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Learning Resources | Spotlight

'Action!' Student-Generated Video Web Site Teaches Visual Communications Skills

Teachers have free access to virtual field trips and other digital educational resources through Meet Me at the Corner, a repository of educational videos that's moderated to ensure relevance and educational value. It also helps train kids to produce their own video podcasts and create documentaries they can share with their peers around the world.

Reporting on location from the Denver Zoo, the on-camera interviewer asked Emily Insalaco what her life is like as an animal behaviorist. "My job is looking at animal care, but from the behavioral standpoint," she answered. "It's helping other animal divisions take care of their animals. Are they active on exhibit? Are they performing behaviors that they'd normally perform? Or maybe we want to set behavioral goals for training? Or maybe we even want to train them in some behaviors that help educate people."

The reporter, who goes by "Sam," further asks what it takes to become an animal behaviorist. "Zoology, biology, and psychology: one of those -ologies. These are the fields of study if a young person is considering a career as an animal behaviorist," responded Insalaco.

Sam isn't reporting for a local TV station. The 12-year-old created and starred in this video for Meet Me at the Corner (MMATC), a Web site that features virtual field trips and other educational videos for kids ages 5 through 13. Unlike sites that aggregate existing videos into a portal, MMATC features an ever-expanding collection of original videos, either created by the MMATC at the Corner group, or by the school children themselves.

"I create new shows every two weeks, complete with links, book recommendations, and learning activities," said founder Donna Guthrie. "My site can be useful to the busy classroom teacher. They just have to give it a try!"

Guthrie certainly has the background to tackle the project. She taught kindergarten through fifth grade in both public and private schools in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and is the author of more than 20 award-winning books for children. Her picture book, The Witch Who Lives Down the Hall (Harcourt Brace, 1985) was a Literary Guild and Book of the Month Club selection and was included in the School Library Journal's Best Books for Children. Nobiah's Well (Ideals Publishing, 1990) was also a Book of the Month Club selection and received the Parents Prize from Parents Magazine for the Very Best for the Very Young. Her middle grade fiction novel, Frankie Murphy's Kiss List (Simon and Schuster, 1995), earned enthusiastic reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.

The idea for MMATC came while Guthrie was in graduate school earning her MFA in Children's and Young Adult Writing at Vermont College. "A number of NYC editors came to speak at the college, and there were constant discussions about the influence of the Web and the decline of the book, due to cost and competition with video games, television, etc.," she explained. Furthermore, Guthrie was learning about the challenges her friends faced in the teaching field, challenges such as emphasis on testing, and lack of time and money for field trips. "Somehow the idea of non-fiction writing and virtual field trips came together to make Meet Me at the Corner, Virtual Field Trips for Kids," she said. "I received a lot of encouragement from my classmates, and, at age 60, I launched this project."

Guthrie said she views MMATC lessons as nonfiction for the 21st Century Learner. "Sometimes I think this a lot like NPR for kids," she said. "A bit of history, an interview with a knowledgeable guest, and then links to fun Web sites about each topic, as well as a Learning Corner of Questions and extended activities about the subject."

More than 100 videos have been uploaded. The majority are them generated by MMATC team members, who film all content in high definition. Using on-camera video hosts who are actual students, not actors, the videos cover a wide variety of subjects: an interview with a park ranger in San Diego; an interview with a zookeeper in Colorado; the Lost Ladybug Project, which is an examination of why species the ladybugs distribution is changing; a visit to New York City's oldest pizza parlor for a look at the history of pizza; and an interview with a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"In the beginning, the video podcasts highlighted the people, events, and history of New York City," said Guthrie. "As this site grows through children's submissions, we hope to highlight the people and events of other towns, cities, and nations. To date, we have video podcasts from California, Colorado, North Carolina, Texas, and Maryland. To students: we are always open to the people and events in your corner of the world."

Children's submissions represent approximately 15 percent of the videos on the Web site. The proportion of student-submitted material will grow, but the reason the percentage is thus far relatively low is MMATC's high standards for acceptance.

"There is a set format to our shows, and I am looking for interviews, not videos of dancing cats or smiling babies," said Guthrie. "There are Web sites for that, but MMATC's purpose is to educate."

Guthrie said the process of making videos for MMATC is an education in itself. "The kids can learn research skills, about story content, the interview process, new vocabulary words, along with the video making techniques," she said.

Among the videos featured on MMATC are free how-to tutorials with accompanying downloadable storyboards about creating MMATC episodes. Kids teach their peers how to create a video podcast, how to make a documentary video podcast, and how to create a video book review, for example.

"The Big Apple Book Club video book reviews are a good way for kids (and teachers) to begin," said Guthrie. "Along with a written report, children have a opportunity to film a short book review that they can share with kids around the world. And all for free."

Each review runs about a minute; MMATC staff edits the accepted submissions, adding pictures and music and providing links to author Web sites in the cases of book reviews.

The book reviews rank high among Guthrie's favorite children-submitted content, as does an interview with a firefighter. "She was the little boy's older sister," said Guthrie. "It came to us with good sound and almost completely edited."

Of the videos produced by her professional videography team, Guthrie said there are many favorites. "I like the one we did at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the video about vultures at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The show we did with the Vietnam veteran about the evacuation of Saigon was also a favorite," she said.

Others at the top of her list are the music videos, the history of the Hudson River, and the interview with the harpsichordist at Julliard. "And then there are the new ones that I have ready for next year, including a show about llamas, the history of the ukulele, and an interview with a World War II veteran."

Along with those mentioned, other upcoming episodes include an interview with a meteorologist, the history of the recorder, and an introduction to geocaching (a treasure hunting game in which players use GPS to find hidden items).

For the time being, MMATC is a passion project and, as such, is self-funded. Guthrie said her mission right now is getting the word out about how MMATC distinguishes itself by its original video programming for kids--an educational YouTube of sorts--unlike so many sites on the Web that take the forms of games or cartoons. Instead, she said, MMATC is defined as a dynamic, interactive site, which encourages individual expression and participation through video submissions from children worldwide.

Said Guthrie: "Through these video podcasts, we hope to create a community of children who learn the art of self-expression and storytelling through video."

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