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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

Making "iMovies"

Learning Through The Arts projects at Langley Secondary School

By Karen Larsen

Langley Secondary School (LSS) recently hosted media artist David Brigden to work collaboratively with secondary school students on enriching their media literacy. Brigden, an award-winning filmmaker, taught teens to make iMovies using the LSS "computers on wheels" (COWS) mobile computer lab. The COWS lab is comprised of 32 Mac laptops on two carts, which teachers roll into their classrooms.

Humanities 8 and Planning 10 students used digital images they took themselves as well as images they captured from the Internet. Using filmmaking techniques, the students brought the still images to life. In addition, the students added sound (music and voices) to enhance the pictures.

Kate Sellars’ Humanities 8 students made "book trailer" movies to dovetail with their class work on the novel, The Outsiders. A book trailer is a new concept, where publishers put together an audio-visual clip—much like a movie trailer—to get readers interested in a specific book. Sellars and her students are on the cutting edge of this brand-new media tool.

Grade 8 student Laura Watson feels that book trailers are a "...great way to find a book. (There is) lots more description (in a movie trailer) than just words on the back of a book." Her classmate—Carys McConnel—notes that book trailers, "...let people know what the big idea of a book is all about."

At first, Sellars was hesitant to embark on the technology project. But the hesitation lifted when she noticed that students were using deeper level thinking to create their book trailers. "Their understanding of the major themes, characters, events, and symbolism is represented in their book trailers. They are also fitting their images with narration and text, so they must develop succinct, powerful language that will convey their ideas." Sellars describes this project as "a powerful process" for herself and for her students.

The reaction of the Grade 8 students has been encouraging to Sellars. "My students have responded overwhelmingly in a positive way. They are excited about their book trailers and it has given them an excellent opportunity to explore their understanding of the novel in a new manner. The students are focussed and enthusiastic. They are already planning for ways to use our new media literacy skills next semester."

My Planning class also put together iMovies with Brigden. The Grade 10 students made 30-second public-service announcements on substance abuse. Each student researched a different drug, infusing facts into their cautionary tale. Brigden felt the idea of teenagers sending antidrug messages to their peers would be very compelling.

Brigden is completely sold on the value of Learning Through The Arts (LTTA) for both students and teachers. He notes that, "Students discover new and interesting ways to explore the curriculum." He says filmmaking as a learning strategy can be particularly valuable for students who have challenges with standard classroom practices.

My class of 30, which includes 11 identified students and 4 from an alternate program seemed the perfect environment to test Brigden’s theory. While there were definitely differing levels of comfort with the technology, each student was actively engaged in the process of researching information and designing her or his movie. I have to admit there was a frustration factor, however, as these students find listening difficult and they demand one-on-one assistance. Even with three adults in the classroom, there weren’t enough of us to provide the support the students could have used.

I thought the media-literacy project would be a great way to level the playing field and provide opportunities for differentiated learning, particularly for students who don’t like to read or write. The opportunities were definitely there, however a number of students lacked the motivation to seize the chance. Sporadic attendance made it difficult for some students to be successful with their project, and one student had to resort to the more traditional "research and write a report" strategy due to numerous absences.

However, even the students with identified learning needs showed eagerness for the project, and student enthusiasm is what David Brigden enjoys most about working with teenagers. "It may not show right away, but once a student connects with the art form (digital photography and filmmaking), and finds her or his voice, there is no holding them back."

Ron Byman, saw his 15-year-old stepson actively engaged in the iMovie project. "It’s something they can relate to. We adults don’t understand lots of kids because we haven’t been there. They relate to music and visuals more than reading. When you get kids sparked, they take a lot of pride in what they are doing. I’ve never seen so much satisfaction regarding his school work."

Students are engaged and teachers are engaged. According to Brigden, teachers are "...receiving the professional development necessary to incorporate newfound techniques into their lesson planning." Kate Sellars feels personally equipped to continue with media literacy in the future—both with her current class and with other classes. "To have David Bridgen model a unit, both in theory and practice has helped me see how it will be possible to transfer my experience to other areas."

The success that LSS students and teachers have had with this project shows that "Learning Through The Arts" continues to thrive in British Columbia schools.

Karen Larsen teaches at Langley Secondary School, Langley.

For more information on participating in LTTA in 2008–09, visit the website—www.ltta.ca.

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