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Mount Nittany Middle School's One Button StudioDressed as a 19th century abolitionist, seventh grader Madison Fraley stood in Independence Hall and delivered an impassioned speech.

Her performance wasn’t part of a field trip. Fraley never left Mount Nittany Middle School. Instead, her appearance at the Philadelphia landmark was purely digital, a product of the school’s innovative educational resource.

Earlier this year, Mount Nittany launched its One Button Studio in a converted room next to the library. The studio, based on one at Penn State and the first of its kind in the district, allows students and teachers to make green screen videos for presentations and lessons with studio-quality video, audio and lighting.

Mount Nittany Middle School's One Button StudioLike her classmates, Fraley researched an abolitionist, in her case Sarah Grimké, and recorded a speech in character for a social studies assignment. Later editing swapped the green screen for the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

“It’s so amazing,” said instructional technology coach Kelli Bowen, who helped start the studio. “We don’t ever want the technology to be in the foreground; it’s always the background piece. The curriculum comes first. But when you can infuse the curriculum with the technology, it’s where the students are at. Look at the age group we’re looking at. They want to be producing videos.”

As intended, the studio works simply. Users can choose between projected slides or the green screen for a backdrop. Either way, they first plug in a USB flash drive, thereby activating the studio lights. Once an assistant pushes the record button, the camera operates until a second push. Removing the USB stick turns off the studio.

Mount Nittany Middle School's One Button StudioAssisted by Bowen, students then develop video and green screen editing skills using iMovie software and the ImageQuest photo archive on laptops.

Inspiration for the studio came last year when a group of district technology coaches toured the Knowledge Commons area in Penn State’s Pattee Library. They were impressed by the One Button Studio and other resources for creative learning, all within the same space.

Back at work, they envisioned a district version of the studio, particularly for seventh graders to gain more from their abolitionist speech assignments. Bowen recalled the coaches thinking “it would be great to have space where students can change their learning outcome by recording versus being just a one-and-done live speech.”

“In working with seventh grade, teachers said we are so confined by the short class period, that we had to get all the students through their speeches, and they were often rushed — next person, next person,” Bowen said. “Whereas now, they have as many takes as they need to get their speech out in the way they want it. They can also edit, post-speaking, so that it sounds just the way they want it to sound, working in, say, the vernacular of the time. Because they’re recording, they can really perfect what they’re showing us they learned.”

Penn State’s Teaching and Learning with Technology department helped set up the studio. Mount Nittany social studies teacher John Stout said he and his colleagues hope the videos encourage students to spend more time researching and writing their speeches.

“I think a selling point definitely is the recording,” he said. “Speeches in any public setting, for the kids to say them is really intimidating. So while recording, if they stumble on a word, we can redo a section of the speech. That’s hopefully going to put them at ease more. Plus, they’re very drawn to the technology.”

The videos also help teachers provide better feedback, Stout said.

Mount Nittany Middle School's One Button Studio“From our point of view, for assessments, we don’t have that one shot of listening to the speech,” he said. “Instead, we can look back through and do a lot more reflection with the kids about what would have been more effective.”

Stout served as Madison Fraley’s studio assistant, pushing the button that began her recording session. Channelling her chosen abolitionist, Fraley advocated for the rights of slaves and women.

“We are hardly given any more rights than the slaves,” she said to her imaginary audience. “This is why we must join the women’s and slaves’ rights fight together in one force to make a change. It won’t be easy. We will run into many obstacles. We will face haters and may even lose supporters. But we can do this. We can work together and create a difference in America.”

Afterward, she said she enjoyed making the video.

“I think being able to dress up as a character helps you be able to feel like you’re learning about the history more easily,” she said.

Social studies teacher Alex Patterson said he has “enjoyed seeing how my students could expand their final products for the abolitionist assignment.”

“Students were able to rehearse their speeches, dress up, and create a final product they could show their peers and parents,” he said. “Kids really loved the opportunity to use the green screen to make their speeches look like they were actually an abolitionist presenting in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The One Button Studio allowed seventh grade students to create a professional produce with ease.”

So far, the green screen technology also has been a boon for language classes. French teachers recorded a mini-lesson about exploring towns, introducing vocabulary and phrases while pretending to be walking around New York City. Another project involved students recording weather forecasts in German with maps behind them, as though in a professional broadcast.

Bowen sees the studio becoming a useful resource for language students, who could easily record their pronunciation and critique themselves before tests. But for now, the abolitionist videos speak to the studio’s initial worth — individual successes for the benefit of many.

“Once the students are finished here with each of their recordings, it becomes a gallery style presentation,” Bowen said. “All of the students can view each other’s speeches and critique them based on the best product they have to give. And that’s the product they created here in the studio.”

By Chris Rosenblum

Photos by Nabil K. Mark