Bringing Technology Home :: Using Television to Teach

I love movies! Most of us do. It’s the reason we subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and now Disney+ and any other binge-watching streaming services we can get our hands on. But I love watching television because I love the act of learning through storytelling. Stories have the ability to take us on a journey that we never imagined while teaching lessons through its themes and development of characters.

As a former classroom teacher of ten years, student engagement is so important, so I used media as a tool to teach. I decided to bring that same practice home for my son who is now a freshman in high school. Now that we are faced with a new normal, it would be a great time for families to try.

Here are a few series as well as movies that we have tried and how I used them to create valuable discussions for my teen:

The Get Down

The Get Down is an American musical drama television series created by Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis. It debuted on Netflix. The series is set in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York City, and follows the rise of hip-hop and disco music through the eyes of a group of teenagers. Each episode begins with MC Books, a famous artist that raps his story to a large crowd during a concert in 1996. The short rap serves both as a recap of previous episodes and as a setup of the events of the next. Each episode is also intercut with real footage and newscasts from the 1970s.

Here, we were able to discuss themes like peer pressure, the value of school for children, teen dating, as well as the differences in each character as we watch them evolve through the story. There is also an opportunity to talk about vocabulary words as the main character is a wordsmith poet. And of course, we talked about the birthplace of hip-hop and the effects of music on culture. Here in New Orleans, we live for the history of our Indian tribes, Second Line Sunday’s, as well as our jazz roots. With this series, we were able to view New York City and its cultural ties to hip hop, street cyphers, and disco.

All American

All American is an American sports drama television series, created by April Blair that premiered on The CW but has now moved to Netflix. The series is inspired by the life of professional American football player Spencer Paysinger with Daniel Ezra in the lead role. So with this one, you have an opportunity to research the actual person and make comparisons. The premise of the story includes a rising high school American football player from South L.A. who is recruited to play for Beverly Hills High. The two families from vastly different worlds—Crenshaw and Beverly Hills—begin to collide. We journey through their wins, losses, and lessons through each episode.

If you have teens who are into team sports, this one is great. My son plays football and baseball so this one definitely hit home for him. Here we were able to discuss relationships between parents and kids, the dynamics of family, race, high school life, challenging yourself, and prevailing beyond comfort zones. There are so many more.

Self Made (mini-series)

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker is an American drama web television limited series, based on the biography On Her Own Ground by A’Lelia Bundles. This story premiered on Netflix just a few days ago. The miniseries tells the untold story of black hair care pioneer and mogul Madam C. J. Walker and how she overcame hostile turn-of-the-century America, epic rivalries, tumultuous marriages, and some trifling family to become America’s first Black, self-made female millionaire.

We haven’t done this one just yet. It is our next week’s viewing but I plan to have my son research the time period of the late 1800s when Madame C.J. Walker lived. This will give him background information towards the setting of the story and also build suspense. I also plan to only watch one episode a day with him. This keeps him engaged as well as gives me an opportunity to motivate him to do all of his other chores or school mandates to look forward to this part of learning. Mom teacher trick. 😉

In conclusion, using media to teach your children can be a great way to teach soft skills and character development. If you can view the shows before and create a list of open-ended questions, this could work wonders. This time together has the ability to create connections and foster relationship building. Be sure to keep phones at a distance and include shareable snacks and you are on your way to “killing two birds with one stone.” Haha!


Miss Heard


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