Picture this: You’re a high school social studies teacher, trying to raise issues of social injustice in a way that resonates with your students. How do you get them to connect with an issue in such a way that the ideas behind your lessons stay with them beyond the midterm?

A documentary might just do the trick.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
Consider Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars (POV 2007), a film about a band of refugees who come together to fight back against the brutal civil war in their country with their only weapon: music. On the POV website, there’s a lesson plan for the film, “Music as Social Protest,” which taps into teenagers’ strong connection to music. Students are offered the opportunity to hear how the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars used music as a means of both cultural and political expression, and then asked to indentify social and political messages — and their implications — in music that means something to them.

At last week’s annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference, held in New York City, POV and Independent Lens teamed up to present a number of documentaries that educators can use to illuminate global issues of poverty, war and injustice, among others. During the seminar, “The Real World in School: Using Social Issue Documentaries To Encourage Global Awareness In the Classroom,” we discussed a variety of films with international themes and their attendant Web resources, such as lesson plans, discussion guides, roundtable discussions and educational podcasts, that are available for teachers to use in their classrooms — all for free. The lesson plans and website features generally highlight skill sets teachers want to target with interactive media:

  • Expose students to diverse views and voices
  • Develop media literacy skills
  • Promote creative expression and use of multimedia resources
  • Create opportunities for community connections and mentorship
  • Focus on the idea of experiential features: “walking in someone else’s shoes…”
  • Involve users in choosing their path through content
  • POV highlighted a few films from past seasons in addition to Sierra Leone, including The Judge and the General (2008), about Pinochet’s legacy of human rights abuse in Chile, and The Boys of Baraka (2006), about an alternative school in Kenya for at-risk youth in Baltimore.

    Independent Lens featured Iron Ladies of Liberia, about Liberia’s first woman president, and Please Vote for Me, which documents a Chinese school’s first election and asks what it could mean for democracy education in China.

    For more on the films and the wealth of educational resources that are available, check out the links featured above. And if you’re an educator, take advantage of POV’s free lending library or sign up on the Independent Lens site to receive educational versions of selected Indie Lens titles.

    And if you’re a teacher who has used a documentary in the classroom, we’d love to hear from you! How did it go? How did your students respond? Is it something you’ve tried once, or do on an ongoing basis? Share your story and let us know!

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    David has worked on POV's website since its infancy, helping to develop and nurture it, as well as producing special features. David also oversees and administers POV's internal network, maintaining hardware and software for the POV staff. Prior to joining POV, David, served on the staff of CyberEd, an 18-wheeler Internet classroom that toured nationwide. Since 1997, David has worked independently as a computer consultant, including systems, networks, databases, and web design and construction. David's favorite documentaries are:1. Eyes on the Prize - Henry Hampton (Executive Producer)2. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff3. The Thin Blue Line - Errol Morris4. Roger & Me - Michael Moore5. The Camden 28 - Anthony Giacchino