Most of us who channel surf – you know who you are – have a list. On that list is what some have called Shawshank movies. Named for The Shawshank Redemption, a Shawshank movie is any video that is so good that if encountered during surfing, it must be viewed to the end.
The Civil War by Ken Burns is that sort of video event. So good that if encountered by any self-respecting social studies teacher, it must be watched until the final minute. Forty million people watched the nine-part series when it first aired on PBS in 1990 and the Ken Burns love helped spark a Civil War craze. Millions purchased VHS copies of the series and the spin-off book. The film also made a star of Ken Burns.
The Civil War will be rebroadcast over five consecutive nights this week. The broadcast, which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the series’ initial broadcast in September 1990, will present for the first time a newly restored, high-definition version. This is also the first time the film will be seen with the same fidelity and framing as the negative that Burns and his co-cinematographers Allen Moore and Buddy Squires shot more than 25 years ago.
So. Read more
More than several years ago, I asked my daughter, a fourth grader at the time, to work her way through the very cool Plimoth Plantation’s You Are the Historian simulation. It’s a wonderful online tool that asks kids to answer a very simple question – what really happened at the first Thanksgiving. Using evidence and video clips from experts, elementary students develop a thesis and create a final product that addresses the problem.
And I wanted a product review from a true end user. Used to these sort of requests from her history nerd father, Erin plunged in. During the in-depth debriefing over milk and cookies, I asked her a variety of questions about her experience. Much of the conversation is now forgotten but I still remember what she said when I asked her to tell me one thing that she would share with her teacher the next day.
The past is what really happened. And history is what we say happened.
I couldn’t have been prouder.
Of course, Read more
I missed it.
The 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg? I missed it. I suppose it would have been too crowded anyway. But I do have the latest Gettysburg book by Allen Guelzo and am working my way through the Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen movie version of the battle.
And now thanks to Patrick’s suggestion, I’ve got some absolutely awesome maps. Two of my favorite things – Civil War battles and maps.
Some quick context. There has been a lot of discussion over the years concerning the different decisions made by leaders on both sides during the battle. Particularly the decisions made by Confederate general Lee on both the second and third day. Did Lee’s orders to attack the Union left flank on the second day and the frontal attack on the Union center on the third day make sense?
We know how the battle turns out. Confederate defeat. And often, because Lee is seen by many Confederate supporters to be infallible, Lee’s subordinates – especially Longstreet – get most of the blame for that. But the question remains. Why did Lee order attacks that with hindsight seem so wrong?
The Smithsonian might have the answer. Read more
It’s always a great day when I get to spend time with people who love talking history. That was my day yesterday. Strategies, resources, what works, what doesn’t.
Part of the time involved what I call “play time.” Most teachers have a limited time during a typical day to just play around – browse for resources, chat about scope and sequence, argue about Kennedy’s response to Soviet missiles in Cuba.
You know. The part of the day when real professional learning happens.
It was during this period of sharing and browsing that a teacher found an awesome site that she passed on to me.
One of my earliest memories of useful discipline-specific staff development was not organized by my school district or building. It wasn’t organized by my building or department chair.
It was designed by Ken Burns. Yeah. That Ken Burns.
The guy who directed and produced the awesome Civil War documentary that first aired in 1990.
I learned more about the Civil War and how to teach about the Civil War by watching that nine part series. Ken used amazing images, poetry, oral history, biography, and music to tell an incredibly interesting story. I began to realize that a big part of being a highly effective teacher of history is the ability to tell a great story. And more importantly, I realized that a big part of my job was to help my kids learn how to tell their own stories.
A recent article highlights a video that has Ken describing a bit about the process of telling great stories. It’s a sweet five minutes. Two things that stood out for me.
1. Ken says that a great story is the same as a mathematical equation. One plus one equals three: 1+1=3. A great story is greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Ken also uses a word that I’ve been using for years. And it’s a word that bothers some teachers. The word is manipulate. I love that word and I think we need to use it more when we talk about teaching and learning.
I starting thinking about manipulating the brains of history students several years ago while reading a great book by James Zull titled The Art of Changing the Brain. Zull suggests that a teacher’s job is to re-wire the brains of students so that new learning takes place. One way to do that is through positive manipulation of emotion.
So when I heard Ken Burns talking about using really good stories to manipulate how people respond to content, I got this deja vu / heard this before sort of moment.
The video is a nice reminder of what teachers can be working on between now and the start of school next fall – researching and perfecting great stories. Creating an emotional connection between content and kids so that their brains are re-wired.
Manipulation. It’s not always a bad thing.