How Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar video brought the funk to one tech school

A Dallas school, part of the 18-state New Tech Network, produces a viral dance video – providing a lesson in cinematography and choreography. 

A. Maceo New Tech High School

The Internet is giving high marks to a Dallas teacher and a student-created dance video to the hit song "Uptown Funk." 

Inspired by talk show host Ellen DeGeneres’ 2013 Oscar flashmob video, a teacher at A. Maceo New Tech High School in Dallas, Texas, devised a lesson plan for practical applications of technology.

 “Our school is unique because we’re project-based with no lectures,” Theater Arts teacher Scot Pankey says in a telephone interview from his classroom. “I was inspired by Ellen DeGeneres and how she did her video for the Oscars but wanted to have our students learn about what it really takes for a cameraperson to get through all that.”

In Ms. DeGeneres’ video, the camera operator wades through the oncoming crowd of dancers. However, Mr. Pankey chose to have his camera person move backwards ahead of the oncoming throng performing remarkably well synchronized and choreographed dance moves to the chart-topping hit by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars.

“The student working the camera (Johan Cruz) had to learn to walk backwards, then was actually on a library cart being pulled backwards by other students,” Pankey says. “They learned about the challenges that take place behind the scenes, including keeping the camera in focus, timing the dancers, video editing and even the act of posting the video to YouTube on one of my students’ accounts.”

The YouTube description of the video posted on January 24 reads, “This is a great example of how a bunch of technology students let go of their fears, trusted their teacher and got down to Uptown Funk!!!”

This school’s motto is “New Times, New Talent, New Tech.” Its mission, according to the school’s website is, “to be an outstanding school of choice where students are engaged in projects-based learning that develops 21st   Century Skills supported by technology that prepares them for a competitive global society.”

The school is part of the New Tech Network, “a nationwide network dedicated to helping high school students gain the knowledge and skills necessary for life, college and the 21st century workplace. The objective is to re-invent teaching and learning to ensure that all graduating students are truly prepared to meet the needs of the new, emerging economy. To date, the New Tech Network has successfully supported the transformation of 62 schools across the nation.”

As The Christian Science Monitor reported:

NTN schools, 90 percent of which are in public districts, are built around student-centered projects that have real-world connections to local businesses and nonprofits. Digital tools are integrated into everyday learning: Instead of textbooks, students carry around laptops or tablets. When students graduate, they already have college credits under their belt.

The network provides a “model of how to prepare students for the world they are coming into,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University, because students master the top skills in demand in Fortune 500 companies today: “teamwork, problem-solving, and interactive communication.”

Asked if the instant fame has affected him or his students Pankey says, “I teach my students that fame is fleeting. What’s important for me today is continuing to do my job with these kids today....”

For their next project Pankey and his students will be making movie trailers based on books that have never been made into films.

While the Dallas school’s teacher-driven video is remarkable, it’s far from being the first time high school educators have demonstrated just how viral a funkadelic facility with stellar students can become.

Here are three other top picks for dance videos made at high schools.

  • Hot on the heels of the Blizzard of 2015 comes a viral video announcement of the snow day for the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. The parody of "Let it go" – altered to "School is Closed" – was sung by Head of School Matt Glendinning.
  • At the Bristol Eastern High School in Connecticut members of the 2012 senior class were convinced that they were being videotaped for the purpose of a video log where they were asked to give advice to incoming freshmen. However, while students somberly spoke to the camera their teachers were behind them busting out their best dance moves while the clueless class members talked to the camera. According to the video description, “On the morning of June 8, the seniors pulled their prank by filling the halls with furniture, streamers, confetti, balloons, etc. The principal called the senior class to the auditorium to "chastise" them. Instead, they were shown a video. This is that video-- with a inset video of their reaction.”
  • Teachers Jordan Hein and Mitchell Brachmann at Union Grove High School in Wisc., worked with students on a revamped Footloose video posted to YouTube on Aug. 27, 2014. The video was part of a fundraising project for classroom projects and other learning opportunities. While the project only raised $3,445 of it’s $100,000 goal, the video went viral with over 314,000 views on YouTube. Mr. Hein teaches health and physical education and also coaches football and wrestling. Mr. Brachmann teaches science. This video was filmed and produced outside of school hours, without use of public funding according to its description.
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