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Chris Craft


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Months ago, while taking advantage of South Carolina's subscription to Discovery Education Streaming, sixth grade Spanish teacher Chris Craft searched for famous people who speak the language as part of their everyday jobs. He came across episodes of Animal Planets "The Jeff Corwin Experience" and discovered that Corwin, who also hosts Corwin's Quest, often travels to countries in Central and South America and jokes about the little Spanish that he speaks. Craft used the clips he found to reinforce the real-world need for fluency in Spanish, regardless of career path.

Sixth grade Spanish teacher Chris Craft. Photos courtesy of Chris Craft.

"One day, after showing a short clip as class was winding down, a student haphazardly remarked, 'We should teach him [Jeff Corwin] some Spanish.' The idea simmered for a day until I saw those students again and we began to brainstorm," Craft recalled. "In the following class periods, after the lesson was complete, we worked on what type of site we would develop, what features to add, and how it should look."

The students divided the tasks of producing and editing a program they called "Scavenger Hunt for Spanish" as well as "word-of-the-day" posts for their very own Web site. Craft did the WordPress (blogging software) installation and chose a theme. With those few steps, his students at CrossRoads Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina, were the proud developers of TeachJeffSpanish.com.

But there was one problem. Craft only has his students for nine weeks at a time, so just as the site was launching, his current group of students moved on to a new exploratory class. He had to continue the project with a skeleton crew of very dedicated authors who posted to the blog at night and on weekends. The two actors on the team were permitted to remain with Craft for another nine weeks, but they attended while he was teaching another class, so they wrote, recorded, and produced the video on their own.

"Initially I was worried about how the project would turn out. Kids can have a tendency to love an idea when it is still an idea, but shy away when the real labor begins," Craft admitted. "When the two young ladies showed up for the second nine weeks, we had a serious chat about whether this was going to work. They assured me that it would and went to work deciding on an idea for a show."

 

Erica and Emma produce, film, and host the hunts. Kirby edits the videos.

After a few class periods, the girls asked for the video camera, and Craft handed it over, secretly wondering what would be recorded and if it would be worthy of publishing. He was shocked by the quality of the first show. A student volunteer edited the show with Craft's computer and iMovie HD. Although she was new to the software, the group had a final product that pleased everyone within a short time. Craft refrained from interfering with the production of the show, leaving that to his students and concentrating on setting up the podcast feed and obtaining permission to publish the program on YouTube and TeacherTube.

"The feedback has been amazing! In the span of roughly one month, we saw more than 1,300 unique views to the site, and more than 500 collective views of the two shows. We have also received a number of complimentary messages," Craft told Education World. "I regularly communicate with the parents, and they have responded with excitement over their children's participation in our project."

The TeachJeffSpanish.com crew currently is soliciting entries for a scavenger hunt contest thats open to other Spanish classes of a similar skill level. Participants are invited to design a scavenger hunt like those contained on the site. Winners will be published on TeachJeffSpanish.com and through its feed as a "guest episode." Details can be found on the Web site. Craft believes that taking part in a contest like this one is an ideal way to get started with site construction and video production.

"Seek administrative support early in the process, and find projects you can do without any additional equipment or funding," he advises. "If you can prove yourself as an innovator with the equipment you already have or can borrow, then I think your school will be more likely to trust you the next time you have a new idea."

The last suggestion Craft offers is to relax constraints when it is appropriate. He added, "Had I not been willing to hand those kids a camera and trust them, the show never would have been produced."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

02/19/2008