Muddling through the blogosphere

October 7, 2012
by blogwalker

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom – 5 years later

Five Octobers ago, I gave a Saturday workshop for our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) on A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom. On October 20, I’ll join SECC videographer Doug Niva at the Alliance for Community Media’s Regional Conference: Merging Local Voices and Digital Technology.  Our session is on …. A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom. This morning I visited the original 6-slide presentation to see what has changed over the past few years and what remains the same.

Slide #1 – Addressing the ethical use of the Internet – needs updating. Although students are still filming and uploading locker room and school yard fights, the “ethical use of the Internet” now has a broader title: Digital Citizenship. Five years ago schools were starting to address “Internet safety, ” with “stranger danger” at the heart of new legislation.  Legal mandates have evolved over the years to CIPA’s July 2012 requirement that all districts applying for e-Rate discounts must now actively be teaching students  “about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking sites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response.”

Slide #2 – Promoting critical media consumption – needs an additional resource.  The images below are from a 2007 keynote address from the National Council for Teachers of English’s  Ernest Morrell, who elaborated on the NCTE’s then newly released definition for literacy in the 21st century by explaining a critical need to provide 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.

Today, I would add to the mix Renee Hobb’s research on the importance of media literacy:

“To fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, Americans must acquire multimedia communication skills that include the ability to compose messages using language, graphic design, images, and sound, and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities. These competencies must be developed in formal educational settings, especially in K–12 and higher education, as well as informal settings. The inclusion of digital and media literacy in formal education can be a bridge across digital divides and cultural enclaves, a way to energize learners and make connections across subject areas, and a means for providing more equal opportunities in digital environments.”


Slide #3 – Providing students with multiple ways to access the core curriculum  – I’ll be leaving interviews with an elementary school SEVA film producer and a middle school SEVA film producer, who share their perspectives on how the process of filmmaking translates into learning venues. But I’ll be replacing CogDogRoo’s (Alan Levine) 50+ Ways to Tell a Story  with first graders explaining a math problem via video and 12th grade AP Stats students filming and editing their teacher’s lectures and then uploading them a class blog to provide students, and a worldwide audience, with 24/7 access to the lesson. Wonderfully, the sample bank of student-created core curriculum content and concepts continues to grow!

Slide #4 – Supporting a collaborative learning environment – I’ll be replacing reference to filmmaker Nikios Theodosaki’ (The Director in the classroom: How filmmaking Inspires Learning) quote 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) with Common Core Anchor Standards for Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.”

Slide #5 – Responding to current research – Will be eliminating this slide.  Between the research of Renee Hobbs and what’s gone into the Common Core in defining what students need to be career and college ready, I will have already referenced the research several times.

Slide #6 – Engaging students – I’ll replace the original SEVA Awards night clip with a more recent one. The new clip shows a student stepping up to accept an award – and having to give a completely impromptu acceptance speech….a student, who within one school year “walked the red carpet” for the first time… and also moved from “Far below basic,” almost passing beyond “Basic” and into “Proficient.” If I were limited to one justification for filmmaking in the classroom – including Title 1 sites – it would be for the impact of taking student voices beyond the walls of the classroom. When student see their work as valued by and having an impact on a genuine audience (beyond) their teacher, they are empowered and motivated to created and share content that makes a difference.

So five years later, filmmaking in the classroom remains alive and well – with Common Core Standards supporting the argument. I rest my case.

January 1, 2012
by blogwalker

Tips and Tools for Making an Award-Winning PSA

“To fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, Americans must acquire multimedia communication skills that include the ability to compose messages using language, graphic design, images, and sound, and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities.” ~Renee Hobbs

As we head into the New Year, it is exciting to see a number of great video competitions open to students.  From our regional spring SEVAs competition to NextVista’s national and international events, students can hone their 21st century skill set (critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, (digital) citizenship) – as they build their ePortfolios and digital footprints.

It is also exciting to see a growing number of free online tools and tips to help student filmmakers through the process of taking a message and transforming it into a media gem. For example:


Storyboards – From printable storyboards to Mathew Needleman’s more organic approach to storyboarding, storyboarding is a starting point for creating a powerful PSA.

Script writingPSA Scripting Template – Thank you, Bill Ferriter, for this excellent resource!


Camera shots:

  • Rule of Thirds – This basic camera rule/practice will rock your world – and your students – if you’re not already familiar with it.  Here’s a great video by Kids in Action on everything you need to know about the rule of thirds. Once you’re aware of the rule of thirds, it will change how you view videos – such as this trailer from High School Musical (thanks again to Mathew Needleman for sharing this one).

  • Wide-Medium-Tight Shots – I had another big ah ha moment, right up there with learning about the rule of thirds, when I attended SECC’s SEVA Training session with News 10’s multimedia journalist Nick Monacelli.  I recommend watching the entire 40-minute session on Building a News Story. But if you’re short on time, move the play head  about 15 minutes into the presentation and watch Nick explain the importance of taking B-roll footage. It’s B-roll tight shots – not transitions – that “professionals” use to quickly and smoothly move a story along.

And the big ah ha?  Hey, until hearing Nick’s presentation, I had not considered that almost never in a news story will you see transitions used.  Aside from the rare dissolve transition, used to show a flashback or change in time, transitions are  not part of an award-winning newscast. But, oh my, do students, especially elementary students, love to use transitions! Nick’s presentation could be just the tip students need to rethink the use of star wipes, for instance, in transitioning their viewers from one scene to the next.



  • UJam – I am no longer envious of Mac users’ access to Garageband (I teach in a PC district), thanks to UJam, a free, web-based program for creating music – even if you (like me) are music-challenged. UJam was one of my favorite take-aways from last summer’s Merit program.
  • ccMixter – ccMixter is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want.  I learned about CCMixter in Silvia Tolisano’s wonderful Digital Storytelling How to Guide for Educators.
  • Jamendo – A rapidly-growing community of free, legal and unlimited music published under Creative Commons licenses.
  •  Audacity –  A free, cross-platform program for creating and editing audio. Here’s a link to my favorite Audacity tutorial: Audacity Basics

Video editing – Although I’m still grieving the loss of cloud-based JayCut, such an awesome freebie that even included green screen options – and allowed editing from both Mac and PC, eliminating all kinds of school-to-home/home-to-school issues – I continue to be grateful for iMovie, Movie Maker, and PhotoStory3 (one of my favorite digital storytelling tools!).  And I look forward in the New Year to exploring free smartphone apps for filmmaking.

I think one of the most important things we can do for students is to support and promote their efforts at becoming effective multimedia writers. Providing tools and tips is one way – along with providing authentic audiences.  Over the next month, I’d like to gather a comprehensive list of student video competitions.  If you know of any, please jump in and leave a comment.

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

September 3, 2010
by blogwalker

Prairie Elementary Filmmakers Save a Regional Nature Program

I was there – at the Sacramento Board of Directors – on Wednesday, joining other concerned educators and citizens in a last minute effort to save one of Sacramento’s primo science programs:  Splash.


Thanks to Splash, thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students have explored life in Sacramento’s streams and, in the process, have come to understand why taking care of our water supply is so vital to the community. However, the Board was ready to eliminate the program as part of their latest round of budget cuts.

We had our chance to speak out, each person being allotted 3 minutes to justify continued funding for the program.  With Splash director Eva Butler leading the charge, I think the 12 of us who took our turns at the podium helped provide the Board members with an understanding and appreciation that for most kids, “Splash is their first experience with relevant science and things that live beyond the pavement in Sacramento’s streams and vernal pools.”

But it was clearly a team of 5th grade filmmakers from Prairie Elementary School (Lesley McKillop’s former 4th graders) who saved the program.  In less than 2 minutes, their Saving Splash video (see snippets in the above TV coverage) provided a compelling argument that led to a unanimous vote to save the program.

A huge victory for students all over the Sacramento region – and a powerful lesson to our young filmmakers on the importance of taking a stand and the power of media to sway an audience.

July 25, 2010
by blogwalker

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom: Argument #7

One year later, I have another argument to add to my July 2009  Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom post: Filmmaking empowers students.

In May I watched a  team of Lesley McKillop’s students (see argument #6 in last year’s post) once again step onto the stage and into the limelight to accept a 2010 SEVA for their PSA entry – totally challenging both the state-assigned student labels of FBB (far below basic), BB (below basic), B (basic), P (proficient), or even A (advanced) and the school labels of Title 1 (high-poverty) and Program Improvement (PI).

And Rudy Alfonso’s students (also at a Title 1, PI site)…what can I say?! In the previous school year, I watched many of them begin to engage with technology in Teresa Cheung’s 4th grade classroom. As they moved on to Rudy Alfonso’s 5th grade, they were ready and willing to step up to the challenges and multiple roles of filmmaking and increasingly took charge of all facets of producing movie after movie.

Towards the end of the school year, I asked one of Rudy’s students what she liked best about being a filmmaker.  She talked a bit about the collaborative aspects, and then added that she enjoyed having people from different parts of the world comment on her productions via the class blog. Filmmaking is bringing the world into Mr. Alfonso’s classroom – and it’s a two-way path. These students (like Lesley McKillop’s students) know their work is being viewed and enjoyed by an authentic and worldwide audience.  Now that’s empowerment!

February 21, 2010
by blogwalker

Next Stop…20th Century

Image from Library of Congress

How do we bring administrators on board with 21st century possibilities for teaching and learning?

This question has been on my mind since Wednesday, when a colleague shared with me that her principal came to her classroom while she was embarking on a movie making project with her class.  In front of the students, he asked her to explain what standards she was addressing and to justify how filmmaking fit into the 4th grade curriculum.

She called me to ask what resources she might share to help him understand the rationale for filmmaking and other forms of digital composing as part of the core curriculum.

Here are my recommendations:

Technology integration in general:

Movie making in particular:

How are you helping administrators bypass all those 20th century bus stops and keep moving forward? I invite you share any resources you think might help this wonderful, wonderful teacher help her principal!

longer distinguish between literacy in general and technology literacy in particular

January 28, 2010
by blogwalker

Teaching Students to Write Creative Non-fiction for Video

vernonI walked away from media teacher  Vernon Bisho’s Thursday night SEVA session Understand > Care > Feel > Learn with a whole new understanding of the art of creative non-fiction writing for video.  Vernon provides his high school students with the scaffolding needed to produce award-winning entries.  But his program could easily be adapted to elementary and middle school students.

I’m betting that if I roll out Vernon’s strategies with 4th and 5th grade filmmakers, particularly tips for interviewing, they too will gain a better understanding of this genre,  and very likely improve their media literacy skills in the process.

In a nutshell, Vernon believes:

“If you don’t understand, you won’t care.  If you don’t care, you can’t feel.  If you can’t feel, you won’t learn.”

He embeds this philosophy in his non-fiction idea web/brainstorm worksheet, which includes the reminder: “Must capture  your audience’s attention in the first 15 seconds: interesting B-roll, music, or a catch lead line is key.”  And just in case we weren’t familiar with the term B-roll, Vernon shared a YouTube explanation.

So here’s how Vernon’s students move through the process of creating a non-fiction story:

  • Part 1 – Start with the back-story (who, what, where, when, why + how). The back-story clarifies the reason for the story. It is the first step in helping the audience to UNDERSTAND the problem. Connect Part 1 to Part 2 by explaining the goal or the motivation for the story – building the transition for your audience to CARE.
  • Part 2 – Introduce the specifics about the reason for story and the process (obstacles – or moral premise). Create tension and deal with feelings.  Between Part 2 and Part 3, introduce the lowest point or emotional high. Your audience needs the emotional impact in order to FEEL.  And the most important thing in telling a story is to make people feel.
  • Part 3 – Make visible the lesson learned/payoff.  Where do we go from here? As your audience makes connections between the story and their lives, they LEARN.

How can your students begin practicing and applying the above  concepts? How about by viewing samples of creative non-fiction video clips, such as CBS’s High School Hero comforts Kids with Cancer or a sample from one of Vernon’s students: Gabe Lock, Rising Star.

Elementary teachers and secondary content area teachers often struggle with how to include media literacy within their programs. Why not start the day/period with a recent TV news interview, local or national, which most likely will run no more than 3 -5 minutes (about the time needed to take attendance, etc.), and ask students to identify how the producers provide the audience with the opportunity to understand, care, feel, and learn? Such a simple way to help students make those inter-textual connections that lead to higher literacy levels!

Vernon has posted a number of his handouts to our newly formed Digital Media Communit (which you are warmly invited to join):

As soon as he posts his 2-column storyboard for non-fiction and his overview handout, I’ll add them to this post.

I’m heading into the SECC site to find the date for the next SEVA training event!


January 4, 2010
by blogwalker

Mr. Alfonso – Part 2: Modeling for students

One of the best things about heading into 2010 is the opportunity to follow Rudy Alfonso and his 5th graders as they continue their journey into the art and process of filmmaking.

If you haven’t visited his EETT & Making Movies blog, I recommend starting with the First Entry (from October) and working your way forward to December.  What an amazing window into the all stages of the guiding students through the filmmaking process!

Not surprisingly,  before Mr. Alfonso and his students headed off for winter break, he shared one of his own recent productions: Sleigh Ride

“Since this is a blog about students learning how to make videos from a teacher, a teacher has to model making videos right? Here’s one I made that I showed my students about using music and being creative.”

Lucky me! As the coordinator of the EETT grant, I’ll get to visit with Rudy and his students throughout the remainder of the school year.  Lucky you! I’ll continue to share gems from Mr. Alfonso’s classroom, including some soon-to-be-posted interview clips.

October 18, 2009
by blogwalker

The Single Most Important Thing About Telling a Good Story…

The single most important part of telling a good story is asking throughout the entire process: ‘What is the story all about?’”  Bryan Shadden, KVIE

I look forward to our regional (Sacramento)  SEVA Trainings for Teachers series. Saturday’s event was an opportunity to learn about Tips for Building a Documentary, a session lead by KVIE producer Bryan Shadden. Bryan’s handout will walk you and your students through his steps to creating a video narrative (documentary) – starting with Research & Story Focus. I love that the basis of building a documentary mirrors teaching the writing process: “After a producer (writer) has researched the subject matter, she should be able to say exactly what the story will be about in one sentence. The more focused the sentence, the more focused the story.”

I also learned a new term: B-roll, which is “TV jargon for the cover shots you need to correspond with the sound bites from your interviews and the words you write.”  Huge “ah ha” moment for me…From now on, I’ll encourage students to make sure their production team includes a designated B-roll person. From 4th grade – 12th grade, I’ve too often seen student filmmakers scrambling after the fact to come up with cover shots when they realize that the audience will quickly lose interest if too much of the interview is just footage of the interviewee.

And some tips from the audience:

  • fastest way for students to create their storyboards: use online comic book generators such as Comic Life.  Love this idea!
  • great collection of student-made documentaries:, with teen entries such as The Bus Stop (a great team effort!)
  • Center for Sacramento History – a growing bank of photos for classroom use.  I looked at this site several years ago and can see that their vision for becoming a rich archive of oral histories is starting to take shape.
  • PBS Guide to Ken Burn’s The Wara collaboration between the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, Florentine Films and WETA public television station in Washington, DC — contains hands-on production tips and interview techniques from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick as well as information on how to send completed interviews to the Veterans History Project.

And Bryan’s last question to an interviewee: “Is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should have asked?” I’ve used this question before for my Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project. This final question can take an interview in a whole new direction!

I don’t know who the speakers for the next SEVA event will be, but without a doubt there will be blog-worthy presenters ready to take teachers to the next level in their filmmaking skills and vision:-)

October 5, 2009
by blogwalker

Five Reasons Why I Love Photo Story 3

This year I’ve decided to add Photo Story 3 to my workshop offerings.  I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to introduce teachers and students to this extremely user-friendly program.  For a number of reasons (and I’ll limit myself to five), it’s a great beginning step into filmmaking and the art of digital storytelling.

Reason #1 – It’s all about the Next button! Yep, once you’ve uploaded your pictures, you basically just ‘next’ your way through this program.ps31

Reason #2 – Panning effects – If you’re a Ken Burns fan, you’ve got zooming and panning tools at your fingertips.  In fact, random panning and zooming are the default setting. You can, of course, turn off this effect for all or for individual pictures – or customize your pan (click on the Customize Motion button, click in Specify start and end position of motion box.


Tip: If you”re using Movie Maker 2 and are bummed about not having a “Ken Burns Effect” (Windows XP) or find the Vista panning effects a bit limiting, you can easily bring a still image into Photo Story 3, add the panning and zooming effects, and then import that image into your Movie Maker project. Easy-peasy!

Reason #3David Jakes’ video tutorials and handout – Short and excellent!  What if you wanted more information on zooming and panning? Check out Adding Pans and Adding Zooms.

Reason #4 – Concerned about copyright issues for music? Not to worry, PS3 has you covered with a built in music selections to choose from that allow you to select the properties that best match your story. Or you can upload MP3 files. Start with if you’re looking for copyright, royalty-free music.

Reason #5 – It’s a FREE  download from Microsoft.

Need more convincing why PhotoStory3 is a great program?  Checkout some classroom samples from Paul Hamilton’s Universal Design for Learning wiki. And if you have samples of student-created PS3 projects,  I would love to add them to the filmmaking resources page of Toolkit4blogwalker!

September 6, 2009
by blogwalker

Teaching Collaborative Digital Writing – a la Glen Bledsoe

I’ve known Glen Bledsoe for about eight years, through our mutual association with the National Writing Project. Whenever I have the opportunity to participate in one of his workshops, poster sessions, or panel discussions, I am blown away by both the brilliance of his observations on teaching and learning and the innovative ways he molds and weaves technology into the elementary classroom.  So I was thrilled when my copy of Teaching the New Writing arrived this week, knowing that it included  Glen’s chapter on Collaborative Digital Writing:  The Art of Writing Together Using Technology!

A visit to some of the multimedia projects developed by Glen’s students will give you a window  into  the many ways he infuses technology into his language arts program, eliminating barriers of poverty, language, or past disengagement with writing:

  • The Library Ghost (due to download time, I’m giving you the URL, rather than embed it –
  • Donny and the Ghost

I used to hesitate sharing Glen’s projects with teachers new to technology and digital storytelling because their reaction was likely to be “how about you show us something better suited to beginners.”  But if you take a sample such as the Library Ghost, which basically involved an entire class of 4th graders, Glen does a beautiful job of explaining the steps that moved an idea from concept to product.  His chapter is loaded with common sense suggestions and easy to follow tips. Glen initiates projects like Library Ghost by connecting the laptop to the projector and beginning the storytelling process, starting with:

  • Describing the Characters: As a class, they develop the list of characters for the story, making sure not to use classmates’ names. Through a shared discussion, each character is given characteristics (i.e., for a female character – “she’s into fashion, but she doesn’t really know what’s fashionable and what’s not” or “she has many friends, but she doesn’t tell them about all her feelings.”)
  • Writing the Script: Glen takes about 30 minutes each day with the lights dimmed and the computer projecting onto the screen at the front of the class.  Beginning with an impromptu cast rereading of what’s been written so far, as a group they edit what doesn’t make sense and move on to adding the next lines.  This process is repeated daily until the script has been completed to everyone’s satisfaction – although revisions are still likely to take place throughout the recording sessions.
  • Recording the Script: In this phase, students work together in small groups. With a USB microphone connected to Glen’s computer, students record their lines one at a time. “It’s unrealistic to expect students to read their lines like live radio and not make serious errors.  Allowing them to read their lines over and over and picking the best version works well.  The lines of the script are numbered, and as we record the lines, we number the sound files to match.  This is a simple step but extremely important.”But how do you keep a class quiet while individuals are recording their parts (a question I am frequently asked)? In a loud voice, Glen does a Three, Two, One countdown, signalling to the rest of the class that they must be completely still until the speaker has completed his/her lines. Then students can return to their “normal rustlings.” When the class has maxed out on being able to hold still, he waits till library time, for instance, and asks small groups to stay back in the class to record.
  • Adding Photos: Photos are taken after the lines have been digitally recorded. A student called Scriptboy or Scriptgirl and the director (Glen) “coach the principal actors for a given scene.  The Scriptboy then reads aloud what line is being said for a particular photo.  The actor then holds herself in such a way as to mime the line. Body language, facial expressions, and camera angles are all very important in conveying meaning.  Don’t underestimate the power of these three elements in supporting the text of the story.  The script always comes first.  You can’t create a very compelling digital story with a weak script, but with a strong script adding the above characteristics will add a level of polish. ” Once the photo session is completed, upload shots to your computer (in same folder as the voice recordings!)
  • Assembling the Script: Now that lines, voice recordings, and photos have been uploaded, assembling the story is the easy part.  But I’ll repeat Glen’s tip to “Spend most of your time on the writing.  I can’t emphasize that enough. “
  • The Ultimate Purpose: Who’s the intended audience and for what purpose?  If it a film competition, for instance, you’re likely to be dealing with a 3-5 minute time limit.  So the original piece may need some trimming down, which could eliminate some students from the story.  Glen’s policy is to assure those students that they will get lines in upcoming digital productions.

Because I am mindful that many teachers must justify digital storytelling as a part of their English/Language Arts program, one of the many lines I’ve highlighted from Glen’s chapter addresses standards:

It’s not difficult to take a collaborative digital media project and match it against either a given state’s technology or language arts standards…While the exercise is not difficult to do, I don’t set the standards first and then design the projects around them.  I look at the project from an artistic perspective and then find standards that match.  That just the way my mind works.  The inspiration comes first. If the idea is powerful enough to move me and my students, then it will have enough substance to engage the standards.  Grabbing an idea and following through with it is a real-world task. I believe the purpose of standards is to reflect real-world needs and apply them to student work.  If students are creating projects that reflect real-world tasks, then it follows that they will be adhering to the standards.”

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in the foothills, so I’m heading out to my deck to start reading the next chapter, Kevin Hodgson’s Digital Picture Books – From Flatland to Multimedia. If you’re not already subscribing to Kevin’s blog, you’re missing great tips and examples of what digital storytelling looks like with 6th graders!

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