The Classroom

The Media Art Program is a program dedicated to student success and is based on the principals laid out by the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board Strategic Direction. We fully integrate the vision that All Students Achieve their Full Potential. Our mission is their mission: Providing relevant, responsive education so that each student becomes a lifelong learner. Our values are their values: Respect, Creativity, Excellence, Citizenship.

Since engagement and achievement matters, students are offered differentiated instruction, a tiered approach to intervention, formative assessment, and a teaching practice firmly rooted in 21st Century Fluencies. Download the document The Future of Education in HWDSB PDF.

This philosophy is reflective of the standards that ISTE has set out for teachers and students in preparation for life in our global community.

The following is a description of how our classroom works:

The ability to define a problem, creatively generate solutions, try solutions, review outcomes and modify the plan of action if needed. One must be flexible, willing to alter the chosen path and be open to opposing ideas before working to a solution. Media Art students routinely work through problems to arrive at solutions that are amenable to all the stakeholders involved. In grade 10 students work together in pre and post production: brainstorming ideas, story construction, script writing, filming (actors, dialogue, blocking, lighting, sound, locations), editing and presentation. In grade 11, students research for their documentaries and work with each other, staff and community members. Community members are interviewed on important social issues, locations are scouted based on research, filming crew must be organized and coordinate their shoots. In grade 12 students are expected to film and photograph every team, club and event running that year at Westdale, then publish a printed and digital archive – the yearbook –  that is shared with the Hamilton community. Students must resolve the tension between their student and adult audiences and produce an engaging and accurate book/DVD. Frequently students must be off campus and film/photograph on their own time. They must go out of their comfort zone and adapt to social situations, arrange their schedule around meetings, transportation and deadlines. From planning stages to the end product, the class (typically 60 students) must work together to accomplish this daunting task.

The ability to unconsciously and intuitively interpret information in all forms and formats in order to extract the essential knowledge, authenticate it and perceive its meaning and significance. This also involves the ability to communicate face to face and digitally. A documentary is not just about information – audience must be made to care about the topic or acquire a change in attitude or opinion after watching. Telling a compelling story that has meaning is difficult but the students in both grade 11 and 12 construct them. Students assess all the information out there – filter, parse, check validity, organize it before they can put their documentary together. Media Art emphasizes information fluency instead of content memorization. Students concentrate on synthesis, and use specialized tools to organize information for easy search and retrieval, for example Diigo, bookmarking, graphs, spreadsheets, mapping tools.

This is the process of adding meaning through design, art and storytelling. Form and function become important. It involves the imagination to create stories, a practice that is in demand in many facets of today’s economy.

ISTE has recently described what creativity is in their Learning and Leading with Technology May 2011 publication.  According to J.P. Guilford’s FFOE model of divergent thinking from the 1950s, there are four dimensions to creativity: Fluency, Flexibility, Originality and Elaboration.

“Fluency is the ability to generate lots of ideas, which loosens up the creative wheels.” Brainstorming is a main stay in film making. Creating a film demands a new approach and talking around the table is a necessary process to finding and refining ideas.

“Flexibility is the ability to look at a question or topic from a different angle.” Flexibility is another element that is necessary when collaborating on projects. Not only flexibility in accepting differing viewpoints, but flexibility in accommodating the way the various personalities in the group communicate their ideas. The camera takes on the various viewpoints, angles and directions, but the group must also change and morph according to the circumstances surrounding their shoot, as conditions, actors, and outcomes change. Film making is an organic, fluid process and the group must also reflect these attributes.

“Originality is the quality that generates unique or unusual products, unexpected ideas, or the first of a kind…Keep in mind that originality is one facet of creativity that cannot be forced, only reinforced and publicly valued in our classrooms.”  Our students are given the time and the tools to foster their creativity, in a supportive, relaxed environment.

“Elaboration involves adding details, filling in the gaps, embellishing, and completing a creative idea. It fleshes out the ideas or working collaborations.” Our students must bring their films to completion, then share them. They must bring all the components together to a cohesive whole, a story well-told, a beginning, middle and end.

Students at all levels of the Media Arts Program exercise their creative birthright. We cultivate a relaxed, accepting, joyful atmosphere in the classroom because creativity is only possible under those conditions. It is Ok to fail or get it wrong in our classroom, since experimenting during the creative process demands that you take risks and many of those directions do not lead directly to success. Students are encouraged to talk about their ideas, brainstorm with others, play games to inspire themselves. We have exercise balls, rubber tires and cushioned chairs to facilitate the process. Our supply “closet” has leggo, hot wheels cars, large muppet style puppets, various character/animal hand-puppets, wigs, costumes and paper dolls.

We believe, along with Tim Brown that play plays a key role in generating creativity. Even Google and Apple know the value of play in inspiring creativity in their employees –they use playful symbols in the workplace. Students in our program exercise their creativity when they produce their graphic designs, their films and their web products. There are specific success criteria attached to every assignment, so students know how to achieve success and exemplars, so students know what success looks like.

The ability to look analytically at any communication media to interpret the real message, how the media is being used to shape thinking, and the efficacy of the message. Secondly, to create and publish original digital products. The Media Arts curriculum specifically calls for the analysis and deconstruction of all types of media, including communication media. Students look at many artworks designed to generate discourse from stunning documentaries to interactive installation art projects. Students consider the big questions why do we have Art, why do we need Art as a society, how does Art shape our culture, ourselves? Students are challenged to use their own voice to formulate their own questions – construct Media artworks from their own experience.

The ability to work cooperatively with virtual and real partners in an online environment to create original digital products. That participation should reflect the principles of leadership, ethics, accountability, fiscal responsibility, environmental awareness, global citizenship and personal responsibility. Media Art students have been challenged frequently since its inception in collaborations with McMaster’s Multimedia and Humanities classes, the HWDSB, city hall, the global Flat Classroom Project, plus Science, English, History, Family Studies, Phys’ed and Drama classes in our own building. Many of these connections have been virtual, some face to face partners and some a combination. Lessons in communication are definitely different between virtual and real partners. Online communication needs to be much more sensitive in every way than real partnerships. Mis-communication and misunderstanding happens easily when students assume that everyone thinks the way they do. Without the cues that come from body language and the physical nuances of presence, meanings can be misconstrued. Our students learned how to be sensitive in their communications with students from around the globe in the Flat Classroom project in the fall of 2010.

Our students also participated in a robust documentary/web design project with the 4th year history students at McMaster in 2009 with Prof Ken Cruikshank. Our students produced 30 – 50 minute documentaries based on issues that their McMaster counterparts researched. Our students met at various locations around the city to get the shots needed to build their documentaries, then designed the web interface that showcased the research and the documentary. It was quite the undertaking, with all student exercising leadership, accountability, and personal responsibility.

The Media Arts Program exercises the following principles. These principals are internalized as skills to be transferred to other disciplines, careers and life situations. Learner-centered, self-directed learning: Students keep a personal blog as their classroom notebook. They take surveys to determine their learning style, their technology proficiency, their group dynamics skills and to build their personal self-knowledge. They are asked to post their learning goals for the course, track their learning progress and respond to teacher directives on their blog. Students can reflect after each assignment and strategize on their next steps for improvement. As they track their progress they can describe what they are accomplishing, what former knowledge they bring to the project and what they need to yet learn. Teachers provide feedback through these blogs – and in the classroom face to face. This gives the students another opportunity to ask questions, get clarification and share information with the teacher. The pace of the learning is set by the class. The teachers are sensitive to the needs of each class when setting the learning goals and the success criteria for each assignment. Teachers are flexible and assign alternative projects to students when necessary. Assignments are designed around the students’ interests.

Projects are integrated, interdisciplinary, practical, authentic and shared with the Westdale community: All their film work is shared via the Media Arts Vimeo Channel, celebrated with the Film Festival. Their graphic design work goes into the production of the yearbook, posters for the school walls, promotional material for the various departments, commercials for the yearbook in full resolution and Internet versions. The HWDSB has asked for various projects from students. Students create web sites around socially important topics and share/discuss with each other in this venue. Students are guided through projects that are typically drawing from many areas – science, drama, English, etc. They work collaborative in groups and this reflects the reality of the workplace – ideas are usually better once they are been aired, discussed and developed.

Transparency: Students can read the course materials online – each teacher has a classroom web site. All assignments, rubrics, success criteria, lectures and class notes are posted on the web sites for easy and on demand access by students and parents. Exemplars are posted online for referral for every learning goal. The Media Art Program philosophy, curriculum documents and teacher contact information is readily available online. We have a online resource Diigo Group called Digitizeme that students can contribute to. Each lab is paperless.

Classrooms are anywhere learning happens: Many of the Media Art projects take students off campus, from the short films filmed in Westdale, to the documentary filmed in north Hamilton, to the game filmed in Ancaster, Good Shepherd Center, McMaster University projects,

Collaboration at all levels: Teachers and students work together to create success criteria, online resources, help tutorials, deadline dates, projects. We have had the privilege to be involved in several projects with McMaster University, the global Flat Classroom Project and various in-house collaborations with other classes here at Westdale.

Data: We collect the data on a term basis with surveys from Survey Monkey (multiple intelligence, group dynamics, personality, technology, teacher evaluations examples included), observation, one on one conferences, tracking student blogs, exit polls to evaluate understanding of concepts on any particular day.

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