More Than a Movie

When you mention that you are going to show a movie in class, you tend to get some very interesting looks. Many seem to assume that this is being done simply to waste a few days or to give the teacher a break. This is somewhat understandable. I had this experience as a student - a teacher putting on a movie and basically checking out for 3 days. Maybe there was a simple worksheet to give the guise of an assignment, but it was a mental break.

I'll be the first to argue that a classroom should not move 100 mph every single day. The brain doesn't work in that way. We cannot ask students to think critically for seven 50-minute periods each day - it's unrealistic! Just as a coach does not have players run sprints or play full-on games all day every day, neither should we have our students working at full power all the time.

That is why there needs to be a great diversity in what we teach, and especially, how we teach. I've written before about how SportsCenter uses videos in their broadcasts and what teachers can learn from that practice. We learn about sports by watching and analyzing videos all the time! Why not do the same with education?
A picture of the Nazi Enigma machine

For the next three days in my class, we are watching The Imitation Game. It is a really great movie about the allied effort (really, the British effort) to break the Enigma code that was developed by the Germans for use during World War II. Through this code, the Germans were able to send all of them messages through basic radio signal. The Enigma machine allowed for the messages to be encrypted mechanically. What's really brilliant about it was the settings of the machine, which changed each night at midnight. That meant that the allies had about 18 hours each day (the first message went out at 6 AM with the weather) to break the code before it would change again!

So the question then becomes how to make a movie something that is more than just a mental break. While I'm sure that there are a dozen great solutions to this question, below is my favorite and how it works in my class.

Today's Meet - This website provides an online back-channel discussion. I give participation points for each day of the movie and have one running discussion for each hour of my class. Throughout the day, I'll offer up class questions ranging from "Where is this scene located in the world?" to "Why do you think that group is treating the main character so rudely?" You are able to see immediately where students are struggling to comprehend something or where they are curious.

Students will often find outside websites that have to do with what they are watching and post them to the Today's Meet board. This is curiosity at work.

These questions help guide the back-channel, but they are not the basis of the discussion. The basis are the interactions and curiosity of the students. The points I give are the accountability to stay on task.
You can see in this screenshot the kinds of interactions that can occur. Students are able to ask probing questions. They can even ask them specifically of an individual by using the @ symbol.
Character Boards - It is important when watching a movie that the students understand who it is they are watching and what role they play in the story. While it seems basic*, it is worth the time to have students write what they see about characters in the movie. The character board for The Imitation Game gets the students to focus on the main character and 5 secondary characters.

*It is.

Screenshots of the character board that the students filled out during The Imitation Game.

There isn't much special about the character board, but it forces the students to pay a bit closer attention. You would be amazed at how much more enjoyable the movie becomes when this activity is carried out, though. Students don't get the full effect of a movie unless they get who the characters are. The mistake that lots of assignments that go with movies make is that all they require of students is that they catch random bits and pieces of the movie. Find a quote kind-of-activities are guilty of this. They require close attention on a small part of the movie. What I want is broad attention throughout the entire movie.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

Follow me on Twitter
Follow me on Google