Masters of manipulation

19th March 2004 at 00:00
History in Motion - The First Day of the Somme

Film Education pound;35

This CD-Rom is an exploration of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. It features documentary-making tasks using primary and secondary sources, including extracts from the 1916 film Battle of the Somme and video shot on the battlefields as they are today. Pupils are given the chance to manipulate the film clips by adding music, sound effects and their own narration.

I decided to test the CD with a group of able Year 10 students. Luckily, before using it I took the time to check that it worked, as it took a long time to install the CD itself, Adobe Acrobat and QuickTime for Windows.

The first session involved researching the battle using the resources included on the disk. It took some effort to stop the pupils skipping through these as they wanted to get on and "play" with the editing suite.

But once strong-armed into it, they found the resources to be useful. We discussed the task that lay ahead and they decided what sort of film they wanted to make. One pair decided to make a propaganda film suitable for 1916 audiences. Another pair chose to make a film with an "anti-war" slant, and the last pair decided to make a film to show to Year 9 pupils. We then discussed what sort of images and music would be suitable for these projects and their homework was to storyboard suitable ideas.

The next session was eagerly awaited as they actually got to use the editing suite. They watched the various clips and selected which ones would be suitable for their film. They listened to the musical clips and while the pair making a propaganda film chose rousing classical music, the "anti-war" group went for far more sombre tones. Interestingly, the pair composing for Year 9 downloaded some heavy metal to go over battlefield scenes, which was surprisingly effective. They all wrote suitable captions and we discussed how the same piece of film could tell a different story with different music and descriptions. They were keen to record their own narrations, but unfortunately we ran out of time.

This is an excellent piece of software that provided more able pupils with much food for thought. We discussed the nature of propaganda and editing and they were able to see how footage can be manipulated to give a particular message. Because the software was tricky to use at first and took a lot of teacher guidance, it would be better suited to more able students working in small groups or as an A-level project. If you are looking for something to challenge and excite the gifted historian I would highly recommend this CD-Rom. The future news director of the BBC may be discovered using this package!

Becky Hewlitt is head of history at Windsor High School, Halesowen, West Midlands

Film Education have 100 copies of History in Motion - The First Day of the Somme to give away to TESreaders. For details, see page 16in this week's Friday magazine

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