Every picture tells a story

Making TV shows helps learning, writes Tony Sherborne.

The menu said asparagus and chicken confit ragout, but I'd no idea what it would taste like. I imagine it's much the same for students if they read that "controversy rages over the uncertainty in scientists' interpretation of the evidence". When you've no experience to draw on, you can't really make sense of a text - a problem when trying to make students scientifically literate. The way to deepen one's understanding of cooking, or science, is to become a "producer" rather than just a consumer. That is, learning how to cook the recipe.

For science, my project team has come up with a teaching approach to turn students into producers - television producers. Step into a cutting room to watch a non-scientist making a science documentary and you'll be impressed at their grasp of "ideas and evidence". The thinking process involved in putting together the programme - selecting and organising all the clips - is a powerful teacher.

Inspired by this example, we've built a teaching package where students construct short video news reports about topical issues in order to learn more about benefits, risk and uncertainties. Called StoryMaker, it is made up of a specially designed video editing tool, together with a set of video clips for a topic. It was created for the project Red Hot Science, a NESTAPlanet Science initiative to motivate pupils in "challenged schools", and will be available in early spring.

How does it work? The topical issue we've chosen is biotechnology. As producer, your brief is to make a two-minute report for TV news:

"Biotechnology has huge medical benefits, but what if findings fell into the hands of terrorists? Your report should cover the benefits, the risks and what we can do about them." At your disposal are a range of interview clips with scientists, plus general shots of disasters, labs, and material for the introduction and conclusion.

StoryMaker focuses on ease of use. The first step is to watch the interviews and classify whether they belong in the benefits, risks, or solutions section. Choose the best (potential for student discussion here as it has to be cut to two minutes). It's simple to drag and drop clips to a "timeline" and re-order them as you like.

Step three is commentary. Here you're given prompts to help write an introduction and summing-up at the end. The software tool allows you to record it.

That's the TV report finished, and teachers have commented how refreshing it is for science students to make something they can be proud of.

Some teachers will question whether this kind of software has a place in science (isn't it media studies?). It's a different mindset from much of the highly content driven ICT that's currently popular. However, we've heard noises that teachers are frustrated by these superficially interactive programmes. They want engaging activities that give students a real purpose, and see ICT as a powerful thinking tool, not simply "colourful images on screens". A picture may be worth a thousand words, but an experience is worth a thousand pictures.

StoryMaker is available from the Science UPD8 website www.upd8.org.ukRed Hot Science is a NESTAPlanet Science project from CSE in collaboration with the Association for Science Education Tony Sherborne is creative director for the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University

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