Wednesday, June 19, 2013

60 Seconds & a Camera: Essentials for a Culminating Activity

(Originally published on GettingSmart.com on April 10, 2013.)

Watch     Please excuse any unintentional misleading as suggested by the above title. In all exactness, the blueprint for rendering a solid “60-Second Recap” is a bit more involved and time-consuming, but the clockwork immersed in the process is replete with analytical and interactive reading, classroom ownership, creativity, and autonomy. Before detailing the foundation and framework that constituted the “60-Second Recaps,” take a look at these examples from our American Literature classes that culminated in one minute and one camera.

“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” by Bret Harte (60-Second Recaps)

How did we get there? Here is our meticulous path to success.

Working & Reading the Assigned Literature with an Interactive Structure

For the assigned study of Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” our class in Studio 113 created another interactive learning structure to guide us through the character analyses, the author’s style and diction, and any examples of American literary genres. The “Audience and Actors” interactive structure invited a fixed team of volunteer actors and actresses to bring the literature to life. Seated around the stage in the center of our classroom, these gregarious students performed certain scenes when prompted by the teacher or when requested by the students. Positioned on the stage, a team of volunteer readers kept us moving through chunks of literature at an appropriate pace. Using the TodaysMeet backchannel and armed with iPads, smartphones, and laptops, the audience of four stations had plenty to do. Station 1 searched for proof of Realism, Regionalism, and Naturalism. Station 2 created character profiles of Mother Shipton, the Duchess, Piney Woods, John Oakhurst, Uncle Billy, and Tom Simson. Our team of actors and actresses did their best to resemble the suggestions from Station 2. The students in Station 3 challenged their peers by modeling Socratic thinking. Next to the hilarious acting, these thoughtful questions prompted many unique and upper level responses from Station 4, which was asked to comment verbally or non-verbally through our established backchannel. To maintain an open atmosphere where no thoughts or ideas were squelched, all students were asked to comment via the backchannel while maintaining a primary focus as assigned per station. To be quite honest, the rotation of the audience members for all four stations was not meticulously timed. Instead, it was very fluid and flexible. I simply relied on the data produced from my teacher’s heart to determine when to transition into the next stations. It took nearly three class periods of fifty minutes to finish our reading of Bret Harte’s famous short story.

Introducing the 60-Second Recap

After a quick, traditional class discussion that cleared up any misconceptions about the assigned literature, I used this 60-second recap of Forrest Gump and this awesome website to introduce the collective challenge. I was also quite certain a video of famous movie mistakes would set the tone for focusing on all details. Click here to see the video that got the students’ attention.

Fostering Spontaneity and Creativity

I am a firm believer that our current educational system is not fostering spontaneity and creativity at a satisfactory level, so any quick activities to energize a class and set the atmosphere for ingenuity will not be lost instructional time. In fact, think of the activities as investments for the upcoming, creative project. Want to see how students from Studio 113 got energized to brainstorm and create their 60-second recaps? Take a look at this activity.

Brainstorming the 60-Second Recap

No magic for this model of brainstorming. Using the traditional, one-hand-at-a-time model of class discussion, the students and I started with simple sheets of paper that were marked to replicate the site of our final performance: the old football field and track located behind our school. Starting from the “endzone” and modeling all notes on the smartboard, I guided the students through a blueprint of our 60-second recap. Every five-to-ten lines on the students’ college-ruled sheets of paper mimicked the five-to-ten yards on our old football field. Through a totally spontaneous but organized format, the plans for our recap took shape as students volunteered to play characters, agreed to build props, offered to film the recap, claimed leadership roles, suggested literary details, checked the local weather for an appropriate filming date, and ultimately found some way to add to the project. The students were asked to “get off the bench” and participate in some manner, and all of them found their niches.

Rehearsing and Filming the 60-Second Recap

Thankfully enough, the very next day was perfect for filming the recaps. The weather was cooperative, and the students brought all necessary props and supplies (thanks to using their smartphones as calendars and reminders). After about five rehearsals to work out the kinks, the students exhibited complete autonomy as they performed their version of “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” What did I do during this time? I said nothing and stood high above in our band director’s raised platform. Take a look here at my bird’s eye view.

Mashing Up the Video

The final videos, which were actually over two minutes long per class, were edited in MovieMaker Live. After silencing the original audio and tripling the videos’ speeds, Mixcraft 6 was our technology tool of choice to drop in the final narration. Normally, students collaborate and use our in-class microphones and recording booth to perform the narrative audio file. However, our actual recording day just happened to fall on the Friday before Spring Break, so the voice you hear on the 60-second recaps is mine. Obviously, the narration would have exemplified much more talent if the students had been able to record their voices as the characters. In closing, I can hear the naysayers arguing that the 60-second recap is only good for Language Arts or Drama classes. I beg to differ. I imagine 60-second recaps that artistically represent geometric shapes, that personify the elements of the periodic table in a well-crafted story, that classify the various organisms studied in Biology class, that symbolize the appropriate steps in solving a complex algebraic equation, and that… Oh, well. I guess I should stop here because there honestly is no limit to what we as creative and connected educators can do with this innovative activity. Besides, my sixty seconds are up.

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