With Film Class, Burnsky Takes A New Approach to U.S. History

by Devin Kosiorowski ‘24

Social studies teacher Ryan Burnsky has debuted a new history elective this year dubbed American History Through Film. The one-semester class follows American history by watching movies that follow a specific timeline.

“We have a list of films we can show. We go through each topic of history. We start with the first colonies and pre-contact Native American tribes [and end with] international relations post 9/11,” explained Burnsky.

When social studies resource teacher Christine McKeldin saw that MCPS had approved the new course, she thought Burnsky would love the idea of teaching the elective. In a typical history class, students may be assigned to read textbooks and fill out lengthy packets of questions surrounding important moments in time. They listen to lectures, take notes on key events in history, and are required to take a cumulative test at the end of each unit. American History Through Film is different as students in the course obtain a majority of their information through films rather than reading textbooks or taking lengthy notes. Before watching a film, students familiarize themselves with the topic by viewing a presentation or video. This provides students an insightful background to the topic being discussed.

After finishing the film, students are assigned to write an IMDb review where they rank the film on a scale of 1 to 10. Classes are also tasked with a synthesizing assignment which involves some sort of creative aspect. Examples include making a timeline of each major event in the movie or creating a comic book strip.

“You have three hour-long segments of film, and it demonstrates how somebody would feel at a certain time compared to just reading an article that just has a rather monotone tone,” said senior Gabe Dugarte, who takes the class.

Burnsky stated that students will view 9-10 movies over the duration of the semester. Some well known films amongst the list of options include Titanic (1997), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and 1917 (2019). Many films on the list have an “R-rating,” which requires a permission slip to be filled out to allow the student to watch the film. In following years, Burnsky said the course may be split over into two separate semesters.
“I would 100-percent recommend the course,” said senior Evelyn Miller. “It’s easy and it’s more interesting than other history classes that you rely on a text textbook for.”