China and CCS Videos Part 6: Student Responses

Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage

Here are the results! I administer a reflection at the end of each unit using Google forms.

Check out the all the responses here.


Did you enjoy learning about China?

My thoughts

I’ll take a 75% approval rating any day of the week and twice on Sunday.


Sample student responses

Did you like the China project? Why or why not?

It was fun working together as a group and completing each phase of project together (teamwork and cooperation).

I feel like it was a lot of fun to create pictures of what happened and China. It made it easier to grasp the concept of what we were learning.

I enjoyed the project because we got to be creative and take a break from homework everyday, but the downside of this was that we only got to learn about one topic.

It was fun and stressful at the same time.

It was ok I guess.

My thoughts

Most student responses indicated that they were happy to have a different kind of assessment and enjoyed being able to work with peers. However, a valid point is that by focusing on one topic, students basically do not get to explore other topics of interest. I try to mitigate this by screening all of the videos after the project. That way students can learn about the topic from their peers.

What was the most challenging part about completing the China video project?

Getting all the pictures in the right order and not messing up.

Condensing everyone’s facts to make a solid one and half page script and keep the video over two minutes and under three minutes.

Taking notes was difficult for me but I am glad that I did it because now I can use these note taking skills in other classes for different projects.

When doing the video I got a little nervous.

Making sure everyone has completed their goal so we would be ready for the next day.

My thoughts

Editing, especially collaborative editing is quite challenging. This is a bit by design within this project when I set the length restriction at 2-3 minutes. Only one or two groups have trouble meeting the minimum length. A lot of groups struggle to fit within 3 minutes. This is a noticeably more difficult process for high-achieving students. I try to make this a safer process for them in that everyone gets full credit for completing a script and video. They don’t have to worry about losing points for leaving something out. I also try to reassure them that it is in fact quite challenging to remove valid information for to make a cleaner argument. I have found that students feel  more confident about making tough decisions when they understand that it IS a tough decision. By that I mean that, I have found that when students encounter a challenging task that they think should be easy, their response is to think that they are doing it incorrectly (i.e., they are “dumb”) rather that it is difficult even though they are smart and capable.

What advice would you give to future students to help them do well on this project?

Make sure everyone is on task and understands what to do.

Manage your time well in class because even though it seems like a lot of time it isn’t.

I would tell them to be a good team member and do the work that needs to be done so that your group succeeds.

Get work done earlier if you can, because the more time you have to rehearse and get comfortable with your script makes the overall grade better.

Accept your topic and just do it.

My thoughts

Time management. Group cooperation and collaboration. No surprises. The last comment is instructive because no matter how much I try to take student preferences into account, I cannot create working groups for this project and also give everyone their first choice topic.


Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.28.32 PM


My thoughts

Strong time management and clear goals. I am happy with these results because those are my priorities while facilitating the project.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 1.28.43 PM

My thoughts

Frankly, I view artistic direction as the least important job for me on the list…particularly since students are not scored on artistic merits of their video. Otherwise a mixed bag. The research component continues to be a work in progress. One skill I should address more directly for next year is how to evaluate a website for quality and reliability.

Final thoughts

I really like running this project, and generally get positive feedback from students as well. On a multi-year timeframe I can easily picture swapping this out to a different unit to keep it fresh for me, but otherwise it feels good to have a solid activity in the toolbox.


What did you think of the project? Have you done similar projects? What could I do differently next time? Tell me in a comment!

China and CCS Videos Part 5: The Videos!

Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage

Go to part 6: Student Responses

For a variety of reasons, I am unable to post the videos from the first year of the project (Feb. 2015). However, here are the videos from the second year!

Tiananmen Square


Human Rights



U.S. – China Relations

Hong Kong


Go to part 6: Student Responses


Which topic would you have picked? What topics should I add to the list for next time? Tell me about it in a comment!

China and CCS Videos Part 4: Rehearsal and Filming

Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage

Go to part 5: The Videos!

Ha….so full disclosure… for a variety of reasons I was not able to finish this blog series in “real time”. In fact, I am returning to this post a full year later. As you might imagine, by this point in time I cannot recall the granular details of the the last phases of the project.

So rather than continue in a mode of action research reporting, I will just summarize my key takeaways from rehearsal and filming. As one of my professors was fond of saying, “Done is better than perfect.”


Rehearsal and Setup Tips

  • If possible, have a “shooting stage” set up in advance. The day my students came in to see the camera in place, they definitely “upped” their game. It had become real.
  • It is very important to allow time for rehearsals, including full dress rehearsals on the stage. The stage hands need to organize the pictures, and need multiple repetitions to get up to speed.
  • Screen testing is useful to check light levels and allow students to make adjustments to their pictures (e.g., proper scale, bright bold colors, etc.). In my experience students tend to create pictures that are too small and too detailed until they can see how it really looks on screen. Unless you have a lot of windows in your room, you will probably need a few spot lights to properly adjust the light levels.
  • Check to make sure that you are comfortable making adjustments to your tripod, camera and lights. Do a few test runs to make sure you can import the videos from your camera to your computer. Make sure you have extra batteries and memory cards available.





Lights, Camera, Action!

  • Prep a shooting schedule in advance. Which groups are ready to go, and which groups could use more time? A group that goes at the end of the line can get two or three more repetitions in before they are up.
  • With setup and transition time, I have found that I can easily film four or five groups in a 40 minute period. If things are running smoothly, plan on 5-10 minutes set up at the beginning, and 5-6 minutes per group for filming.
  • Set up behavior expectations for the students that are in the room during filming. Students should be quiet and respectful during shooting. I told students that their group would need to go twice if they botched a take for another group by being distracting or disruptive. Perhaps a bit harsh (and I am incredibly thankful that I didn’t need to enforce it), but needless to say I did not have ANY behavior issues while filming.
  • Post a guard at the door to prevent non-emergency walk-ins. Incidentally, this is a great task for students that have completed filming and have trouble sitting still in the audience.
  • JUST KEEP GOING! I remind students that they need to film in one take, and that I am the only one that can call cut. I have had students stutter, forget their lines, miss pictures, get the giggles, bump the camera…you name it. But they kept going. Done is better than perfect. This is a big reason why I basically don’t grade the video. All students get full credit for shooting a video regardless of the quality.
  • Congratulate your students when they are done! As someone who spends his time professionally “on stage” in front of a classroom, it is easy for me to forget how stressful it can be for many people. Just because the students are engaged and excited about the project, doesn’t mean that they aren’t nervous (or even terrified…) on filming day. Make sure to give them props for a job well done.


Go to part 5: The Videos!


Have you ever had students do a group performance in class? What tips could you add to this list? What could I do better next time? Tell me about it in a comment!


China and CCS Videos Part 3: Developing a Script

Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage

Go to part 4: Rehearsal and Filming

Once individual research was complete, it was time for the groups to start drafting a script and developing images. First, I created a guideline for scripting and shooting to share with each student. Then, I asked each group to create a new shared Google document to develop their script.

I wanted the groups to have as much class time as possible to focus on their work, so I tried to limit the amount of whole group instruction to just 3-5 minutes at the beginning of class.  In general, this was my daily checklist:

  • Remind students about the overall project deadline – “We are filming on February 25th. You need to be ready to go walking in the door on the 25th. The deadline will not be extended!”
  • Remind students to use the script and video guidelines as a checklist. If I remembered, I would make sure to post the guidelines on the projector…but I probably only remember to do this about 50% of the time.
  • Give students a benchmark goal – “Make sure your scripts are done by Friday so that you can start rehearsal on Monday.”
  • General advice or cautionary tales – “It is really helpful to make a list of pictures you want to create BEFORE you start making pictures.”


Drafting the Script:

During the class period, my goal was to actively check in two times with each group. I soon discovered that it was necessary for me to ask specific questions like, “What exactly are you working on now? What is your goal before the end of the class? What can I do to help?” Questions like these almost always elicited a detailed response. Whereas if I just asked “Are you guys OK?”, the answer was inevitably “Yes.” Other than these check-ins, I basically just tried to stay out of their way and let them work. Every now and then I found it necessary to address the entire class in the middle of the period to clarify a particular point, but I tried to minimize that as it was always a bit disruptive to get them out of “the zone” long enough to listen to the announcement.

By far the biggest concern of the students was drafting a script that would fit within the 2-3 minute length requirement. As each group was ready with a rough draft, I had them do a timed reading. The majority of groups came in over the time limit on their first reading. Despite repeated requests to extend the video length, I held firm and coached them on how to revise and pare down their scripts. This was initially very challenging for students because they had to prioritize the information from their research. However, I realized that the larger issue was not so much their ability to do so, but rather I needed to reassure them that they would not be penalized for “leaving something out”.

On a related note, the students grappled with how to turn their list of facts into a viable script. I found that each topic presented its own challenges.

  • Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong, U.S. China Relations – These were, in some ways, the easiest to script because they focused on concrete events that could be presented in a clear linear fashion. I encouraged these groups to provide enough context to get the “big picture”.
  • Human Rights, Technology, Environment– These topics are too big to discuss everything, so it was important to find a unifying theme. I encouraged students to dig deep on one idea rather than try to address a broad range of issues. For example, environment scripts could focus on air or water pollution. The human rights groups generally decided to spotlight one or two major corporations as case studies.
  • Culture – In my opinion, this was by far the most challenging topic to address. Invariably, each person within a culture group picked a distinct topic (e.g., food, sports, fashion, etc.) based on their interest. This made it very challenging for students to develop a unifying theme, so instead I felt that it was most important to provide a clear organization of their ideas. For example, try to present their ideas in a logical order, and use title cards to show transitions from one topic to the next.

The last major element of developing the script was incorporating the images. This was essentially a parallel work stream for the students. They had to develop a list of images that would complement/enhance the script, produce the images, and include stage directions within the script on how the images would be incorporated. To streamline the process, many groups opted to focus on general images that could be reused several times within the context of their narrative, for example, a Chinese flag or outline maps of countries.

While students were workshopping their scripts, I had my own responsibilities as well. My daily homework assignment was to provide feedback to group on how to edit/revise their script. Outside of class I coordinated with the art department to ensure sufficient supplies and  I consulted with my tech support to finalize any software/hardware issues. Also, I had to set up the studio in the classroom and make sure everything worked properly.


I was initially quite anxious about this phase of the project because so much hinged on how well the groups could collaborate. By and large though, my fears were happily unrealized. Most of the groups were focused and productive during class time with minimal coaching or encouragement from me. However, there were a few groups that experienced ongoing challenges that significantly impacted their productivity, and the quality of their final product.

  • Three groups had significant issues due to poor focus in class, disorganization, failure to complete homework and/or poor leadership. Two of these groups ultimately needed to shoot their video twice because the first take had significant deficiencies. The third group managed to produce an acceptable video on their first take, but they fell short of the required minimum length.
  • Another group suffered from an extreme personality conflict between two of its members. They were eventually able to put aside their differences with a lot of coaching and direct oversight by me, but all of the group members reported afterward that the situation had negatively impacted their experience with the project.


Go to part 4: Rehearsal and Filming


Have you ever had students write film scripts in class? What could I do better next time? Tell me about it in a comment!


China and CCS Videos Part 2: Research and Data Collection

Read from the beginning: Setting the Stage

Go to part 3: Developing a Script

Before students could create their videos, they had to conduct research into their topic. I don’t have a core text for this unit, so all of their information will come from internet resources. However, I know better than to just let them start Googling without a plan. My first consideration was to determine how much support I would give them during this phase. It occurred to me that the most challenging part of research is actually developing a robust list of search terms. Rather than have the students brainstorm options in a group, I decided that this would be the best place for me to provide some direct instruction.

My biggest challenge was to demonstrate to the students that taking the time to develop a list of search terms in advance would be clearly more effective than simply Googling their research question and hoping for the best…the default strategy of the majority of middle school students.

Before students came in for the day, I created a list of key words for each of the research questions. In addition, a created a general list of key words (e.g., timeline, trends, cause, effect, etc.) to use for any topic.


Preparing for Research:

Students use their key word list to make a series of search terms. A search term is comprised of three or more words from the list. Ideally a search term will have words from both the left column (topic specific) and the right column (general relationships). Also, they should generally also include “China” as one of their terms.

I modeled this idea with a sample list for a China topic that was not in use by any group, in this case “What are the pros and cons of the Three Gorges Dam”

  • I passed out copies of the Three Gorges key terms and asked students to give make up a random search term by picking a few words from either column on the list. My computer was projected onto the main view screen for the class. As students called out search terms, I just put them into to Google to see what would come up.

   Sample search terms:

    • Three Gorges Dam, Geography, Yangtze River, Controversy
    • China, Three Gorges Dam, Key People
    • Three Gorges Dam, Culture, Change Over Time
    • Three Gorges Dam, Trends, Map
  • The results? There were a few websites that appeared on multiple searches, but by and large each search term came back with different hits. There were easily two or three viable websites from the first page of each search term, and quite often Wikipedia was NOT the first website on the list.

Because this is was a group project, I asked students to take a few minutes to consult with their group to make sure that each person had a unique list of search terms. This way they would be less likely to “step on each others toes” when compiling their results.

Students were not allowed to open their laptops until everyone in their group completed their search term list.

The last preparatory step was to create a collaborative workspace. I asked one student in each group to create a Google document to share with myself and each member of the group.


Gathering resources:

Students were given three days to complete the individual research component of their project.

  • They each needed to create a list of 5-6 high quality websites for their topic. Of those, they would then select a top three to compile into a group bibliography of 10-12 websites.
  • Finally, they had to develop a list of ten facts from their top three websites. A “fact” was defined as “A high quality, 3-5 sentence statement WRITTEN IN YOUR OWN WORDS including concepts like “most important” “cause-effect” “change over time” “compare-contrast”, etc.”

After reviewing the pages from the first session, I quickly realized that I need to create a sample page to help students organize their work. I posted the link to this page on the top of their group page so they could reference as needed. However, even with a direct model, some groups needed a lot of daily guidance on how to keep their page organized.



This phase went quite smoothly. I think the structure that I provided at the front end really helped the groups to conduct productive and fairly efficient internet research.  In general, the groups worked well together. My key role was to help students organize their group page, and clarify their requirements. As I was circulating, it was really cool to eavesdrop on their conversations as they delved deeper into their topics.  There were about five students that needed extra time to complete their individual research. It won’t necessarily impact the grade on the quality of their research, but it is likely that they will get some negative feedback on their peer evaluations at the end of the project.


Go to part 3: Developing a Script


How do you structure research projects for your class? Tell me about it in a comment!


China and CCS Videos Part 1: Setting the Stage

Go to part 2: Research and Data Collection

My students have been responsible for a ton of writing this year. We have focused on annotation style note-taking for day to day assignments, and all assessments have been open-ended writing. That’s great, but exhausting. The students needs a change. I need a change. The back end of the year for us is actually well suited for project-based assignments because we are looking at broad topics such as “China”, “India” and “Africa”.

However, it took a few days for me to figure out an angle. I have been so focused on writing-intensive strategies for the past couple of years that I was stumped at first…I couldn’t see past my go-to instructional and assessment strategy. Luckily, I remembered an inspiring blog post I read last year.

Making Common Craft Style Videos by Paul Bogush

(Note: Mr. Bogush has an amazing blog – You should read it.)

This is a Common Craft style video made by Mr. Bogush’s students.


This is a behind-the-scenes look at the same project.


The first step was to give students a context for modern day issues and relationships about China. I prepared two documents: a survey of Chinese culture and a modern era timeline.

I have found that timelines are great, but students needs a little more structure to pull them apart and see different relationships, so I also assigned this graphic organizer to go along with the timeline.

All told, we spent about three days of class time on this part. As our discussion progressed, it was evident that the students were starting to gravitate toward certain topics or issues.

On our last day of introductory discussion, I introduced the project guidelines (I used the two videos above to model the final product for them) and gave them an opportunity to pick topics they would like to explore. Based on their topic selections, I divided the students into three or four person groups. (Note: It would be very hard to create the video with less than three students. I was originally going to create groups of 5-6, but on second thought that seemed too unwieldy.)


Key criteria:

  • Students are individually responsible for a research component related to their group’s research question. The quality of their research is the biggest variable impact on their final grade.
  • Students are collaboratively responsible for creating a Common Craft Style video to answer their group’s research question. Since this is the first time around for everyone, myself included, I will not evaluate the videos for a grade. They get completion credit for getting it done.
  • After creating the video, students will complete an individual project reflection and a peer evaluation of the other members of their group. The reflection will be graded for completion. The peer evaluation will count toward an individual participation grade.


These are the various research groups across all of my classes:

  • What are key features of Chinese culture? (3 groups)
  • What are key environmental concerns caused by Chinese industrial growth? (2 groups)
  • What are key human rights concerns caused by Chinese industrial growth? (3 groups)
  • What are key issues in U.S. – China relations? (2 groups)
  • What was Tiananmen Square Massacre? (4 groups)
  • What is the relationship between China and Hong Kong? (1 group)
  • What are China’s key scientific and technological achievements in the modern era? (3 groups)



I think everyone is excited to get going on this one. I feel like I did a good job of baiting the hook to get them interested in learning more. There is a diverse range of topics across the groups, and in general I think the group composition will work out OK. There are only two groups overall that I predict will need a little extra attention.


Go to part 2: Research and Data Collection


Have you done a project like this before? Tell me about it in a comment!