Today's youth often search for videos based on their interests on Web sites such as YouTube. They communicate with friends through instant and text messaging. Such technology has changed how young people learn, according to Martin McGuire, the Chicago Public School District's digital media systems team lead.
"Our students are used to small bits of information. We want to tap into that same style of learning while they are in school and prepare them for the future by improving visual literacy and technology integration," McGuire says.
Improving Visual Literacy
Four years ago, McGuire, who has worked as an audio/visual engineer for two of the district's schools, volunteered to serve on a committee that worked with Safari Video Networks, a subsidiary of Video Library Company. Together they created a system that instantly gave teachers access to thousands of video clips. The product, called Safari Montage, which made its debut within Chicago's public schools, is now widely used in other districts.
"We met with Safari for over a year, telling them what we needed to fit our environment, and they responded by creating this wonderful tool for teaching and learning," McGuire says.
Safari Montage contains more than 1,000 videos of programming from sources such as PBS, A&E, Almanac, BBC, National Geographic and Scholastic. The videos are stored on a centralized server that allows districts to manage, store and show the videos. Districts can purchase video packages that contain elementary, middle or high school content.
Safari Video Networks hires seasoned teachers from around the United States to screen the videos to ensure they have educational value. Videos are aligned to meet state standards in science, math, reading and social science. Teachers can show students video clips to help them improve their state assessment scores. For example, students can watch video clips to help them understand the difference between a right and isosceles triangle, according to Sandra Caudill, assistant principal of Bell Elementary School. The clip might illustrate how a ladder leaning against a wall forms a right triangle. "It gives the children real-life application," Caudill says.
After McGuire helped create Safari Montage, the district asked him to install and maintain the system. He has worked with the district for 14 years and has a bachelor's degree in communications from DePaul University in Chicago.
Three hundred of the district's more than 500 elementary schools, which serve kindergarten through grade 8, use Safari Montage. All 115 high schools have access to the video-on-demand system. District administrators hope all of its schools will be able to use the system in the future, McGuire says.
Enhancing Lesson Plans
With Safari Montage, "teachers only have to show students what they want to support the instruction," McGuire says. "Safari Montage lets them jump to the video segments that are most important."
For example, a teacher who plans to teach a lesson on hygiene can type the keyword "hygiene" into the database and find not only which videos discuss hygiene but at what points in the videos. All of the videos are divided into chapters by topic. The teacher could then show a two-minute clip from Disney Educational and a five-minute clip from PBS. "Teachers don't have to show a whole movie to get the point across," Caudill says.
Students learn best from short segments that are directly related to the lesson, Caudill adds. The video should not replace the lesson but enhance it. For instance, one Bell teacher requires students to read text and watch video clips about Ellis Island. Students then dress like immigrants and film themselves with cameras. They learn history, practice reading and use technology.
Another advantage to the video-on-demand system is that teachers can access the same video simultaneously, McGuire says. School libraries typically have two to three videos on a specific subject, and many times teachers want a particular video on the same day. Using the videos on demand, teachers don't have to plan ahead to show students such clips.
"A teacher can recognize that they need to support a lesson right now," McGuire says. "They don't have to wait for the VCR cart, for the video to be available, or to find content that meets their needs. It's on demand, and now teachers have access to thousands of videos daily, hourly, when they need them."
The district paid to install Safari Montage through E-Rate, a discount that schools and libraries receive from the federal government. E-Rate is designed to give schools and libraries affordable access to modern information services. The program provides discounts of 20 to 90 percent for telecommunication services, based on the percentage of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program. Some of Chicago's public schools also opted to purchase Safari Montage with discretionary funds or money they raised from parent-teacher organizations.
Most videos come with a quiz and teacher's guide, which provides teachers with possible activities and questions for students before and after the video.
Teachers can also create their own playlists within Safari Montage based on a topic, subject, grade level or state standard. A teacher might put together a list of video clips related to the civil rights movement for Black History Month. Once a teacher creates a playlist, other teachers can access it. At some schools, groups of teachers create playlists together. Teachers can also upload videos to Safari Montage.
"Teachers love to collaborate in their grades," McGuire says. "They share what they've created, what they've used. They are learning from each other's success stories in the classroom."
The video-on-demand system has also made it easier to teach deaf children, Caudill says. In the past, teachers found it difficult to find closed-captioned programming, but all the videos in Safari Montage have closed-captioning.
Some of the district's teachers learned how to use Safari Montage by watching a video tutorial, which is available on the Safari login screen. McGuire also trained librarians and other media staff so they could instruct teachers. In addition, he worked directly with teachers during professional development days.
"It's exciting, as a classroom teacher and administrator, to see how much technology has improved," Caudill says. In the past, teachers wasted class time fastforwarding through videos to find the segment they wanted to show. They also had limited access to videos. "Our teachers are really excited about using it," Caudill says.
Danielle Gillespie is a freelancer writer based in Los Angeles.