Okay, the New York City Unit is never really over until we've gotten back from our class trip to New York, and that won't happen for a few more days, but for the most part, the project itself is done.
Each year, I wind up the school year with a unit on the history and geography of New York City to get my 8th graders ready for their class trip and to keep them engaged during the slacky, "I'm-so-outa-here" last month of school.
(I've written about this before.)
Anyway, this year I decided to shake things up a little bit. The particular class we have this year is much more responsible and conscientious than most, and I felt like I needed to take the opportunity to try one, final, overly-ambitious idea while I still could. If there was a group of students who could pull it off, it would be these guys.
So, instead of having them write a term paper on a New York City topic or make a diorama, or something traditional, I asked each of them to pick their topic and make a movie about it. "Then," I said, "let's invite your families in for a New York City film festival. We'll call it the Deer-Becca Film Festival."
They were allowed to work with a (one, only) partner or alone. I gave them a lot of latitude in what kind of movie they made - travel videos or historical re-enactments, or Common Craft videos - heck! Puppet theater, if they wanted. Here are the project instructions:
The Bad News
1) The intense, unending, hair-pulling, "what-the-HELL-was-I-thinking?" stress. Seriously, if I ever decide to try a brand-new, huge, overly-ambitious project and have it due on the last week of classes, could one of you please drive to wherever I am and punch me hard in the face?
2) Technical issues. I really needed to take a day or two to train all my students in how to use Windows Movie Maker and the difference between "saving" a movie and "publishing" it. I didn't think I could spare the time and this miscalculation really came back to bite me in the butt.
3) Organization. I'm not (to put it charitably) the most organized person in the world. My desk, which is generally too full and scary to work at in the best of times, completely failed to contain the workplace spillage during this past week and spread out to occupy a student desk and an additional table. In this mess, I managed to actually lose two students' projects. They were very good natured about this and gave me good oral presentations, but the whole thing was, if not an actual fiasco, pretty fiasco-esque.
4) There was a track meet the night of our film festival and many of the students and their parents couldn't be there.
The Good News
1) The movies are really good. Some border on brilliant. Yes, they are definitely the work of 8th graders, which is to say goofy and sometimes not as factual as I'd like, but overall, they are really, REALLY good.
Here is an example:
(Hmmm... Isn't that strange? The most polite, hard-working group of students we've had in living memory have unusually involved parents. What are the odds?)
3) The crowd really liked the movies. No, REALLY liked them. Not in a "This-is-my-child's-work-so-I'm-going-to-support-it-unconditionally" kind of way, but more in a, "Hey-Stanley-your-kid's-movie-is-a-work-of-freaking-genius-you-must-be-so-proud" kind of way. I was really proud of my school and the community I teach in that night.
Here's an example of why:
I have a Special Education student who, for the purposes of this story, I'll call Charley. Charley is a really sweet guy, and actually pretty sharp, but he is cripplingly shy around strangers and suffers from a very, VERY severe speech impediment. His movie was pretty basic, though very good for him. The crowd gave him a very warm and completely uncondescending round of applause when his movie was over. There wasn't a single parent who rolled his or her eyes because this special needs kid got to show his movie when theirs didn't. Charley blushed so hard with pride that I thought his face was going to pop right off the front of his skull.
There are times when I could kiss the town of Deerfield, New Hampshire right on the face. (Or give it a firm handshake and buy it a beer.) ((Though, not usually during Town Meeting.))
More Good News
You can watch the movies.
I've created a new blog called, The Deer-Becca Film Festival. I've posted each of the videos as a separate blog post, so people can comment on individual videos.
I encourage you to do so.
Overall, I'm pleased with this project. I'm definitely going to try the Film Festival idea again.
Just not during the last week of school.