Educational Services Division
Lights! Cameras! Education!! – Innovative Project Deserves an Academy Award!
On September 29th, as school was kicking into gear, the Digital Connections Project was kicking-off with its 2011-2012 premier event at the Digital Media Factory, a full production studio located inside the walls of the former Wrigley spearmint chewing gum factory. The cameras were positioned at either side of the silver screen, the lights focused in on student success, and the stage was set for another year of project-based learning through digital video production.
The Digital Connections Project is Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s answer to the question, “What is 21st Century Learning?” and was created to engage students and teachers in deeper learning and exploration of the core curriculum. Through video production, media literacy, digital storytelling, and project-based learning, students can develop the 21st century skills necessary for college and career readiness, and teachers can address the change in instructional practice required by the new Common Core Standards. The long-term goal of the project is to scale the use of digital tools amongst students while building capacity within the Santa Cruz County educator community by providing the resources, equipment, and training needed for a successful digital media program.
The Digital Connections 2011-2012 premier event highlighted some of the teachers and students from 2010-2011 while announcing the new teacher teams for this school year. Teachers like Greg Fry from Rolling Hills MS, Sumita Jaggar from Scotts Valley MS, and David Werdmuller from New Brighton MS shared their experience of putting the project’s resources and training into practice with students in a variety of content areas and classroom settings. Sumita illustrated how, with video, students can become teachers of others by illustrating their mastery of Math concepts. Greg shared stories of video production and project-based learning touching the lives and learning of students with special needs. Student video examples from David’s class (movie trailers based on middle school literature like Flowers For Algernon) ended the event on an inspiring note and set the scene for the Digital Media Workshop the next day.
The initial teacher training spanned a day and a half from Friday September 30th through Saturday October 1st. Forty-four teachers from twenty school sites representing eight districts throughout the county attended the Digital Media Workshop and were introduced to the resources and professional learning needed to be part of this growing group of innovative Digital Connections teachers. Using curriculum from the Screen Education Program of the American Film Institute, teachers were exposed to the film-making process and some key elements of media literacy. The teachers were then guided through an interview activity with Flip camcorders to create a short film, learning hands-on and experientially. The workshop also included research-based strategies and an online curriculum from Intel’s Project-Based Approaches. Groups of teachers worked together to edit their videos and showcase their work on the final day.
A new partnership with the Digital Media Learning Foundation has added a school-career connection for this year’s participants and has provided the venue of the Digital Media Factory as the teacher’s learning environment. Teachers at the workshop commented how being in a film studio increased their focus and engagement. They were excited and eager to bring their students back for a field trip later this year.
A key component of 21st century education is sharing student-created content and providing an authentic audience for students to exhibit their learning, so the project has also brokered a complimentary 3-year subscription to a new video-sharing site specifically designed for schools and education called MyVRSpot. This resource provides a safe environment for students to share teacher-reviewed media with peers across the county.
Teachers left the initial training exhausted, but with new ideas and peer connections to support the shift to a more digital landscape in their classroom. One teacher mentioned, “This is how all workshops should be organized and presented, it was just the right mix of formal teaching and hands-on learning!” and another commented, “I am so excited to start this with my students, this is just what they need to be engaged!”
The Santa Cruz County Office of Education is committed to ongoing support for these classrooms throughout the year. Robin Macomber from the Digital Media Learning Foundation will be working with the Digital Connections coordinators, Adam Wade and Jason Borgen, to continue providing professional learning opportunities and classroom support. Two online meetings and two additional face-to-face workshops are scheduled for later this year, and every classroom will have the opportunity to schedule on-site coaching support. An online course with project resources was also created using eStaffroom, a virtual learning environment for Curriculum & Instruction.
Forty-four digital media pioneers in the county are now on pace to touch over 5000 students during the 2011-12 school year. At Friday’s Digital Media Workshop the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, even came by to show his support and express his appreciation for the innovation and commitment of the teachers. He described his new initiative to get more technology in schools called, “No Child Left Offline,” and commented that California should replicate this project up and down the state. With verbal support coming directly from the State Superintendent, the Digital Connections project is ready to make waves, in Santa Cruz and throughout the state.