Students shine behind the cameras

Before this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in June, the largest audience 17-year-old Brian Stevenson ever had for his video projects was a class of 25 to 30 students.

So imagine how he felt when several thousand educators and other attendees at NECC’s closing ceremony watched a highlight reel of the conference that was filmed, edited, and produced entirely by Stevenson and his peers.

“That was so exciting,” said Stevenson, who will be a senior this fall at South Burlington High School (SBHS) in Vermont. “I was proud of the work I did on that highlight reel, because I was working with a new software program and, though I struggled a little at first, I was able to pick it up pretty quickly.”

Stevenson was one of six talented students who got a unique opportunity to learn firsthand from a team of professional photojournalists and video editors at NECC as part of the first-ever eSchool News Student Video Discovery Awards (SVDA) program. Now, in this story for the newspaper and via the internet, their work is being showcased for eSchool News’ entire print and online audience of some 500,000 educators and education advocates.

Sponsored by Discovery Education, with vital support from Cisco Systems, Apple Computer, Avid Technology, Macromedia, and NEC, the initiative was designed to give students greater visibility for their outstanding work in video production–as well as some valuable professional experience.

“Video journalism plays an increasingly critical role in our society today, and it is one of the fastest-growing areas of study in schools and colleges. At all levels in education nowadays, video is used both as a learning experience and a communications tool for students,” said Gregg W. Downey, editor and publisher of eSchool News.

“Recognizing this trend, [we] created this award to honor excellence in student journalism and video production, while also providing a meaningful learning experience for the winners.”

For consideration in the inaugural awards program, eSchool News asked high school and college students to submit videos they created themselves under the guidance of an educator sponsor. Entries, which could be up to 10 minutes in length, were to focus on the use of technology in the students’ school or district.

Brian Stevenson, center, conducts an interview in the NECC exhibit hall while Erik Archibald captures all the action on camera. (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

Hundreds of students from across North America, working as teams or as individuals, submitted entries last winter. From these entries, the six judges–all professionals from the education, journalism, and video-production fields, including Ed DeLeon, the Emmy award-winning executive producer of “Assignment Discovery”–chose three deserving finalists.

Stevenson, fellow SBHS student Kyle Kelley, and their academic advisor Mike Dumont were among the winners. The others were Erik Archibald, Doug Waters, and Charles Horne from Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa., and their advisor, Marilyn Stinebaugh; and Jen Campbell from Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., and her advisor, Sandy Melillo.

The winners traveled to Philadelphia with the eSchool News editorial team to cover this year’s NECC and produce video news segments of conference focal points. Under the expert tutelage of professionals from Discovery, Apple, Avid, and local television station PBS 39, as well as their academic advisors, the students worked late into the night shooting film, editing clips, and producing professional-quality videos highlighting the key people and presentations at this year’s conference.

During the show, students created and posted two to three video news clips each day on the Conference Information Center section of eSchool News Online, where visitors to the site can still view the clips in QuickTime or Windows Media Player (WMP) format. The videos explore topics ranging from the Internet2 project to one of the key themes at this year’s NECC: listening to student voices.

The students’ work culminated in the creation of the 10-minute highlight reel shown at the closing ceremony of NECC on June 30.

“NECC 2005 was a richer conference this year, thanks to the participation of the winners of the Student Discovery Video Awards. They impressed NECC attendees with their work completed prior to NECC and with their work on site,” said Leslie Conery, conference chair.

It seemed appropriate that a major theme of this year’s NECC was the importance of student voices–because the SVDA project was a perfect example of how technology can be used as a tool to empower students. Using high-tech tools and with guidance from their mentors, program participants produced video news clips as good as you’d see on any local news channel.

Best of all, they had a learning experience that will last a lifetime.

“I’ve had friends who have done college internships, and they’ve ended up pushing paper and having no control. This program was great, because students really got hands-on experience with video editing in a real-life news setting,” said South Burlington academic advisor Dumont.

Northeast High’s Jen Campbell agreed: “[The SVDA program] gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my skills on a high-paced assignment. It was an amazing experience, and one of the most fun projects I have ever had the pleasure to participate in. I learned so much from the people I worked with. It’s … an experience that will have a profound effect on my career.”

Charles Horne of Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa., works on Avid Xpress Pro software as he compiles footage from NECC 2005. (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

Learning on the job

The mini-internship began with a pre-conference meeting on June 27, where the students met each other and their professional mentors.

One of the key challenges the students faced was having to work together as a team, having never met each other before. Each came from different backgrounds and contributed different strengths and experiences to the project–but how best to marshal these strengths was a task for the students to decide.

The students split up into two groups: One would focus on the daily news clips, the other on the highlight reel. The daily news group set up shop on two Apple PowerMac G5 computers equipped with Final Cut Pro Studio video-editing software. On hand to advise them as necessary was Dan DeFossey, a former classroom teacher who now works with Apple. The highlight reel group worked at a Hewlett-Packard XW8200 workstation using Avid Xpress Pro HD Studio Complete software, under the guidance of Avid’s Kate Irwin.

For cameras, the students used a Panasonic CDVA101 and two smaller Canon GL2 mini-DV units. The students shot all of the footage themselves, learning some of the tricks of the trade from photojournalists Eric Werner, Melissa Leffel, and Andrew Brett from PBS 39 in nearby Bethlehem, Pa. Brett previously worked as a cameraman for the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village.

After early-morning meetings to plan the day’s coverage, led by eSchool News Managing Editor Dennis Pierce, the students went off to record the agreed-upon events. They also planned and carried out interviews with NECC organizers, including Conery and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) President Kurt Steinhaus and CEO Don Knezek.

Although the students already had extensive experience behind a camera, the PBS team was able to pass on some useful tips. One of these was to change the time codes for every new tape, so that instead of having all time codes begin with “00:00,” tape two would begin “02:00,” tape three would begin “03:00,” and so on. That way, it’s easier to keep track of all the footage you’ve shot, Werner explained.

The students also got an expert look at how to set up three-point lighting for formal sit-down interviews.

“I was familiar with three-point lighting, but I’d never had the chance to set it up correctly on my own,” Stevenson said. “The PBS crew went through every aspect, then let me do it for myself. They made sure that when I left, I had the knowledge and experience needed to set up the lighting on my own.”

Stevenson and the others also learned a useful technique for creating a desirable visual backdrop for the interviews: the use of a simple yellow or purple gel, or filter, with slits cut into it for the background lighting.

The students used this to good effect when interviewing Conery, Steinhaus, and Knezek on camera, as well as keynote speakers Joel Barker and Deneen Frasier Bowen. They also captured footage of the technology playgrounds, Internet2 demonstrations, and many other conference elements.

eSchool News Managing Editor Dennis Pierce, left, discusses the NECC coverage schedule with Kyle Kelley of South Burlington High School. (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

Back at the editing room, the students captured the video to the computers for editing. They sifted through interviews for compelling sound bites, wrote scripts that narrated the news stories, and sent camera crews out to shoot more B-roll footage, or images used to illustrate or accompany voice-overs or sound bites culled from the interviews.

In one example, a crew went back out to record footage of Conery walking through the convention center. A few seconds of this footage was inserted within the clip of her interview. “The key is to try not to make it look staged,” PBS’s Werner said of shooting B-roll footage of interview subjects.

Then the really intensive editing process began. Using the software at their disposal, students worked long and hard matching words with images and music. (In the conference highlight video, for example, as Conery says something about attendees taking technology to the next step, viewers get a shot of people’s feet as they walk through the crowded exhibit hall.)

The final phase to producing the daily news clips was recording stand-ups by the anchor in front of the camera. That job fell to SBHS’s Kelley, who was the sharpest-dressed of the bunch. Though he had very little experience in front of the camera, Kelley quickly learned on the job, rapidly memorizing large chunks of information to introduce or wrap up the news clips.

It wasn’t always a smooth process–but part of what made the program such a valuable experience was that students were allowed to make, and learn from, their own mistakes.

“I learned that on the highlight reel, we didn’t spend enough time on storyboarding up front,” acknowledged Stevenson. The students were up until 4 a.m. the night before the highlight video was to be completed, frantically trying to finish on time. As a result, Stevenson used a few hours of downtime the next morning to nap under a table in the editing room. “Now, I know I need to spend more time in pre-production,” he said.

Invaluable experience

In a break from the rigor of their responsibilities, the six students and their educational advisors were honored in an invitation-only ceremony at NECC June 29.

At the awards ceremony, the students received free video equipment and prizes worth more than $50,000 for themselves and their schools. The prizes, all donated by corporate sponsors, included:

  • Six copies of Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004;
  • Three copies of Macromedia Studio MX 2004 with Flash Professional;
  • Nine Avid Xpress Pro software packages;
  • Three 17-inch iMac G5 computers with SuperDrive;
  • Nine copies of Apple’s Production Suite Academic software; and
  • Cisco Systems is flying the winners to its corporate headquarters in San Jose, Calif., to show them its multimedia studio.

Even more valuable to the students than these generous prizes, however, was the experience they gained reporting on the conference.

“I came here primarily with editing skills, and I’ll leave with a lot more reporting and technical experience,” said SBHS’s Kelley. “I’m really excited that I now feel equipped with the tools to do more than just edit film.”

“What I found most impressive about this experience was the high expectations that [were] set for the students–and how [the program] provided the support for students to meet them. The PBS and Discovery crew treated the students as professional equals, and I think that made the kids rise to the occasion, giving them a real-life career experience in broadcast journalism,” Melillo said.

Jen Campbell of Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., said the SVDA program “gave me the perfect opportunity to test out my skills on a high-paced assignment.” (eSN photo by Chris Hopson)

She concluded: “The kids seemed to thrive on, rather than tire from, the hard work. The realization that everyone had a skill to add to the group brought a camaraderie among the staff and students that was strong and certainly productive.”

Links:

NECC video coverage
http://www.eschoolnews.com/vrc/video.cfm

Discovery Education
http://www.discovery.com

Cisco Systems Inc.
http://www.cisco.com

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

Avid Technology Inc.
http://www.avid.com

Macromedia Inc.
http://www.macromedia.com

NEC Corp.
http://www.nec.com

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At AFT, Spellings signals NCLB leeway

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, speaking at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conference in Washington, D.C., indicated that she might consider a “growth model” of assessment–a system of measuring individual students’ academic improvement as they advance from grade to grade–that could allow states to change how they rate student progress.

Reaching out to the AFT audience during a “conversation” with AFT President Edward J. McElroy, in which she answered pre-determined questions, Spellings appeared receptive to teachers’ concerns and indicated that she shared many of the AFT members’ goals.

“A school not meeting AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] or a school in need of improvement is not, in my opinion, a failing school,” Spellings said to an applauding crowd during the July 8 gathering. She said the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is looking seriously at a growth model for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, but provided few specifics.

On July 14, an ED spokesman gave eSchool News an update.

“Right now, a growth-model working group is trying to figure out what exactly that growth model would be,” said Chad Colby, an ED deputy press secretary. “We want to know if there’s a way we can still get students to proficiency by using different levels of growth [for students who perform at different levels],” he said.

At press time, the working group had met only once. It was expected to meet again to determine if states can track growth by showing significant overall gains from year to year instead of having everyone meet the same benchmark, Colby added.

During the conference, AFT’s emphasis was on urging ED to make practical alterations to NCLB. McElroy said many teachers think the current AYP requirement doesn’t really measure progress, a notion reflected in the AFT’s advocacy program called “NCLB–Let’s Get It Right.” He added that teachers and paraprofessionals feel the law’s emphasis is more on testing and less on the quality of instruction, and that many subjects still believed to be important–such as foreign languages and civics–are shortchanged because students are not tested on them.

Spellings said she heard similar concerns from educators in Texas when implementing a precursor to NCLB with then-Gov. Bush, suggesting that teachers of subjects such as foreign languages and civics should be patient. NCLB started with reading and math, she noted, but now is moving on to science, and eventually will bring all the important subjects to the fore.

Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, schools are judged on how current students in a grade score compared with how the previous year’s students in that same grade scored on reading and math tests, instead of following a student’s progress through different grades.

“We also believe, however, that we have to keep score … and have to make assessments to know where [students] are,” McElroy said. “How do you take care of both concerns?”

“In many ways … we’re in the infancy of testing and accountability. We’re going to have a rounding-out of this keeping score,” Spellings responded.

To have a sound growth model system, schools first need annual data, Spellings said, acknowledging that ED and other educational organizations need improvement. Looking at data gives school administrators crucial information on what a school or district needs to improve, she said.

McElroy said some of the difficulty occurs when guidelines are set on the federal level but then handed to state officials, who get to decide what those guidelines mean and what proficiency levels meet those guidelines.

Spellings said she has heard similar concerns about school testing before, and that the testing system will be expanded to include more options. While her comments suggest ED will be open to exploring new options for meeting AYP, such as the growth model of assessment, educators presumably will have to wait to discover what those options might be. Still, her apparent readiness to work with educators is a good start, conference attendees said.

“We were pleased by her openness and her willingness to be there, speak with us, and express her views,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers.

Iannuzzi said AFT members generally disagree with Spellings on issues such as AYP interpretation and NCLB funding levels, but he said he was pleased to hear Spellings say a school that doesn’t meet AYP is not a failing school. The AFT believes NCLB is needed but that it must change, and it’s encouraging that Spellings would welcome the union’s input, he added.

“She was frank in her responses and was willing to say where she disagreed with us and hear where we disagreed with her. I think that type of openness will go a long way,” he said.

McElroy cited statistics showing that two-thirds of school districts will receive fewer Title I dollars this year, leaving them short of money. He also conveyed the AFT majority opinion that NCLB funding is inadequate and will not help the program.

“We’re always going to have these talks about money,” Spellings said. “I’m going to use my access to the White House to fight for all I can get within the budget” in a time of war.

Under Bush’s leadership, she added, NCLB funding has increased 40 percent since the law was passed.

“I’m proud that we’ve focused Title I as never before on our neediest kids,” Spellings answered, “and those resources have increased significantly.”

Not everyone was fully impressed with Spellings’ remarks.

“There are certain areas in which she was kind of rigid but managed to sound open,” said attendee Mary Bergan, president of the California Federation of Teachers and a vice president of the AFT. “We would like to see the same standards applied to supplemental services and charter schools that are applied to public schools, and she sidestepped that [issue], so that was a concern.”

In fact, when the conversation turned to supplemental services and charter schools, Spellings told McElroy and the audience that accountability is, in some ways, a state issue. Private supplemental service companies and charter schools are held to state standards and do not appear on state approval lists if they fall short of their states’ requirements, she said.

Still, Bergan said, she was heartened that Spellings at least seemed amenable to changes on AYP. “She seemed open to listening to things, and I think that’s the first step toward making change,” Bergan said.

Spellings appears to be more conciliatory toward teachers’ unions than her predecessor, Rod Paige, who once called the National Education Association (NEA) a “terrorist organization.”

“She’s certainly done a lot in public to indicate that she wants to listen to the concerns of teachers and educators,” said Dan Kaufman, a spokesman for the NEA.

Kaufman said his organization has expressed interest in meeting with Spellings to discuss NCLB. “We haven’t heard anything back yet, but we’re still hopeful that she’ll be willing to work with us,” he said.

Despite some differences of opinion, Spellings and McElroy said they were eager to form a working partnership and further the progress of testing and accountability. McElroy praised the education secretary and said not many people at her level would sit before an audience of teachers to answer questions.

“The bottom line is that we’re going to do what’s best for kids,” McElroy told the secretary, “and I know you’re going to do what’s best for kids.”

Links:

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

No Child Left Behind
http://www.ed.gov/nclb

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

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$650,000 to develop family literacy efforts

The goal of the Barbara Bush Foundation’s National Grant Program is to develop or expand family literacy efforts nationwide and to support the development of literacy programs that build families of readers. Funded programs must include reading instruction for parents or primary caregivers; literacy or preliteracy instruction for children; and intergenerational activities in which the parents or primary caregivers and children come together to learn and read. Programs also can include additional components, such as parent support groups, parent involvement, home visits, job training, etc. Approximately $650,000 is awarded each year; no grant request should exceed $65,000.

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$100,000 to promote geographic literacy

The National Geographic Society Education Foundation is donating approximately $100,000 in grants, worth up to $5,000 each, to educators so they can make an even greater impact in their classroom, school, district, and/or community through innovative geography education projects. Preferred projects seek to improve student achievement through geographic literacy, such as exploring the world’s many diverse cultures; exploring uses of new technologies; expanding student experiential-learning opportunities; or engaging families and/or communities in education.

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Win Nikon digital cameras and Adobe software for best photos

K-12 students may submit up to three digital photos on the theme “Express Yourself” for the chance to win a digital camera for themselves, as well as Adobe software and cameras for their school. All photos must have been taken between January 1 and October 15, 2005. Photos may be submitted “as is” or manipulated with photo editing software. Teachers may submit classroom and/or individual photos taken by their students, or students may submit their own individual photos. The first-place winner will receive a Nikon 2200 Digital Camera and Adobe PhotoShop Elements/Photoshop Album software. The student’s school will receive a Digital Kids Club Digital Photography Lab Kit, including three Nikon Coolpix 2200 Digital Cameras and Accessory Kits, mouse pads, bookmarks, and more.

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Visual Communicator Studio helps Brevard County Public Schools work “among the stars”

Following the lead of the county’s own Kennedy Space Center, Brevard County (Florida) Public Schools wanted to provide access to space age video technology to 75,000 students in its 82 public schools. Though they were challenged by geography and budget constraints, they knew it was time to reach for the stars. The administration wanted each school to write, direct and produce its own weekly news broadcast, but this would require some special planning.

Brevard County hired Scott Carrico, an award winning documentary producer, who previously worked for a government access channel. His challenge was to solve the problem of how to implement these star-reaching broadcasts without breaking the budget and having to hire a huge staff of technicians. Carrico knew that Brevard County needed software that would allow people of any age and technological aptitude to create video presentations with a professional quality look and sound. He found Visual Communicator Studio by Serious Magic to be the ideal solution.

At a meeting with Dr. Richard DiPatri, Superintendent of Brevard County Public Schools, Carrico introduced Visual Communicator Studio as the perfect software to enable students to produce a high quality news broadcast. Because it is reasonably priced, requires little extra equipment to buy, and teachers can be trained to run it themselves, it is a natural fit for the educational environment. He pointed out that this software would give each school’s segments of “School News Now” a uniformly professional appearance.

Low cost, high capabilities

Carrico’s goal was to make the schools aware of Visual Communicator Studio first so he asked for authorization to buy one copy for the schools to use at the school board’s facilities. However, Dr. DiPatri was so impressed with the software, and Carrico’s enthusiasm for it, that he immediately authorized Carrico to buy not just a single copy, but one for every public elementary, middle and high school in the county.

After purchasing the software, Carrico traveled from school to school installing and loading Visual Communicator Studio onto a computer at each school and demonstrating the features it offered. He even showed the teachers the kind of news shows they could produce by quickly putting one together on the spot himself. Carrico trained approximately 25 teachers at each school to use the new software. In four-hour training sessions he showed them the possibilities and outlined the superintendent’s requirements for the two-minute news shows they would be producing.

Roberta O’Brien, media specialist at Freedom Seven School in Cocoa Beach, Florida, watched the installation of the software with interest and immediately collaborated with Joan Bell, the school’s technology specialist, on project ideas they could implement in their school. So far, they have only used it with the upper elementary grades to produce their school’s news show, but since O’Brien also teaches writing to kindergarten through fourth grades, she and Bell are brainstorming ways to use the software with the younger students as well.

Many more possibilities

Bonnie Tucker, a nationally certified teacher in the areas of Career and Technology/Arts and Media, has taught TV production for seventh through twelfth grades at West Shore Junior/Senior High School for the past five years. Tucker uses Visual Communicator Studio every day with all her classes. When asked her opinion, Tucker beams and says the only problem is that she would love to have several more copies of the software.

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$4.5 million to support school dropout prevention programs

This program supports the development and implementation of effective, sustainable, and coordinated school dropout prevention and reentry programs. An additional purpose is
for SEAs to create collaborations with other agencies and work with local educational agencies to assist schools in dropout prevention and reentry activities, including using eighth-grade assessments and other data to develop and implement individual performance plans for students entering the ninth grade who are at risk of failing to meet challenging state academic standards and of dropping out of high school. The dropout prevention and reentry strategies implemented by the SEA must be scientifically-based,
sustainable, and widely replicated. SEAs must use the funds received under this competition to support activities in schools that serve students in grades 6 through 12 and have annual school dropout rates that are above the state average annual dropout rate, or in the middle schools that feed students into the schools described above.

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$500,000 for alternative programs that foster academic excellence

The Mary A. Crocker Trust funds programs that encourage academic excellence, aid schools in meeting the special demands facing the San Francisco Bay area, and provide alternative approaches to traditional education. Projects involving the use of technology will be considered. The Trust distributes 5 percent of its asset value, or approximately $500,000 a year, to charitable organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The average grant size ranges from $10,000 to $25,000.

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$50,000 in matching grants for independent high schools

The Edward E. Ford Foundation awards grants annually to independent high schools that are active members of the National Association of Independent Schools. Most grants are worth $50,000 or less, and every grant is expected to have a matching component (at least one-to-one) with the extent of the match being an appropriate challenge for the particular school. The foundation has agreed to consider some grants as large as $100,000 to be able to participate more substantially in projects that are particularly imaginative and likely to be of broad benefit to independent schools. The foundation’s board meets three times a year to consider proposals: November, April, and June. Deadlines for submitting proposals are Sept.15, Feb. 1, and April 1, respectively. The head of school should meet with the foundation’s executive director at his office before the proposal is consider by the board. Applicants are encouraged to contact the office directly by phone to get a full understanding of the application guidelines.

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