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From Essays to Teen Talks

The SAMR model, created by Ruben Puentedura, has had a huge influence on the way that we use technology in our teaching at Orewa College. When we first became a BYOD school we marvelled at the fact that our year nines were now writing essays of 500 words with ease and without complaint whereas, previously, it had been a struggle to get 250 words from some students on pen and paper.

We progressed from substituting the written for the digital by getting our students to augment their essays by inserting images to make them visually appealing. We also experimented with using Google Docs to collaboaratively write essays or brainstorm ideas. As we modified essay writing further and embraced blogging, we asked our students to embed YouTube clips of the scenes they wrote about in film essays into their blog posts. They were also asked to comment on each others’ posts and share ideas.

In the recent past we have redefined essay writing with digital essays which have become popular with many teachers as a way of presenting understanding of key concepts. Students visually present information with a voiceover. Here is the presentation I created to help my students of 2014:

What happened this year?

This I year I wanted to experiment with something a bit different. So I created a PBL unit titled: Movies under the Microscope for the study of the film,  Life of Pi. The plan for my students was to create a mash up of a TED Talk/ Talk show/Film Review Vlog to demonstrate their understanding of the film.

Check out the plan here:

We began the unit by watching the film and then discussing key aspects of it. I explained the Driving Question: What is the recipe for a blockbuster film? The class then moved onto researching the aspects in small groups. While they were researching and thinking about the film that they would make, a few students asked me whether they needed to include all the information that they had researched. As there was a 5 minute limit on their presentation I suggested that they selects parts of it to include. They could publish their research as a blog post with images to support the examples they gave. I checked with my HOD to see whether this could be part of their report grade instead of a traditional essay and she agreed. Here are a couple of examples:

Alex and Jamie

I was fortunate enough to have a student teacher who was a media studies major so he became my expert. Kyle taught the class how to write a good concept, script writing, how to storyboard and gave them some editing and sound tips. The scripts that the class have written are professional looking: Lewis and Kate wrote some great scripts.

Various students brought in tripods and cameras which surprised me because I thought that they would use their mobile devices to film. They also brought in costumes and had me book various spaces around the school such as our auditorium so that they could film in more realistic locations than the classroom. This created a few challenges as we were not the only class filming and the groups who did not book spaces early found it hard to find suitable locations to film.

  As the project progressed I realised that, to do a really good job of the teen talk with quality preparation, we would need much longer than the original time period of 4 weeks. So instead of making the Teen Talk and a second film (music video or film trailer) I decided to give my class 6 weeks to complete the one film.

I noticed that some students had finished filming and were editing and some were still in the planning phase. There were also days where members of a group would be absent so the group could not film. I wrote some reflection questions for those students who could not do any work on their Teen Talk for one reason or another. They published their reflection on their blog.

This reflection from Alex made me tear up a little with happiness because what he has written is the exact result that I was hoping to achieve with this unit of work. Sophie also reflects positively. Some students commented that they did not feel they had learnt how to write a film essay and would not be prepared for the end of year exam. It was good to get this feedback and I discussed it with the class the next time I saw them. I gave the class the option of completing a film essay, if they would like to, and told them that we would cover it in our revision at the end of the year. I referred them to this presentation:

Finally, the day came to view their films. We had a shared lunch and sat back to enjoy the fruits of their labour. I created a Google Form for the class to vote for the best film in a variety of categories such as best concept, best actor and best editing. My favourite Teen Talk was the one below because it was engaging and interesting to watch. The research information, which could have been a bit dry, was presented with variation in voice tone and overlaid excerpts from the film.

What worked well?

  • Social learning. Each group enjoyed being able to collaborate, cooperate and create together. They had a lot of fun with this project.
  • The discovery of significant content. By researching, writing a script and delivering the lines in the script I believe that students will have a good knowledge of the key aspects in the film they studied.
  • Learning new skills. Creating a film requires a lot of preproduction, learning how to use cameras, and editing in iMovie.

What would I do differently next time?

  • Ensure that the research information was totally accurate and well explained. I could do this by adding more specific feedback onto their research blog posts.
  • Show exemplars of excellent Teen Talks and discuss what made them interesting and engaging. I will be able to do this next year, this year was the first year so I couldn’t.
  • Include one written essay to cater for the students who didn’t feel that they were prepared for the end of year exam. I would also discuss the connection between their research and an essay so that they understood that the same information was required for each.
  • It would be really awesome to have a decent studio for each group to film in. The set is the part of each film that didn’t look so great. Hopefully this will be an option for next time as it is under discussion currently.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this unit of work and feel very proud of what my students have achieved. Project Based Learning is an engaging and relevant method of teaching and learning because it enables differentiation, it engages boys well, and easily reflects the redefinition part of the SAMR model. 


2 thoughts on “From Essays to Teen Talks

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