At Moss Point High School on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, Lewis Sims’ ninth-grade English classroom is full of energy and excitement as students prepare to present a project to another class. Their project—a movie trailer that they wrote and produced for the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird—was the result of 21st century pedagogy designed to help them understand the novel’s primary themes and concepts.
The movie trailer was Sims’ way of accomplishing the difficult task of getting students to read classic literature. “Students want instant gratification,” he explains. “Why should they read a book when they can go online and find the plot summary and theme analysis? That’s hard to overcome. As a teacher, I have to show them that their minds are the best source of imagination. You can facilitate learning with other things, but there’s nothing like your own brain—it’s the best television, the best Internet.”
Sims is a longtime teacher, football coach, and alumnus of Moss Point High School, which serves more than 1000 students. After much of Moss Point was flooded or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the school received a Cisco® grant as part of the 21st Century Schools Initiative (21S).
“Textbooks and lectures aren’t always relevant teaching tools anymore,” says Sims. Noting the popularity of theme channels such as The Learning Channel and The History Channel, he adds, “They take information and facts and bring them to life in a way that can have a much deeper impact on the student.”
Sims integrated technology and learner-centric pedagogical approaches into lessons about To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic novel about racial injustice and the loss of childhood innocence. After his students read the novel and answered essay questions, Sims began to introduce 21st century pedagogy. “I let the kids decide what to do next,” he explains. “We brainstormed and they decided to make a movie trailer that showed the book’s main concepts. I asked them to think about ways to personalize it and make it special to Moss Point.”
This success story explains more about that techniques that Sims used to teach To Kill a Mockingbird.