How to Host a Student Media Festival

Mike Lawrence, a current organizer of the longest running student media festival in the country, shares how to set up and run your own media festival. With a big hat tip to our mutual friend Hall Davidson who started this event, we learn the ins and outs of student media festival and how you can “steal” their ideas and run your own!

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Enhanced Transcript

Hosting a Student Media Festival

Link to show:
Date: April 10, 2018

Vicki: Student Media Festivals!

Today we’re talking with my friend Mike Lawrence about student media festivals and how you can run one.

He has been running the nation’s oldest student media festival for the last 9 years.

Our friend Hall Davidson ran it for 25 years before that.

It’s at

Now I do have to give a shoutout. That he (Mike) today just started, as we’re taping this, as Senior Director of Educator Engagement for PowerSchool, which is a sponsor of a lot of the work that I do. So I do need to disclose that.

But we are so excited, Mike, to talk about student media festivals.

Would you describe — for those who have never heard of the idea of a student media festival — what it looks like, and what are you trying to accomplish?

Mike: Thanks, first of all, for inviting me on. I’m really pleased to be here on this exciting day for me personally. I’m thrilled to talk about student media festivals.

What is a student media festival?

So to answer your question, it’s kind of like the Oscars that we just had recently on TV, but for kids.

So these are students who are working using media — whether it be video or imagery, or we even have a 3D printer category this year — to express their creativity and to demonstrate knowledge of a subject area.

So we aren’t so much looking to find the next Spielberg (although that would be kind of cool) but we’re trying to find kids that are able to use media to demonstrate a concept they’re learning in class.

So to support that, we have categories that are aligned up with each core subject.

So you’ve got everything from English/Language Arts category or you’ve got a Math category, a Science category, and so on.

And there we have two divisions, Elementary and Secondary.

There are subject divisions and grade level divisions

So what I love about the festival is that kids actually get celebrated for their creativity while they’re learning. And they get to come down, and we have a microphone for them.

I get to be the Vanna White, and I hand them the plaque.

And then they accept the award. We have them speak.

It’s a great practice for them to thank their parents, and thank their teachers, and we always encourage them to thank the sponsors. It’s never a bad idea if you get stuck.

And Hall Davidson is the emcee. Even though he was the director for 25 years, he still can’t shake us, and he’s fabulous in that role.

It’s just a great day. It’s a Saturday. This year it will be June 2nd at our Harmony Gold Preview House on Sunset Boulevard.

We tell people, “It’s in Hollywood! It’s coming to accept awards, and it’s the Oscars for kids.”

It’s the Oscars for kids

That’s sort of the way we describe it.

So that’s kind of what it looks like, and we’re really thrilled to keep doing it.

Vicki: Now this is in California. What’s the deadline? And how long are these videos?

This is only open to students in California

Mike: Great question. Thank you.

So the deadline is April 2nd. From January through April is the submission period.

Anyone in the K-12 public, private, independent space that resides and goes to school in California are eligible.

We don’t have a limit on the length of video projects.

We’ve even had full-length feature films submitted. If you can believe that.

Vicki: Wow.

Mike: We had middle school students, who every year would submit a feature-length film.

It’s just fantastic! So you can do that, or you can do just this quick snippet….

We have a lot of students who submit PSAs (public service announcements) because that’s a popular assignment in class.

We have folks that do sort of mock movie trailers, people that do music videos, people that do — as I shared earlier — other media can be submitted in the categories as well.

So they’ll do a series of photos. Like a photo essay. That can be submitted as well.

So we don’t have a length limit which I know our judges aren’t thrilled about. Some of those longer projects do take time to judge.

But that’s the time frame. So we open it up usually Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January is when we start accepting submissions, and then this year April 2nd is the deadline.

Then that gives our judges the time — from the end of April to judge. Then we use May to announce the winners of each category so that they know to come to the festival to accept the award.

But we hold back on the grand prize winners, and we announce those at the actual festival.

Vicki: WOW. How many submissions do you get, Mike?

How many entries does your festival get each year?

Mike: We have about 6,000 students involved in the projects that are submitted.

The number of submissions is somewhere in the hundreds. Like 400 or 500. It varies each year.

It makes the job pretty difficult for our judges.

But we slice it up by the subject areas.

And we get teachers that are experts in that subject or have taught that subject for years, to be the judges. So either individuals can judge, or teams together and you know, pop some popcorn, and score them up together. It’s up to them.

And it’s all volunteer driven. These are all folks that just out of the goodness of their heart have agreed to step in and judge.

We actually argue that it’s a professional development opportunity because you get to see what good and bad media projects look like — very quickly.

We have a rubric on the web, and we ask the people to use the rubric as they’re building their movies and certainly the judges use that thoroughly as they’re actually scoring it. So it ends up being a bit of a training exercise where those judges and helps them improve their own use of media in the classroom.

And so that’s the time frame.

But what if we’re not in California?

Vicki: OK, so Mike. Say somebody’s in another state or organization, and they want to do a festival like yours. How can they get started?

Mike: It’s true. Not everybody can move to California, even if they want to.

So what we have on the website, is a “Steal this Festival” page.

And we’ve broken down, “Here’s how we do it. Here’s the rubric. Here’s the template. Here’s the form we use.”

And we have that right there on the website.

We encourage people to take the idea and run with it. And build their own regional festival. And tweak it! You don’t have to do a carbon copy of what we do. And build a regional festival for your state, or your part of the state, or your country.

We encourage educators across the globe to do that.

We’re really thrilled to see those ideas pop up, and new festivals pop up… And we celebrate that every time we see that.

So that’s what they could do if they wanted to start their own festival.

And then certainly drop us a line, and let us know, “Hey this is what we’re doing in Georgia,” or “This is what we’re doing (wherever)..”

That would be fantastic. We can tweet them out and encourage people in that region to apply as well.

Vicki: Mike, is there a mistake that people make when they kick off a media festival? (One that) really costs a lot of time and energy that could be prevented?

Mike: Wow. Great question!

Is there a common mistake that beginners make?

You know, I think what often happens is you try to do too much.

We've grown over the 52 years of the festival — adding categories, tweaking, and adjusting things. I would say start small. I think the common mistake is that, “We have to have all the categories that they do in California,” or that they have at the Oscars.

I would start small, and just go with a few awards, and see what organically develops. If you get too prescriptive, you may find that it’s difficult for teachers to sort of fit in that box.

What we do at the festival is we have a little bit of a “loose” category for special award winners. And we just look at what’s submitted each year.

If there’s something that’s outstanding in student achievement, but it doesn’t quite fit in a category? We’ll create a special category and give them an award for it because it really deserves to be recognized. We don’t want to let it go by, and not have a moment to applaud that work.

So, I would suggest that you start small, be flexible, and then be open to what you get. See what comes in.

I’ll give one example. We had this fantastic submission come in that was using Minecraft to tell the story about how zombies attacked this one student’s school. They actually went inside of Minecraft and captured a screen of the game.

And then they layered on top of that their voices. As essentially actors, performing, using the characters in Minecraft as their puppets. Kind of like a digital puppet show.

And that’s actually a type of video called Machinima where you use machines to build cinema. It’s a portmanteau of those two words.

And so, we didn’t have anything to celebrate that. It’s animation, but it’s a unique kind of animation.

So we created the new Machinima category, and we gave that project the first ever Best Machinima award. It was a good example of being flexible, and watching what’s coming in, and adjusting… which I love to encourage.

Vicki: Well, Mike, if someone is pitching it for their state or their organization, and they have a really short time to pitch this, to those who can fund or support this type of thing, what would you say in your 30-second pitch for the advantages of hosting a student media festival?

What’s the elevator speech to sell this project?

Mike: Well. It celebrates student creativity, encourages educators to use media and get away from lectures. And really build that project-based learning that we know activates the brain, teaches students to be collaborative, and results in just a fantastic learning experience for the students.

There’s my elevator pitch for it.

Vicki: OK. So teachers, think about hosting a student media festival.

And remember, you can go to and Steal this Festival and they’re letting you do that with all of their ideas.

And California educators, remember that your deadline is April 2nd for this year in 2018.

Mike: Yes. And it's free! It’s free to enter! And it’s free to attend!

Vicki: Ohhhh. I love that!

Of course, it takes the time of a whole lot of you guys, but it’s such a great project.

Thanks for doing it!

Mike: Well, thanks for letting me share!

It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I appreciate the chance to talk about it.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Over the last twenty-five years, Mike Lawrence has been a teacher, administrator, technology coordinator and non-profit leader. He served as CEO of CUE (, helping the nonprofit grow fivefold in 12 years, served two terms on the ISTE board, and also serves as Director of the California Student Media Festival ( He currently leads Educator Engagement for PowerSchool.


Twitter: @techmaverick

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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