January 9, 2014

Creating Cultures & Worlds

I was inspired by Kate Messner's Ted-Ed talk!  So, I went back in time to dig up some of my former middle school students' art works created when we studied and created our own fictional worlds and cultures.  These pieces were created pre-many current digital technologies, so a challenge may be to update the activity with an emerging media and technologies twist.  What might you employ as your tools of creation and imagination?

6th grade students studying culture in their core courses were supported in art class to continue considering elements of culture with the following prompt:

Imagine that you are on a spaceship exploring and searching for life in new galaxies.  You crash on an unknown planet and discover a new culture.... Consider all the elements of culture and society you are investigating in your 6th grade Social Studies class and add examination of the following.  Remember to be creative!
  • Describe the geography and environment.  What does it look like? Sound like? Feel like?  Is it warm and muggy, cool and crisp?  What does it smell like?  
  • Describe the life you find.  What do the life forms look like?  Are they people?  How do they dress? Interact? Experience life?  Experience you!
  • What kinds of shelters do they live in?
  • What kinds of jobs do they have?  What types of tools and technologies do they use?
  • What are their possessions?  
  • How do they travel?  
  • How do they communicate?
  • What do they do for fun?
  • What do they value or care about?
Students created art pieces using a mix of colored pencils and watercolors. They also wrote stories documenting their discoveries and experiences with their new cultures.  Below are some samples of students' visual works.

July 7, 2013

The Fa©ts about ©opyright

As teachers and advocates for 21st century literacies, like Media Literacy, we can get jazzed by the concept of analyzing and evaluating popular media in the classroom.  Yet, when it comes to media production, we often get shut down with the commonly heard concern: What about copyright? 

Well, what about copyright?  

Here are some useful resources to get the facts about fair use and transformative media.  As teachers in a digital world, we need to move forward with confidence in order to provide new challenges for writing literacy-- e.g. remixing.

From article: Renee Hobbs Seeks Change in Law to Allow Teachers to Copy DVDs for Class Use (April 11, 2012)
  • “Media literacy educators depend on the use of copyrighted materials,” Hobbs said. “We can’t do our job without using them. Educators want to be lawful, and we didn’t want to bypass encryption when it wasn’t legal to do so.”
  • Certain higher-education students and teachers now can rip movie excerpts legally to make commentaries and compilations, as well as other works.
  • Hobbs, who teaches courses in media literacy and media’s effects on children and society, says the change will help college-level instructors and students use excerpts from copyrighted materials to create “remix” videos for a wide variety of instructional purposes.
  • Students can legally rip movie excerpts only for their work in film or media studies courses—meaning students in subjects like history and sociology won’t have the exemption.
  • The Copyright Office deemed K-12 teachers and students ineligible for the exemption, and instead indicated that they should use only screen captures of a film, because K-12 education doesn’t need access to visually high-quality clips, officials ruled.
Click here for Hobbs' book for educators, called "Copyright Clarity" and a slew of other digital resources.

Engaging videos to explore the topics of copyright, remixing, and content creation in the 21st century.

Video: How YouTube thinks about copyright
"Margaret Stewart, YouTube's head of user experience, talks about how the ubiquitous video site works with copyright holders and creators to foster (at the best of times) a creative ecosystem where everybody wins."

Video: Embrace the Remix"Nothing is original, says Kirby Ferguson, creator of Everything is a Remix. From Bob Dylan to Steve Jobs, he says our most celebrated creators borrow, steal and transform."

Click here for Ferguson's documentary film "Everything is a Remix" 

Below are two examples of "remixing" that would be playful introductions for 6th grade through college audiences:

1. Scary Mary

2. Frodo-Sam Supercut 

July 3, 2013

Camera Language and Techniques

Camera Language and Techniques

Establishing shot: The establishing shot is usually shot from a distance.  It is used to set the scene and introduce the viewer to the space where characters are or action will occur.

Long shot (LS):  A shot taken from a distance.  A long shot of a person shows the entire body.

Medium shot (MS): A medium shot frames a person from the waist up.

Close-up (CU):  Close-up shots are a valuable framing technique in shooting video.  When shooting close up, viewers have the opportunity to observe the details of a person’s facial expression and this enriches the communicative value of a shot.  Close-up shots are also used because a television screen is small.  Close-up shots may be achieved with the lens in wide angle or telephoto.  The camera will need to be very close to the object it the lens is in wide angle.  When shooting in telephoto, the came may be farther away, although the shot may be shaky with such enormous magnification.

Extreme close-up (ECU):  An extreme close-up shot may be used to direct viewer attention.  For example, if a telephone was about to right, the camera may zoom in to show only the telephone, framed tightly within the shot. 

High angle and Low angle:  High and low angle refer to the position of the camera during the shot.  Camera angle stimulate a charged emotional response by viewers and can make a character or situation intimidating or powerful.

Throw focus:  A throw focus or rack focus may be used to guide viewer attention between the foreground and the background. 

Dutch angle:  A dutch angle is the slanted or crooked framing of a shot.

Zoom in or zoom out:  A zoom is used to change the framing of a shot.  Zooming in is used to isolate something within a scene or frame and zooming out may be used to show a person or object within its full context.

Pan (left or right):  In a pan the camera is moved around a fixed point and may be used to show the expanse of a large scene or to show a person, action, or event that is off screen.

Tilt (up or down):  A tilt may be used like a pan, but the controlled movement of the camera is directed up and down.  The tilt may be used to emphasize the size of something or direct viewer attention to events.

Dolly shot: When smooth movement needs to be shown, the camera may be mounted on a dolly or other moving surface. 

Jump-cut magic:  Typically when editing, video producers try to create a feeling of continuity and pay careful attention to shots that were filmed at different times but edited to represent a continuous event or time.  Sometimes though, a discontinuous edit may be used to create “film magic.”  Practice in-camera editing with jump-cuts!

All Media is Constructed

The content below was part of an introductory Visual Arts and Media Literacy unit for 7th-8th graders that focused on "reading" visual images and understanding symbolism. This blog post has been adapted from my handout, 2005-2006.
“The history of art, to a great extent, is a history of propaganda. From the earliest times, those in control of a culture have used their power of the arts to create monuments to their superiority and wealth” (Prince, p. 36).

Begin by asking students to DESCRIBE the picture to the left using evidence from the image.

Teaching Tip:  
Critical pre-viewing discussion questioning are a helpful strategy to begin media analysis with middle grades learners. If the image is projected onto a larger screen, students may come up and point to details they find important and better explain what they feel the picture means. Engaging students in the process of deconstructing and decoding an image gives them control as the viewer and is an essential aspect of media literacy education.

Pre-viewing Questions:
  • Who is shown in this painting? How do you know?
  • What is going on? Describe the details you are using as evidence.
  • What words would you use to describe how the man in the picture is feeling?
    What evidence are you basing this interpretation on?
  • What symbolism is used in this painting and what does it communicate to you, as the viewer?
After discussion, share the following history of the piece: 
Art Historian Marylin Stokstad writes, “this painting is an idealized account of Napoleon leading his troops across the Alps into Italy.” She critically analyzes the painting revealing “Napoleon, who actually made the crossing on a donkey, is shown calmly astride a rearing, excited horse, pointing to the summit and exhorting us to follow him. His windblown cloak suggests that Napoleon directs the winds as well” (Stokstad, p. 959-60).

Artist: Jacques-Louis David
Title: Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard
Date: ~1800s

Discuss Stokstad's analysis of the painting and compare it with the students' initial reading.
  • What was the actual context of the event depicted in the painting?
  • What was the portrayed context?
After initial deconstruction of paintings, students could be challenged to find modern-day example.
  • How does the image below, from Newsweek Magazine (2004), affect your perception of the politician?
  • Who is in control of what is being shown?  What is not being shown?
  • What do you think is left out of the picture?
  • Compare the image above to the painting of Napoleon.
  • What visual story-telling strategies are similar? What elements of the image are different?

The following "Camera Language Vocabulary" may be helpful preparation or follow-up to the activity.

Discuss the "video vocab" terms, for instance high and low angle, with students. Although these terms come from the field of film and video, we can use them in art class and literacy classes.
  • What angle did Jacques-Louis David use to paint his rendition of Napoleon in the 1800s?
  • Why? What is the visual effect of using a low angle?
  • Write down or sketch how a high or low angle shot might be used in a media of your choice.

High Angle____________________

Low Angle_____________________

Movie Poster Studies

The content below was adapted from a lesson called "Movie Poster Studies" that I conducted with 7th graders in 2006. The lesson followed a series of introductory media literacy lessons where students learned: all images are constructed, about propaganda, visual story-telling techniques, and how symbolism is used in communication. This lesson gave students an opportunity to create their own visual message in the form of a movie poster, involving both creative expression and critical decision making.

Part I - What's in a Movie Poster?

First, students met in small groups and examined selected actual movie posters I brought into the classroom. Their assignment was to answer the questions below and "warm up their brains" for visual analysis and deconstruction. When they finished the handout, students presented their findings to the class. 

Click here for handout.

Click here for assessment.

Movie Poster Studies
Group Members: _________________________

1) Close your eyes. What colors, images, or words stand out when you first see the poster?

2) Why do you think your attention is drawn there?

3) As you keep looking, what else seems important?

4) Why does the thing mentioned in number 3 seem important?

5) What leads your eye around from place to place?

6) How does the font style and color of text connect to the story of the movie?

7) What do you learn about the movie plot or story from the images and/ or words?
8) Is the poster successful? Would you go and see the movie? Explain why or why not...

Part II - Designing your own movie poster

Second, students were given four 75-minute classes to plan, design, and create their own (approx. 18" X 24") movie posters, complete with a Movie Title and Production Company Name. One might develop this further and have students design a Production company logo.
 Movie Title: ___________________________
Production Company Name: _______________

Samples of student work:

Teaching Tip 1- Art is About Expression

Frequently in art classes and cross-curricular art projects, some students may become discouraged if their work does not reflect reality. Especially at the middle level, I found students to be highly concerned with achieving realism in their art making. This was certainly the case in this Movie Poster project. One strategy is to introduce some "quick drawing tips" to students before they begin work. For example, instead of drawing each individual tree in "Out of Bounds" (example 3), I introduced students to sponge painting and they used this as a tool to create the illusion of a thick, pine forest. In "The Silver Kiss" (example 4), students were frustrated when drawing the faces of the people in their movie. After talking with them about their design, specifically what mood they wanted to convey, we decided that chalk pastel would help create a foreboding and ominous scene into which they could blur the faces. 

Overall, because the focus of this lesson was on students process of design and making meaning using visual strategies, it was important to be loose with the art rendition piece. Later, in portrait studies, students would have an opportunity to focus on realism. 

Teaching Tip 2- Facing "mimicry" in Student Production

A second tip involves the media literacy piece. While I encouraged students to come up with their own original and unique movie ideas, some students are very attached to their preferred media programs. The student designer for "Stewie's Twin: The Movie" (example 1) could not be dissuaded from using a popular prime time character as the basis for his movie. Mimicking or copying popular media is a common problem in media literacy teaching and learning. 

 Lewis and Jhally (1998) explain: 
"Students are apt to be seduced by the form, to try to imitate commercial television, and, when their efforts fall short, regard the work of professionals purely in terms of their aesthetic of technical prowess. At best, teaching production as purely as set of technical skills leads to an analytical immersion rather than a critical distance" (p.115).

Lewis and Jhally’s (1998) argument is an important one in framing media literacy as both critical analysis and production. Many media educators argue that the “mimicry” common in student production projects may be avoided with careful structuring of production opportunities into learning experiences. Buckingham (2003) encourages teachers to build activities “a step at a time, from textual analysis towards exploratory hands-on experience” and stresses that “students need to be regularly encouraged to distance themselves from what they are doing, and to reflect upon the consequences of the choices they are making” (p. 83-84). 

In my opinion, by using tools such as storyboards, scripts, site-maps, and other higher-order thinking organizers, students’ media production processes can reflect a deeper focus on methods and explanatory process of production.
Although I encouraged the student designer of "Stewie's Twin" to consider the implications of creating a movie based on a character that was not his own, it was important that I push my own agenda only so far. Although, as Buckingham (2003) suggests, "students need to be regularly encouraged to distance themselves from what they are doing, and to reflect upon the consequences of the choices they are making," they also should be encouraged to actively participate in class and complete projects (p. 83-83).

As teachers, we ultimately must make the call and I choose to prioritize this students self-expression via the media he enjoyed. Often young people develop strong attachments to their preferred media and, by welcoming this into the art classroom, I believe I was able to encourage this student's participation and, in a later activity, he may be more willing to participate critically in a discussion of popular media texts.

The Power of Color in Art and Media

The Power of Color

This blog post is adapted from an integrated art and media literacy unit I conducted with 8th graders in 2005-2006. Feel free to use the handouts linked throughout, most of which are designed with two handouts printed on one 8 X 10 sheet to be environmentally friendly.

Topic: The Power of Color in Art and Media

Learning Objectives: 
  • Students will develop their understanding of the science of color, establish vocabulary to be used when discussing color, and experiment with a variety of color schemes. 
  • Students will examine and experiment with the emotional effects of color, evaluating the power of color to convey emotion and communicate feeling through a diversity of relationships and schemes.
  • Students will apply understandings of the characteristics of color to the analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of media, such as advertising and film.
Grade(s): Middle School

Subject(s): Visual Arts, Literacy, and/or Technology

Time frame: Three or four 75-minutes classes.

Class 1: Students are introduced to color vocabulary and color wheel. Students might experiment with mixing secondary and tertiary color paints using the three primary colors.

Class 2: Students will examine a variety of classic and historical artworks via the WWW using the handout as a guide for their exploration.

Students will begin their digital color manipulation.

Before leaving class, students will save their work in progress and complete Handout Four: Ticket-Out-the-Door

Class 3: Students will continue their digital color manipulations, creating at least two contrasting manipulations, and select one or two to print. Students may share their work and process in small groups or with the whole class. Students complete Handout Five: Reflection Questions for Color Manipulation Exercise

Samples of 8th Grade Student Works; original piece on left & manipulated image on right:

Media Literacy Connection: This lesson is easily connected to media literacy education, specifically color as a convention of media design, construction, and communication. A single 75-minute class could be added to provide time to analyze a variety of other media images and advertisements and their use of color. Beginning each class with a brief analysis before students move onto their color manipulation projects may be the best way to support the process of critical analysis, as the production process will help reinforce their textual analysis.
Focus Question: Describe how color is used as a convention of visual design and communication in film?

Selected scene from La Vita è Bella / Life is Beautiful (1997):

In this Italian film, directed by Roberto Benigni, color is lost with the family’s entrance into the concentration camps. The bright scenes of ccelebration, marriage, and family mark the first part of the film, where color is used to establish the film’s title- Life is Beautiful. Even the vandalism of Guido’s Uncle’s horse is done with bright green and orange. Benigni ends the use of color when Dora, Guido’s beloved wife, boards the train to the work camps wearing a bright, red, dress.
  • What do you think the color red symbolizes in this pivotal scene?
  • What other purposes does using the color red serve?
Media Literacy Connection: The lesson could lead nicely into another media literacy lesson on advertising and persuasion, where students have an opportunity to create, compose, develop, and apply understandings of color as a convention of advertising. Students might create a product using traditional or emerging materials that demonstrates their comprehension of color as a tool for visual communication.

Focus Question: Describe how color is used to sell products.  Which colors for which products, and why?

Learning Objectives:
  • Students will classify and analyze standard color schemes and properties with focus on the examination of relationships and functions of color in communicating feelings, emotions, and ideas.
  • Students will interpret and evaluate a variety of media, including advertising and film, and apply understandings of color as a communication tool through comparison and critical assessment of its effects in conveying meaning.
  • Students will synthesis understandings of color in a culminating project where they predict audience response to create product, based on the constructions and combinations of color used.

Categories- Breaking Down Media Influence and Effects

Who is more widely known?
Bart Simpson or Emily Dickinson?

"Categories" is an introductory media literacy activity I use with students to begin studying the mass media and its suggested influences and effects.  The activity could be adjusted for use with 3rd through 9th graders. I altered this activity from one used by CY, Vermont's Connecting Youth mentoring program. I used this activity in my art classroom between 2005-07 with students in 7th and 8th grade.

Activity Title:
"Categories- Breaking Down Media Influence and Effects"

Essential Question:

mass media, airtime, immersion (in a media world), and repeated imagery.

Before game play, it is important to prep students through prompting discussion questions. The questions below can be discussed/answered as a whole group or in a Think-Pair-Share activity.

Why do we use media?

Why is it created?

Who creates it?

What purpose(s) does it serves in culture and society?

What are its potential effects?

Game Play
  • Begin with six volunteers, three of each gender.
  • There are 2 key roles; (1) the Players and (2) the Audience (or Judges).
  • The Teacher "plays" on the Audience side and helps maintain sportsmanship and make final calls. The Teacher also calls out each new category to keep the game moving smoothly.
  • After the Teacher calls out a category, the Players must be able to respond with a new (non-repeat) category answer within three seconds of the category prompt. 
  • The Audience/Judges count to three seconds out-loud (respectfully) and make the call. If the Player's response is deemed OK, then the category continues to the next player and so on. If the Player "times out" or cannot think of a new response, then that Player is "out" and replaced by another classmate of the same gender and the Teacher calls out a new category.
  • Play until all categories are completed or until each student gets a chance to be a "Player."
I drafted a sample category list for use with middle level learners (available in the linked handout) where categories alternate between "high media air time" categories, like pop stars, to "low media air time" categories like female poets.

After the activity, wrap up with a discussion.

Which categories were easy to respond to? Why do you think these were the easiest?

What categories were tough?

What are the similarities and difference between the categories?

What does this activity tell us about media and media use/consumption?

Students may conclude that the "easiest" categories are those that have a strong presence in the media world- from TV to movies, to products or games- and that the "difficult" categories are those outside of the mediated world and receive less air time. Students may debate the reasons for this.  Students are likely to offer a variety of other responses as well, including the amount of money spent to publicize a product, pop star, or idea.

In conclusion:
The Teacher might issue a "Ticket-out-the-door," asking students to individually reflect on "Who decides what we see and what we do not see in the media? What do we learn from the media or not learn? What or whose stories are being told and or not told?"