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With recent governmental requirements for young people to undertake STEM subjects, it seems the preconception that film and media studies are less ‘academically rigorous' subjects is set to continue. However, I feel that we need to readdress the situation, and embrace film's engaging potential, as well as its role as a valid partner for STEM subjects.
What I love about using film in the classroom is its breadth of use and its ability to motivate and engage those who otherwise may not be intrinsically motivated. Numeracy is something that has always hung over me personally both as a student and as a teacher I have dyscalculia and therefore do not feel this is my most confident area and like many young people in the classroom I find that my lack of confidence in a subject makes me disengage.
Thinking of ways to link numeracy and film and make numeracy fun initially seemed tricky, until I discovered the weekly Box Office Statistics via the BFI website. Using these, my students and I can analyse existing numerical data in a non-threatening and fun way, and thus build a sense of confidence around the use of data. A great activity is to get them to take up the role as a film programmer at a multiplex for the next week and devise a schedule for the coming week based on the successes of the last. This allows them to further numeracy skills and also see film as a business and a viable career path.
Filmmaking must not be overlooked. What is so exciting about constructing a short film from scratch with young people is the learning process that goes with it. Young people learn from ‘getting it wrong' and this develops confidence and a sense of resilience.
One of the first activities I do when starting a course of filmmaking is set the learners a task of making ‘a swede', essentially, a no budget parody of an existing film, inspired by the film Be Kind Rewind. Each member of the group will have a real film industry job, and the learners have to make absolutely everything from scratch including: the titles, costumes and music. I have seen some hilarious versions of: The Hunger Games, The Breakfast Club and even Jaws (with beach scenes shot in a golf bunker!). The whole process gets the group to see that working as part of a team can be problematic, and that research and planning is just essential as having creative ideas.
By taking on each of the roles in the production of the film, the learners are given an insight into how the the film industry jobs that are available, and the tools required to be successful at them. Further to developing creativity, resilience and teamwork this can also link to engineering, with learners having to plan and physically construct everything from the set to the soundscape. You could even start to develop personal finance skills through this activity give a group a budget and a price list of actors and directors and special effects and see what they can make of it.
As well as the technological side of STEM subjects, the scientific side can be explored in filmmaking too. Getting learners to experiment with Foley sound - the art of using everyday items to match the sounds you see on screen - is a fantastic way to to explore scientific concepts. Give learners a choice of items and they can make suitable sounds. My sixth formers loved this activity and, after playing some slightly younger students a clip of a foley artist at work, four of them proclaimed that they wanted to go and have a career in this field! We tried it out ourselves, looking at the egg-hatching scene from Jurassic Park, and found that the best sound was taking apart fruit flesh with rubber gloves and biting into celery to make an egg crack (you'd be amazed how much of a film's sound design is made up with fruits and vegetables!)
No subject exists in isolation. A broad education is vital to a young person's development because they see how different subjects work in collaboration. Film is the most collaborative artform there is, with writers and performers working alongside people with incredible technical expertise, to create something wholly unique. Film's educational capacity is broad and far reaching and rather than seeing it as a completely separate entity to STEM subjects we need to start viewing it as a valid and worthy partner and embrace its potential.
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