Tag Archives: Media Savvy Kids

Twilight Zone Film Analysis & Creation Project

This post is a request from one of my followers. In the past I have written about using the original “Twilight Zone” series for close reading assignments and film creation with my middle school students. The classic Twilight Zone episodes from season one (1959) through season five (1963) are available on Netflix and CBS All Access. CBS All Access also has the newer episodes produced by Jordan Peele in 2019 and 2020.

The original “The Twilight Zone” was the brainchild of Emmy Award-winner Rod Serling, who served as host and wrote over 80 episodes of the original show’s 150-plus episode run. It’s a strange mix of horror, science-fiction, drama, comedy and superstition. Serling introduced each episode, and many of the black and white hours concluded with a surprise, twisted ending. Actors such as Burt Reynolds, Roddy McDowell and Robert Redford made appearances in some of the more well-known stories.

I have been using “Twilight Zone” in my classroom for more than a decade. First as a reader’s theater assignment and then as a model and mentor text for science fiction and fantasy writing. I recently updated the playlist for a “Twilight Zone” film analysis and film creation project and I am sharing it here with my readers and followers to adapt and use in their own classrooms. You can get a copy HERE.

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Critical and Close Reading of Marvel’s Black Panther

I teach a media literacy course to middle school students. Throughout the semester students are studying elements of film and creating their own films including short documentaries and creative films to showcase their understanding of the craft and structure of visual storytelling. 

I wanted to take some time to closely examine a popular film and look at not only basic comprehension of the storyline but the nuances of craft and structure to help convey themes and ideas about deeper socio-political and historical topics. I selected Marvel’s 2018 Black Panther knowing that it is rich in African American history, culture, and commentary. When my students are in class, we watch the movie and then when students are home and learning remotely, I have created a viewing guide and hyperdoc to guide their viewing of the text and even reread significant scenes. 

The first hyperdoc contains background information on Black Panther the comic and how the movie came to fruition. Thanks to history teacher Amanda Sandoval for her Frayer Model Vocabulary slides. 

The second hyperdoc is for students after viewing the first 30 minutes of the film. Students will analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3) and Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1)

An additional resource from the New York Times to address craft and structure feature so the film is their Anatomy of a Scene series. In this particular scene director of Black Panther, Ryan Coogler narrates a sequence from his film featuring Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther. If you are not familiar with this online series from the New York Times, it is a great resource where film directors walk viewers through one scene of their movies, showing the magic, motives and the mistakes from behind the camera.

With the unfortunate passing of Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman this past summer, teachers might also use his commencement speech at Howard University in 2018 or his acceptance speech at Screen Actor’s Guild Awards in 2019, two powerful speeches that showcase his grit, perseverance, and resiliency. 

The lessons are endless that stem from this movie and I am not finished in creating this unit. It continues to evolve. How do you use popular culture to teach literacy, history, and lifeskill? Share your ideas in the comments section on this blog.  

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Reflections of Project Based Learning

This past fall I embarked on a project based learning opportunity with my media literacy elective class for 7th and 8th graders. It has always been a project based course, but this semester I gave my students an authentic challenge and ten weeks to fulfill the requirements.

Authentic Challenge – How can we develop an award winning movie short to highlight a problem in our world and create a film festival to showcase these movie shorts?

As my students were working on their own videos, I created a video to document the process using Adobe Spark.

Whereas, I wanted my students to make a movie that was 5 minutes in length, that was very difficult for many of the students. Most of the movies were around 3 minutes in length and all follow a documentary style format. Despite examining PSAs and short feature films, all felt the documentary format was the best to communicate their message and meet the objectives of the project.

Last week, my students presented their films to the entire 8th grade during a film festival  assembly.  This was the scariest and most stressful part of the process – most students confided – but it allowed for an authentic audience.

I compiled all the students’ films on YouTube and created a playlist with all their films.

At the end of the process, I asked students to complete a reflection that asked questions about the process and their final product. Students were honestly candid on the reflections. Many told me that it was too much work for an elective class and they learned how challenging it is to produce and edit a short film.

MSK PBL Reflection on Google Forms

Among my own reflections, I observed many students losing steam producing a video over ten weeks of creation and editing. As many times as we viewed the films and offered suggestions for edits, students did not always following through with the edits. The students stamina for the project wavered depending on the day. Next semester I am thinking of breaking up the semester into two projects, one non-fiction and one, a fictional film.

I shared the student videos with Rushton Hurley, author and founder of Next Vista for Learning, an educational nonprofit dedicated to saving the world from ignorance, one creative video at a time. I met Ruston at an Google Summit in Connecticut back in October of 2019 and then we ran into each other again at this past month at FETC. I spoke with him about how to  get students to see revision as an opportunity rather than a tedious task. How do we move students from one and done to seeing revision as an on-going process to better work.

Rushton shared this video with me along with a blog post he wrote regarding the same dilemma. The video portrays “the lesson that we get better as we get and effectively act on constructive critique.”

The great thing about teaching a semester long class is that I have the opportunity to reflect, revise, and re-do. Next week I get to launch the project with a new group of students and this time I will approach revision and editing in a new way to support my student’s stamina and attention to detail.

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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

MSK Syllabus 2019-2020-3

MSK Syllabus 2019-2020-5

MSK Syllabus 2019-2020-6

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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Traveling Through The Twilight Zone with 3 Writing and Viewing Assignments

“You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

Te Twilight Zone was a television series that first aired in 1959 for five seasons and has had three revivals since then, including this year on CBS. Created by Rod Serling, the original series addressed topics of science fiction, suspense, horror, and fantasy. The original series is currently available on Netflix.

This classic series is a great text to analyze with students and use as a creative writing model. Through the science fiction, fantasy, horror, and suspense, Sterling (who wrote two thirds of episodes) was able to include his own social commentary timely themes  from the anxieties of nuclear threat to the broken promises of suburbia, warning against anti-intellectualism and condemning virulent racism and bigotry — themes that all sound uncannily familiar today. 

Two episodes to watch with students are the 1963 episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and the 2019 remake, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.”  These two episodes are worth viewing for a compare and contrast assignment. I have provided the graphic organizer I created for my students below.

Each episode of the initial Twilight Zone opened with a monologue from Serling where he would introduce the theme in his own, hypnotizing way. Sometimes abstract, sometimes, direct, each monologue served to draw the viewer into a story that might challenge long-held beliefs or put them in a world they never could’ve imagined. Each of these monologues ended with Serling inviting the viewer to enter a story that took place in “The Twilight Zone.”   

Similarly, the Twilight Zone closing monologues offered commentary and persuasion. Check out the closing monologue from “Eye of the Beholder.”

Now the questions that come to mind: where is this place and when is it, what kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? You want an answer? The answer is, it doesn’t make any difference. Because the old saying happens to be true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out amongst the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone (1960).

What does Ron Sterling state in his closing statement? What is he trying to persuade his audience to think about? Examining the openings and closings requires students to study  craft and structure. Viewing and studying openings and closings are opportunities for students to flex their own writing muscles and voice to provide their audience with synthesis, analysis, and substance. Once students look at various models and mentors, they can write their own concise social commentaries or monologues about fear, identity, or stereotypes.

Ultimately, having students create their own compelling Twilight Zone episode or updating a classic Twilight Zone episode allows students to be creative and innovative communicators. Storyboards and graphic organizers are scaffolding tools to help students create and execute an engaging episode.

Twilight Zone Proposal

Twilight Zone Project Reflection

Twilight Zone Planning Sheet

Want more about the Twilight Zone formula and storytelling techniques, check out this video essay deconstructing the cinematic techniques and formula for Twilight Zone episodes.




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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.'”


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.



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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Where film and writing merge: Match on Action

This weekend I attended ACME: Action Coalition for Media Education 5th Annual summit hosted by Sacred Heart University’s Media Literacy & Digital Culture graduate program and co sponsored with Project Censored. ACME identifies itself as “an emerging SmartMedia Education Network, a global coalition run by and for media educators.” ACME’s mission is threefold:

  1. Teaching media education knowledge and skills – through keynotes, trainings, and conferences – in classrooms and communities to foster more critical media consumption and more active participation in our democracy.
  2. Supporting media reform — few multinational corporations (Big Media) own much of the media that shapes our 21st century culture.– Media reform is crucial since only those who are media educated support media reform, media education must be a top priority for all citizens and activists.
  3. Democratizing our media system through education and activism.

Topics throughout the day addressed pedagogy, citizenship, digital production, journalism, and representations of race, class, and gender.  I was invited to present with colleagues from Jacob Burns Film Center on their curriculum Image, Sound, and Story. Currently, in its third year of fruition, Image Sound and Story is a “series of ten hands-on lessons/projects that emphasize process, challenge-based learning, collaboration, and reflection to build students’ visual and aural communication skills.”

Our presentation was hands on and allowed participants to experience a piece of JBFC curriculum. We focused on structure and I shared how I use Image, Sound, and Story in my media literacy elective, Media Savvy Kids, and how it also influences my English classroom.

The unit on Structure (Moment to Moment) focuses on how to connect ideas through editing and match cuts when creating a film. When teaching writing, writer’s need to offer a road map for their readers in order to understand the sequence of ideas. Writers use specific transitions to guide and emphasize their intentions. These transitions are similar to the types of cuts film directors and editors have to think about to create a coherent film. Below are the slides from the presentation and at the end I include samples of student work to highlight the intentions of my student writers.


To learn more about Media Literacy professional development opportunities click on the links below:

Jacob Burns Film Center summer professional development for teachers 

Media Literacy Education for a Digital Generator Summer Institute for Educators at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont

Summer Media Institute at Wedlock College in Boston, Massachusetts

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Animation as a Catalyst for Making Global Connections

Global collaboration is an innovative teaching tool that helps prepare students to become active participants in our global community. Global collaborative projects tap into many of the existing and emerging skills and literacies required of teachers and students: listening, reading, writing, speaking, problem solving, creating, and using technology to practice digital citizenship (NETS).   In fact, collaboration is included throughout the Common Core Learning Standards. It states in both the K-5 and 6-12 standards for speaking and listening, “Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.” (CCLS, 2010)  Global collaborative projects help to meet these standards.

Many global collaborative projects currently exist that teachers can apply and participate in such as  Flat Classroom Project, iEarn, and Classroom2.0.  Teachers can also create their own global collaboration projects.  Global partnerships are about making connections with other teachers and schools to benefit all students’ learning.  These partnerships can be made through Twitter, blogs, conferences, and or even with teachers around your school district.

At this fall’s Edscape Conference (http://edscapeconference.com), I connected with the educational coordinator from the Japan Society in New York City to establish a partnership between students at a school in Japan and my middle school students in Rye, New York.  The global collaborative project benefits my seventh and eighth grade media literacy elective. During the semester course, I use Disney animated films to teach critical theories of gender, race, class, and age.  To broaden the unit, I add Japanese anime so students can understand how anime can be a window into other cultures around the world.  Japanese anime becomes an exciting catalyst to spark conversation and global awareness among my students in New York and the students in Japan.  The goal of this project is to expand my students’ world views of different cultures through media literacy and more specifically, anime.

Communicating. Prior to participating in the  global project with the students from Japan, I spend a week setting up the project with my students. I teach netiquette and responsible digital citizenship.  Teachers cannot assume that students know how to work together collaboratively in the classroom, let alone online.  When working with students around the world, one must take into consideration language barriers and cultural differences as well.  Teachers need to support students throughout a global project to help to facilitate successful collaboration and communication.

To help initiate a discussion about working with others, I give my students different scenarios with “sticky” small group situations, and I ask them to brainstorm positive responses.  For example,  one scenario includes a small group with one student who acts as a dictator and completes all the work while other group members take a backseat to the project. Another scenario is about miscommunication among group members.  In the third scenario one group member’s contributions are inaccurate, but the other group members do not want to hurt the student’s feelings and the work is wrong.  My own students resolve these small group situations and create positive alternatives.

Students know that when working with others, they need to be considerate of others, but they don’t know what respectful and cooperative work looks like or sounds like.  It is necessary to model for students positive communication for successful collaboration, offer guidelines, and even provide specific communication starters for students.  In Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels’ Comprehension and Collaboration (Heinemann, 2009), there is a thorough list of communication starters to help students articulate respect and tolerance including, “I am glad that you brought that up. I would have never thought of that” and “I agree with what you are saying.”

Collaborating. There are three elements to the media literacy global collaborative project.  First, students participate in an introductory assignment where, individually or with a partner, they create a written blog post or digital video about themselves and the community where they live.  Students share these videos and blog posts online using the Japan Society’s  secure social networking site, “Going Global.”  This introductory “handshake” allows students to introduce themselves to the global participants and share information about their own cultural interests.  Students have the option of taking pictures of their community to include in their post to provide a visual perspective on the community where they live.  This assignment not only helps students to see the commonalities and differences among all the participants, but it also initiates inquiry and interest among students.

After the initial handshake, students view two Disney animated films and two Japanese animes.  This year students view the recent Disney princess film; Tangled (2010) and Brave (2012).  Then students view My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001), both by Hayao Miyazaki, who has been called the Walt Disney of Japanese anime. Each student is assigned a critical theory to research and write a collaborative report on a Wiki.  Students then apply the critical theory to the films and include the analysis on the Wiki page.  As an example, students collaboratively critique how gender is represented in both the Disney films and Japanese anime.

In addition to the collaborative piece with the students in Japan, I have my students collaborate with another member of our class and create a video segment discussing their critical theory applied to the Disney princess films.  We link all the videos together to create a “Choose Your Own Adventure” video montage on YouTube.  YouTube has an feature that allows teachers to insert a hyperlink into the video uploaded using the spotlight annotation tool.  Students write their own scripts based on their research and analysis, and then we spend four class periods recording the videos.  As a final step,  I upload the videos to YouTube and link the videos together.

The project has multiple layers.  Each component of the project is scaffolded for the diverse range of student abilities.  With each element of the project, I present my students with models, checklists,  and assessment rubrics so they know the project’s expectations.

Culminating. Creating a successful global collaborative project requires much planning. Clear goals and outcomes with all participants must be communicated.  A successful project is interactive, engaging, and revolves around real questions and problems.  Whether participating in an already existing global project or creating your own, global projects allow students to utilize multiple skills relevant to succeeding inside and outside of the classroom.

This article was written for and appeared first in the inaugural Literacy Special Interest Journal for ISTE.  Be sure to check out all of the intriguing literacy projects described in the journal’s first edition.  
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Choose Your Own Adventure Video Project: Deconstructing Disney Princess Films

Do you remember the choose your own adventure books when you were back in elementary school? The reader gets to choose what will happen next.  The CYOA video project is the same idea, the viewer gets to choose what he or she would like to view next by clicking on a link embedded on the video.

In my media literacy elective, Media Savvy Kids, I have my students watch Disney animated films to learn and understand critical theories of gender, race, class, and age.  As a culminating project I decided to have my students create a Choose Your Own Adventure video project to highlight their understanding of critical theory by applying one of the critical theories to Disney’s princess films.  The idea of a Choose Your Own Adventure Project was inspired by  Greg Kulowiec’s high school social studies CYOA video project  that was shared with me at a recent ed tech conference.

First, we watched Tangled in class. Afterwards, I presented my reading of the movie introducing and applying each critical theory to the film.  I defined the critical theories for my students and showed examples how the critical theories can be applied to the movie.  The following week, we watched Brave together in class.  The idea behind these two movies was that they are the most recent Disney princess films and are suppose to present a more updated and feminist princess.  But is she really?  That was one of the guiding questions for this unit of study.  Students had to apply the critical theories and pull put specific examples in the movie Brave.  For the assessment project I selected the student partnerships and each group chose the critical theory they would present in the video.  Students were required to offer three to four specific examples from the movie to support their claim and critical reading of the movies.  Students were also allowed to bring in additional examples from other Disney princess films.  Students collaborated writing their scripts and then we went into production filming the videos.

Here is what the project looked like on paper in the planning stage:


Here is the rubric I created for the project:

Here is the final project:


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