The hardest part about teaching students to make a short science documentary is convincing them they have the skills to do it, says Leon Tynes, the technology and computer science lead educator at the Academy of Math and Science Desert Sky (opens in new tab) in Phoenix, Arizona.
“I continue to boost their confidence and continue to tell them that their voice and their opinions are valid, and their research strategies are valid,” he says.
Tynes recently got support in his effort as one of five site coordinators (opens in new tab) for NOVA Science Studio (opens in new tab). The new program from the legendary PBS science documentary series seeks to encourage new voices in STEM and journalism through a six-month program focused on video production, media literacy, and science communication for middle and high school students. The program is currently reaching 30 students at different locations throughout the U.S., but the documentaries these students produce will be highlighted on NOVA Science Studio’s YouTube channel (opens in new tab) and will serve as a model for educators looking to incorporate more technology into their classrooms.
“There's an incredible opportunity for science communication to really rethink its approach to how inclusive it is, to how diverse it is, to how equitable it is,” says Ralph Bouquet, NOVA Education and Outreach Manager. “For NOVA, an institution that's been around for nearly 50 years in science communication, it's imperative that we are being very diligent and being very deliberate about creating opportunities to invite voices that have previously been underrepresented in science communication and STEM overall.”
The Program Begins
Bouquet was inspired to start the program based on his own experiences in the classroom. “I used to teach high school biology and chemistry in Philadelphia and was always really interested in programming that allowed students to engage in media production and to communicate science with their own agency, with their own voice,” he says. “I thought it was important for us to think about how could we create opportunity in a space for young people to get involved in science communication that doesn't sort of impose our ideas on them, but really allows them to develop skills and to have access to resources and platforms that allow them to tell stories about science issues in their communities.”
These conversations led to the launch of a pilot program for the NOVA Science Studio in late 2018 with three sites in the Boston area. Tenijah Hamilton, NOVA Science Studio’s program manager, says these pilot groups were inspiring.
“We were able to interact with students as they were learning new material, as they were doing new things such as interviewing professionals and editing film,” Hamilton says. “We learned so much. You want to make sure that the curriculum and the lessons are really dynamic and students are seeing videos produced by other students. They are getting the opportunity to really interface and interact with professionals in the field.”
An Engaging Approach
Many students are already using their phones and some are making videos for TiKTok and other social media platforms, so they respond well to learning how to make professional videos based on their own research.
“Engaging with media overall with students is just a wonderful thing, because they're doing it socially, but if we start engaging with that in classes, maybe it could be done in an incredible way,” Tynes says. “They ingest so much more media than we do, so they actually are the masters of being the recipients of media.”
In addition to their natural inclination toward digital media, students often get hooked on the process once they get a taste of creating a high-quality video and can be more motivated by these types of public projects, Tynes says.
“It is super engaging for students because they don't want to make a permanent mistake,” he says. “They're not going to just let something not so good looking perpetually stay out there. When a project is going out to the public, I think our human nature kind of compels us to get it right and to do it to the best of our ability. If we're doing stuff and no one else sees it, you know, we just, ehh….”
How To Incorporate NOVA Science Studio In Your Class
Eventually, the curriculum used for this program will be released publicly for educators to access. In the meantime, Bouquet says educators can find resources on the NOVA Science Studio YouTube (opens in new tab) channel. “We are producing video content aligned to much of that curriculum that reinforces a lot of the major ideas,” he says. “We're going to be dropping many tutorial videos explaining some of the video production aspects. We're also producing a series around science misinformation that really looks at the current situation that we're living in right now, in which misinformation is spreading where it's impacting so much of our ability to really understand the news.”
He adds, “Part of our goal as well is to really think about how we can inoculate students and give them sort of best practices and tools to be much more discerning about the content they encounter online and on social media.”
In addition, Hamilton says educators engaging in these types of projects with their students should also remember not to underestimate them. “I think there's this misconception everywhere that students and young people don't know as much,” she says. “What we found in the first iteration of the NOVA Science Studio was they know so much, they are so plugged into everything going on, and it really didn't take that much prompting to have them think about it on a bigger level or on a community level and a science level. It was really something that was a lot more intuitive than we thought.”