“Dissection Documentaries” come alive in the classroom (and on SCETV)

This semester, I have had the pleasure of working with one of our biology teachers on a semester-long “Dissection Documentary” project.  (Think Inside Nature’s Giants, but in the classroom…and with smaller specimens.)  Students in Bio II (mostly as seniors) study many species, families, etc of our green and blue planet.  In an effort to blend technology use into the more hands-on part of the semester, the teacher approached me to explore ways of using video during the dissections.  Thus began the evolution toward a success story that was recently featured on a student-made video airing on South Carolina’s PBS station, ETV.

Students prepare to narrate their findings and dissection of a small squid.

Students prepare to narrate their findings and dissection of a small squid.

Students still heavily prepared for the lab work and also post-lab write-ups, but the dissected beings remained animated much longer than a class period thanks in part to video.  After students had performed the dissection, they paired  HoverCams up with their MacBook Airs in order to record a reflection and demonstration of the different body systems.  Once archived in shared OneDrive folders, students could revisit the streaming video, which in many ways is clearer than any hand sketch made in the rushed class period.  Now with help from our tech-savvy media specialist, students will stitch together the dozen or so videos in iMovie to review the semester’s work.  In the videos, students will have to review each of the course units, then their dissection footage to go deep into a system the teacher assigns their group.  When all is said and done, these videos will be a comprehensive up-close look at the content they have been studying.

Three things stood out with this project:

  • Collaboration and continual learning.  Behind the scenes, I had been working on the easiest way to make the HoverCams work with our Macs.  (This year, I’ve been making a strong case for QuickTime for quick video creation and as a video production entry point instead of iMovie.  iMovie is a hard sell to folks who have never manipulated video before.)  As I worked with more teachers on flipping their lessons, we were really better able to refine our QuickTime and video-recording skills.  When the dissection days rolled around, I was able to follow the teacher’s lead and get my hands on (and sometimes in) the specimens and answer questions beyond the technology.  Students began to trust the other adult (me) and we were able to enjoy all parts — the tech-infused and the hands-on.  I think modeling collaboration is important for students to see.  We don’t always know all of what we are doing, and we should feel safe relying on and learning from others’ expertise.  They should see that, and not between the silos of a bell schedule but rather within.
  • Students need hats in school.  No, this is not a dress code soapbox.  Instead, I want to point out the power of roles.  The first day of dissections, we wanted to set the expectation that all teams had work to do and that they should not be wandering.  This was best achieved when we explained four roles (a.k.a. “hats”) at the beginning of the class period: surgeon, narrator, technician and notetaker/secretary.  Surgeons wore gloves and dealt with the guts.  The narrator had one glove, assisted the surgeon and spoke during the video.  The technician operated the Mac and Hovercam.  And the notetaker/secretary talked the team through the lab documents and started the write-up.  With these options, students could use their own strengths to contribute and everyone had a job to do.  We knew who to talk to when we approached a table, too, on our “rounds”.
  • Technology as a tool.  I’ve written before about which of the “ones” comes first in one-to-one.  This is a great learning experience that demonstrates how putting students first instead of the tools provides a good balance for blended learning.  We knew what we wanted our students to do well before we picked tools and spent time with the technology.  I prepared a few handouts for the recording stations, which made life a lot easier and kept students focused on talking about the content.

When ETV recently made a call for submissions for Carolina Classrooms, I so wanted to contribute this great work.  However, time-strapped and already working on another video, I did not think I could do it.  Enter the power of students.  In thinking about who could help me, one of our students’ iMovie skills already stood out since I had seen her skills flourish as a senior.  We spoke once face-to-face to coordinate and talk about expectations.  Then, we used OneDrive to send raw footage, pictures and versions back and forth until we got the submission just right   To check out her work, you can visit ETV’s Carolina Classrooms channel on YouTube or head straight over to “Dissection Documentary Student Produced Video“.   I have strongly believed in the power that students have when you guide them in the right direction since my time in a PBL classroom.  This only reaffirmed it.  And if you have an internship for a future digital multimedia college student, I have the student for you!

A big thank you is in order to the teacher, students and ETV/PBS partners who all enjoy learning and celebrating what public schools can do for kids.  We have a great mission.

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