Australia’s fires: how can we envision 12 million acres?

My students can’t imagine an acre, let alone 12 million acres. And honestly, neither can I. So in thinking about how to share the latest news on the fires in Australia, I tried my best to link it to their own geographic range and experience. Many have not ever left the state, but they have a sense of the size of the state and where their own town sits within its borders. They also have a sense of the region, and neighboring states. I put these slides together to give them a sense of the magnitude of the fires in terms of geography, which can help as we discuss the ramifications on the fires to people, wildlife, and the landscape. I started with the definition of an acre, a measurement they do not use and unless they have an amount of acreage, can’t conceptualize. But most can imagine a football field, 1.32 acres in size.

I added some sources for them to explore:

Follow this link to learn more about where the fires are currently burning, see graphs, satellite imagery and read about why this fire season is worse due to highest temperatures and driest conditions.

Australia’s Hottest Day on Record

Australia’s Rising Temperatures

And some ways to help:

Things to Know and How to Help

How to help wildlife, fire fighters and evacuees

If you want a copy of the slide show, you can download it here. 



We Can’t Accept This: Educators, Please Teach About Anti-Semitism

When most people think about anti-Semitism, their minds automatically go to pre-war Germany and the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. But anti-Semitism has strong roots in America, and is currently experiencing a drastic rise. 60 percent of hate crime attacks were targeted against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018. In 2018, anti-Semitic attacks killed more Jews around the globe than in any year in decades. And anti-Semitism in the US is on the track to reach record high numbers. In NY, LA and Chicago, anti-Semitic attacks are at an 18 year peak

Yet despite the horrifying statistics, only 12 states in the US (CA, CT, FL, IL, IN, KY, MI, NJ, NY, OR in 2020, RI and VA) require any study of the Holocaust at all in secondary schools. As educators, what can we do about this? How can we focus our attention to the current rise  of anti-semitism and its connection to the past? Many educators teach about the Holocaust through YA books, yet do not mention anti-Semitism today. I challenge those teachers to connect the novels to the world their students inhabit now, while also giving homage to Holocaust survivors and the past. 

First, educators will need to define anti-Semitism for their students. What is anti-Semitism and how can it be identified? According to Teaching Tolerance, “Anti-Semitism can take many forms: religiously based discrimination, targeting Jews for their religious beliefs; politically driven hatred or discrimination, targeting Jews regarding political issues; ethnically or culturally based hostility, targeting Jews regarding heritage or culture; and the perpetuation of stereotypes based on economic or other factors, tied to bigoted images of Jews being “greedy,” for example. Anti-Semitism employs venom, power and prejudice similar to racism and other forms of bigotry.” Holocaust denial,  (denying that the Holocaust took place or minimizing its actual impact) is another form of anti-Semitism. 

Some more resources you could use to define anti-Semitism are: the ADL’s What is anti-Semitism?, Anti-Semitism in the Encyclopedia Britannica, or from the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

Start with essential questions about stereotypes and labels. Define stereotypes. Ask students to identify stereotypes they see being used in their schools and communities. Ask how stereotypes are used to divide people. What are the benefits of living in a diverse society? How can we make connections with people who are different than ourselves? Be brave and have hard and honest conversations. 

To address holocaust denial, use primary sources. Many of the Holocaust survivors have now passed away but their stories remain. Others are still living. Read and discuss the stories of survivors:

Behind Every Story A Name: Survivor Reflections and Stories

Teaching Tolerance: One Survivor Remembers

The Museum of Jewish Heritage has 4,000 audio and video testimonies by Holocaust survivors, liberators, rescuers, Jews who served in the Allied Armies during World War II

New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage has a thorough Holocaust curriculum for secondary educators 

If and when hate crimes happen in your school, address them immediately, firmly, and include the community. Teaching Tolerance has a detailed guide, Responding to Hate at School, that should be required reading for all administration and teachers. Be ready to respond when bias occurs. If a student draws a swastika, it is a doorway for everyone to learn more. I challenge teachers to open that door, instead of erasing the symbol, leaving no avenue for education. Use bias as a chance to teach and grow as a community, and bring resources into your classrooms and schools. Teach your students to be activists and leaders by educating them to call out and fight anti-Semitism where and when they see it. 


Who Makes Our Things? Teaching About the Global Economy

T-Shirts, IPhones and blue jeans–objects most of my grade 7 students own, love and rely on. Thus, after a long New England winter, I could think of a no better way to captivate and re-charge their minds than through exploring the production of these goods in the global economy. As one reluctant learner said to me after class, “I am so into what we are studying.” Another commented, “These are things we never think about but always should.” Studying our things lends itself to high levels of critical thinking, grasping key economic concepts, making connections, and pondering one’s own place and responsibility in the world.

For the t-shirt, I relied on the 5-chapter NPR Planet Money Makes A T Shirt short video clips. The videos start on a Mississippi cotton farm,  introduce us to the workers and factories in Bangladesh and Colombia, explore the measurements and movements of the cargo container, and follow the shipment of goods around the globe. They introduce us to the humans responsible in all levels of production. At only about 6-minutes each, these videos are thought provoking, easy to follow, and cover a myriad of concepts to both engage and challenge students. To keep their minds active while watching, I asked students to take fill-in notes on a worksheet I had prepared which allowed them to capture and recall details to support our discussion.

After the videos, I exercised their listening comprehension muscles by playing two NPR stories:  Two Sisters, A Small Room and the World Behind a T-Shirt which looks at the lives of two sisters who work in a factory in Bangladesh, and The Afterlife of American Clothes which explores the second-hand clothing markets of Sub-Saharan Africa, which receive over a billion pounds of clothing from the US. The students were riveted to the introduction of the story, which mentions how one man donated his t-shirt to a Goodwill in Miami and five months later, when he was working in Sierra Leone, saw an ice cream vendor wearing his shirt. Both of these stories pulled in the attention of my students who thought critically about geography and the role of the global economy on the lives of all involved.

To help us explore the I Phone, we watched and discussed Inside the Apple Factory from ABC News, as well as NYU Student Goes Undercover in Apple Factory as well as looked at what is in an cell itself in Why It Takes 75 Elements to Make Your Cell Phone.

Lastly, to examine our blue jeans, we watched a documentary called China Blue which explores the movement of millions of villagers to factories in cities in China. The film focuses on a young girl named Jasmine who makes the hard journey to support her family and their farm. Viewers are invited into a rare look at a blue jean factory that makes clothes for the global market, and can examine the different points of responsibility from multinational companies, the factory owner, the government and the consumer. I show the film in 3 parts, stopping for discussion, and leaving room at the end of each part for small groups to discuss specific questions. The groups then share out their ideas to the larger class.

As there are so many products to explore and so many resources available, I invite your  input. How do you teach concepts of globalization? What activities allow for our youth to understand where our goods come from, basic economic principles, and what our role as consumers is to the global economy?

Democracy and Social Justice

“Democracy is not a state. It is not some high plateau that we struggle to reach so we can finally settle down to rest. Democracy is an act. It is an act that requires participation, organization and dedication to the highest principles. It is an act, and a series of actions that require us to continuously verify our commitment to civil rights and social justice at every challenge.”Rep. John Lewis Reflections on a Dream Deferred

It is 2018, and seemingly now more than ever, our nation is rediscovering the true meaning of our fragile democracy. It is the American classroom perhaps, that now finds itself at the center of the fight for social justice, for it is there that teachers find themselves inundated daily with the need to undo the social damage caused by the ignorant words and deeds of our current politicians. Our classrooms are at the front lines as our students try to make sense of things our political leaders say, and it is our collective responsibility to help our youth learn how to come to their own understandings, find the truth through research, and articulate their own political and social views. As Rep. John Lewis writes, “Democracy is an act…that requires participation, organization and dedication to the highest principles.”

Not just on Martin Luther King day, but everyday, our classrooms need to teach and model the connection between democracy and social justice.  We must ask the essential question: How  is standing up against racism and injustice a democratic obligation? And we must model this connection through our own actions, our treatment of those in our school-wide communities, and also in the curriculum we design for our youth.

“Now I realize that there are those all over who are telling us that we must slow up. … But we cannot afford to slow up. We have a moral obligation to press on. We have our self-respect to maintain. But even more we can’t afford to slow up because of our love for America and our love for the democratic way of life. … We must keep moving. We must keep going.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From “The Montgomery Story,” an address to the 47th annual NAACP Convention, San Francisco, June 27, 1956

For resources on Martin Luther King, Jr. visit the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, where you can find  papers, documents and video, a liberation curriculum, as well as  a collection of lesson plans for teachers of all grade levels.

Or try one of the 8 extension activities from this lesson: Dr King and the Movement from Teaching Tolerance for a unique way to explore, celebrate and question the progress made since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.