Netflix Academy: A Magical Introduction to Core Knowledge

by Guest Blogger
September 16th, 2013

You might know the Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli as a thought-provoking policy wonk and influential writer, but that’s not what makes him stand out. Above all else, Mike’s a great dad—one who struggles with making the best decisions for his kids and with helping all kids have similar educational opportunities.

Now, he needs your help.

Using the Core Knowledge Sequence as a guide to essential content, Petrilli has started a yearlong project to identify the best scientific, historical, and literary videos for kids. Set aside your favorite expensive or hard-to-find videos; Petrilli’s “Netflix Academy” is all about widely accessible works—those that, as he writes, “anyone with an $8/month Netflix subscription, or a $79/year Amazon Prime subscription, could instantaneously stream.”

(Young boy’s virtual safari courtesy of Shutterstock.)


Petrilli got the idea over the summer while watching the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs with his sons (ages five and three). He explains:

As E. D. Hirsch, Jr., has argued for a quarter-century, the early elementary years are the ideal time to introduce children to the wonders of history (natural and otherwise), geography, literature, art, music, and more.

By providing a solid grounding in the core domains of human civilization, we are providing two wonderful gifts for our children: A store of knowledge that will help them better understand the complexities of our universe as they grow older; and a rich vocabulary that will make them strong, confident readers in these early, formative years. This is why the Common Core State Standards call for a rigorous, coherent curriculum that offers a healthy diet of content knowledge—that’s the key to becoming a great reader, and an enthusiastic learner.

Via Walking with Dinosaurs, for instance, my five-year-old already has a rudimentary understanding of evolution (paving the way for many scientific and theological conversations in the years ahead) and has absorbed key vocabulary to boot (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, Cretaceous, Jurassic, etc.)….

Of course, five-year-olds have loved dinosaurs for decades, Netflix or not, but the power of cinematography to bring the subject alive is just this side of magic.

Watching with dad is magic too. But far too many dads (and moms and teachers) don’t have time to research how to make the best use of their kids’ screen time. We can all help.

Take a look at Petrilli’s posts thus far, and please use the comments section (here and/or on Petrilli’s site) to add your favorite videos:

Introduction and selected topics:


America’s founders and founding ideas:



  1. What a great idea! What a wonderful contribution. Please hurry.

    Comment by Pat Smith — September 16, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

  2. This could be how the flipped classroom hits the social sciences. I know I used a History channel piece on the great depression to help my daughter understand the Dust Bowl and idea of a Hooverville from when she was reading Bud Not Buddy. We should not just think video, I think pieces from programs like NPR’s Radio Lab also would be great to leverage.

    Comment by DC Parent — September 16, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

  3. Excellent idea. How can I find out when it is ready.

    Comment by David J. Krupp — September 17, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  4. This idea correlates to the finding from cognitive science that readalouds are great for younger kids, because reading comprehension doesn’t catch up to listening comprehension until about 8th grade.

    What a great practical application of cognitive science! It almost makes me wish my own kids were still little (OK, I’m going overboard, but I’ll tell people with younger kids about this, as well as the elementary teachers at my kids’ Core Knowledge school).

    Comment by John Webster — September 17, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

  5. This is a fantastic idea. In my experience students respond well to current media that supplements classroom instruction. I will be excited to check it out when its finished.

    Comment by Jones — September 18, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

  6. This is a great example of what grassroots power can accomplish. Using the Sequence as the connection point for resources is a good choice since it represents content, the common denominator for everything in education.

    Imagine the expanded utility of this effort if resources like Netflix were joined with Khan Academy and others free materials connected directly to specific content hosted in an online database. I would propose abstracting one level beyond the Sequence to a proven content analysis and alignment system like the hierarchical SEC framework that includes a cognitive dimension for the content. This would enable connecting standards, assessments and instructional materials with the resources using explicit content in its natural form. The Sequence would be parsed into the SEC framework as the seed content for this public resource.

    Comment by Tom Sundstrom — September 19, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

  7. I have been learning about “flipping the classroom”. This would be a great resource to use for students to have some prior knowledge so that they may do more engaging self-directed work when they come to class

    Comment by Renee Ramirez — September 21, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

  8. Isn’t this what has been doing for the past 4 years? Free. Dr. Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia jump-started this project in 2009 and it now has over 50,000 free educational videos, organized by teachers. Why re-invent the wheel?

    Comment by Joe — September 24, 2013 @ 11:53 am

  9. This is a great option for young and older students as well but I do have to admit that Netflix is limited, well at least in my experience. I have used as well as the and of course our older children’s favorite Yes, you do have to monitor what they are watching and even secure the sites but for the most part my children have watched these videos over and over again to gain the knowledge that they are thirsty for. These sites do not hold students back but keep them moving forward. Netflix is affordable, I have it but I can’t always find what I am looking for or else the system goes down much too often than I care to wait for it. Oh and I was almost forgetting, the comment that Joe #8 made about Wikipedia, it is also a huge hit with my children, just as is

    Comment by Mary K. — November 17, 2013 @ 11:48 pm

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