When we teach, we are constantly discovering (and hopefully those who are learning are constantly discovering too!). Some lessons work, some fall flat. We need to renew, to reinvent, to challenge ourselves and our students to dig deep into the themes and problems that we face in our studies and to invigorate our skills through these explorations.
In an earlier blog post, I discussed the particular challenges in developing students’ skills as visual communicators and the benefits of studying early motion picture history and non-dialogue moviemaking. Recently, as my class was working on this unit, I decided to do something new. One of the skill-building class activities I have done with this unit is a short project – produced in just a couple of class periods – in which students face the same challenge that filmmakers did for the Lumière and Company project. This one-minute, one shot movie is offered as one of the extra projects that teachers can use with Moving Images (this one is Class Activity 2). While I do find that this project can be instructive and offers a distinctive test to students, I thought it was about time to try something new. I wanted to give them a task that could connect with other events going on in our school and could tie into learning in upcoming units.
So this is the intro to the exercise: In this unit, you study the invention of moving images and the advances made in visual communication by early moviemakers. For this class exercise, you will explore possibilities of motion picture storytelling through the creation of a short movie designed to communicate a simple idea to an audience. For this project, you will determine a topic appropriate for a message at your school. This may be a public service announcement, a promotional piece for a school group, club, or team, or a commercial for a school enterprise. Along with studying examples from the early years of cinema, from Lumière and Méliès shorts and The Great Train Robbery to more advanced silents including selections from Fritz Lang’s The Spies, we also study contemporary examples of non-dialogue movies, such as Mark Osborne’s More (which is on the Moving Images DVD) and Mark Gustafson‘s Mr. Resistor. Since this project had to meet the distinct needs of commercials or PSAs (in our case, to last between one and two minutes), we also watched previous standout student work in this vein in addition to commercials such as Volkswagen’s “The Force” (which premiered during the 2011 Super Bowl).
I decided that I would let students select their collaborators, and they dived right into the task. As it turned out, the class ended up in four groups, and the projects they did turned out very well. In fact, every completed PSA turned out to be quite worthy and appropriate to show on the school-wide morning announcements. They were clearly the best set of rapidly produced shorts in this course that I have taught for over a decade.
This activity has already been added to the teacher materials for Chapter 2 – it is titled “Class Activity 2b” – and it has been uploaded to the Cengage textbook site for instructors and students.