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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Lights! Action! Camera!: Student News Coming Your Way

This post is the second part of a three-part blog entry. Read part one.

How did we design, produce, and broadcast the Benjamin Franklin Broadcast News (BFBN)? The fifteen eighth graders and the three teachers gathered around a large table and began to ask a series of questions: What will the television show be? What will we call it? How often will it air? What equipment will we need? What roles will we need to fill in order to produce the show? What skills and knowledge will we need? What do we know, if anything, about television broadcasting? Can we make it whatever we want? What are our limits?

Tony Bencivenga, BFMS

We spent days posing questions. The level of constructivist, divergent thinking, and creative brainstorming was incredible. The students took up the challenge immediately.

The children created the name and the tagline: "BFBN - Where YOU are the News!" It was perfect! The students of Benjamin Franklin Middle School would be the news. Every show would be student produced. They would fill all the positions and monitor and assess each show. The children made a visionary and profound decision: BFBN would be a live, daily broadcast that would air first thing in the morning on monitors that already existed in each homeroom throughout the school. Each broadcast would open with daily announcements about school and community events. A feature story would follow the announcements. The students felt empowered.

The children wanted BFBN to provide a student-directed forum to discuss and address topics, events, and issues that touched their lives and the larger world, and serve as a vehicle for presenting the results of their work to peers, family, and community. On tape or live in the studio, students might read a piece of their poetry or an entry from their journal. Their artwork might be used as part of the set or displayed in a feature story, and taped soundtracks from the school's award-winning band and orchestra might close the show. The children were eager to show their work.

The television show began to take shape. What next? Where would we broadcast, and what equipment would we need? We had very little money. Still, we were fortunate to have a classroom with a small room adjacent to it. The students and teachers built the set (an anchor desk, a backdrop, and a feature-story corner). We had one studio camera. The small room served as the control room, which included a few monitors, a rudimentary switcher, and an outdated soundboard left over from an old radio class. We outsourced the wiring for relatively little money -- about $500, as I recall.

How would we learn the skills needed to operate the equipment? Again, in the spirit of true constructivism, we learned as we went along. We read excerpts from a few manuals and books and asked several parents and teachers in the community (those who had some experience with television production) to conduct some workshops. Although the students (and we, the teachers) had much to learn, they enthusiastically and passionately welcomed the challenge to learn on their terms.

In addition to recognizing their lack of technical knowledge and skill, the students understood that the equipment fell far short of state of the art. But, it mattered little. BFBN would not be about technology alone. It was about critical thinking skills, decision making, empowerment, ownership, community, and, of course, vision. Everyone (including the student body, staff, and parents) was eager to watch BFBN and excited about its future.

What was the content of BFBN? What were some of the feature stories? Stay tuned! More in my next posts.

Student Broadcasters: Feature Stories Reflect Local and Global Awareness
On the Air: A Student's Dream Fulfilled

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