Mixing Humor and Terror to Create the Ultimate Horror Remake

In this lesson, students will learn the rhetorical devices of satire, sardonicism, parody and irony, which are often used in horror films to offset the shock, terror and gore for which the genre is known. Students will then employ these devices in a creative writing assignment that will envision remaking a horror film.

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The Incredible Hulk’s Origins: The Monster Within

The Gamma Bomb that launched a thousand comics

 

The brilliant scientist, Dr. Bruce Banner, was caught in the blast of a test Gamma Bomb, exposing him to seemingly deadly gamma radiation.  He began experiencing strange symptoms during times of stress – his mind and body would change and grow into a hulking beast of a man, full of rage and superhuman strength. “The Hulk” is a comic book superhero character from Marvel Comics.  He first appeared in the 1962 comic, The Incredible Hulk.

This character has stood the test of time and has remained incredibly popular, with comics continuing to feature him to this day, and big budget blockbusters, such as The Avengers, featuring him as well.  Though his origins pointed to his destructive nature, The Hulk’s abilities have been harnessed as a force of good.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character in the early 1960’s with influences from literature and current events.


 

Literary Monsters

 

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Hulk lesson

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886) are influences of The Hulk.  In Frankenstein, a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, creates a grotesque yet sentient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment.  His creation becomes “the monster.” The monster has moments of self reflection, wondering why he has been given such a terrible fate: to be created, and then hunted down and tortured by society.  This theme is very much at play within the early Hulk comics.  He doesn’t understand why this had to happen to him, and why people won’t let him run off into isolation and be at peace. This aspect of The Hulk’s personality is at odds with his often incited desire to destroy.

This dichotomy leads to the other main literary influence.  Jekyll and Hyde is a novella that explores the rare mental condition often called “split personality,” known in psychiatry as dissociative identity disorder.  This refers to when more than one distinct personality exists within the same body.  Jekyll and Hyde is especially relevant to The Hulk, as it portrays one distinctly good personality, while the other is evil.  Dr. Henry Jekyll is at odds with his evil other personality, Edward Hyde.  Jekyll asserts that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” and he imagines the human soul as the battleground for an “angel” and a “fiend,” each struggling for mastery.


 

War, Mankind, and The Hulk

 

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There are influences from The Cold War in the Hulk comics. After World War II, in 1947, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated and existed for much of the rest of the 20th century. Many international incidents occurred that brought these nations’ to the brink of disaster including the Berlin Crisis (1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).  The Hulk makes certain statements that point to his conception as an allegory for man’s ability to wage wars.

In issue #1, Bruce Banner is afraid he’ll keep changing into “that brutal, bestial, mockery of a human — that creature which fears nothing — which despises reason and worships power!”  In issue #102, the Hulk rages, “Me GO! Must kill…destroy! Must prove to world no one stronger!”  These statements allude to the darkest natures of humanity during times of war.

The upcoming Marvel movie Avengers: Age of Ultron explores similar themes about humanity’s warring nature, and ultimate hope for peace.  The Hulk will be a part of that story, ever relevant as his very existence is a representation of the same struggle.

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The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.

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Breaking Fallout: And Other Ways to Play Video Games Outside the Box

 

Let’s Players, or LP’ers, are video game players who stream their games on Youtube who often try extreme feats to stand out from the pack. One LPer, Kyle “The Weirdist” Hinckley, recently performed an impressive feat: completing Fallout 4 without killing a single person, animal, or robot.

This surprised even the game’s lead designer, who actually did not previously believe that he had made a game that could be beaten entirely without violence. Fallout 4 relies heavily on violence both as a mechanic and a storytelling element.

Mechanically, violence is the most interesting, complicated, and well-developed part of the game, and almost all skills and items improve your character’s ability to kill. From a storytelling point of view, the story relies on violence to enforce the themes of post-apocalyptic social collapse, desperation, and self-interest. The story, about the disappearance of the main character’s son, assumes that the character will kill to get the son back. As a result, many characters in the game must be killed for the story to advance. So how did Hinckley do it?

Turns out, while certain characters must die, the game system makes it possible to manipulatively cause their deaths, without directly killing them. Hinckley used a whole range of strategies to keep killing off his character’s record, making the story about a squeamish master manipulator rather than a post-apocalyptic fighter. This brings up one of the most fascinating differences between written fiction and video games.

The Unique Storytelling of Video Games

In written fiction, the reader experiences only the plot created by the author. In video games, players can experience both the intended narrative, controlled by the game designers, and unintended experiences, controlled by the player. Video game players also exercise creativity, using the game as a tool to create their own new art. How you personally “break” a video game is a good indication of how much your creative mind is suited for making games of your own. In this lesson, students will consider how to break video games in ways that create new experiences. But first, let’s look at the elements of the videogame experience.

Video Game Appreciation 101

Video games have three elements:

  1. Aesthetics: the computer generated graphics, art and music
  2. Narrative: the scripted story elements of the game
  3. Ludology: the mechanics and options available to the player

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Aesthetics and narrative are entirely controlled by the design team, but ludology is not. Designers cannot predict all player actions, only some.

Being Unpredictable

Video game designers tend to envision specific audiences. RPGs like Fallout are sold to an audience of 17-35 year olds that has, statistically, roughly equal numbers of men and women, and that shows a preference for less complicated, high-reward gameplay. RPG players are most motivated by quick candy-like rewards, also known in brain science as Incremental Goal Progress. That little rush when you loot an enemy for a reward is the core of the RPG. When designing the game, therefore, designers try to encourage players to experience the plot by putting more rewards on the plot-heavy paths. For example, in Fallout 4, the designers encourage the player to kill enemies by making killing the easiest way to gain wealth and experience points. The designers can therefore assume most players will be violent, making it easier to cluster the best art and story along the violent path that they know players will take. Hinckley’s experience was so different because he was not playing like a typical RPG player.

Let’s look at some other examples. Racing games all assume that their players want to win, every time. This means they often do not test what happens if players go completely offroad or backwards. By exploring offroad, players not only create their own experiences, but also tend to find a ton of unplanned glitches. Minecraft is designed as a cooperative crafting game; the designer did not predict people would build into the game an elaborate shooter. Most first-person shooters can be turned into ridiculous physics puzzles, as long as the player isn’t interested in a fair and balanced shoot-out.

In the games you play, think about what the designers think you will do. Is it possible to do something different? Can you create an entirely new game by breaking an existing one?

 

The Art of Storytelling

The objective of this lesson plan is to engage students in the art of storytelling and improve their public speaking skills.

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America’s Favorite Pastime, Part 2 of 3: Immigration in Baseball – Rewriting the Rulebook

 
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Baseball Isn’t Dangerous, Right?

Would you raft through shark-infested waters to play baseball? Would you risk being kidnapped? Would you subject another person to the possibility of death threats for the sake of allowing you to keep playing the sport? Well, for Cuban baseball players, the answer to those types of questions has overwhelmingly been “Yes!” Jose Fernandez, a star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, did indeed brave the shark-filled waters of the Straits of Florida. Can you blame him for having a huge smile on his face when he became a U.S. citizen in April? No more sharks!

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In an attempt to reach the U.S. Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, meanwhile, was kidnapped and held for ransom during his own immigration ordeal. Most recently, 16-year-old Cuban player Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros saw his agents subjected to death threats over disagreements about Lazarito’s future.

 

U.S.-Cuba Relations: Not So Friendly

The common thread among most Cuban MLB players is that they experienced extremely difficult conditions at some point in their journeys to the U.S. Because of the contentious relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, for many years immigration was especially difficult for Cuban players. Except in special cases, Americans and Cubans were not permitted to travel between the two countries, so Cubans had to illegally escape (defect) in order to reach the U.S. As a result, Cuban players often faced much greater obstacles than players who emigrated from more distant countries.

 

Is Peace Around the Corner?

However, the relationship between the governments of Cuba and the U.S. has improved in recent years. In late 2014, President Obama announced that the two countries would begin to take steps toward normal diplomatic relations with each other, a drastic shift from the hostility between the two countries for over 50 years. In March, Obama even traveled to Cuba to watch an exhibition game in which the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Cuban National Team by a score of 4-1. US-cuba-handshake Many people believe that this progress between the American and Cuban governments could drastically improve conditions for Cuban players traveling to play in MLB. Let’s all hope so - the only time an immigrant should be subjected to sharks, kidnappings, or death threats is in a Hollywood film.

5 Things Students Can Learn from a Trump Presidency

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The results of the 2016 Presidential Election took most of the country by surprise. The last regime talked of hope and change, Trump’s campaign talks about greatness and opportunity. There’s no doubt that the country is divided on this decision, but it’s no different from the previous 44 elections. This is a country built on differences of opinion, giving each side an equal chance to share their point of view and also have their turn at running the country. With every new president, comes a change in the way of doing things, a change in priorities and a fresh start to become more involved and better understand how the government in this country actually works. Now that Trump is President, here’s 5 things students should learn from this election and the next four years to come under the Donald.


Anyone Can Become President

And I mean anyone…this was already proven to an extent when Obama became president, breaking color barriers and becoming the first African-American president. This is historical for different reasons. Studies have shown that young people will likely change their careers several times over the course of their lifetime, along with managing multiple side hustles. Donald Trump has proven that you don’t have to devote your life to a career in politics in order to become president. Typically, it was assumed that you had to commit yourself to becoming a politician and work your way up the political ladder as early as your 30′s or even 20′s. This is the traditional approach Hillary Clinton took, having 30+ years experience in politics. However, Trump proved that you can take your experience of being successful in doing what you love and transfer those skills to becoming President. His first political job will be President of the United States. Wow.

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Social Studies is Now More Important Than Ever

I know, I know, we’ve all dreaded those boring classes in school and wondered “Why do I need to learn this? I’m never going to use this in real life.” Well, for those of you who are wondering how did a reality TV host become president, go ask your social studies teacher. The electoral process in America is weird, confusing and yet fascinating at the same time. Once you better understand how presidents are elected, you will soon appreciate and understand that every single vote counts. Donald Trump is also likely to become one of the most powerful presidents in history because the Republicans also control the House, Senate and the Supreme Court. If you don’t know what that means, you know what I’m going to say…go ask your social studies teacher.

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Learn a Vocational Skill

Part of Trump’s plan to “Make America Great Again” is to bring back a lot of the manufacturing jobs that have left this country for cheaper labor overseas.  If Trump gets his way with changing our existing fair trade acts, you will likely see more factories open here in the states, possibly creating more jobs that require skills working with your hands. Over the past few years, the country has shifted towards creating more jobs in the business and technology sectors which require computer, management and design skills. However, if there is a resurgence in American made products, there will likely be a new demand for people with skills learned from vocational schools. Expect to see an increase in blue collar jobs and a demand for skills such as manufacturing, engineering, construction, agriculture, farming, architecture and auto-mechanics.

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Learn Debate Skills and Articulate your Point of View

Violence fills the void left by a lack of words. Many people are either feeling overjoyed and redeemed or are left feeling frustrated, afraid and angry as a result of the 2016 Presidential election. The country is more divided today, it feels, than any other time in recent history. You are almost guaranteed to encounter someone who is on the opposite side of the spectrum from you and will likely and loudly brag about everything you stand against.

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The answer is not to punch them in the face, but to try and have a constructive dialogue. The only way to do this and prevent violence is to not get frustrated by their ignorance or your own lack of articulation. Take a debate class and learn how to have a healthy argument by articulating your emotions. Developing a well thought out argument is one of the most important skills you can learn today. Practice arguing in school, practice at home over dinner with the family, or have someone play devil’s advocate and challenge your opinions. Make sure to also research the facts to back up your statements so you have evidence to support your argument. The best way to fight back is to be informed and to know what you’re talking about.


Become an Entrepreneur

Not everyone is cut out to run their own business, but if you have thought about it, now would be a good time to start. One thing we can all agree on with Trump, is that he values the entrepreneurial hustle. We’ve seen it in his own life story and in his TV shows, he appreciates people who grab themselves by the bootstraps and chase their dreams. You would hope, that during his presidency, there will be an increase in government support for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs.  If he truly believes in homegrown industry and trade, than you would expect to see more federal support to launch new American businesses. Creating a new business idea or starting a new venture will teach you valuable work and life skills, even if the business goes nowhere. Many of the top jobs today are looking to hire people with previous entrepreneurial experience. They don’t care if the business failed, they just want to see the leadership and innovation skills you learned along the way.

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Story Basics: How to Create Your Own Storyboard for Pixar

The objective of this lesson is to have students create their own storyboard based on their own proposed idea for a Pixar film.
Storytelling is an art and is more difficult than it may seem.
A story must include 5 key elements – a beginning introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and finally, the conclusion.