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Every Day Counts – Improving School Attendance

Like to say how thrilled I was today at the launch of the Every Day Counts campaign at the Keighley Picture House.  Fifteen schools in the central Keighley got together to form the campaign and I had the pleasure of producing the film.

See the report and part of the film on the BBC website

The film was a collaborative affair with the schools and students providing much of the effort. I think making films with the schools – as opposed for the schools – is so much more rewarding. What has impressed me most has been the way the schools in the locality have been able to work together. Decisions are made quickly and without fuss and support can readily be found for good ideas. All the teachers, students and parents were a joy to work with.

The event at The Picture House was was the focus for much of the publicity. A number of newspapers turned up and BBC Look North reported on the event.

Yorkshire was recently recorded as having the highest level of truancy from secondary school and the second highest overall truancy rate behind only inner London. And within Yorkshire Keighley is not performing at all well overall.

You can follow the campaign on Facebook.

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Televising the revolution

A bit about the Media Team plans (one or two people have asked). Next week I'm kicking off a video focused team at Our Lady of Victories School in Keighley.

Schoolx

Many schools have radio stations and a few even do TV shows. OLV school already has a successful radio station which is brilliant.

Some projects, and those in higher education as well, seem to be modelled on very old production formats. Even the term TV has a lot of old fashioned baggage. So I hope the children will use the tools in a free and imaginative way – not just produce a show that looks like BBC regional news which has been around for half a century.

Thankfully I detect there is a loosening of old style media skills teaching. I don't know where it will go but I hope the media team next week will come up with some real innovations about how to organise, film, edit, present. Looking at all the potential platforms and audiences.

The plan is to achieve the following:

  • Employ and develop a full range of creative skills within a complete team, not just the obvious technical bits like cameras.
  • Allow the team to innovate and change for the better how media is made – doing it their way.
  • Produce a high quality product.
  • Have a real purpose for the product – e.g. enhancing communication between parents and school.

I am sure we are getting to a point where children already have a place in the media environment – without needing to be employed by it. So this would be no simulation.

We are aiming to do a termly show at OLV school and will be setting this up next week. I'll let you know how it goes.

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Why do school media departments buy poor video camcorders?

I've been helping three schools in the Leeds area record interviews for a Leeds Council project.  The schools have enthusiastic and able ICT teachers and the children are engaged with the project.  Among the interviewees are some high profile political figures including Peter Hain MP. The process of researching, preparing and conducting these intyerviews is a superb learning experience.

One of the schools is even equipped with nine Final Cut edit workstations so you'd think that they were well placed to capitalise on this opportunity.  But there's just one problem – there's been little or no investment in decent video cameras that can capture sound via an external microphone.

So if you are a school wanting to go out and conduct video interviews can I recommend a video camera with an external microphone input and a microphone on a long lead.  Google these suggestions:

Sony XR550V Hard Disk Drive camcorder

JVC Memory Camcorder GZ-HM1SEK

Canon LEGRIA FS200

For higher end semi-professional, The Sony HVE AE1 is probably too expensive.

Microphones Audio Technica   The high quality boundary mic is an interesting option for table interviews.

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“Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be”

May I recommend this TED lecture to you (please don't be alarmed by the Arthur C. Clarke quote).

In India Sugata Mitra conducted a fascinating experiment in self instruction among children. He installed PCs in remote areas and observed as children worked out how to use them. 

One school drop-out had never seen a PC before (he thought it was a TV) but worked out how to use it in only eight minutes without any intervention. The same day he went on to teach a group of other children. "The machine only used english, so we had to learn english", said one child.

He says that children can learn as much from watching as they can from doing, and often the younger children will teach the older children.

Sugata Mitra tells the story of his "hole in the wall project" which challenges some of the key assumptions of formal education

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Creative Project – order or chaos?

I've been reviewing some of the projects I have been involved with recently and thinking about how they could have been improved.

The conclusion I have come to is that most creative projects are to some degree chaotic and uncertain; You can't always predict how they are going to run. You have to be flexible and responsive to new ideas and directions as they come up.

That said, there is possibly value in at least attempting to structure the management of creative projects around tried and tested ideas. A creative project, like any other, has process steps and milestones. One reason why creative projects often fail is because not enough time is spent understanding the purpose of the project and refining the ideas around that purpose.  Sadly is is all to easy to forge ahead with half baked ideas with no idea of why we're doing it!

Step 1: The brief

Be sure about the purpose of the project and why it has come about. You might call this the creative challenge.

Get down on paper a description of what you hope to achieve, who it is for and why it is important.  For example –  Encourage year four children to take pride in their town by revealing its glorious history. We're doing this because ……

Set out what you want to achieve, how you are going to approach it,  who it is for and  why it is important.  

Step 2:  Ideas

Once we have a brief we can set about coming up with ideas (in the above case for revealing the town's glorious history).  Not enough time is ever spent coming up with ideas or evaluating them.  I would say that this is one of the biggest reason for the failure of creative projects.   The temptation is to settle on the first and most obvious idea you come up with. Often the crazy ideas are sidelined at the outset, and yet these are often the most interesting.

Make plenty time for coming up with as many ideas as possible, even the crazy ones, and evaluate them according to the brief.

There are many techniques for coming up with ideas – here are some.  Thinking Hats for evaluating ideas, Mind Mapping with which I'm sure you are familiar, and a favorite of mine, The Creative Whack Pack

Product_image

Step 3: Planning

Do you decide on the team and resources before you have an idea or after?  I would say that it's sometimes better to come up with the idea first with a small core team and then pitch for people and resources once you have the idea.  That way you'll get what you need rather than having to put up with what you have got.

Careful planning of the resources and the timetable, setting of realistic deadlines and getting agreements.

Step 4: Action

Well planned activity with a great idea behind it should be exciting. Any problems will be quickly resolved because of a solid commitment to the purpose of the project.

Step 5: Celebration

The positive outcome should be shared and celebrated beyond the immediate team. The more external praise and feedback the better. A public film screening, a party for those who contributed, a commemorative web page.  The legacy of successful projects should be preserved so that the benefits can be made available to the greatest number of people for the longest amount of time.

Step 6: Review

A constructive examination of the project should always be part of its legacy.  Did it meet the brief? What were the points of learning and so on.

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This may all seem obvious – in which case I apologies – but I need to remind myself just how important these project steps really are and that to skimp on any of them will weaken the outcome.

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Henry and the magic wallpaper

The grizzly  times of the Tudors and Henry's willy nilly habit of chopping off heads has a natural appeal for year four children. 

At this school we wanted to combine music, writing, film, animation and the wonderful technique known as green-screen – or perhaps blue-screen; Chroma Separation Overlay, CSO if you want to show off. 

This film takes some of the more unsavory facts about life on the Mary Rose as a starting point. We also wanted to involve the children in a variety of interesting ways – particularly to include some of the less confident and disruptive children.  For example, some of the drawings we included may be very simple and not hugely demanding to create  but we found a place for them in the finished piece.  

There is a natural tendency for the professional film maker to be concerned about maintaining a high standard but this must not be at the expense of including less confident children. This should not just be a showcase for the most talented children but  a way of unlocking talent and confidence in the least confident ones.  Otherwise why are we doing this?

Step 1

A mind mapping session to unlock all the facts the children had learned about life on the Mary Rose

Step 2

Using Garage Band create a rap backing track

Step 3

Listen to the backing track and practice writing and performing words to the rhythm of the track.

Step 4

The children in their own time (and with the rhythm in their heads) all write their own rap songs

Step 5

We select the best ideas from each of the songs to create a single rap to be used in the film

Step 6

Tasks are introduced and allocated to the team – animating the ship, drawing pictures, operating the camera and lights, recording the sound, performing, setting up the green screen, finding images, directing etc.

Step 7

Animating session.  We filmed the ship against a coloured screen and created the sea out of rolled up coloured paper which we animated manually. Pictures were drawn, biscuits were filmed, flames and rats were scanned.  The scurvy ridden faces were drawn.

Step 8

The green-screen session. The screen was set up facing a large area of windows so we had a lot of soft natural light. This was a hugely popular activity. The children decided to call this set-up the magic wallpaper.

The backing track was played from a CD player. Jobs included director, camera operator, sound and performers.

Step 9

Editing.  The editing for this was too complex for the the schools own software so most of it was carried out off-site.  However I think there is scope in future for sections of these films to be edited by the children.

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Learning

I liked the wide range of tasks and skills that this project involved, it was very inclusive. It didn't just use traditional animation techniques but required a range of solutions.  There was a high degree of problem solving particularly making the ship and water move – the children were fully engaged in finding their own way of doing this. 

Some of the less confident children appeared in front of the camera and some of the more modest drawing attempts were used in the film – this was obviously appreciated by the children concerned.

We had some positive discussion about making mistakes – if something didn't work we called it learning and improving. A mistake in the filming could be an entertaining out-take.

The green-screen was such a success that I am helping the school set up its own permanent green-screen (magic wallpaper).

Click here to get more information and to make contact

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Free software for viewing and editing your videos

There's a lot of frustration over the compatibility of small popular video cameras and some basic editing software packages, as far as I can see.  For example the popular Flip cameras produce excellent results but MP4 is not a great editing format and may not even be viewable on some laptops running Microsoft Movie Maker.

VideoPad

Main_s 

I've been having a look at VideoPad which includes a free video editing software version for Windows.  I have not tried it in earnest yet but it looks quite neat and can handle a number of file types – probably more flexible than Moviemaker in this respect. It might be a good companion for the Flip cameras, but let's see.

Audacity

A big weakness with many free video editing packages is the limited number of audio tracks. Generally you can cut the audio with the pictures and add a commentary layer but that's about it. The number of audio tracks is a difference between amateur and professional editing packages. Great audio can have a huge impact for your video.

Audacity-linux-small
 

A lot of fun can be had preparing an exciting audio track so think about using another free programme Audacity to create muti-track audio for your video. You can usually open the video file directly in Audacity, edit the audio and then re-import the finished audio back into the video editing software.

VLC Media Player

Vlc
 

Finally, if you have difficulty viewing some video files  you might have a look at the free VLC Media Player. It plays many file types and can do some media conversion as well.

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Wall of Secrets

The idea:
One of the schools in Keighley wanted to take the theme of "lots of hidden things" for their film. They didn't want to take a single person, place or event but to encourage the children to look at their environment for signs of history. The emphasis was on walking about and looking.  They came up with the idea of a wall of secrets which worked well since most of the historical clues seemed to be embedded in walls of one sort or another. Amy Heild helped the children make a puzzle made of numbered bricks. When the bricks were constructed in the right way they made a victorian street scene.

The cinema film used this puzzle – the wall of secrets – as a theme, out of which would come the information about the town's history. 

Technology:
The children used Flip cameras to record the information.  The opening sequence of the film involved pretty much the whole school and involved the camera being pulled backwards on a chair with wheels. We used a Canon 5D MK high definition camera for the playground sequence and employed some of the children as crew. The idea for the special effects came from the class and was beyond the capability of Widows Move Maker! – so Final Cut Pro was used for this effect.  Although some of these techniques were beyond the school to achieve themselves, I felt that by making these tools available I was able to put no restrictions on their imagination – if they wanted a magical wall then they could have one.

Learning:
The teacher set the creative bar very high and didn't settle on the first idea that came along. He was open to ideas as they came along and imagined that anything was possible. There was a high level of risk taking and a willingness to experiment with new or seemingly impossible ideas. The children were highly motivated by the large amount of visual media generated by this project – there was a high volume of photography and video used not only in the film but in the course of the everyday teaching. 

Click here to get more information and to make contact

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Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

I've been listening to the Today programme talking about the idea for making schools into academies so I thought I'd share this  TED talk with you.

Maybe you saw a talk given a while ago by Ken Robinson (this is the follow up),  or have read his book "The Element".  He discusses the need to revolutionise education which, he says, is more appropriate for a linear industrial age; life is not linear but organic. We have to move to a model which is based more on the principles of agriculture – human flourishing is an organic process and not a manufacturing process. Like a farmer, all you can do is create the conditions under which people can flourish

He says we have become enthralled by ideas which meet yesterday's needs.

He reminds us that most teenagers don't wear a wrist watch because we live in a digital world where the time is always available – yet older people often take wearing a watch for granted.

At the heart of his ideas is the connecting of talent, passion and opportunity.