Are We Watching a Movie Today?

By Cyndi Faircloth


Matt and I were talking about using videos in class yesterday. The conversation went something like:

Matt: I need to show a clip in Astronomy tomorrow.

Me: Ugh. That stinks!

Matt: I know…I need to get home so I can start searching for clips.

Me: I need to do that for Thursday, but I don’t have time tonight. Guess I’m watching videos tomorrow.

Matt: Bummer.

Really? Showing video clips in class is not fun?

Actually, it’s a lot more work than people realize. I’m teaching History this quarter and he has two science classes.  All three subjects lend themselves to using video clips in class.

I don’t know about science, but kids love to watch videos in History. Rarely does a day go by that someone doesn’t ask, “Are we watching a movie today?” (Some days I wish Monty Python had done History of America, Part I (rather than History of the World) since I teach US History–but that’s a different blog topic) You’d think that I have a magic dvd player where I plug in the period in History and it magically shows images from the years and concepts we’re discussing.

I don’t know about Matt, but I’ve heard people make fun of History teachers. Something along the lines of: “I’d love to be a History teacher. They just put on a movie and read a book in the back of the room.”

I wish. I don’t know where those people took their History classes, but it wasn’t at PCRHS.

I tend to watch 3-5 hours of video for every hour I show in class. Topic: Chinese Immigration in America? I watched a 90 minute clip of Ken Burns’ The West so I could  show a clip or two. I wanted to introduce the railroads that many Chinese immigrants worked on in the 19th century, but Ken Burns weaves multiple stories together in each episode of a documentary so I had to figure out which minutes corresponded to the railroads and which covered Plains Indians. (FYI, in Episode 5, it is something like 3:00-7:54 and 11:22-16:00…) Maybe someday I’ll get smart and write down the minutes that I use in class in my lesson plan rather than on a sticky note that disappears after I show the video.

I rarely show any clips longer than 30 minutes…because I’d rather that kids looked at primary sources to analyze. My hope is that videos make them curious about the topic, or give a little background so that they can better understand the documents. No magic dvd player could help the kids understand how historians research and write about history as much as working with primary documents will.

If anyone wants to watch History documentaries and make a time log of what the movie covers and in which minutes, I’m happy to share titles with you and you can give me your time maps when you finish.  That might cut my movie previewing time down.  Then my conversation with Matt would be something like:

Matt: I need to show a clip in Astronomy tomorrow.

Me: Awesome. Do you have your time maps so you can figure out what to show?

Matt: Yep. I only need another 10 minutes to finish this lesson plan and then I can go home to play with my kids.

Me: I finished my Thursday lesson yesterday! I’m going home to walk my dogs.

Matt: Nice. See you tomorrow!

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