a statement at the end of the year verifying that digital citizenship has been taught at his/her site.

As my district heads into the third year of requiring school sites to document their digital citizenship plans, one shift I’ve noticed is also one I strongly recommend: Rather than plug in your plan at the close of the school year (post testing), as some of our secondary sites initially did, start the year teaching kindness and civility. Whether it’s through a shared article, a story, an assembly, etc., if the activity is followed with classroom discussion, I am pretty sure you will find, as a number of our teachers have, that student buy-in will be greater as will instances of students actually putting their citizenship skills into practice. Once standards for online/offline behavior have been articulated across the site, students are more likely to speak up for others and to think twice before they hit the submit button.

Additional Resources

In addition to the resources listed above, another outstanding resource is the Cyberbullying Research Center. I love their Cyberbullying Quiz – What the Research Shows, and all the resources linked under their Related Posts section. This exceptional resource, and many more, are listed on the Stepping Up page of the Digital ID project – along with the invitation for your students to submit a PSA in the upcoming 2015 Digital ID PSA Challenge.

Edutopia! Lisa Currie’s article is part of the dynamic Bullying Prevention collection of resources on teaching kindness, empathy, and digital citizenship.

On my New Year’s Resolution List is the intent to update this post during the school year with samples of digital citizenship surveys for students, along with data on the results and impact of teaching kindness and civility. I welcome your input.

Best wishes to all school sites for a year of newsworthy positive accomplishments!

 

 

PBL Workshop – A year later

PBL Workshop – A year later

A year ago, a wonderful principal at one of my district’s elementary schools invited me to give a 1-hour workshop at his site on Project-Based Learning (PBL). I was thrilled to have the request come from an administrator and for the opportunity to organize my thoughts and resources into something useful for teachers.

I set to work on a Google slideshow, so that the teachers would have an easily-edible presentation to use with their students and parents. As you can see from the presentation (which includes the talking points), I pulled mainly from Edutopia and BIE (Buck Institute of Education), two rich, dynamic, free gold mines for PBL samples, resources, and best practices. The only thing missing from my slideshow was a PBL sample from my district, since this was an in-district workshop.  Thanks to the amazing work of 5th/6th grade teacher Jim Bentley and his students, that missing district element no longer exists.


On Thursday, one year later, I’ll be headed to Jim’s site to co-facilitate a PBL workshop that’s open to all district  teachers and administrators. What makes this workshop very special is that some of Jim’s students will also be presenting with us.

I celebrate that one year later, there is a small, but growing number of teachers in my district embracing PBL – with a common thread of having supportive administrators who recognize the value of students being engaged and feeling a genuine purpose for their work. So my idea is to offer our PBL workshop each quarter, with a different site/teacher(s)/students hosting the workshop.

In collaboration with Jim and other contributing PBL teachers, we’ll continue updating the slideshow. We’ll also be adding to our PBL digital handout. We would welcome more snippets of what PBL looks like from primary grades through high school, across the curriculum and content areas. If you have sources we should add, please share them via a comment.

A 60-Minute Introduction to PBL

A 60-Minute Introduction to PBL

On Wednesday, I will head over to an elementary site in my district to give a one-hour session on Project-Based Learning (PBL). I am thrilled for the invitation and the opportunity to initiate conversations on how technology can support teachers in taking student learning to new levels.

Within a 60-minute limit, my goal is to make clear that Common Core Standards are “the what” and PBL is “the how,” with technology there to help fuel the scope and impact of authentic learning.

Image from Ginger Lewman, ESSDACK, 2012

Thanks to the outstanding PBL resources available online, I did not have to start from scratch to build my presentation. Between Edutopia’s dynamic PBL resources, with Suzie Boss leading the way; the Buck Institute for Education’s PBL site; and Ginger Lewman’s PBL in the Primary Classroom LiveBinder and her Life Practice blog site – where I found her wonderful “At the Intersection” illustration  – gathering links to share with the teachers was like hitting the jackpot every time I Googled PBL.

My slideshow presentation walks teachers through the definition and some sample best practices, gleaned mainly from Edutopia. My goal for the remainder of the school year is to replace Edutopia best practices with PBL samples from my district.

I’ve included my notes in the slideshow – again crediting Suzie Boss, Ginger Lewman and BIE for much of my narrative.

If you have resources, samples, or activity ideas (appropriate for a 60-minute workshop), I hope you will jump into the conversation and leave a comment.

An Amazing Student – who pays tribute to an amazing teacher

An Amazing Student – who pays tribute to an amazing teacher

For California public schools and their 2012-13 budgets, so much depends on  November, when voters will have the opportunity to step up and support our schools by approving the governor’s proposed budget. Given the tsunami of teacher bashing still sweeping the country, I hope every district in the state – and nation – will make the effort to broadcast the efforts and accomplishments of talented teachers … teachers who change students’ lives for the better, thus benefiting society as a whole.

I personally have run out of fingers and toes to count the number of times parents and community members have shared with me about teachers in my district who have opened up new worlds of possibilities for a student.  Teachers like Sheldon High School’s Shawn Sullivan. But I’ll let David Garibaldi share a first-hand account:

Thank you Edutopia for sharing this inspiring story.  My goal for the upcoming school year it to highlight at least once a week an outstanding public school teacher – and I can already tell you that the school year will run out before I’ve barely tapped into my list:-)

 

Teaching Writing “Out of a Box” – Can we reverse the trend?

Teaching Writing “Out of a Box” – Can we reverse the trend?

Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. ” (National Writing Project)

Image from the National Writing Project

I was not taught how to teach writing as part of my teacher credential program.  It is through my 16-year affiliation with the National Writing Project that I have joined conversations, learned strategies, and shared best practices on helping students improve their writing skills – in ways that help them see themselves as writers and to actually look forward to writing.

Following my participation in the Area 3 Writing Project’s 1995 Summer Institute, as I headed into the new school year, I could almost immediately see the difference in my 6th graders’ attitudes and progress as I revamped my writing program.  By the time we headed to science camp, many had already transitioned from “having to write” to “getting to write.” I can still remember our first stop on the way to camp, where the students had an hour to explore a sandy beach, watch the seals and seagulls, and marvel at the pounding surf.  I noticed a number of students sitting silently, counting on their fingers.  I realized that, in their heads, they were counting syllables – for words they would include in the haiku poetry they would write down that night in their notebooks. Writers in the making!

Not surprisingly, in our current test-driven climate, many school districts have adopted scripted, formulaic writing programs with the belief that writing can be taught step-by-step out of a box program. Sadly, I think districts often value most programs they have to pay for – over the knowledge and expertise of their own teachers on effective ways to improve students’ writing.

I started my morning reading Paula Stacey’s Let’s Stop Teaching Writing, an article by that was included in today’s National Writing Project Daily. I value Paula’s reflections on teaching writing to 3rd graders and share her belief that “In our desire to help students engage in the process of writing, we have defined a process that really isn’t writing.”

I am currently out of the classroom, working as a technology integration specialist, and therefore am not in a situation of having to take a stand with an administrator or “writing” coach on teaching a boxed program. To those of you who are in that situation, I recommend initiating grade level and site discussions around the National Writing Project’s Core Principles:

  • Teachers at every level—from kindergarten through college—are the agents of reform; universities and schools are ideal partners for investing in that reform through professional development.
  • Writing can and should be taught, not just assigned, at every grade level. Professional development programs should provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.
  • Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.
  • There is no single right approach to teaching writing; however, some practices prove to be more effective than others. A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.
  • Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation. Collectively, teacher-leaders are our greatest resource for educational reform.”

Given the incredible amount of bureaucratic requirements and accountability issues administrators must deal with,  I think it’s easy for them to lose their vision of what students really need to thrive in today’s digital world. I recommend sending good resources their way. Resources such as Edutopia  to provide them with a window into “what works in education,” or the NCTE’s  working “definition of 2st century literacies,” or the NWP’s Digital Is  to inspire and re-energize them with a  “collection of ideas, reflections, and stories about what it means to teach writing in our digital, interconnected world.” Because writing matters.

 

Advancing Network Uses – Best grant ever!

Advancing Network Uses – Best grant ever!

Lucky me! In the last school year, I received an Advancing Networks Uses Grant (ANU), a wonderful grant that allowed me to showcase how technology is changing classroom practice  in my district.

I titled my ANU proposal Teach 21, and promised to document 21 classroom examples that would make visible effective integration of technology across grade levels and subject areas. Using an Edutopia-like model, for each classroom visit, I teamed with a videographer (Krishna Harrison-Munoz or SECC’s Doug Niva, Jon Joiner, or Abbey Jaraski). Showing good teaching is always more powerful than simply telling.

So in a year when teacher-bashing in the media has become a common occurrence, I was seeing what the public really needed to see: good things happening in public education.

All 21 lessons – plus a bonus lesson – are available on the Teach 21 wiki. For a quick sampling of the scope and variety, you might want to visit:

Several lessons were greatly extended through the use of interactive videoconferencing (with PORTS, NASA, and Magpi). Many of the lessons also include online samples of student products. All of the lessons tap into technology and extend teaching and learning in ways not possible with traditional textbook-driven lessons.

In a year of mud slinging and deep cuts to public education, I want to broadcast in as many ways as possible the awesome work of my ANU colleagues/mentors/friends. I also want to thank them for welcoming me into their classrooms and for inspiring me in more ways than I could have imagined. The ANU Teach 21 grant truly = my best grant ever:-)

Big Thinkers: James Paul Gee

Big Thinkers: James Paul Gee

I was introduced to James Paul Gee‘s research on gaming in education several years ago at a National Writing Project Annual Meeting workshop. NWP colleague and mentor Peter Kittle referenced Gee’s work with the comment (something like) “As educators, we really need to be thinking about when kids are reading and writing when they don’t have to be.”  Ever since, I’ve hoped for an opportunity to hear James Gee present.

Thanks to the growing bank of outstanding resources posted to Edutopia’s Big Thinkers site, I just got my wish. In the interview below, Gee puts gaming – as well as teaching and learning – into a 21st century nutshell.

Might make for a great conversation starter at your next faculty meeting, no? And in case you’re looking for it, here’s the link to Henry Jenkin’s white paper on participatory culture that Gee mentions.

Heading off to search for “fan fiction writing”:-)

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom

The great films have not been made yet. The ones who will make them are out there, though, riding a skateboard.” – Robert Altman

Why would a classroom teacher at any grade level or in any subject area consider adding one more activity into an already jam-packed curriculum? This is a question I ask myself repeatedly when teaching the filmmaking workshops I offer through the Area 3 Writing Project and through my school district.

Last October the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) invited me, as part of their SEVA teacher training series, to give a workshop that would provide teachers with the justification to bring video production into the K12 curriculum. Having a workshop deadline to meet was just the motivation I needed to sit down and articulate why I believe all students should have access to filmmaking (aka digital storytelling, video production, etc.) as part of their instructional day.

I  had three arguments in mind before even turning on the computer.  Within an hour, I had my presentation ready to go. Three arguments expanded to six – and I was on a roll, having discovered in the process how strongly I felt about the topic.

The following week, a group of teachers willing to rise early on a Saturday filed into my SEVA workshop. I lucked out. Not only was this a very awake and participatory group, they also wanted to return to their own sites and present the case for filmmaking. Based the number of requests for my PowerPoint, SEVA organizer Doug Niva suggested uploading my slideshow to their website site.

As much as I appreciate the number of slideshows educators around the world have generously uploaded to such venues as YouTube, or SlideShare, or their blogs, I wish more content producers would also provide a written piece to document how they moved from an initial burning question or challenge to a final product or solution. What follows is my attempt to share my personal learning journey, an experience that has been shaped by first-hand interactions and observations in classrooms (mainly grades 4-12) and the research and advise of others, beginning with filmmaker Nikos Theodosakis and continuing with filmmaker and literacy coach (Los Angeles USD) Mathew Needleman and many colleagues from the National Writing Project (NWP).

So let’s return to my Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom presentation, starting with slide/argument #1:

#1: Addressing ethical use of the Internet – Picture the following scenario: an elementary teacher (yes, in my district), Googles herself. To her dismay she finds that on a day she was out, one of her students used a cell phone to film a lovely little scene of classroom chaos,  to which his middle school brother later helped him flavor with some racist, homophobic words, and then upload to YouTube. As school counselors in my district scramble to deal with an explosion of cyberbullying issues,  I argue that teaching the ethical use of video and the Internet must be woven into the elementary curriculum, before the onslaught of adolescent (mis)behavior.

In the case of the above siblings, the parents were clueless as to how their children were choosing to use both their cell phones and the computer in the kids’ bedroom. To illustrate the fact that too many students lack an ethical grounding in the appropriate use of the Internet,  I downloaded a YouTube video of a student getting his head bashed against a locker and linked it to Slide #1.

Try doing an Internet search on “locker room fight” and you’ll get back literally hundreds of links, such as the Norwood Middle School’s claim to fame. Granted, middle school is all about making wrong decisions, but what if districts wove media education into the elementary curriculum? It is my hope that such a program could play a pivotal role in keeping students safe from each other (i.e., cyberbullying) and from themselves (i.e, sexting) and in reversing what has become an alarming trend, too often ending tragically.

#2: Promoting critical media consumption – Thanks to support from the National Writing Project, I had the opportunity to attend last summer’s NCTE Institute on 21st Century Literacies.  The seed for this post was planted when Ernest Morrell took to the podium to deliver his Critical Literacy and Urban Youth: Pedagogies of Access, Dissent, and Liberation keynote address. Ernest opened with four questions that begged for discussion:

  1. What will be demanded of students in terms of literacy in the 21st century?
  2. In what ways is the nature of literacy changing?
  3. How should the discipline of English change in response to the changes in literacy?
  4. What are the ways that your students practice literacy when they are not in class?

No surprise that he answered question #4 with:

  • filmmaking
  • video games
  • virtual worlds – adopting different identities

Slide #2 is similar to one Ernest used, maybe not the same Seventeen Magazine cover, but definitely the same image from 50 Cents, complete with its phallic symbols and suggestions of violence.  I don’t know that the images from the covers of Seventeen, with the pitch, for instance,  on how to Get amazing abs!, actually promote any safer or healthier life style than 50 Cents‘ collection.  Given that the age range of Seventeen readers spans from 12-17,  I argue that there is a critical need to provide upper elementary and middle school students with first-hand opportunities to explore and manipulate media so that they might become as skilled in reading and interpreting images as they are with decoding traditional text.

#3: Providing students with multiple ways to access core content – No matter how many times I visit CogDogRoo’s (Alan Levine) 50+ Ways to Tell a Story, each time I find new Web 2.0  resources and tools for incorporating digital storytelling across the curriculum. Whereas filmmaking was once a medium that required expensive equipment and major technical expertise,  “we are at the point now where we can do some very compelling content creation with nothing more complex than a web browser.” Why would we not offer students filmmaking opportunities and options? To answer that question, I’ll call on an elementary school SEVA film producer and a middle school SEVA film producer to share their perspectives on how the process of filmmaking translates into learning venues.

A year ago, I drafted the RFP for my district’s application for Round 7 of the EETT Grant.  My goal was to integrate Web 2.0 tools into the 4th grade (Year One) and 5th grade (Year Two) English/Language Arts program.  In thinking back to the one-page summary that must precede the grant narrative, I remember pondering over this sentence: “Target teachers will participate in 42 hours of professional development on 21 century technologies followed by hands-on explorations with specific Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, podcasts, and multimedia applications) that will ‘power up’ Open Court lessons and engage students in the learning process.”  Given that every administrator will say “Yes!” when asked if he/she would like to be involved in a technology grant, often without understanding the professional development required to support teachers in adopting new tools, I hesitated to be too specific about exactly which ‘multimedia applications’ would be included, knowing that over a two-year period, new tools would emerge, adding to an already robust menu (i.e., Movie Maker2/iMovie, PhotoStory 3, VoiceThread, Animoto). But I definitely did not want the grant to be all about learning PowerPoint!

At the October EETT kickoff meeting, I noted a look of shear panic by at least four or five teachers as we started the day by connecting for an interactive videoconference with Mathew Needleman and ended the day by passing out a complete camera set (bag, tripod, microphone, two cameras) for each site. I wondered if I was being overly ambitious in my vision for taking student voices beyond the classroom via video production.  But eight months later, as we approached the end of the school year and with movie making projects happening at all three EETT sites, I had the opportunity to observe students firsthand as they moved though various stages of multimedia writing. EETT teacher Tara McCartney’s commitment to providing her students with multiple modes of writing is clearly making language arts standards more attainable for her 4th graders:

#4 Supporting a collaborative learning environment – In his book The Director in the classroom: How filmmaking Inspires Learning, Nikios Theodosakis points out that “Filmmaking is a collaborative art, requiring dozens of passionate craftspeople to bring about a focused vision onto the screen.  Each brings with them their own experiences and insights and makes the final film richer and truer than the director originally imagined” (p 7). Yet not all students have access to such 21st century skills as collaborating, connecting, and creating . The more high-poverty + low-performing a school site is, the greater the pressure is on administrators and teachers to deliver instruction per the ‘sit ‘n get’ model. I stand in awe of those educators who seek innovative ways to make learning engaging and memorable – despite top-down mandates that can lead to what teacher/writer Kelly Gallagher refers as “apartheid programs,” effectively denying students access to the “participatory culture” described in Henry Jenkin’s white paper.

Florin High School English teacher Bob LeVin is one of the innovators.   I met Bob five years ago when I sent out an email to my district’s Technology Advisory Committee asking if anyone knew an English teacher who might be interested connecting with other classrooms in the Youth Voices online project. Bob’s enthusiastic response was the start of a yearly connection in which we meet at the start of each new school year to talk about tools and possibilities for taking his students’ voices beyond the confines of their school site and and increasingly impoverished community.  What began in the first two years with a productive exploration of blogging has evolved into an annual integration of filmmaking into Bob’s program.  Former student Michael Fuentes explains well the benefits of making a movie:

On the ‘same side of the tracks’ as Florin High School, Prairie Elementary School students in Lesley Mckillop’s  4th grade classroom have started the long journey to the red carpet, SEVA (Student Educational Video Awards) style. As Lesley’s young filmmakers made their way onto the stage to receive an Honorable Mention Award for Blog Safely!, I wondered if the crowd filling Sacramento’s historic Crest Theater to capacity understood what it meant to have students thanking their principal for driving them to the awards ceremony. Lesley, an innovator and an EETT teacher, came to me following the October kickoff and shared that she knew nothing about technology. Her initial reaction to bringing filmmaking to her 4th graders was the feeling of being completely overwhelmed while at the same time wanting to get on board and, more importantly, bring her class on board. By the time the school year drew to a close, all of her students had participated in the making of one or more movie productions, and for a handful, including the young man who is the last to step up to the microphone in the clip I’ve inserted at the end of this post, filmmaking has rocked their worlds.

# 5 Responding to current research – During the October SEVA workshop, I shared some snippets from Daniel Pink‘s A Whole New Mind and Thomas Friedman‘s The World Is Flat, passed around my Time Magazine issue, and promoted the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills – all of which point to the many “c” words associated with new literacies, such as  connecting, collaborating, and creating .

In April, I traveled down the road to Berkeley for a NWP Digital Is meeting, where I had the good fortune to meet Liz Stephens. As an opening activity, the meeting coordinators asked our cozy group of 12 to think about and share a “whack on the head” about the intersection between writing and technology.  Liz’s statement that  writing in a digital age is “more about ‘frames’ than ‘stages’ was an instant jolt for me and brought to mind recent conversations with teachers and students, such as Xavier Carillo (former student of Bob LeVin), who shares a “no duh”:

In a test-driven climate, it’s easy for teachers and administrators to view filmmaking as a ‘when-testing-is-over’ activity. I think if they could sit in on a session or two with students from my EETT classrooms, they would see that, unlike worksheets, as students delve into their filmmaking projects, a major shift happens. They typically begin a project with the idea of “completing an assignment.” And then the shift happens: they see themselves as producers of content that others will see and benefit from.  They have – with much enthusiasm and pride – ascended to the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (as revised in 2001 by Anderson and Krothwahl).

#6 Engaging students -Well this one is pretty much a no brainer.  No matter what their access is during or beyond the school day, students like technology. From brainstorming, to storyboarding, to filming, to narrating, to editing – many students find a niche in the filmmaking process that pushes them as learners, as contributors, as team players. As they shift from consumers to content producers, there is also a shift in ownership of the learning. Step into their classrooms, and you will see the collaborative efforts start to happen, you will feel the synergy, and you will witness new levels of student engagement.

It’s been my privilege over the past few years to watch colleague (same district, same Writing Project) Jim Faires weave filmmaking into his 6th grade curriculum at Butler Elementary School. Through filmmaking, Jim is often on the receiving end of inspiration.

But how does a teacher justify integrating filmmaking in a textbook and test-prep driven school day? In my state, California Standards for the Teaching Profession provide a ready-made argument. Checkout the first standard: ENGAGING AND SUPPORTING ALL STUDENTS IN LEARNING:


Teachers build on students’ prior knowledge, life experience, and interests to achieve learning goals for all students. Teachers use a variety of instructional strategies and resources that respond to students’ diverse needs. Teachers facilitate challenging learning experiences for all students in environments that promote autonomy, interaction and choice. Teachers actively engage all students in problem solving and critical thinking within and across subject matter areas. Concepts and skills are taught in ways that encourage students to apply them in real-life contexts that make subject matter meaningful. Teachers assist all students to become self-directed learners who are able to demonstrate, articulate, and evaluate what they learn.

Back to my initial question: How does a teacher find the time to integrate one more activity into the school day? Take three minutes to watch Lesley McKillop’s students as they ‘walk the red carpet.’ At the end of the this on-the-spot video, shot collectively (without a tripod) by her students, Lesley provides an answer to that important and often-asked question.

The Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom from Gail Desler on Vimeo.

I actually started this post several months ago but didn’t publish it, thinking there were probably more points and definitely more resources that I could add. I’ve recently rediscovered, for instance, Edutopia’s What Works in Public Education site. A search on ‘filmmaking the classroom’ brought up a list of great articles – more than enough to justify my hitting the Publish button. If you have ideas and/or resources to add, I invite you to join me in this conversation and post a comment. I’m pretty sure my six arguments could easily be expanded to a dozen or more!

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