Friday, November 30, 2018

The "Curriculum Project" with the Mobile Film Classroom is coming ...

I'll be leading Media Arts Workshops for the Mobile Film Classroom as part of LAUSD's Arts Ed Branch Community Arts Partnership!

"The Curriculum Project": In this six-week workshop, students will be challenged to make movies about what they're learning. Mobile Film Classroom instructors will work collaboratively with teachers to design and integrate media arts-based digital storytelling process that connects directly main-stream standards-based instruction while building critical media & visual literacy skills. Digital storytelling is the writing process in action.  From brainstorming and conceptualizing, to writing and analyzing the clarity of the message, communication is key. Students work in teams to write, shoot and edit their films as evidence of learning and in the process will gain critical 21st century skills of cooperation, collaboration, communication and creativity. MFC instructors will guide students and teachers through the entire process from pitch to screening of their finished films. 

Our workshops will be designed and facilitated by Media Arts teaching artist, Frank Guttler, who’s work is profiled in this article.

AEB-approved L.A. schools can book me on-site this Spring at no charge! The deadline to submit work orders is Friday, December 7. DM me for info. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Reading, writing and…filmmaking

The fundamentals of film and video production are fast becoming a core language for L.A. Unified's learners.  

By Samuel Gilstrap | Nov. 26, 2018

HOLLYWOOD – When educators speak of language arts, the words video production aren’t usually the first to come to mind. But, that may be changing in the years to come.
Melrose Avenue Elementary School is taking a fresh look at video and film production as a way of teaching students the fundamentals of storytelling — through media that are increasingly commonplace in the 21st century world.

“A major part of elementary education is language development,” said Melrose principal Mathew Needleman. “While we still teach the principles of writing and storytelling with pencil and paper, we are expanding the media at students’ disposal and building their expertise in an increasingly important skill area.”

With a background in film production himself, Needleman helped introduced the medium as a teaching tool two years ago, inviting Frank Guttler – formerly with the Screen Education Program at the American Film Institute and now an independent media literacy coach – to provide professional development to his third grade teachers. The program has since expanded to second grade, and Guttler comes to the school twice a week to provide hands-on lessons to students and coaching for teachers.

“The media of film and video are everywhere,” he said. “It’s a phenomenon already familiar to students and teachers. And, while most students are adept at producing videos with iMovie and other tools, what they don’t necessarily know are the fundamentals of film-making — which haven’t really changed in the last century.”
fil instruction at Melrose
Media literacy coach Frank Guttler provides Melrose second-graders with a lesson on the common types of shots used in film and video production.
(Samuel Gilstrap / L.A. Unified Communications) 

Guttler recently sat with a classroom of second-graders teaching terms like establishing shotslong shotsmedium shots and close-ups. The students took to the lesson quickly and enthusiastically.

Teachers build on these types of lessons to guide students on film-making projects, and Guttler helps check in on progress.

“We are giving teachers ideas about how to converse and give feedback to students on their work,” Guttler said. “It’s the same as in any other medium. There are rough drafts and then more polished drafts and final drafts.”

Guttler further supports teachers with rubrics on how to give feedback and guidance on the students’ projects.
farmers market
View a sample project by Melrose second-graders telling the story of their visit to a nearby farmers market.
More and more, Needleman says, the idea is to use film production as a new way for students to connect with core content.

“This is not an extracurricular activity,” he explained. “They’re learning to use these tools to relate to social studies for example. Our third-graders recently underwent a project in which they used video to explain the Preamble in the Constitution.”
Needleman says the effort has yielded additional benefits, such as raising student engagement levels and ultimately helping attendance rates.

“When kids are excited about coming to school, attendance rates go up,” he said. “Our chronic absence rate is the lowest it’s been since I became principal here.”
Excitement is not limited to students. Many Melrose teachers have also expressed enthusiasm.

“This has opened up new doors for a lot of our young writers,” said second grade teacher Kevin Gaffield. “The way Mr. Frank [Guttler] is teaching them — taking apart and understanding the elements of a movie — it has bolstered their understanding and excitement about how we tell stories through all media, including traditional books. They are learning that whether we’re dealing with words or with film, it’s still a type of language.”
There are additional benefits, Gaffield said.

“This provides another avenue for a teacher to connect with students who may struggle with traditional writing tools,” he explained. “Students who are English learners or those with special needs. It’s been only a short time, and already we’re seeing these students more engaged and thriving.”
intro to student video example
View a sample video project by Melrose third-graders on the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution.

Providing instruction in film-making is not new to L.A. Unified schools.
Nearby Hollywood High School offers a New Media Academy, which began a decade ago as a California Partnership Academy and then certified as a Linked Learning pathway. Now a magnet program for several years, the school attracts students from around Southern California.

“We offer a career-readiness program that is authentic, shaped by input from the community and interdisciplinary,” said Hollywood magnet coordinator Ali Nezu. “What makes the program successful is its focus on teaching fundamentals and then providing hands-on opportunities for students to create and defend their work in professional settings.
“Whether or not they have aspirations to pursue careers in the industry, they graduate with the ability to work in teams, show initiative, take constructive criticism and engage in data analysis and problem solving.”

Nezu is working with grant funding to turn space on the campus into a fully-functioning production studio that mirrors the layout of film studios. The school hopes to open the new space in the 2019-20 school year.

At Sun Valley High School, veteran filmmaker Jamal Speakes is building on the school’s long-successful visual, media and performing arts program with development of a film production training and certification center.

“The center will house a curriculum designed around everything from content production to directing, cinematography, grip and electric, film musical scoring, production design, video editing, hair and makeup, broadcasting and virtual reality technology,” Speakes said. “The goal is to partner with major Hollywood film studios and be the premier high school content creation facility placing students directly into career technical education opportunities.”
Sun Valley is already working with Warner Brothers to guide development of the facility and provide mentorship opportunities.

Speakes says many recent Sun Valley graduates are now enrolled in some of the top film schools in the nation.

But while film study programs and facilities have been flourishing for years in secondary schools, elementary programs are far less common.

“This is Los Angeles, and so of course there are pockets of educators doing really innovative things related to film and video production,” Needleman said. “As far as other elementary schools that area doing what we’re doing? I don’t know of any at this point.”
As the program at Melrose becomes more established, Needleman said, he hopes more elementary schools will be inspired to build programs with similar models.

“Our approach is helping build expertise in the kids, but it goes beyond movie making,” he said. “Frank has a lot of energy and provides terrific guidance and inspiration for our teachers and students. But, the most important thing is increasing the overall rigor of writing we are teaching. That leads to student achievement, which is ultimately our measure of success.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

DIGICOM teaches county educators digital storytelling

For the past three summers and winter breaks, the DIGICOM Learning Institute has provided week-long digital storytelling training to Palm Springs Unified teachers and students. Last week, a cadre of educators from several Riverside County school districts had the opportunity to participate in the same training, so that they can begin to infuse digital storytelling into their classroom instruction.

Alexandria DeHate, who teaches video production and sixth grade English language arts and social studies at a Beaumont Unified School District middle school, said the workshop was a great opportunity to enhance her skills and learn new strategies.

“It’s great to attend workshops like DIGICOM to collaborate, connect, build and learn skill sets and refresh my knowledge on this subject,” DeHate said.
Palm Desert High’s assistant principal of Career Technical Education commented that the course would assist him and his team to “create a media program and embed digital storytelling into the core curriculum” at his school.
Frank Guttler, who heads up the education team at DIGICOM, was the lead presenter of the workshop, which included about 15 educators from Desert Sands, Corona Norco, Desert Center and Beaumont. He explained that the course builds basic media skills and introduces “aesthetics and processes” used by professional filmmakers and media producers. Interspersed throughout the week were presentations by other DIGICOM instructors focusing on filmmaking techniques, hands-on projects, and the art of storytelling and integrating digital storytelling into the classrooms.

“Technology integration is not about the technology. It’s not about the tool, but how you used it,” said Guttler, who was formerly a TV/film producer and associate director of the American Film Institute K-12 Screen Education Center. “This district is very open to providing the training for teachers to use digital storytelling in their classroom. You can’t make a movie without the four ‘C’s’ of Common Core [creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking]. There has never been a time in the history of education where the tools have been better and the educational philosophy more inclusive. Pair that with a district that embraces this philosophy and training for teachers, and it is extraordinary.
“Teachers are being trained and students are involved in interpreting the story, managing the crew, working to deadline, giving and accepting criticism and taking pride in their work,” he continued. “They are developing the skills every 21st century employer is looking for, whether they ever make another movie or not. It boils down to one word – literacy.”

Appeared in the Desert Sun Newspaper written by Joan Boiko is the communications manager for the Palm Springs Unified School District. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Residency Wrap and enter the DIGICOM Learning Institute.

What a difference a year makes. My residency with the Palm Springs Unified School District last year has turned into something all together different, DIGICOM Different. My residency with DIGICOM, culminating in a celebration in May at the DIGICOM Film Festival and an unforgettable week of Professional Development training with PSUSD teachers in June.
Now I find myself spending much more time in Palm Springs, now as Director of Curriculum & Professional Development, responsible for continuing the outreach to teachers following the training institutes. Also there are very exciting prospects for expanding the reach of video empowered teachers beyond the valley and at local universities. I'm still just awestruck by some of the educators I get to work with like Nancy Blair an English Teacher, DATA Academy Cathedral City High School.

Many teachers leave a DIGICOM training excited and energized to apply the new skills & ideas they learned into their classrooms. The thrill discovering a new way of communicating content and the sudden awareness of being “literate” in the language of film lead many to re-imagine the way they teach. Few have embraced their role as Teacher/Producer as completely than Nancy Blair, English teacher in the DATA Academy at Cathedral City High School.

“Thanks to multiple digital storytelling workshops and continued professional development, I’m able to integrate this visual and technical support into my curriculum and produce exciting projects, both for myself and for my students.” says Nancy. She describes a perfect moment when technology provided by the District and DIGICOM’s training and support combine to encourage her and her students to make movies about what they’re learning.  Blair continues, “While the District issued iPads to all its willing teachers, DIGICOM has given me the skills, support, and encouragement necessary to take this leap into the world of digital storytelling. “
 Nancy learning to shoot video with her iPad at DIGICOM Winter Training in January 2015

Nancy began strong & fearless last year following-up her first DIGICOM workshop with a unit in her English class that explored the themes of George Orwell’s 1984 and challenged her students to create original movies inspired by those themes, not merely a review or recreating of the original text. “It was really quite amazing and gratifying to see a teacher really pick up on this so quickly.”, said DIGICOM’s Frank Guttler. “Within a week after the training, Nancy already had a solid lesson plan, for a video unit that didn’t just test the content of the novel, it tested the ideas of the novel!” 

Nancy describes the process of turning her classroom into a mini-movie studio, “Students have formed production teams, complete with unique titles, and are brainstorming and generating ideas for their films. Students will pitch their best ideas so that they can get whole class feedback and narrow down their many ideas to one strong concept. Then, screenwriting process begins. Each production team has three to four members and at least one of them has strong knowledge of state-of- the-art equipment and software necessary for production. Other team members will be responsible for writing the script, creating the storyboard, scheduling shooting and voice over recordings, acting, etc. .”
Nancy shoots her own 1984-inspired project with the help of a student & DIGICOM mentor Frank Guttler

You can see student projects from Nancy’s unit on George Orwell’s 1984 both of which were screened at this year’s DIGICOM film Festival here:

Since Nancy’s initial success with curriculum-infused digital storytelling, she’s become an advocate of the process and of DIGICOM at her school site. We were so impressed with her energy and imagination as an educator that Nancy was invited to be a lead faculty member at this Summer’s DIGICOM Workshops in June where she co-presented the Student Screenwriter’s and she still managed to get her next video project ready to go for the Fall.

“I have to say I’m really excited about this semester’s digital storytelling project!” Blair says with barely contained excitement,  “Senior DATA students have read, analyzed, and discussed materials in Expository Reading and Writing, Module II, which explores Aristotle’s three types of appeals used in persuasion. I don’t want to give too much away, but essentially, students will use elements of digital storytelling to create a film which supports and demonstrates their understanding and effective (or ineffective) use of these appeals. The project will allow students to be both creative and analytical, while fully adhering to several priority ELA Common Core State Standards.”

Preview Nancy’s new English unit on Aristotle’s three types of appeals here:

Changing classrooms, paradigms and futures takes a special combination of Creativity, Curiosity, Conviction and Courage, traits that identify the most successful DIGICOM teachers. Cultivating these traits in educators here in the valley and beyond is what puts the gas in my tank. I'm looking forward to continuing this journey in the desert. For those of you who share the dream of Screen Ed, these are interesting times.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Residency Dispatch: Palm Springs, California USA

"Our eyes have been opened. We can never view movies in the same way after working with Frank Guttler. We all agree that we cannot watch a film without counting shots, looking at transitions, or noticing camera angles. The students laughed as one student joked, “Mr. Guttler has ruined movie watching for me forever!” - Julie Barda, Raymond Cree Middle School, Palm Springs

Fostering the development of good digital storytellers means building their production skills so that every bit of imagination and magic on the page of their script makes it to the screen. I've been spending a lot of time during this residency working with teachers like Julie Barda and their students on developing a working appreciation of the complex language and grammar of the screen. It's a language most of us 'read' intuitively "leaning back" during a night of TV at home with the family or at the local cineplex. What happens to these students when they are challenged to "lean forward" with a critical eye to the media they consume everyday is often startling to them and their teachers. Suddenly, students are actively accessing an understanding of visual language they have carried in their heads for years and their teachers have a valuable new tool to engage them as producers of media, not just consumers. It begins by understanding the grammatical relationship between a Shot and a Scene.

Video stories are comprised of shots & scenes. A scene is a part of the story that takes place in one location. Scenes are created from a sequence of shots. A shot is a single piece of film or video created when the camera begins recording until the end of the recording. Shots are usually edited (trimmed) into clips and combined into a series of clips called a scene.

Shots=Sentences, Scenes=Paragraphs and so on. The medium may differ but the telling of great stories remains central to the human experience.

Good screen grammar doesn't just apply to planning or shooting scenes. Making smart choices when editing a project is as also about recognizing how like good punctuation, an editing transition can help tell you story in the clearest visual language. The most basic transition is called a cut. Think of a cut as the period at the end of a visual sentence. A cut is a simple switch from one clip to another. In most cases a cut is the best choice to keep your story moving.
60 Second Tutorial- Editing Transitions from Lights Camera Learn! on Vimeo.

When using cuts in the video editing process you should question the reason for your choices. Cutting may:
  • Change the scene 
  • Compress or expand time 
  • Vary the point of view 
  • Build up an image or idea 
Less abrupt transitions are achieved with the fade, dissolve, and wipe but chances are your editing program has many many other types of flashy, 3D or motion transitions. Editing transitions are fun to use, but they have narrative meaning. Like bad punctuation, flashy effects that look cool often do real harm to your story.

Watch what happens when you take a classic movie action scene and use the worst possible transitions to keep the story moving. I call it 'Cutting like an 8th grader'.
Lost in Transition from Lights Camera Learn! on Vimeo.

I promise it's the last time you will see such poor editing choices coming out of the classrooms participating in this Residency.

It's been an exciting Fall, such a privilege to have the opportunity to harness the energy and momentum of the teachers I met during the DIGICOM Summer Workshops. Based on what I've seen, it's going to be a very productive Winter and Spring! Stand by...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On our way!: My Digital Storytelling Residency with the Palm Springs Unified School District.

Summer professional development season at PSUSD has ended and the school year has started. It was a particularly eventful summer for the DIGICOM family with two major events serving over 120 teachers. 

The summer season ended with the return of Bernajean Porter who delivered a four-day Digital Storytelling intensive workshop and I was honored to work with the District's best and brightest at the Common Core Conference.
What an amazing week of learning and imagination! The teachers I met were an inspiring group of educators and I'm looking forward to hearing more of their stories.This coming school year will be the beginning of DIGICOM's new outreach to PSUSD; the Artist in Residency Program and I'm proud to begin working with district schools, teachers and students alongside Ms. Bernajean Porter.  I think there is no more appropriate example of the promise of what we began this week than this video, a storyboard animatic produced by Ms Trinidad Rios from Palm Spring High School during my workshop at the Common Core Conference. Her rough draft of a story she's developing on artist Salvador Dali' is enchanting!

"My Story is About...." from DIGICOM Productions on Vimeo.

I'm looking forward to a magical year with PSUSD and DIGICOM as we strive to inspire understanding of how to tell compelling stories inside curriculum. If you were at a DIGICOM Learning Institute sponsored PD workshop this Summer, tell us about your experience at

So far after only 2 weeks visiting and coaching students and educators, I'm seeing some amazing things.

  • Matt Riley the Science-Engineering teacher at Cathedral City High School (CCHS)  is preparing to produce a documentary about his class' construction of a solar boat set to compete in the Inland Empire Solar Challenge next year.

  • As part of her unit on George Orwell's 1984 and the modern surveillance state, English teacher Nancy Blair from the CCHS DATA Academy has already storyboarded an example video for her students on how texting language has some of the same dangers to critical thinking that NewsSpeak did in the novel.
  • Mario Cruz' 6th period art class have already used their iPads to begin learning shooting and composition basics ahead of a new project that will incorporate video and green screen effects to bring their art and personal statements to life!
  • Seasoned and accomplished district video teachers like Tom Buck at Cathedral City and Jamie O'Neil at Desert Hot Springs are imagining new ways to enhance their students' learning experiences and new after-school movie clubs are beginning to form at Ramon Alternative & Rancho Mirage High Schools.
Given DIGICOM's theme this year is "On Our Way" then by the looks of things, I'd say we are off to a great start!
After an unprecedented, record breaking and very exciting summer of professional development workshops where DIGICOM delivered multi-faceting training to approximately 120 Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) teachers reaching over 4,55​0 student​s​​, the real work for​ the DIGICOM Artists-in-Residence program ​began this month.  With critical post-workshop ​follow-up, this year ​DIGICOM teachers are being assisted with ​in-class student support as we all learn to incorporate the new digital literacies into the Common Core and Digital Arts curriculum. ​
As one of the DIGICOM Artists-in-Residence, it was a very busy first week​ for me. I reunited with enthusiastic learners I met over the summer, getting to know some of their students and meeting some wonderfully supportive administrators on-site and in the district office.  It hit me this week how much I am enjoying this opportunity to be able to actually provide follow-up support after training.  This is a luxury I am not usually given.  Being able to help make the goals set in the initial workshop a reality is a special gift.  Thanks to DIGICOM and PSUSD for making this opportunity possilbe and for making me feel so welcome! This is for real folks; we're "On Our Way!​"
Watch this space for more about my year in Palm Springs and DIGICOM....

Monday, March 24, 2014

Digital Storyteling and the Common Core

Someone told me recently that I need an "Elevator-Pitch" to support video & digital storytelling in the Common Core classroom.

Ok, going up?

DS&CC from Lights Camera Learn! on Vimeo.

Of course, this is nothing new. A lot of really smart people have been working towards this goal for years and I personally think it's the time for this now more than ever!

Thank you Mr. Baker, Ms. Porter, Mr. Ohler, Ms. Schrock, Mr. Hodgson, Ms. Frawley, Mr. Davidson, Ms. Barrett, & Mr. Hung, Ms. Madden and the University of Huston.

Just to name a few...