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Encourage Students to Tell Their Stories On Film

3654330A good film has the power to change us. Films reflect our fast changing world- socially, culturally, and globally. They inspire, provoke, inform, educate, and create an emotional connection to the subject matter. “Movies strike us in intensely personal ways,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert, “good ones get inside our skins.”

Students today are growing up in a digitally and visually rich landscape, with constant access to media. Most teenagers today, including my daughter, jump at the chance to create and share media online. It’s a natural fit to engage students with film, to challenge and encourage them to become thoughtful and dynamic producers of media content.

I recently attended a student film event at the California Film Institute with middle and high school students. During the Q&A, one student described film as a powerful tool because “my generation learns so fast visually. Seeing my film on the big screen makes me want to create more films to inform others.”

922063_origHall Davidson, an educator, innovator, and Emmy-award winner,
has a passion for technology integration programs. Davidson directed the 
California Student Media Festival (CSMF) for 20+ years, and is currently part of the Discovery Education Professional Development Team. I spoke with him about the evolution of the CSMF. He described what he has witnessed throughout the years and the ways in which the creation of film and multimedia can have huge impacts on students’ and teachers’ lives.

The festival, Davidson said, is an authentic assessment of student learning, providing a real world context to apply literacy, collaborative, and analytical skills.

A Little History

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the CSMF, the nation’s oldest media festival for students. Produced in partnership by CUE, PBS SoCal, and Joint Sponsor WeVideo, the film festival celebrates California K-12 students and the integration of media and education.

Media and film have changed dramatically over the course of 50 years and the procedures for submissions have altered. “Before the digital age, they would literally receive truckloads of videos from across the state,” Davidson said. The switch to online submissions has made it easier for students to create and submit their projects. Mike Lawrence, CUE CEO and the festival’s director for the last 7 years, moved the festival online. Lawrence set up a system for students to upload their projects to SchoolTube, YouTube, Vimeo, or district sites. Judges, including teachers and film professionals, watch and score films online.

As submissions have become easier, students have become empowered to use the festival as a means for engaging with emerging social, cultural, and educational issues and topics. Submission categories span all subjects, from foreign language and performing arts, to mathematics, special education, history, and teacher-created projects. I recently watched last year’s Best Overall High School winner- a 90 second film titled Last Moments. The message of the film, created over 3 weeks, is to persuade teenage drivers to put aside their phones and drive safely. A powerful message that conveys real consequences.  

Why Enter The Festival?

When I asked Davidson why students should enter the festival, he replied, “When you let kids talk about their experiences, it’s a great opportunity, a chance for validation.” Davidson described some powerful festival moments throughout the years that showcased students’ diverse backgrounds and interests, including stories about an at-risk high school student, an elementary special needs class, and a transgender student.

When shown on a big screen with a supportive audience, students’ knowledge and worldview come together. “The audience will laugh, cry, and applaud,” said Davidson, and this, “creates a significant, memorable experience.”

The techniques students are exposed to through multimedia and film making are tools for teaching and learning. Developing story lines, writing dialogue, team collaboration, editing, and time management- they all carry over to other fields of study. The prizes are extra awards. Teachers of all winners are given plaques, free software and a one-year CUE membership. Teachers of overall winners also receive cash prizes, complimentary registration to next year’s CUE National Conference,  and to have the opportunity for their films to be screened on PBS SoCal and PBS stations across the nation.

The CSMF is a great opportunity for students to take control of their own stories and have fun! I love this advice from well-known filmmaker Martin Scorsese from a commencement speech he gave at NYU: “Every scene is a lesson. Every shot is a school. Let the learning continue.”

My Story


Credit: Seana Quinn Caption: Filmmaker Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee on location in Niligris, India in 2007.

I’ve attended countless film festivals with my husband Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, a documentary filmmaker. We attended the Seattle International Film Festival last year, where Emmanuel’s film, Marie’s Dictionary, screened. The film tells the story of Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni, a Native American language, and the dictionary she created in an effort to keep her language alive.

Each time we bring this film to a festival, a classroom screening, or conference, I experience how the audience connects to Marie’s story. Her identity and cultural legacy have been documented, her contribution has been acknowledged, and her story is being told. People become genuinely concerned that her language could disappear and applaud her for rising to the challenge. The process of seeing and valuing her story encourages viewers to reflect on their own lives- to ask themselves, “What is my story?” The California Student Media Festival encourages students to tell their story.


The festival will be held on June 11, 2016 at Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, CA. The festival is free to attend. 50th Annual Festival Winners have just been announced – don’t miss your chance to celebrate student creativity!

Cleary Vaughan-Lee Bio picCleary Vaughan-Lee is the Education Director at the Global Oneness Project, an online multimedia platform which offers free multicultural stories and accompanying curricula. Since creating the project’s education program, she has conducted numerous K20 trainings across the country and has presented at various regional and national conferences including ISTE, NCCE, and NMC. Cleary is a regular contributor to TED-Ed and Education Week. The Project’s films and lessons have been featured on The New York Times, National Geographic, PBS Learning Media, and the Smithsonian, among others.


Finding My Rock Star

This is a story about a shy, quiet teacher who pulled himself out of a rut and was pushed out of his comfort zone to share his passion with others.

Rock Star logoBack in 2004 I was in a ten-year rut. I was teaching from a textbook and using lessons made by others. I didn’t stand out at staff meetings and the idea of presenting to others terrified me. Teaching like this was easy and comfortable. I had students filling out worksheets and taking tests. I went to a few science conferences, but when I thought about applying to present I thought, “Who would want to come to a session about worksheets and collecting papers to grade.”

I needed to change, for myself and my students. Then I attended a CUE Rock Star camp in Truckee. I had my doubts. The word “Rock Star” made me think that this conference was for “high-end” educators.

This was not the case. My first day I had a session with Jennifer Kloczko called “Bodacious Blogging”. It started out like any other session. She introduced herself and began telling us the purpose of blogs and why educators like herself were using them. Then she said something that would forever change the way I present to my students and to other educators. Thirty minutes into the session Jennifer said, “Alright everyone, let’s make a blog.” Wait, what did she just say? She was going to give me an opportunity to make one of my own? Where were the 30+ slides telling me how to do a blog? Instead we had time to make our own blog while she walked around and helped.

After my Rock Star Camp experience I decided to make two changes. First, I was no longer going to present information through boring slides, textbooks, and worksheets to my students. Second, I wanted to present to teachers in the “Rock Star” way.

One of the first conferences I presented at was called ETC!2015. This was a one day conference at CSU-Stanislaus. My session was on making dynamic slideshows and HyperDocs. My presentation consisted of screenshots and explaining how to make a “Choose-Your-Own Adventure” type of presentation. When the feedback came in the most memorable were statements like, “The presenter seemed nervous and talked quickly.” and “The presenter did not seem prepared.” This was the moment I realized that my presentation style was like a worksheet. The audience was just sitting, taking notes and listening, just like my old students.

A few months after presenting at ETC!2015, I was accepted as faculty for CUE Rock Star Chico. Note the terminology- faculty, not presenter. This was my turning point. This experience was what I needed to turn both my teaching and presenting style around. Being surrounded by such energy and passion made me realize that my boring slide shows were not going to cut it.

I learned more about the CUE Rock Star experience by being on the faculty than I ever expected. They call presenters “Lead Learners”. You learn just as much as the educators sitting in the room. I learned that you don’t have to be an expert. You just have to demonstrate a passion for education and give the audience an experience that is memorable. That’s the mindset I went into the 2015/2016 school year with.

In February 2016, I went back to ETC! and presented again. This time I made my session like a CUE Rock Star session- I wanted everyone to walk out with something to use in their classroom on Monday. My slideshow was minimal and I focused on the experience. Everyone who came to my session walked out with something they made and could teach their students how to use in the classroom. No more screenshots and trying to explain the process. We made a stop-motion animation together and what a difference. People walked out of the session saying it was one of the best ones they have been to. They were telling their friends. My second session was filled and people were sitting on the floor. It was a completely different experience and the feedback I got was 180 degrees different than a year before.

Fun with green screens!

Fun with green screen! From Left- Blog editor Doug Robertson, Brian Briggs (body) Trish Sanchez (head), post author Corey Coble

Because of the Rock Star Experience and the amazing professionals I met through CUE, I went from a worksheet and boring slides educator to memorable and engaging. I encourage anyone with a passion for teaching, who brings a memorable experience to their classroom to attend a CUE Rock Star Camp. Then the next year, you should be a part of the faculty. It will forever change your classroom and presentations! If I can go from the “worksheet” teacher to someone who ROCKS, you can too!

CUE Rock Star camp registration is currently open. Don’t miss this chance to revolutionize your classroom.

IMG_0247Corey Cobel is currently a 7th grade Science teacher in Roseville, CA. He has been integrating technology into his classroom since the late 90’s. From LCD Panels on the overhead projector and Laser Discs to Chromebooks and Web 2.0 Corey has always had a passion for educational technology. He is a Google for Education Trainer and CUE Rockstar Faculty. He loves flying his drone and getting amazing video from above.

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