10 Ideas for Classroom Video Projects

“… ten years ago, not one student in a hundred, nay, one in a thousand, could have produced videos like this. It’s a whole new skill, a vital and important skill, and one utterly necessary not simply from the perspective of creating but also of comprehending video communication today.” (Stephen Downes)

If you follow my Twitter-stream, you know that I spend a lot of time viewing, collecting & sharing videos. In this post, I share ideas on certain types of videos that I’ve gathered and how educators might use related methods or styles to engage students in constructing and deconstructing media while becoming critical consumers and producers of digital media.

1) Conversation with Future Me/You:

“A Conversation with My 12 Year Old Self: 20th Anniversary Edition” is a recently popular video by Jeremiah McDonald. In the video, McDonald has created an interview with himself through the use of 2 decade old footage that he created as a 12 year old. The video had me kicking myself for not having the forethought to have produced something like this, but I suppose there’s always interviewing my 60 year old self at some point.

While presenting with my brother George (he’s likely blogged about this somewhere) in Australia this past Summer, I remember him discussing how this activity would be an excellent beginning/end of year exercise that students of all ages could enjoy and learn from. I agree. If done well, this type of activity could provide a student with not only a rich assessment of learning/growth throughout the year, but provide individuals with a precious artefact to be collected, shared, and cherished.

Another angle for this activity could be to create a video or a dialogue with a literary, historical or popular media character. This Vader/Skywalker version of McDonald’s video may give you some ideas.

2) Genre Shifting Movie Trailers:

One of my favourite types of video projects are the genre-shifted movie trailers where creators take movie clips and retell the plot of the story in a different genre than the original. Popular examples include The Shining as a romantic comedy, Mary Poppins as a dark horror film, Home Alone as a horror/thriller, Superbad as a thriller, Ferris Bueller’s Day off as an indie “coming of age” film and Mrs. Doubtfire as a horror film.

Genre-shifting video projects are valuable in a number of ways. As video creation projects, they would not require a high-level of technical ability. In fact, I would argue that students with basic video editing capabilities could create videos like these from a purely technical perspective. However, if done well, such projects could challenge students to think deeply about the grammar of storytelling while considering essential elements of creating video (e.g., music, timing, edits/cuts, effects, pauses/silence, etc.) for various genres . As well, students would have to acquire a keen eye for the curation involved in finding & gathering elements that would support a chosen genre. But, even without offering students a hands-on component, these videos would be great for discussing questions around how film directors/producers make us feel a certain way through the thoughtful use of various edits & visual/auditory/stylistic elements.

3) Storytelling Lip-Syncs:

I’ve recently discovered BoredShortsTV, a Youtube channel where kids write & record audio stories and adults reenact the stories while lip-syncing the original audio. My favourite video so far is this “Salesman” clip, but see also “Principal’s Office”, “Dance Class” and “Basketball Class”.

I would love to see schools take on a video project such as this where elementary school students were responsible for writing, narrating and recording audio stories and then had middle school or high school students act out and lip-sync the video in creative ways. This could provide an onramp for greater collaboration amongst teachers, across grade levels, and also provide a project that would be humorous and fun for the entire school community to view.

4) Plot Synopsis in 60 Seconds:

There are a number fun plot synopses videos available on Youtube (and other video sharing services) that do well to provide summaries of Hollywood movies or novels in 60 seconds. Notable examples include “Forrest Gump in One Minute, One Take”, “60 Second Fight Club”, “Jaws in 60 Seconds”, “Kill Bill 1 & 2 in One Minute, One Take” and “Lord of the Rings in 60 Seconds”. There is also the excellent 60 Second Recaps site that is a great resource for students and educators needing comprehensive and enjoyable plot summaries.

Projects like this could help students gain skills needed to become more effective communicators with digital technologies, skills that are essential in our attention-scarce reality, while providing entry points into a wider comprehension of literature & popular media.

5) Stop Motion:

I’ve been enamoured with stop motion films since I first saw Norman McLaren’s anti-war classic ‘Neighbours’ when I was a boy. In the last several years, I’ve seen countless examples of conventional stop motion videos such as “Tony vs. Paul”, “Western Spaghetti”, “Rwandan Grand Prix”, ““Sorry I’m Late”“, ““Human Skateboard”” and “PEN Story”. I’ve also noticed a number of stop motion music videos such as “Wildlife Control”, “Dream Music 2”, “Against the Grain” and the incredible “Her Morning Elegance”.

What I like about these videos is that there is so much variation and creativity among these pieces. There is no simple recipe or formula and from a technical standpoint, the method for creating stop motion effects is done in a number of unique ways. And, if you consider a video like “Amateur” by Lasse Gjertsen, you will realize that stop motion is more than just choppy video. Rather, it’s a method of construction that allows artists to create things that could not be formed similarly through other methods. Gjertsen states at the end of his video, “I can neither play the drums nor play the piano”, yet through his video editing mastery, he is transformed into a talented musician.

6) Course Trailers:

Back in 2007, I used a course trailer to provide information and to get potential students interested in the open online course I was introducing. It was a fun experiment and I’ve since had many people interested in taking on the idea. I just noticed this Vimeo Channel from Harvard where there are a number of good examples.

The conciseness of the course trailer has similar advantages to what was expressed above about the plot synopses. However, I also think that educators taking on projects like this not only learn a lot from creating the project (e.g., technical skills, core focus), but also, it can provide a message to students that you are willing to push your own learning and have some fun while doing it.

7) Summaries of Learning:

For the past several years, I’ve been asking my students to create a “Summary of Learning” that captures and describes growth and key learnings throughout our course. Students have utilized a number of different formats of video to take on this task (e.g., stop motion, vlogging, podcasts), but the most popular format has been screencasting. Popular screencasting tools used include Screenr, Screencast-o-matic, and Camtasia (and a bunch more here). Dozens of examples of these summaries of learning can be found here but to get a sense of the different types, I’ll point you specifically to Leslie’s (stop motion), Lauren’s (video on identity), Kevin’s (traditional video cast) and Matt’s (stop motion + Photoshop).

This assignment has been very popular with mystudents and I’ve been quite pleased with the results. Our students need the opportunity to reflect on their learning, and providing them with alternatives to written summaries helps to improve their communication abilities while providing potentially rich artefacts of and for learning.

8) Kutiman-Style Mashups:

Kutiman’s 2009 Thru-You project was a great inspiration to me and many others. In the project, Kutiman curated samples of music from various amateur musicians on Youtube to create original musical pieces. Time Magazine named the project one of the best 50 inventions for 2009 as it was an unique way to both curate and combine samples. Recently, Gotye, inspired by Kutiman’s project, released a mashup encompassing samples from dozens of covers from his own song, “Somebody I Used to Know”.

There are two major things I like about these projects. First, I see this as moving beyond the ‘digital essay’, to achieve what we’ve always wanted to do in classrooms, to take and build upon the work of others and while doing so, to create something uniquely original and new. And second, this type of project allows student to play within the boundaries of fair use/dealing, not to only better understand copyright, but to execute our rights in current/emerging copyright legislation. If we do not act upon our rights, we are sure to lose them.

9) Video Re-creations:

My brother George introduced me to Ton Do-Nguyen, the sixteen year old who recently created the Snuggie version of a Beyonce music video. If you watch the side-by-side comparison, it is easy to see the incredible skill and attention to detail of this young man. And to know that he learned this on his own without any formal instruction makes this even more amazing.

I don’t have many examples of this type of thing, not that I don’t think there are any, but that I just haven’t been looking until now. But I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the process of discovering, recreating and reverse-engineering complex editing processes like seen in this video must lead to deep learning, and thus I do believe this is a worthwhile type of project to pursue.

10) Social Commentary & Critique:

9 year old blogger Martha Payne recently made headlines when her Scottish school district tried shutting down her NeverSeconds daily food blog, one that critiqued the quality of food at her school cafeteria. Ewan McIntosh outlines the series of events in his blog which eventually led to the school district backing down from the ban after increased media pressure and bad PR.

This type of social commentary and critique is greatly lacking in our schools. I would love to see more students take on social causes of interest, to speak their minds in support of change, and to learn how to do it with candour, respect and persuasion. We have the ability to look into a camera and record our words and to be heard locally or globally. Yet, is this happening in school? Let’s make sure it is – let’s be sure to educate this generation to take advantage of these new forms of empowerment. If we are not heard, if we do not engage in these participatory forms of media, I fear these freedoms will not be around for long.

25 thoughts on “10 Ideas for Classroom Video Projects

  1. Excellent ideas, Alec.

    In addition to video, I have also been interested in watching what else can be done with video, courtesy of the extra tools that YouTube gives you. For example, the ability to annotate videos with hyperlinks gives you the ability to create some interactivity with the video, and create branching scenarios like the Interactive Spelling Bee (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDNjweAX_wI) and the choose a different ending kind of stories like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFVkzYDNJqo. YouTube makes adding this kind of stuff quite easy.

    We’ve also been playing with Mozilla’s beta release of Popcorn, a web-based interactive video creation tool that let’s you mashup video with other web sources. It is still rough, but holds some great potential as an easy-to use video mashup tool (http://mozillapopcorn.org/popcorn-maker/)

    • Hey Clint,
      The choose-your-own-adventure type story is definitely one that I overlooked. Some of my students did one a while back called “The Decision Game” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdtTh_IUuPY )- it was more of a proof of concept than anything, but they had a lot of fun with it. I’ve seen the second one you mentioned, but not the Spelling Bee one.

      Also, thanks for the reminder about Popcorn – I heard about it a while back, but totally forgot about it. Someone was asking me about an online editor a few days ago and all I could remember was the Youtube Editor and I know it is rather limited. I remember there being a few options, but most were discontinued.

      Thanks again.

  2. These are GREAT! I do stop motion films with my students each semester, using school-appropriate everyday objects – army men, LEGOS, barbie dolls, rubber ducks, Hot Wheels cars… it gives them a chance to explore video technology, self-expression, team / crew roles and communication, without the terror/ham-fest of having students perform on camera. Let me know if you want to check any of them out! Thx ~ JMiles

  3. Great ideas Alec, thanks very much for sharing. Some other video possibilities…

    Have students research and create PSA music videos…


    Last school year we created 9/11 Tribute and volunteerism videos…


    I have uploaded a collection of student and teacher made videos here…


    Here’s an ed tech blog post that discusses character ed and the creative process of making the 9/11 videos…


    • Thanks John,
      I actually had PSAs on the long list as I’ve been collecting them for years, and have had students do them as well (but many years back).

      Thanks for the other ideas and for all of the links! Much appreciated!

  4. These are great ideas! I am going into my last year of student teaching in Manitoba and I really like the idea of video projects but have never had enough time during student teaching to assign one. I am definitely going to be bookmarking this to look back at when I have my own classroom next fall (hopefully).

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    Miss L’s Whole Brain Teaching

    • It’s really awesome to see a student teacher in this space over the summer holidays! And with an awesome blog as well!

      I am going to share your blog with my students (preservice teachers as well), as the more examples of this outside of formal classes the better – it’s important to see the importance of autonomous, self-directed learning for teachers.

      Thanks for the comment and link to your space.

  5. I’m teaching a brand new high school course that involves video/TV production. We have a new studio with Tri-Caster equipment. We will be going through a small training session next week on use of this system. Any pointers and/or video project ideas you can share would be great or any links as well. Thanks in advance!

  6. Indeed, movie making is THE THING for teachers. The video medium is now accessible to all. A mere WIndows Movie Maker program allows great potential, while laptops and cameras are relatively cheap. But, what do we, as teachers, do, to exploit this new medium ? It amazes me how many of my colleagues have not realized yet (2013) what is possible. This is why Im undertaking a project this year to make a school movie. Your site is great, thanks! Greetings from Greece.

  7. I’ve been teaching video editing for 10 years, this page is the single greatest resource I’ve found. I am proficient at teaching all the technical skills of an application (we use Final Cut Express) but coming up with ideas for them to showcase these skills has been tough. A huge thanks! (oh yeah, if you know of any other such sites, pass them my way).

    • I agree, Jeff, fantastic resource. Glad to know there’s other teachers out there using FCE! Maybe we can connect. @dyersca

  8. Video is a superb tool. Great post George.

    Our G5 students do a brilliant project based learning video project where they take a poem they have written, then have to create a video from it that evokes emotion.
    You can check out the engagements from the “Jan 11 – 19” and below section on this index page.


    We use the IBMYP design cycle to guide the students too, which is not only the perfect tool for the job, but a nice little taster as our G5 students prepare for Middle School.

  9. Well maybe my problem is I’ve only been teaching video for two years. And yes these are awesome videos, but it’s probably my fault, but there is no way my students could come remotely close to producing any of this. These aren’t ideas to use in the classroom, this is for dreaming. Specifically, #1 requires adult actor and special effects as does #4 kid snippets, where the adults do 75% of the work. #9 and #5 Amateur are world famous–how can I even show that to my students with a straight face? I was hoping for something more here than “Look at these videos kids and go be a 1-in-ten-million genius filmmaker!”. Forrest Gump seems reasonable until you consider how many students are involved, how precisely the timing is for the single long take (60 seconds is an eternity for an 8th grader)–not to mention being able to act even as little as seen here…#10 starts off with “9 year old blogger Martha Payne recently made headlines” ok great now what project can my regular students be successful at? Because not all kids make headlines. Do you know of any site that has suggestions like: “Bolt the camera mount to their table, and then have each student complete the following exercise to have a single Lego man move across an open 16×16 Lego platform. “You must take 56 photos. Each step of the Lego man shall consist of: both feet on ground (pic1), left foot off ground going forward (pic2), left foot connect right foot leaving ground (pic3), both feet both on ground (pic4)”–if I had done that first, they might have had a chance at being successful at the stop-motion project I gave them.

  10. Savvy article , I loved the details ! Does someone know if my business can locate a blank NY NF-3 version to complete ?

    • Hi Red, my business partner filled out a sample NY NF-3 form using this https://goo.gl/nTqzKr.

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