Vt. school puts new spin on old research papers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. school puts new spin on old research papers

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These ninth-graders at Vermont Commons School in South Burlington aren't just studying ancient times, they're bringing the history lessons to life. They've replaced traditional term papers with video research projects.

Mark Cline Lucey chairs the social studies department. He's made it his mission to weave video production into his history classes.

"I wanted to know about how to do video well as a teaching tool," he said.

That's where the Regional Educational Television Network or RETN comes in.

"RETN is all about supporting teachers, like Mark, who are really changing how they're structuring their curriculum. And that's really important that teachers are starting to change those expectations," said Scott Campitelli, the executive director at RETN.

The Burlington based nonprofit teaches teachers the craft of video production from lighting, audio, composition and camera operation, to putting those skills to work in the classroom.

"These are really the skills of the 21st century," Campitelli said.

RETN currently partners with three dozen K-12 schools from Essex to Vergennes. Once teachers complete training workshops they can borrow equipment for free, passing the high-tech skills onto their students.

"I've always assigned big research papers. I think it's invaluable the skills that they learn going through that process of really planning and outlining and making their argument, and I realized it's the same exact process in video production," Cline Lucey said.

In Cline Lucey's class each student is given a role and their work is assessed along the way from initial research to the quality of story boards and the execution of final projects. The kids say this approach allows them to better connect with the material.

"So if you're really good at writing research papers, then you can write the script and it's essentially writing a research paper. And if you're really good at speaking in front of people, then be on camera. It brings in all these different aspects so every kid can learn in their own individual way," said Zelda Ferris, a ninth-grader.

"I retained it more because I'm more of a hands-on type person. So I actually like doing the video process. It helped me absorb the knowledge whereas just researching it wasn't as effective for me," said Danny Watson, a ninth-grader.

But like any new teaching tool, there are growing pains.

"You've got X number of hours in the classroom with students. Video production takes a lot of hours," Cline Lucey said.

He says the trade-off is scaling back on detailed content, freeing up teaching time by focusing on broader themes and patterns in history.

"Maybe I sacrificed some content but by my assessment, that's OK in terms of what my students need to be successful in life," Cline Lucey said.

This 14-year teaching veteran believes adding video production to everyday assignments improves kids' critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and communication skills.

Reporter Jennifer Reading: As a teacher, is it scary to break the mold and try this?

Mark Cline Lucey: My head of the school described me as somebody who thrives on creative destruction. So yes, it is always scary.

But these budding historians have nothing but rave reviews for the alternative approach. Danny Watson never touched a camera before this class.

"I am optimistic as well as satisfied," he said. "There's a different amount of effort put in because other people are seeing this instead of you just sitting there typing it."

"Writing a standard research paper is pretty standard and I don't get any new skills with it, but doing this I can broaden my horizons and feel like a more well-rounded person afterwards," Zelda Ferris said.

Cline Lucey acknowledges he works for an independent school and is not held to state standards or the Common Core. Still, he's encouraging every teacher to at least consider what RETN has to offer.

"For any teacher who feels like this could really enhance what they want to do in the classroom, I say take the summer course with RETN. Then try it. Just go for it," Cline Lucey said.

Click here for more information on how your school can partner with RETN.

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