Sweet creativity

With the help of software to put it all together, nine-year-olds in Cambridgeshire have been making programmes for broadcast. Dorothy Walker reports

Focused reporting: Oliver Wilson, Anna-May Duddridge and Peter Carrington of Crosshall Junior School

It takes confidence to be a reporter, especially if you are only nine years old. But the job holds no fears for pupils at Crosshall Junior School in Cambridgeshire, who have been filming news packages for a worldwide audience. They have also been producing advertisements and short feature films, and taking their first steps in radio broadcasting. In all the projects, they have been able to take a creative approach to literacy through the use of digital media.

The young journalists' careers began last July, when they covered an ICT conference held by the East of England Broadband Network (E2BN). Two dozen children from Years 5 and 6 went along to capture the highlights. John East, head of ICT at Crosshall, says: "We wanted to put speaking and listening activities into a real-life context, allowing pupils to practise their skills at a newsworthy event, rather than taking part in something that had been artificially created in the classroom."

The children operated in teams, approaching delegates and requesting interviews, which they recorded as video and audio clips. The group had digital still and video cameras and iBook laptops with them. All the equipment is familiar to them as they begin working with digital media in Year 3. They start by creating simple animations, and the aim is to develop a range of skills so that, when they tackle a project, they can choose the medium they feel best stimulates their creativity.

One highlight of the conference was a workshop by Oscar Stringer, an animator and filmmaker who had helped train Crosshall's staff. John says:

"The pupils interviewed Oscar, then spoke to some of the delegates who were learning about applying animation in the classroom. The children were able to contribute, telling the adults about their own animation projects and experiences. It was a great confidence booster."

The pupils used Apple's iLife software to edit their material and put together their reports, which they filed to Making the News (MTN), a website that helps children publish news about their school. Text, images, audio and video footage can be uploaded to the site, and MTN also features information on how news is gathered and reported by the media, together with activities for schools.

The children now use MTN regularly to publicise what is happening at Crosshall, and reports have ranged from the progress of building works to the introduction of drum lessons. When design and technology students were studying ways of making biscuits, they filmed their own celebrity chef - a Year 5 girl - demonstrating how to make the group's flapjack recipe, and posted the piece on MTN. John says: "A production team of seven collaborated on the flapjack feature, and all were able to contribute ideas. In a traditional literacy context, some children would have found it difficult to make a contribution."

John's Year 4 class used MTN to look at newspaper reporting as the introduction to an exercise on advertising. He says: "We went on to look at advertising copy to see how the literacy component of the ads had changed with time. The older examples often included a whole story, but now there is very little text-based advertising and much of the emphasis is on visual impact."

The children then scripted and produced their own ads on video, choosing to promote the message that school uniform is cool. They staged a fashion show ad on a catwalk, coming up with eye-catching slogans that would make a big impact on screen. There was a sports ad featuring children playing table tennis, and they videoed themselves in the playground, adding comic effects by fast-forwarding the action and running some sequences in reverse.

On a residential visit to Grafham Water, Year 4 demonstrated what they had learned about story structure by scripting and making mini-movies on location. John says: "They used the structure they had been working with in class - introduction, build-up, conflict, resolution - to frame stories that were prompted by the location, and told through video." Work ranged from a narrative on the adventure activities at Grafham to a whodunnit entitled The Baked Bean Thief.

John says: "If you ask children to write a story, many feel inhibited. The use of digital media gets them over that stumbling block - they can choose from a variety of approaches and use what they have learned in a truly creative way. They can take the seed of an idea and just run with it and see where it goes."

Pupils have also been trialling a radio station, CJS Waves. Material is recorded and compiled on the computer and broadcast in the dining hall and playground. John says: "We have been looking at podcasting - producing radio-style shows for iPods via the internet - as a way of encouraging the children to share their work. However, copyright issues mean that we would be restricted in the material we could use, unless we had a broadcasting licence, which is not attainable for a primary school. But the children could podcast our regular newsletter, and there would be no issues with that."

The radio work is done at Crosshall's digital media production club, which John runs as a way of testing out ideas before they are introduced to the classroom. Different year groups are invited at different times of year - at the moment it is the turn of Years 3 and 4.

In all the projects the pupils have used Apple's iLife, a suite of editing software that allows them to be creative with photos, movies and music.

John says it has been one of the keys to success, because it allows them to mix and match audio, video and still images with ease, and to share their work in a variety of ways, without getting involved in technicalities. "If they had to worry about technical issues such as the format of files, it would undermine the whole creative concept," he says. "Children have to be able to do the work themselves, and the technology has to work first time, or else they will be loath to try again."

l iLife '06 software (free with new Macs) includes iPhoto for photo editing, iMovie HD for moviemaking, GarageBand for recording music and podcasts, iDVD for creating DVDs and iWeb for creating websites and blogs.

Apple, pound;50.53 Tel: 0800 039 1010

www.apple.comukeducationproductsilife Making the News: mtn.e2bn.net

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