Author Archives: Lisa Manzari

Presidential Campaign Ads Supersized!

Muggin' for the camera during a voiceover.

Muggin’ for the camera during a voiceover!

Forget Cruz and Clinton, the 8th graders at Hannah Gibbons STEM were creating commercials for today’s trumped up rivals, Batman v. Superman! After weeks of instruction in English/language arts and social studies and defining and debating what makes a true hero in our lives and communities, I sat down with one of my favorite partner teachers, Leora Rhodes, to plan a video production residency. It suddenly became clear in the midst of the this crazy political season that the Dark Knight and Man of Steal needed to be reevaluated not as super heroes but as national leaders.

Students would be charged with creating commercials for a mock presidential election to be held in May. The students asked thoughtful questions: “Superman wasn’t born here. Don’t you have to be a U.S. citizen?” “Does Batman have too many demons to be a good leader?” Character became a leading factor in determining which man was better for the job. Three groups created a :30 or :60 commercial for Superman; and three groups were in the Batman camp. Of the three groups, one created a commercial for the lower grades, one for the upper grades and the third a “negative” ad against their opponent.

Like politics, video production is a team sport. Working in groups can be hard for junior high students. They get easily distracted and would rather talk about each other than the work at hand (sound familiar?!) but they thought hard about promoting their caped-candidate in a mere minute or half-minute.

It’s always so gratifying to hear their ideas and watch them use professional equipment to execute them. In the short time I work with them, I am always amazed at how they direct each other on camera, dive into editing software, and pick appropriate text and music to persuade their audience. I’m hoping this project will make them feel more empowered during an election season gone awry. If only there were more real heroes vying for the White House. At least the students of Hannah Gibbons will get to cast their vote.

Check out one of the Vote for Superman ads below:

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A Call to Action: Creating PSAs Starts with a Great Concept

kayla video camI love teaching my students how to use a camera, set up a tri-pod and hold the boom over the talent as they film a scene they’ve written and are acting out. When I hear them utter the words, “action” or “cut,” I hope they feel like real life filmmakers. But before the cameras roll, the real work begins. As a writer/producer longer than most of the other PAA artists have been alive (gasp!), my experience consistently proves that the pre-production phase is the most important part of every production. And the concept, especially when creating a :30 or :60 PSA is critical. I think it’s the most fun and creative, but definitely the most demanding for the students.

My sixth graders at Hannah Gibbons STEM School were assigned with creating a PSA to educate peers on the causes, symptoms, cures, etc. on “conditions” that affect our health (i.e. asthma, allergies, HIV, Ebola). What I’ve learned in the past five years is that elementary and middle school students’ first “go to” response is to have a dialogue, similar to a play on a stage. Of course this is no surprise. They want to explain everything. This is how they have been taught. To copy the definition. To recite the facts they read. And my challenge is to get them to think on a higher conceptual level. They have the ability, all of them. They have been consuming media messages since they were toddlers. They enthusiastically respond to PSAs I show them from YouTube, finding them compelling and creative and most important, unexpected. I find if I work with each group independently and ask them a series of questions, the ideas start to flow. They are excited when they see their ideas played out despite some skepticism at first.

In the group that was creating a PSA about Ebola, one very outspoken student really wanted to create a PSA about a boy at their school who comes from Africa and talks about his cousin who has Ebola. “What are the chances that would happen?” I asked him. He agreed, not great. “What are the chances you and your friends in Cleveland will get Ebola? What are the odds?” Now I piqued his interest. His group’s research revealed 1 in 13 million. The odds of getting killed by a shark, or by lightning, or in a car crash were far greater. He and his classmates understood that was a far different message and one that needed to be told to peers. I remind them, “show, don’t tell.” It’s not always an easy task, but I am confident with the right cues, they come up with great ideas. I am constantly pleased and amazed by what my students create, using professional gear and editing equipment.  Today, during our last class together, I overheard one my students while editing say, “now we need to let it render.” Music to my ears.  See the Ebola PSA by clicking below:

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Filed under Arts-Integration, May 15 feature

“I’m a good director!” – After School Video Production Club at John Adams

What we may lack in numbers, we make up in substance at the new after school video production club at John Adams High School. Students are producing PSAs focusing on issues important to their school community. After a few brainstorming sessions, students broke into two production groups. The topics they chose: “Sex: Don’t Take it Lightly” and “The Voice of Reasons: Don’t Smoke Marijuana.” Taking full advantage of the good weather, and school itself, we enlisted the talents of the football team, basketball team and some unsuspecting students in the hallways, to act as our talent! While everyone kept asking the young videographers, “will this be on TV?” we carried around cameras, tripods, mics and a boom pole for “location shoots” and used another production day to put up the green screen and lights. Editing will commence later this week! Students have even surprised themselves when they stand behind or in front of  the lens. “Hey, let’s try this…,” Carlos, a tall junior with reddish dreads, suggested. After he yelled “cut” he loved his direction and proceeded to direct his fellow classmates through three more scenes. That, is what we call, “a wrap!”

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“Today Show” at Hannah Gibbons!


Never a science major, I certainly learned a lot the past few months working with Ms. Micco’s 8th grade class at Hannah Gibbons Stem School. The students have been studying genetics, focusing on Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). To better understand this disease that disproportionally affects those of African American descent, the class interviewed pediatrician and hematologist, Dr. Connie Piccone, from UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital at Case Western Reserve University. Students worked in four groups to address the demographics, ethics around testing, general facts about the disease, and a human interest story about an 8th grader with SCD. The result of their hard work is “The Today Show at Hannah Gibbons,” a twenty-minute health program written, produced and filmed by the students. The whole class brainstormed interview questions for Dr. Piccone and did an amazing job interviewing her. Students also interviewed “man on the street” style, as well as writing intros to their pieces to be used in the final production. The human interest piece was particularly filmed well. One student acted as if he had the disease and the film crew members were awesome at putting him in situations that challenged him while at school. I know the students were very surprised, as was I, about the many people who have SCD and how a cure still has not been found. Dr. Piccone stressed that the students should talk about SCD with friends and family. I was especially impressed by the acting and filming from my class over our five sessions together. Dr. Piccone was wonderful and even sang a tune (off camera). Students asked her what career she would pursue if she wasn’t a doctor, and she said a singer! Sing out for an end to SCD, I’m sure!


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