Classic Movies In the Classroom

  • May 13, 2017

Classic Movies_Classroom

Timeless cinema, like the kind featured on Turner Classic Movies, offers students a unique opportunity to “experience” history.


IT’S TRUE. Old movies are like time machines. They can transport us to a world that existed long ago—affording us an opportunity to both see and hear people who lived nearly a century before today’s students were even born.

And it’s a little bit humbling to consider that we, today, are the first people in history to have such an opportunity.

I was struck by that thought just recently while watching a movie from 1931. It depicted what was, at that time, the workaday world of New York City, yet now, some 86 years later, it read like a completely different culture. The people of 1931 certainly looked like us, but they spoke differently, dressed differently, and even interacted with one another differently. They seemed to place a high level of importance on things like courtesy and manners. And the most advanced technology on display was a radio!

In terms of years, I was as far removed from the people in that movie as they were from, say, people in the Old West, and yet I could watch them, listen to them, observe them in a way that they themselves could not possibly have observed their own predecessors. This allowed me a level of insight on the past that was never possible before motion pictures.

Imagine if filmmaking had existed in the ancient world, or during the Middle Ages. How much more personal would our understanding be of the folks who lived during those eras? Sure, thanks to the work of archaeologists and scholars we have period art, craft, and literature from which to glean insight, but we will never actually see those people who lived so long ago, much less hear them speak.

Thanks to movies, however, the people of 1931—their mannerisms, their norms—are well within reach, and observable. This got me to thinking about how a teacher might put classic cinema to use in a classroom.

Turner Classic Movies, channel 256 in your DIRECTV SCHOOL CHOICE channel package, is television’s premiere showcase for timeless cinema. The network screens films of every conceivable type dating back to the earliest days of the medium—drama, documentary, period pieces, comedy—all with something to offer those who are curious about how things used to be.

From the safety and comfort of your classroom you could send your students on a fact-finding mission to the early 20th century, to observe and make notes and then digest their findings as a group. What were people like in those days? How did they conduct themselves? In what ways were their lives like ours, and in what ways did they differ? The exercise can be expanded by having students discuss their observations with elderly people, to get context, and “eyewitness” corroboration of their findings.

The relevance of a project like this to history and social studies is obvious, but you might also consider its application to English, journalism, and creative writing.

Granted, your students might be disappointed to learn that the movie they’re going to watch is “old.” But tell them it’s a time machine and you might just capture their interest.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Reading Superheroes

  • Feb 13, 2017

GTS Comics

More and more educators are using comic books and graphic novels to encourage students to read, and the comics industry has stepped up to meet the challenge with educational storylines and free classroom resources. Want to get in on the action?

Read on!


I ONCE SAW a batch of old, black and white photographs online depicting kids from a bygone era reading comic books. The author of the post pointed out that it was heartwarming somehow to think that these long-ago children are today the parents and grandparents of kids who are still reading comics.

This point was brought back to me recently during a visit to my local comic shop. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and the store was crowded with parents and children browsing row upon row of colorful covers, making their selections and sharing their excitement for the stories and characters they’d be taking home.

Any way you look at this scenario, you see something positive—a tradition being passed down; shared experience; stoked imaginations; an enduring appreciation for stories. And the best part is, it’s all about reading.

It’s no secret that America is in the midst of a literacy crisis. According to a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, the literacy skills of many students in grades 4 through 12 are “alarmingly low.” As educators you know this firsthand. But more importantly, you represent the front line of a national effort to turn things around.

And judging by my research, more and more of you are turning to comic books and graphic novels.

An internet search for “comic books in education” yields a far-ranging collection of articles that document how educators have seized upon young peoples’ interest in comics to get them reading. And to its credit, the comic book industry itself has stepped-up to meet this challenge, by emphasizing STEM, anti-bullying, and other relevant topics in a number of popular storylines.

Diamond Comic Distributors, the world’s largest distributor of English-language comic books and graphic novels, has set-up a website called Diamond Bookshelf, which offers a collection of free resources for educators interested in exploring the possibilities of comics in the classroom. There are lesson plans (PreK-12), reviews, teacher testimonials, recommended reading lists, and much more.

Citing a study in the School Library Journal, Diamond Bookshelf reports that the presence of comics in a junior high school library resulted in a dramatic 82% increase in library traffic, and a 30% increase in circulation of non-comic books.

Intrigued by those numbers, I sought insight from an Ontario teacher-librarian I met on Twitter, and he told me a similarly encouraging story. “Our graphic novel section began 9 years ago and has grown from a basket, to a shelf, to a whole bookcase of titles,” says Mr. Pamayah, who goes by the Twitter handle @Mister_Library. “Our students have always been eager to have more. It has helped that authors and publishers now offer a wide selection of graphic novels. They have become a featured section with students asking for more, including sequels. I have also had to replace many because they are so well-used.

“Teachers will use specific titles that relate to curriculum on subject areas,” Mr. Pamayah continues. “Our teachers also use the graphic novels to highlight how that format is structured, and teach students how to make their own comic or paneled writing. This section is one of the most popular in our library with students.”

Apparently, we’ve come a long way from the days when reading comics in school earned you a trip to the principal’s office!

Have you had a similar experience? Are comic books and graphic novels being used in your school, or is this something you’ve been thinking about? We’d love to hear more success stories. Let us know on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Science for Life

  • Sep 21, 2016

Decoding Cancer

It’s entirely possible that the next big breakthrough in the fight against cancer will be made by someone who is currently sitting in a high-school classroom, enthralled by science and wondering what their role will be in the world of tomorrow.

Our friends at Discovery Education may well have been thinking that very thought when they teamed-up with a group of recognized experts and college educators to create Decoding Cancer, a set of standards-aligned classroom resources designed to facilitate meaningful discussion among students and teachers in grades 9 through 12.

The resources—which include interactive lessons and teacher guides; a section on careers; and (coming soon) a virtual lab!—are available free to any school or educator who’d like to use them in the classroom.

Joining Discovery in this effort are the Val Skinner Foundation, and the LIFE Center at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in collaboration with the Rutgers School of Public Health. The group’s mission statement describes Decoding Cancer as “an innovative and interactive high school biology and genetics education program featuring the BioCONECT (Biology of Cancer, Online Education Connecting Teens) curriculum,” adding that the program “enhances science literacy and increases cancer education and awareness among youth.”

Check it out for yourself. Visit the Decoding Cancer website today.

And to help us keep you informed about other free resources and educational programs, please be sure to bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio


C-SPAN Classroom Brings the Presidential Election to YOUR Classroom!

  • Aug 25, 2016


The 2016 presidential election enters the home stretch this semester, which presents teachers with a great opportunity to transform current events into learning opportunities.

And our friends at C-SPAN are ready to help!

Just one of the many fine networks delivered to your school each month as part of the DIRECTV SCHOOL CHOICE program package, C-SPAN is an outstanding resource for unvarnished coverage of news and current events, and always at the forefront when it comes to marshaling the power of television for education. For the current election, they’ve assembled a variety of videos and classroom materials you can start downloading right now.

We invited C-SPAN representatives to tell you more about their C-SPAN Classroom initiative, and to outline what resources are available:

C-SPAN Classroom is a free membership service for social studies teachers with the mission to enhance the teaching of social studies through C-SPAN’s primary source programming and websites. This fall, as we head toward election day, C-SPAN Classroom continues to update the Campaign 2016 section of our website. These educational resources provide explanations of the various aspects of the election process for candidates vying to become the next President of the United States. Separated into 10 main areas, each topic is supplemented with related video clips, discussion questions, handouts, and culminating activities to engage your students in the election process.

Our most recent updates feature clips on candidates and the media, endorsements, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, vice president selection, and voter values.

You can access all of C-SPAN Classroom’s free educational resources, including the Campaign 2016 page on our website.

C-SPAN Classroom and the C-SPAN Networks are made possible by the support of DIRECTV.


NOTE: In order to help us keep you informed about other free resources and educational programs, please be sure to bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Improve Student Writing and Grammar with Quill

  • Aug 10, 2016


Developments in education technology are growing more exciting every year, and, for me, never more exciting than when the most cutting-edge technology is harnessed to help teachers hammer home the most fundamental aspects of education.

Like literacy, for example, and a digital platform called Quill that’s brilliantly using technology to strengthen core language skills.

Quill is a free, easy-to-use application designed to help students develop their writing, grammar, and proofreading proficiency. It’s currently being used by over 100,000 students and 4,000 teachers nationwide, and it’s making a real difference in classrooms. How do we know? We’ve heard it from teachers.

“I’ve seen tremendous improvement in the proficiency of my students and the quality of their writing,” says Daniel Scibienski of Princeton Public Schools. “At the beginning of the year, my students were able to write using the basic fundamentals of the English language. By the end, after using Quill, my students were able to correctly write essays with consistent tone throughout and even intentionally use parallel structure to their advantage.”

Teacher Randall L. Carswell of Charlotte, North Carolina has been equally impressed. “I appreciate the fact that students are required to slow down, check spelling, punctuation and the grammar lesson at hand in order to score “GREEN!” I am noticing a much better effort by my students in their other activities, whether it be writing or literature, they seem to pay closer attention leading to a stronger performance.”

So how does Quill work? After an easy set-up process teachers can assign any of over 150 language activities which are built to Common Core standards. Each of these activities takes about 10 minutes to complete, and upon completion the students receive instant feedback on their work. Moreover, teachers and administrators receive real-time data on student progress via an in-app dashboard, so everybody’s on the same page.

And did we mention that it’s free?

“All of our lessons are free and will continue to be free in the future,” says Tom Calabrese, Quill’s cofounder and creative director. “And we recently launched a premium service which allows educators the ability to gain even more in-depth student reporting. You can sign up for a 30-day trial.”

Check out the video below for more on Quill, and be sure to visit their official website.

And to help us keep you informed about other great free educational programs and resources, bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

History, Legacy, and Family.

  • May 20, 2016

Roots Hero

Television history was made in 1977 when the epic ABC miniseries Roots drew unprecedented ratings and completely captured the nation’s attention for 8 consecutive nights. Based on the best-selling book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, by author Alex Haley, it told the story of generations descended from an African teenager named Kunta Kinte after he is brought to America as a slave.

Now, the HISTORY channel goes back to the source material for a 4-night, 8-hour “re-imagining” of Roots premiering this Memorial Day. And true to form, they have compiled a standards-based Education Guide and extensive resources to help teachers make the most of this unique opportunity for learning.

“Nearly 40 years ago I had the privilege to be a part of an epic television event that started an important conversation in America,” says LeVar Burton, a Co-Executive Producer of the new series, who portrayed young Kunta Kinte in the original. “I am incredibly proud to be a part of this new retelling and start the dialogue again, at a time when it is needed more than ever.”

Roots premieres Monday, May 30 at 9/8c on HISTORY channel. For a preview visit the HISTORY website.

The Education Guide and other great resources are available at History Classroom.

And to help us keep you informed about other great free educational programs and resources, bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Roots images: HISTORY

Roots 2
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A Great Way to Bring Current Events Into Your Classroom

  • May 11, 2016


This year’s presidential election has been unusual, to say the least, and no doubt it’s been a topic of conversation in your classrooms. And whether you and your students are studying current events or simply discussing them, there are available to you a host of channels and free resources that can help make any such engagement educational.

Today we bring you news of yet another terrific election resources from educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and our friends at HISTORY. HMH Election Connection is a free online resource billed as a “comprehensive, one-stop information hub for current and historical election coverage.” Geared toward students in grades 6 through 12, the site includes a wide range of materials, including daily news broadcasts, lesson plans, HISTORY videos, and readers.

There are also activities available, including guidelines for conducting a mock election, and one particularly interesting project designed to help students recognize propaganda.

Overall, HMH Election Connection is a solid resource with lots to offer the creative educator. Check out the website today. For additional election resources, visit HISTORY.

And to help us keep you informed about other great free educational programs and resources, bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Image: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/HISTORY

C-SPAN Is Election Central for Students and Teachers!

  • Mar 23, 2016


The race for the White House is on, and C-SPAN Classroom has earned our endorsement for once again providing teachers with the best, most educational lesson plans, activities, and materials—including a 2016 Electoral College Map poster (pictured, below) available free-of-charge for registered C-SPAN Classroom members!

This large, beautiful graphic, which will look great in your classroom, is designed to facilitate educational discussion on a variety of topics relating to the 2016 election, and is suited to a wide range of grade levels. How you use it is up to you, but if you’re looking for ideas there is a collection of lesson plans and activities available at C-SPAN Classroom as well.

Sign-up and request your poster today. Registration is also free.

But wait, there’s more!

C-SPAN Classroom has also put together a wonderful collection of resources (developed by teachers) that cover all aspects of the election process, from candidates and campaign ads to polling, campaign financing, and debate—each topic supplemented with related video clips, discussion questions, handouts, and culminating activities to reinforce students’ learning.

Check it out for yourself. These resources are all free-of-charge, and available right now on the C-SPAN Classroom website.

And to help us keep you informed about other great free educational programs and resources, be sure to bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio


Space-Based STEM Education for the Scientists of Tomorrow

  • Mar 09, 2016


Of all students, elementary-schoolers are probably the best equipped to respond to STEM education that is presented in the context of space exploration and adventure. I say that because younger kids are still firmly in-touch with their innate sense of wonder, and more importantly, still open enough to believe that if they dream big and work hard, they can achieve amazing things.

It’s their universe as much as it is ours, after all, and the good folks at NASA Education have come up with a cool new way to help them take hold of it—via a thoroughly engaging collection of science, technology, engineering, and math resources.

NASA Space Place is a free educational website for elementary students, their teachers, and their parents. Loaded with educational classroom activities, videos, experiments, and games, it’s a great place to learn, play, and grow. Teachers can use the materials they find on Space Place to build lesson plans that align with the Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, many of the classroom activities featured can easily be adapted to the high school classroom.

Explore NASA Space Place for yourself.

And to learn about other great free educational resources, be sure to bookmark this site and follow us on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio


Good News

  • Oct 28, 2015


“We are all journalists now.”

Chances are you’ve run across that statement somewhere. More and more people are saying it, because it’s true. The line has been blurred. No longer do the professionals have a monopoly on published information. Whether you’re blogging or tweeting or posting things on Facebook, you are functioning—for all practical purposes—as a journalist.

But the question is: Are you a “responsible” journalist? Is the information you are publishing true, or propaganda, or (heaven forbid) an outright lie?

It’s an important question when you consider that we are all, each of us, now living in a virtual sea of information, and information is the stuff people use to make decisions. Decisions that have consequences. Information is a powerful thing.

I believe this point is especially relevant for young people, most of whom haven’t yet compiled enough savvy to recognize that not everything they read is accurate, or even true. Moreover, young people are digital natives, more likely than any other group to both publish and receive information exclusively via the internet.

For this reason alone, I believe that media literacy and a core understanding of journalistic principles are essential to modern education. And to that end, I bring you news of a new trio of resources from PBS Learning Media designed to foster media literacy and responsible citizen journalism in students grades 9 through 12.

Presented as learning modules comprising standards-based classroom exercises and support materials for teachers, the available topics are:

Writing and Reporting/Collaborative Research
A primer on news writing and reporting.

Current Events Awareness/Media Literacy
Consuming news with a critical eye.

Persuasive Writing: Take a Stand
How to state ideas clearly and back them up with proof.

These lessons and more come your way free of charge as part of an exciting new educational effort from the Emmy-winning PBS news magazine series, NOW. We highly recommend that you check it out for yourself.

And to learn about other great free educational resources, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio