About six years ago my class started to participate in a Library of Congress Digital Archiving Program. The quick explanation is that the LOC realized that today’s kids don’t leave behind many material artifacts, and so set out to digitally archive what they are doing on the internet. A few years later my school celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary. I could not help notice that all records and artifacts of our schools existence pretty much stopped about ten years ago–when everything started to go digital. That is when I decided to start trying to preserve some kind of record of who went to our school and what they did. I opened up a flickr page and started taking and upload images. My goal was to document everything that they did for an entire year…let’s just say I did not meet the goal.
Last year we had an ex-student killed in Afghanistan. As a teacher put together a memorial service for him he found a VHS tape with the student presenting a project for his class when he was in 8th grade, and people turned in photographs of him when he was in 8th grade. It was incredible to have that physical evidence of his time at our school and it was worked into a video shown at his memorial service (you can see the video at the 1:36 mark). It was another spark I needed to start documenting what was occurring in our school.
This year I was even more determined to make it happen. I carried my camera to school each day and to every event the kids attended. I added almost 1,000 images to our flickr account during the 2013-14 school year. Their entire year was documented from the first to last. The very first thing I did when they walked into class, before I even said a word was to video the class. With all of these pictures coming in I decided to start making videos to send home to parents. This year parents received an unprecedented look into their kids lives. Not just the pictures they might expect like kids at “big” events or presenting things, but the everyday things they do like walking in the hall, eating lunch, and just making silly faces at one another. With most of the videos we sent home we included the still images taken up until that point, but also tried to add some extra “story” to the video. I know for one video one student said her mom watched it ten time and cried each time. The comments that came back from parents were so positive.
Next school year take pictures. Lots of them. Even when you don’t want to. Take pictures of all the things you would normally ignore. Kids walking into your room, standing at lockers, and sitting on the bus for a field trip. Periodically throw them into a slide show and send them home. Best investment in home to school communication you will ever make.
I would like to share some of the videos that were sent home this year. Some are pretty long. If you do have some interest in doing something like this I would suggest that you skip around in the videos. Each video has different parts, each which can be done individually.
The first video parents get is our class commercial (more info on it here). It obviously does not have their kids, but gives them a glimpse as to what their kids should expect, and after watching they are more likely to sign that little form that allows me to take and post their pictures! I tell them if they do they will have an unprecedented view into their kids’ eighth grade year. The video is broken up into four parts.
EDIT 11/20/14 Here is our video for 2014-15
The first video that is produced by the kids and sent home is our “three word” video. After the first day of school the kids are asked to send in images with three words describing their expectations for the year. While it does not have pictures of the kids, it does set a simple precedent and the kids are more eager to be in the next video that will be sent home.
The next video is what was sent home at the end of the first quarter. At this point kids are still sooo tentative about doing something special for the video, You will see some kids lip syncing. This video opens kids up to “bigger ” things and they want to do something more creative for the next one.
We did a grand reverse video to send home before winter break. Each class filmed their section in one class period. There are four distinct sections and each is easily a separate video. The section that left the moms in tears starts around the 7:00 minute mark.
There were videos sent home for individual events like career day. The one below has zero fancy editing, just cut and pasted the video I took together and added background music.
Videos of field trips were sent home. Again, key is to not get caught up in the editing. There were two cameras being used on the trip. The only editing was to place the clips from each camera and place them into chronological order. And now that I place this video underneath teh career day one above, I realize that I used the same music in both!
When it came time to send out information about our new recording studio it was the kids who said, “So you’re doing a video?” Well no, I wasn’t planning on it, but we ended up doing one 🙂
And then finally at end of the year I finally did something I have always wanted to do, I made a video that included footage and pictures from the first to last day. A couple interesting things to point out. At the beginning of the video it is the first day of school. When the camera pans to the right it is their first class with me, when it pans to the left it was their last class. At the 23:00 minute mark there is a cool idea that again can stand alone as a great class video you can make. And after that song what you see is kids holding up messages to their friends, and the last song has pictures sent in from the kids.
A newsletter is great. An email home is great. But there is a reason why a “picture is worth a 1000 words.” Nothing I write home about their kid will ever replace a parent being able to see their kid smiling. Next school year, take pictures, take video. Open a flickr account and dump them all in. Issues with having images on the internet? Set them all to private. At the end-of-the-year download bulkr, download all those images and videos to a folder, suck the entire folder into a simple video editing program like imovie or Movie Maker, throw some music behind them, and sit back and watch with the kids.
This is now officially one of those no-brainer activities that I must do each year, and you must do it too 🙂