Mountain View Voice

News - March 11, 2011

Kids make the darnedest movies

Local schools' televised lesson plans

by Nick Veronin

Audio-only morning announcements are so five years ago. At least they are at Graham Middle School, where, since 2006, the Pledge of Allegiance, upcoming events reminders and school news have been delivered in the form of a live video broadcast, produced entirely by students and piped to every classroom via a closed-circuit TV network.

Producing live video news segments on a daily basis might seem like a rather advanced task for a child in middle school — especially considering that some of the students in the Graham video editing class are still hunting and pecking their way around a keyboard.

But Tom Sayer, who teaches the Graham Middle School TV class, doesn't see it that way. If anything, he said, kids ought to be playing with video editing programs at an even earlier age.

"They absorb so much of it," Sayer said. "Why not?"

Last week, his GMSTV students became the teachers — sharing their videography know-how with a class from Landels Elementary.

Kristen Kovac's second-grade class filed into the computer lab at Graham on March 3 for a tutorial on iMovie, a basic video-editing program made by Apple.

Sayer's students helped the younger children piece together a video self-portrait — which they compiled by taking self-representative images found on the Web and stringing those pictures together with music, prefabricated transitions and audio and visual effects.

Video editing was not entirely foreign to Kovac's class prior to their Graham visit. The Landels teacher has been putting together short video news projects with her students.

Although her project is on a much smaller scale than GMSTV (Kovac uses a camcorder, a few lights, microphones and her laptop), both she and Sayer agree: when it comes to learning new computer programs, "the younger, the better," she said.

Through video production, the students learn a wide swath of skills that will ultimately help them in their future academic and professional careers, Sayer said. And best of all, they have fun doing it.

The children learn to storyboard segments, a skill that can be used in writing essays and reports; every student must take a turn in front of the camera, which strengthens public speaking; GMSTV's news segments often require research, pushing Sayer's kids to better their Web searching abilities; then there is archiving the videos, uploading them to YouTube, taking still photos, filming and running set lighting — not to mention the actual editing of the footage.

Every task is a lesson at GMSTV, Sayer said, even if it doesn't seem that way to the students.

Ayden Casey-Demirtjis, one of Kovac's second-graders, said that working in iMovie doesn't feel like work at all.

"This is better than normal class," Ayden said as he clicked away on his project. When he gets home he said he would ask his parents to buy him a film-editing program. "I'd make, like, 1,000 movies!"

It is precisely that kind of enthusiasm that makes teaching video editing so much fun for Sayer and Kovac.

"They really love computer time the best," Kovac said of her class — "anything creative, where they can be actively engaged."

For their part, Sayer's students also seemed to be enjoying their time with the second-graders.

"It's really fun to teach," said Carter Lee, one of Sayer's eighth-grade GMSTV students.

Matt Ruben, another eighth-grader, said he was surprised by the ability of Kovac's class. "I have high hopes for them," Matt said. "If they learn this stuff now, they will be really good at it by the time they get older."

For the mother of one girl in Kovac's class, the promise of her daughter being ahead of the curve is appealing. However, Natasha Keck derives a much deeper satisfaction from knowing that her daughter has found an activity that she really enjoys.

"She loves it!" Keck said, crouching down behind her daughter, Sasha, who was engrossed in her video project. "She gets consumed when she makes a movie."

Sasha is Kovac's only student video editor, and she frequently works on class videos on the home computer her parents bought specifically for her to use with iMovie.

Keck said knowing that her daughter is interested in a field that could potentially turn into a career is particularly gratifying. "I would love for her to do something in life that doesn't feel like work."

Arturo Noriega, who runs Panther Vision, Crittenden Middle School's audio-video club, shares Keck's sentiment.

"This is the direction technology is going," Noriega said. "We're introducing them to a medium that's going to help them in the future."

Panther Vision also produces a daily news broadcast, although it is not as sophisticated as GMSTV. Crittenden's broadcasts are pre-recorded. And unlike at Graham, where the more advanced students can try their hand at more complex programs, like Apple's Final Cut Express and Adobe Premier, the Panther Vision kids only have access to iMovie.

"It has pushed a lot of kids who really hadn't seen a reason to learn before — it's given them something really exciting to work for," Kovac said.

Sayer said he has noticed that his kids have gained confidence. Graham students can take GMSTV all three years at the middle school, and those that do are able to work almost independently. "There have been days when I'm gone, with a substitute in the class, and the kids can run GMSTV by themselves," he said.

Noriega has noticed a similar trend. "I've seen so many shy kids come out of their shells in front of the camera," he said.

There is another element to these three teachers' projects — one that extends beyond the classroom.

"It keeps the kids more interested not only in what's going on in school but also what is going on in our segment of the world," Noriega said, speaking about Crittenden on the whole.

GMSTV, Panther Vision and Kovac's class have all conducted interviews with teachers, school administrators, coaches and students. Sayer said that seeing a televised news segment about one's own school really draws in students and helps increase school spirit and involvement.

"It kind of contributes to the whole Graham community," Sayer said.

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