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A Teacher’s Journey: Starting a Student News Production

By: Brad Wilson Educator & Founder of 21innovate, LLC Learn more at about.me/bradleyjwilson

2012


Do you want your students to tell the story of their learning community? If you do, it’s probably because you recognize the power of digital storytelling for helping students gain skills in literacy, communication, collaboration and creativity. Certainly you are interested in starting a project that is student-centered & which positively impacts a wide variety of families in your school. Maybe you are tech-savvy… or maybe not. But you know that students are eager to get their hands on new tools and it is now easier than ever to provide them with amazing opportunities for multimedia creation. This publication is simply a way for me to reflect on what I have Iearned during the process of turning a vision into a reality. It didn’t always work perfectly but I hope that others can gain something from it and that some of you might even start your own programs.

A Student News Production could be a perfect fit for your school. Here is my journey.

Table of Contents The Dream of a Student Newscast…………3 Making it Happen………...5 Finding Our Way………..7 Celebrations and Regrets………..10

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The Dream of a Student Newscast First year teachers have lots of ideas bouncing around in their head about what they would love to do with students...Some will happen and many others will get lost in the realities of meetings, unexpected responsibilities, testing, surviving, etc. A student news program was something that I thought would be really cool. My school had previously ran such a program using VHS camcorders and closed-circuit TV, but the teacher who had spearheaded it was gone and the equipment gathered dust in the back of the Media Center. At my first MACUL Conference ('08) I carried a pen and paper pad (humorous to me now) and took notes during a session ran by two Detroit teachers who shared the details of their daily broadcast. I recently came across their handout from that day and it’s fun now to reflect on how this project went from a dream to a reality in the past year for my students and I.

Old equipment was a barrier to overcome

The teachers who inspired me 4+ years ago were Judy Robinson and Tony Shopinski from DPS's Davison Elementary School, and a quick search today led me to their SchoolTube channel where videos from Davison's students can now be found. What I remember most about that session is how empowered and engaged the students were with the creation process of the show. I remember thinking to myself, "I wish this sort of thing was available when I was in elementary school!" The Detroit students were taking on a variety of roles and responsibilities, and with the guidance from dedicated teachers were gaining valuable skills & educational experiences that resulted in a product that benefited the entire school community. Another awesome aspect of their presentation that I recall vividly is that they had educators in the session team up to actually record a show right there on the spot! Judy and Tony knew that just telling & showing teachers something in a PD session only goes so far... just like their students, they had us communicating, trying, creating...doing. www.21innovate.com Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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Armed with inspiration from MACUL, I excitedly discussed the prospects of a student news program with my principal. She was all for me pursuing it, "a great idea," she said. An idea, however, is all it would remain for 3 more years. I really had no clue how to get the ball rolling with this big of a project; I was really just still learning to swim as a classroom teacher and trying new techie things with the students in my own classroom. Every once in a while there would be a renewed curiosity about the idea as I spent time exploring EdTech blogs and wikis and found fun examples of digital storytelling that I would daydream about actually doing one day and bookmark for later. Later, it seemed, was all too often a reality for projects that likely would make the biggest impact with students. Barriers begin to break down.. From 2008 to 2010 my personal and professional life became extremely busy with getting my masters and coaching basketball. Taking on extra initiatives was really not an option. But also during this time some interesting things started to happen with technology and my abilities as a teacher. Smartphones equipped with cameras were running rampant in people's pockets and Flip Cams were a hot item coming in at under $150. I used my allotted classroom budget to acquire one, which meant my class now had weekly Photograper (an old hand-me-down CoolPix) and Videographer student jobs. YouTube spinoff SchoolTube provided a safe place to post videos online and transferring digital media was really not an issue any longer. I was personally getting much more comfortable working with software such as iMovie and Web 2.0 tools like Animoto were revolutionizing how easy it was to create multimedia projects. As I myself became a better digital storyteller, I became more apt to give my students opportunities to explore how these tools could enrich our learning.

4th Grade Videographer using the Flip cam www.21innovate.com Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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Ideas and dreams are important. They get us to imagine what could be possible. But a dream without action does not change your world. Last summer I decided there were no more legitimate excuses. It was time to start a student news program at Stewart Elementary. Using a fun example from a school in Colorado as inspiration, I would begin to paint a picture of how our students could be the creators of a show that would bring the school community closer and help celebrate the great things going on around the building.

Making it Happen The metaphor of "summer being like a weekend", with June as a Friday, etc. is used a lot with my teacher friends. My wife and I are almost always working on some type of project for school on Saturdays and especially Sundays. So when the "Sunday of Summer" (August) rolled around, it was time to initiate a plan of action to make the news program a reality at my school.

A typical Summer/Sunday work session on the porch (with our dog, Keltie)

I figured a good place to start would be to create a vision/mission statement for the program and to get buy-in to that end. Big Vision: The Stewart Student News Program is a during/after school program for students. The club will plan, capture, design, and produce a weekly web video highlighting learning, news, projects, announcements and other relevant information. The audience will be Stewart peers, teachers & other staff, family, community members and global peers. Mission: The members will “Tell the Story of Stewart�, building community among all those involved. They will seek out participation from all stake holders. The production process will be interactive in the school, allowing for students, staff and classrooms to www.21innovate.com Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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submit content for the show. To the greatest extent possible, all aspects of the show will be student-made. View/Download the planning document on Google Docs Not only was I fortunate to have a supportive principal as I began the process, but several parents were also willing to help get the ball rolling with the program. These parents were active with our PTO and were confident that our first hurdle, funding, could be cleared with the support of that organization. What funding was needed? The biggest barrier to implementing a news team besides having someone to run it was having access to the necessary equipment. After meeting with a group of 3 parents to talk through the brainstorming, we figured that $500 would be plenty to acquire cameras, tri-pods, a green screen, etc. (To see a full equipment list, view the planning doc linked above.) One parent even donated an old G6 Mac computer that had a ton of hard drive storage to house the archived files and was capable of accessing online tools. The only computer available in our school that had updated video editing software was my teacher Macbook, which ended up being the central place for final production on iMovie. What would the structure be? From the beginning I committed to one day a week after school to work with the students. I also anticipated being in constant contact with them throughout the week during school. We knew that more work time would be needed, so our newly-implemented "Late Start" PLC meeting time would be supervised by parent volunteers. Our goal was to produce a weekly show, but as I will discuss, this ended up being unrealistic. Which students would participate? Targeting students who might not get a lot of outside leadership opportunities was important to me. Our Student Council was cancelled for the year, however, so this program became highly sought after for those type of students. We ended up opening up applications at the beginning of the school year for 3rd-5th grade students and selecting only 4th & 5th graders during the 1st semester.

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Posters went up during the 2nd week of school recruiting students for the news program.

More than 30 students turned in applications to join which ranged in quality from 'done in the last 5 minutes' to 'spent an hour working with a parent to type a detailed response to the questions'. We decided that to begin with we would take 12 students, but only from 4th and 5th grade. We used this rubric criteria for evaluating the applications. So with our equipment purchased, students for the team selected and parent volunteers recruited....it was time for the real work to begin. Being the "director" of the Student News proved to be stressful, rewarding and fun. Turning an idea into a concept on paper and then into a reality for the students was really an adventure. It certainly wasn't perfect and there were plenty of lessons learned, but we did it.

Finding Our Way With just a few weeks of the new school year under our belt, I assembled the News Team for the first time with a Meet & Greet during lunch. We introduced ourselves and I gave them an overview of why I had started the program and what my goals were for it. I emphasized the extra responsibility that they would be taking on by joining the group and asked the students to share why they had applied and what they hoped to get from it. Many of the 4th and 5th graders talked about how they enjoyed taking pictures or shooting video or working with other technology. Many of the 5th graders had been in my class the previous year and had experience using VoiceThread, the iPod or iPad, the Flip cam and a digital camera. Other students mentioned how it would be cool to record stories of what was going on in school and to be on "TV" or the internet. Needless to say, we were all very excited.

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I initially struggled with decisions on how much to "teach" them up front versus having them "learn by doing". I wanted to ensure we were putting out a quality product but at the same time I knew that the process itself would be just as valuable to these students as any actual episode would be. At this first meeting I gave everyone the following assignment to help us formulate a shared vision: 

Go to schooltube.com and search for “elementary student news�. Watch several episodes from schools around the country/world. Write down the things that you think we should do at Stewart. What are you most exited about doing? What would the steps have to be to accomplish that? Students were then asked to add their brainstorming to this Google Doc. I was impressed with what they found & thought of! We had plenty of ideas on what type of segments we wanted to include in the newscasts, so it was now a matter of how to get there. I knew that there were a ton of digital storytelling & publishing skills that the students had not practiced, but with only 1 day a week with them I would have to let the process be the biggest teacher. One of the first instructional pieces I did cover were some basic photography and videography skills (click to view a copy of the student handouts). The students who had been in my classroom had already heard me talk about these a bunch and I knew I could turn to them to teach the others. After we decided on which pieces we wanted for our first episode, we began to formulate the work flow that would need to happen for the team of 9-11 year old students to collectively produce a school web show. Students reluctantly filled out this organizer & turned them in to the parent volunteers for the first work session (without me present). It turns out that in general the group would be resistant to doing these type of pencil/paper planning activities. Maybe they were just really excited to get their hands on the cameras... maybe they were tired of "writing stuff down" from being in school all day... or maybe they didn't quite grasp the benefit to being on the same page & working toward clear goals. Planning and organizing the group turned out to be one of the biggest challenges. Once everyone had gravitated to a specific story or stories and chosen roles within those groups, the students "hit the streets" to do research, get pictures, videos and interviews for each. This divide and conquer method turned out to be the basic format for our work sessions thereafter. There would be groups in the media center using the "studio" area to record introductions and "outros" for the segments; students in my classroom getting the video files into Dropbox; and partnerships (one on camera & one filming) shooting interviews. Eventually the students would learn how to use my www.21innovate.com Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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laptop to bring everything together into iMovie, but for the first episode I did most of the editing.

Students record an introduction to an episode.

In the beginning I really encouraged all the students to get their feet wet with all the different jobs: videographer, on screen personality, file management, file editing, etc. I knew that by going through the process with the roles it would help them to work together even if things started to get compartmentalized. I liken this to the show Undercover Boss, where CEOs put on the hard hats and work the assembly line or become burger flippers, ultimately gaining a deeper perspective of their products. If the videographers understood how tough it was to be on camera and vice versa, I hoped the mutual understanding would improve the teamwork. There were a few who didn't really want to be on camera, and I never forced that but it did take some nudging for those students who had only signed up "wanting to take pictures" to broaden their horizons. Not surprisingly, also emerging within the group were the Leaders, the OffTaskers, the Sit Arounders and the Work Horses. With only 1 or 2 adults and students spread out throughout the school, precious time could be wasted if an Off Tasker got off on a "blooper" frenzy (making people laugh while filming) without intervention. While these were all great kids we had recruited for the team... they were still kids. I had to have some serious talks with individuals and groups a few times to remind them of the big task they had signed up for and how it was a privilege. The Sit Arounders would constantly need reminding about taking initiative to make progress with some aspect of the current episode or to start planning the next. There was always something to do... and if they couldn't think of something, they should ask! On the other end of the spectrum were the Leaders and the Work Horses, who didn't have a problem taking initiative... but who did sometimes need to be reminded that they could be a contributing teammate without being so bossy.

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In the first 12 weeks of the program I came to realize that our best work was done when only about 6 students showed up to a meeting. We had accepted 11, and when everyone was present the focus went down (especially if it was a parent-supervised work session rather than me being there). The parent volunteers were an integral part of the program, however, because my schedule was so constrained. For those sessions I tried to always leave some type of a "to-do" list so that the parent could send people in the right direction (easier said then done in the middle of a school week). Sometimes I think they felt more like they were herding cats and perhaps didn't embrace the organized chaos/messiness as much as I did because I knew it can lead to the best learning. When the students were not productive there was always a natural consequence: the episode wasn't done or the quality went down. It was easy to sit with them, play what they had, and ask "is that your best?" The more feedback that was student-generated that I could elicit, the more likely the solution would be implemented. So as the Fall progressed, we found our way with the tools and time that we had available. The episodes received lots of positive feedback and momentum began to build within the team as I challenged them with new roles, new technical tips and we had opportunities for plenty of new stories.

Celebrations and Regrets Beyond the hour-long session I had attended at a tech conference 4 years prior, I had no training or serious background knowledge about the workings of a student newscast before getting started. So to say that this was a huge learning experience for me is an understatement. There were certainly times where my lack of experience compounded with the busy school year took their toll. There were weeks where I really wanted to just put the program on pause. And on some days my effort with the News Team was far from my best. But the students continued to come & the parents continued to volunteer. People around school continued to ask "When's the next Newscast coming out?" and suggesting segment topics. So, on we pushed, and when the school year came to a close, the students had published 10 webisodes of the Stewart Student News (about 1 per month) that have been viewed more than 2,000 times.

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Looking back at my initial brainstorming notes from last summer, it's interesting to think about my misconceptions and lofty goals. Here are some things I learned and that the students accomplished:

     

What I Regret Not bringing in outside 'experts' for special lessons (local media, photographers, etc) Not featuring every single classroom at least once Only having 1 hour/week to work with the kids Not buying rechargeable batteries/chargers Not having them complete more "PSA" style segments Not insisting on more pre-written scripting Not having students use more photo/video creativity apps on the iPod/iPad Not having students find more Creative Commons music & audio for segments

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      

Celebrations 15+ students involved directly in production 100's of students/teachers featured Student-shot photos & video were used almost exclusively Students did 90% of video editing for the last 4 episodes and about 50% in the first 6 Students made 100% of the Animoto features 75% of file management was done by students More than 1,000 channel views on bothSchoolTube and Vimeo 4 students + 1 parent attended MACUL Showcase 115 families connected to private Facebook page Completely student-made website Skype call with another student news group

News Team students during a Q & A Skype call www.21innovate.com Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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More learning...

   

Hits Financial support from the PTO & a local business 6+ loyal parent volunteers to supervise meetings Switching out students at the Semester Utilizing Dropbox for file management/storage

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Misses Didn't pull off a Team t-shirt Green Screen under-utilized Expecting "1 episode a week" Only 1 computer available for editing

When I began this project my biggest goal was for students to have a voice in Telling the Story of their school community. I do feel that we accomplished that. The students blew me away with what they are capable of in regards to creative ideas, technical skill and teamwork. By heavily involving students from 3 grade levels and getting the support of several parent volunteers, I also really hoped that this project would be sustainable. I didn't want it to just be "something that Mr. Wilson did". Time will tell if the model we created will be carried on so that many more students will be part of a News Team.

This group of students helped me learn a lot!

If you have any questions or feedback, you can reach me at: brad@21innovate.com To view all my resources for digital video, storytelling and more, visit 21innovate.com

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Profile for Brad Wilson

Starting a Student News Production (A Teacher's Journey)  

Do you want your students to tell the story of your learning community? If you do, it’s probably because you recognize the power of digital...

Starting a Student News Production (A Teacher's Journey)  

Do you want your students to tell the story of your learning community? If you do, it’s probably because you recognize the power of digital...

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