I was fortunate to grow up immersed in art. My mother was a professional artist and my grandfather was a music teacher. They had a strong influence on me, which led to my drawing and designing all my life. After being honorably discharged from the Air Force, I knew I wanted to direct my enthusiasm into teaching.
I’ve also always been into tech. I can get pretty nostalgic just thinking about the glory days of Radio Shack with its displays of circuit boards waiting for my soldering iron. I taught myself guitar, built my own computers, and learned how to make professional recordings of myself as well as my friends’ bands. I dabbled in web design, Photoshop, and video editing, as well.
The timing could not have been better for someone with my interests. I was fortunate to hit my stride as an educator as technology increasingly became an everyday part of the classroom. Needless to say, I jumped for joy when I was given the opportunity to design a class for seventh and eighth graders around a curriculum based heavily on digital media at Templeton Middle School in Templeton, CA. My Digital Media Arts class gave me an outlet to teach kids everything from photography, to web design, to audio production, to video production.
Of all those techniques, video production was the most intriguing. It was the one avenue where I saw the possibility for the kids to really do it all. And when I tried WeVideo for the first time, I knew I’d found the perfect match for my plans. From the outset, my idea was to empower students, setting the kids on a path and letting them discover the way forward for themselves, with a little help along the way. With WeVideo’s effortless accessibility on Chromebooks and dramatically reduced learning curve for beginners, when compared with things like Adobe Premiere, it let the kids focus on creating rather than technical learning, but without limiting them or cutting back on the development of practical skills.
When they were creating, I wanted my students to look at things differently. I taught them just a few basics of production, but also encouraged them to focus on basic elements of design in the world around us like line, patterns, texture, and shape. One of my favorite projects from this technique was based on the changing of the seasons. I asked them to take this familiar theme and show it to me in a new way. One group of girls collaborated on a wonderful poem(that they wrote), then gathered visually compelling video footage. Working together on the edit, they created a remarkably moving movie that expresses more than any one art form would have achieved. Changing of the Seasons. This was their first attempt at video production! It gave them a foundation to build on and the results are obvious in this next video. Starting with another poem they authored, they created the evocative piece, Restless Spirits.
I believe in giving students freedom to find their own specialty, and digital storytelling through video provides a flexible canvas for this. I designed the second semester of the Digital Media Arts to be self directed. I wanted kids to specialize in an area of their own choice. Being in middle school, some could confidently come up with their own ideas and others needed a push. I found that the keys to having kids pick their own direction are:
- A good plan
Oh, and always have a back-up plan! (But teachers know that goes without saying).
One group of five students wanted to make a YouTube show about video games. After providing some ground rules, I set this group free to plan and create their project. They worked together to write their script and then rehearse their roles. A couple of students worked to find photos and video that would be needed. For the shoot, they assigned one student to record and produce the audio, while another would handle the filming. On their own, they decided that the project would proceed more smoothly if they assigned a chief editor, although they’d all help make the final decisions. I was super impressed by what these kids produced in just a week with minimal production experience. You can see in these videos how their personalities jump out of the screen. Episode 2 Episode 3.
Nothing makes a teacher happier than being surprised by a student’s effort. For a final exam, I challenged students to take on the persona of someone we’d studied in US history. The rubric required them to talk about events and people that would have affected their chosen person and how that person would reflect on the world today. When the time came for one of my students to present, I sighed a bit when it appeared he was about to just play a video of himself speaking. Then the magic happened! The video featured the student playing the character of an interviewer. The video character then proceeded to interview the live student. It was brilliant and clever. You can see a bit of the technique here.
I switched schools and districts this year, and now teach at Mesa Middle School in Arroyo Grande, CA. I gave up a 45 minute drive, but also left my much loved and thriving Digital Media Arts program, in order to be in a district closer to home. I teach 7th grade Social Studies with heavily reliance on flipped classroom techniques. I don’t give homework. Instead I give a pre-lesson; a short podcast-style video that previews what we will be covering during the week. Here is a recent example: Rome Playlist.
The kids love it. The beauty of the videos is, they are accessible to all. Students can go at their own pace and refer to them at any time. If a student is absent, they can get an overview of what they missed. So while I do not yet have a Digital Media Arts class in my new school, nothing is getting in the way of bringing my passion and belief in the value of video production to my classroom.
Follow Rocky on Twitter at @slogue89 and keep tabs of his lesson podcasts on his YouTube Channel.