“We are students at GHS Buea Town, and are here to present a project about water pollution,” Kennedy said, gazing into the camera 4 feet in front of him and trying simultaneously to remember his lines but also look like he was reciting them fluidly and effortlessly. “Water pollution is a major problem in Buea today. People wash all sorts of things, like cars and clothing, in streams that run down from the mountain. Then, people who live downstream carry the polluted water to their homes, and drink and cook with it, and it makes them sick.”

So began one of the dozens of introductions that YAN students shot over the course of the past week. These introductions—each, between 1 and 2 minutes in length—will be paired with an interview that students will conduct with a local expert about their project, and will be published on student websites as a culminating project for their year of work in YAN. All week long, Clara and I were excited to see students working cooperatively and creatively to shoot them. In Limbe, several of our students went to the polluted but scenic “Downbeach” area to shoot their introductions while looking out over the Atlantic; at Lycee Molyko, students sought out a non-working tap at which to shoot a video about water scarcity there; and in Buea Town, one group shot their video near a pool of stagnant water, to illustrate a possible breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes (it’s interesting that a common theme—water—underlies so many of our student’s different projects!).

One of my favorite moments from the week was watching Kennedy and his group—mentioned earlier—shoot their own introduction in Buea Town. The group selected a spot for the shoot in a large field overshadowed by Mount Cameroon, reviewed their storyboard to determine how to compose the shot, and then began recording. During take one, Kennedy forgot his lines; during take two, Gibril (the camera man) started smiling a bit, and laughter ensued. All in all, the group shot perhaps seven takes until they were satisfied with what they had recorded. Each time, after someone forgot a line or made a mistake, the students regrouped to determine how to do it better. There was no yelling or blaming; instead, each offered constructive suggestions, and the group prepared to try it again. Gibril suggested that the group try to slow down when speaking, and worry less about remembering their exact lines and more about remembering, generally, what concepts they wanted to say. And Jude pushed Kennedy to be more relaxed on screen (Mingeley demonstrated the concept on camera during a test shot, only to tell Kennedy afterwards that “you should move your arms, but maybe not as much as I just did. That probably looked weird”). There was constructive criticism. There were redos upon redos. There was lots of talking—in both English and Pidgin—as the kids tried to articulate to each other a vision of what the video would look like. And ultimately, there was success, as the students came back to the classroom holding their camera proudly, knowing that they had a perfect take captured on its memory card.

When I was in graduate school last year finishing my masters in education, I remember having a conversation about classroom management and student engagement with a professor who suggested trying something unusual. “The next time you are teaching a student-directed activity in your classroom,” I remember him saying, “try to run the class with as few words as possible. Don’t say anything at all. Just watch what happens. If you students know your expectations, and are excited about their work, then you should end up with the smoothest class you’ve ever run. That’s what real student investment looks like.” I’m not sure how I feel about running a class by saying nothing at all (in fact, I once had to do so last year in Boston when I lost my voice, and I don’t think it was my smoothest class ever). But watching my students successfully figure out how to shoot a great introduction on their own, while saying almost nothing myself, gave me a pretty good feeling.