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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Small Screen, Big Success: Creating a Student-Produced Television Program

In an earlier post, I posed the question "How do we begin to create a school culture that values social and emotional well being while promoting academic success?" I suggested that it begins with a shared vision.

If that vision is to be shared by all the stakeholders in the school community (including the children), to what extent are we willing to give the children ownership of their learning? If we trust them to play a meaningful role in their education and give them real-world opportunities to feel a sense of wonder, they will meet the challenge and help achieve the vision.

Giving students a chance to create a school television program is one of the potentially powerful opportunities a school can offer. In the late 1980s, relatively few middle schools featured a television program. In the fall of the 1990-91 school year, Benjamin Franklin Middle School gave its eighth graders an opportunity to create their own program.

How did we do it? How did we sustain it? What was its impact on the school community? How did it help achieve the shared vision, and how can it be replicated? I will try to address these questions in my next few postings.

In September 1990, fifteen eighth graders and three teachers (including administrators -- I was fortunate to be one of them) gathered for an elective class called Broadcast News. None of the teachers, and surely none of the students, had experience with television broadcasting. What we shared was a commitment to produce a program that reflected the interests, talents, and creativity of the children.

Our mission was to create a visionary program that would link students, teachers, parents, and community and serve as a venue to share and showcase student work. The show would reflect much more than school news. It would be a real-world venture into broadcasting and an opportunity to feature the exciting, challenging, and creative nature of our instructional program.

We decided to give virtually all the decision-making authority to the children. There was no course outline and there were no preconceived notions of what the course/show would be and no directives from the teachers. Our hope was that the class would be a model of constructivist, reality-based, and project-based learning at its best.

I remember vividly our first class. We told the children that they would design and produce a television program for the school. We challenged them to decide its name, content, mission, format, set, personnel, logo, theme music, and everything else they thought necessary to deliver a student-produced broadcast. We offered only support, trust, and commitment. The fundamental decisions were theirs.

After months of brainstorming and planning, the first BFBN (Benjamin Franklin Broadcast News) broadcast aired throughout the school on December 11, 1990, and in spring 1991, BFBN broadcast to the entire Ridgewood community and to thirteen surrounding towns on local cable channels. Since then, it has broadcast every school day. The pride everyone felt during those initial broadcasts has carried on for more than 3,000 shows.

The students knew they had created something very special -- BFBN belonged to them. They realized that it reflected much more than an example of the use of technology. The students recognized that we had given them ownership of what could play a significant and visionary role in shaping the school. BFBN demonstrated how a learning environment can create an instructional program designed to bring synergy to the culture of the entire school community.

What is BFBN, and how did we put it together to produce that first broadcast? See these related posts:

Lights! Camera!: Student News Coming Your Way . . .
Student Broadcasters: Feature Stories Reflect Local and Global Awareness
On the Air: A Student's Dream Fulfilled

Moderator's note: If you are using specific software or hardware you'd like to recommend, please share what you're using with the group. If you have planning documents or lesson plans about student broadcasts that you'd like to share, please email spiralnotebook@edutopia.org and I will post appropriate files for downloading.

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