“Mister! Let’s watch a movie!”


Especially near the end of the school year, every teacher gets requests to “show a movie.” My collection of videos on specific history events is not what they have in mind. Short subjects related to the course don’t qualify, either.

The kids want an escape from classwork. I just can’t justify it.

But there have been times that I wondered whether a movie wouldn’t be appropriate to explain some part of history or economics. For example, in one economics class, the entire group was stumped by the concept of a “run on the bank,” of the sort that prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to declare the “bank holiday” in March 1933. I wished at that moment that I had a copy of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to show both the economic conditions that prevailed in much of America at the time, and to show what a run on a bank looks like.

Then I started wondering about all the other stuff that movie could illustrate.

I’ve never used it.

But I stumbled on this site, Teach with Movies, which features a set of lesson plans and other material to use with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The site claims to have lesson plans for 270 movies. There is a membership charge, but it’s a charge clearly aimed at encouraging teachers to buy: $11.99.

I had a principal who complained about showing videos — which struck me as very odd — and his complaints escalated until he passed out copies of copyright rules. In discussion, it finally became clear to me that he was opposed to running Hollywood, entertainment movies in classes. He didn’t bother to distinguish between my showing of the life of Theodore Roosevelt from PBS from “Beverly Hills Cop” — but he’s gone. I find I share his general revulsion for just slapping in a Hollywood movie to keep the kids quiet.

In the last year I’ve been asked to step in to show “Hitch” in a business communication class, and “The Money Pit” in a Spanish class. “Iron Monkey” could be related to world geography. These exercises generally are wastes of time, and of course, money.

But I also was asked to monitor a showing of “Charley” for a psychology class, and “Napoleon” for a world history class. The psychology class had several questions to pursue closely related to the course; the kids were generally lulled to sleep by Napoleon.

But why not, with careful groundwork, show “It’s a Wonderful Life” in economics, as supplement to the units on banking, the depression, the creation of the Fed, and general history?

Teach with Movies? Great idea. Have you used this site? Anybody know how well it works?

2 Responses to “Mister! Let’s watch a movie!”

  1. onlycrook says:

    On my middle school science list on Yahoo, they frequently refer to the website. I recently subbed for an ESL class where the teacher used “Finding Nemo.” She had a worksheet for them to use, and had apparently taught something about the ocean so she could claim it was related, but most of the kids had already seen it and were bored with it. I like the idea of using It’s a Wonderful Life to explain a run on a bank. Why not? I like 1776, in spite of its historical flaws. It turned my daughter into a Revolutionary War fan. I love Apollo 13, which a science teacher used in one of my daughter’s classes. She didn’t get anything out of it in class, so she watched it with me and asked me to explain it, which I happily did. It’s A Beautiful Mind would also be great in a psychology class. Whether a movie gets it quite right or not, it can be useful in making a topic come alive. Last week I watched Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse 5, both films I hadn’t seen since the 1970s (and neither of which you could show in class). I thought about how I would know nothing about the bombing of Dresden if it hadn’t been for the film of Slaughterhouse 5.

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  2. I haven’t used this site, but I will definitely check it out. In my online classes, I’ve been using YouTube clips of various historical events and movies. The big problem that I have had is that you have to sort through all sorts of crap to find what you want, and the contextual information (or metadata?) is largely non-existent. (We aren’t even getting into the copyright issues!) Plus, the search mechanisms are geared for the general keyword users and not for someone who is looking for something for more academic purposes. So, I was thinking that there should be a site that compiles clips for teachers to use, with appropriate search terms. Sometimes, you don’t need the whole movie, you just need that one illustrative example.

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