Movie magic captivates its producers

8th June 2001 at 01:00
iMovies has made video projects possible and that is good news for teachers. One of the UK's leading practitioners, Vivi Lachs, shows how to get shooting, and in our next issue she will show how to edit the videos you have made.

My motto has always been "don't trip over the technology". I have tried to find the most simple-to- use programs, which have the most sophisticated processes and outcomes. This has led to using open-ended presentation software, where learning to use the program does not get in the way of learning anything else.

These are programs that encourage a class of students to think through ideas, debate their point of view, plan collaboratively, and feel part of the creation of a final product that can be displayed on the walls or the Web. Consequently, multimedia and Web authoring have become commonplace in Hackney schools. Digital video editing has not, until now that is.

iMovie has changed the way all teachers can think about video, because it has become an option. One Year 10 boy looks up from editing his science video on forensic testing and comments: "It's pretty easy, innit?" A Year 9 English class films its role-play from three angles before editing 15 minutes down to a punchy two. Six Year 11 students bunch around one computer engrossed in discussing and editing a small section of film from their PE class about muscles used in different sports. A 14-year-old girl, who has never spoken before in front of the whole class, gives opinions on-screen. A boy with special needs has been on-task throughout a video project. If a class of 30 boisterous Year 10 boys can produce creative video in science without tripping over the technology, there is something here worth a second glance.

Camcorders are often used as a way of recording holidays and grandchildren's antics, so why make movies in schools? Within the confines of a crowded curriculum, making subject-content movies may be seen as a luxury impossible to fit in, or as a creative backwater that is unnecessary. There may or may not be a direct connection between making multimedia and movies, and improving exam results - what is certain is that there is a strong connection with motivation and attendance.

The challenge of creating new learning experiences for students within the space constraints takes some thought. One Hackney secondary school has created partnerships between IT and different subject areas, so that a regular Year 9 digital movie option takes its content from the French or geography the students studied the previous term.

The learning outcomes will be varied. If students are asked to describe a complex concept in two minutes on video, they need to know the material well. They need to be sure about what they want to say, consider who is watching and how they will keep their attention. One Year 7 student, writing a poem as a voice-over to a video on pollution, said: "We need to entertain them (the audience), but what we want to say is serious." This is their challenge - not only are we asking students to learn material, but also to engage with the nature of the material they are learning and then communicate it. The technology might be motivating and exciting, but so should the reasons for making movies in the classroom.


Ethics and Genetics On-Screen is a project run as a collaboration between Hackney secondary schools and Highwire, Hackney's City Learning Centre. Small groups of students in science and English classes were asked to make two-minute videos about different aspects of genetics - the ethical issues and explaining some aspects of the science.

Homerton, Year 10 science

"Can you email us all the videos," asks one student. The class are so proud of themselves that the thought of their work only being on Hackney's schools' intranet was simply not enough.

The project began in the science lab with an experiment where students used professional lab techniques to identify which DNA samples contained the same genes. The class discussed when this process would be used in the real world, leading to groups devising storylines about the use of forensic fingerprinting for murder and for paternity testing, or whether there were genes for violence or memory. This became the basis for rehearsing improvisations or scriptwriting.

One group of students did not want to perform in front of the camera so they walk around the school filming duplicates of things, such as lab stools, beakers, bricks and identical twins, and then devised a voice-over to explain cloning.

In three mornings at Highwire, students transformed their storyboards into film. One student describes the editing process: "You were wondering, 'Should I cut out this part? Is it good? Is this part necessary?', things like that." The science teacher, working with video for the first time, was enthusiastic: "It enhanced researching skills, formulating ideas, having coherence and giving a structure to the range of ideas and inputs. And then the multimedia aspect. I'm quite impressed how, in three sessions, they've been able to put all of this into something incredible, something that looked good, incredibly short pieces, but self-contained".

Kingsland, Year 9, English

"I don't know why we were doing science in English," one student admits. "I think Miss B must have been bored of teaching books and decided to do something else."

This is one student's evaluation of a video project in English, concerned with debating ethics, speaking in public and putting forward a point of view. Groups are given the task of assimilating an amount of unfamiliar information and putting it into a two-minute video that will present their views. During a double lesson over five weeks, students read newspaper reports, discuss issues, practise role-plays, make lists of what they want to video and film up to 15 minutes of footage.

One student composed a poem and read it on camera: "I cloned my dog, He wasn't the same, because he never knew me." Another group went on to the streets to find babies to film for their piece called Designer Babies. A group looking at genetically modified food filmed a role-play between two "farmers" in the school garden three times from different camera angles.

Five weeks of double periods in school culminated in two days at Highwire. Some of the filming had not been completed; some of the sound was poor quality, and some needed changing. As one student says: "The information we had was hard to understand. You got an opinion and filmed that, and then later you'd change your mind." The work was focused and intense, involving filming and editing, and by the end of the second day students could watch themselves performing.

"It's exciting when you get to see it on a big screen," says one of the students. "Watching each other was funny. Everyone had a good laugh, but I really hated seeing myself - it was so embarrassing," another student comments.

The English teacher wanted to work with video, because the students are working towards a specific outcome for others to view, rather than only for their English folders. However, she would have liked more time for the students to fully get to grips with the subject matter and various video techniques.

"The time needs to be built-in", she explains. "The students loved using the videos, but were very critical of the results, because they're so telly-literate."

So why don't you try it out for yourself this summer? Borrow a camcorder, choose a topic you're interested in and set yourself a task to make a two-minute video. But before you start whirring at everything you see, sit down for a minute and listen to some advice from those who have done it before. This is the pattern - you do a first project, make all the mistakes, and then are ready to go and advise the next cohort. So, take it from the students. Here are their top tips for making a video: Storyboard your work

"Try to plan things, because if you just go out there and look for things to film, you won't get what you want."

"You've gotta get organised. We didn't finish, because we weren't organised. We weren't discussing it properly."

"Write a script, because if you forget your lines, you might not say what you want to say. It might come out wrong."

Start small

"Keep it simple so you don't have too much to do."

"We had so much stuff, it was really hard to get it all down to two minutes. We should have tried to get fewer ideas into it. I'd tell that to anyone trying to make a video."

Don't shake the camera

"It's good to practice all that camera stuff, like zooming and walking around."

"Keep calm or you'll start laughing in the middle of it and all the film will be shaky."

Get props and costumes

"I wore a wig and it made it really funny, but it looks good."

"It could look rubbish if you are in school in your uniform, so we brought all our own clothes and stuff to wear outside."

Just have fun

"Put jokes in. When I saw other people's films I was disappointed, as they were boring."

"It's amazing seeing yourself on camera."

"It was really challenging and fun, so you just have to have a good time, don't you?" Vivi Lachs is the author of Making Multimedia in the Classroom: a teachers' guide. RoutledgeFalmer, pound;19.99. Tel: 08700 768853. Work from Highwire City Learning Centre can be seen at


iMovie is Apple's giveaway video editing program, free with any new Mac computer (G4, iMac or portable iBook). A digital video camera can be connected to the computer with a firewire lead and the video taken can be downloaded in clips into iMovie. These can then be edited with transitions, sound tracks and still images.

Is it really easy to learn?

Yes it is. The program is straightforward and intuitive. It takes five minutes to get going. An hour or two playing around with it will teach you all you need to know.

And then what?

The lack of complexity allows you, as a teacher, to concentrate on the subject matter; issues about media; audience considerations; and making the message accessible, aesthetic or humorous. All you need to do is think about where in the curriculum you want to use it. What parts of your subject could do with a motivation boost? What difficult ideas could be reinforced by having to put across information simply to a viewer?

What's the catch?

There are ups and downs of using any new medium. Time is the major stumbling block for most teachers. In Hackney, teachers working with video have piloted it with one class to see how it works. In one school the science teacher, and in another the IT teacher, are writing a video project into their schemes of work.

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