New Kid in School: Availability Breeds Opportunity!

Ah February! The end of basketball season, the start of spring sports, recruitment, and registration for next school year.

There are only a couple of things going on in our lives but I think February is the best month of the year. It feels like the only time I truly have ALL of the students’ attention.

Last semester, I started teaching a new course called “Intro to Digital Media.” I became extremely frustrated with it because it was more than an introduction. It was more of a high dive into a kiddie pool. I tried to come up with ways to teach concepts like 3d mapping and how to create 3d models but quickly realized that I am not a good enough teacher to take students who have limited digital media experience and make them 3d artists. As a result, I stepped back (talked with my CTAE/CTE director and Principal) and decided to just go with the standards as I could but more importantly build a group of students with a great foundation in digital media opposed to throw things at the students that they don’t understand simply to check off boxes.

Fast forward to today. I am standing in the hallway typing this article as my students are working with DSLRs to shoot a variety of shots focusing on manipulating the aperture to change the depth of field of different photos. As I write this the question was asked “how can I do that?” and another student replies “I think I know. Let’s go.” She walked to a really bright place in the hall, cranked open the aperture and did it. I never felt that feeling last semester. Students this semster will learn how to take “gooder” pictures (inside joke of a slip up in class), edit photos and compose signs and posters in photoshop, perform some basic editing in premiere pro, create and animate products in After Effects. Is this super aggressive and probably on the verge of insane? Yes. Will it help me as these students go to the next step in the pathway and work on animating things - ABSOLUTELY.

Things are progressing well across the board in all of my classes. My animation class is working on a project for the local habitat for humanity. This opportunity simply fell into our lap. Long story short, I met with a representative about some videos they wanted my students to edit and quickly realized we could do better. Instead of simply cutting the video, I would have my animation 1 students create the videos as animations in Photoshop and After Effects. *FULL DISCLOSURE* My animation 1 class is only 2 students. While most would say “YAY less to worry about… I thought, UGH it’s like a bad date every day…” I play better to classes of 15 to 20 much better than 10 or fewer. The students have worked hard to create the art and are starting to animate it. I gave us a super tight timetable in order to be able to get the kids working hard. Check out these time lapses from one day in class. This project has been very fun as we have worked with the drama department to bring in some voice actors/actresses to voice the characters.

The studio is also starting to come together as well. We have finally got all of the lights in and most of them are installed. I am working in a couple of weeks to build out our sports set so we will have two positions in the studio. The students are really understanding the techniques and reasons to switch at certain times for a news show.

As you can tell by the tone, I have been on the top side of the rollercoaster of teaching this week. Our basketball teams are second to none in the state. Our boys team has several players who are outstanding especially our 5’7’’ (program height) guard. He’s one of the hardest working athletes I have seen in years. Last week, he made headlines around town with an "alley-oop" tomahawk dunk. That’s right, a sub 6 foot players doing a one handed alley-oop dunk with authority! There were several things about this dunk that have been great teaching moments for me.

The first moment was shared with my students on the Monday after the game. The game was Friday night and we had another game on Saturday. During the games on Saturday, the sports editor from the local paper asked me if I had a picture of the dunk that he could publish. I told him no but I could get him a grab from the video. As I went back to my lab to check out the video, I noticed a great teaching moment for my students. There were 4 photographers standing under the basket. One is engaged in conversation with someone, two others took a picture of the rebound that precipitated the dunk and were “chimping” their photos, and the fourth photographer just missed it. I told the students that if their job is to take photos at a sports event, they have to be on ready the entire time.

The other teaching moment came as a message about networking and availabilities breed opportunities. The sports editor used our photo simply because I was there to have a conversation with him. Had I stayed home that day and not been available our brand would not have received a boost. Had I simply sat at the top of the stands and huddled by my camera, we would not have had the opportunity. One of the hardest things I am finding to teach students is to break from their comfort zone and go meet people simply to just have a “hi how are you” conversation. These conversations tend to lead to great opportunities and too often we as teachers miss them and we miss the opportunity to show how they work best for our programs.

Next month, I hope that I get to tell you how we have covered our basketball teams’ championship runs and marketed our content in order to push growth on our website and social media sites.


TomWhiteHeadshot 175Tom White is the digital media instructor at Morgan County High School in Madison, GA. Currently teaching TV production and animation pathways, Tom's programs have received state and national honors including the 2016 NFHS Network School Broadcast Program Of The Year.

Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.