Teacher Feature February 2023: Tony Cushman

Each month, we spotlight and celebrate a teacher in our community.

Tony Cushman teaches 3rd Grade at Rolph Road Elementary School in Toronto, Canada. There, he sees important young people doing important things everyday—that’s what inspired him to launch a news broadcast with his students to tell these stories. 

Just this past summer, with the financial support of the parent council, and guidance from community members that work in the industry, Tony built a professional-grade Production Studio at his school. This new space has ignited an explosion of creativity at Rolph Road Elementary, and has provided meaningful opportunities for the Kindergarten – Grade 6 students to develop their digital literacy skills. 

This past month, Tony and Grade 6 Teacher, Andrew Edmonds, launched Rolph Road News, a live-streamed, student-produced broadcast that amplifies the voices of students from across their school. 

Learn about Tony’s favorite StoryMaker lesson, pro-tips for launching a production studio, and how he’s starting up a weekly broadcast with elementary school students in our Q&A below.

How long have you been using StoryMaker?

I discovered StoryMaker just last month in January when searching for resources to use with our students for our Rolph Road News project. Andrew and I knew journalism would provide many rich, cross-curricular learning opportunities for students, and loved the way Storymaker structures the conceptual and technical learning into engaging pieces.  .

We know it can be overwhelming to start a production studio. Can you share your setup?

We have set-up professional-grade cameras, microphones, green screens, lighting rigs, a teleprompter, and lots more. Classes from across our school are very engaged with filmmaking using this equipment, and are also really enjoying the process of editing this content in their classrooms using cloud-based editing software. [ see Tony’s equipment list here ]

We also understand you just launched your weekly broadcast. Congratulations! What were your goals and how is that working with elementary students?

Thanks! Yes, a big next step for us after setting up the studio was for students to produce a weekly news broadcast. This has been a great way for students to share the content they are producing in the studio, and to  highlight the learning and events happening across Rolph Road each day. My Grade 3 class and Andrew’s Grade 6 class are producing this show together, with the goal of including as many K-6 student voices as possible in our broadcasts.  

Each weekly show is live-streamed to all classrooms via OBS live-editing software routed into an unlisted YouTube link, and features:

  • Announcements submitted by school staff, read by two different student news anchors each week
  • Pre-recorded news segments recorded and edited by our students, featuring interviews with students and staff
  • Pre-recorded clips/ads about upcoming school events, clubs, etc.
  • Pre-recorded creative content that different classes have produced in our studio
  • Other fun weekly segments based on the ideas of students

For the pre-recorded news segments, our Grade 3 and Grade 6 students will be asked to identify important news stories from our school to highlight. They will plan the location and questions for their story, conduct interviews on location and record B-Roll footage, and then edit their content so that it can be broadcast on an upcoming Rolph Road News broadcast.

Favorite piece of equipment, gadget, or media making program you love to nerd out on or just can’t live without?

For making live filmmaking accessible to our elementary students, the Elgato Stream Deck is something we absolutely could not live without! We are using professional gear and OBS’ (famously complicated) editing software. The Stream Deck allows us to map complex controls to LCD buttons with pictures that students can use to control our production live. They love it!

For post-production with students, WeVideo has been a game-changer. It’s a cloud-based editing software that allows groups of students to collaborate on projects in real-time—like if iMovie and Google Docs had a baby. We can shoot new footage in our production studio with a class directly into WeVideo, and students can then start editing the content right away on their Chromebooks. I’m working with lots of classes on different multimedia projects, and without this software, the file management would be an absolute nightmare. 

What’s your favorite StoryMaker lesson or prompt? Why?

We are just getting started so What Makes a Good Video Story? was a perfect entrypoint for us! This activity helped students realize that important stories are unfolding before their eyes, everyday at our school. We are assigning each group of students the task of constructing their own news story, and we plan to use the Six Elements of a good video story rubric as success criteria to guide student productions. 

On the technical front, we are also loving the ‘Level-Up’ series of short videos, and know our students will find these tips very helpful!

Please share a piece of advice for teachers and educators just getting started on StoryMaker: 

I think for an expansive project like this, the Backwards Design model is key. Start with a vision for your final product, and then figure out each piece of the puzzle bit by bit. Make sure to include your students in crafting the original vision. Then they will be invested in it, and motivated to overcome all of the challenges (read: learning opportunities) that present themselves throughout the process. 

What’s a dream story you’d love to report on OR a person that would be a dream to interview? 

At Rolph Road News, we are focused on amplifying the voices of our students by telling important stories from within our school. Most of our interview subjects are students, and we can’t wait to feature our youngest (kindergarten) learners. That being said, if Drake is willing to sit down for an interview, I’m sure we can make an exception.

Currently listening to: 

I was a DJ on a cruise ship before becoming a teacher, and I now have a residency hosting a weekly dance party in our school playground. These are some of my biggest gigs ever! Students send in song requests each week, and “There’s Nothin’ Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes is perpetually stuck in my head.

Relevant websites or social media handles: Rolph Road School website + Rolph Road on Twitter

To see a Rolph Road News broadcast and learn more about how Tony has adapted StoryMaker into his classroom,  you can reach out to him directly. Email Tony at: anthony.cushman@tdsb.on.ca