Ninth graders “make” history

World History Film Festival
  • Upper Division
Dr. Jeremy Golubcow-Teglasi, Upper Division History Teacher
World History Film Festival

By Dr. Jeremy Golubcow-Teglasi, Upper Division History Teacher

For a few hours during the evening of May 28, the Upper Division at Denver JDS was transformed into a multiplex movie theater. Twenty or so members of our community walked down the red carpet (fashioned from a bolt of red felt) and stepped into the first-ever Denver JDS World History Film Festival. Six documentaries, telling stories that span a hundred millennia, played in different classrooms. Each was selected by a ninth grade student who introduced the film and led a brief discussion after the credits rolled.

The students who organized the film festival were all in my World History class. They chose the festival as their group project from a menu of options that included, among others, designing a game and producing a podcast episode. A pair of students who chose the game option created their own edition of Monopoly, substituting famous artworks for the original Atlantic City properties and grouping the artworks by historical era or movement. Another pair of students recorded a podcast focused on the question of what turned the tide after Germany’s early military successes in World War II.

So what’s the educational goal that ties this array of projects together? Like teachers of any subject, I hope to convince my students that the subject matter of our course lives not only in the classroom, but “everywhere.” History lives, of course, in your family photo album, your grandparents’ stories, the boxes in your basement.  It also pervades the movies and shows trending on Netflix, the Top Charts on your podcast app, and some of the most classic board and video games. Unfortunately, students sometimes perceive a disjuncture between their enjoyment of these kinds of media and their experience of history in school. One of my goals as a teacher is to bridge that gap. Hence the idea behind the project: using the classroom to help students become critical consumers, curators, and producers of the sort of history that engages people outside the classroom.

Practically speaking then, my goal was for the students to create an experience that others would enjoy, using history as the raw material. The challenge of producing an “experience” for a real audience tends to bring out the best in students, in part because it draws on skills that go beyond what is normally required to complete an academic assignment. Designing a fun and beautiful game, for instance, demands both playful creativity and meticulous craftsmanship. Sustaining a lively and interesting conversation on a recorded podcast requires unusually sharp listening and conversational skills. In demonstrating these strengths, the students shined in ways I might not otherwise have seen.

Perhaps the most deceptively challenging of the projects was the film festival, which entailed coordination among six students who shared responsibility for everything from marketing the event to decorating the building to staffing the food concession. For me, the best part of the project was watching students take the initiative to identify and complete tasks that needed doing. Even the bumps we hit during the planning proved valuable, as the students learned just how many little steps are necessary to pull off a seemingly simple event.

The payoff came when we saw our guests walk down the red carpet, pick up their popcorn, and head into the “theater.” The students had indeed produced a meaningful experience for friends and family, and the pride in their faces was enough to make me eagerly anticipate the Second Annual Denver JDS World History Film Festival next year. Hope to see you there!


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