Community Stories

I’m often reminded that I have one of the best jobs in the world. Getting to work with districts around the world, I continue to value and appreciate the high quality of people who have dedicated themselves to helping young people. Being able to spend time with these people and hear their stories, encourage them and connect them to others represents a fairly large part of my work. Building and growing community in a variety of ways is pure joy.

Another of the great privileges I have as part of my work at Discovery Education is to pursue my passions. One of those passions is storytelling and videography. Much like my writing and speaking, I recognize I have some ability but also recognize how much I have to learn. Last year I shot and edited 8 videos from educators in Canada, the UK and the US. I had filmed another in April but for a variety of reasons, was not able to get it edited and produced until today.

Zulma Whiteford from Discovery Education on Vimeo.

I continue to be fascinated by stories and how they forge, create and strengthen connections and build community. I hope to share more of these and also experiment with the whole realm of storytelling. I’ll always be learning.

My Best Work This Year

IMG_1016This was another incredibly satisfying year professionally. My work with Discovery Education continues to evolve and my role as Community Engagement Manager is one where I get to work with so many wonderful people. I spoke to thousands of people in keynotes and workshops. I collaborated with colleagues on many projects and contributed to lots of content online. However this year my best work came in the form of a passion around storytelling.

A few years ago I saw a great series of videos produced for Prudential Insurance called Day One Stories. These were short videos featuring people on their first day of retirement. While that may or may not sound very interesting, they were shot beautifully and told simple but compelling stories.

I immediately considered both how a similar concept could be used within the Discovery Education Community. Having dabbled with video over the years, I relished the opportunity to create something based on these stories. The DEN (Discovery Education Network) began in 2005 so this was our tenth year. We celebrated in various ways and I was given the opportunity to celebrate by creating my own version of the Day One Stories.

Ben Grey, who helped create 59 in 59 in his district, spent time with me sharing his expertise and insights as I set out to create the DEN in TEN stories. Over the next few months, I shot and edited 8 videos featuring 9 community members. We showcased educators from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.  From elementary and high school teachers, principals and vice-principals and district leaders and coaches and even retired educators, the Discovery Education Community is diverse and full of great stories.

For example, here’s RJ Stangerlin. She’s a founding member of the community, retired educator and cancer survivor. I was privileged to share her story.

DEN in TEN: RJ Stangerlin from shareski on Vimeo.

You can view all the stories here.

While I say it was my best work, I’m fully aware of the flaws and areas that need improving. I’m not a professional videographer but am passionate about storytelling. I’m grateful for people like Ben who are so willing to share and offer great feedback.

For those interested in the technical side or process here it is.

I began each project with a Skype call to do a mock interview. As you might be able to tell, the videos follow a pretty basic plot line. Your role as an educator, your personal life and interests, your connection to the community. A 30-minute pre-interview gave me a better idea of what I would like to capture. I arranged to travel to the subject’s location and tried to capture the audio first. Using a snowball mic and a quiet space, we mostly just talked. I wanted to capture as natural a conversation as possible. Usually, I ended up with anywhere from 15-30 minutes of audio. Then we went to film. Knowing that none of the audio from the video would be used, simplified the process. I used a Canon Rebel ti3 DSLR with a 50mm lens. I tried to only use footage that was shot from a single position. No panning or zooming. I didn’t always keep this rule but tried. The challenge came in shooting in classrooms. I tried to use a variety of shots so that classrooms didn’t become generic. I captured about an hour of total footage.

Editing always began with the audio track. Using Audacity, I essentially tried to find snippets that might be useful. Rarely were these longer than a minute. I ended up with 6-8 minutes of audio and then tried to edit it down to 3-5 minutes. This was the most difficult part of the editing but the format I used meant that after this was done, the rest would be much easier. I used iMovie to do the rest of the editing. Having access to the Discovery Music library I looked for minimalist soundtracks that did nothing more than kept the story moving at the appropriate pace.

I could talk for hours on the nuances of this kind of storytelling, not as an expert but as someone who appreciates and is trying to learn this craft. I hope to continue telling these stories and more importantly, hope the help you understand better the Discovery Education Community.

What About Snapchat?

Snapchat has been around for years. Educators were quick to file it under “bad social media” as people focused on the ephemeral nature of the tool and essentially thought of as a way for teenagers to share inappropriate images and videos.

I had a conversation a while back with my then 15-year-old about her use of snapchat. She was drawn to it because it enabled private conversations with her friends. I find it ironic that we’ve been telling kids to guard their digital identity and be aware of their privacy and when a tool comes along that supports this, we tell them not to use it. Weird. I get it, images can be screen grabbed and shared without permission, but even snapchat alerts you when this happened. But yes, like all tools, they can be used nefariously. My daughter continued by telling me that in the same way she and her friends talk in her room without adults they want spaces like this online. That doesn’t mean they are doing inappropriate things, but they need ways to share things without adults hovering over them.

A few years ago I found a story format called 5×5. 5 videos, 5 seconds each and try to tell a story. I made this one.

I’ve always been fascinated with these types of story forms. Snapchat stories fascinate me. Recently, snapchat enabled collaborative stories with limited access. Major League Baseball allows fans to contribute to a shared story. Interestingly, they aren’t saving these but again, that constraint and feature is what makes it compelling.

Casey Neistat does save his stories and uses them as his vlog. Thus far, he’s the one doing the most interesting work I’ve seen.  I’m looking for other examples. Here’s my first story. I don’t know how much I’ll continue to use it but for now I’m in full play mode. Follow me if you want to play along. username: shareski



Before you start thinking, “what about snapchat in schools?” Stop it. That knee jerk reaction to immediately think “<insert new tool/app> in the classroom” needs to end.  If blogs and social media were around 50 years ago I’d worry we’d see things like, “Ovens in the classroom”, “5 ways to use Lawn mowers with students”, “Top 10 radio stations to engage students”. Not every technology or app has to be jammed into curriculum or school. In other words,

“Not every technology needs to be “edufied” but in a world that there are so many new things that we are still learning about and figuring out, I think it is important that we have some credibility in the conversation.”  George Couros

That’s where I’m at. I’m playing and exploring first for my purpose. If at some point I think it might be useful for others, I’ll start that conversation. For now, I’m trying to tell and understand stories.

“The truth about stories is that’s all we are” Thomas King

Those Goofy DENny Awards Videos

I’ve been a longtime fan of this quote. It’s this premise that gives me permission to try new things. It’s with this quote that I took on the task of promoting the DENny Awards. The DENnys are Discovery Education’s way of recognizing and acknowledge a variety of community members and the great work they’re doing. It’s not an official award so and there’s no voting or lobbying for winners but just a fun way for our team to say thank you to great teachers and leaders in education.

My teammates asked if I could make some videos to get folks attention about the event. Earlier last year I found several apps that allowed you to clone yourself in a photo. I wondered if something like that existed for video. I found Split Lens Pro 2. With it you could place your iPhone or iPad in a stationary position, set the timer and record yourself up to 4 times using a variety of framing options.

It took me a few tries to get all the settings right since I wanted to put them on instagram which meant keeping the videos to under 15 seconds. I recorded the clone part, reversed it in an app called Rotate and Flip. Normally this wouldn’t matter but many times there was text involved. I also created an bumper video for the ending using Keynote. Keynote allows exporting to video which I often take advantage of. I bring both these videos into iMovie on my phone and simply stitch them together and trim them to 15 seconds.

You can view all 13 videos on flickr.

While I fully acknowledge the silliness and goofiness of the videos, they do challenge and force me to be creative. The ability to create rather quickly in this short format means failure is cheap and fast. I failed lots. John Spencer often talks about the constraints that lead to increased creativity. With all the great choices and options of tools, constraints become important in order to focus and actually get stuff done.

Adding split lens to you and your students toolkit is yet another way to pursue creativity and storytelling. I’m sure you and your students can find ways to make more fascinating and interesting than I’ve done with the DENny Award videos. I’m no longer surprised when “stupid” fuels my creative juices. I’m not sure that we always appreciate or understand that.

An Oscar Type Moment

During any talk or presentation I give I make sure that people can reach out to me to share a story, ask a question and even challenge me. I value the ways in which we don’t need to let a one time presentation but a one time presentation.

Recently, someone shared a great story and I thought I’d pass it along here. It’s a story about gratitude, joy and storytelling, three of my favourite things

I was a PETE&C this year where you were the keynote speaker.  I just wanted to let you know that Joy still exists, at least in my school.

This is one way I used technology in my classroom.  Not a lot of teachers would voluntarily video tape their lesson and post them on YouTube. However the good news is that when Google needed an example of someone teaching a technique for a commercial they were going to air during the Oscars, they scoured the internet and found my classroom.

The following is the email I sent to my friends, and attached is the press release the school sent out.

 As I was watching the Academy Awards last night and was sitting through the long acceptance speeches that seemed just to wander off, well off topic.  I said to myself, “If I ever win an Oscar my speech would be a simple thank you to Mr. Fetterman.”  Mr. Fetterman or “Fetts” was the faculty moderator for the stage crew and TV production crew at Maple Newtown Sr. High.  I thank him every day for the lessons he taught me, not only in video production but in life. Mr. Fetterman made me who I am today.

Presently I am a teacher at Mother of Providence Regional School in Wallingford, where I try to be to my students, what Fetts was to me. A teacher, a friend, a moral compass.

Funny that I was thinking about Fetts, not knowing what was to happen after I turned off the TV.  What started out as a lesson on the use of green screen and Chroma key ended up as a Google commercial during last night’s Oscars Ceremony.   Google aired a one minute spot called “We’re all Storytellers” narrated by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, director of Wall-e and Finding Nemo. (Yes we are talking about Preston and Pixar in the same sentence.) That commercial featured a clip of one of my students, Grace in front of a green screen, pretending to fly. I filmed that clip while producing a series of videos on the use of Chroma Key in my classroom.

As I tell my wife and biggest supporter Kim, “You can never spend too much on electronic or LEGO’s, good things will come of it.”

One of the things that Mr. Fetterman always said was to “Do it right the first time.”  I think that this falls under that.

There are two versions of the commercial. They both feature my clip, one ends with the Google logo, and the other ends with Andrew Stanton.

Here is link to the story and video on Pixar Times.

Here is a link to the original video that was produced in my classroom.

And if you’re really bored, he is a link to whole series.

Thanks to Preston Tyrrell for allowing me to share this.