Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: Z-Guides to the Movies

Last March I posted an entry about  feeling puny but still being able to log some homeschool hours by watching educational movies.  I have to admit some guilt about that--am I really teaching my son if we're watching a movie together?  Our latest review product, Z-Guides to the Movies by Zeezok Publishing, is designed to help formalize the  leaning experience.

The Z-Guide is a one week supplement to your current history curriculum (two activities per day).  Current titles cover history genre films from Ancient Civilizations to Post World War II.  We chose to review Johnny Tremain since we had that film on our shelves.   Each guide is based on a specific film, so while there may be several versions of The Count of Monte Crisco, you'll want to get the correct one for the Z-Guide (the Zeezok website actually sells the films but you can also use the information to get a copy at your library or from Netflix).

Let me preface this review by saying I was led to believe it was designed for elementary students but when I received it I saw that it was written to middle school students.  My Schnickelfritz was not able to do some of the assignments (he's not allowed to browse the internet on his own for example) so some of the work I had to do myself.

According to Zeezok's website, each Z-Guide should contain the following:
  • An overview of the topic
  • A synopsis of the film
  • Review questions to be answered while watching the film
  • Research activities built around the historical time of the film
  • At least one hands-on activity
  • A Worldview Activity
  • A Filmmaker's Art activity 
Let's take each of these in turn:

The Z-Guide introduction is written to the teacher and the Overview and Movie Synopsis come before the student activities so I assume they are for the teacher to read and then relay that information to the student.  You could simply read the paragraphs aloud, but they are so information-dense and compact that I needed to give Fritz a more drawn out and simplified version.

The first activity is always the Movie Review Questions .   These 25 questions (listed in order of appearance in the film) are designed to keep the student attentive rather than fall into passive viewing.  The problem was my Schnickelfritz became overly focused on answering the specific questions (like While at the printers, Johnny and Rab discuss the ________ tax.) that he was missing the gist of the scene.  He knew the name of the tax but not why the colonists were so upset by it.  If you have one of these concrete/sequential learners you may need to watch the film once to get the overall picture and then try and answer the questions during a second viewing. Heck, you may discover some foreshadowing that you didn't see the first time.

Three of the next activities involve research skills.  The student is supposed to use print and internet sources to answer questions about The Boston Tea Party, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the practice of apprenticeship.  A well-prepared Mama would have gone to the library and checked out books with the answer.  A middle-school student (the target audience of this guide) could probably find all the answers on the internet, but my son isn't allowed to surf the web solo yet.  Some questions were fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice, others involved more writing e.g. "What were some typical obligations of the apprentice as spelled out in the contract?"

Other activities had the source text provided in the Z-Guide.  One involved vocabulary taken from James Otis' pamphlet The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved.  The eighteenth century dialogue was certainly over my 9 year old's head (proving again that middle school or higher is the appropriate age level).  Another activity would be to re-enact Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech (note: the Z-Guide says memorization of the speech is helpful but not necessary).   My son does quite well about memorizing Bible verses, even Psalm 23, but Patrick Henry's speech is for old students.  On the other hand, there were some activities that seemed targeted to younger students: two coloring pages, a maze, and a crossword puzzle based on the film.

I assume the the Patrick Henry speech was meant to be the Hands On Activity because there was nothing else close to that description.  To my mind "hands on" means the chance to get messy--even something as simple as brewing a cup of tea, or better yet cutting open the tea bag to see what tea leaves look like inside.  A middle school student would be capable of more: carving in wax like Johnny did as a silversmith, perhaps.

The Worldview Activity was a series of questions to be answered by short essay.  It was possible to adapt this to a younger student simply by making it a family discussion (after all most Christian parents want their children to follow in their worldview choices).  They are not necessarily questions of a religious nature, although that's what I think of first when I hear "worldview."  One question was "Why did Johnny wait so long to seek medical treatment?"

I searched high and low to find the Filmmaker's Art activity.   According to Zeezok's What is a Z-Guide:

The Filmmaker’s Art activity helps the student recognize the tools being used to influence the viewer. The various guides discuss how filming techniques, music, lighting, humor, character development, irony, foreshadowing, and even character names are used by the director and producer to influence the viewer to get their agenda across. We want the student to be able to discern not only the agenda of the movie, but also how they are being influenced by it. The goal is that when the student goes to the theatre and watches Harry Potter or Avatar or Happy Feet, he walks out not thinking it was an entertaining movie, but understanding the bigger message behind each film.

There simply wasn't such an activity in the Johnny Tremain Z-Guide.

I don't mean to seem so negative about Z-Guides.  When I was presented with a list of titles from which to choose, Johnny Tremain was listed as being appropriate for elementary students and I tried to adapt it as well as possible.  If I had an older student, I would certainly consider using Z-guides as a means of including other media sources in our history curriculum.  Others on the Homeschool Crew reviewed other Z-Guides and you can read about their experiences (hopefully with age appropriate students) by clicking here.

There are more than 25  Z-Guides available now on Zeezok Publishing's website for $12.99 for a single user.  This price is for download or CD (then shipping charges would apply).  There is also a classroom or co-op license available for  $49.99.  Other titles (including some of my favorite films) are: Ben Hur, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,  and Sergeant York.

Disclaimer: I received a free download of the Z-Guide Johnny Tremain for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

1 comment:

Martha said...

We reviewed Johnny Tremain last year. I adapted some of the material as well.

My review this year wasn't as positive about the Z Guide, either.

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