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The White House Film Fest: Inspiring Student Voice Through Video

Last year was the first White House Film Festival. It was a contest that asked K-12 students around the nation to create short (3 minute) videos illustrating how technology makes an impact on their learning. An incredible display of student voice, creativity and agency resulted in this call - with sixteen videos honored at the White House by President Obama himself.

My students participated in this first White House Film Fest, creating this video. It was both a parody of Lorde's Royals and a statement on how they feel technology has transformed their learning environments. They worked tirelessly to write the lyrics, create a storyline and build storyboards for shots. They recorded dozens of audio clips and took hours of footage. Finally, they were happy with the product and were proud to help me click the "upload" button on YouTube.

When I found out that they weren't selected as finalists, I was worried that they would be upset or discouraged. I brought in a playlist of the 16 finalists, specifically the top pick "PIP," for them to view. I decided to let them know about the results of the contest and positively frame it by celebrating those who were honored. As soon as PIP began to roll, my students, 4th, 5th and 6th graders, began to take copious notes on the cinematography, script and message. They were amazed that this film was made by students and began to immediately make plans for next year. At no point did they lament "not winning" nor did they begrudge those who were honored. For one of the first times in their school career, they were appreciating the experience for the learning - not for the outcome.

This year, #WHFilmFest returned and the new theme was "The Impact of Giving Back." The White House asked K-12 students to "tell a story about paying it forward, about community service, or what making a difference looks like in your eyes." My students jumped on this call and decided to use Kid President as their inspiration. Taking their sheet of notes from last year's selections, they sought out new shooting locations, attempted to write a more compelling script and took greater lengths to vary their shots. This was the result of their hard work.

Once again, my students were inspired to share a message, create something meaningful and amplify their voices through social media. Once again, they decided as a team that it wasn't about winning - it was about the experience and their "impact on the universe" (their words, not mine). I know my students aren't alone in this thinking. A quick YouTube search for White House Film Festival yields an amazing array of fresh new films by incredible young voices. Check out this playlist I created for a few examples.

While the White House Film Festival is over, it doesn't mean that your students don't have a platform to share their voices. Use the videos in this playlist and from last year's festival to inspire your students. Give them an iPad, phone or camera and ask them to tell their story. You don't need a film fest to give our students a chance to share their story, just the will to do so.

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