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Written by Sara Martin   

“Video is where ‘it’s at’ with students today. It is their world: they are the YouTube generation.”

Sara Martin believes that in order to reach kids today you have to adjust your teaching to hook them in and using video is one method to do that. She goes on to explain that video production, from start to finish, is one of the most cross-curricular programs you can use in schools. It involves so many disciplines, from planning and writing, to filming and editing. It’s visual, auditory, hands-on and it’s logical progression engages high level thinking skills as students synthesis their project; they arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up and write. “I can’t think of too many other projects that involve all those disciplines, says Ms. Martin, teacher at Hart-Ransom Middle School.

Video production is a cooperative effort.  Learning to work together is an important skill that students need to develop to help them prepare for the workforce. She loves technology when it can be used to connect students to the real world-giving them an authentic audience is so motivating. When kids have an authentic audience they work harder, learn a lot more, connect more with their others, and are just more successful all around! Finally, video editing is just a whole lot of fun! 

With a limited budget and virtually no space, the kids at Hart-Ransom put out awesome programming.  Spend a few minutes and visit Sara’s video production club with us. 

SVN: Tell us, Sara, about your background and how you decided to start teaching TV/Video production?

SM: I have been teaching computer literacy at Hart-Ransom School for 11 years. Prior to that, I taught 5th grade. I got my undergraduate degree at UC Davis and recently completed my masters in Educational Technology.

I teach students in grades 4 – 8 in a pull out program. I spend most of my time with 7th and 8th graders, all of whom take my class for 2 – 3 days a week all year long. I teach all Office Applications, Internet Safety and use, website design, Flash, Photoshop Elements, and now, this year, I have introduced video editing with Photoshop Premier Elements.  Six years ago my work with Photoshop Elements was recognized by Adobe and I was asked to become an Adobe Education Leader. One of the best things about being an Ed Leader is the opportunity to network with other Ed Leaders from around the country and around the world. I had the good fortune to meet Rob Zdrojewski from Amherst Middle School in New York. He shared with me his successful news broadcast and I was motivated to try a news show at my middle school. I was also motivated this year to begin video editing at our school for a number of other reasons.  

SVN: How did you obtain initial funding for your program? How do you fund the class now?

SM: The video editing is part of my regular computer literacy classes so no additional funding was necessary. However, I am offering an after school class on video editing as part of our after school “Arts in Action” program. That class is funded through a grant from the state of California and runs two days a week for an hour.

The news show is filmed, edited and produced either before school, during break or during lunch. I volunteer my time for the news show.

SVN: Did you have equipment available?

SM: I think of our program as the low budget, no frills introduction to video! It’s amazing what you can do with just a little money!

We didn’t have computers capable of handling video editing, software, or cameras until last spring. We didn’t have our news room studio equipment until this fall. I am currently purchasing additional cameras (inexpensive Aipteks) to put in the hands of my video editing class members next month.

Funding is a common obstacle in education but you can often find the money you need in unexpected places. At the end of last year, our after school program had a little extra money. Since the computer lab is used after school for that program we were able to use some of that money to upgrade the lab computers. During the upgrade, we purchased computers with capacity for video editing. We also purchased a site license for Adobe Premier Elements.

At the end of the year I used money from technology budget to purchase 6 more digital cameras with video capabilities. Our first video project this fall utilized these cameras. I had the students film short video clips using the digital cameras and they also took still shots. Using Premier Elements they created videos that were combinations of video and stills, often with a pan and zoom affect. That way their video were smaller in size than a full video and our school server could handle 180 student projects (all 7th and 8th graders)

This fall, I was able to use “Arts in Action” state grant money to buy what I needed for the news studio since that equipment will be used in the after school program. I am anticipating needing another camera and an additional tripod so I recently requested money for that from our Parent Teacher Club. I am waiting to hear back from them. Money for the additional Aiptek video cameras came from state grant money.

SVN: How many kids are in the TV/Video Production classes?  How is it broken down?  Is it a multi-year program?

SM: We are just starting our news show. To date, we have produced 5 weekly news shows. I decided to start small, taking baby steps to get started. I announced the project to all my 7th and 8th graders and encouraged them to apply. One difficulty we face is the time that we meet. Most of our kids take the bus to school. Students applying for the news team had to be able to get to school by 7:30 am on Thursdays and Fridays. For most of them that meant they needed to be able to get a ride to school from their parents. Each student completed an application, got parent permission, and 3 teacher recommendations. Only 8 students applied (six boys and two girls). They all were qualified, and I was able to accept them all.

SVN: Can you tell us a little more about the sessions:  How long are the classes? How many students? What types of projects?

SM: Video Editing:
During regular computer class: Video production was taught (for the first time) at the beginning of this year. All 7th and 8th graders were involved (about 180 students). I have to cover other curriculum throughout the year and hope to get through that so we can do another video project in the spring. Since we were in the middle of a "Bully Blaster" week, to raise awareness for anti-bullying strategies, we decided to do a video about bullying: what it is, what to do if you are a target, how to prevent, etc. The kids videoed in groups of 3 - 4 students. I then gave each student the files and every one of them created a video using Photoshop Premier Elements. They were encouraged to collaborate, so many of their videos were similar, but I wanted them to each make a video to practice the video editing techniques The best two videos were posted on SchoolTube. Best 8th grade: Best 7th grade:

During after school “Arts in Action” program: This will start in a couple days and run for the second trimester, two days a week after school on Tuesday and Thursday from 3 – 4. This is funded through the state grant. I will have 6 – 8 graders (20 maximum) and plan to give them cameras to take home. They will be planning their videos in class. I’m thinking they will be doing “A Day in the Life of…” “Story of my Life” or “Family Heritage” interviews of family members, etc. I’ll teach them editing with Photoshop Premier Elements and they will edit them at school. I am hoping we will have some great videos to submit to video contests, including the International Student Media Festival. I taught video editing at that festival this last October in Anaheim and it was a great experience. Kids from all over the country attended. Their projects were very good.

News Show Production:
This is not a class-more like a before school club. We are still so new but currently we meet every Thursday and Friday morning at 7:30 – 8:10. On Thursday we plan and write the show. On Friday we tape and publish. Of course there have been a couple times when we had to tape at lunch because we ran out of time in the morning. Right now we have 8 kids on the team.

SVN: How many kids to do the morning news broadcast?  Do you also do a weekly broadcast? Special events coverage?

SM: Yes-somewhat explained above. Not daily but weekly. We are trying to do one story that highlights a special event or polls kids regarding current events. In order to do that, we send out a team early in the week to do the taping before school, during recess and at lunch, if necessary. Editing is done whenever we can fit it in, usually during lunch.

So far our special features have included: interviews of the 8th grade girls’ basketball team members and their coach, polling students for their answers to “What are you thankful for?”, “What is you favorite holiday tradition?”, and “What do you want for the holidays?”. We also took our news team to the mall in December to cover a special event-our own news anchor, Freddy, was a finalist in our areas’ Young Idol contest so we filmed the final performances, interviewed Freddy, his mom, and other students who attended.

SVN: What jobs do the kids do?  Do the kids rotate through on-air talent and crew positions or are they “hired” for a specific task?

SM: Right now we have two news anchors. The other 6 are not interested in anchoring although I am hoping more will want to get their faces on air soon. Most are willing to be on camera during the special events. They are getting more comfortable with interviewing-they are getting better each week!

Basically what has been happening is whoever gets to the meeting first in Thursday plows right in with what needs to be done. We need copy written for the anchors, editing of any special coverage film, typing up our “Words of Wisdom” and creating the PowerPoint slide to introduce that, setting up the computer and laptop, creating the “donut”- the beginning slides and ending slides from the wizard and anything else we can think of. They are all rotating around, learning how to do each thing.

SVN: Do students audition for on-air positions?

SM: Not yet-but I do anticipate that in the future more students will be interested in this and I will need to come up with some protocol for on-air positions.

SVN: Do they write the content? 

SM: They write it and I have a hand in editing it. I want them to get to the point where I am not necessary.

They come up with the ideas for the special features.

SVN: How long does the show run? 

SM: We are trying to keep the show short and sweet-it usually around 3 minutes.

SVN: Do you submit programming to independent contest such as those sponsored by StudicaSkills and SchoolTube TV?

SM: I sent one of our shows to SchoolTube in November when new packages were the targeted subject. I have not heard back from them. I don’t expect to win anything because we are so new and still learning.

SVN: Can your broadcast be viewed outside the school? District-wide?  Local cable access?  On your school/district web-site?

SM: I have the shows uploaded to SchoolTube and linked to our school website http://www.hartransom.org/Hart_Ransom/index.html . The video page is under construction http://www.hartransom.org/Hart_Ransom/hr_news.htm

My plan is to have students involved in designing and creating that page.

School Tube is now offering a professional version, for $500.00 a year your school can have it’s own dedicated page, custom made with your logo, etc. I asked our Parent Teacher Club to fund that and they agreed. I will be working with the SchoolTube staff soon to get our own page created. I am not quite sure how that will look….I’m looking forward to working with the SchoolTube folks-they seem very friendly and helpful.

SVN: Do you have an equipment list you can share with our readers?
SM: This is what I purchased to get started for the news show:
1. Panasonic PV-GS500 3CCD min DV camcorder (about $700.00)-you need an external mic port and firewire capabilities. This camera was recommended by Rob Z.
2. mic adapter-so two mics can be used during the news show: by Beachtek DXA-2S about $180
3. 2 external mics and cables (the wireless ones are good but a little too pricey) about $150
4. a tripod-The one I bought was cheap and has fallen over twice already necessitating the need for one student to always be assigned to “hold” the tripod any time the camera is being used. I suggest investing in a good tripod-as soon as I can I will be getting a new one.
5. a green screen and stand
6. lighting-we got a kit with two lights and umbrellas and one spotlight. All three have adjustable stands.
All the above ran about $1700.00 and was purchased through B&H; Photo-Video-Pro Audio. I called the 800 number and the sales staff was extremely helpful in steering me to the right products for our specific needs.
7. Software-Adobe Visual Communicator – fortunately I got the software FREE since I am an Adobe Ed Leader. Education price is good, however, only aoubt $175.00 ($400.00 for non-educators). Of course you need a computer (we use my personal laptop) to run the software and firewire cables to connect the camera to the computer).
For video editing-any inexpensive digital camera, even still cameras with video capabilities work for video projects, since videos that include short video clips and still pictures are very effective and easier to use with students (the final projects and smaller files and therefore easier on school servers). There are also many inexpensive camcorders on the market now, like the Aiptek line, that record directly onto flash memory cards, not on tape. These work fine for student projects that do not use Visual Communicator. VC requires tape media.

SVN: Have any quick start tips!

SM: I would just say “do it”-it is easier than you might expect. Don’t try to be perfect in the beginning-just jump in the try-you and your students will learn by doing. The software is quite easy to use and if you start reading the tips that Rob Z is starting to post on SchoolTube you can get your questions answered. In the past, producing a school news show was a huge undertaking, requiring closed circuit television capabilities and thousands of dollars of video and electrical equipment, plus video expertise beyond the reach of most educators. Today, video equipment is better and more reasonable all the time, and with the advantage of being able to upload your projects to SchoolTube.com for free, more schools than ever can provide this opportunity for students to produce, and view, their own school news show.