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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reading Film: The Story of Movies

Martin Scorsese champions a visual-literacy curriculum, available free to teachers for use in middle school classrooms. Read the article.

Colleen: So, right now your job is to figure out where the light's coming from, how strong it is, the intensity, and perhaps how it makes you feel. Caroline?

Caroline: There was more than one light source, because you can see that half of the guy's face is lit up and that other half of his hat.

Narrator: These Santa Barbara sixth-graders are analyzing scenes from classic films like "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Student: It kind of seems like there might be moon -- a moon.

Narrator: They're in the middle of a four-week project called "The Story of Movies," a free curriculum that helps students develop critical-thinking skills and fosters an appreciation for the complexities of moviemaking.

Cathy: What we want teachers and children to do is look at film through three different lenses. The first lens would be film as a language, as a powerful communication tool. The second lens would be to look at film as a historical, cultural document, and then the final lens is to look at film as a work of art.

Narrator: Filmmaker Martin Scorsese started the program when he realized that kids needed tools to interpret the visual imagery they're immersed in every day.

Martin: So much of today's society is done visually and even subliminally for young people that it could be dangerous, and one has to know it's a very, very powerful tool. We don't mean to be having young people take two hours of their time to just sit and enjoy a movie. No, this is a learning experience. What you're doing is training the eye and the heart of the student to look at a film in a different way by asking questions and pointing to different ideas, different concepts.

Colleen: Can we have some people tell us why a cinematographer changes the lighting in a film?

Student: If it's lighter, it's more happy sometimes, and if it's darker it's mysterious and...

Colleen: So many of my children have told me that the way they get their information is from the television or from the movie screen, and when I ask them, "Well, how true do you think it is? How valid are those pieces of film clip?" they seem to think that it's all true because they saw it on film. So, I feel that this program and others like it that show how films are made, how it is artificial, will help them not just to believe things just because they're on the screen.

Narrator: The "Story of Movies" curriculum package, including lesson plans and DVDs, is available free of charge to teachers around the country. In a cross-curricular approach, students first learn the history of film, then move to lessons about the tools filmmakers use, from science experiments dealing with the properties of light...

Colleen: Watch what happens to the light, how it changes.

Narrator:... to observations of how various musical scores convey different emotions.

Cathy: Students have to tap their knowledge of music, their knowledge of art, their knowledge of literature, their knowledge of history in order to understand what's going on in the film. We can't just show it to them and say, "Now tell me what it means."

Martin: They need to know how ideas and emotions are expressed through a visual form, panning left and right, tracking in or out, booming up and down, intercutting a certain way, the use of a close-up as opposed to medium shot. What is a medium shot? What is a long shot? And how do you use all these elements to make an emotional and psychological point to an audience?

Student: I've never really thought to make my own movie before, and now I think it would be really fun, especially because now I've learned so much about the lighting and how much work it takes behind the scenes to make a movie and how lighting and music really affects the setting and the mood of it. I think it's a lot of work.

Narrator: For more information on what works in education, go to edutopia.org.

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Comments (57)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Karen Clayton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Social Studies and History allow a teacher to be creative. Maybe "dress up" in period character to introduce or teach a topic or concept. Being "new" to Social Studies this year I have been reviewing the SS curriculum this summer. I have made notes of possibly "dressing-up" to introduce a new unit or period. Very visual and attention getting for the students. Also when the kids see you "step out of the box" they are more comfortable to do the same. When kids are actually "involved" in their learning, they learn and retain more.

Karen Clayton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I so agree!! As we involve students in their own learning they become deeper thinkers and retain more of their learning for a lifetime. What a great feeling that we as teachers are giving these kids information to last a lifetime!

Karen Clayton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This sounds like a great program. I wish I had time to teach the entire movie unit. I especially liked the way Martin Scorsese showed the kids that the eye and the heart "see" a movie differently. In the "camel" scene the music creates the mood or how we "see" the scene. As the music changed, so did how we "see" the scene. Would like to try to "work" the unit into my curriculm.

Gloria Reid's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that children are more engaged in learning through videos and visuals. I use many of these aspects in their learning already.

Jewellyn Forrest's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This makes them engage with what they are seeing - they are active, rather than passive. The questioning/discussion is essential.

Carrie Spelgatti's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of teaching through the use of movies. I think it taps into our instinctual ability to learn visually. Movies not only tell facts, but they convey emotion that make the learning real. Let us not forget that the first way we learned things as infants was to watch our family members. We used our ability to interpret these actions to create meaning and then figured out how it could apply to ourselves (how can I do that, why should I do that, when should I do that, etc...)

Karen Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our students today are very media driven. If we could put our face on a little bitty screen, they would watch us for hours. Finding a way through movies to reach kids is really tapping into their interests. If we find their interest, then they will learn and retain the information presented to them.

Karen Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a teacher of social studies, I get bored reading from the textbook. If I can find a way to make the same information more interesting, then we all will be more interested in what we need to learn.

Billie Linda McMenamy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

WOW!! I absolutely love the idea of using more visuals to help foster a love of learning history in our kiddos. Students today are absorbed in visuals all the time with their video games, etc. Using films rather than just the textbook would certainly help make social studies come alive for students, especially my ESL students! I hope this idea takes off even in the elementary grades :-)

cathy cox's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

what a way to get the young student interested in movie making. Teachers can illustrate how perception is reality.

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