Reel Teens Into the Classroom With Filmmaking

Students can learn how to work together – and about the world around them – through filmmaking, experts say.

Attendees of the 2017 All American High School Film Festival walk the carpet and get a chance to see what life is like for professionals. (All American High School Film Festival)ReelTeens02

Earlier this month, high schoolers worldwide gathered in New York City for the 2017 All American High School Film Festival.

You can see Issac Kim's Award Winning film Journey Bound in the next issue of SVN Student Filmmaking www.svnfilm.com 

The event offers budding filmmakers a chance to network, learn about future educational opportunities, land scholarships and see their work on the big screen, says founder and filmmaker Andrew Jenks.

A selection from last year's All American High School Film Festival.

Teens can submit their work for next year's festival for free beginning Nov. 1, says Tom Oliva, Jenks' former high school teacher who serves as executive director and co-founder of the festival.

"These students are sharing stories that are a lens into their generation," says Oliva. He's learned a lot about young people – like their desire to make the world a better place. "It's really fascinating, and film gives us that," he says.

Storytelling is one of many skills teens can develop through film. Here are some reasons why high school teachers should consider incorporating filmmaking into their curriculums – and ideas to get started.

Filmmaking requires collaboration. Sometimes teachers struggle to bring students together to work on projects, says Oliva, but film production organically allows individuals with various skills to collaborate.

While teachers should be tech-savvy before teaching film production, he says, they can also learn from their students. He's found that teens love doing this work and are often interested in helping others elevate their craft. Plus, anyone can shoot and edit a film on a smartphone, he says.

Anthony Stirpe, an English teacher at New Rochelle High School in New York, has incorporated filmmaking into his classes using iPads and iPhones. His poem project allows students to develop filmmaking and English language arts skills.

[Get tips to help teens distinguish fact from fiction.]

Stirpe says every teacher should take the risk and try filmmaking in the classroom. He tells teachers to trust that students will figure out tech skills that educators don't have.

He's created resources on two important film techniques: the rule of thirds and the 180-degree rule. The high school film festival also offers lesson plans for teachers to try.

Teachers can tailor filmmaking to any subject. Filmmaking is inherently interdisciplinary, Oliva says. For example, students can develop finance and time management skills through the creation of a film, he says.

ReelTeens01Teachers can also use film to help teens develop visual and media literacy skills to ensure students understand how to analyze messages in a variety of different forms, says Michael Hernandez, a cinematic arts and broadcast journalism teacher at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, California.

Media literacy skills are especially important, he says, because students need to learn how to vet information shared in multiple formats before they leave high school. "The world is shifting and most of the messages that everyone receives are visual," he says, including memes and Instagram posts.

[Discover ways for teachers to use social media responsibly in class.]

In social studies classes, teachers could screen a documentary film – Hernandez recommends "I Am Not Your Negro" – and then host a discussion about race. Oliva suggests that teachers screen films created by other teens to increase engagement.

Students get hands-on experience while learning about the world. Filmmaking allows students to create real products that can have an impact on the world, says Oliva. He encourages teachers to assign projects with a purpose.

Historically, there have been many gatekeepers of information, including publishing houses or movie studios, says Hernandez. Allowing students the chance to tell their stories and those of their communities through film can be empowering, he says.

For several years, Hernandez has taken students to developing countries, where they film documentaries with the goal of understanding others. The learning becomes more tangible and significant when students can connect directly with people, he says.

But, he notes, teachers don't need to send students across the world to do something similar. He encourages educators to start small, expect to make mistakes and learn from those errors.

Jenks, of the film festival, says students learn a lot from getting their hands dirty. "Doing is the best way to learn, and that's what a lot of our students do."