Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beyond Movie Night...Movie Night PLUS!

Last year, our family had the opportunity to review a Z-Guide to the Movies from Zeezok Publishing. We chose the guide for the movie Sergeant York starring Gary Cooper since it is a classic guy movie based on a true story and both of these things appealed to Tex, our then 13 year-old student. You can check out that review here, if you like. Our experience then was a very positive one, and when I was offered the opportunity to review another Z-Guide, I was eager to see if the experience would measure up to our previous one. Well, it did.

We chose to receive the 36 page Z-Guide for the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Another classic film, this time starring the endearing and talented Jimmy Stewart, the movie is one of my dad's favorites and I knew he wouldn't mind watching it with Tex and going over the activities with him. Since 2012 is an election year, I figured it would be a good idea to give Tex something a bit different from the Ancient World History we've been studying, and this movie seemed like it might be a good way to get some lively discussions rolling...and some curiosity about politics roused. I was not disappointed.

What is a Z-Guide?

Basically, each Z-Guide is anywhere from about 25 pages to 35 pages long and contains several important components. Here they are:
  • Table of Contents and How to How to Use This Guide A listing of the exercises contained in the guide and a suggested five-day course of study for the guide.
  • Topic Overview: Gives the viewer necessary background knowledge about the historical setting and characters encountered in the movie.
  • Movie Synopsis: This gives a detailed peek at the actual plot of the movie, but it may give away the ending, so you can choose to forego reading this page (or have mom read it and fill in the students without spoiling the ending...though, if your students are like me, they may want to know what to expect).
  • Learning Activities: From movie review questions (included in every Z-guide) to crossword puzzles, from art projects to research and writing activities, from performances and interviews to introspection about Worldview,  from in-depth investigation of literary and filmaking devices to historical timelines, from planning battle strategies (Z-Guide for One Night With the King) to a hike in the woods (Z-Guide for My Side of the Mountain), these ten activities offer a variety of ways to explore the movie and to express the student's understanding of its content. There are also some questions for family discussion which make good group conversation starters, as they focus on critical thinking and worldview...kind of like having a Movie Night Plus!
  • Answers and Additional Resources: There is an answer key for all questions (including expectations for activities and suggested point values), as well as a listing of further resources you may wish to use.
If you would like to see a sample Z-Guide, here is one based on the movie of The Count of Monte Cristo (that book is a favorite of mine...). You might want to try it out and see what you think (if you are homeschooling a High Schooler, that is...the topic is not really appropriate for younger students). I think you will find you really like the concept of the Z-Guide. Currently, there are 64 Z-Guides to choose from. There are so many that look good to me...I am certain that you will find at least a dozen that you'd like to try, too!!

Z-Guides are organized by historical time period. If you check out the Zeezok site, you will see that they have a timeline on the left sidebar, starting with Ancient Civilizations and going up through the Vietnam War. This makes it very easy for a parent/teacher who is going to be teaching a particular activity to find whether there is a movie with a guide available for the subject that is going to be taught. Simply click on the time period you are getting ready to teach, and you will see which movies fit into that designation.
Zeezok offers both the guides (for $12.99 download or $15.99 cd-rom) and the movies (prices vary, so check the site), though many of the movies can be found at your local library, or through lending services such as Netflix or Blockbuster. We were fortunate and discovered that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is in the public domain and is available online for FREE! Yay!!!

Also, it is important to know that Z-Guides can be used with multiple grade levels, but they are divided by subject appropriateness and difficulty of topic and activities, so some are considered to be High School level (such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), while others are considered to be Elementary/Middle School such as Kit Kittredge (based on the American Girl books). This does not mean that the activities cannot be modified by the teacher to work for multiple levels or that they can't be divided amongst various children according to ability and interest, but it does mean that parents should check a trusted movie review site, such as Plugged In Online to support make sure that the movie they want to view is appropriate for their individual child's age and personality.

Who would benefit from and enjoy a Zeezok Guide?
  • Anyone who is studying history and would like a fun and interesting way to "jump start" or "wrap up" a unit...why not try a Movie Night PLUS where you show one of the available Z-Guide movies, do some of the Family Discussion Questions, then start a week long study of the movie the next Monday? Sounds like fun to me!
  • Anyone who is studying literature (many old films are based on classic works of literature, such as To Kill a Mockingbird) and would like a way to reinforce the literary work or to present it in an alternate way (ie. for visual learners or those with limited time).
  • A teacher who needs a break for any number of reasons, such as illness, a recent birth, travel (something to do on long trips and still counts as school!), long-term visitors, an additional job, calving season (LOL...why not?), holidays, or just for an interesting change of pace.
  • Anyone who would like to reinforce or practice literary analysis...many of the Z-Guides discuss things like foreshadowing and mood.
  • Someone who is not the usual parent/teacher but will be acting as the caregiver for a short period of time...this would be an easy way to involve someone outside the usual family in the educational process, in a way that would be fun, yet still be learning.
  • Any student who appreciates movies and needs to understand history (among many other things) will benefit from and get something out of these Z-Guides. Who doesn't fit into that category?

What did our family think about the Z-Guide we tried?
  • Tex said that he LOVED the movie. He thought it was amazing.
  • Tex says it really helped him clarify what a filibuster is and got him thinking about how politics affects his life.
  • He said he appreciated the questions because they made him focus on important parts of the movie and try to understand them better than he might have if he had just been sitting and casually watching the movie (the questions are written in order of the movie's plot and meant to be answered as the movie progresses).
  • Tex said the crossword puzzle was a fun reinforcement of the plot and said that the How a Bill Becomes a Law worksheet helped him put the process in order better than if he'd just tried to visualize it. He and his dad had an intense discussion about the Worldview questions, which they both got something out of...not just knoweldge, but a deeper relationship.
  • The one negative thing he said was that a few things were difficult to find online, but since the answer key was available, he had a fallback plan if he got stuck.
  • Poppy said this guide was an effective way to help students understand their government and its procedures using one of his favorite movies.
  • Poppy feels it is a nice way to get people other than the parent/teachers involved in the kids' education.
  • I really like the Z-Guides. I'd love to get the ones for The Ten Commandments and One Night With the King as we are currently doing Ancient History. The only thing that stops me from going crazy and buying a bunch of them (we do love movies!) is that $12.99 for a single download (and the project lasts about a week) seems like a bit much for our budget. I wish Zeezok would offer a multiple purchase discount or a disk with mulitple titles (like and Ancient Studies pack and a World Wars pack).
  • I appreciate the preparation and organization of the Z-Guides. It is a great way for mom to get a break from the usual homeschool work week, yet to keep on learning. If I had a bad week/busy week, it would be nice to have a Z-Guide to pull out (I'd really like My Side of the Mountain), so I could feel like the kids are still learning even though I am getting a bit of a break. As a teacher, I definitely see the value of using film as a motivating, inspiring tool. I often encouraged or enticed my students (when I taught 8th grade English) using movies. We watched The Count of Monte Cristo, Cyrano de Bergerac, and even that old animated version of The Hobbit after reading the novels in class...the kids all loved it!
  • BUT not every movie needs a Z-Guide. While the questions were very thoughtful, targeted discussions before, during, and following the movie would have sufficed for us as it relates to learning and the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I think that if we were studying US Government this year, using the Z-Guide during the portion of the curriculum that introduced Congress might have been helpful, but as a random choice (the idea was to have something a little different), maybe the activities were not so relevant to us. In the future I think I'd limit Z-Guide use to specific areas for which we have a particular interest in going deeper.
  • I would like to see a bit more in the recommended resources section. Our Z-Guide only listed De Tocqueville's Democracy in America. I am pretty sure there is more out there to support learning about our government procedures than just that one thing...Oh, and one senate website was listed. Ayway, Tex would have explored more online if some direction had been given. I know sites change sometimes, but since it is an e-book, perhaps sites could be updated once a year, or at the very least, a disclaimer could be included so more sites could be listed. Just a suggestion...
If you'd like to see what others on the TOS Review Crew thought about their (many different) Z-Guides, check the Crew Blog HERE.
To read more about Z-Guides, click HERE.
To see a sample of a Z-Guide, click HERE.
To check out the available Z-Guides or to order a Z-Guide, click HERE.
To read my review of the Sergeant York Z-Guide, click HERE (lots of pictures of the guide).
You can LIKE Zeezok on Facebook to receive updates HERE.


Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of the Z-Guide for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in order to provide an honest review of the guide here on our blog. All opinions and observations reflect our personal experiences with this product and are not meant to predict or guarantee your family's experiences. If you have questions about this review that I did not answer, please feel free to contact me or comment here.

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