Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cue the Suspense: Student Created Movie Trailers

You are in the midst of the most important personal and professional challenge of your life.  Everyone doubted your abilities at the outset, but you've actually had more successes than anyone expected... perhaps even beyond what you believed yourself.  You could win this thing!

This was the thinking of General Robert E. Lee in 1863 as he planned to go north and execute a stunning victory in enemy territory. Gettysburg.

Unfortunately for Lee, Gettysburg would turn out to be a devastating blow to the Confederacy, and it would be just the thing President Lincoln needed to rededicate the Union cause.  So my students needed to find out why.

Why was Gettysburg a turning point in the Civil War?

Just as the opening paragraph of this post was meant to create suspense around the Battle of Gettysburg, I want my students to see the drama and suspense behind every document and piece of evidence we study in class. What creates suspense more than movie trailers? Here's how we made our own dramatic classroom productions.

Activator: Setting the Stage


We are in the middle of the Civil War unit, so I wanted students to recall the important background'/historical context to understand the significance of Gettysburg.  In small groups, students looked back at their digital notes in Evernote to recall answers to these questions:
  • Based on our Civil War scavenger hunt, which side was winning the war in the East throughout the beginning of the war? How do you know?
  • Based on the infographic activity, which side had the statistical advantage at the outset of the war? Give at least one example.
Instead of going around the room and asking each group to answer the questions aloud, we put them on a Padlet, a digital bulletin board.  This way no further class discussion was needed.  Everyone posted their answers and checkout other groups' answers.


Analysis: Researching the Roles


The class sorted themselves into 4 groups.  Each chose one of the four documents for the DBQ Project's materials on Gettysburg.  Also provided were some guiding questions that get students to go through the process of identifying the source, bias, and purpose of each piece of evidence.  Finally, they had to develop an answer to the question, "Why was Gettysburg a turning point in the Civil War?" based on that one document.  I either gave them approval or asked more question to get them to add detail to their answer.

Production: Building Suspense


On the second day of the lesson I started by showing them especially compelling movie trailers from YouTube.  Then I gave them a quick (like less than a minute) tutorial on iMovie's movie trailer feature.

This was the best part of the lesson.  They were excited to produce something so engaging, but in the process I overheard them talking about the way word choice in the Gettysburg Address inspired hope, and the tone of sadness in Gen. Lee's letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  The in-depth document analysis that was happening in these small groups was really astounding.

They had 30 minutes to produce their trailers.  We spent that last 15 minutes of class viewing and discussing the results.







The kids applauded one another and whispered things like, "Wow! That was really good!" and "Now I'm kind of scared of what it was really like in the battle."  It is gratifying to know they enjoyed the lesson, but their learning is the most important goal.  These 10th graders can confidently explain why Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War.  More importantly, they understand how to analyze history in a way that looks beyond facts to the human emotions, strengths, and weaknesses of the people who lived it.