Using Movie/Television Clips to Teach Philosophy

I have a friend, Julie Akaret, who is a documentary filmmaker, and she is working with a professor at Mount Holyoke College to develop a website called What’s the Big Ideas? that will help teachers introduce basic philosophical ideas through the use of Hollywood movie clips and network television shows. Right now, they have content up there around bullying and lying, with additional topics to come.

The other day, as my students were finishing up the wonderfully different novel, Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise, we were tackling the idea of lying, so Julie visited our class as we unpacked what it means to lie, when it seems OK to tell a lie, and when (as with the book) a person using their political power or government post to tell a lie for personal gain. My students really got into the discussion, and the film clips we used at the What’s The Big Idea? site (from Liar Liar, Jaws, Freaks & Geeks, Seinfeld, and Breaking Away) perfectly hit on a lot of our discussion points.

See this sample:


All the materials at the site are free (thanks to a grant) and I encouraged Julie to develop the topic of Environmental Ethics next, as I personally would love to use that part of the site for our environmental writing unit, and I think that the connections between media, writing and science could be a benefit to a lot of teachers now considering shifts into the Common Core curriculum. I also like that each video clip has an introduction to the concept, and sets the stage for the video. Julie is also developing handouts and resources related to the content for teachers to use as guides.

What’s The Big Idea? is worth your time and another way to engage our students in critical thinking skills that moves beyond the black/white of important issues by leading them into the grey area, with movies and television shows as another way to engage them in these important conversations.

Peace (in the big ideas),



Video Gaming in the Classroom: Case Studies

This video playlist of three case studies of teachers integrating gaming into their classroom is worth a look if you are still wondering about the benefits of video game design. One teacher talks about using Minecraft; another, about how her traditional use of board games and design naturally shifted to video gaming when her school began to get computers and technology; and the other works at the Quest to Learn school that has a philosophical base built on gaming.

You can also check out my video game design resource, which maps out all of the work we did earlier this year around designing and publishing video games with a science-based theme.

Peace (in the game),

Student Book Glog: Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This book project is from one of my more avid readers — you know, the one who can’t get enough books in a week and the one where now I feel as if I am running out of books to put into her hands — and she and I often talk about the books she is reading. I like that she is a critical reader. She’s not afraid to tell it like it is. And her interests in various genres is far-ranging. Even so, I was surprised to see her reading Palace of Mirrors, since the whole “princess” genre does not seem like something she would be interested in. It turns out, it was the mystery of the plot that hooked her.

Peace (in the mirror),

Conversations About Tech 3: Writing, Brain Research and More

This is the last in a series of three podcasts that captured a conversation I had at a local elementary school around technology. Part one was Monday and it covered topics of outreach to the community and student engagement. Part two was yesterday and it delved into ideas around digital literacy and equity issues.

The final part of the podcast moved into our expectations of the future (and how to prepare our students for the unknown), considerations of the effects that technology might be having on young minds, and even the divide between formal and informal language (and therefore, the audience you are writing for and what that does to your writing).

Thanks for listening!

Peace (in the podcast),

Conversations about Tech 2: Digital Literacy, Equity and More

This is the second in a series of three podcasts that captured a conversation I had at a local elementary school around technology. Part one was yesterday and it covered topics of outreach to the community and student engagement.

The second part of the podcast revolved around what we mean by digital literacies for young people, how this school (like mine) is shifting into interactive boards and what that means (or doesn’t yet mean) for the classroom, and then we moved into a really important part of the conversation: the idea that schools has an imperative to provide access to technology for ALL students and how equity has to be part of our conversations in schools.

Tomorrow, the last part of the podcast will be shared, and it covers some views around writing and ideas around how the modern world of media and technology is shaping our young people.

Peace (in the podcast),

Student Book Glog: The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville

I was never a huge fan of Bruce Coville, so I can’t comment much on this book choice by one of my boys. I suspect he liked it only because he had to have some reading book and because the word “skull” was in the title. This student is one of those tricky ones — given a real choice, he would not read … at all. But his digital poster shows some thinking about what he was reading, anyway. I suspect he wanted something a little better.

Peace (in the skull),


Conversations About Tech 1: Engagement, Outreach and More

As I have mentioned in a few posts, I have had the privilege of working with some teachers at another elementary school in the past month through the work of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and I spent one whole day there recently, modeling some activities and exploring some ideas with the staff. At the end of the day, I sat down with the principal (Mike), the technology teacher (Liz), the literacy coach (Stephanie) and a lower elementary classroom teacher (Lauren) to talk technology for the school’s podcast feature on its website.

It was one of those great ideas for wrapping up the day, and we had a wonderful conversation that touched on a lot of different areas that relate to technology and learning. The school just posted the podcasts (the hour was wisely divided up into three shorter sections) and I asked the principal if I could grab a copy, and share the conversations out for others. He willingly agreed, and encouraged me to do so.

So I am going to be sharing out the three parts of the podcast over the next few days.

The first part of the podcast revolves around student learning and engagement, and I sought to define digital storytelling a bit (since that was a focus of the day). We also chatted about how to use technology as a school to reach out to parents and the community. The other classroom teacher, Lauren, has her young students now using Twitter to broadcast to family what is going on during the day (no more: “nothing” to the question of “what did you do today?”) We also touched on the idea of moving technology right into the classroom, and not having it seen as a separate unit of instruction.

I hope you enjoy the podcasts – the second part will get published tomorrow, followed by the third piece on Wednesday. Even though I was there, and talking, it was only when I went back and really listened did I realize just how much ground we had covered in our conversation.

Peace (in the podcasts),


My Experimental Flipped Lesson on TED-Ed

My Ted-Ed Flipped Lesson
Yesterday, I wrote a bit about how the new TED-Ed site was experimenting with ways to remix, flip and otherwise redo their own lessons and video content, and since I am curious about new tools, I dove in and gave it a try. The tool is set up around a video, but you have quiz questions that are set up (with video helpers if you get stuck), some open-ended discussion questions (or you can make your own, as I did), a space for additional links and resources, and a final thought. I found it incredible easy to use, and it seems simple to adapt for my own needs.

Actually, the lesson I ended up creating is the second variation of a lesson I created around Shakespeare and insults — the first one had a word (ironically) that I wasn’t comfortable with in one of the quizzes, and you can’t edit a flipped lesson once you publish it to the site. So, I redid the whole thing. I still don’t think I will do THIS lesson with my sixth graders (we do a variation of the Shakespearean insult, though). But, I have some seeds of thinking going on now.

I’d like to invite you to give it a try. I’m still not sure if this is something I can use with my students (as I am still not sure of the whole flipped idea), but I am open to exploring it more and figuring that out. Certainly, the remix tool is easy to use, and looks great when you are done. And, I think you can even pull in YouTube videos and more as content to your lesson. It’s a great way to curate information in a TED package, and if viewers are logged in, you can track their stats as they move through your lesson. (The need to log in is what would stop me with my students, since they do not have their own email accounts).

Want to see my lesson, The Power of Words? Any feedback would be helpful.

Peace (with TED),


Student Book Glog: The Underdogs by Mike Lupica

This is another in a series of projects done around independent reading. You know, Mike Lupica has done more to get my sporty boys reading than any other authors (except maybe Rick Riordan), and I was happy to see this student immersed in this novel about a sport he loves to play. The book is The Underdogs.

Peace (on the field),