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Schools in the frame

Some schools taking part in a national digital video pilot say it could change the face of ICT in schools. Jack Kenny investigates

Wearing a white coat, the scientist stands in front of the class and explains that he is going to teach pupils about resistance. He lets two sheets of paper fall to the ground and records the experiment on video. The process is repeated with one piece of paper scrunched up. "Why does it fall faster? How much faster?" asks the scientist. Playing the video frame by frame or at 24 frames per second, the class measure the rate and watch the paper fall. The scientist is aged 10.

If early indicators are anything to go by, the digital video pilot of the British Electronic Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) is a turning point in schools' use of ICT. Across the board, teachers have been surprised at the way pupils have taken to the complex tasks of editing. Age is no barrier; primary school children have edited video with more aplomb than they have their written work. Equally astonishing is the range of work that has been produced.

In conjunction with Apple, Becta has given 50 iMac computers, each with a Canon digital video camera, to 50 schools, essentially to find out what schools would do with them. Helen Walker, head of practice at Becta, says:

"Through creating video, they will be planning and thinking strategically, they will be learning to learn and, importantly, they will be working as part of a team."

Michael Keenan, a teacher at St Austin's Primary School in Liverpool, used the equipment with his pupils to make a science film - Air Resistance for Eight Year Olds - that won a competition run by Education.com. The film is a straightforward lesson that shows how children would teach. It is also a triumph - utterly clear, and funny too.

The digital video work, insisted Keenan's headteacher, had to link with national curriculum work. Keenan went to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) website (www.qca.org.uk) to see which schemes would suit use of video. He found plenty.

A second project from St Austin's was based around history and the Jarrow March. The children assumed the march had ended in triumph, with all the workers getting their jobs back. So, after research, they had to change the ending from a jaunty march back to Jarrow to a depressing realisation that their future was bleak. It is a remarkable video, with militant workers and cynical politicians, shot through with warm humour.

At Frank Wise Special School (SLD) in Banbury, deputy head Sean O'Sullivan has introduced the digital video machines to every group, from 2 to 16-year-olds. The school already uses Apple computers and most have iMovie and are capable of editing video. This meant O'Sullivan could give each class its own digital video tape, greatly widening participation. Having used analogue video in the past, he has been impressed by the "phenomenal increase" in the quality of the images with digital video.

For its contribution to the project, the school is making a film about inclusion, which features children from every class. "We are very keen that we should be included in the local community; contributing to it, being part of it," explains O'Sullivan. The film is about what inclusion means to each child from the pupils' point of view and there are links to partner schools too. "The children find video motivating," says O'Sullivan.

The school has also used digital video in science classes to illustrate irreversible processes, such as breaking an egg. "If you record it and export it to QuickTime you can reverse it. The children can look at it normally being broken and the reverse will show it being put back together," says O'Sullivan.

Wendy Bowe, ICT co-ordinator at Cockermouth School in Cumbria, is convinced that digital video is going to have an impact across the curriculum; English, history, maths, drama, geography, PE and science have all benefited from the new system. The science department is preparing a series of short experiments that can be put on the web so that children can access them at home and in school. Meanwhile, the history department has recorded an interview with a holocaust survivor and an expert on World War I: "The history department are doing role-play with kids and editing some material at the moment. Videoing is usually done in the lessons and the editing is then done in the children's own time."

One student in the sixth form wrote a piece on the local castle and local legends. He had a specific audience in mind; children with learning difficulties. The script has been translated into Arabic so that it can be used by one of their partner schools in Jordan. Another student in Year 9 has been writing plainsong for a soundtrack to one video.

Bowe believes students need to do a lot of planning - storyboards, scripting, narration - before they start and says projects should not be too ambitious. She says: "There is nothing here that will make Stephen Spielberg eat his heart out but the kids have enjoyed it and will have learned so much."

Digital video pilot

* The scheme's partners are: Apple, Canon and 4Learning (the educational arm of Channel 4)

* The successful schools received: an Apple iMac (G3, 500MHz) with built-in CD burner and iMovie software along with 10 QuickTime Pro licences; Canon MV 400i DV digital camera (or equivalent)

* Schools have agreed to share existing commitment to developing pupil creativity skills and make edited video pieces available to Becta Learning points

* Opportunities for video use can be found across the curriculum

* Scripting, story boarding and planning are important

* Video a great deal of material; shape it by editing

* Use video to create resources

* Digital video provides a focus and purpose for research

* Use video to preserve work and occasions

* Use video to analyse skills

* Animation works well with digital video

* Capture material for the archives and parents

* Enable students to use digital video to teach others

* Use video for reflecting on role-play

* Editing can increase understanding of editing text

* Create your own soundtracks - it's more challenging and copying from CDs could infringe copyright

* Think of scene transitions as punctuation

* Unedited video can be as powerful as edited

* Remember, there are no rules: experiment, report and share A discussion forum for anyone interested in using digital video has been made available (anyone can join): digitalvideo@becta.org.uk The full report on the digital video pilot will be released in July at www.becta.org.uk. A CD-Rom will also be produced, with advice for teachers and video clips from the pilot, for release in September.

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