- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2009


No child is left behind on Ken Burns’ new documentary series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which is 12 hours long and began airing last week. PBS’ Web site has complemented the series with an educational lesson plan for each of the six episodes. This helpful resource offers students a new way to engage television rather than absorb it.

Mr. Burns’ documentary tells the historical story of a Manifest Destiny nation managing to preserve millions of acres for the public enjoyment of nature. It equates park formation to the most basic symbol of democracy, as this land really is our land.

Mr. Burns, whose other America-centric films include “The War,” “Jazz” and “Baseball,” again collaborated with award-winning writer and filmmaker Dayton Duncan on “National Parks.” The two appeared Sept. 28 at the National Press Club.

Mr. Duncan said his favorite park is Glacier National Park on the Canadian border, mostly because of family memories. But, he said, parkland and seaside alike, the land is all ours.

“Whether your daddy owns the factory or your mother is a maid, you are the owner of some of the best seafront property this nation’s got. You own magnificent waterfalls, you own stunning views of mountains,” he said.

PBS’ educational online supplement is also a form of democracy. It’s free and open to any teacher - public, private and home-school. It showcases an “Untold Stories” project, featuring dynamic narratives about the role of individual blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and American Indians in developing and preserving parks.

The series also encourages demographics that statistically do not often utilize the parks to make an effort to enjoy their “magnificent waterfalls.” Exclusive to the PBS Web site is an entire minidocumentary on “City Kids in the Park.” It features a teacher in Las Vegas giving her students their first experience of camping in Death Valley.

There also are memorable scenes of children pressed against the bus windows, brandishing digital cameras and repeating, “Oh my God, oh my God,” in excitement as they experience Nevada’s stretching wilderness for the first time. The short film inspires other urban-based teachers to provide their students a great way to combine geology, history and an appreciation of nature with a field trip to a national park.

It also can provide new ideas for classroom activities. There is a segment on local rangers coming to school to explain stewardship in nature and natural history.

PBS educational activities are designed for students in grades seven through 10. All lesson plans feature structured discussion questions, multimedia clips and exciting bonus content not found in the original series.

The educational site (https:// www.pbs.org/nationalparks/for-educators/) also gives creative students the chance to explore the secrets of filmmaking techniques. This instruction comes in the form of 11 “screen casts,” proving even history-loving PBS has entered the digital revolution. These screen casts allow students to pick their level of artistic involvement, giving tips on digital storytelling to hands-on practice with voice-overs and editing.

Mr. Duncan, the screenwriter, offered some advice for young writers and filmmakers:

“There are two most important things, the first is to read,” Mr. Duncan told The Washington Times after his National Press Club appearance. “I’ve never met a good writer or artist who doesn’t read.

“The second is to write. Rewrite and rewrite. Your first draft is never as good as it could be; you have to be open to rewriting tirelessly,” he said.

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