School Video News came across McKillop Elementary as winners of a recent Shortie Award in the 7-10 year old category for daily news broadcasts, sponsored by the International Shortie Awards Film Competition. Make sure to watch some of their work featured in our VIDEO section. Doug Valentine and his wife take us aboard Starship McKillop.
SVN: Tell us about your background and how you decided to start teaching TV/Video production?
DV: I am the Librarian at McKillop Elementary but before that I spent many years running a Youth Theatre program. That training has helped out quite a bit in the performance end of doing the news. My wife and I started making educational videos about 7 years ago. We started a science series called “Blinding you with Science” featuring Dr. Loopy and friends teaching science concepts in a funny and entertaining way. We started putting our work on Teachertube and it really took off. We then began doing videos with the kids in a number of subject areas and even tried a little bit of animation. When the school decided last year to go this direction for our morning announcements it was just natural for me to head it up. I’ve really created it as we went along.
SVN: How did you obtain initial funding for your program? How do you fund the class now?
DV: We didn’t have any funding for our program. My Principal came to me and asked if we could have a special activity that met before school in which we did announcements that we could put on our share drive. Our school theme was “The Starship McKillop” so we based our news program around that theme. All of our backgrounds looked like the inside of a Starship and the crew all wore uniforms and referred to themselves as Lt. Commanders. Since I had been doing videos in front of a makeshift green screen the year before, the school decided to upgrade and paint an entire room green for our studio space. They also let me order an additional light kit which helped out quite a bit in the look of the news broadcast. They have been supportive in anything I have needed. I was fortunate that I already owned a camera and editing program and had the experience to jump right in.
SVN: Did you have equipment available?
DV: I had a set of lights, an HD camera that belonged to me, Sony Vegas Video to do editing, and I bought a good quality microphone. We added more equipment as the year went on. We added my laptop as a teleprompter, several field interview mikes with the school news flags, an upgraded tripod, and our cool uniform shirts.
SVN: How many kids are in the TV/Video Production classes? How is it broken down? Is it a multi-year program?
DV: The news crews were divided into three teams with five on each team. We also had 6 additional students that would do spots during the year as we needed them. All students were 4th graders (our highest grade level) and they stayed the whole year. We don’t have a multi year program.
SVN: Can you tell us a little more about the sessions: How long are the classes? How many students? What types of projects?
DV: Our production group wasn’t really a class. I did train them as we went along on some best practices. We all learned together. The students came in a 7:15 each morning which was 30 minutes early for them. We would shoot the news and then they would go on “assignment” as necessary for that day. Sometimes they would interview students or teachers or cover early morning events. Sometimes we had our own features we put together. The crews always enjoyed covering the school’s special events. Our 4th grade took a trip to Austin in the spring and I gave one of the crews flip vids to record their impressions of the trip. Then we made a special about the trip looking at it from all the different points of view. It was lots of fun.
SVN: How many kids to do the morning news broadcast? Do you also do a weekly broadcast? Special events coverage?
DV: Since ours was a daily broadcast we included special events as a part of what we did. Sometimes teachers would suggest stories to cover in their classrooms and we also sent reporters to cover any school wide event. They also came up with special reports called “Right Way-Wrong Way.” The crew would go out and demonstrate the correct and incorrect ways to do things like using the swings, walking in the halls, and eating in the cafeteria.
SVN: What jobs do the kids do? Do the kids rotate through on-air talent and crew positions or are they “hired” for a specific task?
DV: The three crews rotated weekly. Each of the crew had a specific area they reported on for that day. Sometimes it would just be a short paragraph because of the way our news was set up. They were very quick bits of information. When they were not on camera the students took turns running the camera. We had a couple of students who did some editing. When they did their field reports I sent them out in couples or in threes and they would all rotate doing interviews, cueing, and running the camera.
SVN: Do students audition for on-air positions?
DV: Actually our first five students were our elected Student Council officers. They handled the first couple of weeks until we could get out applications to the other students. I didn’t audition them but they had to fill out an application. I also checked with the teachers on recommendations.
SVN: Do they write the content?
DV: They suggested some of the stories and usually wrote the questions they asked in the field. We really worked with them to ask open ended questions and use good interview techniques. When they were in the studio it was usually the basics like the lunch, pledges, and announcement type news. The features outside the studio and interviews were what they enjoyed the most. On Fridays we would all create a way for them to “leave” the ship (from where we broadcast the news) or have some funny “disaster” on board they had to deal with. It was a fun way to end each week for the crews and the audience.
SVN: How long does the show run?
DV: We shot our news one day ahead and had daily shows Monday through Friday. We produced over 160 news shows during the school year that averaged 6-8 minutes each day. We figured we shot about 17 hours of continuous news during the school year.
SVN: Do you submit programming to independent contest such as those sponsored by StudicaSkills and SchoolTube TV?
DV: My wife and I have won several video competitions over the last few years. This year we won a $30,000 classroom makeover from eInstruction for a music video we produced with her class of 3rd graders. As far as our news broadcast goes, we entered the International Shortie Awards Film Competition this year and won the 7-10 year old category for daily news broadcasts. We were very proud to win this international competition in our first year of doing the news.
SVN: Can your broadcast be viewed outside the school? District-wide? Local cable access? On your school/district web-site?
DV: The main broadcast to the school was done over the share drive. We don’t have and closed circuit and we just don’t have the bandwidth to stream effectively yet. I put the news on daily and teachers pulled it off as it fit into their early morning schedule. We also put the broadcasts online on our school Glog so parents are able to access them at home. This has been very popular.
SVN: Do you have an equipment list you can share with our readers?
DV: I use a Canon Vixia HD camera as our primary camera.
Flip Vids on occasion
Laptop which serves as a teleprompter
Lowel Light kit
Several cheap Sony Microphones
Sony Vegas Video 8.0 Pro
Tripod and mini tripods
White board for assignments and ideas.
SVN: Have any quick start tips!
DV: Start with what you have. Don’t wait to get the best equipment to give it a go. Creativity and enthusiasm are the most important ingredients.