This article was originally published in the summer 2013 Harker Quarterly.
The phrase “all quiet on the set” was like music to the ears of grade 5 computer science students who, for nearly a month in May, had a blast transforming their classroom into a mini movie studio. Thanks to a special cross-disciplinary project with social studies classes researching famous Americans, the fifth graders readily seized the unique opportunity to create original short films depicting the lives of the high-profile individuals they had studied.
Temporarily stepping outside their regular computer curriculum, the lower school students became immersed in the world of filmmaking as researchers, writers, actors, directors, editors and producers.
“The students are filming scenes from scripts that they wrote in conjunction with research from social studies class,” explained Joe Chung, lower school computer science teacher, during a recent visit by Harker Quarterly to his classroom, where the moviemaking action occurred.
Pointing out a group of students huddled in a corner, he said, “They are rehearsing and memorizing their lines to depict their famous people and introduce them in creative ways.” Working in small teams, student groups collaborated on various roles, creating a bevy of activity. Some busied themselves working behind a camera strategically set up in the center of the room. Others spent their time in front of the lens, acting. Still more were focused on editing their footage using iMovie (a video editing software sold by Apple Inc. for the Mac) to create four- or five-minute films. Using the application, they were able to import video and photo files from their hard drives, editing them and adding effects.
Students Mallika Vashist, Jasmine Wiese, Ishaan Chandra and Jeffrey Liu were working on a film about Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become the United States Secretary of State. Huddled around a computer, the group was immersed in the editing process. The four agreed that the best thing about the project was how much it mirrored the real working world as a truly collaborative experience.
Speaking on behalf of the team, Vashist said that not only did they “learn a ton about Madeleine Albright,” they now better understood the moviemaking process, utilizing various talents to form a completed product. “We are also having a lot of fun!” she added.
Although the majority of the film work was completed during class time, Chung also made himself available for students to work on their projects before and after school, as well as during lunch and recess.
Upon the project’s completion, Chung said he planned to arrange student screenings of the documentaries during each class period, with plenty of popcorn on hand. The films will also be made available on the student portal homework management system (athena2.harker.org) so they can proudly share their work with their parents, viewing it online together.