Feb 19 2015

Q&A: Project-Based School’s ‘Uptown Funk’ Cover Video Goes Viral

Educators are making names for their schools online with creative school-based projects

More than 200 students and one passionate teacher struck project-based learning gold when their exuberant video performance of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” went viral on YouTube.

The video was posted Jan. 24 and has since accumulated more than 11 million views on YouTube, garnering dozens of interviews for Scot Pankey, a theater teacher at A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School, in Dallas.

Pankey and his students’ video is yet another example of educators making names for their schools online with creative school-based projects. Two days after the “Uptown Funk” performance was posted, a Rhode Island private school announced its snow day closing with a video parody of Disney’s Frozen hit song “Let It Go.” It went on to score 3.5 million views on YouTube.

The man behind the Frozen parody told EdTech that the video was an attempt to communicate with students and parents in a more creative way — something they plan to do more of in the future, given the video’s success.

EdTech caught up with Pankey for an interview to learn about the making of the “Uptown Funk” cover video and what the world can learn from this shining example of project-based learning.

EDTECH: How has this newfound success impacted your life as an educator?

PANKEY: It has been super crazy busy. I have received over 5,000 emails, so my life at this moment seems like all I do is respond to emails. It's also challenged me to become a better educator and strive for even higher success when it comes to the education of my students.

EDTECH: What do you think was behind the magic of this particular video?

PANKEY: I truly think it was because people from all over the world saw all these students of different size, color and backgrounds come together in a united way. We all want to be a part of a team and feel like we belong. I also believe it's because people could see themselves in our students — they can relate to the different students in the video.

EDTECH: What do you think this video proves about project-based learning?

PANKEY: I think it proves to so many people that project-based learning can be fun, it can be exciting, it can be creative. Project-based learning challenges our students to get out of their comfort zones, conquer their fears and be successful while doing that.

EDTECH: Who was involved in the production of the video?

PANKEY: We had 200 students involved. Three students were involved in filming the video and one student was involved in editing the video.

EDTECH: Do you have plans for more video projects?

PANKEY: I think that's been the biggest challenge of all with the success of this video. A lot of people are expecting or want another one. I have a curriculum to teach, that I'm required to teach, so my students can learn all aspects of theater and not just about dance. I may have one at the end of the year, but we'll see how that turns out.

EDTECH: What advice would you give to educators who want to use technology and the Internet in creative ways?

PANKEY: On a daily basis we ask our students to think outside the box. For this video project, I challenged myself to think outside the box; to dream bigger and challenge myself harder than just doing the normal routine of teaching. I am glad I took that leap of faith and am incredibly blessed that it turned out with such good results.