Student Filmmaking with Jim Bentley and Curiosity Films (Ep 15)

October 21, 2019 / By

Jim is a teacher in Elk Grove, CA, and in his classroom, his students have tackled a variety of topics ranging from landscape blight to light pollution, and household hazardous waste disposal to improving middle school literacy rates and working to promote access to water while reducing plastic waste. In this episode, he shares how he uses video creation in conjunction with these projects. You can find Jim Bentley on Twitter @Curiosity_Films.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

Transcript

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo Podcast. This is Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad and I am super stoked to have my friend Jim Bentley on today and Jim, thanks for coming on.

Jim Bentley: Thanks for having me here feels great to be here.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. Pleasure’s all mine. Jim, he is a teacher at Elk Grove Elementary, he teaches 5th grade. And one of the cool things with Jim is that he composes something he calls Curiosity Films, and it’s a student film making project and you can see that work through Vimeo and YouTube. He’s also tackled a variety of topics ranging from landscape blight to light pollution and household hazardous waste disposal so a lot of the environmental issues that he’s working with his students.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: So I actually met Jim through working with Project Based Learning and Jim is a National Faculty member for PBLWorks and served as a Teacher Ambassador for the California Education and the Environment Initiative. He’s also a KQED Media Literacy Innovator and in 2017, he became a National Geographic Inquiry Ambassador. And also you have all kinds of accolades from National Geographic. And at 2019, he joined the ranks of National Geographic Explorers receiving a Planetary Stewards Grant to work with students to map plastic as it moves from suburb to sea. And you can check out the progress of that project through the Esri Story Map. And Jim, I’m guessing they can access that through your website?

Jim Bentley:

Exactly. Yep. It’s on there now.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Awesome. So Jim, I’m again, super excited to chat with you today, you’re such a creative force in the classroom and I’ve seen the work that you do and I’ve seen the excitement come from your classroom. And I love to hear again, if you can start us off to share with the audience how you got started with doing video creation in the classroom?

Jim Bentley:

Yeah. Thanks for the question. The thing that got me started with video is that I was always looking for that magical elixir that could blend reading with writing, with research with engagement and excitement. And it’s not exciting or glamorous to write an essay and stapled on the wall and it’s really not very public or authentic I mean, how many essays do people right after school? I was at a training where person said, “You judged after school by what you can do and what kind of person you are.” And that got me to thinking how else could we do this? And filmmaking was really that one magical thing that ties and integrates all those things together. And if you’re going to tell a story, what’s the story going to be about?

Jim Bentley:

Well, that’s more like the deeper learning that social impact that environmental literacy, whatever your angle is, if its social justice, if it’s related into the environment. Kids want to do stuff they want to be motivated or not want to be motivated, they want to actually have an impact. And I mean, they’re all born social activists so why not give them a tool or a voice or a mechanism to share their concerns and put pressure on people to actually make changes and do the right thing.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Yeah, absolutely. Jim, I love to hear you talk about students using their voice to make an impact and I feel when I was a student, I thought a lot of the projects that I was involved in, I didn’t feel like I had the opportunity for one to share my voice, but then also I didn’t have a way for my voice to make an impact. I would love to hear about some of the work you’ve done with students, where they really went above and beyond and they were able to make an impact just beyond the classroom. Do you have any example of those kinds of stories?

Jim Bentley:

Yeah. One of the stories that I love to tell, and it was really early on in my Project Based Learning teaching experience, it didn’t involve film, but it involved kids identifying an issue that seem unjust to them. We really wanted to build a track at our school, running track at our school. We had this money from the state of California and basically the State said, “No, you can’t do that.” And it was a short worded letter, it was a no because we said so. Students dug in they inquired, they started asking questions. We talked to lobbyists, we talked to lawmakers and ultimately what happened was they were able to pressure politely and professionally our school district into changing a master plan and rededicating some bond funds to purchase or to build 17 tracks at old elementary schools.

Jim Bentley:

And the beautiful part is that these kids had identified that these schools were schools that were older serving students of color or students with low socio-economic status and really disadvantaged youth. So it wasn’t just a something we want, it’s something that we want for us and for people who don’t have it. Since that time though we’ve really looked at the world through a variety of lenses and trash and recycling and hazardous waste. That’s something that kids may not necessarily think about, but the more they learn about it, the more upset they get. A few years ago, we started looking at a project that was dealing with battery disposal. And kids had learned that less than 1% of batteries get tossed properly. Batteries and shoes, batteries and greeting cards, batteries and small remote controls that never get exchanged, little bouncy balls with batteries in them. All those things are e-waste they’re hazardous waste.

Jim Bentley:

And we ultimately propose to our city an idea of putting battery recycling sessions in schools, which they said no to because battery fires happen. But they did offer my students the opportunity to start building films, to educate people in our 170,000 person community how to recycle, how to get rid of green waste, how to get rid of household hazardous waste. So it’s cool you think you can have 10 and 11 year old kids researching and learning something that adults don’t know, and then using that voice and their creativity to educate people who you would think would know better, but they don’t. So kids really have that power to be persuasive and informative, and it’s so empowering to watch them do this.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

It really is. As teachers, we learned all the pedagogical strategies. We learned here are the things that you can do as a teacher to get students to think of high levels. And one of those strategies that most of us listening also would remember is getting teachers… Or sorry, getting students to teach each other. And that’s one of the best ways to get higher level thinking, but many times those strategies fell short because they were essentially asking students to maybe regurgitate something they just heard or just to reciprocate something. But when you are talking about, as they truly are teaching others about something that’s impacting the local community, and that’s going to go much further than a fake scenario. So it’s really refreshing to hear that students are taking that strategy seriously.

Jim Bentley:

You mentioned something, you said something that really resonates with me and I’ve heard it phrased in different ways before, but ultimately as we approach teaching, if our goal is to create a project or an experience where students replicate what we want them to replicate, there’s no deepness, there’s no true authenticity or real freed of force. It’s here’s the thing, make the thing worth my thing, and then good job you recreated the thing, whatever that widget the thing is. That’s where I think film it’s so powerful when kids have these off the wall ideas and you hear it, you’re thinking that’s never going to work. And then you try it and you know what, “Hey, you know what, there’s a gem of pure wisdom here that we got to go with.” Kids have some amazing ideas on how to approach a topic that us adults have just sort of lost as we age. And we need youth to be able to give that creative inspiration.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Absolutely. So, Jim, I want to back up a second because you are really talking about these phenomenal projects and then at the same time and being in the PBL world together, one of the big topics that we want to ensure that that teachers that are a part of the planning process is significant content. So what would you say so the teachers listening right now? And obviously completely bought into this idea of doing meaningful projects. So at the same time, there’s a set of curricular standards and skills and all these things that, for lack of a better phrase, quote, unquote have to be covered. And of course we want to get them to uncover those standards. So I guess the question is what would you tell these teachers who are so excited about these great projects, these local meaningful projects, but there’s a daunting amount of standards to teach in trying to find the time. What would you say?

Jim Bentley:

That’s another super powerful consideration in the work I do with PBLWorks. One of the things that we always start with as what’s the standard you want to teach? Is it a meeting standard? Is it something that has a lot of rigor and depth to it that could really lend itself well to a project? Summarizing, paraphrasing, citing sources, verifying who say the credibility of sources. Those are really needy topics. Those are really needy things that students do throughout school. And then adults do authentically realistically after school. I think what I would say is the key thing to think about is what is the core concept that you have to teach? What are the skills, or what are the content pieces that could attach to it? For example, this project that we started last year for National Geographic that we’ll finish this year as part of our grant, we’re looking at mapping how plastic moves from suburb to sea. There’s no standard in NGSS for me that necessarily says, “Kids need to use a GIS tool to create a map.”

Jim Bentley:

However, geographic thinking, critical thinking, analyzing different kinds of media, looking for patterns. Those are all things I can blend into this GIS mapping experience, reading and researching, creating really well-crafted search strings and search terms using Google to winnow out all the chaff and all the things. Those are all standards coming in. Reading and assessing multimedia, writing all of those standards, all of those pieces come into it. The thing that can be daunting for some teachers. And it’s totally understandable is that when you’re handcrafting a learning experience and you’re bringing in all these disparate pieces and connecting them to that main frame of the project, it’s a lot of work it’s tiring, but it’s also super creative. And it’s super exciting because you’re not just looking at marginalia, you’re not just taking a standard textbook and efficiently covering stuff with zero depth.

Jim Bentley:

I mean, it’s so much easier to teach with the pacing calendar and a textbook, but man, the impact that kids get out of it, there’s no comparison. There’s no comparison. Yeah, it’s always what’s the standard, what’s the hook, what’s the engaging piece. And then how do we fold it in? How do we blend it in? And so it’s like fine cooking. You got to add the right standards, the right learning experiences. And you can still do traditional teaching. I mean, I’m still going to… This next week we’re going to be going over what it means to summarize techniques for summarizing. It’s not super glamorous, but man, is important. And they’re going to use that all throughout this project and the rest of their academic career and life beyond this wall.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

But with a fascinating thing that you do is that you allow them to exercise the skills throughout the project. So summarizing doesn’t become a separate unconnected skill, like you are asking them and prompting them and facilitating skills that allow them to summarize. And so I think that’s a fascinating thing about the work you do is that you’re able to seamlessly integrate those skills within the project.

Jim Bentley:

Seamlessly, it’s really generous. And I appreciate that. Somedays…

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Yeah. I am sure [inaudible 00:13:01] is challenging.

Jim Bentley:

Yeah. I know it’s challenging, but it’s never boring. And that’s the thing that I always tell my students, “I would much rather confuse you than bore you.” And there’s plenty of confusion moments, but man, when they figure it out and they figured out not me figuring out for them, they own that they really, really own that. And that’s super, super empowering.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Absolutely. What about the assessment piece? Because we often at the end of a unit or a project or any learning experience, we want to be able to give students feedback on a particular maybe standards or skills that we are evaluating. And I think that we’re both believers in feedback over grades and grades can be arbitrary and not helpful, but feedback can be very, very powerful. And please correct me if I’m putting any words in your mouth, but I’m wondering is how do you give any kind of feedback to students on how creative they’re being? Or how they are thinking critically? Because that’s difficult because some of those skills it’s hard to measure, you definitely can see some of those things and how they reflecting or how they’re presenting, but it’s not as maybe cut and dry as labeled the parts of a flower. So how do you measure it and evaluate and give feedback on some of those really important life skills that you’re evaluating in the project?

Jim Bentley:

One of the key things to think about is what are the characteristics or what are the criteria that I want to see emerge in either the content that they’re learning, the skills that they’re using or even their half out, what kind of attitudes they’re developing. If I have an idea of what I’m looking for, then I can simply codify a single point rubric if I want to, I can have some key criteria that I’m looking for, that I can make known to students at a time. The thing that I think is essential for any teacher young early in their career or veteran, is that the power of formative assessment and feedback is so much more powerful than a summative assessment and a final letter grade. I mean, it’s either a vowel consonant. It means nothing.

Jim Bentley:

I’d say that the one-on-one feedback in small groups or one-on-one person to person is powerful. There’s other ways that we can provide feedback as well. If it’s using new video to have a brief video reflection, if it’s using Flipgrid, if it’s a feedback piece, say in a new cell a margin note to a student reading like a running Google doc we’re commenting back and forth. I think it’s super powerful to keep kids aware of what they’re aiming for in terms of a target or a goal. And I also think it’s important that we systematically consistently monitor and provide that feedback. But now you’re totally right. I mean, grades to me are really an archaic dinosaur legacy piece of education feedback, rubric points, rubric scores that’s where it’s at.

Jim Bentley:

And I would really strongly encourage teachers to consider it. For getting all those columns that show how a student didn’t achieve a standard, just go to the one that’s proficient. And Jennifer Gonzalez talks about single point and rubrics. Throw that one column down there and you want kids to hit and then if they didn’t quite meet it, fill in the notes, fill in the observations, using whatever medium you want. If it’s audio, if it’s Screencastify screen record, if it’s an audio note. I mean, there’s so many ways that we can share, like we’re using Zencastr and it’s like, “Hey, this is interaction via 100s of miles apart.” There’s just so many ways and tools that we can use now to give that feedback.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Yeah. And there’s so much beauty to simplicity as well when talking about the single point rubric and not being overly fussy and complex about here are the different levels you’re going to get based on where you fall in the scale. And being a simplistic in that allows you that gets the cognitive capacity to really focus on meeting students where they are, as opposed to trying to decide, did they get a 2.2 or a 3.2? And again, what does that number mean? It doesn’t mean anything.

Jim Bentley:

Yeah. I mean, Alice Keeler said many times, “We can’t grade to accuracy on 100 point scale.” What’s the difference between a 97 and a 92? I mean, tell me why it’s five points difference? I can’t. I can’t tell you that. Simple is always the hardest thing to do. If we can keep` the simple six statements, I can summarize a piece of research without opinion. It’s so simple, it’s so elegant, but when the kids see this that they didn’t hit it or they see what they did hit it. They’ve clearly had something communicated and that’s where cut the jargon and go for the streamlines key essential skill aptitude, or concept of talking to now.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Absolutely. Well, Jim, last question of the podcast. So what is next for you in the classroom? What’s the next exciting thing that you’re going to try out? Because I know you’re a creative teacher and you’re always on the leading edge of knowing something new. So is there a new strategies or a new project that you’re going to have your students work on? What is that next thing look like for you?

Jim Bentley:

Yeah. I thought video creation, film creation was going to be like the ultimate of all ultimate ways to tie together all the components of teaching, reading, writing, researching, speaking and listening. And I’ve now had my mind blown over the last year and a half with work I’ve done with National Geographic. The new thing that still keeps writing that still keeps filmmaking and now incorporates map-making and storytelling. And also photography is Story Maps. And have you used or seen Story Maps much Nathan?

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

I have not used the tool a very often. No, I know that the over arching concept of it.

Jim Bentley:

It’s just this beautiful platform that’s made by Esri at Earth Systems Research Institute. The absolutely killer part about this is that it’s free for K-12 educators. So K-12 educators can actually get a free organization through Esri. And what you’ve got now is basically a website that can embed video, text maps that you create or maps that you pull in from the web, although creating is always better. And it really bundles nicely video taxed and all that. So I’ve told you in [inaudible 00:19:49]. The last part of my career, I really want to master story mapping because I can use all the other tools I’ve done for the last, whatever how many years, and now bring in the layer of not making them stories on as well. So that’s my thing. And I would encourage anybody who’s listening to check out Esri Story Maps. There’s a huge library of beautifully created Story Maps. That’s all kinds of story. Be it immigration, animal migrations, voting patterns, there’s just whatever the topic is. There’s this Story Map probably made by somebody on the topic.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

That’s fantastic. In the video creation world, we put a lot of value and rightly so and storyboarding and creating this visual map of how you will tell your story and because it’s powerful, the way that you sequence ideas and that’s what sometimes can make the biggest impact is not necessarily the content of the story, which is important, but the way you tell it and how these concepts all mapped together. So I hope I’m conceptualizing the story mapping okay, but that’s what I think of when I…

Jim Bentley:

Oh yeah, I know it’s a narrative. No doubt. I mean, it’s a narrative involving maps and text and when done right. I mean, it can really move you. There is one of my favorite Story Maps looks at South part border wall, and it looks at how migrations of both people and animals have been dramatically impacted by the artificial construction of an artificial boundary in a natural environment. Yeah. It’s a beautiful story and it’s well told. And that’s really what film is about. It’s about telling something meaningful, to have an impact and to move us either emotionally or mentally or even move us to action.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Excellent. And I so agree. Fantastic. Jim this has been so wonderful. How can our listeners, teachers stay connected with you through social media, through website? How can we stay connected?

Jim Bentley:

Yeah. I am on Twitter and also Instagram as @Curiosity_Films, you can find my website, jbconsultingllc.org. And just look into the web, shoot me an email. I’m always happy to connect with people anywhere and thought partner or share ideas, or just listen to ideas and hear what’s going on now in classrooms and communities around wherever you’re at.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Awesome. Well, my friend, I look forward to continuing to stay connected to you and learn from you. And I know no doubt after this podcast shops there are others will want to follow along with your story as well. So thanks again. It was definitely a pleasure Jim.

Jim Bentley:

Thanks, Nathan. Appreciate it.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad:

Thanks for joining me on the Deeper Learning with WeVideo podcast. If you liked this topic, recommend us to your friends, give us a five star review and check out our other episodes on this platform. Be sure to get a copy of my latest book, “WeVideo Every Day: 40 Strategies to Deepen Learning in Any Class.” Available now on Amazon. You can interact with me on Twitter and Instagram at Dr. Lang-Raad, spelled D-R-L-A-N-G-R-A-A-D. You can also check out more media content on YouTube @youtube.com/WeVideo. WeVideo empowers all students to express their ideas authentically and creatively. To illustrate these ideas of sharing stories, broadening perspectives and promoting student confidence. Check out WeVideo on Twitter @WeVideo, or also check out the website wevideo.com/education. See you next time. Bye.