Ken Burns

Innovation, politics, race, war...these themes are continuously evident in humanity over the course of history, and are revealed with spectacular imagery and commentary by famed documentarian Ken Burns. While primarily focusing on American history, this is a must-have app for history teachers in general, as Burns masterfully weaves scenes from his documentaries to establish meaningful connections across generations.

6th - 12th Social Studies & History 1 Collection 146 Views 57 Downloads
CCSS: Adaptable
App Overview


  • Timeline: Scenes of archival footage from Ken Burns films are laid out in chronological order from 1776 to the present day
  • Theme: Curated collection of video clips arranged into thematic playlists (Art, Hard Times, Innovation, Politics, Race, War). Each illustrates how seemingly distinct scenes from films made years apart are actually interrelated by a common pattern.
  • Film: Watch selected scenes from a particular Ken Burns film, or tap link to access the entire film through PBS, Netflix, or iTunes
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Instructional Ideas

After watching the playlists, have learners determine an additional theme that they believe should be added to the app's established list. Then, have them design their own playlists for a historical unit by gathering primary source materials (i.e. documents, images, videos, etc.), writing a script, and presenting their collection to the class.

The introduction to the app presented by Ken Burns is a really engaging way to begin the year in any history class, or to remind learners of the depth and lasting meaning of historical knowledge.

Prompt class members to consider, through writing or discussion, how a particular film clip fits within the theme of the playlist it is in. Additionally, ask learners to identify which clips within a playlist they believe best represent the theme.

Classroom Considerations

While Innovation playlist is free, remainder of app's content is available for an in-app purchase of $9.99.

  • Incredibly engaging app that will bring history to life and make it feel relevant for your class
  • Clean and attractive design, easy to navigate and intuitive interactive structure
  • Introductions to film clips and insightful commentary provided by Ken Burns himself
  • None