Classic Movies In the Classroom

  • May 13, 2017

Classic Movies_Classroom

Timeless cinema, like the kind featured on Turner Classic Movies, offers students a unique opportunity to “experience” history.


IT’S TRUE. Old movies are like time machines. They can transport us to a world that existed long ago—affording us an opportunity to both see and hear people who lived nearly a century before today’s students were even born.

And it’s a little bit humbling to consider that we, today, are the first people in history to have such an opportunity.

I was struck by that thought just recently while watching a movie from 1931. It depicted what was, at that time, the workaday world of New York City, yet now, some 86 years later, it read like a completely different culture. The people of 1931 certainly looked like us, but they spoke differently, dressed differently, and even interacted with one another differently. They seemed to place a high level of importance on things like courtesy and manners. And the most advanced technology on display was a radio!

In terms of years, I was as far removed from the people in that movie as they were from, say, people in the Old West, and yet I could watch them, listen to them, observe them in a way that they themselves could not possibly have observed their own predecessors. This allowed me a level of insight on the past that was never possible before motion pictures.

Imagine if filmmaking had existed in the ancient world, or during the Middle Ages. How much more personal would our understanding be of the folks who lived during those eras? Sure, thanks to the work of archaeologists and scholars we have period art, craft, and literature from which to glean insight, but we will never actually see those people who lived so long ago, much less hear them speak.

Thanks to movies, however, the people of 1931—their mannerisms, their norms—are well within reach, and observable. This got me to thinking about how a teacher might put classic cinema to use in a classroom.

Turner Classic Movies, channel 256 in your DIRECTV SCHOOL CHOICE channel package, is television’s premiere showcase for timeless cinema. The network screens films of every conceivable type dating back to the earliest days of the medium—drama, documentary, period pieces, comedy—all with something to offer those who are curious about how things used to be.

From the safety and comfort of your classroom you could send your students on a fact-finding mission to the early 20th century, to observe and make notes and then digest their findings as a group. What were people like in those days? How did they conduct themselves? In what ways were their lives like ours, and in what ways did they differ? The exercise can be expanded by having students discuss their observations with elderly people, to get context, and “eyewitness” corroboration of their findings.

The relevance of a project like this to history and social studies is obvious, but you might also consider its application to English, journalism, and creative writing.

Granted, your students might be disappointed to learn that the movie they’re going to watch is “old.” But tell them it’s a time machine and you might just capture their interest.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Courting History

  • Oct 05, 2015


For many years now, the good folks at C-SPAN have been providing viewers with a steady stream of public affairs-oriented programming that is dependably unvarnished, deeply informational, and always of great use to educators. And this fall, the winning streak continues with the premiere of Landmark Cases.

Produced in cooperation with the National Constitution Center, Landmark Cases is a 12-part documentary series that delves deep into some of the Court’s most significant and frequently cited decisions, from 1803 (Marbury v. Madison) to 1973 (Roe v. Wade).

Each 90-minute episode will air live on C-SPAN and C-SPAN3, Monday nights at 9pm ET beginning October 5th, 2015, and will subsequently be archived for further viewing online. Check out the series  trailer, below, and be sure to visit the Landmark Cases web site.

And to find out about other great educational shows and resources, simply bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

The Civil War Restored

  • Jul 23, 2015

Civil War

UPDATE: If you missed the recent broadcast of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, the entire series is still available for streaming via PBS Video! Learn more.

This September, on the 25th anniversary of its original broadcast, Ken Burns’ landmark documentary series The Civil War will return to PBS—only this time, for the first time—in glorious high definition, accompanied by free, standards-based lesson plans and classroom activities for grades 5-12.

What’s more, educators are invited to record the 5-part series and archive it for classroom use for up to one year from broadcast.

Twenty-five years ago, The Civil War captured America’s attention like no other television documentary had in decades. Scholarly, yet as riveting as a well-crafted drama, it attracted nearly 40 million viewers and made a brand of documentarian Ken Burns (Baseball; The War; The National Parks: America’s Best Idea).

“When The Civil War first appeared on PBS in the fall of 1990, no one—myself included—was at all prepared for the overwhelming national response that followed,” says Burns (pictured below [r.], with the late historian and author Shelby Foote, one of the The Civil War‘s commentators). “The film was then, as it is now, a timely reminder of the frightful cost our ancestors paid to make this nation a truly United States. It is a chronicle of making permanent that which was promised, but not delivered, in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

While the educational value of a film like this is self-evident, PBS has gone the extra mile by creating a variety of free lesson plans, activities, and other resources, including ideas from teachers who’ve used the program in their classrooms.

“The series can’t replace the teacher or the classroom, but in conjunction with what you as the teacher do, it can make the era come alive in a way never before possible,” says Burns.

The Civil War in high-definition will air over the course of five nights, September 7-11, on PBS (check local listings).

For more information and educational resources visit the official Civil War web site, and look for the “classroom” tab.

And to find out about other great educational shows and resources, simply bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio


The Forgotten Battle

  • May 07, 2015


Would it come as a surprise to you to learn that the United States and Japan fought a land battle in North America during World War II?

Since you’re most likely a history teacher, probably not. But you can safely assume that most people these days have no idea that land war in the Pacific Theatre included Alaska’s remote volcanic islands.

Exactly 72 years ago, in May of 1943, U.S. and Japanese forces fought for over two weeks for control of the Island of Attu, which the Japanese believed could be used as a staging point for a U.S. invasion of their homeland.

This Monday, May 11, at 6AM/5C, History Channel Classroom presents Save Our History: Alaska’s Bloodiest Battle, a documentary that chronicles this mostly overlooked chapter of WWII history in reverent detail. The program may be recorded and archived for classroom use for up to one year from air date, and teachers are invited to download a free study guide prepared for students in grades 6-12.

History Channel is DIRECTV channel 269.

For more background on the battle visit History’s dedicated web site, and click here for the free study guide.

And to find out about other great educational shows and resources, simply bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio


Selling presidents since 1952

  • Feb 19, 2015


“Advertising agencies have tried openly to sell presidents since 1952,” wrote Joe McGinniss in his seminal 1969 book, The Selling of the President 1968.

And the fact that his observation seems almost quaint in today’s media-saturated political culture suggests that we’ve failed to heed the warning.

Today, more than ever, presidential candidates aren’t so much presented to us as they are sold to us like products—packaged, branded, and target-marketed to various consumer groups. It’s hardly an ideal way to choose leaders, but how many of us, especially young people, ever stop to think about that, much less factor it into our voting?

Sounds like a great topic for classroom study, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, the bright folks at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image have put together an online exhibition entitled The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012, an exhaustive archive of campaign commercials accompanied by free, common core standards-based lesson plans in English Language Arts and Social Studies.

It’s all you’ll need to launch your own eye-opening study in media literacy and critical thinking.

Check it out for yourself. Visit The Living Room Candidate today.

And to receive more information about great educational resources like this, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio


Antiques Roadshow honors Black History Month

  • Feb 06, 2015


“Objects are what matter. Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings.” Claude Levi-Strauss

Isn’t that really the grand allure of PBS’s most highly-rated series, Antiques Roadshow ? Beyond the obvious thrill of seeing someone find out that they’re dusty old attic discovery is worth a bundle, it’s in learning the history of said object that we all get to walk away from the show a little richer.

And history is set to come alive in a very special way this coming Monday as Antiques Roadshow honors Black History Month with a special episode, Celebrating Black Americana. Highlights include the intriguing 1885 oil painting Dancing for Eels; an 1821 U.S. citizenship certificate for George Barker, a free man of color; an African-American beauty book written by Madam C.J. Walker, the first American female millionaire; and a trip with host Mark L. Walberg and appraiser Leila Dunbar to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Check out the preview, below.

Antiques Roadshow: Celebrating Black Americana airs Monday, February 9, 2015 at  9/8C. For helpful suggestions on how to use Antiques Roadshow in your classroom (grades 7-12), visit PBS LearningMedia.

And for more information on fun, educational shows like this, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

FREE student admissions to see Selma!

  • Jan 22, 2015

Selma Poster

In an unprecedented opportunity brought about by African-American business leaders, middle and high-school students in select cities across the country will have an opportunity to see the Academy Award-nominated movie Selma absolutely free of charge!

But only while supplies last, so spread the word!

Selma tells the story of Martin Luther King’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the epic culmination of his ultimately successful campaign to secure equal voting rights for all Americans.

“It’s important that the civil rights struggle depicted in Selma reach as many young people as possible so that the enduring lessons of the civil rights movement can be harnessed to inspire them to transform their lives and communities,” says T. Warren Jackson, Senior Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Chief Ethics Officer, DIRECTV, who organized the efforts in Los Angeles.

The film offers a great point of departure for classroom discussion and further study, so teachers and students are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity.

You’ll find all the details here.

And to receive information about other great opportunities like this, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Seriously cool history

  • Dec 31, 2014


History is discovery, as they say, and you’ll be amazed by how much there is to learn about things you already know in the engaging documentary series 10 Things You Didn’t Know About.

Airing on the History channel’s sister network H2 (channel 271 on your DIRECTV SCHOOL CHOICE channel package), the show is hosted by punk rock icon Henry Rollins (right), a challenging intellectual and longtime advocate for staying informed. His basic premise, and thus the guiding principle of the show, seems to be that there’s always more to the story than just the official story, and episodes on everything from the Gold Rush and the American Revolution to the ongoing Tesla/Edison debate make the case.

“If you want to go anywhere, you have to know where you are. In order to do that, you have to know where ‘you’ have been,” says Rollins. “Americans should really dig into their history. What some might think is new isn’t at all.”

The series is recommended for high-school history, social studies, and current events courses. History’s free Spring 2015 Idea Book includes a classroom guide designed to help you incorporate this and other shows into your curricula. NOTE: Topics vary widely, so teachers may want to preview individual episodes for educational application.

For airdates, check HS’s schedule. If you’d like to watch the show right now, full episodes available for viewing on the show’s official web site.

The series is also available for purchase from the History Shop.

For more information on great educational shows like this, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Reliving That Most Infamous Day

  • Dec 05, 2014

Pearl Harbor

Sunday, December 7, will mark the 73rd anniversary of what then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the “date which will live in infamy”, and History channel is greeting the occasion with an encore presentation of the documentary Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After.

Drawn largely from resources within the FDR Library, the film offers a rare and  intimate look inside the White House during the first 24 hours following Japan’s catastrophic surprise  attack on a U.S. Naval base in Hawaii, which resulted in over three thousand American casualties and thrust America into a war that would shift the course of global geopolitical history.

The documentary is recommended for middle and high-school History, Global Studies, and Politics courses, as well as lectures on World War II. And there are free lesson plans available for download.

The 2-hour special Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After, rated TVPG, airs Sunday, December 7 at 10am/9c on the History channel (DIRECTV channel 269). Lesson plans for middle and high-school students are available free.

The film is also available for purchase from the History Shop.

For more information on great educational shows, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

—Stephen Vincent D’Emidio

Notches, Panhandles and Jogs

  • Oct 31, 2014


“Borders are stories, and the stories are great.” 
from How the States Got Their Shapes

As a little kid growing-up in New York City, I had one of those colorful wooden puzzle maps that depicted the unique characteristics of all 50 United States. Beyond fostering a fledgling desire to visit those wonderful places where buffalo roamed, or mighty locomotives thundered past desert cactus, it challenged me to recognize states by their shapes. Texas, California and Florida were easy. Once I ventured inland, though, things grew complicated.

It would be years before I’d learn that borders actually existed in the world outside my puzzle, and decades before I’d come to fully understand the various and sundry ways these lines have snaked and shifted before settling into what we now recognize as home.

In fact, it wasn’t until I watched History Channel’s How the States Got Their Shapes that I learned Las Vegas was once in Arizona!

Based on a book by playwright and screenwriter Mark Stein, this engaging and fact-filled documentary series explores how war, politics, commerce, social revolution and even natural disasters literally shaped our nation. Hosted by National Public Radio’s Brian Unger (pictured, above), the program is an ideal complement to history, geography, and social studies curricula.

It’s not a wooden puzzle, but it’ll have to do.

History Channel’s accompanying classroom guide includes pre-viewing activities, curriculum links, discussion questions and extended activities, along with a vocabulary section and lists of recommended books and web sites. These resources are available to educators free of charge.

The program may be recorded for use in the classroom, and may also be viewed online.

Upcoming airings of How the States Got Their Shapes include:

“Mouthing Off”
The diversity of America’s state borders is matched only by the diversity of our regional accents. This episode explores the history and social impact of sounding different across the United States.
Nov. 24 at 6am/5c on History Channel Classroom (ch. 269).

“Forces of Nature”
A look at how massive geological events helped shape the land that would become America. Did you know that an asteroid created the border for three states?
Dec. 29 at 6am/5c on History Channel Classroom (ch. 269).

For more educational fun, challenge students to test their knowledge with History Channel’s interactive “Place the State” game.

And to receive more information about great educational programming like this, be sure to bookmark this site and follow DIRECTV Goes to School on Twitter.

 —Stephen Vincent D’Emidio