Sunday, April 3, 2011

TOS Review: Zeezok's ZGuide To The Movies - Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Although I consider myself 2nd generation homeschooler, I did briefly attend public schools during my formative years.  There was a short spurt during 1st and 2nd grade, another for part of 5th and 6th grade and a final attempt for my freshman year of high school.  It was during that last foray that I was forced to sit through the movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  I say forced, not because it was a bad movie, or because I didn't want to watch it, but rather because that's how I remember the experience as described by my friends who were in that same government class.  We were given adequate warning of the days on which we'd be watching the movie, and assignments to prepare for it.  And in the intervening days between when we'd been made aware of the upcoming viewing and actually watching it, I listened to all sorts of complaints and gripes about how we were being "forced" to watch a "stupid black and white, pointless movie".  As much as I pretended to have my own opinions back in those days, I can safely say that I jumped right in with the complaining, even though I found myself actually enjoying the movie when we did watch it.

But this isn't a commentary on how easily persuaded I was to follow the crowd when I was 14 years old.  It's a review, and an admission of how much I've learned since then.

I have to admit, I was actually excited to watch Mr. Smith Goes To Washington again, this time with my 14 year old, and with the added benefit of Zeezok's ZGuide To The Movies to enrich both our experiences.

Here's a little bit about the ZGuides in general, from Zeezok:
Each ZGuide contains a topic overview, movie synopsis, and ten learning activities for an in-depth study of the film. The topic overview puts the film in historical context, giving a student with no prior knowledge of the topic important background information. The one-page movie synopsis provides a more detailed explanation of the movie’s storyline than typically found on the back cover of the video case or on movie review websites. While watching the film the first time through, students answer the movie review questions. This assignment forces the viewer to become an active learner rather than a passive observer. Nine additional activities provide interdisciplinary educational opportunities built around the movie’s themes. Certain activities require the student to use outside resources (library, internet, etc.) to learn more about the topic. Several of the guides contain related memorization selections, combined with a public performance option, to develop the student’s mental powers and public speaking abilities. Creative and critical writing assignments nurture the student’s confidence in putting their thoughts on paper. Every guide contains a “hands-on” activity for the kinesthetic learner, designed to develop the student’s artistic talents. The “Worldview Activity” goes to the heart of critical thinking by asking the student to evaluate the actors’ attitudes and actions. “The Filmmaker’s Art” activity focuses on movie-making techniques and their effect on the viewer. Parents and siblings can contribute their thoughts with the “For Family Discussion” section at the end of each guide. Many of these discussion questions relate to moral or philosophical dilemmas present in the movie.
The goal of the is not just supplemental educational activities for specific historical topics, but to also teach the viewer to think critically.
I'm a very strong believer in watching movies as an active learner, rather than a passive viewer!  As a Communications major in college, I learned how important it is to not just allow yourself to be mindlessly entertained (as I admit, I did when I watched Mr Smith Goes To Washington when I was in high school), but to understand the ideas and worldview that the filmmaker is trying to persuade the viewer to agree with.  We've always taught our children that TV and movies are not ever "just entertainment" - that everything they view, from a sitcom to a commercial to a full-length movie, is trying to change their worldview.  As a family, we try to watch things together so that we can discuss them afterwards, and help our children ferret out those truths.

I loved the ZGuide's approach to this.  As I said, I used it with my 14 year old son, though my younger children (ages 11, 7 and 5) all watched the movie with us and participated in some of the discussion and activities.  Even though the level of this particular movie is above the ages of most of my children, it addresses a topic that we're currently studying (US government).  I was very excited to see that the ZGuide offered several activities that were directly in line with what we were learning about (Activity 2 was all about filibusters; Activity 4 was a quiz about the steps for a bill to become a law).  In short, the movie and the ZGuide were a fantastic supplement to our current study of government.

Overall, I found the ZGuide to be an excellent addition to our homeschool.  I plan to purchase about 1 ZGuide a month to use with various movies so we can continue these great discussions, and hopefully teach our children an even greater understanding of how to step outside a movie and see it for what it's trying to persuade you to.  My biggest hope would be that after using the ZGuides for a while, they learn to start asking the questions themselves.  I believe that the ZGuides would also be an excellent place to start for adults as well, especially if you aren't used to asking questions of the media you view.

Currently Zeezok offers 28 ZGuides, for movies like One Night With The King, The Ten Commandments, Driving Miss Daisy, and Flyboys.  Many, if not all, of the movies the ZGuides are available for, can be watched using the Netflix streaming program, which many people have access to.  If you do not have Netflix, many movies can be found at your local library as well.  As a last resort, Zeezok also offers the movies themselves, which can be purchased along with the ZGuide.

ZGuides are available on either e-books or on CDs, for $12.99 each. If you're interested in what other reviewers have to say about the ZGuides they used, check out their reviews here.

As a funny (strange, not "ha, ha") aside, I'll admit that as I was walking through the exhibitor hall at the Cincinnati Homeschool Convention yesterday (Saturday, April 2nd), I came across the Zeezok booth and noticed their ZGuides.  And I thought to myself, "I wonder when that review is due?" only to come home that evening and discover that I'd somehow forgotten to put it on my calendar, and it was indeed due April 1st.  Hence, the slightly late review.  My apologies to TOS and Zeezok!

Disclaimer: As a member of the 2010-2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received two complimentary ZGuide (e-book) for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased review. No other compensation was received.

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