Tag Archives: Media Arts

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:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Arts-Integration, May 15 feature

Web Design Workshop

This is the last night of our web design workshop at the Fairview Park Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library, and my students and I are equally sad to be saying goodbye, but so proud of what we have accomplished!

Here are some of the beautiful sites they designed:

It was so delightful to see the diversity of what every student produced. We had a particularly excellent group dynamic in this class, and were able to use each other as resources for feedback and critique as we worked to build our sites.

weird animals

Learn more about fascinating animals from around the world on “Weird Creatures,” a site created by one of our youth participants.

Leave a Comment

Filed under After-School Programs

Scratching the Surface

PAA Artist-Educators in the PAA lab experimenting with Scratch.

PAA Artist-Educators in the PAA lab experimenting with Scratch.

Last week, Artist-Educators at Progressive Arts Alliance enjoyed the opportunity for a full day training session on Scratch with Eric, the Scratch Online Community Manager. So, what exactly is Scratch, you ask?

Created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a visual programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and then share your creations on the web. It’s a programming environment and online community where kids create, share and remix animations, stories, interactive art and video games.

Scratch opens the doors wide for collaboration opportunity. As a visual artist myself, specifically a printmaker, I was amazed at how intuitive Scratch was for drag-and-drop visual programming. Only an hour into the training, and I was buzzing along on an animation project pretty comfortably. It’s a color-coded block-building approach to writing code. The user simply builds – similar to Legos – and locks together various movements and sounds. And Scratch is all about sharing. Once you publish your piece on Scratch, anyone can learn from what you built, and can borrow, or build upon it themselves for a remix – the code is always available, and public. Check out our studio of Scratch projects our team made during our training by clicking here.

We also adventured into Scratch Jr, which is the younger version of Scratch, and available as a free application for iPad. Here is a screenshot of a quick animation that I created on that platform:


Screen shot from my Scratch Jr. project.


After only a handful of hours learning about the software, my mind was abuzz with possibilities for classroom collaborations and residencies that could draw on the overlap of art forms. I can envision a printmaking residency that creates the backgrounds and various characters that could easily be imported into Scratch to lend for some gorgeous animations or games. What a rich opportunity to create media at every level (both physically and digitally) completely authored by students, and then shared – and I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of possibilities.

1 Comment

Filed under Artist-Educator Experimentation

Camouflage and Green Screens


Painting costumes

In the study of animal adaptations, camouflage provides a natural fit for an arts-integration residency. During their science class time, the 3rd grade students at the Michael R. White school worked in groups to research different ecosystems and the animals that populate them. Around this research project, I walked them through the process of creating all the components for a video that would use green screen to demonstrate the function of camouflage in animals’ survival while integrating the art concepts of pattern, color harmony, and low color contrast.


Applying face paint


We started by painting backgrounds from observation of photographs of different habitats, including wetlands, temperate forests, and grasslands. I explained that after shooting against a green screen, these backgrounds could be edited back in to create the illusion that students were standing in the habitats they had painted.

We then painted costumes that would help students hide from predators in that habitat by using camouflage, as well as costumes for the predators themselves. On the day of shooting, students took turns applying each others’ face paint so that they could be fully hidden within their environments. When the “predator” was off screen, students boogied down with some pretty awesome dance moves, but as soon as the predator could be seen on camera, we paused the music and students froze, unseen because of their camouflage. Once they predator stalked off screen, they could dance again!


Acting like a scary predator for the camera.

This residency was especially rewarding for me because it combined visual and performing arts, as well as traditional and new media, in what I felt amounted to a very rich experience for all of the students involved. Plus, they loved having a real Hollywood experience and being part of a film cast.


Reviewing the footage was a lot of fun!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Arts-Integration