Tis’ The Season: “Gremlins” and the Power of Horror

GREMLINS1One of the joys of my teaching career is that I’ve had the privilege to take my fandom of all things movies and pop culture and translate that into a legitimate study of media literacy all while working to empower students to produce digital media works that are expressive of who they are. As such, although I’ve been teaching for nearly 14 years, it’s really doesn’t feel like I’ve worked at all. My days are filled with the pleasure of either working with students directly in the creation of media artifacts or writing about film and and the empowerment of personalized education through media.

In regards to being a cinephile, one of my deepest joy is sharing my memories of youth with my students. As such, my students within the context of legitimate study of genre and film academia have been engulfed in my 80s cinematic consciousness. E.T, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gremlins, The Burbs’ and so many others. In passing on such film bible works, the hope is that students can appreciate movies as time capsules; reaching back into a particular time to reflect on a shared sense of culture. This in essence is the power of genre as it provides for rich cultural dialogue in relation to both the past the present.

This was the sentiment shared with me by legendary filmmaker Joe Dante. Earlier this month I had the privilege to Skype with Mr. Dante about all things horror, movie fandom and his classic works. The conversation was a free education in genre and movie going itself.

Inspired by that conversation, here is a classroom lesson on horror and Joe Dante’s classic Gremlins. Gremlins is a great in-class watch for the Christmas season that provides for a rich understanding of media literacy as study of meaning and purpose and a reminder that the genre of horror is so much more than gore and violence. Horror, is a great enabler of critical voice and when leveraged by students can allow for an active exploration of self and their world.

This lesson is suitable for Gr. 9 to Gr. 12 students. Feel free to use and modify as needed.

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  • Form small groups and provide students with chart paper.
  • Ask students to share what scares them. The goal is for students to reflect on personal or cultural fear.
  • As a prompt, ask students to reflect on pressing issues of today? What makes us anxious? The goal is to ground the genre of horror within a cultural discourse of anxiety.
  • As students work, walk the room and prompt conversation where needed. Engage in dialogue with students – be a partner in the learning.
  • Once the small group conversation is has concluded, facilitate a large group conversation and encourage students to share reflections.
  • Once the large group conversation concludes, watch the video below of Professor Barry Keith Grant (author of the Genre Film Reader series). In this video Prof. Grant speaks to the mythology of horror and the idea that what scares evolves with time.

Teacher’s Note: In working to cultivate a “minds on” opportunity to reflect, its important to understand that popular film is very much a reflection of our shared sense of self. As such, genre filmmaking as mythology rises from the political. Genres, provide learners with an opportunity to understand the evolution of cultural values at any particular time and offer insight in a shared cultural experience. In regards to film horror, the genre as a product of post WW1 storytelling rises from a direct cultural sensibility. To understand horror is to be cognizant of what is horrific in the real world and the pressing idea that horror films either mirror, reflect or challenge that said horror.

The following is an incredibly pressing read published in the Toronto Star that grounds the origins of horror cinema within the history of World War 1. How the First World War Created the Horror Genre

For further background, watch the video below of Prof. Anne Lancashire, professor Emeritus from the University of Toronto. In this video Prof. Lancashire speaks to the notion that popular film “rises from the political.”

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Watch the film in class

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Post-screening, have students in small groups or individually read the following article from Nightmare from Film Street and/or watch the videos below, which highlights the films and sensibilities of Gremlins director, Joe Dante.

With an elbow partner, small groups or as a large group, have students reflect and share:

  1. What does Joe Dante say about the Gremlins as an entity of humanity? What does this idea say about the horror genre?
  2. What does Joe Dante say about the horror genre? Why do you think the horror genre continuously resonants with audiences?
  3. Acting as the teacher, develop a question that speaks to your understanding of the film and horror as a genre. Answer the question.

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With the goal to consolidate and personalize learning, have students “show what they” know through a multi-modal context. This activity promotes the practice of multi-literacy and empowers students to reflect on who they are within the framework of genre.

Leveraging the meaning and tropes of the horror genre, have students produce a one-minute video, teaser trailer or short film (3-5 minutes) that speaks to a current anxiety. This anxiety can be personal or speak to a greater sense of culture and the political.

Individually or in small groups, students can shoot video with personal devices if classroom technology is not available and can use online editing software including WeVideo if in-class applications are not available.

The following are student exemplars produced in my Gr. 11 and Gr. 12 Communications Technology classes.

The Decision: This 1 minute short film speaks to the pressures of post-secondary applications and the voices and stresses students feel at this point in their life. Students produced this film with the use of an iPhone 6 and leveraged Adobe Premiere Elements for editing.

Undead: This short film pays homage to the works of George A. Romero and leverages the tradition of the zombie film to shape a narrative about the fragmentation of humanity and civil society. Students used a basic Canon HD camorder for this production and replaced all dialogue in post as microphones were not available. The film was edited using Final Cut Pro.

Abigail: This teaser trailer works within the context of genre tropes and speaks to students critique of “safety” and the idea that evil lurks. Students used a basic Canon HD camcorder for this production with dialogue being captured with a mini Lavalier Lapel Microphone. The trailer was edited using Adobe Premiere Elements.

 

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

Multi-literacy and Student Empowerment

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As a current Masters of Education student at Queen’s University with a focus on media literacy, my goal is engage in deep learning that will not only let me reflect on practice but also impact and evolve my pedagogy. As I’ve explored the meaning of teaching, learning, creativity and innovation in my most recent course Innovation in Teaching and Learning, I’ve been reminded that the key urgency of  teaching, learning, creativity and innovation is a shared ability to ensure that the student experience is not trapped in a “deficit mentality.” This mentality is the counter-thesis to “growth mindset” and is built upon a culture of indifference where students are disengaged, feel devalued and believe that learning is not for or about them. 

With this, I’m currently writing this post while listening to Dr. John Portelli from OISE’s Centre of Culture and Diversity, reflect and charge teachers with the challenge to recognize that teaching, learning, creativity and innovation is in service of equity and inclusive education. It’s within this mindset that educators work to ensure that “deficit mentality” does not take root.

Who students are matter.

Their home life matters.

Their perspective matters.

Students must be valued and empowered as a core principle of learning.

This is all to say that teaching, learning, creativity and innovation is not about the teacher but the student. As such, being a teacher is in service and is a practice of mobility that evolves over time as students (and who they are) evolve and change. As such, to teach students in 2018 in the same way as 1980 provides room for evolution of practice as it does not take into account the evolution of economy and culture and how the lives of students have changed. With this, teacher practice must change with time, patience and practice.

Within the context of literacy as an enabler of deep learning, my focus on media literacy within the framework of innovation as a mechanism that mobilizes culturally responsive teaching and learning speaks to the need for multi- literacies. In looking at literacy directly, video production as a mode of multi-literacy can be a great transformative agent that allows students to not only document learning but also share their expressive voice. Gone are the days of the singular essay, where “intelligence” is defined by the written word. In recognizing that education cannot be founded within a “one size fits all” framework, video production is just one example of a global and transferable skill that can personalize learning and empower students through a critical, creative, collaborative and communicative practice.

Below is a recently published article that I wrote that looks at the viability of video production as a critical literacy. The article, published in the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association Catholic Teacher Magazine highlights my teacher-teacher professional learning initiative “Shoot for the Edit.”

Enjoy!

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For the complete December publication, please click here. Warm thanks to OECTA for giving me the opportunity to share and reflect.

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Educational Leadership, Media Literacy and Pop Culture | Tagged , , , , ,

Media Literacy is a Critical Literacy

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Well before I became a teacher, I was in the intellectual minefields of justifying my film studies within the circles of english majors and aspiring political scientists. Although film is without argument the most global industrial art form with an unprecedented reach (only heightened by Web 2.0 and Streaming), with its own evolving technical language and over 120 years of technological and narrative history, the study of film (or popular media) is consistently deemed or viewed upon as “lesser.” For example, in my work as a high school teacher, when I take my students to see movies at our local multiplex, I’m aware that colleagues may pass judgment – reinforcing the notion that sharing in the movie experience is just entertainment. Although entertaining, popular film and media holds great cultural meaning and taking into account the visual dominance of the medium, it’s a missed opportunity not to empower students within the context of what they so readily consume and access. As such, within the realm of education and the moral imperative to empower student voice and narrative, film production is a medium that readily marries cultural literacy with personal experience.

The practice of leveraging media literacy an enabler of cultural responsiveness is my critical focus for my work as a Master of Education student at Queen’s University and is rooted in my 14 years of teaching experience. With a focus on media literacy the goal is to construct learning where students are provided with the multi-modal tools to share who they are. Within this context, learning becomes personalized. The promise of personalized learning is a cross-cultural responsibility for teachers to shape – providing students with deep learning opportunities that motivate and foster self-worth. Equally, film (or video) is a viable enabler. As most students readily hold a production and distribution device in the palm of their hand (the smartphone has democratized the model of production), they can easily tell a story – their story.

Whether is be financial literacy and documenting their journey at a grocery store as they work within a budget to religion class where a short film is produced within the context of Catholic virtues, video production provides for the activation of voice and global competencies. Video production is all encompassing – students growing as collaborative, critical, creative, innovative and communicative learners.

For a deep read into this, check out “The Past, Present and Future of Media Literacy” by Renee Hobbs and Amy Jensen. Their deep exploration of media literacy with a focus on popular film is a real education in the power of the medium to shape deep learning and how media literacy was intentionally displaced by traditional academic thinking.

 

 

 

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Student Voice | Tagged , , , ,

Innovation with a Pause: Reflecting on Learning Matters

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As part of my Masters of Education program Innovation in Teaching and Learning the most recent task was to develop a Philosophy of Practice. Whereas a Philosophy of Education may be deemed more theoretical and idea driven, the notion of practice implies that action will take place. Reflecting on pedagogy matters. 

Specifically, my philosophy of practice speaks to my ability to recognize that learning is not merely about assessment but rather the ability for learners to understand how they learn and the importance of personalization. This speaks to my own experience with learning. For me, learning takes place once I am able to make a strict connection between myself and content, while also being able to autonomously build upon prior experience and shape new learning through a self-directed context. Thus, learning is not dependent on a singular figure like a teacher but rather is continuous.

Learning is a living organism – growing and taking on a life of its own.

In regards to the experience of reflection within my current Masters of Education course, I have worked to challenge Gr. 9 STEAM students to reflect on who they are as learners and their relationship with learning.

How do these students know they are learning beyond the context of an assessment?

What does real learning look like?

In my work supporting STEAM programming at my school, I have developed and moderate a New Resume Portfolio Camp. This camp, provides Gr. 9 students with an intentional opportunity to explore the importance of positive digital citizenship, while recognizing that their ability to share their reflective voice via electronic portfolios and social media profiles is a mode to build academic and social capital. As such, through this camp students are exposed to cross-curricular digital skills (graphic design, video production etc.) which allows for them to curate a digital brand and show learning in enriched ways.

In regards to social media, the students not only design a student learning portfolio but leverage Twitter to create and sustain a professional student learning network – sharing work and reflective voice with the goal to shape opportunities for feedback and to connect with like minded individuals.

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It’s within this context that students initiated their Twitter sharing with an exploration of learning. This reflection grew from small group work that allowed students to share in dialogue about what learning looks like, their experience with learning and their ideas of what learning could be moving forward in their high school life. This is all very important within the the STEAM milieu at the “A” is very much about effective communication. The students ability to share and show their “why” is pressing. 

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With all of this, the experience with the students over the past two weeks reinforced my learning within Innovation in Teaching and Learning course. Understanding the relationship between teaching and learning drives innovative practice. As such, as teachers we must provide students with an intentional opportunity to reflect. In this case, pausing and giving student the chance to write and share their voice is innovation.

Sometimes innovation is just something simple like a pause. Pause is needed to understand who we are and where we want to go.

Reflection matters!

 

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Educational Leadership, Student Voice | Tagged , , , , , ,

Andi Mack: A Parent’s Guide to Season 3 (Thus far).

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Earlier this year I wrote a post celebrating Disney’s Andi Mack for its cultural forwardness. From Cyrus growing into his understanding of his own sexuality to Jonah’s struggle with anxiety, the show created by Terri Minisky (of Lizzie McGuire fame) and Michelle Manning (co-producer of John Hughes teen opus The Breakfast Club), speaks to the complexity of identity and has a resoundingly fresh perspective on who teens are and their relationships with friends, family and everyone in between.

In watching with my own children then and now, I have come to grips that as the show progresses the character of Andi has sadly regressed. Whereas Andi of old was coming to terms with her newly founded family dynamic and did so with a mixture of grace, confusion and complexity, this season finds her creating and fulfilling a self-centered opus.

This is where in watching the show with my own children (8 and 5 years olds), I’ve found myself pausing the PVR recording to provide spontaneous lessons in media literacy; recognizing self through the character of Andi in all forms: the good and the bad.

What is up with Andi?

As the latest season continues to unfold with teen angst and the coupling of Becks and Bodhi, I have been asking my own children to explore Andi through a personal lens of friendship.

  • Would Andi make a good friend?
  • Would they want to be Andi’s friend?

Although they would be encouraged to respect Andi as a person in real life, they do not need to be friends with her. Frankly, at this moment I hope the would choose not to be.

In the most recent episodes which have been about her breakup with Jonah and her torn feelings about Buffy and Walker’s evolving romance, the inability of Andi to see her own selfishness is debilitating.  Equally, lack of direct assertion of her sensibilities by either of her parents or the moral guiding Cyrus is disenchanting. As the show in the past had provided rich moral guidance and richness in character, the fact that Andi is turning into a bad friend without any realization from those around her. Why is she being enabled?

From Andi asking Buffy not to include Walker in their social outings to also placing herself at the center of every conversation, Andi is incredibly enabled and also inactive. She no longer creates, she is never seen doing homework and she doesn’t engage in extra-curriculars at school. Andi’s ultimate preoccupation is romance and herself. This alone merits an active dialogue with young children as their self-worth is not to be defined by their young romantic entanglements, but rather their sense of self and purpose.

Hence, although Andi Mack is about Andi (it’s her story), the character I reference must often to my children is Buffy. From braving being on an all-boys basketball team, to supporting a once sworn enemy with his learning disability to starting an all-girls basketball team in the most recent episode, Buffy is a resilient young person who is mature, intelligent, self-directed, motivated and self-ensured. Also, she actively cares about others and is a caring friend who is deeply concerned about those she cares about.

With all of this, although Andi Mack continues to be one of my families favorite shared watches, an active dialogue is warranted. Spending time watching television with your children doesn’t have to be a passive time. Although entertaining, there is a real opportunity to promote critical literacy and exploration of self. 

With all of this, I hope we will get to see Andi a new and redeeming light sometime soon. The old Andi is definitely missed.

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television | Tagged , , , ,

Innovation: The Reality of Tech-Enriched Learning

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Exploring Innovation:

As I continue to be entrenched in my current Masters of Education course (Innovation in Teaching and Learning), the dialogue about how creativity, innovation, teaching and learning can be defined has been on-going. From developing or rather revisiting my own leaning philosophy to understanding the relationship between creativity and innovation, the course learning has been relevant to my own practice as I’ve been in constant reflection.

  • How do I perceive creativity, innovation, teaching and learning?
  • What is my role as a teacher?

In speaking to innovation in education today, the promise of technology has been leveraged by many districts, schools and individual teachers as a mode to project innovation. For example, just explore teaching professional learning networks on Twitter and profile descriptions such as “21st Century Teacher,” “Technology Innovator” and “Creative Thinker” can readily be found. This is not to take away from anyone and their descriptive voice. Rather, its an attempt to explore and make reference to a culture of innovation and it’s connection to technology. The promise or idea of innovation has become strictly connected to technology itself.

As a technology specialists in the classroom, I can appreciate the power that technology based applications and tools have in transforming teaching and learning. From using a VLE such as Google Classroom to the use of tablets and apps to support student learning, the focus on technological enriched teaching and learning has been exponential .  I suppose, my concern is not just on how to innovate but the reason for it. The WHY matters.

Spark and the Tech-Divide:

It’s with a recent editorial piece highlighted during an edition of Spark on CBC Radio 1  and featuring  Dr. Amy Gonzales that we as teachers and school leaders are reminded to revisit how we innovate. This is urgent because as Dr. Gonzales asserts, the  research shows that the tech divide in education is real and that tech maintenance is impacting student success. Therefore, as educators turn to technology with the goal to “engage” students and foster innovation, its important to celebrate not only the successes but also limitations or next steps.

Equity Matters!

In a previous role as a district 21C and technology resource teacher and in my broader tech-ed experience, I’ve often addressed the importance of tech equity and the realization that “innovative practice” can live beyond the use of technology itself. Although I believe in the great potential that technology provides, I also recognize limitations and realities. Ultimately, technology is an enabler of purpose and intention.

Speaking to the edition of Spark and the conversation about the cost of maintaining antiquate technology for educational needs, the notion of innovation was worth examining.

Can innovation exist in education without a direct dependency on technology?Simply: Yes. 

Take for example the learning tool Raz-Kids. This is not to dismiss its value but rather explore the idea that the potential of a tech-divide can hinder learning.

Raz-Kids is an app that provides learners and parents with access to level guided readers. In regards to early reading, guided readers are a great tool to gauge where a student is in their learning and encourage young readers to engage with books at their level. This is important as effective early reading occurs when students are reading at their level.

At my children’s’ own school, the purchase of a Raz-Kids licence was support unanimously by Parent Council.  I was in favor of purchasing a collection of books rather than an application that would be used on devices that parents leverage for distraction rather education. As such, my concern was about the culture surrounding the use of the technology and “sell” that innovation was to be founded in the tech. Important to note, the teacher representatives on the council shared that their preface was “traditional” books and that the licence would be an adequate supplement.

In speaking to the tech divide, immediate concerns came to mind. I addressed the following concerns:

  • What if access to suitable technology at home is not available or is limited?
  • What if a household has limited access to internet data?
  • Also, as there is an increasing concern about young children and screen-time, wouldn’t the continued use of a tangible book be viable?

Perhaps, in regards to the licensing of Raz-Kids at my kids’ school, innovation would have been showing a commitment to purchasing new guided readers for the Primary Division as the money was available and then working to develop programming that aimed to cultivate a culture of literacy; a reading club, a parent’s night and/or day workshop that provided stakeholders with the supports needed to use the guide reader etc.

In the end, as shared in the edition of Spark, the dependency on technology can be great and limiting  at the same time. As we explore innovation as a way to improve the experience of students, it must be remembered that technology is a great enabler but also a potential fallacy.

In the era of Office 365, Google Apps for Education, Mine Craft for Education and so many other tech-centered tools, the idea of innovation must live beyond technology itself. This will ensure that all students can be successful and that innovation rises from a Why and not just a How.

 

 

 

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Educational Leadership, Technology Education | Tagged , , ,

From Prey to Predator: Laurie Transformed

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Just yesterday I sat in a darkened movie theatre with over 150 Communications Technology students to watch Halloween (2018).

It’s always a treat to sit and watch a horror film with teenagers in a shared space. Unlike most adults who may sit through horror violence gently shimmering in their seats, teenagers yell at the screen. Their visceral reaction to characters unknowingly walking into the shadows of their death or running in the wrong direction, speaks to the shared cultural experiences of genre. In regards to horror, the conventions of narrative are known and recycled. Students shout out of a great knowledge of what is to come and respond personally to characters’ lack of situational knowledge. This was so evident during the screening of Halloween where students where both quiet and belligerent.

Within the quiet space of our Halloween screening was where Laurie existed both as victim and survivor. As the film transitions from an opening scene obsessed with the evil of Michael Myers and the lure of his mask, Laurie as a horror-infused Sarah Conner (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) in training and waiting becomes culturally pressing.

Laurie, now forty years after the initial attacks of Michael Myers in 1978 has had a tainted life. From having her pre-teen daughter removed from her care by social services to failed marriages and continued conflict with her now adult child, Laurie has endured an ongoing present unjustly impacted by terrible acts of violence. It’s with our beginning to know Laurie of 2018 that co-writer/ director David Gordon Green paints a portrait of the Trump Era. As Laurie is told to get “over ” her victimized past multiple times by her daughter and grand daughter or where pod cast journalist show more humanity towards Michael than her, the politics of the Times Up And Me Too movements are clear:

  • Where is the respect and empathy for the victim in both the past, present and future?
  • Why do we concern ourselves so deeply with perpetuators and not support victims with pure intentions?

It’s within this context of Trump’s America that attempts to undermined or devalue female empowerment, that the quiet in the theatre during the “melodrama” resonated. Laurie, could be the mother grandmother, sister, cousin or friend of anyone in the theatre. Importantly, Laurie could be us.

Furthermore, in regards to Laurie who has been victimized, she is a woman not waiting for a man to protect or save her.  She responds actively to the events of 1978 by transforming herself into a predator. As such, she is a character with forty years of living history who rises from the tradition of horror ; an experiment of repressed cultural anxiety.

  • How do we define victimization?
  • How do we encourage victims to find their voice?

Alone, she needed to take matters into her own hands. Like the brave women who share their trauma and work to support and empower others, Laurie forty years later is writing her own story and next chapter.

As the film turns to the final act and the showdown between Laurie, he daughter, grand daughter and Michael ensues, the reimagining of the final girl is shaped. Whereas the final girl responds and survives as a victim, Laurie has been praying for Michaels return, so she can kill him. In this film Laurie is not a victim. Whereas we’re first re-introduced to Laurie as a recluse, we discover that her domestic and self imposed cage is really a fortified trap ready to be used against Michael upon his return. As Laurie asserts that she loves her family and worked to prepare her daughter for the violence that is typically placed on women (both on and off screen), the quiet of the theatre turns to applause as Michael become prey.

This applause is significant as I teach at a publicly funded all-boy school. As such, sitting in a theatre with 150 plus high school boys, applauding to the action response of Laurie Strode is significant. Her strength and courage resonants and also shows that boy culture is responsive; recognizing that film heroism does not need to be shaped by a male saviour.  As shaped in class today, students were asked to define their political sensibilities through the context of the film.

  • Do they understand Laurie’s struggle?
  • How do they view issues of equity in their own life?
  • How does the film help shape their learning of culture?
  • How does their cultural learning resonant in the film?

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This is the genius of the film and why in the era of the re-boot it works so well. It’s a true continuation not merely of story but life. This story could only be told 40 years later. As Laurie evolved and so did the true life narrative of cultural experience, Laurie’s story is made for our today and for our lens.

Finally, Laurie is a calling card for all mothers to daughters and importantly men. Not to take up arms (as that is a metaphor within the context of genre) but to be ready. As a father to a daughter this resonated with me. I must nurture my daughter to be empowered and equally my son to be responsive, respectful and empowering. Laurie is not doing what a man can do, she’s doing what she must do. Like Sarah Conner before her, Laurie must write her own narrative.

Ultimately in this Halloween, Laurie is more than than a final girl. She is the predator.

Posted in Film Theory, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television | Tagged , , , ,