Top Five Educational Documentaries for Educators

education documentary

A great documentary stays with you long after the final credits roll, prodding you to push for change.

Education documentaries such as “Waiting for Superman” and “The Lottery” certainly fall into that category. They generated debate and discussion when they were initially released, and they resonate today.

Those two documentaries in turn inspired a whole new generation of films with education themes. Some are purely philosophical, while some pose uncomfortable questions.

Here are five great documentaries that inspire outrage, hope, passion, and ideas – sometimes all at the same time.

If You Build It

What happens when two activists take their non-profit design firm to one of the poorest rural counties in North Carolina and challenge 10 teens to complete a year-long full-scale building project?

It turns out that the teens design more than just the structure. They learn how to design their own futures, too, gaining skills and the ability to give back to their community.

No screenings are currently scheduled, though a crowdsourcing campaign that gains a commitment of as few as 65 tickets, will let you bring the film to your community.

Collaboration – On the Edge of a New Paradigm

Bio-hackers and cyber-lawyers, philosophers and researchers come together to ponder one question: Is society headed toward a new era of collaboration? If so, how do we face the changes and prepare for the future.

The documentary was one of the first to tackle the topic of what’s possible if we truly are headed toward a Global Age of Collaboration. It’s a thought-provoking film that appeals to teachers and students as much as it does to corporate leaders.

Visit the Collaborative Society’s web site to arrange a screening.

Big Dream

“Big Dream” is more than a documentary. It’s also a movement backed by Microsoft and other leading businesses that want to break down barriers women face in technical professions.

The film examines the lives of seven young women, scattered from America’s Midwest to the Middle East. Their common bond is their determination to work in STEM fields no matter how many hurdles they face. “There’s no greater pleasure in life than doing something people say you can’t do,” one of the film’s stars said.

Visit the Big Dream web site to schedule a screening.

A Year at Mission Hill

This 10-part series chronicles a year at one of America’s most successful public schools, a kindergarten through eighth-grade campus in Massachusetts.

Filmmakers talked to teachers, families, and students about both their successes and frustrations. The episodes are designed to spark a national conversation about the state of public education in the country, both as it exists and as it should be.

All 10 episodes are available online.

Best-Kept Secret

Everyone warned Janet Mino that there was no place for her students with autism to go other than “off the cliff” when they aged out of her program at age 21. Mino refused to believe it.

This PBS documentary keys on Mino’s work with three students at JFK High School in Newark, N.J., and her conviction that they have greater potential than many recognize. The film looks at the challenges the students face beyond school and their struggle for services and support after graduation.

The documentary is available for purchase for home or educational use.

These five education documentaries are a great way to spend an hour or two, whether you’re an education major who wants to get fired up about break-through successes or a veteran teacher looking for great new ideas.


Written by Ashford University staff

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