Every day in America, classrooms watch and discuss Ken Burns's documentaries. The Civil War has been one of the most-used history films in American schools since its broadcast in 1990.
For the past twenty-five years, the Ken Burns name has symbolized a trusted resource for classroom use. The films are memorable, spark dialog, and provide an engaging way to understand history. Educational materials and activities created in conjunction with the films offer themes for discussion and use a storytelling approach to engage students in multimedia classroom projects. Now, with the wealth of new media opportunities available, Ken, his team at Florentine Films, and PBS are developing even more ways to deliver the films’ content, encourage civil discourse, and address the knowledge gaps in American schools.
The educational materials for Ken Burns’s documentaries challenge students to go beyond each film’s specific topic and explore the themes that are central to who we are as a nation. Developed around key curriculum subjects, including social studies, history, civics, and geography, they support critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. They are also closely aligned with content-based and common core standards.
Classroom activities include carefully selected video segments that take advantage of Burns’s extraordinary ability to bring history alive through storytelling. By stimulating discussions and civic engagement, the materials give teachers powerful tools for demonstrating how history is urgently relevant for their lives now, and in the future.
History Happens – An animated series with Ken Burns (in partnership with PBS Kids)
Targeted to elementary school students, History Happens will be an animated tour through American History lead by Ken Burns. A series of dynamic video shorts will explore the rich tapestry of America, presenting history in an engaging, educational and inspired way, asking the question each of Ken’s films explores: “who are we?”.
The series will feature clips from Burns’s iconic works highlighting landmark events (the Gettysburg Address, D-Day, the passage of the 19th amendment), locations (the Statue of Liberty, Pearl Harbor, the Lewis and Clark Trail) and important figures (Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jackie Robinson, FDR), woven with animated footage of Burns giving context to these important American moments.
Community engagement is another vital component of a Ken Burns production. For each film, a comprehensive national engagement campaign is developed to create a larger discussion around its themes. Through the filmmakers’ and broadcasters’ efforts, local stations engage their audiences with screenings and discussion events, digital media workshops, local productions, and new media broadcasts tailored to the needs of their own communities.
The Better Angels Society supports educational outreach and community engagement for each film as well as new plans to enhance and expand proven strategies by connecting students, teachers, and communities across the country via a wide range of platforms, cutting-edge technology, and social media.
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