Making Current Events a Critical Thinking Activity
We have all done it as social studies teachers on Fridays’ in a current events article….a” bring newspaper article or magazine article about our town, state, national or international events. Be sure to read it over and then discuss it with the class or in a small group. It was a dry assignment and the kids did not like it or really learn from it. So how do you change this to make it a fun experience. Over the last few years of my teaching I decided to have the students do a full year propjet on Friday’s …the first quarter was about finding a topic and seeing what are the real world problems of our community that are also state, national or international problems ( depending on the class). Quarter one was about finding and discussing the problems, were these really issues, quarter 3 was about what is being done about these problems and by whom, quarter 3 was about what can we do about the problems and who can we work with to make it happen, and quarter four was about executing the plan.
Quarter one the students brought in articles or video’s or worked on the computers and explained the Problems. They eventually were divided up into groups to talk about the issues lead the class in the discussion and decide if they wanted as a class to pursue these issues. For example, in world history one year they discussed landmines, refugees, and child soldiers. Remember this was only done on Friday and we opened the discussion for 1 Friday, researched and prepared their presentations for 4 Fridays, took another three Fridays’ give their presentations and then decided on which one they wanted to do detailed research on the last Friday of the quarter. The students choose refugees for their topic one year.
Quarter two was spent looking at how big a problems it was and what ws being done about by whom. In this case they looked at the refugee problem and reviewed sites like the UN Refugee site, US state department site, what countries were doing about it, Doctors without borders, International Red Cross, as well as what countries who had refugees were up against by looking into refugee sites around the world. They even set up a video conference with one of the refugee sites through the US State Department and we had some unintended consequences. Right before the video conference with the US State Department the refugee camp was overrun by raiders. The kids were shocked and realized how serious this issue was it motivated them to take on this issue with some concern.
Quarter three was about what we can do about this issue. The students took a careful look at who they wanted to work with, how they were going to make it happen and began their preparations. After much discussion the students felt they would like to let other students in the school know about the issue, work to make money for Doctors without borders, International Red Cross and the local refugee group within our community. They planed an all school presentation and to organize a “Rock for Refugees” concert.
Quarter four was about initiating the plan and making it happen. Much discussion was made about what to do foir the student body, types of presentations that could be done and how to setup the concert. The students brainstormed the ideas and in the end got our librarian to open their doors, had a 3 hour time set aside for other classes to visit and set up displays/presentations for students during lunch hours. When we were done with this part of the activity I was amazed that the students came back to class and were jumping up and down cheering. The rock for refugee’s conference was just as successful, the school had a number of rock groups and we set up a time with another school organization that helped us make it happen. Oh my, it was a big success, in fact, another we invited a new student refugee over to speak during the concert and the kids gave their presentations to the students in between band numbers. The student who spoke brought the place to tears and it was an amazing experience. After the concert ;the students decided how much money went to each organization and as exhausted as we all were there evaluations of the project were right on the money.
In our program Other projects also included nuclear waste and energy (Yucca Mountain Nevada), Save Walker Lake, Landmines, Food for the homeless, and Child Soldiers to name a few. I can see in Science, English, math, or any other subject it is possible to bring a classroom to life by using the principles of their classes using project based learning or thematic learning to life.