Hope: Be Amazing by Lee Ann Spillane

amazing-jgFrench the llama, it’s December and my students haven’t started story boarding their Project for Awesome videos yet! That’s Nerdfighter speak for I better getting moving in the classroom.

I belonged to the Nerdy Book Club long before I became a Nerdfighter, but the two are definitely related. As a Nerdfighter, I am in the fight to make the world a better place. As a card-carrying member of the Nerdy Book Club, I fight for my students’ right to read. I speak Nerdfighterian.  “Decreasing world suck” and DFTBA (don’t forget to be awesome) are tenets I walk. “French the llama!” is my expletive of choice. I take my stand in the classroom and online. For Nerdfighters ,

December is all about awesome.

Always December 17th, the Project for Awesome is an annual YouTube event.  Thousands of video creators participate by making videos in support of their favorite charities. Anyone can make a video and anyone can participate in the commenting, tweeting and donating fun.

Project for Awesome (P4A) capitalizes on the power of social media. It began with the Green brothers wondering what it would take to subvert the YouTube system. How could users take over the content? How many comments, ratings, and favorites would videos need to completely fill YouTube’s most discussed lists? Hank, a former gifted student of mine, talks about the project here. Last year, in a forty-hour time span, the project generated more than  six hundred thousand comments on more than three thousand charity promotion videos. The Green brothers donate one penny per comment and raise money for these charities through an auction whose proceeds filter through their Fight World Suck foundation.

Talk about spreading the word!

Making a difference in the world is a lesson I want students to take away from their time in my classroom. I don’t start teaching that lesson with the Project for Awesome. I’ve taught it all along in other ways, but the Project for Awesome amplifies that lesson in powerful ways. It is an authentic experience through which students collaborate and connect with the wider world.

On December seventeenth and eighteenth, once students have created and uploaded charity support videos to YouTube, we tune in to the live stream and join in on the favoriting and commenting fun. If you’ve never commented on videos or participated in a tweet chat with thousands of other people, it’s an experience not to be missed. Students see others participating. My students were wary at first, nervous like strangers had crept into our classroom. More than a few said, “Miss, Miss Spillane, we aren’t the only ones in here!”  I’d told them that other people, that Nerdfighters would be out big for Project for Awesome, but you have to experience it to truly understand what it means to join the swarm and create a buzz with others online.

p4a copy

There are a lot of ways you and your students could participate.

  • “Read” Project for Awesome videos .  Analyze them as visual texts. Watch, reflect and discuss issues or connections students make to the content or craft.
  • Use Project for Awesome videos to teach or review strategies you’ve worked with this semester. You could review main idea by asking students to choose the most important word in a video and justify their choice. Review summarizing by having students  practice the G.I.S.T. strategy by noting 10-20 important words then using those words in a two sentence summary.
  • Connect to argument and the Common Core by teaching persuasive appeals and having students identify or use them in P4A videos.
  • Serve in your local community (or even around your campus). Film it and use the footage for a class or group Project for Awesome video.
  • Connect to a text you’ve read by researching nonprofit organizations that could have served characters’ needs.  For example, Palacio’s Wonder pairs well with an anti-bullying organization, Green’s The Fault in Our Stars pairs with Make a Wish Foundation or pair Myracle’s Shine with the Trevor Project.
  • Create a single classroom video like we did the first year we participated.
  • Dip into the live stream on December 17 and December 18 and join the commenting.
  • Fundraise and donate to charities featured or to the foundation to decrease world suck.

Get more details from John Green’s “Time for Awesome” video on Vlogbrothers; there are many ways to participate in the Project for Awesome.

Project for Awesome gives students opportunity to do good in the world and in our community. Nothing excites students more than making a difference. In Teaching with Poverty in Mind,  Jensen makes the point that low-income students need infusions of hope. Project for Awesome is a hope builder. “This world may be broken, but hope is not crazy” (Green 2010). Build hope in your students. Tap into awesome this December.


Green, John. (Oct. 13, 2010). “On Hope and Chile.” Vlogbrothers. YouTube

Green, John. (Dec 4, 2012). “Time for Awesome.” Vlogbrothers. YouTube.

Jensen, Eric. (2009). Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Teacher and Nerdfighter,  Lee Ann Spillane talks more about her students’ work on Project for Awesome in Chapter 7 of her new book, Reading Amplified: Digitial Tools that Engage Students in Words, Books and Ideas, a multi-media book  for teachers who love to learn. Filled with videos from Lee Ann’s classroom and tutorials explaining how to use each tool mentioned, preview Reading Amplified online at Stenhouse and DFTBA.