Bound by Law
Whenever I talk to teachers about using materials gleaned from the internet or about student products (especially multimedia creations) the conversation invariably turns to copyright. Is is okay to use cartoons from a web site in our lessons? Can students use pictures they find on the web to create their own comics?
The copyright law is complex and the fair use guidelines are just that – guidelines. It’s difficult for educators to know what they can and cannot do when it comes to using other’s intellectual property. A teacher’s occasional use of excerpts or images from published works in classroom lessons is probably fair use. Republishing someone else’s work on the school web site or in a newsletter that goes home to parents probably is not. While I’m not an expert on copyright, I usually give teachers one piece of advice – try to set a good example for your students.
When students ask me about using images from the web or music from their CDs in their projects, I first encourage them to create their own instead. I’m often amazed at what students can do when we set the bar high and challenge them. If they cannot produce original images or music, they should be taught how to search for Creative Commons licensed media.
Recently I was searching for resources for helping teachers answer copyright questions and I came across, of all things, a comic book about copyright! Bound by Law is a publication from Duke ‘s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. It’s an engaging comic that looks at copyright, public domain, and fair use through the eyes of a young documentary film maker. This is another example of how a comic book becomes an effective teaching tool. It takes a complex concept and presents it clearly and simply in a visual format that middle or high school students will appreciate. This comic has a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license. It’s offered for free in several digital formats or you can buy a print copy from Amazon.
Free Comic Book Day
Saturday, May 2 is free comic book day. Participating comics stores across North America will be giving out free comics to anyone who stops in. This might be a good excuse for teachers and librarians to visit a local comic book store and see what’s available. Not only will you get at least one free comic but you also will have an opportunity to talk with knowledgeable people who can make some suggestions for titles you may want to add to your collection.
If you’re not sure where to start buying titles for your classroom or library, check out the Nickelodeon Magazine Comics Awards to learn which are kids’ favorites. You also might want to take a look at this blog post on the School Library Journal site.
I think one of the best uses of comics in the classroom is to teach vocabulary and I’ve recently discovered a site that does just that. It’s Weboword and it uses simple, stick-figure cartoons to teach new words (great for SAT study). There’s a new word every day and each post also includes a definition, pronunciation, situational uses, and related words. If you want to create your own word cartoons, you can upload them to the Weboword Ning.
Many teachers have discovered that when students associate an image with a word, they are more likely to be able to retrieve that word and remember its meaning. To learn new words, students must make connections between the new words and words or concepts they already know. Visualizing a new word can help kids make even stronger connections. The cartoons in Weboword could be used as models or springboards to get kids to make their own word cartoons. And because they are made with stick figures, anyone can do it, regardless of artistic ability.
You can subscribe to daily updates and have a new cartoon delivered to your email each day. Here’s today’s word: cogitate.
The cartoons are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license so they are copyright friendly for classroom use.
Probably by now you’ve heard that Google has come out with its own browser, Chrome. I’m a little bummed that there isn’t a Mac version yet but I can wait. What really intrigues me is that Google had artist Scott McCloud write a web comic to introduce it. How interesting that Google chose to use a sequential art piece to teach the public about their new browser! Apparently someone there understands how powerful comics are as teaching tools.
Or… maybe it’s just geeks reaching out to other geeks. I’d rather think that it’s geeks looking for the most effective way to get their concepts across to a broad audience.
I recently read an article in Edutopia about comics and literacy, A New Literary Hero: Comics Make for Colorful Learning by Ed Finkel. It brings up some of the points I’ve been thinking about regarding the use of comics as a tool for literacy. The article also refers to the Comic Book Project, a program out of Columbia University’s Teachers College. I took a quick look at that site several months ago but I’m ready now to look at it more closely. The project’s stated goal is “to help children forge an alternative pathway to literacy by writing, designing, and publishing original comic books.” I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this is in a future post.