Video’s attendance in classrooms throughout the country is earning high marks for education.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nintendo. MTV. Bart Simpson. Gang warfare. Drug deals. The homeless. Images on the streets and in our living rooms. Our children see them all. But what do they think? Educators around the country are putting video cameras into the hands of students to find out.
These students are making more than home movies. From inner city high schools to rural elementary schools, student videomakers are working on such diverse themes as the prevention of teenage pregnancy, gay rights, the environment, and student apathy.
The Educational Video Center (EVC) in New York City is a nonprofit community organization that trains students to make video documentaries about problems in their communities.
“The purpose of the EVC is to help raise the consciousnessof these students and provide media access to youth who would otherwise not have access to the media,” says Julie Feldman, EVC assistant director. ‘Video gives a voice to the students’ perspectives. It lets them express their views in a medium that’s respected. It gives a voice to students who are often ignored.
“We’re making a documentary on gay rights,” says 17-year-old EVC intern Alex Block. “The prominent message of our documentary is that gay people are normal-they don’t have a different lifestyle, theyjust have a different sexuality. Gay people are like anybody.”
Terrence Newell, a 1 6-year-old student at PVC, is collaborating with other students on an environmental documentary. “It involves a whole lot of research,” he says. “It’s our tape, so we have to do everything ourselves.
“I didn’t know anything about the environment except the ozone layer,” he adds. “Since making the documentary I don’t use aerosol cans. I’ll walk or ride my bike before I ask my mom to borrow the car. I got my family into recycling. It’s not much, but I feel I’m doing all I can.”
News and Views
Giving students a voice is a common concern of teachers using video in the classroom. Teachers are discovering that students are learning something about the power and process of communication.
“Video is a tool to teach academic, artistic, and interpersonal communication skills,” Feldman says.
“We started the documentary with research,” says Block. “then we contacted youth groups for gays, talked to our friends for leads, called a lot of people, and went into the field and did interviews.”
By integrating video production with writing, students develop a wide range of language arts skills. For example, preparing a video script involves researching, sequencing, spelling, syntax, and editing-writing with a purpose.
Some schools use video to make students aware of current events in their communities and the nation. The Press Club at Cannon Elementary School in Spartanburg, SC, started CPC News, a weekly broadcast news show, four years ago when the school received its first camcorder from the school district. The program covers school, local, and national news.
“The students are aware of what’s going on around them,” says Doris Turner, CPC News advisor. “They can speak up and form ideas and figure out how to communicate visually. When someone wants something said, they know they can come to CPC News. The program is a direct reflecdon of how they interpret world news and other events.”
On Time and In Tune
Using camcorders in the classroom separates the spectators from the participants. While much is written about the mesmerizing infinence of music videos and video games, when given the opportunity students learn to create with the same technology.
Mary Lou Huchet, a teacher at Princeton Regional High School in’ Princeton, NJ, has taught video for the last five years. She uses the school’s fully-equipped television station to air student-produced programs on a local cable channel. Huchet, who team teaches with the school’s media specialist, instructs her students how to produce adapted literature, features, creative pieces, and soap operas.
“Right now they’re working on public service announcements that will air on the local cable company,” says Huchet. “This assignment makes them think about what they care about, what’s important.”
Alex Hakobian, a teacher at Belvedere Junior High School in East Los Angeles, has been teaching video for three years. Last year, his ninth-grade class produced the award-winning The Bite of Apathy.
“My first objective in teaching with video is to familiarize the students with the technology,” Hakobian says. ‘We don’t have fancy equipment-just home movie cameras and VCRs for editing. My second objective is to teach the structure of making films and videos and what career opportunities are available.
“My primary purpose I call collaborative art. This is where the stu dents come together and create something. It teaches people to work together.”
This year Hakobian’s class is producing This Is No Way to Settle an Argument. Lead actor Malchijah Perry, 14, enjoys videomaking and finds he’s learning from it.
“It’s taught me to be dependable,” he says. “I used to have a problem getting places on time, but now I even make it on time on Saturdays. Working on the video teaches me how to work with other students to get a big project done. I used to do everything on my own. At the beginning of this project it was awkward, but now we usually try to talk [conflicts] out.”
A Camcorder In Every Classroom
Unfortunately, television stations-or even the most basic camcorders-aren’t available in all schools. Limited budgets and staff ignorance of the possibilities of integrating videomaking in curriculums seem to be the biggest problems.
One solution for many elementary schools has been the Panasonic Kid Witness News Program (KWN), launched in the spring of 1989. Schools are loaned two color TV monitors, two VHS editing units, one Palmcorder, two camcorders, six blank VHS cassettes, four blank VHSC cassettes, one microphone, two tripods, and a word processor.
Sixth grade students then plan, write, shoot, edit, and produce video programs. This year Panasonic has equipped 100 urban public schools in 26 metropolitan areas.
“Panasonic wanted to be involved in a program that helps inner-city students,” says company spokesperson Howard Brock. “We’ve received reports of excellent results in developing communication and verbal skills”
Participating schools submit tapes to Panasonic for judging and attend an awards gala in June. Prizes are awarded for achievements in video production in news, entertainment, artistic, technical, and commercial categories.
Garvey School sixth graders in Chicago, who had no video experience prior to KWN, won first place last year for their video on pregnancy and drug abuse prevention. The video depicts teenage pregnancy by showing two children walking hand-in-hand through a playground. After the boy and girl enter a covered slide together, the camera shows a doll sliding out the end of the slide.
“Video teaches children how to think in a very creative way; they used animation in their program,” says principal Eleanor Temple. “The children are eager to learn. They’re learning to cooperate, to produce, to bring about a consensus. They learn many communication skills.”
Jeffrey Goldstein, video teacher at Public School #41 in New York City, believes no one is too young to use or benefit from video. A strong believer in video education, Goldstein guided his sixth-grade class to a second-place finish in last year’s KWN contest.
Goldstein works with all PS #41 classes one hour a week. He starts by teaching five- and six-year-olds respect for the equipment, the names and functions of various components, and how to act out videos with puppets.
“We make small tapes together,” says Goldstein. “They act in them and I do all the camera work. Then we watch the tapes. I think it’s important for them to see what they’ve shot.”
Students as young as seven years old start making their own music videos or commercials. “The older children get into more production techniques-proper framing and composition,” he adds.
Goldstein’s role is to direct his students and encourage their ideas, to help them understand the creative process.
“I’m pretty impressed with their ideas,” Goldstein says. “You can always learn from somebody else. It’s interesting to see what their point of view is.”
“Working with video is fun,” says Josephine Evans, 10. “I was in KWN last year and we taped things. We interviewed people like the police, doctors, and store owners. We asked them ‘How do you feel about drugs? Does it make your business harder to work in?’
“I learned not to use drugs because they’re bad for your health and you can die,” she adds.
Stand and Deliver
Educators are excited about using video in their classrooms. They’re seeing children become motivated, staying in school. They see video programs building self-confidence and esteem.
“Students who have been troublemakers really buckle down in their work so they can participate in the KWN program,” Temple observes.
“I feel like I’m part of a family,” says Block. “The EVC lets kids speak out. Adults respect us and value our opinions. They let us be responsible and they teach us to take responsibility. It’s very important that I have a place where I can express my opinions.
ideomaking can be integrated with any subject-if you know how to use it. Some teachers, limited by lack of training and technological knowledge, have found help in the support group Video Using Educators (VUE).
“VUE is a group of teachers that implement video in education,” says Hall Davidson, founder of the Los Angeles-based organization. “It’s for people who believe in the power of video.”
With a roster of 500 members from all over the United States-and one in Australia-VUE is for anyone who believes video is unsurpassed in its power to impact education, Davidson says. The use of video in the classroom is growing, together with the need to “video educate” teachers.
Each year, VUE distributes Video in the Classroom (VIC) awards recognizing achievements of student and teacher videomakers. Prizes are awarded in numerous categories, including language arts, social science, health, fine arts, math, editing, writing, and use of music.
VUE sponsors educator conferences twice a year. Seminar topics at the October 1990 conference included new editing and special effects systems, format comparisons, organizing videomaking in classrooms, and bilingual applications of video.
With a more “hands on” approach, the EVC offers a summer training program and recently launched a newsletter for teachers using video as a creative learning tool.
“The Video and Learning Newsletter is designed to be a forum for teachers and educators to share successful curriculum ideas and to help them communicate with each other,” says Feldman.
Many schools are taking their video projects into the community-and other communities.
“The students at Garvey School are using their award-winning video as a tool to teach other children,” says Temple. “We’re training them to implement a program to use their tape to teach other students.”
Garvey students are involved in a video exchange program with a school in Madison, WI. The students have different backgrounds and are from different races.
The benefits of the program are twofold, Temple explains. The children learn about their community when they produce tapes for the other class and they learn about the other community from the tapes they receive.
There are appreciative audiences for student productions, the EVC has discovered. EVC actively locates new audiences for its student documentaries, entering works in video festivals and contests worldwide.
EVC productions have won numerous awards. For example, a video of crack addicts telling their stories, Crack Clouds Over Hell’s Kitchen won the Best Student Video at the National Educational Film & Video Festival, Honorable Mentions at the Thomas Edison/Black Maria Film & Video Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the Special Merit Award at the 11th JVC Tokyo Video Festival.
“I have a voice,” says Block. “Through video you can make a more concise presentation of what you believe in. Video is more engaging. We [the students] make the documentary. We decide who to interview. The documentaries air in high schools. It’s us. It’s our voice to them-to other students.”
Huchet, whose students produce programs to air on public-access television, sees her students as technological missionaries.
“We have to provide a service to the school and a service to the community,” she says. “We’re trying to get the kids to be concerned and fulfill the needs of the community.”
Educators are also using video to teach students how to be discriminating viewers. Involvement in creating videos and understanding the process teaches students about the television medium and the reality of life.
“There is so much violence,” Goldstein says. “Students are inundated with violence and they’re getting numb to it. They don’t know that there should be any remorse when someone gets hurt. I’m teaching them about violence: ‘How do you think the victim feels?’ I feel it’s very important.
“I see video in education getting big,” Goldstein adds, “especially at the elementary school level. It really affects their lives. They learn to be discriminating viewers: What’s real and what isn’t.”
Charlotte Hammer is Videomaker’s copy editor.