Machinima...What? Gamer Videos Go to School

Marianne Malmstrom aka Knowclue
The Elisabeth Morrow School

Wednesday, 6/30/2010, 12:00pm–1:00pm, CCC Korbel Ballroom 1A
Machinima, video created using 3D virtual environments, was originally developed by gamers but is emerging as a promising classroom tool for developing the NETS.
Recommended by ISTE's SIGVE

Presentation Purpose & Objectives
As educators, we are increasingly aware of the importance of video as a 21st century tool. We understand students need to express themselves as articulately and eloquently in multimedia as they do in written words. However, the reality of making movies in school can be complicated. Limited space, tight schedules and absenteeism are only a few of the obstacles.

What if we could take our students into a 3D virtual world where they could build their own sets, create their own actors and even control the time of day? Imagine not having to set-up equipment and break down sets. Imagine if a student sick at home could get onto their computer and join the filming. What if it was possible to create movies with students from different schools? Machinima makes all of these possibilities a reality.

This presentation will share how one school is exploring the potential of machinima as a vehicle for building proficiencies in media literacy, communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving.

RATIONALE: A Map for the Future

There is much discussion these days about what skills students will need to navigate their ever-changing world. At The Elisabeth Morrow School, we believe that our founder showed much wisdom when she declared that we should embrace the best of the old and adopt the best of the new. Elisabeth Morrow built her school based on many of the skills that we now call "21st Century Skills". Project-based learning, inquiry, collaboration, problem-solving and creative-expression have been core elements of the school's philosophy since it was started over 75 years ago. Today we choose to introduce new technologies that augment these core objectives and open new doors to learning that were previously unavailable.

What are 21st Century Skills?

We all know the buzz word, but do we really know what it mean? Many groups & people are outlining what they think the essential & relevant skills are that students of today require:

ISTE: The International Society for Educational in Technology

Standards (NETS•S) and Performance Indicators for Students


The Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Daniel Pink "A Whole New Mind"

Right Brian
Abundance, Asia, Automation

It is confusing, to be sure. I had some fun by plugging the major words outlined in the lists above into Wordle to see which terms were used most often.


Choosing 21st Century Tools for the Classroom:

When adopting any new technology, we must ALWAYS ask ourselves:

  • Why are we using this technology?

  • What does it allow us to do better?

  • What does it allow us to do that we have never done before?

As technological advancements continue to grow exponentially, it can be tricky for educators to navigate the vast array of new tools and choose where to invest their time, money & energy. The tools may change, but what we really want kids to know remains constant. We want our students to be able to think, question, research, authenticate, interpret, draw conclusions, communicate, collaborate, problem solve, and apply what they learn to new situations. If we stay focused on these primary objectives, then we have a basis for choosing new tools that will help us meet those objectives. With those core objectives in mind, there are two important questions to always ask when considering a new tool. How will it improve on what we already do in the classroom? What does it allow us to do that we were unable to do before?

In the early 90's The Elisabeth Morrow School made the important decision that curriculum would drive technology growth, and not the other way around. That philosophy has served our school well in our own journey of designing 21st century learning.

Why Multimedia?

When cameras & editing software became affordable and easy to use in the early 00's, our school felt that it made sense to bring those tools into the classroom. It was a great deal of work, but the teachers found it to be transformative in respect to the level of engagement and ownership the students experienced.

Sample Project: The Revolutionary War - 5th Grade

At The Elisabeth Morrow School, we learned that producing quality work takes time. Why shouldn't it? We spend years teaching students how to understand the subtleties of what they read and how to express themselves articulately in writing. Multimedia is absolutely a new form of "pen & paper" and students should be as facile in comprehending and communicating in digital media as they are with the written word.

The reality of producing quality media in school is hindered by constraints of space & time. Just getting into costume, finding appropriate spaces to to film, creating sets and setting up equipment can be a real challenge. Often, by the time you get all of those pieces into place, the period is almost over.

Why Virtual Worlds?

3D virtual world provide a unique platform for creativity and innovation. The Elisabeth Morrow School has made a commitment to exploring this new technology because we believe that virtual worlds will be a popular interface that students will use in the future. We want them to be prepared to navigate and use these tools safely and competently.

We currently use two virtual worlds at The Elisabeth Morrow School; Quest Atlantis for students in grades 5-7 and Teen Second Life for students in grade 8. The Teen Second Life is a private sim (also called referred to as an estate or island) accessed by only students of our school. The name of their space is "Tomorrow Island". The three goals for students are to develop community, establish commerce and create machinima. One third of the island is established as a machinima filming area. The other two thirds is available for students to build houses, businesses & community areas.

Virtual Worlds

Machinima: "Virtual Worlds" - Created by 8th grader

Why Machinima?

Using a 3D virtual world with screen capture software to create video not only offers a unique solution to some of the known obstacles to creating videos at school, it also affords us some advantages that were previously unavailable.

Imagine students building their own sets, creating their own environments and controlling the time of day without ever rearranging a classroom. Imagine students changing their characters (becoming any gender, race, age or even something other than human) in just one click. Imagine, students working cooperatively to create the needed shots. Best of all, imagine being able to create movies in real time with students in other schools.

What is Machinima?

Machinima: "What is Machinima" - Created by 8th grader

Media Literacy

Much of the focus in school is on teaching students to encode and decode written language. Shouldn't we be applying some of the same rigor to helping them analyze, interpret and critically navigate the multimedia that dominates communication today?

In order to understand how tricks are used to manipulate commercials, 6th graders were taught several of the tricks and then asked to watch & deconstruct real political commercials. Subsequently, they were asked to create their own commercial for a Greek god using the same tricks. 8th graders collaborate by creating machinima clips according to storyboards submitted by 6th graders. Read more about the project ...external image cholesterol.jpg


Behind the Scenes

Working with a 3D virtual world allows students to create sets, customize characters and control the time of day. Working with avatars seems to make it easier for students to focus on content because they not actually in the shots. Time is spent teaching students how to frame shots and work collaboratively.

Creating Characters

For this project, each student had access to multiple god avatars so they could easily be any character to help create the scene needed.


Controlling Daylight

Students easily controlled time of day, angle of the sun (or moon) and even created surreal effects. Try that in real life! :-)


Framing the Shot

Asked to focus on the framing of the shot, students had to be aware of unwanted clutter when choosing the camera angle.
Use the "Rule of Thirds" to frame the shot.
A well framed shot will get your audience to foucs on what you want them to see.

Collaboration & Problem Solving

Creating a machinima requires teamwork and lots of creative problem solving. Although machinima can be created by one, to get great shots requires at least one person to capture the video while others do the acting. Since our students work on a private estate on the Teen Second Life, they have limited access to objects, scripts & animations. This requires them to think outside the box, work together to create everything they need to achieve their goals. It is not unlike the early days of Hollywood when everyone contributed to developing a new medium and inventing ways to create their own special effects.

The following short dance video was created on the first day on ToMorrow Island. It illustrates how class members worked together to synchronize animations in order to create a line dance. Think in terms of a puppet show, with everyone in charge of their "puppet" or, in this case, avatars and props. Using one computer to project the image of the group on screen, students lined up their avatars accordingly. They then took turns calling out various dance animations and providing countdown cues for synchronization. The actual filming took aprox. 15 minutes.

ToMorrow Island First Day Dance

Using the process described above, students work together to create one of an angry mob scene for the Greek God project.

Hephatstus with Angry Mob

Sometimes there are no easy answers. One 6th grade team requested an animation of Poseidon causing a tidal wave. Students put their heads together and figured out that they could each control a ship or a large wave to create the effect. The first video is slightly sped-up and show a long shot of all of the students hovering near the wave to control their props. Note that at one point they play with the idea of turning the sea red. The second clip shows the final result after editng.

Staging a Tidal Wave

Final Result: Poseidon's Tidal Wave of Destruction





Assigned to create a tutorial for Second Life, Twix created this short piece on altering your avatar in one class period.

How to Perfect Your Look

On their own, Arkantos & Razer create commercials to promote the businesses they have started. Check out how the commercials get progressively more sophisticated as students master techniques and work to out shine each other.

1. Evil Enterprises Commercial - Arkantos

2. Torchwood Institute - Arkantos

3. Tri Company Commercial - Arkantos

1. The Razer Boat Club - Razer

2. Razer's Sports - Razer

Forella created this introduction to a new virtual world she found.

Fantage Tutorial


After experimenting with mixed reality green screen in class, Florella conducted her own green screen experiment.


On her own, Florella created and posted this tribute to her favorite TV show.

First Tribute Video: Halo/Walking on Sunshine (Glee) Music Video

In her second tribute video, note how much Florella is learning about creating images that enhance the lyrics.

Second Tribute Video: True Colors (Glee) Music Video


This super sped-up film captures the excitement and reaction of students exploring their virtual environment on the first day. The actual session lasted for aprox. 40 mins.

ToMorrow Island First Day Exploring

This short film not only documents the creativity of the students, it show their fascination with trying a variety of identities.


Links to Student Work

ToMorrow Island



2008 Project


2009 Project (work in progress)


Project with Suffern Middle School


Additional Resources


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