" UndoDog: Digital Documentaries 08: Phase One

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Digital Documentaries 08: Phase One

Past years' fifth grade movies have been somewhat mediocre overall, so I decided to a) start giving them more iMovie experience before fifth grade, and b) have students put more time and energy into the movie planning process this year so that when they are making the movies they're really just assembling ingredients they've prepared beforehand.

To that end, I had students first create GoogleDocs presentations of movie proposals--one slide each for 3-5 possible topics.

I had them use GoogleDocs both so that they could work on it at home if they chose (a few did) and so that they could use GoogleDocs smoothly when they need it for their class writing pieces later in the year. (They set up accounts last year, but not everyone used them, so we spent the first 2 periods resetting their passwords.) Then I chose or helped them choose the topic that would work best from the 3-5 they had proposed, and their next task was to create a presentation of 4-6 slides that would be a specific plan for their movies: what pictures (These are KenBurns style iMovies, not video), words, and sounds they would have in each part.

For both presentations, I gave students step-by-step direction sheets, shared my example presentations with them in GoogleDocs, and taught minilessons. They had 3 class periods for each.

I realize now I should have taken this much more slowly. I should have had them read the direction sheet aloud in a distraction-free environment. I should have had them "unpack" my presentations in class and talk about what they noticed and what they could do in their own presentations. (I also should have spent more time with them at the very beginning watching actual examples of 1-2 minute documentaries like the ones they'll be making. I'm sharing these examples after the plan is done, but should do some before as well.) I didn't do this, and as a result had about half of the kids confused in a variety of ways, like doing presentations all about a particular topic instead of 3-5 proposals. After getting this sorted out, some kids only wrote 1-2 proposals, or very incomplete proposals, but I let them move on to the second presentation because I didn't want them to get further behind.

Yesterday was the last class period for the second presentation, and out of 27 kids, 6 finished and are ready to start their movies, 8 are close, 12 will probably need 2 more class periods, and for 2 of them, I'm finally accepting that I will need to set up their Google accounts to remember them because they have wasted so much type mistyping their email and password, which is written on a piece of paper in front of them.

(In fairness to some kids, we did have some browser incompatibility problems, too. It used to be that GDocs worked with Camino, but not Safari, but with presentations it seems to be the other way around. Firefox would be ideal, but that's a story for another post.)

The moral of the story seems to be this: 6 class periods is not enough time for most fifth graders to create a proposal and a plan for a 1-2 minute movie in GoogleDocs, and if I want this project to succeed in the future, I will need to either:
a) have the fifth grades twice a week (sadly, this term I don't have 3/4 of them at all.)
b) get classroom teachers on board (a likelihood with some and very doubtful with others)
c) give students an option to use paper or the program of their choice (a word processor, presentation program, or mindmap program) instead of GoogleDocs
d) make sure that strugglers have helping partners set up beforehand, and get those kids in separately in small groups for extra support. (Some teachers do digital documentaries as a group project to help support strugglers, but I really want kids to get the whole experience, which doesn't happen if you break down the project into smaller jobs.)

The good news is that I can use what I've learned here with the other 3 fifth grade classes I hope to have in the spring. The bad news, as always, is that this class ends up the unfortunate guinea pigs.

There are so many great teachers doing digital documentaries with their students and posting about it, but I haven't found any yet who are doing it with classes of 25-32 kids in a once-a-week setting. Surely they must be out there, right?

1 comment:

joelle said...

I think you are totally on the right track. It is tough working out how to get students to where they need to be when you see them only once a week. Scaffolding, scaffolding, scaffolding is the only thing that kept us on target (kind of sort of). I like your idea of google docs. We used the storyboard template in Pages to plan out each frame...after kids made their outline in just a plain doc. After making the slide (we used keynote mainly for our "movies") they would write a check next to the frame planning sheet and the date they completed it, some kids would write the file name that it was saved under as well. Do you think frame by frame planning would help? Or might it just be overkill?