Tell me about a summer memory that will keep you going when the back to school excitement wears off.
This prompt was recently posed to me during a training--and I have a very good answer.
You see, this summer I had the most fun I’ve ever had as a teacher. I had a chance to design and lead Directors Camp 101, a film workshop for elementary students. My brother is a filmmaker, so he came up for a week and we co-directed the camp. It was the most fun I’ve ever had as a teacher. Did I say that already?
It was so fun! I’ve never taught in the summer before but I realized it might be the best kept secret in education. I’m serious. It was all about curriculum, instruction, and social-emotional learning. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This camp, this summer, reminded me of the joy in teaching. The feeling it evoked will be my anchor this year--when pacing guides, paperwork, and protocols weigh me down through the long months of winter.
I’d like to share the experience here, both as a tangible record for myself during those months and as an encouragement to you to find a similar memory to hold.
This camp is a part of Quincy School District’s Summer STEAM Program, started two years ago through funding by the Rural Schools Grant. Through this grant, teachers in our district design and implement a variety of enrichment camps in the summer. This year, camps were offered on topics such as pottery, general art, natural science, aeronautics, math, and engineering. I wanted to plan something brand new for camp, something I wasn't used to teaching in my regular STEAM curriculum. I quickly thought of my brother Luke, who has done film camps with kids in the past.
We wrote our proposal and the grant funded all the materials and staffing we needed. I partnered with our local museum, and they agreed to host the camp! Luke procured a curriculum to adapt and contacted Quincy alumni in the film and photography industry. Three of these alums agreed to join the camp virtually or in person as expert speakers in photography, costume design, and narrative story planning.
We knew we wanted students to walk away with two essential understandings from this camp:
Why do people use film and photography?
Who has a story to tell?
With those two goals in mind, we set about planning our curriculum for each day. Day one kicked off with students writing personal poetry. They brainstormed characteristics and preferences of themselves and their families, adapted those into poetry, and used the ideas throughout the week. They shared the poems with each other and realized that while many aspects of each person are unique, we all share Quincy as part of our stories. They learned about the different elements of photography, such as how photographers use composition and lighting to bring each photo’s story to life. Students practiced all these skills by taking portraits of each other which we then paired with their poems and displayed at our Film Premiere at the end of the week.
In day two, we dug into film. Students learned about the differences in photography and film, and we honed in on the elements of documentary film. Interview is the main component of documentary, so students interviewed each other and other adults from our community as they explored questions about what makes Quincy such an important part of our story.
Day three turned to narrative filmmaking. Students reflected on these words shared by Cole Webley, one of our expert speakers:
Figure out what it is that drives you. What part of your story is most important to you? Keep that central to every story you write, and then all of your work will be true to you. Your best work comes from being true to who you are.
For Cole, this means family. All of his work, including this ad from Super Bowl 2017, ties back to this theme. With Cole's words in mind, each student wrote and directed their own narrative films. Every student acted in films that had been written and directed by others, too.
After shooting, Luke spent a day editing the films together. Then we celebrated! On the last day of camp, students reflected on their learning, wrote thank you notes to our many guests, and worked through a round robin of film tricks & tips. Aren’t these examples cool?
Finally, their families arrived. The students walked the red carpet and we all watched the films for the first time. Many teary eyes were in the audience as families (and Luke and I) realized with awe all that the students had accomplished in such a short time.
As the days and weeks passed after camp, I looked back over the students’ reflections and made some of my own. I was surprised to learn that many of the students found the interviews to be their favorite part of camp. Others made suggestions for incorporating editing, animation, and costume design into the camp in the future, goals I share. Then there was this comment, one that made me most proud of the week:
“Camp was really exciting. I got to make a couple new friends.”
Later in the summer Luke and I spent a day revising the curriculum for next year and brainstorming other possibilities. Could I break down each day of camp into a series of “Saturday STEAM” or after school sessions this winter? What about special, half-day events throughout the year? Where could we procure additional funding to expand this project? We dreamt of someday creating a series of camps, students returning each year to deepen and specialize their skills. As summer went on, I continued to be inspired by the joy that camp brought out in me. My mind is awhirl.
I don’t yet know what will be possible or where this project will lead, but I do know one thing. The joy I found in teaching this summer will be the memory I grab on to when I find myself in the more difficult moments of the school year to come.
The back to school season is so hopeful, full of excitement and energy. It is easy to be inspired. But what about two months from now? Do you have a memory to anchor you? What will keep you going when the newness of the year wanes?
- English Language Arts
- Project Based Learning
- Student Engagement