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Geology of California

School: Sierra Expeditionary Learning School

City/State: Truckee, CA

Grade(s): 6

Format(s): Video

Subject(s): Science and Technology

Project Overview

Geology of California is a middle-school student product synthesizing learning from a semester-long Earth Science expedition. The photography, scripts, interview questions, artwork, graphics, and editing were all done by the twenty-four sixth grade students of Sierra Expeditionary Learning School in Truckee, California. 

Students interviewed the local experts who had contributed to their field-learning. The final documentary film was submitted to a list of international film festivals compiled by the crew and was selected as a winner by two festivals, one in California and another in Mumbai, India.

Assignment: Students were tasked with creating a documentary film of the geology of California to include a geologic timeline, the impacts of plate tectonics, geothermal features and effects of water on the shaping of Earth's surface. Students applied for jobs on the documentary crew that included interviewers, scriptwriters, camera operators, editors, and graphics designers. Jobs came with a rubric for content and craftsmanship.

La geología de California, es un producto de los estudiantes de secundaria. La fotografía, los escritos, preguntas de entrevista, el trabajo artístico, la gráfica, y la redacción fue hecha todo por los veinticuatro estudiantes de sexto grado de la Escuela Sierra Expeditionary Learning… Truckee, California.


We Asked the Teacher

1. What was compelling for your students about this?
Students were excited to apply for and take on the real-life jobs of a documentary film crew and were able to choose the roles based on interest and ability. Each role came with a job description and questions related to the passions and strengths each applicant would bring to the job, and required an adult recommendation.

2. What were the challenges?
It was a complex project with so many moving parts and multiple deadlines to be met before other parts could be done. The most challenging piece was the final edit which did require a large time commitment from our film expert.

3. What makes this particular piece a model for other students?
The film is an excellent example of how collaboration in diverse realms can produce a product better than the sum of its parts. Every student contributed to the film in personal and meaningful ways and could claim pride in its awards.

4. What would be your advice to a teacher that is inspired by this project?
The key is the behind-the-scenes preparation and expert line-up. Map out a clear timeline, recruit experts in each key realm (film-makers, writers, graphic designers), and be flexible with time in the school day for multiple revisions...and expert cancellations....and technology snafus!

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • An impressive model of a well-crafted and creative video by middle school students
  • Illustrates a high level of professionalism in the production
  • Model of a very polished video from beginning to end
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