Video Contest Promotes Student Learning

from Educators' eZine

Barrington graduate Joe Elias established the Great Minds Video Contest at Barrington High School five years ago. The challenge he presented to students was to create original, emotionally charged, ground breaking video commercials to increase awareness of topics affecting today's youth. The first year Barrington students submitted 30+ Great Minds videos. The contest has since spread to six additional schools, and last year we had 300+ videos submitted just from Barrington alone, part of the total of 500+ from all of the schools combined. Our goal is to expand the contest nationwide next year. Currently students from each school get their own set of prizes sponsored by the Great Minds Foundation, resulting in individual sets of winners from each school.

This year's Great Minds topic is "A Day in the Life of {someone/somewhere/something else}." I believe the topic is important because it encourages adolescents to look beyond their own personal perspective and life experiences. This helps them to grow as people and create a positive impact on our culture.

Since I am a video production teacher, I found the Great Minds Video Contest to be a natural fit for my students and a great way to work together with other teachers, utilizing visual communication as a way of conveying a message. The contest parameters allow me to shift the classroom focus from teacher-centered to student-centered. The students become knowledge experts creating commercials for an intended audience of their peers to inform them of important social topics. Once the target audience of students view the videos, they become part of the group discussion by actively participating in the classroom learning community and interacting with the classroom knowledge experts.

Student-centered instruction has developed and flourished because it allows the teacher to act as a facilitator and learn along with the students – empowering students to no longer view the teacher as the sole source of all knowledge. Students become self-directed and take on greater responsibility for their own knowledge acquisition through authentic learning experiences (Lave and Wenger, 1991). The learning community provides opportunities for multiple perspectives and input on the topics being explored. Students are actively involved in making observations, collecting and analyzing information, synthesizing information, and drawing conclusions as they develop useful problem-solving skills.

At first my students had a hard time with the topic because of its unusual and outside-the-box qualities. Being adolescents, they don't realize that Great Minds founder Elias was on to something big. Even I did not grasp the full implication until I took a few moments to reminisce back to when I was a teenager myself. In the process of reminiscing, I came to the realization that adolescents seem to be engulfed in their own little world of school, sports, and social activities. They often don't take the time to think about how the rest of society outside of their immediate realm of friends and family operates on a daily basis. This contest provides an opportunity to explore unfamiliar perspectives and a forum to present their discoveries about what life is like for someone else.

To create the "truth" commercials, my students and I worked with many other departments, such as health, science, and fine arts, as well as with people in the community. The other classroom teachers would have their students write the scripts for the commercials while my students would edit and create the final product along with creating their own original commercials. The main challenge for the students was to take the written text and create a visual representation of the story. They had to visually organize filmed footage for the commercials and take the clips and make a final project that made sense. They created storyboards to illustrate key concepts and used many of the techniques discussed in our Visual Literacy course, including camera angles, tracking, transitions and good picture composition.

The video challenge was beyond the routine of everyday classroom activities, allowing my students to work with the community and possibly have an effect on society as a whole. Students and I sought out local police officers to provide information and statistics on various topics and the police officers also starred in several commercials. The Great Minds project branched out into various local activities and charities. Parents and family members also helped film, shared ideas and starred in the commercials.

One profound example of the breadth of student exposure to other people's perspectives is a video made by Nicholas Gerger and George Streicher about Rolling Meadows native Sgt. Bryan Anderson, who lost three limbs in Iraq. Gerger wanted to show why Sgt. Anderson is a real American hero and a role model for the youth of today, both for his service in Iraq and for his courage to share his personal story of struggles and successes upon his return. Student film-maker Gerger was impressed: "His willpower floored me, and his persistence in reaching his dreams, even without three limbs, was truly inspiring," he says. Other inspirational and thought-provoking Great Minds projects include: documenting a student with severe disabilities learning to speak, life with ALS, a DUI tragedy, living on the streets, and the busy life of a student athlete.

Participating in the Great Minds project had a major impact on my students' self image. They learned that one individual could create something that will impact the larger group. This type of cross-curriculum project allows me to work with my colleagues, utilizing visual communication as the means of transferring a message, while offering multiple perspectives to my students during the learning process.

Some of the student examples can be found at:

You can view this year's top videos at:
Barrington High School: Great Minds Foundation

Email:Jeff Doles