Monday, February 6, 2017

Advertising for Learning - Creating Super Bowl Commercials in Social Studies

While watching the Super Bowl last night, I was struck by the incredible phenomenon this event has become. Although it is a football game, its appeal expands far beyond sports. The Super Bowl is nearly always the highest rated television program of the year and comprises 19 of the 20 most watched television broadcasts in the United States (the MASH finale is the other one). This event transcends sports, having become a cultural sensation that permeates nearly every segment of our society. Those who are not football fans are drawn in by the commercials, the halftime show, or the general hoopla that surrounds events of this magnitude. In some cases, people tune in simply to have knowledge of a sure topic of conversation at workplaces, schools, and social gatherings across the United States. Regardless of why people watch, this event has become an expression of American culture. 

Last night, while watching and considering the significance of the Super Bowl, I began thinking about the power educators wield when we connect events that are important to students with learning. I know there are many different lessons that leverage student interest in the Super Bowl to reinforce important concepts. I’ve seen lessons that seek to emphasize math, economics, advertising, media literacy, and many other concepts. I’m all for these types of lessons. I think we, as educators, must use every means at our disposal to pique student interest in our content and to make learning relevant to their lives. 

Thinking through this led me to consider how we can apply the spectacle of the Super Bowl to a social studies class. I’m sure there are great lessons that look at the cultural impact of the Super Bowl. Additionally, students could examine the economic impact of this event. There is also an opportunity, especially in this year’s politically charged climate, to analyze political statements, whether overt or implied by performers, commercials, etc. While thinking about the many educational tie-ins offered by an event of this significance, I came to the conclusion that it would be fun to have students create their own Super Bowl commercials. The commercials are a big part of the cultural draw of the Super Bowl and are often a talking point for days afterward. This activity also allows teachers to inject a discussion of media literacy and current events into a lesson that draws upon this shared national experience. 

I have not thought through all the specifics of a lesson related to Super Bowl commercials, but I wanted to share a few possibilities of how this idea could be applied to a history or social studies course. Students could be tasked with investigating products or items of cultural significance from an era in history and creating a commercial to advertise one of these items. Although this could be applied to nearly any topic, I see it fitting very well with time periods such as the late 19th century, the 1920s or the 1950s. These eras were more consumer-oriented and included a number of new products and inventions that have had a lasting impact on our society. 

Geography or world cultures students could determine what events would be comparable to the Super Bowl in different countries, cultures, or regions of the world and develop commercials that could be applicable for these events. These ads could promote a consumer item, a cause, or something else that would be significant for the region being studied. Alternatively, students could develop ads for their class. These commercials could recap learning, highlight class activities, and/or promote the class to other students. 

Ideally, students would have plenty of time to investigate their topic, film a commercial, and perform edits to create a polished final product. However, if time constraints don’t allow for full implementation of this idea, the teacher could provide information and students could act their commercials out as live skits rather than taking time to film and edit a video commercial. Either way, I feel it is important to incorporate lessons on advertising techniques and media literacy along with this project. This helps ensure that students are not only learning our content, but also becoming knowledgeable 21st century citizens. 

Regardless of whether the final product is a video or a skit, I like the idea of having a viewing party that resembles a Super Bowl party as a culminating activity for this project. Commercials could also be posted online, allowing for a broader audience and students could be encouraged to comment on each others’ ads much like the commentary that accompanies Super Bowl commercials. This creates a great opportunity for a valuable discussion of digital citizenship and how to comment or respond appropriately online. 

In my experience, students love the opportunity to create. The process of creating a commercial requires students to apply their learning and to utilize many different skills, including the 21st century skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, all while engaging in an activity that many students would enjoy. Please share any experiences you have had with a project like this or any additional ideas you may have that could enhance student learning in this type of lesson.


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