Where Learning Happens

I liked the movie Big Hero 6 but then, I am a sucker for sob stories. The children though… they had a different perspective. Coming out the movie, all the way home in the car and on into the morning, the litany went something like this:

“Seriously, can you believe the mistakes they made?”

” Yeah — where were the Electro-Magnets? I remember reading about them in that book on Tesla.”

I interject: “Well, but there were those little boxes on the wheels?”

“Those little boxes were just there for show, they weren’t electro-magnets and there was no source of electricity anywhere on the bike!”

“And what metal was she using?”

“What about Wasabi’s laser hands?”

“I know, Lasers use heat to cut through things. There is NO WAY that he could’ve been cutting through those micro-bots effectively.”

“What I want to know is how come, if the ‘Silent Sparrow’ gate was open and so powerful, didn’t everything just get sucked in BEFORE the heroes got out?”

“And why the name?”

“It looked like something out of Mockingjay…” Snickers fill the car.

I threw back – “Maybe that was the point?”

“Bad point.” was the response.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because Mockingjay is cliché”

and off they go again…

Now when I was a 10 year old I didn’t analyze movies based on the quality of their science and their literary merit. Yet that is exactly what happens when my children watch movies. In their world, EVERYTHING is grist for the mill. Movies, it turns out, are the jumping off point for all sorts of explorations.

My youngest, Xander, is a curious and imaginative child.

My youngest, Xander, is a curious and imaginative child.

In the case of Big Hero 6, my youngest is off on an exploration of electro-magnets and lasers. He was already fascinated by the story of Nicolai Tesla and his displacement in history by Thomas Alva Edison.  Something about Tesla’s story sparked the creative spirit in my child and he immediately began ‘creating’ his own inventions.  Luckily for him (and for me!), Xander’s father is a real scientist and is able to help him think through the scientific process.  Learning to follow the scientific process has been hard for my imaginative child yet through the focused attention of an adult mentor and his own interest, he is learning it.

My oldest enjoys analyzing the more literary aspects of the film.

My oldest enjoys analyzing the more literary aspects of the film.

My eldest,” The Theorist”, is looking at the more literary aspects of the film.  Both he and his friend, James, have already torn the Hunger Games book apart in order to create a Hunger Games Minecraft map.*  (Yes, using Minecraft for the purpose of homeschooling! Here the secret lies in not imposing your own ideas on the child but allowing the child to create the assignment, not always an easy thing to do. The temptation to ‘give’ the child a project can be overwhelming.)  Creating a game became the impetus for reading and analysis of this book. And the analysis of the book was breathtakingly complete (and savage).  They analyzed it not only on the level necessary for the creation of a 3-D game world but also in terms of the characters and the relationships that the author had created, something entirely unrelated to the game. And they then followed the book analysis up with watching and analyzing the film.

And we are back to the movies.

Once upon a time, I taught history at the university level. Every year, my most popular assignment was related to the movies. The students picked a modern film, one based on an historic event or legend. They watched the film (Ex. Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves), then I helped them find high quality historical books on their topic (J.C. Holt’s Robin Hood).  They read up on the topic then went back and re-watched the film. Having done this, they wrote papers about their experiences. Included in these papers were what they saw, what they thought, and what they learned. Without exception, the students all agreed that they became ‘aware’ of film as fiction in a way they had not been before. Suddenly they were more analytical, more skeptical about what they were watching. Instead of being passive consumers of visual material, they were actively engaged, questioning what they were watching, sometimes to the frustration of their comrades . (Laugh). They has become aware of the ways in which history was used to shape people’s opinions and ideas.

History came alive for them.

Accidentally, it seems, I have passed on to my children the need to be actively engaged with film.  They do not just watch and accept what they see. They question, they challenge, and when they don’t know the answers, or when something seems odd to them, they research. They have learned that movies are NOT the same as the book. (Too many times I had university students who assumed that having seen a movie ‘based’ on a book they didn’t need to read the book, a serious mistake.)

Learning happens everywhere all the time.

Learning happens everywhere all the time.

Homeschoolers recognize that every experience is a learning experience. Watching movies offers the opportunity to discuss sciencemathhistoryliterature and philosophy. One can learn foreign languages through movies and use movies as guide for the creation of maps, both computer and physical. (Try creating a salt dough map of some world shown in a movie.) Even television can offer learning opportunities. (MythBusters is a favorite since it brings their father into the equation. He has serious issues with the fact that Jamie and Adam, as FX men,  do not apply rigorous scientific methodology.)

Learning happens everywhere all the time.

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*I should note that the map is James’s baby. Jason was helping James work on it. Jason had already read the Hunger Games books because he was curious about the hoopla over the book. When James decided to make the map, he had not read the book. Jason suggested that James read the book so that he would have a better sense of the story, then Jason went back and re-read the book so that he could help with the creation and analysis of the map.


Jennifer Dean is a mom of two boys, ages 10 and 14, with a dual Bachelors in Art and Fine Arts, Multiple Masters in Medieval and Celtic History as well as a Graduate Diploma in Ancient Irish Language and Literature from the University of Dublin. At various times, she has taught 2nd and 3rd grade, 7th and 8th grade, and University level students and has enjoyed the teaching aspect (though not the Administrative complications). Since she grew up in an academic household (Her father is a Professor specializing in Sung Dynasty History, her mom was a nurse and taught nursing for years.), she is accustomed to the idea of ‘after-schooling’, something her parents did as a matter of course.  And thanks to her boys, she is learning every day.

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