We finally have enough equipment that I can put together camera “kits” that include the camera, a light, sound box, mics, cords, etc. Now, students can check out an entire kit and have all of the gear they may need with them for any particular situation. To make this a little bit more interesting, I chose to name the individual kits after former students who did outstanding work for me when they were here at Southwest.  So now, when a student checks out the equipment, rather than saying they want kit one or kit two, they can say that they want Hannah or Carlos, or Jay, Joey,  or Ralph.  It’s a fitting tribute to the kids who helped me build my program here at Southwest, and it will help to keep their names a part of our daily lives.

And who knows, maybe some day when these “Tributes”  are successful in their own right, they’ll come back and buy some upgraded equipment for “their” kit (pretty smart, eh?).

My thanks to the “Big Eight” !


Watch Vegas Grow

This is a time lapse photo of the Las Vegas Valley from 1984-2016.  Watch as the city spreads west and north:

Playing with Sights, Shapes and Shadows

I shot this thinking it might go up on Instagram, hence my breaking of the rule about shooting a “VerticalVideo”,. but the framing worked well as a format to play with, and the sound begged to be a nat sound video. Watch the shadows!


The Class of 2016

One of the more interesting aspects of being a teacher is that every year has its own personality. Sometimes that personality comes roaring through the door the first week of class, fully developed and ready to claim its place in the pantheon of Southwest CTA Video Kids. This was certainly the case last year, when I had fifteen seniors strut across the threshold of my classroom, push aside the few underclassmen brave enough to try and seat themselves in the “Senior Section”, and take charge of the class before the first show was even posted to the web site. It didn’t hurt that three of them had been best friends for almost their entire high school experience, and that they were also close with most of the others seated around them. There was a shared sense of ownership of the show, and it came through with every news story, commercial, show open and feature story that they turned in. They were a cohesive group that set the tone for the year on day one and carried it through all 180 days of their senior year.

Fortunately for me, that same sense of ownership was passed on to the kids who stepped into the shoes of the class of 2016, and even though they are only one-fourth the size of their predecessors, they make up in spirit what they lack in numbers. This year I have a large number of sophomores and juniors, and they are more than capable of taking care of the production of the daily news show. Because of this, I have handed over the production of The Outlook, our monthly news magazine, to the seniors. This will be something of a challenge, since  for the last two years Joey and Carlos produced nearly every episode of The Outlook themselves, and they have now moved on to the world beyond 7055 West Shelbourne.

So when we sat down to discuss The Outlook for the upcoming year, I told the seniors (and the class) that last year Joey, Carlos (and friends) had produced eight episodes of the show, but the year before Hannah, Jay, Ralph, and the class of 2015 had produced eleven shows.  Without hesitation, and with a level of confidence that is often so rare in teenagers, Edgar looked at me, and then at the class and said, “We’ll be doing twelve”.  There was something in his voice, or maybe it was the look in his eyes, that told me this kid was in charge, he knew what had to be done, and it won’t surprise me if he pulls off the unprecedented feat of producing twelve shows by the end of the year. So far this year he has co-produced two news stories and single-handedly created an episode of the community calendar for Inside Education.  He’s completed three packages in one week, and I only require four for the first quarter! You gotta love that level of dedication.

This year does not yet have the identifiable personality that every class eventually develops, but I’ve been doing this gig long enough to know that class personalities sometimes take time to develop. I’m looking forward to see how this year evolves, but I have little doubt that it’ll be an interesting year, and a unique one in its own way.

Mr. Riz

Note:  While writing this entry Edgar texted me to tell me that he, John, and Danielle had shot the first episode of The Outlook for the year, and that they would have it on the air this week. Wow!  I didn’t know where this entry was going when I sat down to write it, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear that he was going to be turning his his FOURTH project already.  (Do the math;  if he keeps up that level of output he’ll have over 140 projects done by the end of the year!)



Anyone who has known me for more than a few days knows that I something of a “foodie.” As a teenager I worked in a small grocery store in the deli and the meat departments, where I learned to cook ribs, make sausage from scratch, build deli sandwiches and even mix up five gallons of cole slaw at a time.  In college and immediately afterwards I cooked at a number of restaurants, (I can make linguine carbonara from scratch!) and I once cooked an entire breakfast buffet for one of my seventh grade English classes.

(Allow me a story:  At the end of the breakfast buffet, one of the girls in my class come up to me and handed me a dollar.  I told her, “No, no, it’s my treat!” she looked me in the eye and said, “Mr. Rizzo, even when it’s comped you always have to tip”. Only in Vegas would a twelve year old say something like that!)

My travels throughout Asia really sharpened my palette, and I confess a love for Japanese cuisine, especially sushi. I’m very fortunate to live by Hagi Sushi, one of the finest sushi bars in Las Vegas (in one of the unlikeliest of places) and I make it a point to indulge my sushi cravings there three to four times a month. This is not an all-you-can-eat place with rolls that would NEVER appear on a menu in Japan; this is a REAL sushi bar with sushi that has totally blown away everyone that I have brought in to enjoy their excellent nigiri and killer tempura.

12 piece chef’s choice at Hagi Sushi

So when my students ask what my favorite food is,  I have to answer sushi, but I quickly add that Texas barbecue runs a VERY close second. Now, when I was in the Navy I learned from Ben Harper, a born-and-raised Texan, that “barbecue” does NOT mean hamburgers and hot dogs sizzling away on a grill.  No, I was told, that’s a “cookout”. A barbecue involves smoking meat on a low  heat for hours on end. I was fortunate to eat more than my share of barbecue when I lived in Texas, and it’s a meal I truly enjoy.

I purchased a smoker a couple of years ago and have had some relative success in smoking  ribs and pork loins.  I’ve only attempted a brisket once, and it was, well, just OK.  It had a bit of a smoke ring and a nice smoky flavor, but it was a bit dry and really needed BBQ sauce to make it truly palatable. I do make some incredibly good smoked cashews and peanuts that my friends are always happy to receive as gifts, and I am always looking to improve my smoking skills in the area of beef and pork.

Last week I made a trip to Houston to see my friend Trevor. My flight arrived just after 6:00 am on a Saturday, and we headed out for Lexington, Texas; a trip that took almost three hours due to some horrendous traffic delays getting out of Houston.

Snow's SignAfter driving past countless farms and some beautiful Texas scenery, we arrived in Lexington and found a parking spot on the side of the road near a sign proclaiming our arrival at Snow’s BBQ.  Though it was only a little past nine in the morning, there was already a long line outside of the building. The line moved somewhat slowly, and the smell of smoked meats permeated the air, whetting everyone’s appetites for a taste of what many consider to be the finest BBQ in Texas. I didn’t mind the wait too much, as it gave me time to get caught up with Trevor, but the smell of what awaited me just past the screen door was truly making my mouth water.

Once inside, the olfactory delight was joined by the cacophony that is Snow’s serving line.  I admit to being more than a little overwhelmed at what to do and where to go, fortunately, Trevor has been here before and knew exactly what to order.  This left me time to put my video skills to use, and see what kind of mini-travelogue I could create with only my iPhone and iMovie:

After serving ourselves the complimentary baked beans, and grabbing some pickles and white bread, we went outside to join the others at the picnic tables that sit near the actual smoking pit. There we were able to watch the Pit Master work her magic as I filmed my first bites of this incredible culinary delight:

The entire meal consisted of a half pound of brisket, a half a rack of ribs, and a half pound of smoked jalapeño sausage. (And, of course, the bread and pickles!) We finished off all but a little bit of the brisket, which we brought home and later used in some gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. We left Snow’s with full bellies and headed west toward Austin and our next destination: Louie Mueller’s Barbecue, where we dined on pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, and some of the best peach cobbler I have ever eaten.  But that is another story, and will, as they say , have to wait!

Our Meal at Snows!


BTW:  It was only a week ago, but I’m ready to go back!

















International Classroom

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 11.41.29 AM

With each passing year I find myself using my class website with greater regularity and in far greater depth. I recently created a unit on the history of TV and broadcast journalism, and it is presented entirely online. I’ve also added a number of new online lessons to my photography class, and my upper-level kids have more of their work displayed in the archives than ever before. I spent the summer adding  new pages and updating others, and while working on the site I had some insights about how I use the Internet in the classroom, and how it has changed the way I think about education.

One of the more interesting effects of having had a class web site for over six years now, is seeing how it has leeched out of our school server and spread itself across the Internet proper.  Last year I had three different teachers from other parts of the country (and one from Canada) email me and ask if I would give them permission to use my Selfies unit. The first email was really eye-opening for me, as my Selfies unit wasn’t even linked anywhere on my site.  You see, I only have live links when I’m teaching a unit. This keeps the kids from skipping around from assignment to assignment.

So I started paying more attention to user statistics from my site.  During the summer I still averaged over 400 hits per week. I also noticed that the hits were coming from all over the world. The screen capture of the map above shows the visitors from a few weeks ago.  In addition to The Philippines and India, I also had recent hits from Great Britain, Sri Lanka, and from all over the United States. When I looked at what pages were getting the most hits, and I saw that the Selfies unit and the unit on informal portraiture were getting the most hits. In fact, when I Googled the phrase “Informal Portraiture” I was thrilled see that my page came up as the number one hit.

How cool is that?!

(And just to keep you web types happy, I double checked it on Bing and Yahoo and on two different computers!)

I also spent a few days last summer rigging up a green screen in my office so that I could film myself presenting information for my lessons.  Until now I would usually use the built-in camera on my iMac to film myself talking to the kids and guiding them through the lessons.  By using the green screen I am able to escape from the confines of the chair and make the video look a little more professional.  You can see one of the videos by clicking here.  (Note: the kids didn’t seem to get the “paradigm shift” joke).

It takes a bit of time to create these video lessons, but the benefits of having my lessons online are well worth the time I put into them.  This is especially true at the beginning of the year when kids transfer late into my class.  Years ago this would have meant my having to find time to cover the material with the new student, thus taking time away from the rest of the class.

Moreover, the current batch of freshmen were born in 2001 and 2002 and have NEVER known a world without the Internet. When they want to know something they automatically go to the Internet.  They don’t see YouTube as a site for viewing cat videos; it’s where they go when they want to learn how to do something.  A few years ago I had a young man who needed my help tying his tie before recording the morning show. One day he came in wearing his tie and it was tied in a perfect double Windsor knot.  I asked him who had tied it for him, and he said he found an instructional video on YouTube. (I learned that same knot in Navy boot camp under the watchful eye and unspoken threats of my company commander, and we were taught to do it without looking in a mirror!)

These kids have never opened an encyclopedia and have no idea what a card catalog is. Few of them have ever used a traditional dictionary and they all carry smart phones. Their access to information is instantaneous and research is something that rarely, if ever, takes place in a building full of books.  I’m pleased that my little corner of the Internet has become a spot for people other than my students to do research, and I feel fortunate to have been a teacher at a time when this paradigm shift has taken place.


Blogging to Learn

I have debated whether or not to include a blog as a part of my class website, and I’ve finally decided that the time is right, so I may as well take the plunge and see where this goes. I want to start this off by taking a minute to explain a little about my feelings about writing, and about what role this blog will play in my teaching.

One of the reasons I wanted to include a blog on the site is that it brings some life into what otherwise might simply be  a static information kiosk.  I really enjoy writing, as it gives me a chance to share the successes in my classroom, and, more importantly, to work through problems and issues as they arise.  I have kept a journal since I was in the Navy, and have filled up countless notebooks that will probably never be read by anyone other than myself. For the most part, these journals sit collecting dust on a closet shelf, but I do take them out on occasion and look back at where I was at an earlier time in my life. Reflecting back is often a good way to understand where I am, and it often helps me to realize where I want to go.

As a teacher I’ve also discovered that writing is a good way for me to make others think as well.  A friend once told me that she enjoyed reading my blog because she always encountered new words.  That’s something I truly appreciate, as it is always a happy occurrence when someone’s vocabulary grows due to something I’ve said.  A little serendipity goes a long way for me.

See what I did there?

Writing is a big part of what my video productions students do, and I’ve observed that the students who are the best writers are those who are also readers. Studies show that people who read literature and do so on a regular basis generally have a larger vocabulary than their non-reading peers. I’ve seen this on a personal level, as my dad was one of the most prolific readers I have ever known, and he was also one of the smartest people I have known.  I remember coming across an unusual term in college, and while two of my professors were unfamiliar with the term, my dad, whose formal education ended when he graduated from high school, knew the meaning of the term*.  How? He was a reader.

I don’t know exactly what the topics will be in this space, but I hope that they are ideas that will make people think.  I’m sure that there will be blogs that I assign as reading, but for the most part, I hope that kids will come to this space on a regular basis, if for no other reason than to see what it is that I have to say.

Mr. Riz
6/21/16 (yah, I’m writing during summer vacation!)

*Croaker sack was the word that befuddled my learned professors!