01 Mar Reel World Youth at the Langevin School
The last five months I’ve been teaching the entire Langevin School grade seven contingent on how to make a short documentary video. With four classes of thirty students each giving me roughly 120 students and 4 teachers to work with, this has been a challenging and exciting project. This article captures some of my learning from the experience in case others want to do the same.
As before with the Alice Jamieson School, I wanted to see if I could use documentary videomaking as a way to encourage youth to learn more directly from life outside the classroom. School has this
funny effect on students where learning is seen as something done in a classroom or searched for on Google. My hope was that if we let the students choose a topic they were interested in, gave them a fun tool to investigate it, and let them loose, they’d find their own motivation to learn.
For myself, I had some key criteria in my mind to stay true to the primary purpose of doing this project. I know myself. I’m the parent that will do their kid’s science project for them so that they can succeed. Of course, it should be about their process of learning and not my own need to look good. Here’s some non-negotiable that were important to me:
- The film had to require some level of investigation of real life. Fiction films tend lead students to create purely out of their imagination. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted students to develop some ability to test their ideas with reality so I kept the focus squarely on documentaries.
- The project had to take place in iterations over time. It’s not often that students get to invest in something over time. And in any case, with time, more possibility for learning opens up.
- The students had to select their own topic. In the end, the motivation for the topic must come from the student. I’ve learned that even if initially the topic seems too big or challenging to do, the students surprise with their tenacity and creativity in approaching the topic. Who knew that death or ex-criminals could actually work as junior high school topics.
Conditions for School Selection
Choosing a school is no small task. I was looking for a teacher willing to deal with the chaos of a curriculum where students choose their direction. In this respect, I was thoroughly impressed by the Langevin Science school. Flexible hours and inquiry based learning meant that teachers often expected a certain level of chaos.
I was looking for a school that had the computer resources to be able to run the video editing suite. The Langevin School got a smoking deal on Premiere Pro, but the cameras the students had access to often ran out of space or battery power. Luckily, many had iphones and ipads to supplement the filming.
Last year, I worked with an all-girls school at a grade eight level. This year I worked with grade sevens mixed. I had no idea how huge of a difference it would be.
- The maturity level ranged from still a kid to pre-teen.
- The inclusion of boys added to the rowdiness of the class.
- The boys tended to choose topics related to video games, war, or sports which wasn’t too surprising.
- The school had access to camera equipment but they were unreliable in terms of battery power.
- Reliable computer access was a challenge although we were able to get Premiere Pro installed on all the PCs.
Perhaps I spent more time in the classroom this time or perhaps it’s just “that” generation. There was a tendency for students to rely on Google as the primary source for “learning”. I shouldn’t be surprised as how often do I pull out my smartphone and look up a fact.
Unfortunately, this got in the way of actual learning. Most of Google learning was copy and paste. I was hoping students would actually talk to the people directly involved with their subject or better yet visit the site directly. Why not visit Calgary’s landfills? Why not visit the penguins at the zoo? My hope was to show that life learning was may more interesting than “Google” learning.
There are significant barriers to this kind of learning though even in as flexible a school as the Langevin where field trips are a common occurrence.
- Students often could not get transportation to the site.
- Students were not comfortable taking their own initiative to visit the site.
- There were limits to how far schools would let their students go.
I also had some assumptions about skillsets that grade seven students would have. The big ones were:
- Data Management: students often did not understand the concept of storing data on the network versus storing on local drives. Also, organizing the files into appropriately named folders is a learned technique (duh). And I also found that data often got “lost” whether it was because they didn’t download the footage right away or they simply couldn’t locate it. Next time, I need to teach data management.
- Approaching Adults: I’ve forgotten how intimidating it is to approach adults especially with my upbringing to respect your elders. Some students were timid at approaching adults and also did not know how to talk on phones with adults. The preference was to email and not follow-up. Classic avoidance tactics that I still do myself to this day.
- Long-Term Planning: many students didn’t have a sense of how to organize their time for a long-term project. Come to think of it, when was the last time I worked on the equivalent of a “six-month project” (an eternity for a grade seven student)? It would have been helpful if I provided a few more milestones and checkin points.
This project was funded by Calgary 2012 and the Langevin Parent Council. Thank you to both of them! I appreciated being able to work on a project over the long-term and not just do a one-day session.