SRL Connected Educator of the Month: October 2018

Anacortes High School, Anacortes, WA

After years of working as a filmmaker for public television and later at an educational multimedia company that created interactive science and math curriculum, SRL Connected Educator Jim Thompson brought SRL’s STEM program into his classroom at Anacortes High School on a small island with the same name in Washington State. Currently, his students are producing a profile about Isaac Adkins, a thirteen-year-old whose entire being revolves around his love for science. So far, his inventions have included an acne medication made out of some viruses.

What is your teaching philosophy when it comes to STEM storytelling?   

I believe good storytelling is good storytelling, no matter what the subject. You need a compelling topic, good characters, and good footage. Before I was a teacher, I was a  filmmaker for public television. I also worked for an educational multimedia company that created interactive science and math curriculum. I brought my filmmaking experience to this company to help create STEM education curriculum for K-12 schools. One of my responsibilities was to make short documentaries about scientists and their discoveries.  The challenge was to take a big topic, find the essential elements, and package it into a story that students could understand. This experience translates directly to what I’m teaching young filmmakers to do today.

How can STEM student journalism help promote a greater understanding of the world? What do you hope to accomplish with STEM SRL?  

Anacortes High School is located on an island in Washington State. It’s a beautiful place with miles of coastline and forested trails which makes it a perfect place for environmental research. Between our active high school science program, university research labs and citizen science programs, our students have ample opportunities to learn about STEM research.  

After the first project this year, I’ve already seen how telling STEM stories about people in our community has had an impact on our student journalists.  The student filmmakers were excited to share their edited stories with the class and submit them to SRL. I believe the SRL STEM assignments will help our broadcast journalists create better stories for our TV weekly show.

How can we get youth more interested in the news? What would life look like without public media?

I teach photography, graphic design, video production and I am the advisor to our school online newspaper, yearbook and broadcast club.  I’m a one-man media department in a small school. What I love about my job is watching students get excited about creating media and the impact it has on other people. Watching students flip through the pages of their new yearbook every spring, watching the number of viewers rise on a live football broadcast on YouTube, listening to student journalists talk about readers’ reactions to the stories they’ve recently published; all of these stories are important to the school community because they are relevant to students’ lives.

Getting students to be interested in national and world news is a bigger challenge. Teenagers don’t watch TV anymore but they still care about what’s happening in their world. If we as educators, can help students understand that they are part of the larger picture, then they might begin to understand the importance of those larger stories. I think the SRL STEM program can help tie local researchers’ stories into the larger issues facing our world.