(First published on GettingSmart.com on February 7, 2013.)
Proudly, I am a teacher and a dreamer. With all discrepancies of skills and talents set aside, I relate to Steven Spielberg in at least one area: I, too, “dream for a living.” I dream of modeling the correct attitude as a persistent and teachable student. I dream of inspiring the shy, reluctant student, sitting in the farthest corner of the classroom, to rise up, hold his head high, and share his thoughts with his mesmerized peers. I dream of witnessing a team of students command our stage and spontaneously and creatively breathe life into age-old literature through improvisational acting. I dream of students who see past scores and comments on their papers to the true meaning of education. I dream of a class where academic rigor and educational enthusiasm are one. Simply put, I dream of dreams. Recently, one of my dreams became reality. Our literature class, affectionately dubbed Studio 113 by students years ago, was granted our wish. In fact, the goal for next year’s American Literature Honors students is to flip a class and create an original movie. It’s a dream come true.
The Standards: Leveraging Technology to Flip Our Class
To master all standards and assignments while flipping our class, we will use Dell’s online learning platform, which our county has rebranded as HallConnect. From the unlimited creative and sharing potential of Google Drive to the virtual backpack of class notes and folders that results from merging a powerful app like Evernote with Idea Paint, all technology apps will be fair game. Twitter, Facebook, Wikispaces, Celly, ClassParrot, Remind101, and Voicethread will all be options as we seek to efficiently communicate and collaborate during an always-hectic high school year. Likewise, the power of the smartphones to expedite our learning will not be ignored. To be perfectly honest, any educational tool able to alleviate the stress of such an enormous task will be considered.
The Product: Creating an Original Movie
The cut-and-dry basics of the product are essentially simple: use the majority of class time to write an original screenplay, to assign students to suitable production teams, to cast the actors and actresses, to record hundreds of scenes over and over, and to score the entire movie with a soundtrack written and performed by students in Studio 113. However, make no mistake about it. The goals of creating an original movie and cultivating an in-depth understanding of the curriculum are not separate. They are symbiotic. Knowledge of the standards, literary terms, and texts will give birth to the creative ideas that surely constitute the framework of a movie, whereas the inquisitive process of writing an authentic screenplay will demand a deeper understanding of the studies-at-hand. If the two-week, multi-camera video project shown here successfully implemented the assigned standards in such limited time, nine months should be sufficient to represent mastery through a full-length movie.
The Process: A Breathable Lesson Plan
Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Leaning heavily on such a potent truth will infuse our class with the necessary energy and ideas to produce a high-quality product from a fluid, breathable task. Of course, getting an early start in late June or July with the assigned coursework will only add extra breaths. Until the final touches are placed on the movie, every aspect of the product will be a work-in-progress. The screenplay. The casting. The recordings. All of it. Obviously, this is quite a challenge, but it is a welcomed challenge. Obstacles of various kinds will surely crop up, prompting me to periodically point a stern finger towards a favorite quotation that reads: “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; courage breeds creativity.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Grand Finale: A Red Carpet Premiere
Want to know my vision of the final product? Well, here it is. Imagine, if you will, a rented, local movie theater buzzing on the premiere night of a full-length movie that was completely produced at a nearby high school with a handful of HD cameras and lapel microphones. Follow me further, as we envision a crowd of parents, peers, school officials, media reporters, and local dignitaries as they wait outside an area outlined by red, velvet ropes. Across the parking lot, a heavily lit vehicle rolls closer to the front of the movie complex. Quicker than you can say, “Flashing lights,” the doors of a yellow cheese wagon open, and a class of talented students, all garbed in their finest attire, step onto the red carpet, which is just some bulletin board paper leading to the front entrance. Smartphone cameras light up the night as the stars, ingenious students from East Hall High School, stop to sign autographs on posters and soundtrack covers. Eventually, the hysteria and excitement funnel into a crowded, standing-room-only theater. The movie plays. The crowd cheers, cries, laughs, and wonders. The crowd is left speechless. And the students are forever changed. This will be our collective dream, and we hope you join us on the journey next school year. If you just so happen to miss any postings of our progress, don’t worry. It will all be recorded. In fact, it will be a motion picture. Major to me.