Maybe it’s because I love the movies myself, or maybe it is because I see the highly contagious enthusiasm from students when we roll out a movie project in class, but no matter what the reason, there is certainly an overwhelming, scared and excited feeling in the room when the phrase, “lights, camera, action!” is said in your learning environment.
Let’s face it, the children of today are video junkies. Kids today spend more time in front of the TV, video game consoles, texting with smart phones, or browsing on tablets then ever before. There are studies out there that share the incredible amount of screen time that kids spend in a day. Some studies even claim that kids are spending more screen time in a day then they are actually awake due to several screens sitting in front of them at once. (As I write this blog on my Mac, I am realizing that I have my Chromebook on next to me with my email up, my phone out to see the weather, and my iPad up to preview an app that was just requested by a teacher. Guilty!)
To me though, screen time is a broad phrase that encompasses any digital device that has a read out screen. To me that is unfair. Screen time can be sorted into many different categories and can enhance the learning if done properly. Therefore the negative connotation that it gets in articles and sometimes from parents, isn’t always justified. The saying too much of anything is also true! Balance, balance, balance is the key. For instance, I loved using Brainpop in my third grade class to introduce a new science unit with my students, but I would not use it for every unit throughout the year. I would refer to it as a resource though if certain students learned better by watching one of these great videos at home to reinforce the concepts we had gone over in class performing an experiment.
There are two different forms of screen time in my mind; absorption and interaction. Most TV shows, movies, and even the old filmstrips for example, fall into the first category of absorption. They can be engaging and spark conversation, but for the most part students sit and absorb all of the information. This method is not unlike a lecture format of teaching, but replaced with visuals in a digital media format. In my mind, it is still better then a lecture format as it gives students that are visual learners multimedia to support the content that is delivered verbally in the film. Interactive screen time, on the other hand, blends digital media with a mandatory class participation. At it’s lowest form, it could be watching a short clip and answering a few questions at the end of the film using student clickers. When students are actively participating in some form of screen time, to me this changes from a negative connotation of screen time to a more positive notion.
Let’s enhance the lesson further. My third graders noticed that there were a few Brainpop videos missing from the website that our science units of study covered throughout the year, so they took it upon themselves to fix the problem. It quickly became a perfect example of Project Based Learning with Multimedia. They drafted an email to the company to request a video be created for these two units of study, and were amazed that a representative from Brainpop wrote back and would love to have ideas from the students sent in to create the new video. My students then began to storyboard and script out a short video for these two units, now that they had studied the content, using the Brainpop like format and emailed their ideas back. The representative was so impressed with the careful consideration of scripting to explain the content, the attention towards the intended audience and the students use of storyboard techniques, that they asked the students to create their very own Brainpop video, publish it and forward the link.
Screen time takes on a whole new meaning when your students themselves are creating the media and presenting it to their peers and/or a global audience. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton of work that goes into pre-planning, planning, implementing and reflecting on a project like this, but it is so worth all of that work when you see the kids’ faces when they view their masterpiece published on the web. They took what they had learned by absorbing and interacting with these videos, and solved a “real world” problem for them, by creating a video that would help other classrooms across the globe understand the content of these two science units.
It’s time to think of classroom movies and videos as a creation medium, and not as just something kids sit in front of and zone out for a few minutes. My hope is to introduce editing software like iMovie and publishing student work to videos sites like YouTube to enhance learning, and allow kids to explore 21st century skills. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes with projects like these. Kids learn the best by making small mistakes and persevering to accomplish the task.
It’s also a shift in thinking as many of the students could teach all of us educators a thing or two about the tools needed to pull a project like this off. Don’t be afraid to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge to the class. Even if you are not an early adopter of technology, or creating videos, you can witness first hand how a student can manipulate the tools to pull it all off and still help guide them through a project like this. Just remember, as the educator you can oversee and guide the students throughout the process using your knowledge of good communication and the writing process. They may be light years ahead of us with the tech tools, but they still need to be reminded of good planning strategies, focusing on the essential questions, and delivering their message to their intended audience. That part we can always guide them on, regardless of the medium they are working in.