Of the Student, For the Student, By the Student
Introducing the Creative Process
Student Behind Camera: Ready?
Student: Be quiet.
Student Behind Camera: Set. Action.
Park Ranger: Ok, everybody, can you gather around here please? Alright. Thank you! Just to start it off I’m Maureen McDowell, and today we're going to learn the story of the first Battle of Manassas. My only request is, please, don’t touch any of the exhibits, especially the musket.
John Jones: We're working today on a project called Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student. This is an aptly named program, because kids create movies offering their interpretation of history—of important historical events. We've done the program at Harper's Ferry with Harper's Ferry Middle School. We've also done it at Monticello, and here we are now at Manassas National Battlefield Park.
Ken Bassett: These students are in the Early American History course in our 6th grade, which basically covers from pre-European contact through the end of the Civil War. In the beginning, it’s about getting them excited about it. You know, introducing them with the immersion day was a fantastic way to get them excited.
John Jones: They were here last October in an immersion day where they learned about all kinds of different events and historical people that took place here at the battlefield.
Ken Bassett: They're out at the football field. They see the cavalry come in and do a charge, and I think a lot of them were just thinking, "Wow, this is—this is not your typical school experience." And then, you know, we were able to layer that with some of the more historical analysis and the reading and the discussions that they had in class; and then building back up to this sort of a creative opportunity for them to take what they’ve been learning and experiencing and are excited about, and make sense of it for themselves and for—for their peers.
Students as Filmmakers
Director: Can the actors get back in place? If the extras don't mind sitting between the pillars again that would be great. Alright. You guys, extras, what's the other action step here that these guys need to zoom in on?
Director: I think—I think you're sensing the energy of it when you pick it up, so you are going to have this element of "Ok, I'm about—I'm just going into that vortex now." Ok.
John Jones: This is an important day for them. They've chosen their stories; and they've written their scripts; and they're now putting kids in front of the camera, behind the camera, acting, producing, and shooting their video.
Student Director: So, Rachel, you're just going to be looking at it, and then you're going to come in behind her and say, "I wouldn’t touch that if I were you."
Park Ranger: I wouldn't touch that.
John Jones: Two stories that are going on behind us now are kids who are present day who have magically transformed onto the battlefield at Manassas, and they're trying to figure out why they're there; and all they realize is they don't—they're not prepared for battle, much like many of the soldiers at the time.
Director: Let's set it up a little bit for the actor. We're going to put you in your spot so that you kind of know where to land, and you're going to have two different types of movement, ok?
Soldier: Wake up! Wake up! [Indecipherable.]
Soldier 2: The general's orders are to get information!
Voice in Background: You wanted. . .
Soldier 2: This union is important, so we're ready to fight.
Director: [To background voice] That would be awesome, but you don't have to do that. [Laughs.]
Soldier 2: Here we are. "This union is important to protect, so we're ready to fight for it."
Soldier 1: Wake up! Wake up! Lazy! Grab your musket! Time for battle! We're moving out for Manassas!
Soldier 2: The general's orders are to get information! Let’s go!
Soldier 3: What?! I need more time!
Soldier 2: So do we all!
Ken Bassett: I think one of the things that has been interesting to watch over the course of the year is how the students have gotten increasingly more familiar with the content, and so by the time we get to filming on a day like today, the students are able to do a lot more with the content then obviously they would have been able to in the, you know, in the early days.
John James: Once these vodcasts—the filming is done, they will go back to their editing—the editing rooms, and add music, add voiceovers; and once they're finished, the videos will be premiered at our annual conference here in Manassas. The videos will be used, for example, by the park, the National Park Service and the battlefield, as official interpretive material. They'll be used for students of all ages to understand and see history through another lens—through the lens of these young filmmakers.
Connecting with Local Historical Sites
Ken Bassett: For these students, it does two really important things. The first thing is it connects them with a local historic site, so a cultural resource like this battlefield is a place that they drive by all the time on their way to soccer games or visiting friends, and this is an opportunity for them to get a much deeper understanding and an appreciation of the value of this place and the story that—that’s here.
John James: It’s a program that involves them in all elements of education. It’s not just creating a movie. It’s writing. It's thinking. It’s decision making. It actually involves the entire school in all the different classes whether it be art and music to math and science, so I think that the kids really, you know, in a more immediate sense get to experience history firsthand—in effect, make history.
Ken Bassett: These students are learning at a very early age, much earlier than I’m saying I think I and a lot of my colleagues have—they’re getting to learn that they get to interpret the story, and that this is the very beginnings of their generation’s telling of and understanding the importance of the Civil War for them. So, that’s been interesting to watch unfold.
Creative Approaches to Curriculum
Ken Bassett: So these students have been engaged in this process since the beginning of the school year, learning some basic information about the Civil War, while simultaneously, you know, taking on Jamestown; so needless to say it’s been a bit of a challenge in terms of help, and the students manage the different content over that period of time. We've been learning throughout the process about how to make it, you know, make it successful, but it does present some challenges.
A big project like this is really hard to do unless you have real strong relationships with a wide variety of partners, so one of the things that made this so appealing was we had a long standing relationship with the folks at the Journey Through Hallowed Ground from the work that we had done with them on a variety of other projects. In addition to that, we'd worked with the National Park Service here at Manassas National Battlefield on a variety of Civil War-related instructional opportunities for kids; so when the Journey came to us with this project and this grant, it was a natural fit with people who were already doing some work together with each other. That made communication and all the logistical stuff that really is probably the greatest challenge when you're doing this kind of work a lot easier to handle.