Innovation Awards Gallery
Proud sponsor
of PBS Teachers
Innovation Awards
Showing Suzanne Scotten

Please install the flash plugin.


6-8 | Reading & Language Arts | Digital Storytelling

Station KVIE in California

My Classroom Innovation

I teach a thematic year based on overcoming oppression and adversity. We look at our own behavior, that of our peers, and we study stereotypes and prejudice. We combine literature with videos that depict real-life events, and my students come to realize that one person can make a difference. Their year-end culminating assignment is to create a documentary video of an unsung hero: someone who has overcome great adversity/oppression, or someone who has done something to better the world.
Several years ago, I started assigning “Video Homework”. I post short videos on my website that are relevant to the current lesson, and students watch, then answer a few questions on a short form to receive credit. We know that students spend time online, so why not give them something worth watching? This extends the lesson outside of the classroom, and students are engaged because the videos are current and relevant to them.
The first novel the students read is Break with Charity by Ann Rinaldi. As a prelude, I show a segment from the PBS “Three Sovereigns for Sister Sarah”. The students get a feel for the time period and historical events, and become excited about the book. Using digital imagery is a huge component in student understanding—they live in a visual world—and using the videos has greatly increased student interest, participation and learning. At the end of the novel, students beg to finish the movie.
I continue to give video homework using both PBS and On Innovation shorts, that I incorporate into class discussions that deal with slavery, Japanese internment, the Holocaust, etc. The videos make the topics come alive for students and I have seen more engagement when they come to class. This all builds to “The Heroes Project” and their own creation of a documentary film.

How Students were Engaged

The “Heroes Project” has completely changed my teaching and has made student learning more exciting and relevant. Students reflect on the literature, lessons, and videos they have seen throughout the year, then apply what they have learned to discover their own hero. I want to force them out of their comfort zone and help them become critically thinking, active participants in society.
At first, the students hate the project. Students are used to knowing, not learning. They want to fill in the blanks and be done. This is impossible with this project. By this time, they’ve seen numerous videos, including past Heroes Projects, so they have a good idea of what they need to produce. They must re-re-research until they find a person they can work with and feel passionate about. Once they find their person (the hardest part) they must research before they interview their hero, and then critically evaluate the material they’ve gathered and condense it down to a 5-6 minute video.
And of course, there are glitches. We are using free technology that doesn’t always work; time schedules for interviewing can be difficult; things go wrong—welcome to the real world! Students struggle to overcome obstacles, including sometimes difficulty collaborating with their peers.
But in the end, the results have amazed me. These 13 year old students have covered such weighty topics as genocide, sex trafficking, Holocaust survivors and more. When we hold our Film Festival the last days of school, pride in their work is obvious, and it is clear they have learned about themselves and their world, as well as the 21st Century skills they need to succeed in the future. The attached video was made by students with their own testimonies regarding “The Heroes Project.” You can see more videos at .

PBS Program/Content Used

Frederick Douglass Begins to Understand Slavery; Three Sovereigns for Sister Sarah