The Fletcher School’s “Falcon News Network” serves as one of many ways in which our students have opportunities to cultivate and practice leadership and digital citizenship. “FNN,” written, produced, and directed entirely by students, has enjoyed huge success in only its second year.
Launched in the fall of 2015, FNN began as an effort to modernize and improve the quality of school announcements, traditionally read during morning homeroom over the intercom. Meticulous planning, methodical equipment procurement and testing, and detailed student and staff training led to the successful launch of FNN in the fall of 2015. Broadcasting live each morning using Google Hangouts on Air, this free Morning News Show Tool worked beautifully for students, enabling live streaming broadcasts to the entire Fletcher community and beyond. In the spring, a new FNN crew was trained to run the show. The new crew departed for summer vacation feeling well-prepared for a smooth FNN season transition in the fall of 2016.
Upon returning to school in August, 2016, the FNN crew learned that Google Hangouts on Air would be phased out. This not only necessitated a change in broadcast procedures, but proved to be a positive turning point for FNN. After extensive research and testing, Instructional Technology Director, Jenny Grabiec, introduced Wirecast Studio as FNN’s new broadcasting software. While Wirecast is not free and required a new learning curve, the purchase of this tool was an excellent investment in both time and money. Integrating seamlessly with YouTube, Wirecast challenged the crew to learn new and advanced broadcasting techniques while propelling FNN’s evolution toward a highly creative, professional-quality newscast. FNN student directors began using the new features immediately, utilizing animated titles and graphics, customized banners, and streaming pre-recorded videos. The FNN website was launched, providing links to broadcasts and Google Forms collecting news and content ideas from the Fletcher community.
One of the best uses of shared digital media is connecting with our larger world to share positive ideas and contributions. After witnessing the wonderful possibilities of FNN, Fletcher students and teachers eagerly collaborated to brainstorm new and exciting projects. As a collective effort, an array of special news segments began rolling out, connecting our students with activities on our campus and beyond. The FNN crew helped Fletcher celebrate National Digital Citizenship week, highlighting tips submitted by Upper School Beta Club students. Fletcher faculty and staff joined others around the world in the famous “Movember Project,” growing beards and moustaches to raise awareness for men’s health issues. The great “shave off” was featured as a special FNN broadcast, surprising and delighting viewers. FNN joined millions of students globally to promote the Hour of Code by featuring apps and encouraging classes to participate during Computer Science Education Week. Middle School students used FNN as a platform to announce their Pajama Service Project, resulting in 398 pajama sets donated to Scholastic Services.
On campus, reporting at Fletcher has expanded in equally exciting directions, bringing our school community closer. The use of remote cameras enables the FNN crew to break free of the studio to summon “live reporting from the field.” Students broadcast breaking news from their classrooms. Lower school students stream the Pledge of Allegiance live from the gymnasium stage, with flags as a backdrop. A feature called Senior Spotlight streams directly from the Senior Seminar classroom. The remote cameras enable every student and teacher to participate more fully in FNN.
As this project evolves and grows, the FNN news crew flourishes as a team, with students taking turns in various leadership roles. To join FNN, each writer, producer, anchor, sports/weather reporter, special correspondent, and director/assistant director must fill out a Google Form application and attend a job interview. FNN crew must then complete orientation and training, while learning to navigate their tasks collaboratively. The FNN crew studies how to care for and maintain studio equipment, navigate copyright issues, learn graphic design, and practice script composition and spoken delivery. Only through practice do students learn the precise timing needed to load the iPad teleprompter app or switch to the remote camera crew, ensuring a smooth broadcast flow. State-of-the-art digital technology devices and broadcasting tools support a quality production, but none of these tasks can be accomplished without developing student skills. The FNN crew members practice leadership, teamwork, and use increasingly refined executive functioning skills to produce a top-quality show every morning. Schedules, routines, and communication are all accomplished with hard work, yet the students enjoy each step of the process and are proud of their final results.
FNN crew constantly faces new challenges. Both routine and change are part of the job. Whether testing out a new Wirecast feature, troubleshooting audio quality for our roving reporters, or piloting green screen broadcasting, the crew discovers that only through some failures can they truly learn – how do we solve this newest challenge? The FNN crew – and the growing number of other participating Fletcher students – are learning and using real life skills. Each FNN crew member has a clear job description. Each student on the team must develop and practice the planning and troubleshooting challenges they will inevitably face in life beyond school. And as the team connects and matures, its members must train and nurture new recruits to expand the program.
The Fletcher School serves students with a variety of special learning differences, and hands-on use of technology has become vital to this mission. Live broadcasting through the Fletcher News Network embodies this important component to support our curriculum. For students with learning differences who have struggled and lost confidence before arriving at Fletcher, FNN offers a sanctuary where skills and talents can provide a daily sense of accomplishment and success. FNN provides a vivid example of how the intentional use of educational technology engages students to become effective leaders, collaborative team members, and skillful problem solvers. On any given broadcast day, FNN reveals students enthusiastically learning, growing, and having fun.