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Beth Newingham


"I first learned about moviemaking at a technology conference that I attended six years ago," Beth Newingham told Education World. "I have always incorporated technology, music, and drama into my classroom, so making movies was a great way to bring those three things together to enhance students' learning."

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Newingham's third graders at Hill Elementary School in Troy, Michigan, use the movie-making process to understand, reinforce, and review concepts they are learning in various areas of the curriculum. They make creative movies to enhance their writing skills, and they involve themselves in the entire process from script-writing to bringing life to each scene.

"Once we have decided on a plot, we create a rough draft of a storyboard on chart paper," explained Newingham. "We determine the scenes we will need and indicate what characters will need to be in each scene. We then list all the acting parts in the movie and add parts if necessary to be sure every student has a role."

Newingham hasn't yet encountered a student who didn't want to star in a movie, but other roles, like stage hands, camera operators, and set or costume designers, also can be listed. Newingham prepares the list of roles, provides a copy of the list to each student, then asks students to rank the roles according to their choices. She tries to give each student one of his or her top five selections. Sometimes, the would-be actors even write a persuasive paragraph to let Newingham know why they believe they are a good match for a specific role.

"Sometimes we film scenes in front of our makeshift green screen, -- a turquoise flannel blanket we tack to a bulletin board wall in our classroom," Newingham reported. "That allows me to project images behind students when editing the video on the computer. For many movies, that makes students look like they are in different states and countries. By using a sturdy tripod, students also can take turns as camera operator."

The ideas for the classroom movies often surface during learning experiences. Students gather in class meetings to brainstorm and select a topic. They take turns explaining their ideas to the group while Newingham records the suggestions. Once a choice is made, students work in teams or partnerships to write scripts for their scenes.

"In the past four years, moviemaking has allowed my students and me to create some memorable movies," said Newingham. "Students have simulated time travel in A Time Machine Adventure, explored the history of the Titanic in A Day Aboard the Titanic, traveled around the world to find our city in Where in the World is Troy, interacted with favorite book characters in Lost in a Book, and looked into the future to see where we would be in 20 years. Theyve even created a music video to promote an all-school skating party. Students absolutely love working as a team and seeing their creative ideas and plans come to life in the final movies."

Short movies and commercials are good places to begin when creating movies in the classroom, advises Newingham. More elaborate productions can be tackled as the teacher gains confidence in the technical aspects of filming and the logistics of managing students and time.

Access to a video camera and a computer with a large hard drive to accommodate captured video is essential, and a DVD burner is required to create DVD copies of productions. Newingham uses the software program Pinnacle Studio to generate her students' movies; shes found it user-friendly, with many helpful features.

"I burn the final movie to a DVD and allow students to take turns taking a copy home as a traveling DVD. Students enjoy holding a movie night with their families and friends when its their turn to bring it home," she added. "We also show some of our best movies to the entire school at morning announcements."

At the end of the school year, Newingham presents as a gift to each of her students a single DVD containing copies of all their class movies. Each production also is accessible through the class Web site.

"Ive found that moviemaking is a great way to build community among students, hone their' writing skills, engage their creative imaginations, and instill confidence even in students who might begin the school year afraid to be in front of the camera!" shared Newingham. "It is certainly a very rewarding experience for both the students and for me as their teacher."

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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