Please welcome guest author Matt Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft is a 2004 graduate of West Virginia University, where he received his Masters degree in secondary education. He has been an educator in Allegany County for nine years, where he currently teaches AP Government, LSF Government, and Historical Research Methods at Mountain Ridge High School, located in Frostburg, MD.
Dan Whetzel started the Historical Research Methods class 15 years ago at Allegany High School (another high school in Allegany County, located in Cumberland). To the best of my knowledge Dan started the class not as an official class, but as a type of club in order to write a book about the Lonaconing Silk Mill. From there it became a class and topics broadened.
I have been fortunate enough to take that same curriculum he developed, which consisted of helping students obtain research methods, and using them to write a book, and change the medium to video documentary for Mountain Ridge starting in 2011. I didn’t experience the print to video changeover as any kind of hurdle per se, because we have never written a book in my classes; when I started the class in 2011 we started in the video medium.
There were many, many other hurdles though. Starting with getting the studio, lights, and audio working, to making all of the software work and formats function, to the final production of DVD’s and distribution…the first year was an adventure. Not to mention the fact that this documentary was created in 45 minute spans; we still only meet one class period a day, 45 minutes. This year has been much easier, but I have yet to have anything go to plan. Teaching this class prepares you to be flexible and handle any problems that may arise. There will be problems.
Our first two documentaries focused on the oral histories of local WWII veterans. “Our Freedom, Their Sacrifice” was our first release in 2011 and last year we released “Out of the Sticks, Into the Line of Fire”. The 2012 release told the story of WWII through our local veterans. Rather than focus on the people at the top, we focused on what the average GI went through at the major battles during the war. Over the years we have had only a few people decline to be interviewed; most of our citizens are more than happy to be a part of oral history documentaries.
How do we decide on our documentary topics? We have a spirited discussion at the end of the school year with students who are taking the class next year and choose a topic based on personal preferences, availability of interviews and what we would like to watch and see produced for the community.
The 2013 documentary “200 Years of Mountain City Memories”, like the first two, is a completely student created documentary. I am quite pleased with the quality of this project and the fact that we created a comprehensive history of Frostburg for the people of the Mountain City.
In the Historical Research Methods class, I am a facilitator and manager, not necessarily a teacher, and that allows students all creative control over the project. Students conduct the interviews, gather stock footage, record the narration, edit video and pictures, and put all of this together into a complete documentary.
I guess I am still a teacher at times, but once they learn the processes, it is more of a managerial role. Students also learn through the processes. They are constantly learning from producing the documentary. Time management, interview skills, soundboard and lighting basics, camera basics, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Premiere Elements, editing, research skills, and primary resource utilization. I am still their teacher, it still looks like a normal classroom, we just create documentaries that aren’t normally created by high school students. Any student can sign up for this class. It is an elective, and there are no prerequisites.
As to how the Historical Research Methods class has helped students further along in their careers, I did have one student go the Air Force Academy, and when he was being interviewed the people who select the cadets didn’t ask him about any other class except research methods. They were very pleased with what we had done to record the oral histories of local veterans. The student thinks this went a long way toward helping him get in.
If you’re interested in obtaining the ‘200 Years’ DVD, the cost is $15. You can buy it through Mountain Ridge High School [check made out to Mountain Ridge High School, c/o Matt Ravenscroft, 100 Dr Nancy Grasmick Ln, Frostburg, Md 21532, (301) 687-8014] or at Main Street Books in Frostburg.