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Effective teachers continually assess their students’ learning. Although some types of assessments, like standardized tests, are mandated, educators can use many other forms of evaluation to check for understanding.
I like to assess my students in many ways. Following the guidance of the ISTE Standards for Teachers, I look for authentic learning experiences that incorporate contemporary tools, and I gravitate to assessments that are engaging and fun for students.
That’s why I decided to have my students create movies to demonstrate their understanding of animal adaptations. It was a leap of faith. Although I had attended a workshop showing how easy it is to use video-editing programs, I had no experience actually using the software myself. I learned alongside my students, and our first attempt was a rocky one. But I learned some important lessons along the way that helped make subsequent lessons go a lot more smoothly.
Learning the technology is the easy part
Today’s students are digital learners, and they typically enjoy working with technology. Movie making can be a very motivating way to incorporate elements of project-based learning because it allows students to develop their creativity. They want to produce a quality product that their classmates and others will enjoy viewing.
My first attempt involved working with a class of 22 fourth graders at a parochial school in Alabama. Most knew how to take photos and videos but were not familiar with editing software. However, they learned quickly and soon developed a new skill they could use in their personal lives or in other educational endeavors.
Unfortunately, the finished products looked more like “play time” than the reflective, meaningful products I had imagined. I realized that I did not provide students with the proper structure or support they needed to be successful. I failed to take them through some critical steps necessary to produce movies that actually reflected their knowledge so that I could use them as effective assessments.
These lessons learned allowed me to provide more effective support during our second attempt. The steps below reflect what I gleaned from my experience and can hopefully guide you in your student movie-making experience.
1. Make your own movie.
Before you engage your students in a movie-making project, create a movie yourself. This helps you anticipate the time and effort it takes to produce a quality product and alerts you to possible roadblocks that your students may encounter. Go through the entire process, from recording video and downloading it to the school computers to navigating the editing process using the same software your students will use.
2. Establish clear goals and student guidelines.
Because my fourth grade students were studying animal adaptations, to supplement the standard end-of-unit test, I had them create a 1- to 2-minute movie showing the adaptations of an animal. I gave them this overview to guide their planning:
We have been studying the adaptations of animals. Part of your final grade will include a movie that you will create in class. Your movie should begin with an introduction naming the animal and describing its habitat. Your movie should also name at least three adaptations of this animal. Your movie will include images and video and should be 1-2 minutes in length. A rubric will be provided so that you will know how your project will be graded.
Although I wanted students to have room to express themselves creatively, I knew they needed guidance as they began their planning and research. If your students will be working in groups, consider helping them to divide the work among the team members.
3. Set aside time for research and planning.
This stage of the project focused on language arts and science skills. I provided a report “frame” to help students organize the content they collected from internet research, which included not just information, but images as well. Students stored source information and photos in shared folders on school computers.
4. Use storyboards to plan movies.
A storyboard is basically a map of the video. Students lay out their stories in squares that look like a comic strip. Storyboard templates are available from several commercial publishers, like Printable Paper, or you can create your own. For elementary school students, it is important to limit the length of video and the number of photos they can use and to give them at least a rough outline of what you expect. This helps guide students as they determine the content of their movies.
Here’s an example of the type of guidance you could provide:
Frame 1: Video of yourself introducing your animal. Keep this video to no more than 15 seconds. Include a sentence about the habitat of your animal.
Frames 2, 3 and 4: Each of these frames should include a different picture of your animal’s adaptations. As you show the picture, you will include narration to describe the adaptation to the audience.
5. Write the screenplay.
Using the research they have gathered, students write out exactly what they will say in each section of the movie. This offers an authentic opportunity to integrate writing into science class.
6. Film, download and edit the video.
Once the script is complete, it’s time to begin filming. My students worked in teams and used iPads to film each other. Because we had invested more time in planning and mapping out the content, the filming went smoothly and required fewer takes and less frustration than our original attempt.
After the filming was complete, students downloaded the footage onto our school computers, where they put the movie together using iMovie. Our technology teacher demonstrated iMovie before the students made their own videos. The students were bursting with excitement as they combined their video and the digital pictures adding narration, transitions and other movie effects.
7. Show the final product.
The best part of the project was watching everyone’s movies. The students beamed with pride as the rest of the class watched their movies. Students demonstrated their understanding of the topic in a creative and unique way. After each movie was over, students added the name and adaptations of the featured animal to their science journals. Watch a video a student made about hummingbirds.
From start to premiere, our project took about a week. Students developed important stills and met several of the ISTE Standards for Students, including Creativity and Innovation, Communication and Collaboration, Research and Information Fluency, and Technology Operations and Concepts. They wrote and edited in meaningful ways as they created their screenplays; they worked in teams as they put their productions together; and they used technology to research, film and edit their final creations.
More important, the project allowed students to demonstrate their understanding of adaptations in an engaging way. Because they had the scoring rubric up front, they knew, for example, that I expected them to include all the required aspects of the project and that their information had to be accurate. The movie-making project met the ISTE Standards for Teachers goal of providing students with multiple and varied formative and summative assignments aligned with content.