3rd grade plant documentaries with imovie

A couple months ago our third graders created documentary films about plants to show their learning at the end of a unit of inquiry. For my class, it was the second go with imovie after making digital stories of Christmas narratives. After posting the plant movies, we quickly moved on to the next thing and did not have too much time to reflect on the process or product of making the movies. Now that the school year is finished, I’d like to look back to see what went well and what could be improved with this project.

A note to blog readers and members of my PLN, I will embed the movies throughout this post. Feel free to “like” my students videos or even leave a comment if you have time. Thanks!



Collaboration – Students worked in pairs to make their imovies, and I think that was perfect for this project. We did mini-lessons on cooperation and working together, and the two people could help each other with the research, writing, and technology. For third graders, I think 3 or more people would have been too big.



Technical Skills – Each of my students created an imovie 3 months before this project, and the second time was much smoother. For our first try, we enlisted 6th graders to help the younger girls with the technology. This time around, my class could do everything on their own, and I rarely had to answer questions about the software. The other classes were working with imovie for the first time, however, so they went through the typical frustrations of trying something new. As our students move into fourth grade, they now have imovie as a communication tool, and I think it was worth the struggle.



Non-technical Skills – The movies were merely a tool of expression, and most of the hard work involved non-technical skills. The students had to read various non-fiction sources, take notes, and then write and edit scripts based on their three lines of inquiry. This process was much more difficult (and important) than learning which button to click to record their voices.



Citation – I wrote a separate post about how our students learned to find “free-use” images. That went well. What didn’t go so well was the citation of these images. We had the urls of each image we used, and at first the students tried to paste them as subtitles within movies. The urls were way to long though. Next we tried to give credit in the youtube description. Again, all of the urls were way too long (there is a limit to the length of your description).

In the end, we just…gave up. I know, not perfect, but I think the students understand the idea of copyright and citation and free-use images, so that’s a start. I guess I could go into youtube editor and somehow try to paste the credits into an annotation, but at this point I’m not sure if it matters.



Global Audience – Like everyone else in the world, our students love youtube, and they were excited to have their work available for anyone to see. It really motivated them to create a great product they could be proud of. In fact, one of the challenges as a teacher was to limit the perfectionist-instincts of some students. You can only record your voice so many times before you need to move on to the next section. I’m sure some groups would still be polishing their movies now if I hadn’t forced them to move forward.




Commenting – One nice way to follow up a project like this is to have students comment on each others’ videos. This first requires some lessons in what makes a good comment. We used edmodo to do this, and the students appreciated the feedback.


Overall, our 3rd grade team was happy with the project, and we feel more prepared to try it again next year. I’m also excited to see what our students will be able to do with their new skills as they move into fourth grade.


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3 Responses to 3rd grade plant documentaries with imovie

  1. It’s amazing how something like posting to YouTube introduces so many different learning opportunities. And I really love how you had the grade 6 teach the grade 3s. We should be doing that too. Thanks for sharing the videos!

  2. Anna Dawn says:

    This is great! I don’t know how I ended up clicking on your post but it couldn’t have been more fortuitous. My third graders are going to start researching ecosystems next week and the plan was for them to each write a report but reading about your experience and seeing your class’s videos has convinced me to try again with iMovie. One of our tech coaches came in a while back to show my class how to use Puppet Pals and iMovie. Their subsequent efforts were really weak and we haven’t revisited those formats since. I know, I know, they aren’t going to get better if we don’t practice. So, even though only half my class has a school-issued iPad and the school recently shut off the guest wifi that the BYOD students were using, we will persevere and see what happens.

    This year, my students have found it especially difficult to work together productively. Combining mini-lessons on collaboration and making videos with a partner for a final project will, hopefully, give them a chance to improve much-needed skills. It is also a great way for me to tie in what I have been learning in COETAIL, i.e. creative Commons, citing resources, etc., just as you did. I really couldn’t have found your post at a better time!

    And one more thing: I have been searching for weeks for that same video you posted on how to write a good comment but I couldn’t remember where I had seen it and it didn’t come up in any Google search. Thank you! Thank you!

    • Jeff Lewis says:

      Thank you for the comment, Anna. Although this is an old post, your questions are well timed, because we just finished the project (literally yesterday) for the second time. It probably needs its own blog post, but there were old lessons reinforced and new lessons learned.

      First, as you mentioned, the project definitely requires collaboration skills. Three person groups are difficult, and I chose the pairs thoughtfully based on how I knew my students. No major problems this year (though plenty of minor ones).

      After this week I will try to do a quick write up on the process and results. Quick question: do you plan to make the movies with iMovie on the iPads? We’ve used the laptop version both times and I’m curious how it would work with on iPads. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes.

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