Thursday, March 20, 2008

Big Screen, Big Lessons

What’s your school best known for? Do you have a tradition of excellence that you share with your community or even the larger world?

Next Monday night, a full house is expected at the 1,600-seat Rosebud Theater in Effingham, Ill., for the fifth-annual AHA Film Festival. The event showcases the work of talented young filmmakers from a high school multimedia class (students also plan and organize the festival, learning more real-world skills). It’s a testament to what teachers can accomplish when they give students room to run with their ideas.

The successful program is the brainchild of two award-winning educators, Joe Fatheree from Effingham High and Craig Lindvahl from Teutopolis High. Their schools aren’t even in the same district. Effingham is a small town (pop. 12,000), and Teutopolis is only a fraction of its size. But such factors haven’t stopped these teachers from teaming up to pool resources and creative energies so that students can make real movies about topics that matter to them.

What makes it all worth doing? In a recent discussion about digital storytelling on Spiral Notebook, Fatheree told me about the value of challenging his multimedia students to use higher-order thinking skills for advanced problem solving. He cited more benefits from collaborative learning, project management, and other life skills. He went on: “It will help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset that will prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Students cannot hide ‘C’ work on a 30-foot screen.”

He's not just talking hypothetically. Fatheree and Lindvahl are also accomplished filmmakers themselves.
This year’s student festival includes documentaries, comedies, animations, music videos. Across all genres, viewers can expect solid storytelling, careful editing, powerful visuals—all skills that students master in the classroom and then take into their own productions. A jury will award one of the entries a grand prize, but it’s easy to see that everybody wins as a result of this tradition.

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