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Students Make Movies

Video production replaces the 10-minute presentation for some Madison students

The days of poster board and index cards may soon be numbered. Instead of the traditional 10-minute presentation in front of classes, several students at Madison High School are producing short movies on Act III of "Hamlet" and Cicero's exposure of Cataline.

The students and would-be movie producers say they prefer this newer form of book reporting.

"Video, just on the whole, is a lot more expressive, and a lot more interesting to watch," said Madison senior Nick Brown, who, with his AP English class, enacted Act III of "Hamlet" on video.

Since 1997, several students at James Madison High School have become well-versed in video editing techniques as park of their course work. Using an editing system called "Casablanca," students have produced short videos for public service announcements and school projects.

"Aside from acquiring technical skills, we have to acknowledge a very visual generation," said English Department chair and AP English teacher Sherry Levitt. "That's not to dismiss the reading or the writing."

Although many classes still use the old standard of note cards and poster board, teachers such as Levitt and Latin teacher Ann Renzy are experimenting with video production, in order to help their students learn. By creating a video presentation, students revisit and review the material several times, during the planning, production and postproduction stages.

One teacher last year required the five sections of her senior classes to create an oral history project using video. Some 120 students completed their projects before graduation.

"I have been amazed at the number of people who came back and said that was their best project," said librarian Elisabeth Edwards. "I think the exciting thing for kids who don't work with paper and pencil, it gets what's in their head out."

Sophomore Laura Bacon created a video with her classmates about Caesar's army crossing the Rubicon. The students spoke in Latin and wrote subtitles underneath. They also added music to their presentation.

"It's fun, and it's different," Bacon said, on why she and her peers liked doing their project.

Bacon's teacher Renzy will submit two videos for a contest sponsored by the University of Maryland. Besides Bacon's film, another presentation for the class was a silent movie in black-and-white.

One person from each of the four groups learned video editing techniques, while the others helped with organizing information and creating storyboards.

"Plenty of people jumped at the opportunity to do it. They really did a lot of fun things with them," Renzy said.

Brown's video presentation for his AP English class was about 15 minutes long. His group shot footage for five days, and it took them 10 hours of editing.

"If you show them something you've made, you get their attention," Brown said, adding that he's exploring going into the movie-making business.