Friday, June 21, 2013

11 Student Commercials Showcasing Nine Years of Social Studies

My students have been making commercials since 2005. Not the same students, not in the same country, and not always with the same objective.
Me filming students in 2006

I thought it would be kind of neat to show a timeline of my class commercials through my students' work. In 9 years I've helped my students create close to 100 commercials. I chose the commercials below based on which ones could give either an example of what I was trying to do at the time, or because they demonstrated a breakthrough in thinking.

11.  Super Benz's Video Shop, 2006
None of the commercials I made with students from 2005 - 2006 worked out great. One reason is that the English level was a little low to be doing this, and I just didn't have the time to properly do a writing workshop with them.
I still made them with the students though because the alternative was following a social studies text book in Thai and then filling out Thai worksheets about economics with English vocabulary. I couldn't do that. So although the commercials are a bit painful to watch, this was a lot of English for them to write and to speak. From that era I'm choosing Super Benz's Video Shop because the sound effects really made me laugh. The kids didn't mean to make a gangster commercial, and I still am not sure what their intention was when they said that you wouldn't have an accident if you bought from them, but I suggested they put the "accident" in quotes every time they said it, and then I explained what that meant. They liked the idea and decided to punch the videos every time they said the word too.

For some reason half way through the video I switched from the Godfather motif to the Fat Albert theme song. I think I thought that the kids wouldn't get the slow pace of the Godfather, and I wanted to end with something more exciting.

Interestingly enough, even though the commercials weren't tied to products that the kids made, they did make products. I brought together this fifth grade class (35 kids) and my sixth grade class (30 kids) for my own little Thailand version of Exchange City.

But First The School's Proprietor Had 
To Say A Few Words

6th Graders Selling Crafts They Made

        Much like today's model, there was a bank president 
A police officer writing a ticket for 
"Walking on the grass."

10. Save The Planet, 2009 - 2010
In 2008 I brought back the commercials after a two year hiatus. I first started it as a middle school exploratory. The next year I brought them back into the class curriculum, dropping the economics but fitting the lessons into a grander theme of advertising because there were a couple of essential questions in fifth grade that I thought deserved to be looked at through an advertising lens: "What sources help us develop our views?" and "In what ways can these sources produce bias?"
But I wasn't trying to spice up an awkward and boring Thai curriculum anymore. I had a lot more freedom. And more resources. So the fifth graders wrote their own commercials and they edited everything in iMovie. For the music they were usually lost on what to do so I gave them a few options and they chose from those options. I like this commercial as an example of that era because I love the idea for this product. Do you hear me game developers? Make Jackson Kid!

9. The 4-R Bank, 2010 - 2011
2010 was a year of firsts. It was the first year that:
I taught fourth grade.
The advertising unit fit into a larger class economy.
The students made commercials for their own products.
We used a green screen. Actually we used a blue screen. It was the first and last year for the blue screen because it was too difficult for the kids to not wear blue. The 4-R Bank commercial was our first attempt at using the Blue Screen. We had the superhero, lay on a stool to simulate the flying. This one was always a fan favorite that year because of that effect.

Fun Fact: Between the first and second takes of the last scene when the bank robber was tied up, a monkey wandered into the classroom. I ran at it yelling and screaming and it retreated. I started chasing it in the hall when it promptly turned around and started chasing me. I turned, ran behind the drinking fountain, and started pounding on the metal casing to scare it away.

8. Origami Organisms, 2010 - 2011
Origami Organisms, filmed during the first year of our Blue screen, was the commercial that pushed the boundaries of what we could do the most. I'm not sure we succeeded but I love the different variety of settings this script called for: The shop, the plane, the ocean, the boat, and the beach. It's an epic commercial and a good idea. The one thing that is missing is an appropriate slogan that ties everything together.

7. Pencil Holder Pencil Puppets, 2011-2012
First an explanation on the product. The author made tiny puppet heads that fit over the eraser end of pencils. The author wanted to show that pencils are "headless" without his puppets. All the actors in this commercial were supposed to be pencils, but we couldn't figure out how to do that in a meaningful way so we just kept them as people, except that one of the people doesn't have a head.

This commercial is the first time we decided to apply the green screen to a body part. I like this commercial because it's strange and I like it because we had to wrap a green sheet of construction paper around the main actor's head to get the effect.

6. Ready Sharpen Pencils, 2011-2012
I love Ready Sharpen Pencils because by now we're using the green screen for at least one scene in every commercial, and this commercial doesn't need any of it. And it's good. The message is concise and clear, fully showing off the genre of "You'll have a better life if you use our product."

5. Mountain Money Bank, 2011-2012
This is the first and only time that a student wrote a jingle for his commercial. This is how it went down: The student moved to Kathmandu in January and joined fourth grade knowing about five words of English. For two days he was hunched over his desk writing this commercial, meticulously looking up every word in his translation dictionary as he wrote.
About half way through the jingle it sounds like a toy piano starts playing. We didn't have any instruments actually playing. Instead I ran his voice through Ujam and converted it to musical instruments to make it sound like there are instruments accompanying him.

4. Sci-Fi Humor Inc., 2012-2013
So you're selling comic books and you want your commercial to look like a comic book? iMovie '11 has just the template for you!

3) The BB Shop, 2012-2013
This commercial highlights one of the most developed scripts written. The author spent a lot of time writing the back story for both the spy and the mad scientist. Only some of it was used in the commercial because of time constraints, but it showed me that writing scripts even at this young age can really be a great exercise in character development.

2. Jaegoo's Origami, 2012-2013
This is a special commercial because it's a feel-good commercial. Again we have an ESOL child writing, and my teaching assistant working with him for several class periods to refine his ideas into a script that ended up being heart warming. This is one of the few commercials we've done that has a narrator.

1) Origami Fun, 2012-2013
Finally I wanted to feature this commercial because if I ever do this unit again, this might be how I do it. This commercial was really a collaborative effort. The author had the product and an idea of what he wanted to show. But because of circumstances outside his control, his classmates helped write several different scenarios that we could try to get the message across. Some ideas, like spraying the chasers with a water hose, were too messy to try, but slipping on a banana, dressing up like a girl, and pretending to be Bob Marley all came from collaborative writing.

I say that this might be the way I do it in the future because in a class of 20 or more, editing 20 or more commercials is a lot of work. When I lived in Sudan, the fifth graders ended up editing their own work. There's more of a learning curve with fourth graders. Also I've always felt that after spending so much time writing and rewriting several scripts and versions of scripts, I owed it the children to do my best to bring out how they saw the commercial playing in their head. Great ideas and great words can't always be showcased with first time editors, and the scripts deserved to be showcased in a way that can make each person proud.

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