National Portraiture: Who is American Today?
Submission Due Date: April 1, 2022
Designed for Middle and High School Students
|Table of Contents
· The Challenge
· Assumptions and Logistics
· Presentation of Learning
· Meridian Support Resources
· Evaluation Rubric
· Essential Questions
· Student Proficiencies
· Curricular Correlations: C3 Framework and Common Core
|Range of Activities
· Exploration of American Identity
· Primary and Secondary Research
· Organizing and Writing
· Artistic Visualization of Complex Idea
· Community Interviews
· Digital Literacy Skills – Video Pre-production, Production and Post-Production
· Human Skills – Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Presentational Skills
This Challenge asks a very straightforward question: Who is American Today? This idea comes from a dialogue Meridian Stories is having with the Who is American Today project, based out of the University of Cincinnati. They are conducting research around this question and the use of digital storytelling in the classroom. Teams participating in this Challenge may also have their work posted there – https://www.whoisamerican.com – in addition to the Meridian Stories site.
But back to the question: Who is American Today (and if you are participating from Canada, then the question becomes: Who is Canadian Today?). This asks student teams to investigate, in both micro and macro terms, the intersection of our current cultural and national identity. This is both a personal investigation and a research study that attempts to look at national identity through a large and sweeping lens.
There are no right or wrong answers or stories. Many would argue that the ‘American identity’ is, by its very historical nature, a constantly fluid idea. It is never fixed. But are there commonalities and beliefs that help to shape the spine of the American national identity? The answer to this will lie in your team’s mix of personal perspectives and some research out in the field in your community.
The digital story to be told here begins with a documentary approach that will showcase how you and your team might answer this question, as combined with interviews that you conduct with members of your community. This then leads to the creation or design of an American portrait – a piece of art that in some way reflects what you have learned and concluded. This could be just the idea for a piece of art; or the start of the design of a piece of art; or a finished piece of art. The portrait could be digital, a painting, a mural design, sculptural …or anything you want it to be. There are no specifications about what your ‘portrait’ must be. This part of the Challenge is asking you to visualize what you have concluded.
In accordance with our collaborating partner, entries to this Challenge cannot exceed 3 minutes.
- National Portraiture Documentary (this is the only Meridian Stories deliverable)
- Summary of Dominant Themes (at teacher’s discretion)
- Preliminary Portrait Design (at teacher’s discretion)
- First Draft Script (at teacher’s discretion)
Assumptions and Logistics
Time Frame – We recommend that this digital storytelling project takes place inside of a three to four-week time frame.
Length – This Meridian Stories submission should be under 3 minutes in length.
Slate – All digital storytelling projects must begin with a slate that provides:
- the title of the piece;
- the name of the school submitting;
- the wording ‘Permission Granted’ which gives Meridian Stories the right to a) publicly display the submission in question on, as linked from, related to or in support of Meridian Stories digital media; b) use or reference it for educational purposes only, in any and all media; and c) for display on the Who is American Today
- We strongly recommend that students do not put their last names on the piece either at the start or finish, during the credits.
Submissions – Keep in mind that each school can only submit three submissions per Competition (so while the entire class can participate in the Challenge, only three can be submitted to Meridian Stories for Mentor review and scoring).
Teacher Reviews – All reviews by the teacher are at the discretion of the teacher and all suggested paper deliverables are due only to the teacher. The only deliverable to Meridian Stories is the digital storytelling project.
Teacher’s Role and Technology Integrator – While it is helpful to have a Technology Integrator involved, they are not usually necessary: the students already know how to produce the digital storytelling project. And if they don’t, part of their challenge is to figure it out. They will! The teacher’s primary function in these Challenges is to guide the students as they engage with the content. You don’t need to know editing, sound design, shooting or storyboarding: you just need to know your content area, while assisting them with time management issues.
Digital Rules/Literacy – We strongly recommend that all students follow the rules of Digital Citizenry in their proper usage and/or citation of images, music and text taken from other sources. This recommendation includes producing a citations page at the end of your entry, if applicable. See the Digital Rules area in the Meridian Resources Center section of the site for guidance.
- Location – Try not to shoot in a classroom at your school. The classroom, no matter how you dress it up, looks like a classroom and can negatively impact the digital story you are trying to tell.
- Collaboration – We strongly recommend that students work in teams of 3-4: part of the educational value is around building collaborative skill sets. But students may work individually.
Below is a suggested breakdown for the students’ work.
During Phase I, student teams will:
[A note to start: as you go through this process, keep in mind that the final deliverable is a short documentary. Documentaries are designed to ‘document’ the process that your team is going through to complete this visual design, so you may want to start shooting footage from the very first step of the process.]
- Begin with a brainstorm about how you would personally answer the question: Who is American Today? You may want each team member to write a paragraph that answers this question. Then share the answers and begin to create a statement – or series of statements or themes – that reflects everyone’s input. Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers to this question.
- Topics to explore might include freedom of speech, voting and democracy, Black Lives Matter, Immigration, indigenous communities, religion, favorite pastimes, shared traditions, and global outlook.
- Turn you attention to your portrait. Create a list of five potential ideas you may want to represent in your portrait—these may change later. These ideas should reflect topics that are important to you and your team; that you have identified in the first step of your brainstorming. Looked at another way: when people experience your portrait, what do you expect that experience to engender?
- Once you have identified the core components of what ‘being American’ means to your team, conduct at least two interviews with community members that further probes the question driving this Challenge. In searching out your potential interviewees, think about looking for people with whom a) you are comfortable; and b) you believe will articulate a new and perhaps divergent perspective in answer to this complex question.
- We strongly recommend that you videotape these interviews to include in your final digital story (in fact, they are a requirement!). Be sure to get written permission from your interviewees to appear in your video, which will be posted online on the Meridian Stories website and perhaps used in other educational contexts. This will require a signed Release Form, giving you permission to record, edit and post this discussion online. Research generic and simple Release Forms online to find the right language for you.
- Some possible questions to ask your interviewees include:
- What are three issues that define what ‘being American’ means?
- What does the phrase “American Dream” mean to you?
- What’s the most ‘patriotic’ thing that you have ever done? How was that ‘patriotic’?
- Is there a difference in what an American is ‘today’ as opposed to earlier in your life?
- Write an outline about what you have discovered to be the dominant themes of your portrait as based on a combination of your team’s personal beliefs and what you have learned from your interviews.
- Teacher’s Option: Dominant Themes – Teachers may require teams to hand in a summary paper outlining their conclusions about the dominant themes that will inform their portrait design.
- One more step: what in the country’s history supports your themes? In other words, research two moments or ideas from the unique history of our country that helps to explain the current sense of national identity that is informing your overall response to the prompt: Who is American Today?
- By the end of this Phase, your team should have a clear sense of your response to the question, Who is American Today?, and ideas for the themes that will inform your visual design. In addition, you will have footage from your a) internal brainstorming sessions; and b) interviews, that will be integrated into your final documentary video.
During Phase II, student teams will:
- Brainstorm about the portrait. What are the artistic and visual strengths of the team and how can you utilize these strengths in your portrait design? Your goal here: to look for ways to translate your conclusions about ‘being American today’ into something visual.
- The portrait can be any form of visual art. It could be a short video. It could be something on canvas. Three dimensional. A mural that might cover a wall in your school. A reconfigured landscape or street corner. A photographic collage. There are no rules.
- Create a sketch or mock-up of what you want the installation to look like. This can either be done with computer software or by hand. Ask an art teacher or IT for help!
- Decide what visuals and shots you want for your final video so you know what parts of the portrait-creating process you may want to film. Remember—it’s always a better idea to have too many good shots than not enough!
- Teacher’s Option: Preliminary Design – Teachers may require the teams to hand in a preliminary design for input and feedback.
- Create an outline for what the final video will look like. Ideas to consider include:
- What footage do you have so far and how do you want to organize it? This is the perfect time to create a storyboard (see Storyboarding/Framing A Shot) for support.
- What will the final storyline be? Keep in mind that there are numerous stories to tell here. There’s the macro story of the answer to the question: Who is American today? There’s also a story about creativity and the visualization of a complex idea. And there’s a story about your team and your community and the values that you share. Which is the most important story upon which to focus?
- What pieces of the story are still missing; that you still must shoot?
- Write the first draft script. This critical step – putting your story into words – also points to this idea of ‘voice.’ What is the ‘voice’ of your team? ‘Voice’ is about a) the words chosen; b) the tone of the narrative – earnest? humorous? playful?; and c ) the way in which you want to engage your audience in both the story you are telling and the portrait you are creating. How do you want them to feel and think upon encountering your proposed portrait?
- Teacher’s Option: First Draft Script – Teachers may require teams to hand in a first draft script for input and feedback.
- By the end of Phase II, you should have completed most of your shooting; created a final design for your portrait; and written a first draft script that effectively communicates the narrative of your digital story, inclusive of historical references that point to some possible foundations for your select themes.
During Phase III, student teams will:
- Complete the work on your portrait.
- Research, as necessary, the still images that you will integrate into your video.
- Finalize the script and record the voice over.
- Complete the video shooting, which should be focused on the creation of your portrait.
- Edit the video, adding stills and graphics as desired.
- Post-produce the video, adding music and sound effects as desired. Keep in mind that while this is essentially a documentary, the use of music to increase and decrease tension; to emphasize the dramatic turning points in the work you have recorded, can be very effective.
Meridian Support Resources
|Meridian Stories provides two forms of support for the student teams.
1. Media Innovators and Artists – This is a series of three-to-four-minute videos featuring artists and innovative professionals who offer important advice, specifically for Meridian Stories, in the areas of creativity and production.
2. Meridian Resources – These are short documents that offer student teams a few key tips in the areas of creativity, production, game design and digital citizenry.
Recommended review, as a team, for this Competition include:
|Media Innovators and Artists||Meridian Resources|
|On Photography – Michael Kolster
On Making Documentaries – Margaret Heffernan
On Interviewing Techniques – Tom Pierce
On Editing – Tom Pierce
|“Creating Storyboards, Framing the Shot”
“Conducting an Interview”
“Creating a Short Documentary”
“Six Principles of Documentary Film Making”
Presentation of Learning
Meridian Stories is a proud partner of the non-profit Share Your Learning, which is spearheading the movement of over five million students to publicly share their work as a meaningful part of their educational experience.
The workforce considers Presentational Skills to be a key asset and we encourage you to allow students to practice this skill set as often as possible. These short digital stories provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their public presentational skills. This can be achieved in a remote learning environment by inviting parents to a Zoom/Google/Skype screening of the student’s digital stories.
According to Share Your Learning, Presentations of Learning (POL) promote…
- Student Ownership, Responsibility & Engagement. POLs can serve as a powerful rite of passage at the end of [a project]. By reflecting on their growth over time in relation to academic and character goals, grounded in evidence from their work, students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning. Just as an artist wants their portfolio to represent their best work, POLs encourage students to care deeply about the work they will share.
- Community Pride & Involvement. When peers, teachers and community members come together to engage with student work and provide authentic feedback, they become invested in students’ growth and serve as active contributors to the school community.
- Equity. POLs ensure that all students are seen and provide insight into what learning experiences students find most meaningful and relevant to their lives.
Meridian Stories’ own research indicates this to be a really useful exercise for one additional reason: Students actually learn from their peers’ presentations – it is useful to hear a perspective that is not just the teacher’s.
It is with this in mind that we you encourage you to plan an event – it could be just an end-of-the-week class or an event where parents, teachers and student peers are invited – to allow the students to showcase their Meridian Stories projects. For more free resources that will support this planning, visit Share Your Learning.
Evaluation Rubric – National Portraiture: Who is an American Today?
|Research Phase||The brainstorming and interviews reflect a thoughtful and strategic approach to answering the question: Who is American Today?|
|Thematic Ideas About American Identity||The final set of ideas are thoughtful, relevant, and insightful|
|Portrait Design||The portrait design effectively and creatively communicates the ideas on which it is premised|
|Historical Context||The themes are supported by substantive and thoughtful historical events|
|Criteria||1 – 10|
|Community Research – The Interviews||The research from the community is substantive and persuasive|
|Documentary Format||The documentary demonstrates exceptional skill and aptitude for the genre|
|The Portrait||The Portrait, in its creativity and ingenuity, is effective as the climactic element to your story|
|Overall Narrative Clarity||The narrative is presented clearly and compellingly, stimulating the viewer’s interest in the topic|
|Criteria||1 – 10|
|Videography||The choice of images, shots, and camera angles dramatically enhances the impact of the story|
|Sound Design||The mix of music and sound add value to the narrative experience|
|Editing||The video is edited cleanly and effectively, resulting in an engaging digital storytelling experience|
|HUMAN SKILLS COMMAND (for teachers only)|
|Criteria||1 – 10|
|Collaborative Thinking||The group demonstrated flexibility in making compromises and valued the contributions of each group member|
|Creativity and Innovation||The group brainstormed many inventive ideas and was able to evaluate, refine and implement them effectively|
|Initiative and Self-Direction||The group set attainable goals, worked independently and managed their time effectively, demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the project|
- What does ‘being American’ mean today in our politically and culturally divided times?
- How has information gathered from primary sources – your interviews – enhanced your understanding of identity in America? How is the information from these sources different from the information gathered from secondary sources?
- How does one effectively research a topic that is framed by historical facts, and subjectively formed perspectives from personal experience and the community?
- How does the creation of a work of art add meaning and understanding (to the topic of national identity) in ways that traditional research does not?
- How has immersion in the creation of original content and the production of digital media—exercising one’s creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy skills—deepened the overall educational experience?
- How has working on a team—practicing one’s collaborative skills—changed the learning experience?
- The student will have a developed a visceral understanding of what the word ‘American’ means inside of today’s politically fraught environment.
- The student will understand how combining primary and secondary sources can help one to reach a more complex and nuanced understanding of the topic at hand (America identity).
- The student will participate in a variety of research methods for the purposes of culling objective, subjective and community ideas about a given topic.
- The student will understand the power of artistic creation to effectively communicate complex content.
- The student will utilize key Human Skills, with a focus on creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy, in their process of translating their personal and public data collection into a work of art and a story.
- The student will have an increased awareness of the challenges and rewards of team collaboration. Collaboration—the ability to work with others—is considered one of the most important Human skills to develop in students as they prepare for life after secondary school.
Curricular Correlations – C3 Framework and Common Core
The National Portraiture: Who is American Today? Challenge addresses a range of curricular objectives that have been articulated by two nationally recognized sources:
- The C3 Framework published by the National Council for Social Studies; and
- Common Core Curricular Standards – English Language Arts
Below please find the standards that are being addressed, either wholly or in part.
C3 Framework – NCSS
|D1.1.6-8. Explain how a question represents key ideas in the field.||D1.1.9-12. Explain how a question reflects an enduring issue in the field.|
|D1.5.6-8. Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of views represented in the sources.
|D1.5.9-12. Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources|
|D2.Civ.7.6-8. Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and ommunity settings.||D2.Civ.7.9-12. Apply civic virtues and democratic principles when working with others.
|D2.Civ.10.6-8. Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives,
civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.
|D2.Civ.10.9-12. Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and
perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.
|D2.Geo.5.6-8. Analyze the combinations of cultural and environmental characteristics that make places both similar to and different from other places.
|D2.Geo.5.9-12. Evaluate how political and economic decisions throughout time have influenced cultural and environmental characteristics of various places and regions.
|D2.His.1.6-8 – Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.
|D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.|
Common Core Curricular Standards
English Language Arts Standards
English Language Arts Standards – History/Social
|RI7||Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.||Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which derails are emphasized in each account.||Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.|
|W2||Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.||Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.||Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.|
|W4||Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
|Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.||Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.|
|W5||With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.||Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
|Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.|
|W7||Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.||Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.||Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.|
|W8||Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.||Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.||Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.|
|W9||Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.||Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.||Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research|
|SL1||Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.||Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.||Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.|
|SL2||Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.||Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.||Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.|
|SL4||Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.||Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.||Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.|
|SL5||Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.||Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.||Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.|
|RH9||Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.||Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.||Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.|