Summer '06
Summer '07



Cycle Three Report

Statement of the Problem

During Cycles One and Two of my Action Research I successfully recruited nineteen new girls to join Tech Club and encouraged their continued participation. Additionally, three students on the Autism Spectrum participated in Tech Club activities and created podcasts that showcased their singing talents and musical abilities, and which allowed them to communicate creatively with their classmates and the school community. Both Cycles One and Two encouraged students to share their unique visions of the world. They shared their talents while building new skills in technology, communication, and collaboration. Some students rose to leadership positions within Tech Club.

Cycle Three continued to challenge me to keep students involved in Tech Club. As we transitioned to our final Tech Club project, movie making, I hoped students would continue to build unique visions of their worlds and communicate these visions through digital video. A major difference in this Cycle is that the projects Tech Club worked on were created and developed by students with little assistance from me. I consciously chose to act as a servant leader in order to encourage students to become leaders of the digital video projects. Allowing the students ownership of the projects and allowing them to make the aesthetic choices necessary to realize their artistic visions was important to me, so I became a facilitator instead of an instructor. Students drew storyboards, wrote scripts, cast actors and crew for their productions, and filmed and recorded dialogue. I conceived earlier Tech Club projects so students could create work that expressed individuality and aesthetic choice. This project differed because although I framed it, students conceived and realized their projects based upon their own interests and guided by their creativity.

Therefore, Cycle Three of my Action Research allowed me to take a lesser role in Tech Club, acting more as a facilitator and resource than a traditional instructor. Some students rose to the challenge and accepted leadership positions. While not everyone became a leader, this culminating project allowed students to collaborate on several large student-directed films. This collaboration, as well as individual chances for students to share again their unique world visions, empowered all students who participated in Tech Club during Cycle Three of my Action Research.

Cycle Three Questions

My Cycle Three Action Research project created a Tech Club project that encouraged students to take leadership positions.

Can I empower students to assumed leadership roles through technology use in group projects?

Will video serve as a medium to help students on the Autism Spectrum increase their level of communication with other students?

How might student-directed projects like this one encourage students to assume leadership positions within Tech Club?

My Actions, Cycle Three

Unlike prior Tech Club projects, my actions during Cycle Three were limited by my design. Instead of me being the instructor, several students assumed leadership positions and directed their peers to help complete their projects. Fortunately, several students accepted the challenge and became student leaders for this Tech Club project.

During Cycle Three I acted as a producer for the students' films, as I explained to them when we started the video projects. As the producer I had responsibilities: provide the student directors with the space, equipment, technical ability, and support necessary to complete such a big project. Additionally, I helped coordinate student participation in all the students' projects. This included encouraging students on the Autism Spectrum to participate in Tech Club. Their participation in other students' films was notable and important.

My office was transformed into a "soundstage" for the stop-motion production: a desk was turned around to offer more space where students animated and was covered in butcher paper that could be changed to give each planet in the film a different color and "atmosphere." Additionally, I coordinated with the librarian to use her space for building sets and props for the students' films. The use of space in a school that is crowded can be difficult, but I found dedicated areas where Tech Club was able to work and complete their projects. This provided much needed continuity for these projects, especially a stop-motion film that might require sets to be left in place, mid-scene, when students return to class after Tech Club.

I also provided students with equipment during this Cycle that helped empower them to realize their visions. I loaned laptops to two students so they were able to write their scripts, in one case arranging for the laptop to accompany a student home. I made three DV video cameras available so different films could be worked on concurrently by different groups. I modified a tripod to weigh it down and make it less susceptible to being bumped and moved, which improved the quality of the stop-motion film. Additionally, software, both commercial and open source, was located and provided for the students to film their movies. I also brought two large bins of Lego to school to provide the students with pieces to build sets, models, and figures for the stop-motion film and borrowed other Lego from a teacher. I rescued cardboard boxes from the recycling bin to transform into a "dragon," and collected water bottles to change into "wasps" for another student's film. Sometimes the equipment provided was as simple as construction paper, glue, and scissors, which the students were able to combine with their imaginations to create fanciful backdrops and sets, or even making photocopies of their scripts.

Some of the work that students tried to accomplish was beyond their technical ability, so I offered my assistance and knowledge. For instance, in the case of the dragon, it would have been unsafe for third graders to use box cutter knives to cut cardboard that I shaped into a dragon's head. Likewise, the wasps that I built from water bottles: my design would have been difficult for a third grader to execute, so I created that prop for the film. I acted as the editor on the stop-motion film because I had experience and could keep the project from growing too large, or not clearly telling the story the director intended. This role provided me oversight and supervision on this film.

I also helped these student films by coordinating participation in the projects. While the students worked on their films I tracked participation in spreadsheets. This helped me determine who participated in each project and how often each student participated. I also assisted once with the casting process on another film, helping make tough casting decisions between students who sought an impartial mediator. There were a few students who expressed interest last year in Tech Club and stop-motion film, so I tracked them down and personally invited them to participate in this year's film. When a student had trouble casting a role, I introduced her to another student who was willing and eager to take the part and learn the lines. My coordination ensured that students who wanted to participate in Tech Club were given opportunities.

Part of my encouragement of student participation was facilitating interactions between students on the Autism Spectrum and "typical" students in Tech Club. I invited students on the Autism Spectrum to participate in other students' projects and gave them opportunities to showcase their talents and demonstrate their skills in a small, supportive social setting. I provided each with technology, such as a laptop computer, a DV video camera and stop-motion software, or GarageBand, with which to make music, so they could contribute to other students' projects as well as start their own. These actions provided the Autistic students a means of communicating.

Additionally, I provided students on the Autism Spectrum opportunities to create projects over which they had ownership. There were certainly mis-steps, like the time I worked with one student and perhaps got too involved in directing the film that the student made: he quickly became frustrated and we had to stop the project. However, the next day I provided the same student the opportunity to create his own narrative and film with characters and models of his own choice and he was very successful in his efforts. I also slowed down the frame rate on the student's work, allowing for a slower narrative that more effectively communicated the actions he filmed. Allowing this student to use my office and the equipment provided consistency and support. This is very important for students on the Autism Spectrum, and these actions appeared to provide the necessary context for learning.

The Reactions

During Cycle Three there were different types of participation in Tech Club: no longer were twenty-five students clamoring to work on one activity, like the digital photography project. Instead, like the podcasting project, each film attracted a different group of students to participate. Some students participated in multiple projects, eventually creating their own film. Many of the students working on the films were new to Tech Club. There were more girls who participated, perhaps because two films were directed by girls. Additionally, another student on the Autism Spectrum participated in Tech Club and contributed to other students' projects after I invited him. He created his own films using the technology I supplied him. The diversity of the films being produced allowed many different students to participate.

To best understand the students' reactions I felt it necessary to examine each of the projects and the students' actions and reactions during their work on each of the films. I believed that this best documented and measured the students' reactions to my actions during this Action Research Cycle.

Paul, a fifth grader, directed "Mission to Earth," the third in a trilogy of films Tech Club produced over the last three years. This time he was in charge of the film: he conceived the plot, storyboarded it and wrote the script. He directed the other students' animation and photography, and collaborated with others to realize an artistic vision. When Paul cast his film, he very deliberately divided students into groups according to each student's interest in contributing: acting, animating, or filming. The acting parts, in some cases, were double-cast; one student acted in the role during the first half of the film, another student in the second half. Since the voices were filtered, they were able to be made to sound similar enough. Paul demonstrated leadership throughout the project. For instance, when I was away from school for several days he rehearsed the cast and recorded the dialogue for most of the film on I laptop I loaned him.

Paul's project shared an artistic vision with other students and allowed them to collaborate on creating the film. For instance, Henry, a student in the Autism Spectrum program and a very accomplished electronic musician created the soundtrack, which Paul let him compose on his own. Another student who I invited to contribute because of his prior Tech Club work created the Plutonian figures for the film and decided that they needed dialogue. He wrote the dialogue, recorded it, and decided on the filter to change his voice and how the sounds were layered and arranged. Encouraging other students to contribute to the aesthetics of the project was one way Paul empowered other students through this project and their technology use.

Paul completed this film in two months, while last year it took five months to produce a similar stop-motion film. Paul's previous stop-motion film experience over the past three years made him proficient and able to advise others on the process. For instance, early in filming Paul noticed that students' shadows were cast across the sets. He decided that it was important that after the animators repositioned the figures and models they step back from the table before the camera person took the photo. This created more consistent lighting on the set. His division of students into groups responsible for different aspects of the film that could be worked on concurrently also sped up the process. For instance, one group could film while the actors rehearsed in the library. Since the computer lab and the library are connected it was easy for Paul to go between groups to oversee the process. The film itself was an advancement in Paul's film-making and narrative abilities: instead of focusing on "action" like last year's film, he explored the complexities of the characters and their emotions. His film was the best of the trilogy and a fitting conclusion to the series.

Beth, a third grader, made a live-motion fantasy film. She polled students in her class about what kind of movie they wanted to see. Once she determined the genre she promoted the casting process and hung posters in her classroom as well as other third grade classrooms so students could sign up for auditions. Beth used a laptop that I provided for her to write the script. She struggled with this process until I arranged for Beth to take home a laptop. She completed the script during a car ride to a family vacation. She was also resourceful in her use of the limited space available at school. For example, she realized that the on-site daycare was occupied only before and after school and used the space and furniture to film some of her indoor scenes.

Beth's casting process showed leadership and attempted to be fair. She adapted an audition rubric that she used at a different school she attended to help her and the other students understand what she looked for in the actors. Unfortunately, there was turmoil in the casting process. Students who felt that they were unfairly judged in the casting process eventually asked me to intervene and help judge a new casting. Students cast in roles quit for various reasons. Unfortunately, the emotions and testing of loyalties made it difficult to get this project started. Eventually Beth found a solid cast who committed to trying to finish the film.

For all the difficulties, however, Beth's project was very inclusive. Students helped her to paint the cardboard dragon, including a student on the Autism Spectrum program. The dragon proved so popular, in fact, that students who did not participate in any other aspect of the film helped to paint it because it was such an enjoyable, playful activity. The casting was open to all third grade students, though she had only one male role in her script. Beth attempted to cast roles based on acting ability, not on alliances or popularity.

While it was uncertain whether Beth's film would be completed this school year, the process was very important for Beth and her peers. They received hands-on time using various technologies, including laptops, DV video cameras, and video editing software. Additionally, they were exposed to film techniques, such as different camera angles and framing, as well as experience editing film to create narrative.

Larry, a student on the Autism Spectrum program whose verbal communication is limited, a created a number of very important projects that appeared to extend his communication in new directions with his peers and the school community. After we started "Mission to Earth" Larry came by the computer lab, where we filmed the movie, in part because his friend Henry worked on the soundtrack. Larry expressed interest in last year's stop-motion film and often stopped by my office when his class was in the lab to look at the pictures from various Lego stop-motion films Tech Club produced during the last three years.

I noticed one day that Larry booted the laptop with which we filmed the stop-motion films and logged into his student account apparently looking for the stop-motion software. Additionally, he manipulated the Lego figures and models, creating vignettes. After providing him an opportunity to help Henry with his film, Larry learned how the software worked and helped contribute his skills in "Mission to Earth." Shortly thereafter Larry made his own film. He incorporated the parts and pieces from "Mission to Earth" to make his own short film. He worked independently: he held the laptop, animated the figures and models, and took the photographs. Later, he and I collaborated to build a new model. I held the directions and encouraged him while he put the model together. Afterwards, Larry wrote a narrative about the figure and model from a list of verbs I supplied. Larry did not want to make a movie about this scenario and quickly became frustrated when we tried to make a stop-motion film with these characters and setting. Instead, the next day he started a longer piece, again with characters and models also used in "Mission to Earth," but with a different narrative. Larry's independent work demonstrated his new skills with software and hardware and allowed him a new means of communicating.

While student worked on their films I also finished the last podcast episode, which contained a song Larry wrote. Larry's performance when he sang "Dreams" built on the successes of his previous podcast song and gave us insight into his imagination and emotions. The imagery in Larry's song was very creative and expressive. Song was a very effective means of communication for Larry. His successes on this podcast helped build and refine his communication skills. This affected his classroom work positively, as when he presented orally in front of his class for an explorer project. His teacher, classmates, and grandmother were all very impressed with his speech, which he had rehearsed until he was quite fluent.

Henry, another student on the Autism Spectrum, composed the soundtrack for Paul's "Mission to Earth" film. It was difficult for Henry to work with others on this aspect of the project because of his precision and attention to musical detail, which was beyond my or the other students' abilities. However, through his work Henry was able to help create the artistic vision for this film. Henry's participation was not limited to the soundtrack, however. He also assisted filming the movie. Like Larry, Henry was encouraged to participate in Tech Club and use Club as a point of social contact with his peers. His technology use during this project reflected his aesthetic choices and helped create the mood and atmosphere for Paul's film.

Finally, two third grade girls who worked on other students' films decided to make a film of their own. These girls helped with the soundtrack and acting in "Mission to Earth" but wanted a project of which they had ownership. Like other student, they drew a storyboard to illustrate the action in the film. One of the students wrote her script at home, and the film was cast among their friends. These two students built their sets from construction paper I supplied them. The cast took a few days to rehearse the script, then we recorded the dialogue. Afterwards they animated their figures and created their stop-motion film. Like other students, these students were able to use technology to create a film of their own.

Answering My Cycle Three Questions

Can students use technology in an expressive way to share their ideas? Will video be a particularly effective means of communicating for students on the Autism Spectrum? How might student-directed projects like this one encourage students to assume leadership positions within Tech Club?

My actions empowered students during Cycle Three of my Action Research. By providing students with a variety of technologies I helped them capture and create unique worlds, stories, and narratives. Providing many different students opportunities to make their own films or to work on a film was empowering for them because it allowed for communication of the students' artistic visions.

A student on the Autism Spectrum program used podcasts and stop-motion film to capture his imagination, creativity, and emotions and share those with his peers, parents, and the school community. Differentiated means of communication was particularly important for this student, and video as well as music proved to be a very effective means of communication for him. His father explained that he enjoyed watching Lego stop-motion films on YouTube at home, so the opportunity to involve this student in a social setting, where he worked with peers and created his own films, was particularly powerful and empowering for him.

Students emerged as leaders because of this project. Several students directed complex, long-term projects involving a diverse group of students. Student directors established systems to try to make casting fair and inclusive. When students quit one production, the student director worked to re-cast the parts and continue her film. They collaborated with students with whom they had never before worked. They involved a student on the Autism Spectrum, who also made his own movies with the skills he learned working on another student's film. While not every student emerged as a leader, many used the digital video project to assume leadership positions and realize their imagination and artistic visions in their films. The students who were not leaders participated in a distributed leadership network because without their assistance the project would not have been completed. The students used their varied and individual skills to make the project possible.


Cycle Three of my Action Research coincided with the final semester of the OMET program. Coursework on leadership informed and shaped my actions during this term. Servant Leadership, a style that emphasizes "the leaders' desire to serve his/her followers," was an effective leadership style for me to employ because it positioned me in the role of facilitator rather than instructor. Greenleaf, cited by Bolden et al., emphasized that a servant leader is foremost a servant, wanting to serve the people in the community (2003). Conscious choice leads the servant leader to "aspire to lead," though the "servant-first" individual always places importance on meeting other people's highest priority needs (Bolden et al., 2003 citing Greenleaf, 1970). The servant leader seeks to serve first, then "lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions (Bolden et al., 2003 citing Center for Leadership web site, 2003). I hoped my actions during all three of my Action Research Cycles would facilitate others' technology use. Helping students to become more digitally literate might give them powerful means of communicating and allow for aesthetic choice and collaborative work. The students' work might inspire others to participate in Tech Club. Facilitating the student films by providing space, equipment, and knowledge were traits of a servant leader who sought to empower students through their digital video projects.

All of my actions this Cycle provided students with opportunities for leadership. During this Tech Club project students were allowed to create any film they wanted, within reason. I provided them with the equipment, support, and knowledge necessary for them to realize their visions. Certain students responded to my actions and became leaders who inspired others to realize the artistic vision they all collaboratively built through digital video. I modeled traits of a servant leader by acting as a facilitator and letting the students' artistic intent guide and define their projects. I believe that modeling the ability to work with a diverse group of students inspired student leaders in Tech Club to also work inclusively on their projects, involving many different students. Modeling servant leadership placed me in the role of facilitator rather than instructor. While I was unaware of it until this Action Research Cycle, I believe that much of my past leadership has also been based on a servant leadership model. Identifying this leadership style and gaining a working understanding of servant leadership through my actions allowed me to grow and develop as a leader. Knowing the type of leadership that satisfies me and helps students gain digital literacy helps me be more deliberate in my actions.

As I worked to conclude my OMET Action Research, I was pleased with the progress I made this year, and the resulting actions by the students that increased their digital literacy, allowed them to form new relationships through their collaborative work, and communicated their artistic visions.


Bolden, R., Gosling, J., Marturano, A., & Dennison, P. (2003). A review of leadership theory and competency frameworks. RetrievedApril 29, 2007, from http://www.leadership-studies.com/documents/mgmt_standards.pdf.


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