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District Profile

Lights, Camera, and Learning at Escondido (Calif.) Union School District

Digital Media Projects Boost Teacher Morale and Student Achievement

Teachers and students at Escondido Union School District (Calif.) are becoming veritable desktop moviemakers thanks to a digital media project that has boosted teacher morale and student achievement.

Project LIVE (Learning through Instructional Video in Education), which started four years ago to get teachers more interested in using technology in the classroom and students more motivated to learn, has been credited with helping to raise student scores by as much as 30 points on state standardized exams. "You have D-average kids who are staying after school and working on projects related to core subjects," says Kathy Shirley, the district's director for technology and media services, "and they are starting to make real academic progress in these subjects."

The project's goal is to foster critical and visual literacy skills, using digital media tools to help teach core subjects, in alignment with state standards.

Budding Classroom Directors

Escondido students and teachers in a growing list of K12 districts using video in the classroom are creating iMovies about everything from endangered penguins to hurricanes to math concepts. "Project LIVE is giving students a voice and an audience" that leads to greater learning and interest, says Escondido Superintendent Jennifer Walters.

Project LIVE began in September 2003 as an off shoot of an initiative by the San Diego County Office of Education, called the iVIE (Innovative Video in Education) awards, that recognizes standards-based uses of digital media. Shirley created the iVIE awards and later altered the model to make it work in the classroom. Apple's easy-to-use technology iLife, iMovie and iDVD was a major catalyst for creating Project LIVE, says Shirley, who is a former Apple Distinguished Educator.

Training the Teachers

Teachers, who apply to participate in Project LIVE and make a one-year commitment, learn iMovie, storyboarding, video production and editing. Participants must create three standards-based videos with their students (one of which must be submitted to the iVIE awards) and need to continuously integrate the technology into their lessons. Upon completion of the one-year training, each Project LIVE teacher receives $4,300 worth of digital moviemaking equipment for his or her classroom, including an Apple laptop computer, a camcorder, tripod, and an external hard drive to store videos.

Shirley has paid for the equipment and training sessions with federal funds from the Enhancing Education Through Technology program (EETT). Next year, with no funding from EETT, district officials are relying on local businesses, grants, and the local education foundation for financial support.

An Instant Hit

More than 100 instructors applied to participate in Project LIVE for the 2006- 2007 school year. Several teachers have continued in the program for subsequent years (using the same equipment they first received). Eighty-five teachers have gone through the program since its inception. "Project LIVE has become the hook for students who are turned off to school and has helped them express their talents and begin to make improvements in their school work," says Marta Baker, principal of Central Elementary, which has seven graduates of the program.

Baker notes that the program has also boosted teachers' morale. For some teachers, like 60-year-old Stevie Wheeler, Project LIVE has converted them from technophobes into technophiles. Wheeler has two Apple laptops at school, a PC at home, and is learning how to podcast. She uses technology as a regular part of the curriculum for her eighth-grade American history classes at Bear Valley Middle School.

Tracking Progress

Wheeler and her Project LIVE colleagues track student progress with a Web-based student assessment platform to determine in which areas students are progressing or struggling. The software allows Shirley to see how students using Project LIVE score compared to peer classrooms without the technology program. For example, in 2005, a fourth-grade class that used Project LIVE scored 65 points higher on the state reading and language arts exam than a classroom without Project LIVE.

Duplicating Success

Project LIVE's success in Escondido hasn't gone unnoticed. In May, the district received an award from a local education foundation and garnered a total of 21 nominations in this year's Innovative Video in Education (iVIE) Awards. The county office of education plans to roll out the program to other districts in the county, and the California Technology Assistance Project, a statewide educational technology initiative, will help schools in nearby counties.

"We've made such terrific gains with Project LIVE," says Shirley. "Our students, our teachers, everyone who is using this program is really thriving."

Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.