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Transforming the News: Teaching News and Current Events through Non-Fiction Multimedia Production.

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Published on: 06/22/2011

When/Where: Sunday, 1:15-1:55pm in Shippen.

Presenters: John Landis, Russell Byers Charter School; Rachel Hobbs, Media Education Lab at Temple University. Presider: Dan Gillmor.

Objectives: Instructors and students in the Powerful Voices for Kids summer enrichment program in Philadelphia share and discuss their non-fiction work based on news sources and current events.

Audience: PK-12 Schooling, Educational Administration & Policy, Curriculum Developers and Technology Coordinators


At Powerful Voices for Kids, a K-6 summer enrichment program focused on digital and media literacy, students are challenged to take on complex, current and controversial topics. In this session, two instructors from the program will present strategies for helping elementary-age students engage meaningfully with topical current events, with an emphasis on project-based learning and emergent curriculum. Both the instructors and some of the students from the Powerful Voices for Kids program will present their work and discuss the process through which they researched, planned, and produced their products — a news video game and a graphic novel about homelessness in Philadelphia.

John Landis will discuss his video game design class in which fifth and sixth grade students analyze news stories and then translate their new knowledge and emerging opinions on controversial issues into playable computer games using MIT’s beginner’s programming language, Scratch. Past topics in the game design class have included Philadelphia’s violent flash mobs — spontaneous youth gatherings coordinated on social media — and local incidents of racial prejudice. Students in the class use the unique non-linear nature of the video game medium to step into another’s shoes, and imagine how these stories might have played out differently. Students learn the value of providing sets of choices for users as an integral component of interactive storytelling.

Rachel Hobbs will discuss her students’ use of comics and graphic novels to research and subsequently foster student empathy towards the homeless population of Philadelphia. Rachel’s class of second and third graders began their unique learning journey with student curiosity following a happenstance run-in with a homeless person during a field trip. Picking up this thread, the students used their curiosity as a starting point, and continued through a process of inquiry, research, and artistic media production, ultimately producing a full-color, fourteen-page, non-fiction graphic novel that included student-chosen documentary photographs, original student artwork, and relevant selections from popular media depicting homelessness including Disney’s film “Aladdin” (1992) and Will Smith film “Pursuit of Happyness” (2006).

Both John and Rachel’s classes aim to build empathy toward the subjects of news stories through in-depth research in both print and online sources and conversations with experts and media professionals. Students are asked to understand multiple perspectives on a news story and to begin to think about the relationship between news authors, audiences, and the subjects of news stories. Students are also challenged to translate news stories into media forms which are rarely associated with non-fiction, a strategy which highlights the constructedness of both news and entertainment media.

The presenters will discuss their motivations and methods for incorporating current events into a K-6 program. Each will offer strategies for guiding students through a cycle of research, analysis, and production, while highlighting several of the unique opportunities and challenges that arise along the way.

Participant Involvement

Participants will engage with student work and student presenters’ reflections on their work to reflect on their own practice. Participants will also develop strategies for translating two specific multimedia projects into a robust news and current events activity with other elementary students.


  • John Landis, Russell Byers Charter School: John Landis is the Technology Coordinator for the Russell Byers Charter School (RBCS) in Philadelphia, PA. He has worked with Powerful Voices for Kids, a university-school partnership between the Temple Media Education Lab and RBCS, for two years. John an In-School Mentor at RBCS in the fall of 2009 and was subsequently promoted to a full-time position as Technology Coordinator, where he is responsible for guiding media literacy integration into classroom projects, technology integration, and professional development for classroom teachers.
  • Rachel Hobbs, Media Education Lab at Temple University: Rachel Hobbs has been a Lead Instructor for the Powerful Voices for Kids program, a collaboration between the Media Education Lab at Temple University and the Russell Byers Charter School, for two years. In 2010 she worked with second- and third-grade students to complete several fiction and non-fiction comic art projects, culminating in a graphic novel about homelessness in Philadelphia. She is currently completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology at Franklin and Marshall College.
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