George Lucas Educational Foundation

Media Smarts: Kids Learn How to Navigate the Multimedia World

Teachers are discovering the value of imparting media-literacy skills, from critical analysis of news programs, commercials, and films to basic design and video-production techniques. More to this story.
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Narrator: The average American young person spends more than six and a half hours in front of some sort of screen each day. Surfing the web, watching TV, and playing games.

Teacher: Okay, when you have a novel--

Narrator: Yet, most schools treat the written word as the only means of communication worthy of study, and as a consequence, students remain poorly equipped to think critically about, and express themselves through, the media they are immersed in every day.

George: We stress so hard learning English, and learning English grammar, and then we shove music and art over into some sort of artistic, which means, sort of therapeutic or fun thing. It's not approached as a very valid form of communication.

Narrator: In a recent interview, filmmaker George Lucas spoke about the need to rethink the way we teach communication skills.

George: So we go through school, and then, later on we start to learn the grammar of English, you know, punctuation, capital letters, you know, run on sentences, what a verb is, but nobody teaches anybody about what screen direction is, what perspective is, what color is, what a diagonal line means. Those are rules, those are grammatical rules.

Narrator: The teaching of those rules and other facets of media literacy, is gradually gaining traction in schools across the country. Every state now incorporates aspects of media education in its core curricular framework.

Teacher: Media literacy, living with media, and there was something else there that I missed.

Teacher: Visual and verbal message.

Teacher: Visual and verbal message.

Narrator: At the Greater Brunswick Charter School, in New Jersey, media analysis is part of a class project on gender roles.

Teacher: What's the difference between the male and female images here? We've been looking at movies for the last couple of weeks. Yeah, go ahead.

Student: I guess you can say lighter colors are more feminine, the way they're advertising it there, and the darker colors are for men.

Teacher: But why?

Robert: This idea of a longer sustained project that kids get invested in for a period of time, a project that has a lot of different elements to it, jibes really well with a lot of the goals of media literacy, because we want for students to realize that there are all kinds of nodes being pushed, all kinds of different aspects to what they're learning about and what they're addressing when they make media, or they think about media.

Teacher: Sit up tall, and I want you to focus your eyes, your ears and your hearts on what you're about to see, hear and feel.

Narrator: At the Jacob Burns Film Center, in Pleasantville, New York, third graders are introduced to the basic grammar and techniques of filmmaking.

Steve: We were always educated to read actively, yet we're conditioned to view visual images passively. And that's something that we hope to change.

Narrator: Burns Center programs serve some 8,000 area students.

Steve: We understood that it is critically important to help kids understand that these are stories being told to them. And to understand the techniques in which stories are told, to understand the language of film.

Narrator: Fourth graders learn how to produce animated shorts.

Character: Cat overboard!

Narrator: And high school students create video biographies of seniors in the community.

Steve: To gain the tools, to gain the techniques, the understanding, the grammar. To then be able to take that and apply that, not only to a film they see, from Denmark or Iran, or these animated films that they start with, but to apply it to the seven o'clock news, to apply it to the advertising that they see, to apply it to the internet sites that they go on, and the webcasts.

Janet: A lot of what people are exposed to in terms of information that is critically important to how they're going to live their lives, has to do with news media coverage. And I don't think they often understand the comparative versions of what they're being shown, the choices that are made with each shot, the propaganda value, the subliminal value, and if we do nothing else here, we're going to teach kids how to see more deeply into that, and how to be able to speak for themselves in the same kind of language.

Teacher: I have a list of questions here, not all of them apply to every photo.

Narrator: At the Ascend School in Oakland, California, seventh graders studying the war in Iraq, learned to dissect local newspaper coverage.

Teacher: In this photo, who do you identify with?

Student: The Iraqi civilian.

Teacher: The Iraqi civilian. What other kinds of things do you think you might think?

Student: Well, I realize this. It's like, if you look at this picture, you feel sorry for the soldiers, and that kind of makes you want to support the war, but then if you look at this picture, you feel sorry for the Iraqi, and that makes you think that the war isn't necessary.

Narrator: At the North East School of the Arts in San Antonio, Texas, students hone their writing skills by telling stories in their second language, film.

Student: Well I was thinking about making a film about two brothers attending their father's funeral. And--

George: Everybody is affected by this, and it should be taught in school. You would find it in terms of understanding screen direction, and what a close up is, and a wide shot, and why you use them, and how-- what order you use them in. It's just as fascinating to them, and actually, it makes English much more fascinating.

George: As a matter of fact, you know what would be cool. Take a look at Macbeth, and just read the text, and specifically look for Lady Macbeth, and then look at the tone.

What they should learn in the class, is how to think, how to write, how to think logically, and how to be a well rounded individual. It showed up in this case, in the context of filmmaking, but that's the hook, that's the bait to kind of get them moving in that direction.

Teacher: What's a transition?

Student: Transitions are like, you can fade in and fade out, and--

Narrator: As courses and projects featuring elements of media literacy find their way into more and more classrooms, writing English might become just one of several forms of expression, along with graphics, cinema and music, to be taught in a basic course called communication.

George: The basic grammar of communicating should be taught basically in the communication class. It shouldn't be taught in some esoteric arty thing, it should be taught as a very practical tool that you use to sell and influence people and to get your point across, and to communicate to other people, especially in this age, where kids are more and more using multimedia.

Teacher: Jeffrey?

Jeffrey: Are we going to have enough room for the whole web page just on that one line?

Teacher: We will.

Narrator: For more information on, What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Assistant Editor:

  • Stacy Bloom

Camera Crew:

  • Brian Cardello
  • Orlando Video Productions, Inc.
  • Duncan Sinclair
  • Jason Watkins


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas


  • Kari Barber

Additional footage courtesy of

  • Jacob Burns Film Center

Comments (22) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Kimberly Roark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can definitely see the benefit of the students learning about media literacy both thru studies and applications. I believe it is very important for everyone to be able to analyze the media and the "news" / information that is being presented.

This is a very interesting video that I will be forwarding onto fellow teachers.

Melissa Daigle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After viewing "Digital Kids", I was really surprised to see how young some of these kids were that were being introduced to some in depth media. It looks as though digital media classes are a "hot topic" right now. However, it appears that this type of class is a hot topic in charter schools instead of the public school system. I wonder why charter schools have picked up on this idea. It does offer a great hands-on learning environment that is very engaging to students of all ages. As far as integrating this type of learning into my classroom, I'm not sure how such a digital media class would fit into our current scope and sequence. It is possible that I could incorporate it somehow into our studies of fairy tales which does involve creative writing of an original fairy tale. Perhaps we could set up some sort of video opportunity for my students to actually act our their fairy tales "on screen" and share them with the class or other visiting classes. I'm sure some of our younger students would like to see such a production...who wouldn't?

Cherryl Hollins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The Media Smart video was good. I like the beginning where they stated that children spend 61/2 hours in front of some type of screen. Media is a constant part of today's children's lives.

The video also states that all Fifty States are required to incorporate media into its core curriculum. I would be nice to be able to teach every child to be media literate. As teachers we want to do what's best for our students. We want to help them succeed.
But not every school district or school is capable of incorporating media into their core curriculum (at this time).

I know as a classroom teacher I am not prepared to take on this task. If a school has the means, maybe they could hire an IT person/teacher to assist the classroom teacher with incorporating media into their curriculum. I would love to make a 15 minute video with my students to show their parents during open house.

cheryl Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm exhausted watching more hyperbolic cheerleading for increased digital activities. The people in this video seem to think they have enlightening thoughts regarding education. Is George Lucas an educator? I thought he produced and marketed the Star Wars franchise. Why do I care what he thinks? This video comes across as an advertisement for film school. What is film anyway? It's just one of many ways to communicate. Some people, to communicate ideas and emotions, write poetry, or plays or novels. Others paint, sing, sculpt or compose symphonies. Others make movies. I celebrate and enjoy all these forms of expression.

Can/will I incorporate digital media into my classroom? Most small children are probably on overload as it is. I imagine digital media could be a quick way to get young students focused. Other than that, it doesn't seem practical and it's way to time consuming. What do you eliminate so you can make PowerPoints and rubrics?

Precious Jewel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this video is an excellent example to show others what students in the 21st century should be doing in the classrooms.

Kristin_Kaylor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found Media Smarts: Kids Learn How to Navigate the Multimedia World to be an accurate discription of what schools need to move towards to help students develop their technological vocabulary, media literacy, and understanding of the digital world around them. I felt that the video did a great job expressing the concern that students are focusing on teaching students the written English language and not focusing on educating students on the digital releams of society; such as teaching different ways to express creativity, perspective, color, or the "rules" of English grammar. In addition, I felt that the video did an excellent job at showing students who have media incorporated into their classrooms, enjoy learning more because they are actively engaged in their education and learning experiences.

I feel incorporating technology and media into my class will be a way to help my students express their understanding of key science concepts. I believe that all students need to know how to communicate ideas through written text but I also strongly believe that students need to know how to create, understand, analyze, and express their own ideas through media. I feel that providing students with projects such as PowerPoints, creating movies, video documentaries, etc. allow the students to apply communication, written, and digital media skills, while actively taking a part in the direction of their own education.

In closing, I feel that the video was geared to help teachers re-evaluate their teaching styles and open their eyes to the various ways to not only incorporate technology into their classrooms, but also address the growing concern of allowing students to become actively engaged in their education.

Debbi Schoppe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I simply can not wait for our local schools to be proactive in technology. I hope I will be a part of the change. The thought of young children engaged in learning and excited about it, is fascinating. I love movie making and love the though of children expressing their thoughts and views through movies. There is so much thought processes that go into making movies; sequencing, grammar, and preparation. Children love to entertain but to see your ideas and thoughts on a screen is awesome. I feel students will be running to school to show off their talents.

Sarah Becker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My initial thoughts with this video were: FINALLY! I have always wanted to teach that communication is more than just words. Music, for example, can be used in a very manipulating manner; the images that are shown with a voiceover affect the message in profound ways. These are things we need to be teaching. In addition, I have always believed that the storytelling medium of our time is TV/movies. I am 100% with George here: we should be teaching how to be an active viewer as well as an active reader.

I hadn't though about the students producing the visual media, mostly because of practical concerns, but as I consider it now, it might not be as difficult as I thought. It is very possible to use these types of projects with my students. I have already been thinking about what I want to teach about media/visual literacy and I believe it is an essential part of Language Arts: the art of language.

Ana Rivera's picture

It was amazing to watch how children are learning to become savvy in creating even videos, animated cartoons, bio videos, or even short films! at early age! Is is amazing how the media has penetrated all the areas of life; now it is tatally there, in education!
I learned that the technology, computer hardware and software can be somehow complicated; but really these children can use the minimum basic, to create videos, documentaries and short videos. They are creating their own biographies. They learn the secrets of filming with the adequate shadows and light.
In Pedagogy, the children are attentive; many different kinds of websites, blogs and software can reach the different learning styles. All the children here look well behaved.
Yes, it is possible to do it in the classroom; experiment.
I have seen at Odyssey, that when they act and dramatize, or are in charge of giving the news, by pretending they are journalist; they have to speak louder, clearly, stand up straight; achild who knows he/she is being taped, act more minding, stand straight and are more eager to learn than the usual classical mode.

Chole Richard's picture

In this digital age, it's imparative that we empower young people to be more purposeful, more comstructive and postive minded in their interaction with mordern technology.

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