As part of its new curriculum to help middle school students learn vocabulary, textbook publisher William H. Sadlier wanted to produce online videos to illustrate the vocabulary words. Students learning the word would click on a video that would reinforce it by illustrating that word in a unique and memorable way. The videos had to be short and they had to pop. They needed to be done quickly and within a limited budget. And, there were more than 900 of them. Sadlier turned to a Hartford, Conn.-based video production company, for ideas. “At first, we couldn’t figure out how we could produce 900 different word videos without it taking months and costing a fortune,” says John O’Neill, producer for Kinetic Media, the video production company. “Then we decided to turn to kids themselves.” Kinetic Media found the Hartford Children’s Theater, which was willing to provide the talent in return for cameo roles for its budding actors. The kids would help come up with the ideas—some animated graphics and stock footage, but most of them funny little skits and raps. The scripts would sometimes sneak in a historical or scientific fact—all while teaching a vocabulary word and remaining technologically hip. Using props from party stores and consignment shops, the kids acted out the skits and short rap songs, taking breaks for pizza during long shoot days. “We would do 30 or 40 in a day, rapid fire, and then edit them just as quickly,” O’Neill says. “It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun and a great experience for the kids.” The result is a unique online vocabulary video library (sample) that is part of Sadlier’s multimedia approach to its award-winnning Vocabulary for Success curriculum. That curriculum includes textbooks, as well as video introductions for each chapter, interactive games and puzzles using lesson words, an online dictionary and online practice worksheets for each lesson. The theory behind Sadlier’s approach is that when students learn at their own pace and can see and hear the words in action, they’re more likely to remember what they’re learning. They’re also likely to be excited about the technology. One goal of the curriculum is to get teachers to encourage students to make their own word videos. With technology now playing such a huge role in the classroom, Sadlier’s approach is to make the most of today’s technological tools—without losing sight of the importance of content.
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