At Aviara Middle School in Carlsbad, California, students gain language skills, technology expertise and self confidence in an innovative program that produces a weekly television broadcast. Their teacher, Doug Green, discusses how digital tools have given students vibrant new ways to share ideas.
Would you tell us a little about what you are doing?
I teach a class in broadcasting. We produce a school news show with a worldwide audience – for, by and about middle school kids. It’s sort of a cross between a magazine-style program and a news program.
How did the program get started?
Our school is only three years old, and when it opened we decided to have a class in video production. From the get go I wanted to teach kids how to broadcast a professional TV show, near network quality. So last June, when we were given the opportunity to begin broadcasting on the Internet, I really pushed to change the title from Video Production to Broadcasting. We work in a cutting edge studio, with kids using state-of-the-art digital equipment.
What type of technology are you using?
We shoot using a very beautiful JVC 500 broadcast quality camera. We shoot in digital and we edit on a non-linear system – the video is digital right through the editing process. What really makes our show unique is that although it looks like we’re in a nice studio, it’s actually a very large classroom. The anchors are on virtual sets, so when you watch our show on TV and the Internet, it really appears that the kids are sitting in a half million dollar TV studio.
This equipment was designed for Hollywood, so they could put actors in dungeon sets and turn off all the lights and light the talent with a flashlight. In the past you had to light your talent so brightly to make it work that you really couldn’t get creative. So if you are into that kind of technology, this is the Holy Grail, because you can really mess around with lighting in a virtual set.
Isn’t this kind of equipment expensive?
Initially we bought the system for about $2,000. Then a company in Northern California called Play Inc. donated a very large and expensive piece of equipment that allows us to put kids in a room, where they can actually stand on a false floor – a digital floor – or walk behind digital walls. We can change the sets with a mouse and keyboard, and the kids can create any sort of environment they want through Photoshop.
We did a Halloween show, where we created a dungeon and a Thanksgiving show where we did a Massachusetts backdrop and a girl dressed up as a Pilgrim. It looked very real and was very fun.
Why do you think a course in broadcasting is an important elective – what does really give to a student?
I really consider this class to be a language arts class with a heavy dose of technology. In a language arts class, you are fine tuning reading, writing, and thinking skills, and we certainly do that as we prepare for the newscast every week.
My kids write their own scripts. They are speaking and listening, as much as any student in any middle school across the country. And in order to learn how to create television, to write a balanced story, they have to become critical viewers. I think that’s an important skill.
My kids are in a unique position, because they speak to an international audience. At the end of the show I go home and look at the counter on our website and see the IP addresses to determine exactly where we were being viewed. Yesterday we had Singapore, Malaysia, France, Canada, London and the US. That’s powerful, that’s really something that kids can do that.
You began as an English teacher. What led you to this program?
Well, I dabbled. As part of my teaching I produced some local access programs. I did a couple of documentaries on train travel and teenage runaways. I had a passion for video, and I also had a passion for teaching. So I went into teaching English and started an after-school class producing a show for our local cable channel. That grew, and did well, and we got some things on MTV and CNN.
When we opened up this new middle school, we were looking for a high-interest elective. With a small middle school it’s hard to compete with one that has been around for twenty years. So the district wanted something that was high interest and different. They asked me to move over there and build this elective from the ground floor, which was a great opportunity for me.
How do you ensure that these new tools are real learning aids rather than distractions?
I think that the kids enjoy technology – but you don’t teach technology, you use technology to teach.
I realize that all my students won’t be coming out as journalists, although some may. I have some, frankly, that are not interested in the technology as much as they are in learning how to speak well and learning how to write for TV. There are other kids that are so into the technical part that they would never appear on camera, but will edit until four or five o’clock every day.
The exposure to the digital tools that we have can help them gain new valuable skills, such as self-confidence, or the ability to tell a story. They learn to write for TV, which is very different from print media. There are other responsibilities, such as learning how to use expensive and cutting edge technology and equipment. There is some value in this as well.
Do they surprise you with what they create?
Yes, they blow me away. The best ten minutes during the week for me are when we go live on Monday, and they make press every week. Sometimes I sit back and I think there can’t be many middle schools out there that can put on a live show like this. Our shows are pretty intense – a lot goes on in that ten minutes. We have live anchors and the school is wired so that we can go live from virtually anywhere on campus. We have live reports from classrooms, which are pretty far away from our studio. And they can pull this off seamlessly, with sound coming in from a variety of sources, with graphics and anchors holding their own. These are skills they wouldn’t get exposure to otherwise.
Do these broadcasts help students appreciate the value of traditional subjects like math or science?
I think they do. We do stories that reinforce these subjects. We have a Lego Land theme park here in our town, so we did a story on robotics and using computers to build and maneuver robots. We often cover events happening in science classrooms and social studies classes. We did a story on the election, for example. It brings the subject in from a high interest angle.
What’s one of your favorite shows that the students have produced?
We have had this ongoing sports story called “In Search of Tiger Woods,” which is in its third year. Tiger Woods comes out to our town once a year for a golf tournament, and PGA is very kind to us, giving us full media access to the golfers.
Every year we try to interview Tiger Woods, and every year we fail. This is year three, so we’re going out again. I always ask my kids to dress really professionally, as we are rubbing elbows with ESPN and “the big guys.” A few years ago we were all lined up to talk with Payne Stuart. He was walking up the green and he noticed my reporter. He made a beeline for us, and he did a wonderful interview. Then tragically he died in a plane crash. During the interview he had said, “I have a daughter in the seventh grade and I really wish she had an opportunity for this.”
How do other teachers in your school react to what you are doing?
They seem pretty positive; they tune in every week, which is good. Sometimes it’s not easy to get everyone on the same page, but without fail the school shuts down on the days that we do our broadcasting. Teachers give us ideas for stories. Our school is pretty technology oriented; we have a very cutting edge science and technology lab. We are on about a one to two student/computer ratio, and the teachers are fairly sophisticated on that score. They are very supportive of what I am doing, though their schedules don’t allow for much participation.
In the future, will multi-media skills are going to be as necessary as reading and writing skills?
I do think they will be as basic as reading and writing. We talk about computer literacy and media literacy, and I think we have to prepare these kids for what’s coming. These kids helped designed our web site; they are learning a lot of new things.
How do the parents respond?
They are very supportive. One of the things they tell me – and I get a kick out of this – is that their children don’t watch TV the same way anymore. They watch a program and they have to stop and explain how they did this or that. Or they can’t watch the newscast without their kids criticizing the lower third graphic or something. Or the sound was all wrong. The cute thing is that we had our local CBS program do a segment on us, and the kids are talking and firing off the lingo. The camera operator was thrilled – these middle school kids were speaking her language!
Thanks very much.
To see examples of past broadcasts, visit the AOTV Website: