Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Teaching with TV and Movies

Following is my review of TV Shows, Movies and DVDs that my kids watch for entertainment and education. For them, there is really no difference, but I can usually find plenty of teachable moments when watching these shows with them or discussing them afterwards.

Note: I have one son (age 6) in regular curriculum with Global Village School and one son (age 8) on unschooling or life-learning curriculum. For more information, please email me.

This probably makes me a bit different from most homeschooling parents out there in that I have integrated a great deal more TV/Movies in my children's education. However, I do feel that parents should take the time to watch these shows and decide for themselves what value they have to educate as well as entertain their children.

Not all cartoons are junk and not all educational shows are snoozers. I happen to really like SpongeBob Squarepants. If one can look past the silly plot lines, you will find some very interesting, and often highly principled characters. SpongeBob himself, although naive at times, has a strong work ethic, is extremely caring and empathetic and unconventionally intelligent. All characteristics that are desirable in people and ones in which I am not hesitant for my children to learn and emulate.

So here is a small list of some shows we've included in our learning life. Harpo is 8 and has been very receptive to learning story structure and process as well as character analysis. Although that sounds like a boring English class in 9th grade, when the subject matter is a source of interest and entertainment, then learning can happen - easily and happily. SpongeBob and Patrick can do just as well as job as Shakespeare and Molier in teaching "exposition, climax, denouement, and resolution."

Harpo's favorite show that is all about the adventures of a group of engineers and scientists that set out to prove or disprove myths of all types. For example, during “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel, the Mythbusters dedicated their shows to exploring shark myths. They attempted to find the best way to evade sharks by testing out punching, releasing pepper juice in the water, and other techniques. They also try to recreate scenes from movies involving sharks to see if these things could be done in real life.

A show about extreme machines and the engineering that is involved in building and maintaining them. Shows feature tugboats the size of football fields, tunnel diggers, draw bridges and dams.

Naked Science
A Science variety show that covers geology, space, pre-history and zoology. The episode on Super-continent, Pangea is one that Harpo will watch over and over.

Disaster Lab
There have only been a handful of episodes. This show depicts the effects of different types of forces on people and property. Although slightly violent in nature, the simulations are done with crash test dummies or using stick forms in illustration. The show will end with safety lessons, emergency education and prevention techniques.

Warriors (History Channel)
Host, Terry Schappert, travels the world to explore ancient cultures and their warriors and weapons. He is a trained martial artist and stuntman and will demonstrate ancient fighting techniques after first interviewing experts. This was a great show to bring our reading to life. We read the “You Wouldn’t Want To…” series of books that featured the life of Mayan priests, early American revolutionaries, builders of the Great Wall, etc. After reading, “You Wouldn’t Want To Be A Mayan Soothsayer!” we watched Terry demonstrate the use of Mayan double-edged fighting sticks. Many of the rituals and terms we read in the book were on the show.

How It’s Made (Science Channel & TLC)
This is a wonderful 30-minute variety show on the methods of manufacturing of many different items. The variety of items they feature is amazing. They cover everything from potato chips to chainsaws and plastic furniture. The boys find this very interesting and will often share the manufacturing methods they learn about with their friends and relatives. Zeppo likes to tell people how stackable potato chips are made!

Yo Gabba Gabba! (Noggin)
Nice variety show that integrates the study of sciences with music in a kids’ variety show. Sometimes a bit juvenile for Justin, but still entertaining. They get the most out of the safety oriented shows. I particularly like the show about learning what to do if you are lost and how to ask for help.

Between the Lions (PBS)
This is an old-time favorite of the family. The lion family lives and works in a library and will read many books and bring them to life. I like the way the books are presented because they are read in their entirety and are captioned with the words highlighted as it is read. Then many of the words in the books are featured and focused on with singing about them and exploring their sound components.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy (PBS)
Very entertaining variety show starring, Bill Nye. The boys relate well to his off-beat and silly sense of humor. His love of science is infectious. On one of the episodes, Bill visited the Aquarium of the Pacific, which we also frequent. The boys were so excited and will relate “This is where Bill saw the sting ray, etc…” when we visit the aquarium.

Truth or Scare (Discovery Kids)
This is another great show, but only 3-4 episodes have aired so far that they keep playing over and over. This show takes otherwise scary subjects, like the Loch Ness Monster, Wolfman, or Haunted Houses and applies logic, history and science, thereby “de-spookifying” or demystifying them.

Grossology (Discovery Kids)
This one is a typical cartoon show, but it features kids with powers that are linked to different bodily functions. Amidst the hilarity, there is real science and biology that is taught.

The Future is Wild (Discovery Kids)
A young girl from 10,000 in the future comes back in time to find a home for the human race. She visits different time periods in the geological timeline history of Earth and explores the environment.

Psych (USA Network)
This is a wonderful series about, Shawn, a young man with exceptional observation skills. He has “unconventional” intelligence in that he has a deep sense of empathy and a very keen eye for details. In the series he makes a living by pretending to be a psychic working for the Santa Barbara police department. Harpo relates well to Shawn and loves to watch his unique genius in action fooling everyone around him into thinking he has supernatural powers. Although this is a show for adults, the depiction of crimes in the stories are not so violent that Harpo can’t watch.

Supercroc (National Geographic Special)

Prehistoric Planet (BBC/Discovery Kids Special Series)

Prehistoric Park (BBC Series)

Walking with Monsters – Life Before Dinosaurs (BBC Series)

Walking with Cavemen (BBC Series)

Chased by Dinosaurs (BBC Series)

Chased by Sea Monsters (BBC Series)
These dinosaur and pre history DVDs are Harpo's favorites. He has watched them all several times. He also reads the companion books I have bought for the BBC series. The books are large coffee-table type books with colorful pictures and many charts and graphs comparing the creatures to modern day animals. He loves the books so much he sleeps with them in the way other children sleeps with teddy bears and blankets.

The Universe (History Channel Mini-Series)
This series features some of the most popular physicists talking about the known universe as well as speculating on some of the most modern and controversial theories. Harpo's favorite is the episode on Jupiter’s moons and Zeppo loves the episode about black holes.

Stealing Lincoln’s Body (History Channel)
This special was a good mix of documentary style interviews with historians and dramatized re-enactment of events following Lincoln’s assassination. This first aired in February, but the boys were not interested in it until recently.
The Link (History Channel Special)
This special features a newly discovered set of fossils. The creature is unlike any other before discovered and has been speculated to be the evolutionary link between lemurs and apes.

Clash of the Gods: Hercules (History Channel Special)
This series is another brilliantly produced show mixing interviews with experts and computer generated scenes of the Gods, humans and mythical creatures. The boys are engrossed in the stories and love to listen to me and their father read from our Greek Myths books. The books are too boring for them to read on their own (because of the small print and no pictures), but make for great bed-time reading. At first I feared that the themes would be too adult, but we’ve been able to maneuver past the more adult situations and focused on the adventure and courage aspects of the stories.

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