As the bell rings at Kenai Middle School, the students in Tyler Schlung’s Northern Lights class file into their seats. Their task for the day is to watch their most recent show production and critique it.
With a flick of a light switch, the production started on the Smart Board starring Shanna Anderson and Ashlyn Tucker. With great energy, the girls discuss Helen Keller, teamwork and its importance. Images and props added to the production that was shot in front of the green screen, with high-power studio lighting and production software located in the classroom’s renovated closet turned into production studio.
After the short film, one of the stars weighted in on her strengths and weaknesses.
“We both had good expression,” Shanna said. “But we need to learn our lines better.”
Schlung also interjected his thoughts of the production.
“You both had good energy,” he said. “When you start off with good energy, that carries on through the whole thing.”
The class is a semester-long elective course for seventh- and-eighth graders at KMS. The class is small, with a maximum of eleven students, to give everyone a chance at being filmed and writing scripts.
“The students write their scripts, and are graded on the script for content, proofreading and interjecting their own style and voice into their script,” he said.
“Additionally, the scripts need to be relevant for the student population.”
He said students write feature pieces including “Word to the Wise,” where they have to explain to the students how the piece of advice or famous saying is applicable to the students.
Other themes include “Tech Talk” and the “Alaska Dispatch.”
“Recently, a student wrote a script about the Northern Lights and how the coming weeks will bring excellent viewing opportunities because of the increased sun-spot activity and solar flaring,” Schlung said.
Whatever the script, the students do the research, write the script, edit, proofread and finally hand in the product they want to be graded. Schlung said they also receive a separate grade for their actual presentation where they get in front of the camera and the teleprompter.
“They are graded on presentation skills such as voice volume, clarity of speaking, facial and body gestures that add to the presentation, posture, knowledge of their lines and intonation as they speak.”
Alex Stockton said he likes the class because he likes to have control over the finished product.
Alex wrote and starred in a recent production of “Tech Talk” where he and classmate, Caitlyn Burdick, exchanged playful commentary about new robotic mules, cheetah’s and wildcat’s made by Boston Dynamics.
“I like being able to make our own scripts the way we want them,” he said.
The final phase is when the students learn how to use the software so they can actually put together and produce a show they have written.
“The technology they get to use is pretty high tech,” Schlung said, adding that the class started five years ago with the help of a $3,000 technology grant through the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
Over the course of a semester, students of Schlung’s class will write about 15 scripts and film about eight to ten of them with a different partner each time.
He said working with other partners really allows a different flavor and combination of skills to come into play, making each presentation unique.
“Each student brings strengths to the presentation that serve to make the overall product that much better,” he said. “That is one of the things I love about teaching this class; seeing the individual personalities of the students come into play as they work through a script and the filming of their specific presentation.”
The short presentations are then shown to small classes during Kenai Middle School advisory periods, generally after lunch.
Students mentioned that they are often stopped in the hallways about the short films they produce.
Schlung said that he has found that students learn a lot about themselves when they are in front of the camera.
“They often see that some part of their personality that they may have taken for granted before is a real strength for them and can really enrich a presentation as they allow their individual personalities to shine during a presentation,” he said.
He finds it rewarding to see the middle school students grasp the idea that something they do in school actually has a “real-life” application in the career world.
Schlung said the group also takes a field trip to an Anchorage television studio so the students can see real people with similar careers doing almost exactly what they are learning about.
“Some of them get excited about possibly pursuing a career in media or journalism as they see the possibilities in front of their very eyes,” he said
The class will travel to Anchorage on Dec. 5 to visit the ABC studio.
“The students will be in front of the green screen actually helping to present the evening weather report with Ryan Overton,” Schlung said.
He said the opportunity the class provides for the students are important for today, as well as their futures.
“Education needs to be relevant because that’s when the motivation to excel starts to come from within,” he said.
Sara J. Hardan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org