Today’s techies

June 1-7, 2006
Today’s techies
By St. John the Evangelist staff
St. John the Evangelist School employs technology in the classroom

BINGHAMTON — Five years ago, the English students at St. John the Evangelist School (SJS) in Binghamton, NY, embarked upon an experiment using digital video in the classroom for their movie project, Star Wars: The Fall of the Jedi. The result was a 45 minute movie burned to DVD with trailers, behind the scenes footage, commentary, and of course, bloopers. The year-long project was a resounding success, and it left English teacher Kevin Lucia thinking of other ways to integrate digital technology more fully into the curriculum and use digital video as a learning tool.

“The thing that struck me the most was the potential of digital video in the classroom,” says Lucia. “During our project, we had kids writing their own lines and reciting them, designing scenes, handling digital video and still cameras, and associating with kids outside of their normal peer and clique groups. After the movie was over, I thought to myself, ‘What can I do with this next?’ ” The biggest issue was making it practical for every day class use. “I had been very fortunate to have a friend in the computer business lend me some high-end software for the movie, as well as an unusually dedicated group of students. I knew the Star Wars movie could never be duplicated, because the software we used was a little too difficult for all the students to master, and when was I going to be teaching 15-some Star Wars fanatics again? I simply wanted to find a way to harness digital video for its educational purposes.”

After many trials and experiments, the students at St. John the Evangelist school are now getting premium exposure to digital video and its many educational uses in the classroom. Through several different grants, Lucia has constructed a “blue-screen/green-screen” room, which can be used for video chroma-keying, (filming in front of a colored screen and using a computer program to replace the screen with any type of background, still or video), in which he runs a weekly after-school video club for grades 5-8. Additionally, St. John’s was asked to be a part of a New York State Educational Technology grant with the surrounding Binghamton area schools. As part of the grant, St. John’s received 15 brand new Apple Ibook laptops, on which students create video book reports using the program Imovie. They film, edit, and create their own movies, using a program called Garage Band to make introduction and credits music.

The most crucial factors contributing to the growth of St. John’s Audio/Visual department would be the influx of wireless laptops from Seneca Data in Syracuse, a recent grant from the Broome County Teacher Center, and the contributions of parents and supporters in the St. John’s community. The integration of digital video ready laptops with Windows Movie Maker pre-loaded onto them has had an immeasurable impact on the media program. “We struggled with the older computers we had; they ‘crashed’ a lot,” says Lucia, “and the programs for video I had were difficult to learn. These new XP computers are all DV [digital video] ready, and Windows Movie Maker is an extremely easy program to use.”

Recently, Lucia wrote a grant to the Teacher Center of Broome County and was awarded $500 to purchase a digital video program called Visual Communicator 2, as well as add a green screen to his video room. With VC2, the students of SJS, under the supervision of Lucia, create their own digital video news broadcast, which airs monthly in their classrooms, on their website, and on the Binghamton area local cable access television channel. The students write their own lines and reporter questions, operate the cameras, and create PowerPoint presentations for the teleprompt. They also do basic editing as well, trimming video clips, adding titles, credits, and soundtrack music.

Finally, generous contributions over the past few years from SJS parents and supporters have played a key role. “We have one nice Canon digital camera, but we try to keep that as safe as we can. A couple of years ago, our PTG [Parent/Teacher Guild], bought us an analog converter, which converts VHS tapes to digital video. I then asked parents to donate any unused VHS cameras, so we could utilize them for various reporting activities.”

The students are exposed to other ways of using digital video for educational purposes as well. In Lucia’s computer classes, all fifth to eighth grade SJS students gain a basic understanding of Windows Movie Maker and how it can be used for a variety of projects. “I want them to know how to use it for lots of different things,” Lucia says. “They can make slideshows, movies, or audio clips and insert them into PowerPoint presentations or create a video CD presentation for any subject, and they also help make picture slideshows of school events for the school website.”

The future has a lot of things in store for SJS students. “I see media awareness, media literacy as being very important in our media-oriented society,” states Lucia. In the future, the St. John’s English teacher also hopes to create an actual unit surrounding media awareness and the history of television and print media.

“I’d also like to get into radio production too, and start running ‘digital radio broadcasts’ from our school website, which are very easily created in Windows Movie Maker,” ponders Lucia, “as well as do more with coverage of our various sports programs. The possibilities are almost limitless.”
The big goal: in about a year or so, Lucia would like to run a “Catholic Schools of Broome County” summer film academy, open to all students in the community. “It’s time the Catholic schools really started showing that we do offer things that public schools do not. I think digital video and media awareness is going to be a great way to do this.”

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