Tag Archives: Film in the Classroom

Close Reading Stranger Things

What are the elements of gothic fiction and how can the Netflix series Stranger Things help to teach gothic fiction and close reading? This is the inquiry project my students are currently working on in our film elective.

Gothic Films contain the following elements:

● Dark & gloomy
● Supernatural beings, monsters and the paranormal
● Heroes, villains, damsels in distress and sometimes, romance
● Feelings of suspense, mystery and fear
● Settings of unease such as dark forests, storms and unnerving
places

I first polled my students to see who had access to Netflix.  As students are watching Season One of Stranger Things we have been focusing on why this film series is so popular and the elements of great storytelling and filming.

To help building background knowledge, students read an article about the Stranger Things creators, Matt and Ross Duffer in the New York Times. Students then completed a graphic organizer based on their reading and understanding.

Reading Response Graphic Organizer

As students watched Season One we focused on color, lighting, sound, and music to build suspense. Students learn film terminology to help better understand the ways filmmakers manipulate these elements for emotional responses from the audience. For example, Diegetic sound is a noise which has a source on-screen. They are noises which have not been edited in, like dialogue between characters or footsteps. Another term for diegetic sound is actual sound. Non-diegetic sound is a noise which does not have a source on-screen, they have been added in like the music interludes. I asked students what are some of the ways the film directors use non-diegetic sounds to build tension and suspense in the series.

Additionally, students have studied the character archetypes presented in the film series and mapped out the hero’s journey based on Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth.

I do not only want students to be consuming the show, but also use the show as a catalyst for their own creativity and movie-making. Students have had two film challenges, courtesy of The Jacob Burns Film Center.

Film Challenge No. 1 – Taking inspiration from Stranger Things and what you learned about match cuts. Create a short film about someone or something in your house that is not what they seem to be. Your film should use at least one graphic match, a way to connect two shots by having similar composition. Also consider sound, color, and lighting to help tell your story.

Check out this film posted on the JBFC website:

Film Challenge No. 2 – Think about Stranger Things and the moments when the characters were introduced to the Upside-Down (the Lab Scenes, When the wall in Joyce’s home reveals another world, when Nancy and Jonathan go into the Upside-Down.

Your second film challenge is to use some new camera moves and create a story about a mysterious room in your home.

IMAGE: Revealing a character’s reaction or a new piece of information at just the right moment can add the perfect amount of tension to your zombie love story or get a big laugh in your action-comedy.

A whip pan is a quick turn of the camera that can be a stylish way to make that big reveal. You must use a whip pan to reveal something to the audience. Check out the video about the Whip Pan Shot below for more information.

SOUND: What’s the sound of a sword made of light? What about a monster made of cosmic gas and time particles? Deep questions like these are the realm of the Sound Effect Designer and her team. They create all the sounds in a film from the common (footsteps), to the uncommon (Chewbacca). Create at least 3 sound effects for your film.

STORY: A new room has just appeared in your house! Nobody has ever seen it before. Was it there all along? How could you miss it?! Maybe it just appeared. However it happened, now it’s here and there’s a problem.
A few tips:

Every scene in your film should move the story forward in some way, big or small, and every scene should have conflict.

A character wants/needs something, and the story can’t move forward until they get it. Remember, the scene is only interesting if there is something in the way of your character and their goal.

Using frames from Stranger Things I created weekly check-ins with my students, like this  “Meme” Check-ins in a Google Forms and ask how students are doing under the current pandemic.

Stranger Things Meme Check In

Here were a few student responses:

I love creating films but I like watching and breaking down shows/movies better.

I enjoy when we watch little videos about something related to film making.

I like creating more than watching.

Class online school is has been good so far! The lessons and everything have been nice.

Class has been really good during this online school period. The amount of work is really good and the assignments can be fun.

Lastly, students are comparing what is real and what is fiction in the show. Students researched more about What Was Going on in the Hawkins Laboratory in Stranger Things? From the 1950s to 1970sProject MKUltra, also called the CIA mind control program, is the code name given to a program of experiments on human subjects that were designed and undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency—and which were, at times, illegal. Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations in order to weaken the individual and force confessions through mind control. The project was organized through the Office of Scientific Intelligence of the CIA and coordinated with the U.S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories.

For a creative writing activity, student wrote out the dialogue for the scene between Dr. Brenner and Hopper in Episode 7 at the Lab. What did they say to each other that allowed Hopper to go into the Upside Down with Joyce. Having students write out edited scenes sheds light on inferential knowledge and understanding.

Television shows and movies are great visual texts to help students practice close reading skills and showcase their understanding in creative ways like movie making projects.

 

 

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Empathy Mapping as a Classroom Protocol

Empathy is defined as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’ This is something that’s becoming increasingly necessary in a world that seems polarised by intolerance and a lack of cultural understanding and sympathy. Having a greater sense of empathy with an understanding of the people around us can also help us to develop more productive and positive relationships and help reduce personal conflicts. (Peachey Publications, 2018)

My students are currently in the throws of creating a short film (Public Service Announcement, Documentary, or Short Feature) about a problem in the world they want to bring attention to. Students first had to pick the problem, then research more about the problem they selected, finding credible and reliable data about their topic. Then students completed a film proposal on Google Forms before they started their storyboards outlining their vision for the film.

Before we started filming, students create an empathy map to help consider their audience’s perspective.  Businesses often use the process of empathy mapping to understand and serve their customers better. By completing the empathy map students have a better understanding on their viewers or direct users of their film. 

An empathy map has four quadrants:

The Says quadrant contains what the user will say.

The Thinks quadrant captures what the user is thinking. 

The Does quadrant focuses on the actions the user takes.

The Feels quadrant is the user’s emotional response.

I created more specific questions to lead my students through the different quadrants and help them articulate their expectations for their film and the purpose of the film.

empathy map

The goals section on the bottom of the map helps students with the next steps and create a checklist of things to do to in order to create the film. At the same time, this map reveals any holes in the students design process as well as guide them towards a meaningful film.

Outside of this film project, I think about using empathy maps as a learning tool in English where students create empathy maps about the characters in the stories or literature they are reading. In longer texts, they can gradually build the empathy maps for each of the characters in the story as they gather more information.

 

 

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Project Based Learning

This past week I spent three days in a project based learning (PBL) workshop with Jill Ackers-Clayton from Fielding Nair International (FNI) learning about effective 21st-century teaching and learning practices surrounding active learning spaces and project-based instruction. 

In turn, I have revamped my 7th and 8th grade media elective class to be a twenty week project based learning experience with my students. I have mapped out the project and authentic challenge based on the question: How can we develop an award winning movie short to highlight a problem in our world?

Students will have twenty weeks to direct and produce a 5 minute film (Documentary, Short Feature or Public Service Announcement (PSA)) about a real world problem that ignites them AND organize a film festival to present student created films to school wide community audience.

According to Dayna Laur and Jill Ackers in their book Developing Natural Curiosity Through Project Based Learning  there are five stages to guiding students through the process: (1) Authentic Challenge & Purpose; (2) Information and Prototyping; (3) Perspective and Point of View; (4) Actions and Consequences and; (5) Considerations and Conclusions.

MSK Syllabus 2019-2020-2

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MSK Syllabus 2019-2020-7

Since I want students to utilize the elements of cinematography that best illustrates this community problem and showcases your understanding of film production, the first ten minutes of class I will provide a View Now Do Now that introduces film history, vocabulary, and study of craft. I have outlined the View Nows Do Nows for the first month of school on the slide deck below.

If you do project based learning with your students I would love to know the authentic challenges and learning experiences. Please share your insight in the comments on this blog.

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Driven to Do Something

I recently went to a special screening of National Geographic’s Science Fair. Filmmakers follow nine high school students from around the globe as they compete at an international science fair. Facing off against 1,700 of the smartest teens from 78 countries, only one will be named Best in Fair.

The film, from Fusion and Muck Media and directed by the DuPont Award-winning and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaking team Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, offers a front seat to the victories, defeats and motivations of an incredible group of young men and women who are on a path to change their lives, and the world, through science.

Long before the director, Christina Costantini was an investigative journalist, she describes herself as “a science fair nerd.” As a freshman in high school, she placed fourth and it changed her life forever. Her knowledge and experience participating in science fairs brings depth and an inside look at the young people who compete in science fairs. There is no one type of student who represents these passionate teens and this documentary follows nine individual students chasing a dream.

After the film there was a Q&A with high school science teacher and documentary subject Dr. Serena McCalla. Dr. McCalla, one of the student mentors featured in Science Fair, is a research teacher from Long Island. Known for her demanding, in-your-face style, she transformed her team of young students from Jericho High School—most of whom speak English as a second language—into one of the best science fair teams in the world. In an ultra-competitive setting where it is remarkable for any high school to have one or two students qualify for Intel ISEF, Dr. McCalla had nine. Dr. McCalla is capped at ten participants at ISEF and this year her goal is to bring all ten students to the competition. Her program consists of 60-120 tenth through twelfth graders. She told the audience that this international competition that has been described as “the Olympics of Science Fairs,” is 50% Science and 50% Sell. For the past ten years she has been the research director she has sent more than 70 students to Intel and has built a network and community among all her students who get back together annual to share insights, help each other with jobs, research, and make connections. She dedicates her life to the young people she works with and nurtures their interests. She notes that one day, one of her students will win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Competing in a science fair is not just a resume builder or a ticket to an Ivy League College, but a passion for the students presented in the documentary. At the beginning of filming, the directors were following 60 students and over the course of the year and in the documentary highlight nine. In order to qualify for Intel, ISEF, students need to compete and win in state and local affiliate fairs. Not only does one have to have a project that impacts the world or a global problem in some way, you also need to be able to articulate the project and your passion in a graphically pleasing way. Your display boards are an extension of yourself and must sell your research and data before the judges even interview you. Then, if you are a finalist, you spend hours being interviewed by all different scientists and researchers who are judging 1,700 projects.

What is going to make your stand out? Your presentation, your data, and how well you are able to communicate your passion to the judges. Intel ISEF finalists compete on average $4 million in awards and prizes and are judged on their creative ability and scientific thought, as well as the thoroughness, skill, and clarity shown in their projects.

The Gordon E. Moore Award is the $75,000 top award of the Intel ISEF is provided to the top Best in Category project.

Jack Andraka, American inventor, scientist, and cancer researcher won The Gordon E. Moore Award as a Freshman in High School in 2012. He is known for his award-winning work on a potential method for possibly detecting the early stages of pancreatic and other cancers, which he performed while he was a high school student.  His memoir, Breakthrough describes he curiosity as a little kid and what led him into the sciences – with few basement explosions along the way. Jack is interviewed throughout the documentary Science Fair, offering insight and reflection on the process of getting and winning at Intel ISEF.

This documentary challenges all assumptions about science nerds. Science Fair is a must see for educators whether you teach science or not. The students presented in the film are determined, intelligent, and show ingenuity. To see the passion that the teachers and students have is inspiring to all and an ode to curiosity.

 

 

 

 

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The Hero’s Journey: A Study in Film

Years ago I attended the National Gallery for Art‘s Summer Workshop focusing on Mythology. I spent a week in Washington, DC with fifty other educators learning from academics, teachers, and visiting every museum in the District. One evening we attended the National Air and Space Museum to see an exhibit highlighting the Joseph Cambell’s The Hero Journey through the lens of George Lucas’ Star Wars. The exhibit paralleled two stories, making visible a plot structure and trope that plays out continuously in film and story canon.

Joseph Campbell, an American mythological researcher, wrote a famous book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  As MythologyTeacher.com points out, “in his lifelong research Campbell discovered many common patterns running through hero myths and stories from around the world.  Years of research lead Campbell to discover several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through (no matter what culture the myth is a part of).  He calls this common structure “the monomyth.” It is commonly referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.'”

monomyth

When George Lucas was writing his drafts of the early Star Wars movies he had read Joseph Campbell’s work and there is a clear structure of the Hero’s Journey in Lucas’ films.

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Star Wars is not the only films that follows the Hero’s Journey. Many of Disney’s Films also use this plot structure in their animated feature films: Finding Nemo, Mulan, The Lion King, The Incredibles, and Moana. Additional movies include Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda. Major feature films like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Spiderman, Matrix, and The Hobbit also follow this trope.

I am using The Hero’s Journey with in my Media Literacy class to teach about plot structure, character motivation, and theme in the stories they write and films they create. I started by asking students to think about what qualities they associate with heroes. Are heroes born or are they made? Are there heroes in real-life or must they be larger-than-life? Who are the heroes in our society.

Students viewed short films about the Hero’s Journey to understand the monomyth. Then we brainstormed possible movies, books, and stories that would fit within this structure. Students were given a graphic organizer of the The Hero’s Journey to map out a text on their own. The graphic organizer on MythologyTeacher.com was clear and specific to help students articulate their understanding. I found out among my students that not many have seen animated Disney Films, The Hunger Games, or the new Spiderman Homecoming movie. With this in mind, I will be showing the class the movie  Spirited Away by MIYAZAKI (2001), one of my favorite filmmakers.

Many of Miyazaki’s films follow the Hero’s Journey and are great to use with students. Once we view a film in it’s entirety together, we will discuss and plot out the Hero’s Journey in the film. Students will use this foundation for writing their own Hero’s Journey story that they will make into a movie. Additionally, students will apply the foundations of film knowledge (Types of Shots, Color, Sound, and Style) to effectively tell their Hero’s Journey story.

 

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Media Literacy Lessons from the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute

JBFC Sound Studio   Students as Filmmakers

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute in Pleasantville, New York. The week long institute included a sneak preview of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and a viewing of the documentary Jordowosky’s Dune. In addition to viewing the two movies, I also attended workshops to address teaching media literacy in the digital age. JBFC is launching a new media literacy curriculum online this fall that is aligned with the Common Core and centers around image and story as it relates to analyzing and creating media (movies, animation, images, and print text).

Here are some key ideas that can be applied in any classroom relating to teaching media literacy and film studies.

1. Teach Film Terminology – The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) has set up a great Visual Glossary with terminology relating to film and media. The site not only offers a definition of a cinematic concept but also includes multiple examples from film clips to illustrate the film technique. Teachers need to teach and utilize these terms with students.  When analyzing film or creating a media text we want students to understand that a filmmaker makes deliberate choices to convey a message or emotion the way an author selects specific words to convey meaning. This element relates to craft and structure as identified in the Common Core.

2. Films are a Text and they way we teach them in our class should mirror the way we teach Close Reading – In the age of the Common Core, teachers are asking students to “mine the text for details, ideas, and deeper meanings” (Fisher and Frey, 2014). Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too. When watching a film, students should view for content analysis and understanding, but also to understand the filmmaker’s point of view and purpose.

3. Students are Creators & Filmmakers – In teaching 21st century skills, students are creators. Teachers should allow students to create their own images and interpretations to text and information. There are a host of film projects that you can have your students create as described in a blog post I wrote earlier this month. The creation process is just as important as the final product. Let students understand the undertaking involved in creating a film from the story, setting, lights, sound, editing, to the characters.

4. Storyboards are Essential to Creating. It all begins with one idea, a seed, a spark, an overheard conversation, and an idea is born. Yet, a writer or filmmaker cultivates the idea, outlines, drafts, sketches the paths where the idea is to expand and reveal a story. Students need to outline and sketch their ideas like real writers and artists. Storyboards are great scaffolding tools to help students put their ideas down on paper, and unravel the threads of ideas that encompass their story. Allow students to review, revise, and reflect on their work. As mentioned above, it is not so much about the final product, but the process is just as important.

5. Movie Clips as Teaching Tools – So many wonderful shorts and movie clips were shared throughout the week to utilize with my students and teach various concepts and ideas. I have compiled a playlist of ten movie clips that I will bring back to the classroom. Think about how you can use these clip to help teach point of view, structure, and or image.


 

 

 

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