Muddling through the blogosphere

Filmmaking in the Classroom – a different spin on “scripted”


Tuesday night I co-facilitated an event I will not forget for a long time to come, Elk Grove Unified School District’s First Annual Document Your Local History and Culture Film Festival. The evening was the culminating event for a collaborative project and journey I started about six month’s ago with David Byrd, a very gifted history teacher (and A3WP Teacher Consultant) who currently directs our district’s Teaching American History Grant.

A year ago, David and I had the good fortune to attend a workshop one county over (Placer County) on filmmaking in the classroom. We met via an interactive videoconference with an independent filmmaker from Canada Nikos Theodosakis. Nikos is passionate about the need for young people to have opportunities for learning and thinking and creating and growing. He sees filmmaking as a great avenue for students to realize their highest potential. By the end of the workshop, David and I made a commitment to bring filmmaking into our classrooms, in whatever format would work best for teachers willing to work with us. We headed back to our district with little more than a vision, but no real idea of how to make it happen or how it would all turn out. David pointed out that if we spent too long just thinking and talking and planning, instead of just jumping in and trying to muddle our way through it, the idea would die and be thrown on that great heap of other ideas in education call “Great Ideas That could Have Made a Difference…But No One Had the Courage to Try.”

Thanks to David, we could tap into a couple of funding sources: Our district’s Cal Serve Grant, which supports service learning for students, funded 12 digital history kits, including a digital camera, microphone and audio equipment and an external hard drive. Our district’s Teaching American History Grant, which supports professional learning for Humanities teachers, brought Nicko Theodosakis in live from Canada, via videoconference, for two all-day sessions. I knew I could count on support from my department, EGUSD Tech Services. We were ready.

In January we launched the project: “Documenting Your Local History and Culture.” Twelve teachers volunteered to pilot the project. Representing classrooms from grades 4 -12, we had a great group, ready to experiment and learn with us. We starting thinking about the possibility of having a spring film festival. The teachers would have less than four months to guide their student filmmakers through the process of creating documentaries. Many teachers started with one idea or concept of how this would work…and they finished with quite another. There were a lot of frustration along the way, mostly of a technical nature.

But the teachers persevered and their students persevered. And on the evening of May 29, over 100 teacher, students, and guests assembled in the Little Theater of Florin High School for our first-ever film festival, in which 30 films produced by teams of 2 – 20 students were previewed and showcased. It was an amazing event!

As the teachers stepped into the limelight along side their students to share something about the learning experience and to accept accolades and awards, David and I stood back in awe of all that this group had accomplished and in recognition of the power of filmmaking to take students beyond the four walls of the classroom.

This post is in response to two separate but related conversations shared with me on the heels of the highly successful film festival:

  1. From Florin High School teacher Bob LeVin: Florin HS will possibly become a remediation high school in the fall, which basically means no electives, just remedial classes. Having spent time in his wonderful English classes, where students are given opportunities to move beyond paper and #2 pencil tasks and are encouraged to work in teams to solve problems in order to produce multimedia projects, I am hoping that come fall, FHS will remain a traditional high school. But, not to worry, Bob has assured me that filmmaking will continue in his classes. All students should have access to a curriculum that prepares them to live in a rapidly changing world.
  2. From NWP colleague Glen Bledsoe: Glen’s superintendent has informed him that in the next school year, the district will embrace scripted lessons, with all teachers expected to be on the same page. Fortunately, for the students who enter Glen’s classroom in the fall, Glen plans “to continue to be innovative and creative–administrative micro-management be damned.”

I realize that administrators are under great pressure to raise test scores. I am also pretty sure that regular attendance helps students succeed and that students are more likely to attend classes if they find them interesting. So I am wondering how the “one size fits all” approach impacts attendance stats? I am also doubtful that following a set of scripted lesson will foster the kind of process and product found in the comic book style piece Glen shared via the NWP Tech Liaison listserv or the animation piece Kevin Hodgson posted to the Using Technology to Tell Stories site.

Next week, David and I start planning for the Second Annual EGUSD Student Film Festival. “Scripts” not “scripted”!

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  1. We have been doing similar things with first and second graders in Los Angeles and collecting data to document an increase in reading and writing scores on standardized tests. See for examples…

  2. Wow!!! I just checked your site. I am thrilled to have a resource for video with primary age students. I’ll be teaching a Digital Storytelling workshop for my school district and local Writing Project next month and will definitely add your site to my resources list. Heading back in to finish listening to Camouflage Jones:-)

  3. You even tie in with Open Court. Amazing!

  4. Thanks for checking out our videos and and for your kind words.

  5. Not only are your videos wonderful, but so are the links you’ve created to complement Open Court units. I came across them recently while searching for links to add to a homework resources page for my district’s website. Thank you, Mathew!

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