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District Profile

Technology Fireworks

Poway (Calif.) Unified School District

Years ago, we wanted to be able to broadcast to our parents through our own [TV] channel," explains Charlie Garten, discussing the initial interest of his district in video-production technology. "But once we saw Web streaming we decided not to worry about a channel. And now it's gone way beyond that--to become a real teaching and learning tool. It's quite a phenomenon."

Garten is the executive director of educational technology and information services for Poway Unified School District. Located in northwestern San Diego County, Calif., the district has infused many kinds of technology into instruction, including iPAQ handhelds, videoconferencing systems and wireless networks. But the particular phenomenon to which Garten refers is students actually "doing" video themselves. And we're not talking about one movie done by high school seniors--far from it.

"It really takes someone at each school to get video going, but then the sky's the limit." -Charlie Garten, executive director, educational technology and information services

Video production pervades instruction throughout the district's schools. At Creekside Elementary School, for example, a broadcast team of K-5 students provides a 20-minute monthly news program for their school. These youngsters serve in every role: camera person, news anchor, reporter, video switch operator, digital editor, teleprompter and director. Different classes are invited to be the "studio audience," which, in turn, inspires more students to participate.

Similarly, at Meadowbrook Middle School, students from Joe Ismay's five video tech classes produce a live broadcast to deliver the morning announcements, advertise school events and more. Ismay, who's taught the subject for three years, explains the high interest level and waiting list for his class. "Sure, it sounds like fun to them, but they also see that there are a lot of real-world applications." His students use iMovie software on Macintoshes to complete eight or nine productions per semester, including a public service announcement, a personal video about themselves, an interview and a stop-motion animation.

And over at Rancho Bernardo High School, students shoot and narrate footage of the football, basketball and other sports teams for Bronco Magazine, which is streamed from the RB Digital Media Web site. Besides sports, the student-produced video newsmagazine covers current events, field trips and more. Parents and peers can also view live school Webcasts off the Web site, and download students' short films, animations and projects, such as their memorial to 9/11 or award-winning commercial for local car dealerships.

Making movies, meeting standards

While Creekside and Rancho Bernardo schools were the first to implement video production, the notion quickly spread. "Frankly, it just kind of grew on us, but for the right reasons," says Garten of the video technology in Poway's schools. "We saw the enthusiasm from students. But we also saw our kids meeting [academic] standards with it," he continues. "To put together a movie, students have to speak, write, direct, edit, plan and do timelines. That covers a lot of skills and standards."

Teaching strategies have also been affected. "We've found that the ability to create videos has resulted in our teachers turning more to project-based learning," Garten explains. Video is now seen by students and teachers as "a tool that can be used throughout the curriculum and for any grade level," he says.

Indeed, many have been bitten by the video bug. Principal Sonya Wrisley welcomed Mesa Verde Middle School students back to school this fall via a digital video found on the school's Web site. Teacher/coach Pat Sheehan explains the rules of Mesa Verde's PE locker rooms (along with tips such as how to keep "your stuff safe") in a 13-minute movie shot and edited by students. Meadowbrook Middle School now shows campus-produced movies to students on dress code, appropriate conduct and discipline. "It establishes the rules in their mind," says Ismay. "These are 'media-head' kids; they readily respond to video."

Poway's teachers can receive training from the district to further how they use video production for instruction. Plus, both Macintosh and Windows platforms for digital video are available, which Garten feels has proven helpful. "It really takes someone at each school to get video going," adds Garten, "but then the sky's the limit."

In fact, Ranch Bernardo High students won two National Television Academy awards last year for their video productions. And when they traveled to D.C. to accept their honors, students turned that into a news program, too, filming their trip and interviewing people at NBC and CNN. Poway's students also received a few of the Innovative Video in Education 2003 awards, sponsored by the San Diego County Office of Education.

One winning entry came from April Payne's first graders at Highland Ranch Elementary School. Good Readers was their movie about six strategies used for reading. These six- and seven-year-olds wrote the scripts, memorized the lines, filmed the scenes and edited the digital footage with Pinnacle Studio DV 8 on Gateway PCs. Even more, not only did they make the movie, they absorbed its message as well. These students internalized the reading strategies, according to Payne, who has watched them apply the techniques when they read new materials.

"It helps teachers do more projects and it helps students meet standards," Garten says of the benefits of video production to the district. "It doesn't get much better than that."

Beyond the movie set

Making movies isn't the only way video gets integrated into instruction at Poway's schools. A number of campuses also have on-site videoconferencing capability, adding an entirely different dimension to learning.

"Our students have gotten immeasurable opportunities with videoconferencing. Just the public-speaking aspect of it has been amazing to see," says Vicki Wahlsten, a member of the district's IT staff. Having served at Creekside Elementary last year, Wahlsten notes that teachers there can do videoconferencing nearly anywhere because their Polycom-based system is on a mobile network cart and four ISDN lines come into the school.

"They studied sea life with scientists at Sea World in Florida, to see how different it is from what we have here on the West Coast," Wahlsten explains. Another time, second and third graders held a real-time videoconferencing session with an archeologist excavating Indian ruins in Ohio. "They compared and contrasted the Indians he was studying with our local Kumeya'ay tribe," recalls Wahlsten. "It was really fascinating to watch the give-and-take, and the kids seemed to really internalize the information. I think visual learning makes a big impact at this age, when they are still trying to understand the basics of reading."

Now the LAN administrator at Poway High, Wahlsten says many campuses can do videoconferencing, often from their own library media centers or computer labs, or by going to the school system's Joe Rindone Learning Center. "As a district, we're committed to bringing the best tools to our students and teachers and administrators," says Garten. "[Videoconferencing] is just one more part of the toolbox."

All students learning

This technology-infused district has also embraced wireless networks, the Web and handheld computers. Meadowbrook Middle School, for example, has two classroom sets of wireless notebooks as well as a set of iPAQ handheld computers for students' use. Several of the high schools offer Web-based courses, including online Spanish, Biology and American Literature. And everyone can access the district's comprehensive Learning-Point system, based on Blackboard technology. Teachers use it to make and track assignments, provide instructional resources, and keep students (and parents) apprised about tests, homework and what's being studied in class.

" 'All students learning--whatever it takes,' that's Poway Unified's motto," says Garten. "Any technology that can help us do that, we want to make readily available."

Terian Tyre is special projects editor.