Lights, Camera, Action: Student Movies in 3 Days
by Tamara Pearson
Graduate Student • University of Florida
MultiMedia Schools • November/December 2000 

It’s the middle of the summer and you have 5 hours over a period of 3 days to work on a computer activity with 50 eighth and ninth graders. One route is to teach the basics of file management, word processing, and such. However, the children are supposed to be having fun and most would not find this enjoyable.

Another option, which a lot of summer programs use, is to teach Web pages. Web pages are great, but as Table 1 below shows, many of the children I was working with do not own a computer and do not spend time on the Internet at school. Therefore, a Web page would have been an ineffective use of their time.

Table 1: Internet Experience

Own a computer — 71 percent

Use the Internet at school — 55 percent

Hours on the Internet per week — 8.2

The Project
For their experience these students worked in a computer lab furnished with 25 online Macintosh G3s and four scanners to create 75-second movies using iMovie from Apple computers []. The students, working in groups of five, had four different roles to choose from: movie director, art director, musical director, and narrator. These roles determined the student’s responsibilities throughout the assignment. They were encouraged to make semi-autobiographical movies using pictures of themselves and people they admire, but the only official requirement was that they be proud of the finished product. After completion, everything was transferred to individual VHS tapes for the children to take home.

Because of the time constraint, it was important that everything be well planned in advance. Folders that contained all information students need to successfully complete the project were given to each group. Below is a checklist of the items from each group’s folder:

Getting Started
Although I was excited about the project, I wasn’t sure the students would be. But the moment I told them they were going to make movies I could see the interest in their faces.

Group Meeting
After a general overview, the students were given time for a brief group meeting to pick roles and photographs. Each person should choose no more than five pictures to include in his/her section of the movie, since they have approximately 15 seconds each.

After their meetings, everyone came back together for a more detailed explanation of the project. The groups received handouts explaining the roles, but, as is true when teaching anything, it is best to communicate your ideas orally as well as on paper. For the remainder of the hour they began work on their individual assignments.

Keep the Momentum
Although they started work the previous day, this was the first full day of the assignment. I was naïve about how smoothly the project would go and  on the second day it hit me: Even with their written instructions, the students needed constant guidance from me.

Art Director—Digitizing Pictures
Once the group members decided on their photographs, it was the job of the art director to scan them. This project can be enhanced by allowing students to take pictures with a digital camera, if available. This is a wonderful technical skill, and one of my students’ favorite activities.

Movie Director—Creating a Storyboard
A storyboard is a mock layout that allows you to see the entire movie and check for flow. This is the first task the movie directors were assigned.

Instructions for Storyboarding
Take the pictures each group member selected, along with a few blank sheets of paper. Find an open area (probably on the floor) and lay out the pictures in the order you want them to appear. Now use those blank sheets of paper for titles and place them between the photographs. Ask other groups for their opinions. Once you get the storyboard the way you would like it, you can begin making your movie.

Musical Director–Selecting Music
The musical director must select the music for the group’s movie. Suggest that your musical director sit with the movie directors as they develop the storyboard in order to schedule the music around it. Make sure you approve all music for language appropriateness.

Narrator–Writing the Script
It is the responsibility of the narrator to write a clear and effective script. Encourage students to be creative but accurate when writing about the other members of their groups. Suggest that the narrators spend a couple of minutes with each group member to get information about their pictures and what they would like to have written about them.

As can be expected the students did not finish this in the time given, so overestimate when planning.

Crunch Time
This was the last day and I could feel the crunch. You and your students will as well. Prepare the lab ahead of time by putting iMovie and all group files on the hard drive.

Art Director—Transferring Images
It is the job of the art director to not only scan photographs and take digital pictures, but also transfer them into iMovie. This may seem like a trivial task, but it is important for each student to have the opportunity to use iMovie.

Movie Directors—Putting It All Together
The movie directors should use their storyboards to put the images in the correct order on the movie tracks. The next step is to add transitions and titles for flow. Once you have all of the titles and transitions, make sure to watch the movie to see if it looks as you expected it to.

Musical Director—Creating the Soundtrack
A great feature of iMovie is the ability to import music directly from a CD instead of using a separate music-editing program. Once the music is in, it must edited for its designated section. You should probably wait until the movie directors have finished putting the images in the correct order to avoid students having to go back to change the music later.

Narrator—Recording Your Voice
After writing the script the narrator must record his/her voice reading it. They should practice ahead of time in order to hear how their voice sounds and to edit for time. If you have a microphone, their voices can be recorded directly into iMovie, as with the music. To prevent rerecording, do not record the narration until everything else is completed.

Although iMovie is simple compared to other movie-editing programs, it is still difficult for a novice user to learn. Many students became frustrated with the software’s interface, and my students spent an extra hour beyond the allotted time finishing up.

Looking Back
I would suggest all teachers end this project by giving out a student feedback survey. It is not only a good way to assess the progress of your students, but to make improvements for the next time.

Student Feedback
The students I worked with enjoyed their experience, and had a lot to say about what they learned. As one student wrote on her survey, “I never knew how fun it could be making a movie on the computer.” Many of them made comments about group work and putting project parts together. Others commented on technical skills they learned by recording their voice, digitizing music, and taking digital pictures. The young man who wrote, “It can be kind of hard, but when you put your mind into it, you can do it,” best sums up the experience of these students.

Doing It Again
Since this was the first time I tried this project, there are a few improvements I would suggest for those trying to replicate it.

Assistant training
Spend a couple of days with anyone who will be helping you. Go through the project and make sure they can complete everything the students are expected to.

Expect the unexpected
The students were supposed to bring photographs to scan, but no one did. Remember things never go as planned, so try to have a backup.

Time management
If your students get behind, don’t worry, just make sure they understand they are not finished until the movie is done.

Search Engines
Although many of the students had experience with the Internet, they were not skilled with search engines. Save time by including in your group handouts a list of child-appropriate search engines such as Yahooligans [] and KidsClick! [!/].

Helping students see the computer as a tool for accomplishing a task is something all media and technology specialists are trying to do. This project is a wonderful way to do that. Have fun, and keep the cameras rolling!

Communications to the author should be addressed to Tamara Pearson, Graduate Student, University of Florida, School of Teaching and Learning, P.O. Box 117048, Gainesville, FL 32611; phone: 352/392-9191 x273, e-mail:

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