I just finished a project that I would like to share. This lesson was inspired by Adam Clarke after watching his video When Stampy Came to Tea and made possible by Adam’s follow-up “behind the scenes” video with creative ideas for using Minecraft to make a film. Although I’ve explored merging Minecraft and videos in my history class, it has always been on a small scale with just a handful of students.
For this project I decided to involve the entire class. I wanted them to make a video based on an original short story written by my good friend, former colleague, and current climbing partner, Robert Walton. Bob has authored several young adult books and short stories (here, here, and here) and has won numerous awards for his poetry and fiction. He writes incredible climbing stories as well and is the kind of guy you want around your campfire. I asked him to create something that I could use with my students that would emphasize several elements of medieval West African culture. Specifically, I wanted my students to understand the importance and relevance of storytellers, music, and geography in West African history.
Prior to beginning this project, we read about the famous King from Mali, Mansa Musa. We also spent time exploring the landforms, religions, and social structures of the area. West African kingdoms famously became wealthy through trade with neighbors near and far. Salt traders from the north met gold merchants from the south in and around the dry landscapes near Timbuktu. West African kings became fabulously wealthy during this time and none could top the near mythical wealth of Mansa Musa.
We read and re-read Bob’s story, Jerboa’s Beautiful Tail (free download) in class. Bob also provided me with a reader’s theater version that contained six speaking parts plus a chorus. I try to emphasize oral language fluency and vocal performance in every unit I cover. My students need it more than the history content I am trying to teach them.
Of course, you can adapt this lesson plan below to any story your students enjoy. In should, however, be under 10 minutes in length to make it a manageable undertaking.
Armed with this much fine material, we were off to make our movie. We defined the necessary jobs in class. It was determined that we needed the following:
- Voice actors and a background chorus – the audio track was recorded separately from the video track.
- Screen actors adept at moving around in Minecraft and “controlling” chickens, ocelots, and villagers.
- Set designers – a team of students to build the sets.
- Special effects – students found the foley sounds and figured out how to light a chicken on fire and get it to act.
- Music – find appropriate music for several scenes and the opening and closing credits.
We gave ourselves five days to complete the filming of the video
- Mansa Musa Short Story (multiple copies with highlighted parts for script)
- Project Management Document
- Sign-up Form
- Reflection Form
- Screencasting software (I used Quicktime)
- Microphone (I used a Yeti for better quality sound than my laptop mic)
- Projector and screen
- MinecraftEdu, creative mode
Prior to Day 1 – Students filled out the sign-up form and I assigned roles and notified students of their role and expectations. Due to limited time, I created a storyboard for each scene so that the set designers would have an idea of what to build.
Day 1 – a chance to work with team members
- Voice actors – rehearsed their lines and created their voices.
- Chorus – wrote their individual lines and rehearsed as a group.
- Screen actors – prepared costumes for each character, determined roles.
- Special effects – began work on list of needed sound effects and visual effects (see project management doc).
- Music – researched “royalty-free African music” recorded website address and downloaded multiple files for consideration.
- Set designers – divided up work, scenes 1a-1d were considered most challenging. Begin set design using storyboard.
Day 2 – teams worked together to complete their assignments
- Voice actors and chorus – “dress” rehearsal and microphone check.
- Screen actors – rehearsed each scene in MinecraftEdu.
- Special effects – downloaded audio effects, created special effects in MinecraftEdu.
- Music – met as a group, listened to options, and selected music.
- Set designers – continued to build sets
Day 3 – a full run-through prior to recording, project management doc was projected on screen
- Voice actors and chorus – live rehearsal on sets
- Screen actors – performed each scene, modified characters and actions as needed .
- Special effects – inserted effects into Minecraft and played sound effects during rehearsal
- Music – uploaded music to a shared Google folder, Sampled each piece throughout the live rehearsal.
- Set designers – sets were expected to be finished. Builders were on standby and modified sets as necessary during rehearsal
Day 4 – video recording of each scene
- Voice actors and chorus – read their parts aloud, but audio was not recorded this day.
- Screen actors – performed each scene “on camera”
- Special effects – performed their sound effects and deployed their visual effects in Minecraft.
- Music – played their music in the background for effect. (Music was added in post-production)
- Set designers – standby to repair/modify sets as needed and to spawn villagers and “clean-up” sets.*
Day 5 – audio recording of each scene
- Voice actors and chorus – record their parts in full performance. Raw video recorded on Day 4 was projected on the screen in front of the class.
- Screen actors – supported the voice actors.
- Special effects – supported the voice actors.
- Music – supported the voice actors.
- Set designers – supported the voice actors.
Ideally I would have been able to turn this job over to student teams, however, we do not have access to devices that have the processing power to support video editing in my district. This is one of my major concerns as school districts adopt devices solely based on testing requirements. I took the video, audio performance, music, and special effect tracks home with me and put it all together using iMovie.
I had my students fill out the reflection form as a post-production assessment.
As my students had never made a video before and since I only had 5 days to create the video, I divided up the story into 13 scenes and created a storyboard for each. The storyboarded scenes were taped to the whiteboard along with the task list for each day. This was our first collaborative video of the year. Second semester assignments will require students to create the script from a story themselves and produce a storyboard for each scene.
* We had quite a few roasted chickens floating about and wandering villagers that needed to be “eliminated” from several scenes before filming could take place.