Category Archives: Flipping Research Projects

Flipping Senior Comp Research-Watching Documentaries First

A Senior Composition teacher became outraged and had a visceral response after she watched the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. Seeking a project that would elicit that same response for our students we set-out to collaborate and revitalize the Senior Composition research unit. 

She had raised money and participated in a Komen 3-day walk only to learn about the pharmaceutical companies that sponsor these walks and have a vested interest in only finding cures/treatments that require patients to use drugs. The filmmaker also raised important questions like why after all these years do we only have slash (surgery), burn (radiation) and poison (chemo) as treatment options? Why is so little money spent on prevention? Why are women dancing and celebrating at these pink events instead of angry and outraged? These types of questions would make great research topics and so began a revitalization of the research unit.

After talking with her response to that film,  I said, great, “Let’s start with a documentary.” I loved the idea.

I began creating an Amazon wishlist of films. I scoured 3-5 years of nominated and award winning documentaries. The Sundance film festival was a prime source of inspiration. I selected films, like I do books for the library. Is there a teen character? Is it a topic that teens like: war, drugs, health, environmental, alcohol, mental illness, video games, art  etc…

For the complete student movie list, click here.

Students choose from a list. The movies would provide background knowledge and a topic to help get them started on their own research journey.  Some of the most popular titles for the project were: Boy Interrupted (Suicide), Black Fish (Whales in Captivity), The Cove (Dolphin Captures/Slaughter), Born into Brothels (Children of Prostitutes), To Hell and Back Again (Wounded Soldier/Oxycontin Addiction), The Invisible War (Women in the Military) and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.

I purchased all the movies prior to Spring Break and now, we (Two Sr. Comp. teachers, Instructional Coach and I) had to divide them up and watch them. Many were unrated and a few were rated R. One of the Rated R (for language) films passed inspection- The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing. Sadly, we were unable to include Murderball, a film about a Para-Olympic sport- wheelchair rugby due to its sexual content. We followed our School Board policy for unrated and R-Rated films.

We watched, Pink Ribbons, Inc as a model in class. We began with guided notes and we talked about credentials, bias, claim and evidence.

After the project when asked if watching Pink Ribbons, Inc. was helpful, one student said,

It’s a documentary that gets you thinking and gets your emotions roweled up a bit which makes you want to get into another controversial documentary and speak out about it.” – Senior Student, B.Z.

Wow- that was our intention! To be fair, however, not all students found it helpful. Some pointed out, like the New York Times review that there were simply too many messages and that it wasn’t like most of their films that tended to have a much clearer focus. We encountered another problem, too, when we learned that one student’s mother had just been diagnosed with cancer. Consequently, we need to select a different, and maybe even shorter film for the class model. I’m still looking.

Stage 1 of flipping this project involved beginning topic selection by watching a film. The four of us led a movie talk, much like a booktalk and let students select their films.

Watching the students as they watched their films was so much fun that even though we all could have been doing something else we were mesmerized by their reactions.

Some worked with a partner and they raced each other to look up a related fact on their phone or a nearby computer. Others muttered out loud angrily- “Why doesn’t anyone know about this?” The girls watching The Cove, were moved to tears. These movies got our students thinking and feeling in ways that no other research topic ever had. We were off to a great start!