Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.
– Attributed to Louis E. Boone
For Government schools in NSW, this week is the final week of Term Two, a time when many fun things occur. For my school, it is also the week of the Year Six Canberra excursion. As my regular readers would be aware, I am teaching a combined Year Five and Six class this year, however, I am unable to attend the Canberra excursion. During the July school holidays, I am in Canberra for a week to attend Kanga Cup, an international youth football tournament, where I live in at the Kanga Cup Youth Referee Academy as one of the Referee Coaches and Mentors to the thirty-eight referees chosen for intense development and training.
Unfortunately, If I was to attend the Year Six Canberra excursion I would be away from Monday to Thursday of this week, and then be leaving to go back to Canberra on Saturday morning, not returning til the following the Saturday, which is not really fair on my thirty-week pregnant wife. So I was one of two teachers staying behind to teach the seventy Year Five students for the week. Our Assistant Principal asked what we had planned and I pitched an idea that sounded great in my head, but that I was unsure about its practicality.
Regular readers will likely have noticed that I am something of a geek and a nerd, and some years ago I stumbled across an incredible project called Star Wars Uncut. The core idea is that the team behind the project cut Star Wars into fifteen-second clips and crowd-sourced the remake of each clip. Individuals could recreate the clip they had chosen in any way they wanted. StarWarsUncut.com won a 2010 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media – Fiction and has since gone on to recreate The Empire Strikes Back in the same format, though there is no word on when they will open work on The Return of the Jedi. If you enjoy Star Wars, it is fun to watch and demonstrates a variety of creative approaches to various scenes and special effects.
This was the basic premise of the idea. Clearly, we would never be able to achieve a full-length film, and so after chatting with the Year Five students last week, I sourced an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants to use, which was just over eleven minutes long and, after slicing off the opening introduction and closing credits (I wanted to keep those intact), on Monday morning we introduced the concept to Year Five. I explained the concept to them, using a selected portion from Star Wars Uncut (the opening sequence showing the chase between the Devastator and the Tantive IV and the subsequent boarding and routing of the rebel troops on the Tantive IV by the Stormtroopers) to demonstrate what it could look like. I showed them the same sequence from the Star Wars Uncut film. We discussed techniques that had been used, the fact that the uncut version was not exactly the same for a variety of reasons (different non-Star Wars figurines had been used to help recreate the various scenes, the imperfection of the various individual clips, costumes of varying detail and complexity etc).
Students were then put into groups, with the regular classroom groupings being deliberately split up in order to provide students an opportunity to work and learn with different members of their cohort.This worked fantastically well for us, with most groups working very well together, and many new friends being made. We introduced the concept of storyboarding and provided some flipped learning content for how to construct and use a storyboard as well as some different techniques for filming (such as stop-motion and re-dubbing dialogue) and things to consider when using iPads to film (such as the quality of audio recording, particularly dialogue).
The result was fantastic. The students were incredibly engaged, focused, and were able to express their thinking as to how they solved the various challenges they came across in recreating various scenes, particularly those which would require special effects if filmed as a live-action clip. I am in the process of writing a formal unit of work for it and making the links to the curriculum explicit, but I will make it freely available once I have done so. The students loved seeing the final product come together and showed a great sense of camaraderie and appreciation for how others had contributed to the final product.
“We’ve been conditioned to expect character development.”
– Ian Thomson.
Welcome back for this article, in which we will close out the second day of FutureSchools 2016 with talks from Ian Thomson and Stephen Lethbridge, speaking two vastly different topics. If you missed the previous article, you can find it here.
Ian (@ianthommygun) is the Director of ICT and the Arts at Amaroo School in the A.C.T, and he spoke under the title of Film in Five; Unpacking Videos in Education, which was a title which captured my curiosity given the move of my school towards BYOD, and the use of moviemaking as one of the new ways for our students to demonstrate their learning in new ways that were not available to them previously.
Ian opened by showing us the above short film made by students of his is a narrative about a group of students covering for the fact they overslept an exam. Ian made the point that we need to use film-making authentically rather than putting it into a unit like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, which happens all to often. He indicated that Cisco predicted that approximately eighty percent of all internet traffic will be video content by the year 2019, which when you look at the rate in which the video content statistics grow on The Internet in Real-Time web page, is very easy to believe. Ian also pointed out that YouTube is the second most popular search engine in its own right. I can certainly believe that given the propensity for people to respond with “YouTube it” when asked how to do something.
Ian introduced the five guerilla-like components of making a good quality movie or short film and then apologised to the literary buffs and English teachers in the room as he distilled “…a thousand years of literary gold into one diagram.”
Ian said that we have been conditioned over the centuries to expect character development in any quality narrative and that filmmakers at any level need to ensure that they leverage that fact, alongside framing the plot-twist in order to maximise the exposure and impact of the twist. Ian next spoke about how the use of shot-framing, or lack thereof, tells him a lot about the skill level of a film-maker. He indicated that we should be using the rule of thirds or that we should, at least, be aware of and understand the rule if we are going to disregard it. He also introduced a concept which was new to me, the idea of look room. This was described as creating a virtual space for the person who is off-camera that is being spoken to, as without look room, it can appear as if the person speaking is talking to themselves. Additionally, shooting over the shoulder of someone can be a useful tactic for shooting interviews to generate authenticity. Ian’s final note was that unless camera movement is a deliberate tool, which can be incredibly useful in some contexts for tension purposes.
Ian gave us a brief overview of how to light a scene properly, including keeping the prime light source behind you and over either the right or left shoulder if possible to reduce unnecessary shadows and that where possible, we should utilise three light sources for evenness and if need be, a fleckie or reflector, for fine control over specific areas of a scene. The image below gives an indication of what this might look like. in practice.
Following on from light was sound, which Ian described as being just as important to the quality and success of a film as the image being seen, indicating that where possible, we should utilise microphones rather than rely on the microphones built into devices. The reason for this, he explained is that the built-in devices are designed to capture everything and you have very little control of what you end up with in your sound file. An external microphone can give you that control as their range is more focused, narrowing the size of the cone which is recorded. It was also mentioned that the use of headphones on set can allow you to hear background noise whilst filming, and thus take steps to reduce it if appropriate is important as our brain is very good at ignoring sounds like the hum of a fridge or a fluorescent light. Ian also talked about the love of school students, particularly in primary and lower secondary, to add background music to their films, which has a tendency to override the audio. He compared background music to a picture frame. It is nice to have and it can enhance the picture, but not one is there to see the frame, they want to see the picture.
The final component which Ian discussed was the order in which certain types of shots are used, and that there were essentially three types of shots; a wide or establishing shot which provided information such as time of day and location, a mid-shot which shows you who is in the scene and is often utilised for, or as, cutaways and finally the tight shot which is often referred to as the close-up, is typically the shot type used for dialogue and should adhere to both the rule of thirds and the look room rule mentioned previously. You can see an example of what these different shot types might look like in the image below.
Following on from Ian, and closing out the day was Stephen Lethbridge (@stephen_tpk) who is Principal of Taupaki School in Auckland, New Zealand. Stephen spoke under the title Race to the Maker Space and opened with a quote from Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad that was included in an article entitled Competing for the Future.
“So the urgent drives out the important; the future is left largely unexplored; and the capacity to act, rather than to think and imagine, becomes the sole measure of leadership.”
– Hamel, G., Prahalad, C.K., (1994), Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/zvxcqk2 on 12 March 2016
Stephen continued by pointing out that Makerspaces used to be a fringe affair, but that they have recently become the hot item on the edu-bandwagon with maker spaces popping up everywhere. I have to admit that at this point I was a little unsure where Stephen was pro-maker space or not, a topic I had heard Gary Stager speak about at Future Schools 2015 and when Stephen asked if the audience had been Gary Stagered I was confused even further.
Stephen continued pressing the point, questioning maker spaces by asking if they needed to be physical, what is required for a maker space and that there seems to be so many variants of does and does not qualify as a maker space, but that ultimately there is no reason they cannot be virtual spaces, something that he pointed to Minecraft as an example of, and further, made the point that the maker space should never be the only space in a school, community or class where creativity or making can occur. Stephen referred to the New Zealand number eight wire mentality, as an indicator that the mentality behind maker space is part of the country’s cultural DNA. For Stephen, the only thing needed for a maker space is “…a thinking teacher that adapts to change” with the only tool required being the one in the image below.
Stephen spoke about the fact that maker spaces in school contexts were often attached to a single teacher and survived or failed based upon that teacher, including whether or not they stayed or moved on to a new school. Stephen continued by exploring the definition of a maker space as being a technological extension of the do it yourself culture, with a sub-culture of hacking having emerged which focuses on the pulling apart and re-purposing of parts and componentry, with a link to open-source plans.
The recognised founder of the maker movement is Seymour Papert, with Sylvia Libow-Martinez and Gary Stager the recognised patrons and champions of the maker movement. They have described making as something which is a purposeful expression of intellect.
The video above is was shown by Stephen as a cute way of dealing with his dismay at the New Zealand Breakers defeat in the NBL grand final, but including a friendly dig about the All Black’s superiority over the Wallabies, with a side-reference to the DIY culture.
Making, Stephen declared, was a stance, allowing the opportunity for students to have authentic experiences making real things, with the chance to follow something through for, as long Gary Stager has put it, “…longer than a course of antibiotics.” Stephen continued, reminding us that when good ideas are found in wider society with potential applications within education, they are often changed to fit the structure of education which is currently in place, rather than the structure in place being adapted to fit the new idea, resulting in watered down variations (a theme which Peggy Sheehy picked up in her keynote address on day three).
Stephen proposed that we change making, that we think of it as a culture, a way of using tools to solve general problems, that it is about taking risks and making mistakes, and learning from them, that if it is good enough for our students, then it is good enough for the adults as well.
In Stephen’s school, there is a Make Club, the Ministry of Make (@MakeClub_NZ) where students can come along to be involved in making, but that they must have a parent with them (a step made to prevent it turning into another after school care / babysitting service) and that the students involved have designed, built and coded new garbage bins that light up and speak to people when they put rubbish inside, in an effort to address the question of how to decrease the problems around litter in the community.
To provide the greatest opportunity for a maker space to succeed in a school, the Principal needs to become the lead mistake maker, modelling making mistakes productively, allowing Twitter connections and encouraging professional autonomy to allow teachers to provide opportunities for organic making as part of the teaching and learning within their classroom.
Above all, use the tools of today, today. Do not limit students to the tools of yesterday.
For all articles in this series, please click here.