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Film Education is promoting video editing as a path to help children to develop their literary skills. George Cole puts you in the picture

When we go to the movies, we usually sit back and watch the big screen. But at this year's BETT technology show in London, the participants in its premier film event were anything but passive. BETT Goes to the Movies (BGM) was a joint venture between Film Education, the British Film Institute, Apple Computer and Ultralab, Anglia Polytechnic University's educational research centre.

If you had visited the BGM stand you would have seen groups of students sitting around colourful iMac computers and working intently on a variety of media - digital video, still pictures, audio and text. Using Apple's QuickTime Pro software, the children were viewing, editing and manipulating sound, images and text to create film clips and trailers.

The children, aged 8-16, came from Youth Culture Television, Film and Video Workshop, South East England Virtual Action Zone (SEEVAZ) and the Weekend Arts College (WAC). Many of the students were working on topics that are available on your free Picturing Literacy CD-Rom.

"This was our first time at BETT, and we weren't sure what to expect, but we were amazed at what the kids were able to do. They were totally immersed for an hour or more, and you had all kinds of skills being used, both technical and social," says Ian Wall, director of Film Education.

Film Education was founded in 1985 and its aim is to promote the study of film and cinema in the curriculum. Film Education offers a variety of educational resources (many of them free) including CD-Roms (titles include Lord of the Rings and Chicken Run), study packs, in-service training courses, online materials, workshop seminars and events. But Film Education's materials aren't just about promoting film editing skills or media studies - they can be used across many curriculum areas and they can help develop many other skills, such as literacy.

Ian Wall says one of the resources being developed by Film Education and previewed at BETT was inspired by watching a teacher struggle to teach World War One poetry to a group of pupils who did not find the subject inspiring. The resulting package, Poetry in Motion, includes poetry text, narration and a combination of archive footage and film specially shot for the topics. The footage was shot on professional equipment and is therefore high quality.

"The pupils had to prepare a script, which obviously involved reading the poem. They then had to decide how they were going to edit their film so that the text, narration and music matched their images," says Wall. "At the end of the exercise, the kids had not only understood the poem, but they had gained some visual literacy skills. It's far more effective than simply handing kids a camera and telling them to go and shoot something."

Although Poetry in Motion is designed to develop literacy skills, Wall says a number of history teachers who saw the materials at BETT said they could also use them in their lessons. "We'll be putting together a package and giving teachers a template to work from," he adds.

Wall says he's excited by the possibilities offered by information and communications technology, but adds that his attitude to ICT can be summarised by an exchange he had with a visitor to the BETT stand. "I was asked by a teacher 'what sort of computer are you using?' and I replied 'it's a blue one.' I'm really not interested in how many megabytes a computer has, so long as it can let me do what I want to do."

Julie Roberts, Film Education's primary education officer, says: "The children are using open-ended material so there are thousands of possibilities on how to do things. These types of activity are empowering for the kids."

Wall adds that many children are confident users of ICT: "There was a 10-year-old girl who brought in her own music CD and used some of it for a soundtrack on a video about the Suffragettes. The kids were totally unfazed and just got on with it. The confidence they had was superb."

Film Education Tel: 0207 976 2291www.filmeducation.org To celebrate the launch of the Apple Picturing Literacy CD-Rom, Film Education and Warner Village Cinemas are offering the first 10 teachers to register for the free QuickTime Pro key (opposite) a free annual double pass to any Warner Village Cinema. See terms and conditions opposite page.

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