Monday, April 18, 2011

What kids can do when they love what they do

Nick Howard (left) & Nicola Scandiffio (right) in 2009
“I bought a crane.” That’s what Nicola Scandiffio announced to me a couple of years ago. When I pressed him for an explanation, he said that he wanted to make movies and that he needed a niche, so he bought a crane. Truthfully? I cracked up, and then I forgot about it.

Then one week last fall, SOHCAHTOA became the hot buzzword at New Canaan High School. SOHCAHTOA is a trigonometry mnemonic designed to help learners remember how to compute the sine, cosine, and tangent of an angle. I’ve never been much of a math student, so I’d never heard of SOHCAHTOA, but suddenly New Canaan High School students were talking about it. Actually, they were singing about it, so I made some inquiries. It turned out that Nicola and his friend Nick Howard produced a music video for a math contest and our students LOVED it.

The week of Scholarship Sunday rolled around in late March. This is a 44-year-old tradition in New Canaan. Students converge on the school early in the morning of a designated April Sunday, to organize into teams and disperse to go door-to-door fundraising throughout the community. The proceeds go to the New Canaan High School Scholarship Foundation. At New Canaan High School, we have two pep rallies per year – one for homecoming, and one for Scholarship Sunday – Scholarship Sunday is a big deal. So this year, our incredible music technology teacher, Anna Mase, recruited students to compose, and perform a song for the pep rally. And of course, Nicola and Nick, made a music video of the song. The music video premiered at the pep rally, and student enthusiasm, not only for the fund drive, but for the high school itself, was palpable at the assembly’s conclusion. The following Sunday, nearly 200 students raised an unprecedented $37,000 for the New Canaan High School Scholarship Foundation! 
A few weeks ago, we learned that the American Library Association was sponsoring a teen video contest, Why I NEED My Library! I approached our esteemed NCHS music tech teacher, Anna Mase, Nicola and Nick about it. Anna was pumped; Nicola said he’d think about it, but Nick said sure. It took about a week to get the song (Nick Zanca) and lyrics written, performed (Stewart Taylor) and recorded. I still wasn’t convinced Nicola was on board until he rolled in last Monday talking about some research he’d done over the weekend on music videos shot in libraries. He bopped around the library for a while, making all mental notes (no paper, no script), then said he’d shoot on Thursday. I gulped. The video was due on YouTube on Monday, and our spring break started that weekend. I lied. I am so not ashamed of this. I told Nicola the video was due on Friday. He said, “No problem!”

Thursday morning Nick and Nicola dropped off what looked like a couple of carloads of equipment then went to class. During lunch, Nick fabricated an elaborate set with lights and shot the faculty and staff cameos. I am not sure when he caught students entering the library on film, but he did. Then at 3PM, Nicola showed up, set up the lights, and lounged around for a bit until Nick showed up with fast food and back-up performers. They started filming at 4:20PM. They set up and broke down seven sets, moving lights, the infamous crane and all the camera equipment each time. They shot 30 minutes of film. It took them 4 ½ hours. Here is the photo album of the shoot. The finished product follows:

Stewart, Nicola & Nick in library with crane (April 2011)
That’s pretty much the whole story. Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator articulates this so clearly in her posts on passion-based learning. I have little else to add – just this wonderful example of what kids can accomplish when they are allowed to pursue their passion. A final note: While I was working on this post, I was corresponding with Nick Howard (on Facebook, for you Westporters!) and just as I was about to send this to Nick for final approval, he sent me his post to the New Canaan Patch. Talk about building a portfolio


They won the video contest for a cash prize of $3,000, which we spent on iPads. Each iPad is individually engraved. What you see on the left is Roberta Steven's letter to each students involved in the project, "On behalf of the members of the executive board of the American Library Association, I offer my congratulations on having been named winner of the Why I Need My Library teen video contest.

Because of you, the New Canaan High School Library will receive $3,000.

More than 600 teens from 34 states worked on creating 257 videos that were entered into the contest, but it was your video that rose to the top. We were amazed at the level of your creativity and could not be more thankful for teens who care about the future of libraries. We look forward to your continued support in years to come.

Thank you again for your contribution. 


Roberta Stevens


American Library Association

Here is a snippet of the Facebook conversation about their award letter: 

Facebook comments about ALA Award letter from Roberta Stevens, ALA President

Huffington Post article.

The video was shown at the opening session of the American Library Association's 2011 annual conference in New Orleans, LA. Over 20,000 people attended the conference! Talk about publishing for a real audience!

Audience watching our students' video at ALA conference
Video about the making of the movie still to come...

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