I Love Movies

Seriously.

Movies can be really powerful tools to help us teach students about a myriad of topics. A great TED talk from Andrew Stanton gets at what can make a story so powerful. He tells us that all great stories get at a deeper truth. Stanton is the creative genius behind, director and producer of movies such as Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story and several other Pixar greats. If you're going to watch the video, do it before you keep reading. There's a spoiler coming up.

I'll also warn you there's some language in the first joke. I'll lastly let you know that if you're going to watch only part of this video, watch the last five minutes.


Now for the spoiler - you remember the beginning of Finding Nemo? The dad fish (I forget if he even gets a name) is flirting with mom fish when a predator comes a long. Mom goes to protect the eggs. Dad rushes to protect mom. The predator swipes dad unconscious and the screen goes black. When dad comes to, he groggily and slowly becomes aware that mom fish and all the eggs are nowhere to be found. We are led to believe the predator won this particular battle.

Well it turns out that Andrew Stanton was born prematurely to the point where he wasn't expected to live. He eventually did live and talks about wanting to live a life worthy of the second chance that he was given. A clip of dad fish vowing to protect Nemo comes on the screen, and we all realize that we were touched by that clip not because we were rooting for Nemo (yet) but because we are all given second chances in varying ways. That is a truth that we may not think about every day, but that a great story can connect to. That connection can touch us and move us. Dave Burgess, author of the book Teach Like a Pirate, would call this a LCL, or life-changing lesson.

A story of my own - my wife loves movies more than I do. She worked in high school at the Wehrenberg Theaters in St. Louis.* Think of going to a local little market rather than to the Wal-Mart down the road. This place prides itself on an authentic movie-going experience. I gotta say that the first time I experienced it all, I was a little skeptical that there could be much difference between this and AMC.

*In the into to every Wehrenberg Theater movie, there is the Wehrengerg theme song straight out of the 1920's. It's corny and weird. I think regulars to the theater probably love it. I know I do.

But there was a difference. The people were the same every time you visited. The service was always friendly. It was the kind of place you get nostalgic about.

Naturally, this ruined my wife. Think about it - for years, she saw every single movie that came into theaters in part, if not the whole thing. She could go into a movie free any time she wanted, and she could for years after she stopped working there too. She was just telling me the other day about the mystical "Manager's Cup" she could fill with free popcorn and drink for her and her family. We can still get a free flick today if the right manager is on duty.

Last year, I got the idea to host a monthly movie night in my classroom after another conversation about how much my wife loves movies. It's been an awesome success. We teachers always talk about the importance of making connections with students. And it's true! Think of any tough advice you've ever received. Whoever gave you the advice was someone that you trusted deeply.
Without that level of trust much of what we say with fall on deaf ears and rolling eyes. Deciding to spend one more evening a month at school showing a movie was recognition that the only way to build a genuine relationship with someone is to spend time with them. 

It has been so great to see kids come back time and again to eat some popcorn and watch a good movie. I teach mostly 9th graders, so it has been especially fun to see them come back this year as sophomores and ask when this year's movie nights are and what we are watching. This has been a great connection between me and several students who I might not have connected with otherwise.

More than anything, though, I love getting to see what touches my students. I will never forget one day watching The Butler and sitting next to one of my male students. Towards the end of the movie when the dad and the son reconcile, this young man started sobbing. I've known this kid for over 3 years now and I know exactly what strings of his were being tugged, what truth was being spoken to in this scene. I sat next to him just kind of holding him while he sobbed for about 10 minutes. The chance to share that moment with him is something for which I'll be forever grateful. I have no idea what the moment meant to him, if anything. There was never the right moment to talk about it. Nonetheless, he graduates in May this year, and I can't wait to give him a hug and tell him how proud of him I am.

When used well, movies help us to create these moments. I showed the clip below from The Lion King to talk about Monarchs and how lessons of ruling - both positive and negative - can be shared from generation to generation in a unique way. But I also talked about mistakes and learning from them - another one of those LCL's. I asked the students about bravery and fear. It was a really touching conversation and we happened to be talking about monarchs while it went on. I had several students tell me throughout the day that they had never looked at The Lion King in such a serious way.

 
The kids also knew exactly how power was passed from one monarch to another and why this could be positive or negative. The Lion King brought this lesson more meaning.
 
Truth is all around us in this world. We have to be willing to look for it in sometimes odd places and have the bravery and patience to tune out the chaos and listen.


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