We started production on our silent films this week.
My media literacy class has been very busy creating children’s books over the last month. We’ve been fortunate enough to bring in local visual artist Arturo Ho to work with students on their illustrations. Like most big projects, it’s taking a bit longer than we expected. However, all the hard work and extra time is definitely paying off.
All the stories have a common theme of transitions. Students first did a series of writing activities where they explored different transitions in their lives. Everyone eventually divided up into groups based on their shared experiences. For example, we have one group doing a story about experiencing their parents getting a divorce. Another group is creating their story about moving to the United States from another country and the hardships that ensue. The stories are all metaphorical, but inspired by these shared life experiences.
Arturo is a real pro at getting students to create their best possible work. Not only is he a talented artist, he’s also a really nice guy. It’s been great having him in our classroom during this project. We plan to publish all our stories as a collection via the self-publishing site blurb.com. We’re also creating digital movies of the stories complete with narration, sound effects, and music.
My 7th period film class had the chance to talk with writer and director Doug Atchison recently via Skype. He wrote and directed Akeelah & the Bee, a film we watch and study in class. Many of my students from other periods also managed to get out of their classes to come and be a part of the conversation. We probably had well over sixty students in the room during the Skype call. I edited our forty minute conversation down into this fifteen minute video I posted here.
The students came up with some great questions for Mr. Atchison. They asked about the challenges of being a director, the costs of making Akeelah & the Bee, and how music is selected for particular scenes. They also asked Mr. Atchison where he gets his story ideas from and how he goes about structuring his films. He said that story structure is the most important thing about a movie. He also explained how many script writers start to write before they know where they are going. He said this is a common mistake.
He told students anything they encounter in life can be a movie. He urged them to try to make movies that they would want to see themselves. This is great advice: Create films about things that genuinely interest you, upset you, or excite you. Lastly, he said the most important thing is your story, and why you want to tell it.
Tomorrow, we have some special guests visiting our 4th period media literacy class. David Hubbard and Marcie Wolf-Hubbard recently published their own children’s book, The Shiny Shell. David wrote the story, and Marcie did all the illustrations. Since we’re gearing up for our own children’s book project, I thought it would be a good idea to invite a guest children’s book author (or authors in this case) to come in and talk with us.
I just got my copy of The Shiny Shell a few days ago. It’s a very engaging story about a young boy named Orion. One afternoon, he is swimming around in his backyard pool, when he suddenly finds himself in a new underwater world. He meets a friendly dolphin named Sleek, and Orion’s adventure begins. Sleek takes Orion on a strange trip in a “travel bubble” to “The Gathering.” Here, Orion meets a series of bizarre and beautiful sea creatures. The antagonist of the story is a shark-like creature named Snark. He has “two arms with three frog-like fingers,” and a “rotor-like tail which spins rapidly to propel it forward giving it the appearance of some misshapen torpedo.”
Throughout the story, Orion learns about the growing threat of pollution to the world’s oceans. There’s a reference to the island of garbage currently floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I actually had never heard of this so I quickly Googled it to see if it was true. Unfortunately, it is:
All the illustrations in The Shiny Shell have this beautiful dream-like quality. They are slightly hazy, but yet still clear enough to make out the characters and the actions. It will be interesting to hear how David and Marcie came up with their story, and how they decided what illustrations to create.
Visit theshinyshell.com to learn more about this children’s book and to download the ebook version.
My third year media literacy students just wrapped up their summer snapshot podcast series. This short project was inspired by NPR’s Summer Sounds Series (check out “Steel Drums” by 14-year-old DC resident Lila). Students had to create short audio stories about a memorable summer experience. It could have been something small, like a trip to the neighborhood pool, or something big, like witnessing the final space shuttle launch. Even though the podcast are short, the students were able to convey their experiences in a concise and thoughtful way. I’m very impressed, especially considering this was their first attempt at podcasting.
This is my second year teaching this media literacy class and I’m still getting familiar with the curriculum. A central theme that runs through the course is the importance of storytelling throughout history. For example, we recently learned how troubadours traveled across Europe from the 12th to 14th centuries sharing current news, historical events, and stories through songs and music. Troubadours were, for a time, how many people found out about what was happening in the world.
Our school media specialist, Ms. Hack, created a Podcast Channel on our school’s website to share our podcasts. We also created our own iTunes page where people can download our podcasts and subscribe to our channel’s feed. We’re hoping other teachers in our school create podcasts with their students and add their work to our new podcast channel.
I see my students as modern troubadours. Using podcasting to share their stories and experiences with the world.
It’s hard to believe we’re already three weeks into the new school year. I’ve been meaning to update my blog since we’ve started school but haven’t had a chance until now. Back to school night is this Wednesday so I want to give an overview of what my 150 students and I have been up to the last three weeks.
In my Lights, Camera, Literacy classes, students are starting production this week on their door scenes. This is an engaging film assignment for beginning filmmakers borrowed from the American Film Institute. It’s a 60-second film that involves a character walking toward a door, hearing strange unknown sounds, then having a hard time opening the door.
My second year film class has been learning about the history of photography and early moving image devices. We looked at camera obscuras, zoetropes, praxinoscopes, and created sunprints (image above). Students also created flip books to conceptualize the persistence of vision theory. Next up: short 50-second films in the style of the early Lumiere Brothers and Edison Kinetoscope films.
My third year class just wrapped up their podcasts for our Slice of Summer series. Students created short podcasts about their experiences or memories from the past summer. The project was inspired by NPR’s Summer Sounds series. We’ll be sharing our podcasts this next week on our school website and uploading to iTunes with the help of our library media specialist, Ms. Hack. We’re also gearing up for a very cool children’s book project where we will be working with local artist Arturo Ho. We’re hoping to publish our children’s books as a binded collection via lulu.com.
We’ve had a very productive start of the new school year.
One of my former 7th grade English students, Nic Weinfeld, created this cool recap video using footage he shot during our recent film festival. Nic will be a senior in high school this year at the acclaimed Interlochen Arts Academy High School in Michigan. Nic left one of our local high schools to go to school at Interlochen so he could study film. I think Nic was able to capture the excitement and energy from our film festival in this 60-second recap video. Great job Nic. Thanks!
Our third annual film festival was almost two weeks ago and I’m finally getting around to writing about it. The podcast above was created by Bob Madigan from the radio station WTOP, 103.5 FM. It was nice of Mr. Madigan to take the time to come check out our film festival this year. Thanks Mr. Madigan!
Once again, we filled up the 400-seat theatre at the American Film Institute. It’s a real honor to be able to screen our middle school films in such an amazing movie house. We showed documentaries, silent films, a collection of short scenes, a few animations, and some of the short movies students created. The festival could have been twice as long.
The one comment I hear each year from people who attend the festival is how surprised they are at the quality of the work. This year was no different. The students were glowing with satisfaction from having their films played on the big screen. We also were able to raise over $1,700 for our annual fundraiser. After we donate $500 to AFI, we still have plenty of money left over for more crazy projects next year.
Here’s one of the many films that made a big impression at our film festival this year, Can’t Let You Go:
Check out our website, Watch Out!, to see more of the films from this year. Thanks to all the students, parents, and other school staff members who helped make our third annual film festival a success. It’s a TON of work organizing this film festival each year, but it’s definitely worth it.
We’re almost ready for our 3rd annual film festival coming up this Tuesday at AFI. We’re screening close to two full hours of student-created films from the school year. Here’s our to-do list for Monday:
- create the $500 presentation check to AFI
- create concession sales posters
- finalize student helper lists
- contact all parent volunteers
- complete the film festival program and print them all (how many?)
- create small “Please Donate” signs for our donation jars
That’s all I can think of for now.
A few of my 7th grade students created this remix of the classic scene from A Few Good Men last week. We’re going to use this clip as part of the introduction for our 3rd annual film festival coming up on June 7th. We were brainstorming possible famous scenes to remix when someone came up with this one. We quickly youtubed it (is that a word?) and thought immediately that it would work for our remix purposes. It actually only took them about an hour and a half to pull this off. I was pretty impressed.
We’re having our film festival at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center again this year. We just about filled up the large 400-seat theatre last year with students, parents, friends and other invited guests from the community.
Hopefully, we’ll fill it up again this year. The festival is about a week away and we still have quite a bit of work left to do to get ready.