Documentaries broadcast student perspectives, encourage creativity

Published 12:03 pm Thursday, May 26, 2011

By EMILY BECKETT / Staff Writer

HOOVER – Students at Spain Park High School are capturing local and national attention for their video documentaries as part of the C-SPAN StudentCam annual video documentary competition.

Cheryl Morrow, master teacher of economics and social studies department chair, launched the StudentCam project in her AP government and politics class last fall, making 2010 the first year Spain Park students participated in the competition.

“Other schools haven’t implemented it,” Morrow said.

StudentCam encourages students to study the inner workings of government, examine policymakers’ impact on issues and develop their own voices in society.

Based on positive student feedback, Morrow said she plans to assign the project to her AP government and politics class this fall.

“They recommend that I do it again,” Morrow said. “I think that if a student is interested in this, they might sign up for an advanced class.”

Morrow also plans to offer StudentCam as an optional assignment in her regular classes.

“Anybody can do it,” Morrow said. “It is just a matter of working it out.”

Morrow said she applied for a teacher grant to attend a conference in Washington D.C. last summer for the C-SPAN teacher outreach program.

Morrow spent two days learning how to implement C-SPAN in the classroom.

She introduced StudentCam to her AP students in August and launched the project at the beginning of October.

Morrow said she provided her students with due dates and a grading rubric, which divided the project into three parts.

The first was preliminary work, the second was research and the third was action.

“One of the skill sets I taught my students was how to take lengthy C-SPAN interviews…and put [them] into two- to three-minute clips,” Morrow said. “I guided them through the process.”

Students used the Microsoft Moviemaker program on Mac computers in the school library or at home to piece together their video clips.

After lots of practice editing old clips and viewing last year’s competition winners, students formed groups of three people or less and began work on their documentaries.

The students completed most of their work outside of the classroom.

“I would say 85 percent [of work] was outside of class,” Morrow said.

Morrow designated two class periods for group discussions on the project, as well as individual meetings with each group after school.

She set aside one class period for her students to watch each other’s videos.

“I try to encourage my students to be creative,” Morrow said. “For people who are not creative, this is a super skill they will have learned.”

Morrow said she arranged with the school library to have flip cameras available to students.

She is currently waiting to find out whether the Hoover Foundation will approve a grant for at least five cameras and camera equipment for her classroom.

One snag Morrow and her students encountered was that the school administration did not approve videos using the C-SPAN Viddler site.

Viddler only opens from home computers, Morrow said, and Hoover blocks Viddler.

Only the videos on School Tube were permitted.

Morrow said she was disappointed the administration did not approve such well-balanced documentaries on same-sex marriage, go green (marijuana as a tax revenue source), abortion, steroids in baseball and don’t ask don’t tell for the competition.

The students finished their documentaries before Christmas break, and Morrow spent much of her break grading and submitting the videos to C-SPAN by January 20.

“I thought that I had some outstanding videos,” Morrow said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

To view the StudentCam documentaries by Morrow’s AP students, visit Spain Park High School’s website at