Perhaps because I grew up in New England (and still live here) or perhaps because I watched too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie when I was a kid, I have always been fascinated with the American West. And because of that fascination, the story of the westward expansion of the United States has always been one of my favorite topics to study with high school students.
There are so many nuances and vignettes to discover in the story of westward expansion that I could never cover them all by being the “sage on the stage.” So rather than just tell my version of the westward expansion of the United States, I enjoy guiding my students through their own exploration of it. To that end I developed an assignment in which my students use free, online tools to create short documentary films. The assignment is quite uncreatively titled, Story of the West – Video Project. As you’ll see if you click through to the assignment description, there are not a lot of detailed directions provided. That is due in part to the fact by the time my students get to this part of the curriculum they have already made other videos. The other reason that I don’t give a lot of detailed directions is that I don’t want to run the risk of prescribing creativity. I want to see what my students come up with.
Over the three years that I used the Story of the West – Video Project my students created everything from simple still shots with narration to stop-motion to claymation to Common Craft-style videos. All of those styles were used effectively by my students to portray a story to their classmates. Had I limited students to one style, I would have limited their creativity and lost their engagement in the processes researching, learning, and sharing.
Image credit: US National Archives – “The Life of Buffalo Bill in Three Reels.”
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