P.E.I. students using videography, digital animation and more to share their stories

Mary MacKay
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Students at two Prince Edward Island high schools have been finding their story-telling voice in a whole new way.

The Voice Project, which was piloted by UPEI’s Digital Economy Research Team (D.E.R.T.) at Colonel Gray and Three Oaks high schools in Charlottetown and Summerside, is an alternative mode of teaching for Grade 10 English classes.

This project-based learning approach gives students skills in new and different types of storytelling, such as digital, rather than a straight-up essay or written composition.

In creating a composition in any medium they chose, whether it be video, comic books or clay animation, they were mentored by local culture experts, such as filmmakers, website builders, puppeteers, poets and dancers.

“I genuinely enjoyed coming to class to learn this . . . . When we were working on the film, it was actually really exciting,” says 15-year-old Colonel Gray student Jenny Dunne, who was part of a team that created an insightful video that tackled the tough subject of bullying.

The Voice Project was created as an alternative to the traditional text-based method of delivering the inquiry unit of the English writing 421 curriculum.

“We’re saying that the traditional writing skills that you might learn, where you go to the library (for example), can actually be learned in a different way that may be potentially more engaging but can still have the same thinking processes,” says education researcher Sean Wiebe, who is an assistant professor of education at UPEI and a member of D.E.R.T., which is a team of UPEI education researchers who investigate digital and multiple literacies to improve classroom instruction. 

The students worked in teams to produce a unique final product that allowed them to share their voice.

“Some of it is creative (writing). With this course it’s more about process — the process of writing is what they’re learning from ...,” says Colonel Gray teacher Sarah Charlton.

“The question we came up with this year was if the world stopped to listen to you for a moment what would you say — trying to get at an issue that they felt was worth discovering or worth investigation.

“So the choice was fairly broad, but we gave some parameters like ‘What kind of things in the world are you concerned about? What are some social issues? What are your interests?’ And from there students were able to pick something.”

First up for the Colonel Gray students was the idea pitching process.

“Each of us first had to pick what kind of a project we wanted to do, like if we wanted to do a comic book or a video or a Claymation. After that we formed into groups of five or six people, then the pitch assignment was, if we had one chance to tell the world, what would we tell them?” says 15-year-old Kitty Yin.

“Each of us pitched an idea for that and as a group we combined them all together as one central theme of our project.”

Kitty was part of a team that focused on using clay animation and video as the media for their message in A Moment of Clarity.

“We made a short film, (the theme of which) was how to live a positive life full of meaning and very goal oriented,” Kitty says.

“We basically had this main character, Craig. He is really an ungrateful teenager. In a dream he receives this mysterious letter telling him that he only has one day to live, so he absolutely alters his whole life. He stands up for bullying — that was one of the group member’s pitch ideas, so we incorporated bullying into that.

“At the end when he wakes up from the dream he realizes he still has his whole life ahead of him, makes goals and lives a really inspiring (life).”

 

One of the things that became quickly apparent during The Voice Project pilot was that it allowed the specific strengths or the skills of each student in the group to shine.

“In my pitch assignment, I discussed the theme of living a positive life and living passionately, and Kitty and the group made that (idea come) full circle,” says Jack Campbell, 15, who was also part of the Moment of Clarity creative team.

“I had some supporting ideas that we as a group created, and Kitty really helped us form it into a perfect story. The rest of the group worked on the figures and the setting.”

Stratford visual artist and animator Kate Sharply was the mentor for the clay animation team,

“It was so up to us what we wanted to do with it. Our mentors were there to really help support our ideas, so that was really helpful,” Kitty says.

Island filmmaker and digital media expert Brian Sharp was the mentor for Jenny Dunne, 15-year-old Aaron Ryder and their project mates.

“For our video we wanted to take a different spin on what bullying was,” says Aaron.

“Normally, it’s that the bullies are these bad, mean people, but we thought (anyone) can be a bully and there must be some good to some people. So (we focused on) what’s behind the bullying, where does the bully get to that point where he or she feels the need to bully someone?”

While writing is typically an individual process, The Voice Project approach required a team effort.

“We had a lot of different ideas in the beginning, but at the end we all came together. And with this project-based learning we all had an opportunity to do what we do best and explore our different areas. It was great,” says Jenny who, along Aaron, had previous acting experience and utilized that skill in the video.

“I liked that in these kinds of projects. Everyone (is on an equal learning field),” Aaron adds.

“If you’re a visual learner you can create something that is pleasing to the eye. If you’re a writer you get to write. If you’re an actor you get to act. If you’re an artist you get to create art. There is something in this project for everybody.”

Their team also conducted a student survey to ensure that the content of their video was true to life.

“For the information, we put in our videos or the subject matter, we used comments that we thought bullies would actually say to people, not something like ‘You’re a silly head.’ A bully wouldn’t actually say that, so we actually got some stuff that you would actually hear a bully say in high school,” Aaron says.

“Everything that is in our video is authentic,” Jenny adds.

“It’s either something that they’ve heard or something that’s been said to them.”

The nine-week project started in October and wrapped up with a big celebration presentation nights for both schools. 

“At the end we show an end result of everything that we put together, it’s a final, edited and just really polished piece,” Kitty says.

“That’s really exciting to see that all our hard work is condensed into that one final product to show everyone.”

Various components of The Voice Project process were graded. For example, the students’ pitches counted as writing assignments.

“We’ve graded them independently on what they were doing connected to the project and the actual product they’ve created we’re not associating any grades.” Charlton says. “We’re going to grade them on their presentation and completing it and all the processes though(out). But (we) felt that grading such diverse product — I’m not an expert in any of those fields — is a bit unfair. And so (we’re) just celebrating the fact that they created it and that the process or the journey was where a lot of the learning happened.”

An unexpected discovery for Kitty was that she excelled in a leadership capacity.

“Before I always only worked on my own. I just really liked that. I wasn’t really comfortable with negotiating with other people or really opening up about my ideas and (saying), ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ I think this forced me to get into that leadership role. I learned a lot about myself and the potential that I have to help the whole team.

“The other thing that really surprised me was even though some people in my group, their personalities were more quiet or they didn’t talk as much, all of them were really engaged in the thinking process.”

The Voice Project pilot struck a particularly strong chord with Jenny.

“I personally don’t learn best sitting in a classroom having a teacher lecture me or just reading out of a textbook. So this project-based learning helped me so much because it’s all about the process of doing things,” she says.

“I’m a kinesthetic learner, which means I do things with my hands and my body, that’s how I learn. So this whole project-based learning allowed everyone to use their own type of learning and their own type of strengths to get to the final product, which I think was the best part."

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Recent comments

  • Robert Conrad
    March 03, 2014 - 21:25

    Yeah Peter, I heard all that and I also heard the host, Preston Mulligan, repeatedly asking you how do you know for sure that teachers are not at school during storm days or are not doing school work from home on storm days. His question to you was "how do you know that" (referring to your assertion that teachers are lazy and not doing their job), but I never did hear an answer from you. You live in a world where teachers are lazy and not up to the task you have set for them. But then you call yourself an artist and artists are well known for not living in the real world and are forever pestering government for tax breaks and grants so they can "work" from home and wander the beach looking for sea glass. Are you seriously trying to have us believe that you have never received a government grant or tax credit to enable you to continue doing your "art.?" At least teachers are paid a salary and are not being given grants from taxpayers so they can hold art shows or so they can attend crafts fairs in the hopes of selling their wares.

    • Peter Llewellyn
      March 03, 2014 - 22:44

      Wow Robert you must have a government job to be so sheltered. teacher are paid from the money I earn as a business person. I actually only attend the confederation center craft fair and the seaglass show in Souris each year and I have I have 2 retail shops and a studio which is open year round working full time after a full career in business . Now I am discussing education and you are doing personal attacks, you must be in education Robert lets defend our incompantiance by attacking . The reason you did not hear my reply was because it was not put on but I did say all you have to do is look in the parking lot to see teachers don't attend school on snow days and many don't even attend PD days. If you want to debate education you are going to have to come up with more than personal attacks on everyone who doesn't see teachers through your mutual admiration teacher eyes. Please go back in the class room and learn to teach ---you bring a knife to a gun fight and I am tired.

    • Robin Roache
      March 09, 2014 - 14:07

      Peter, "incompantiance" isn't even a word. If you insist on trying to debate someone, it would help if you knew how to spell. Or type. Or even proofread for heaven's sake. Incoherent rambling is not a strong argument and it just makes a person look silly. If you truly feel like the teachers of this province are not doing their jobs, then maybe you should become a teacher and show them how it's done.

  • Robert Conrad
    March 03, 2014 - 15:13

    Peter Llewellyn also made a bit of a fool of himself about a month ago when he called into a CBC Halifax radio show and tried to call teachers lazy for taking storm days off and not doing a full days work. The host put him I'm on the spot and showed him for what he was - just someone out to make teacher look bad for whatever reason. Seems he has a problem with teachers and the educational system.

    • Peter Llewellyn
      March 03, 2014 - 19:01

      Well Robert I am glad you were listening, did you hear the teachers union president from NS say that teachers in NS actually go into work on storm days and parents can drop their children off at school. Did you hear your president say how in 22 years as a teacher he always went into school on storm days and never took off a sick day ? (as if this was the same for everyone) Teachers do look bad and deserve to, very few people want to call a spade a spade , Teachers are not doing their job and picking one to put on TV to receive an apple will not improve our children's education . So Robert I commend you for using your name , but I still want teachers to teach not blame others for teachers not doing their job

  • one of the Mums
    March 03, 2014 - 13:46

    This actually is an elective - it's a writing course, not core English. It is always a good idea to check facts before making judgments & proclamations.

  • Robin Roache
    March 01, 2014 - 16:56

    I didn't see your name anywhere in this article Peter Llewellyn. Keep your negative and uneducated opinions to yourself. I think this is a fantastic idea and a great opportunity for the students to approach learning in a different way.

    • Peter Llewellyn
      March 02, 2014 - 18:01

      Did I miss your name in the article Robin??

  • Peter Llewellyn
    March 01, 2014 - 14:47

    this should be an elective , not a substitute for a core subject like English