What’s This Really About? Identifying and interpreting symbolism in film

A symbol is a person, place, or object that represents meaning for something other than itself. Symbolism in film is what gives a movie layers and can turn a blockbuster or box office flop into a cult classic that is debated and discussed for decades. It’s not always easy to identify symbolism and underlying themes in a film or TV show and sometimes may take a couple viewings. Check out these slightly edited movie scenes that give a more obvious interpretation of their underlying message. Students can go over these images in class to demonstrate their ability to interpret meaning in a story’s plot and overall theme.

Is The Snooze Button Bad For Your Health? Understanding the science of sleep

There are very few things in life that feel better than those 10 extra minutes of sleep after pressing the snooze button on your alarm in morning. Unfortunately, hitting the snooze button to get a few more precious moments of sleep can potentially do more damage than good.

The reason sleep feels so good, and bonus sleep feels even better, has a lot to do with chemicals being released in our bodies. Whoever said sleep is like a drug wasn’t lying. As you fall asleep, your body releases a chemical called serotonin into your bloodstream. (Also, see our post Dubstep on the brain for other examples of serotonin’s effects on the human body). Serotonin is a chemical that tells the brain to soothe the body and creates a calm, peaceful feeling of well-being and happiness. Hitting the snooze button is literally like taking another hit of serotonin to the brain. So why is this bad for us again? Don’t worry I’m getting there…

During a normal 8 hour sleep cycle, your body releases serotonin to send you to dreamland and then slowly brings you back by lowering the levels of serotonin and shooting you with a dose of dopamine, another chemical known for energizing the body, giving you that feeling of alertness and motivation. As your body naturally lowers your serotonin and increases your dopamine levels, every time you hit the snooze button you are re-injecting yourself with serotonin mixed with high levels of dopamine. This chemical high leaves you feeling good in the moment but you eventually crash from the chemical imbalance and may lead to waking up feeling disoriented and drained of energy for the rest of the day.

While I enjoy those extra minutes of sleep just as much as the next guy, there are some studies that show snooze sleep may cause a decline in brain function that lead to loss of memory, slowed reaction time and lack of focus and concentration.

We each have our own unique sleep/wake cycles. If you’re having trouble sleeping and you wake up every morning feeling unrested and drained of energy you can analyze your own sleep cycle by journaling the rhythmic pattern of your sleep schedule throughout the week. Keeping a sleep diary and doing some simple data analysis can help figure out the root of insomnia, and other problems related to mood and fatigue. After a few days of collecting data you will notice a pattern start to emerge from your sleep schedule. You may discover daily habits or changes in mood that affect your sleep. Once you have this data you can make some slight changes to your daily habits and routine or even diet. Visit your doctor and bring your notes with you to come up with a plan together.

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.


The Tetris Effect: Re-Wire Your Mind


The Tetris Effect:

When the game Tetris was released, it was insanely popular and became an instant classic.  Even the creator of the game himself has said he had trouble finishing the game’s programming because he couldn’t stop playing it during testing!  From the start, the game produced an unforeseen effect on the players’ minds when played very heavily – one that was confusing, somewhat alarming, and ultimately fascinating.

Also known as The Tetris Syndrome, The Tetris Effect occurs when people spend so much time doing a particular activity or pattern of behavior that it inhabits their thoughts, mental images, and dreams.  With Tetris, the players would see the little tetris block formations, or tetronimos, falling and fitting into rows when they weren’t playing anymore.  With other games and activities requiring repetitive behaviors, other similar visual experiences associated with the activity take place.  It is related to something becoming a habit but with real cognitive changes occurring in the brain.

Memory Science:

In psychology, memory is the process through which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved.  There are different types of memory including “declarative memory,” which requires conscious recall.  In other words, some active mental process must occur to recall the information.

Conversely there is “procedural memory,” which is not based on conscious recall but on implicit learning.  Implicit learning takes places when a behavior is learned from repetitive practice.  So procedural memory works when you automatically know how to physically do something without any conscious effort – like tying your shoe, riding a bike, or reading.  Motor skills are developed this way as well as behaviors and patterns of thoughts associated with The Tetris Effect.

Real Studies:

In 2000, a scientist, Robert Stickgold and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School proposed that Tetris imagery is a separate form of memory likely related to procedural memory.  This is from their research in which they showed that people with anterograde amnesia, unable to form new declarative memories, reported dreaming of falling shapes after playing Tetris during the day despite not being able to remember playing the game at all.

A study conducted by Lynn Okagaki and Peter Frensch in 1994 showed that participants who played Tetris for twelve 30-minute sessions (with no previous experience of the game) did much better than a control group in a spatial skills test.  The result of the experiment was that the game had positive effects on spatial skills abilities including mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.

The experience of seeing falling tetris blocks in your mind hours after playing the game can be somewhat alarming, and you might think, “Did I just fry my brain!?”  Playing the game Tetris is very enjoyable for most players, and the somewhat alarming effect of visualizing the game when you aren’t playing it might even have benefits like those described in the studies above.  Overall, it’s a very unique observable scientific phenomenon associated with a popular video game, which is pretty cool.

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Female Representation in Video Games: A Real Controversy in a Virtual World


Video games exploded in popularity in the early 1980s and there have been female characters in video games ever since. There’s Ms. Pac-man, Princess Peach from the Mario Brothers games, Lara Croft – the list is extensive.



There is an on-going discussion over Lara Croft’s place in our society, some people claim she represents a strong, leading female figure and others argue that she’s just another objectified, overly-sexualized female character.

Games that have featured female characters have gone on to be some of the most successful franchises in the industry. Ms.Pac-Man is the most popular arcade game of all time, selling more than 115,000 gaming machines to arcades around the world. She was made into toys, t-shirts and even a Ms. Pac-Man cereal merchandised in her name.


Though her name isn’t well known, Princess Peach has been a supporting character in the Mario games. In most of the Mario games the main object of the game is to rescue Princess Peach from the villain Bowser. When Mario succeeds in the rescue, he is rewarded with a kiss.

Tomb Raider debuted in 1996 and it has spawned 14 video games since it first came out. It went on to produce two movies starring Angelina Jolie, which earned over $430,000,000. Lara Croft has been a household name for nearly 20 years. There is an on-going discussion over Lara Croft’s place in our society, some people claim she represents a strong, leading female figure and others argue that she’s just another objectified, overly-sexualized female character.

Such arguments like these, have grown recently in the video gaming community. Some game developers are challenging how females are represented by creating strong leading female characters. These developer’s characters aren’t just a female version of a male characters (like Ms. Pac-Man), weak (like Princess Peach) or sexualized (like Lara Croft). One example is the character Kaitlin who is the main character in the game Gone Home, a realistic dark narrative game. An online group called #GamerGate formed in August 2014 in opposition with these game developers and their new types of games. #GamerGate opposes these more varied roles and content in video games. In one instance, Zoe Quinn, the creator of Depression Quest, a game allowing the player to explore the effects of depression, has been harassed by members of #GamerGate to the point where she and her family have received death threats.
Find out more about these issues in the following lesson and decide where you personally stand and why.

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Blueprint to a Mogul: How to be S.M.A.R.T. Like Zuckerberg


Mark Zuckerberg attended one of the most prestigious colleges in the country: Harvard University. For most 19 year olds, studying and socializing would keep them busy enough, but while there, Mark Zuckerberg created what was to become become the biggest social network in the world.

It may be hard to imagine your life without social media: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, or Tumblr. What started as a way to connect college students to one another became a way to connect people to friends and family across the world.

Undeniably, Zuckerberg or “Zuck” leads the list as one of the richest people in the world. While he has certainly accumulated a fortune, his goal has never been to make money. His goal has always been to make a great product, and “make money to build better services.” Facebook currently owns more than forty companies, including some of its former competitors, including WhatsApp and Instagram.



At the age of 24, Mark Zuckerberg  became the youngest billionaire on the planet. As the face and CEO of Facebook, he remains one of the most recognizable people in the world. You would never know the extent of his wealth by his wardrobe (grey T-shirt and hoodie), home (he only recently upgraded from a modest rental home), or cars (most often seen in a VW or Acura). This is a man who lives below his expansive means. What started as a college directory of sorts has amassed well over a billion users.

Mark Zuckerberg grew up in Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County, New York, where his father still practices dentistry. In fact, one of his earlier successes was a program that allowed his dad’s home computer to communicate with his office computers. While still in high school, Microsoft bid on another program of his, a music player called Synapse Media Player, but he ultimately rejected this offer. Zuck is a man who likes to maintain control; he carries a majority vote, which allows him to be the ultimate decision maker of his company.  He is also not afraid of risk, or of what people think. But Zuck is always thinking and staying true to the mission of the company, which has stayed the same since its inception: to make the world more open and connected.

While at Harvard, Zuckerberg met his wife Pricilla Chan, now a medical resident. They currently reside in Palo Alto, California with their dog, Beast. The Zuckerbergs are huge philanthropists, giving millions of dollars to education and medicine, as well as to other charitable organizations.

Goal Setting

Read, listen, or watch any interview with Zuckerberg, and the word “focus” is likely to come up. Let’s put it this way, this word was stenciled on the bathroom walls of Zuckerberg’s original California office. When asked in an early 2005 interview about the future of his company, then known as TheFacebook, he talks about “focusing intensely” on making a really good product, i.e.,  a college directory. His world at the time consisted of his college, and Zuck succeeded at making Harvard more open and connected. Once he succeeded at Harvard, he expanded this online directory to other universities across America, and soon the world. In later years, his focus on making a great product has not wavered, nor has his mission in connecting people, however, now his goal’s reach is a bit bigger: to connect “every person in the world.”

So, how did Zuckerberg achieve what he did within just a few years? He set a mission or focus, and he decided how he was going to achieve it. Another way of thinking about this is goal setting. If Zuckerberg had set out to connect billions of people together, his mission would surely have failed miserably. However, by having a narrow focus in the college world, he was able to succeed in that particular realm.

Goal setting is so important to him that he has said that the daily habit that has led to his success is “knowing what you want to accomplish each day” and acting proactively, not reacting to things that have already happened. This means that he is always looking ahead, anticipating problems and finding solutions before they actually occur.


MLK and Malcolm X: The Civil Rights Movement and the X-Men Origins

The American Civil Rights movement inspired many people, including Marvel Comic’s mastermind writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They have created some of the most powerful superheroes in the comic universe but did you know some of these characters were influenced by actual real life heroes in history? Lee and Kirby used the iconic civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X as the inspiration behind the characters Charles Xavier aka Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto, the creators of the X-Men. Rather than fighting aliens and criminals, they fought against the oppression mutants faced on a daily basis in society, albeit by different methods. Much like MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, Professor X chose a non-violent approach and Magneto took more of a defensive stance against violent oppression and prejudice.

It’s presumed in comic book lore that Magneto is a villain but Stan Lee had a different perspective when he created the character. Stan Lee says about the metal warping mutant, “I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He was just trying to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist. He was trying to defend mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he decided to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course, but I never thought of him as a villain.”

Even in the film adaptations of the X-Men series, Michael Fassbender who plays the role of Magneto, admits the iconic figures were inspiration for their on-screen portrayals.
“It came up early on in the rehearsal period and that was the path we took”, says Michael Fassbender, “These two brilliant minds coming together and their views aren’t that different on some key things. As you watch them you know that if their understanding, ability and intelligence could somehow come together it would be really special. But the split is what makes them even more interesting and tragic.” The Hero Complex, LA Times

Haiku: The Original Tweet

During a day and age where tweets are limited to 140 characters, the haiku has been spreading messages in limited formats for ages.
The goal of this lesson is for students to look at their social media experiences in a poetic fashion. It is meant to help students learn how to write haiku poems while using social media tools.

Learning Outcomes:
1. Demonstrate a basic understanding of language compression and expressing complex ideas through simple words.
2. Demonstrate the ability to understand the context of a statement and transferring such thoughts into a poetic nature


The Art of Fresh: Fashion and Philanthropy

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” ~ Paul Robeson

According to the late Paul Robeson, artists have the opportunity to use their platforms to make significant changes in society. However, some would argue that artists have no obligation to address certain issues. Although they may have a point, when I think of artists who have become icons in popular culture, I think of those who have used their voices to raise awareness, especially as it pertains to social and political issues. Artists, such as Bob Marley, Nina Simone, John Lennon, Fela Kuti, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, have all taken a stand against the injustices of the world. In retrospect, they have become bigger than their artistry. They have been philanthropists, humanists, revolutionaries, and activists. They have been individuals who have lived their lives beyond just fortune and fame.

Issues, such as poverty, gun violence, police brutality, gangs, and racism continue to persist. But there is a new wave of artists who are carrying the torch. These artists are not only using their music, but also fashion to make social and political statements. For instance, in the 2004 presidential election, P. Diddy (founder of Bad Boy Records), Sean John, and Citizen Change launched a campaign to encourage more young people between the ages of 18 and 30 to vote. This helped change the face of the U.S. political landscape by encouraging the youth to “Vote or Die”, using celebrities as his support system.

The campaign was meant to show that the right to vote is a matter of life or death. This notion may not be too far-fetched, as people have literally fought and died for this freedom. I believe this resonated with young people, not only because of the celebrities involved, but also because of its simple, yet powerful position in politics. This campaign was not only successful in 2004, but also in 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected.

Jay-Z, Hip-Hop artist and co-founder of Rocawear, also attempted to use fashion as a statement. Although it was short-lived, he released a new line of t-shirts, which were meant to support the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. This movement served as a protest against social and economic disparities between corporations and the American people. The shirt “tweaks the phrase ‘Occupy Wall Street’ by crossing out the ‘W’ and adding an ‘S’ to make it read ‘Occupy All Streets’.”

Unfortunately, this effort led to a little bit of controversy, primarily because he never intended on sharing his profits to the actual protestors. The Business Insider states, “A Rocawear spokesperson sent us a statement confirming there’s no plan to distribute any of the profits, which will surely pour in from shirt sales, to Occupy Wall Street.” According the spokesperson, “The ‘Occupy All Streets’ T shirt was created in support of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Rocawear strongly encourages all forms of constructive expression, whether it be artistic, political or social. ‘Occupy All Streets’ is our way of reminding people that there is change to be made everywhere, not just on Wall Street. At this time we have not made an official commitment to monetarily support the movement.”

This leads to questionable motives of certain artists. There seems to be a thin line between legitimacy and sincerity from the public’s point of view, especially in this day and age where there are many cultural capitalists. In my opinion, there needs to be a clear alignment between the art and actions of the individuals, which leads me to Kendrick Lamar’s recently released, “Ventilators 2” by Reebok.

Throughout his career, Lamar has repeatedly shed light on his upbringing in Compton, California, where gang culture seems to dominate the living conditions of his immediate environment. Having been heavily influenced by this reality, he has always mentioned it in both his music and interviews. With songs, such as: “Little Johnny”, “M.A.A.D. City (featuring MC Eight), and “I”, he continues to provide a voice for his constituents by emphasizing social, political, and economic discrepancies that are woven into the American fabric. His response to these discrepancies and pervasiveness of gang culture are the Ventilators 2. Complex mentions, “These Ventilators, which were previewed by Sneakers.fr, are set against an off-white suede base with alternating blue and red accents on each shoe. The gang references are apparent, and each tongue tag is inscribed with ‘Neutral,’ echoing a sentiment Kendrick has been pushing strongly during his career.”

Other artists, such as Usher and John Legend (pictured below), aren’t necessarily known for making social and political commentary in their music, but they have also been recently seen using fashion to make a statement.

As we continue to face adversities in our lives, it is important to have the opportunity to express ourselves constructively. It may not necessarily be directly based on certain social, economic, or political issues; however, we are undeniably affected by these issues in one way or another. In that regard, we should continue to find creative ways to address these issues for the betterment of mankind.