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?

Syria: Teaching about the Civil War and Refugee Crisis

As classroom teachers, there are always lessons we retire because they didn’t go as we hoped, maybe we didn’t like the level of student engagement or the learning outcomes. After all, teaching is reflective work, and teachers must always be willing to change whether to meet the changing needs of students or the daily changes around the world.  Then there are some lessons we wish we could retire  but they are too important to teach– such as the civil war and refugee crisis in Syria. Not having to teach about it would mean that perhaps there was a resolution, an end, and some peace and recovery for the millions of people who have been impacted. Yet last week I found myself teaching the 3 day unit again, and while I wish the crisis would end, I feel it is an essential thing for students to know about.

“I can’t believe that while we are sitting here in this beautiful classroom, this is going on for people.,” one student shared. “How is this okay?” he continued. And he was not alone–this level of engagement was classroom-wide. Conversations went on for so long, that I needed to add an extra day to the lesson.

“What was Syria like before the war?” one student asked.

“Are there any Syrian refugees in America, or in our town?”

“How can we help these people? This is not right.”

The conversation, engagement and high level of critical thinking continued for three days.

Syria is a difficult topic to teach, as the war itself is complicated and the outlook is bleak. Yet there are also stories of hope, refugees who have survived and thrived, heroic actions by people such as the White Helmets, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors without Borders. So while there is a lot of heaviness to wade through, there are also stories of hope, selflessness and humanity that can be used to teach empathy and activism. The lesson also adds a great deal of perspective and reflection for students, who might not recognize their own privilege. Many students in our conversations reflected on how lucky they felt in school, in their community, even those who have struggles of their own.

A great starting point to teach about Syria is the website I Am Syria which offers a curriculum and page for educators which can be modified to fit the needs and structure of a classroom. Start with their background resources for an overview.

For my lesson, I followed much of the video tour. I created a reflection sheet based on the videos. We viewed a clip together, students had an opportunity to write, and then we had a discussion. While initially I was planning for students to watch the videos at their own pace, I decided to watch all together using my projector and screen and I am happy that I did. The videos provided good detail and were great conversation starters, and the sequence walked my classroom through the start of the war to the journey of refugees. The material was pretty heavy, and the camaraderie and community viewing allowed for us to process what we viewed.

For elementary students there are more basic resources and a page for activism after kids learn about the situation. As I told my students, your first responsibility to learn as much as you can, then you can teach others and make your voices heard. I ended the unit with opportunities to make change and an impact that varied from talking to others about the situation, teaching other students, writing letters or editorials, creating fundraisers for an organization, and learning about the refugees who live in our town and attend our school.

NewseumED: resources for teaching the 1st Amendment

If you are looking for resources to teach youth about the 1st Amendment, take some time to explore the free website NewseumED, produced by the Newseum, a museum dedicated to news in Washington DC. Once registered, a user has complete access to a library of primary sources, artifacts, videos, over two hundred lesson plans,  historic front pages of newspapers, timelines, and maps. Resources can be shared with a url, and lessons, which are aligned to the NCSS, NCTE and the Common Core, can be downloaded and copied.

The NewseumED website states, “Our approach begins with using the First Amendment as a springboard to illuminate the challenges and ideals of our democracy and to cultivate the skills needed to make informed decisions in a diverse and demanding world.”

If you are looking for units to teach on freedom of the press and interpreting the news, try their Media Literacy Booster Pack. Or perhaps you are you looking for a teaching unit to explore how the suffragists embraced the First Amendment as a tool to help achieve passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

If you are looking for MLK and Black History month resources, or how to identify and navigate “Fake News” , or you want to teach about the Supreme Court case that protected student speech in public schools, there is truly more exceptional material than you could ever use on the NewseumED website.

For an in-depth tutorial on the NewseumED website, watch the video below.

 

Empathy is a Muscle

I have been thinking a great deal about empathy recently: the ability to step into the shoes of another person, to aspire to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use those understandings to lead our actions. I have been thinking about whether it is innate or learned, and how to design curriculum in my classroom that allows for it to be strengthened, like a muscle, or discovered and pulled out, a seed in a child that hasn’t received enough light.

I recently taught a 3 day unit on Syria, the civil war and refugee crisis, and throughout the lesson, all students were engaged. “This is going on right now?!” one student asked, incredulously. “I need to help!” other students wrote on their final reflection. “How could the world allow this to go on?” other students demanded to know. Paper after paper, 7th grade students remarked on how important they felt it was to learn this material, how astonished that this was happening in their world, what could they do to help in such a situation?

Listening to their questions and comments in our discussions reminded me that empathy is a muscle. It needs a consistent workout, especially now, when we can all become overwhelmed with the many problems in our world and when we are inundated through social media. For me as a teacher, many questions arise, such as:

How much exposure should I give to my students?

How do I choose what to cover?

How do I create a balance between lessons?

How do I create opportunities for students to feel empathy?

In Edutopia’s article, Empathy in Action: How Teachers Prepare Future Citizens, author Marilyn Price- Mitchell rightly states, “Teachers are uniquely positioned to teach empathy, which will help children not only discover personal success, but also contribute to the betterment of society.”

She links to an article, Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People, which states that highly empathetic people:

Cultivate curiosity about strangers
Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
Gain direct experience of other people’s lives
Listen and open themselves to others
Inspire mass action and social change
Develop an ambitious imagination

What better aspirations for our students and youth?

As teachers and parents, we must create global and local opportunities in our classrooms and homes where youth can work their empathy muscles- both in researching and learning about an issue, critical thinking and sharing their ideas with others, and developing projects that allow for them to connect themselves to the other. Empathy allows us to examine who we are in relationship to others, where we stand, and what we should do with our knowledge.  From teaching empathy through our choices of literature, to connecting our 8-10 year olds to other kids around the world through the use of Empatico, to connecting with organizations that are change makers, to designing local project based lessons, such as an urban community garden, allowing for our youth to practice and feel empathy will make them stronger, more resilient and capable humans.

 

 

“Youth In Front”

Educators from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Teaching Systems Lab, and the instructional design firm Fresh Cognate have created “Youth in Front”, a new hub of learning-oriented resources and multimedia assets for young activists and the educators and adult allies interested making their voices heard — particularly those who are stepping into activism for the first time, and for the educators who are responding to action in their schools and communities.

Net Neutrality: Teaching Our Youth to Save the Internet

In 2015, Net Neutrality regulations were put into place by President Obama to protect an open internet and to stop large broadband companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from controlling, blocking or slowing down what consumers could see on the internet, as well as prohibiting companies from charging more money for certain content. Under the laws, companies could not block access to any websites or apps, and could not impact loading speeds. On December 14, 2017, in an effort to overturn these regulations, The FCC’s five-member commission, with its Republican majority, voted 3-2 along party lines to end the regulations.

While supporters suggest that lifting the ban could allow broadband providers to provide customers with a wider range of services, critics feel that the lack of regulation could spur higher prices and slower internet. And one group of internet users, teachers and students, are perhaps the group that could be impacted the most. Costs could rise, speeds could slow, and websites could be restricted. Therefore, this is a very important topic for schools to explore, and because it directly impacts students, it is an issue that promotes student engagement. Free Press’s guide “Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know”  provides a clear overview of the issue, and their website “Saving the Internet” explores the many issues Net Neutrality brings up and offers action steps students can take.

NPR’a story Teachers and Educators Weigh In On Net Neutrality explores how deregulation can impact students, classrooms and libraries. Teachers rely on the internet to create enriching and engaging lessons to reach their students. Having broad and unlimited access to the internet provides classrooms and teachers with resources that they simply could not otherwise have.

At this time, 94 percent of school districts in the U.S. have access to high-speed internet. However, not all students have this access. A recent Pew Research study found that 5 million, most low income, school-aged children do not have access to broadband internet connection. And some Senate Democrats feel that deregulation of net neutrality will widen inequity.

According to  a 2015 Pew Research Center report, around 5 million households with school-age children lack high-speed internet service. The net neutrality repeal could worsen this digital divide that creates inequity. In addition, according to a Pew study, millions of students rely on library computers and internet connections to complete research and homework. If net neutrality is repealed, another area to explore is that rural schools could suffer more because three-quarters of schools that lack high-speed internet are located in remote communities.

Accessing information is crucial to our nation’s democracy and a free and available internet is an important part of this access. The loss of Net Neutrality threatens academic freedom, and equity. We need to teach our youth and students that their reliance on the internet and their access to information is at stake, and we need to give them the knowledge and resources to get involved.

The Kids Are Alright

I have been a middle school Social Studies teacher for almost 20 years, and during that time I have not seen youth galvanized around an issue like that of gun reform. In fact, recently, after viewing Teaching Tolerance’s film A Children’s March with my students, I asked my students what issues they would personally take a stand for. While they held strong opinions on many topics, most of them struggled to find an issue that would propel them to action like the students they watched in the film, marching in the civil rights movement and creating social change where adults could not. They agreed that the issue would have to be really important and really impact their own lives for them to take an active stance.

Then came another school shooting, and now we see the youth of America rising up. And why wouldn’t these students want to become active in this issue? In 2018 alone (and it is only February), there have already been eight school shootings by some reports, and the nation’s youth (and teachers) have been the target. And suddenly, the vast social media communities that youth have created around themselves on twitter, snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, become the perfect fuel to spread this spark of social activism quickly. “How the Survivors of Parkland Began the #NeverAgain Movement” explores how the activism was ignited and has spread rapidly using the technology that the youth have mastered.

When Emma Gonzalez, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior whose face has since become a symbol for this quickly growing youth-led political campaign, screamed “We Call B.S”,  her words resounded like a rallying cry.  And clearly, the Parkland students are not going away. Cameron Kasky, another survivor of the shooting wrote My Generation Will Not Stand for This, and grilled Senator Marco Rubio in a recent CNN Town Hall on Gun Policy.  At the event where CNN hosted survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting along with law enforcement, congressmen, and a representative of the NRA in a town hall on gun policy in America, there were some very emotional moments, including Kasky asking Senator Rubio if he would stop taking donations from the NRA.

“Young people have helped lead all our great movements,” President Obama recently said on Twitter. “How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be.”

 

One of the biggest events these youth activists are planning is the March For Our Lives on March 24th in Washington DC and in cities and towns around the nation. The march’s website states that the mission and focus of March For Our Lives is “to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the event is that it is being coordinated by students themselves. The organizers state that the march is being “created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar. ” Activists Seek to Keep Gun Movement Student-Led explores how a movement started by youth can continue in this way, with adult support and funding, but with the control in the hands of youth activists.

As a classroom teacher, I will be marching behind and alongside these youth to demand that their lives (and my life) and safety become a priority. School safety  should not a political issue, it should be a guarantee. I am inspired by the activism I am witnessing, and also intrigued and excited by the use of social media to help spread their movement. #NeverAgain

“Do Something Instead of Sending Prayers”

When I was a student in the 80s we debated gun control– the gun homicide rate in the United States had grown rapidly since the 1960s, and was 6.6-7 per 100,000. The 80s were a crime-heavy time in this nation– politicians often ran for office by promising to be tough on crime. We used the issue of gun control to learn the art of debate, arguing the controversial sides of handgun ownership, along with others issues such as abortion rights, euthanasia, and pesticide use in agriculture– we were taught to research, create arguments for both sides, and be able to deliver regardless of one’s own personal viewpoint. While there were many points to argue about gun ownership, the guns we argued about were handguns and rifles, and the idea of a mass shooting as we have started to see unfold in our nation did not hover over our minds, classrooms, or teachers as a ‘what if’.

I look out into my seventh grade classroom today, and  I am overwhelmed when I think about all that my students need to filter on a daily basis. I started teaching before smart phones and 9/11, and I have seen anxiety levels steadily rise in my students every year since. The accelerated growth of mass shootings since Sandy Hook, and the inundation of media imagery has placed my students in a world where they ask each other when will such a shooting occur in our school, instead of if.  And as a teacher, I am now instructed to stand by the door should I need to act against an active shooter, as if my pencil cans or milk crate file cabinet is any match for an AR-15. The policeman tells us it is really a last resort, and shakes his head while he speaks as if saying, “Yeah, good luck with that.” So we practice crouching in the dark and pretending we are not really there, which feels as futile as when we see images of the drills for the drop of a nuclear bomb, children tucked under tiny desks and holding their heads, waiting.

There are so many debatable questions:

How do we approach a topic that already creates heightened anxiety with or without speaking it? How can a teacher or parent discuss the issue while at the same time promote a sense of well-being? Should we discuss mass shootings at all, or plan and practice for the improbable, or should we focus instead on building the deep connections needed to help prevent such tragedies in the first place? Or is there a shade of gray, somewhere in between?  And, since crime in the United States has actually decreased over the last quarter of a century, why do we feel things are so dangerous and uncertain?

One way to explore the issue in the United States is to examine gun violence and ownership as compared to other nations. Here are 17 charts that explore America’s unique problem in relationship to other nations.  “America is an exceptional country when it comes to guns. It’s one of the few countries in which the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected. But America’s relationship with guns is unique in another crucial way: Among developed nations, the US is far and away the most violent — in large part due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms.” What about the constitutional right to bear arms in other nations? Do other nations allow gun ownership protected by law? What does the 2nd amendment really mean, anyway? 

According to a study by the Pew Research the rate of US gun violence had actually fallen 49% from 1993 to 2013.  Yet since Sandy Hook, there have been 1,500 mass shootings. (Defined by the Gun Violence Archive as all shootings in which four or more people were shot but not necessarily killed, excluding the shooter.)

“So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country. According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq.” According to the Gun Violence Archive, America’s firearm deaths total more than 32,000 each year.

And it is a hard fact that the more guns there are in an area, the more gun deaths will result. Not only do guns kill people, but so do people with guns. “States with higher gun ownership rates have higher gun murder rates—as much as 114 percent higher than states with lower gun ownership rates.” Fewer guns in a state or more legislation, lead to fewer gun homicides.  Mother Jones magazine’s 10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down, uses infographics and data to fact-check and explore the pro-gun myths that the NRA uses to argue their stance.

Perhaps the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida will be the tipping point this nation needs to make positive change. Many students are using their experiences and survival as a platform to promote social change and call for tougher gun laws.  These brave youth are calling for politicians to take a stand, planning walkouts, and asking our government and citizens to do something instead of sending prayers. It is time we all listen.

Syria: Teaching about the Civil War and Refugee Crisis

“This is happening right now?” a student blurted out and smacked the table with her hand. “Yes, while we are all sitting here, this is happening,” I responded. “How could anyone allow this to go on?” she continued. And she was not alone–this level of engagement was classroom-wide.

“What was Syria like before the war?” another student asked.

“How many refugees do we have in America?”

“What about in our town or school?”

The conversation and engagement continued for three days.

Syria is a hard topic to teach, as the war itself is complicated and the outlook is bleak. Yet there are also stories of hope, refugees who have survived and thrived, heroic actions by people such as the White Helmets, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors without Borders. So while there is a lot of heaviness to wade through, there are also stories of hope, selflessness and humanity that can be used to teach empathy and activism.

A great starting point is the website I Am Syria which offers a curriculum and page for educators which can be modified to fit the needs and structure of a classroom. Start with their background resources for an overview.

For my lesson, I followed much of the video tour. I created a reflection sheet based on the videos. We viewed a clip together, students had an opportunity to write, and then we had a discussion. While initially I was planning for students to watch the videos at their own pace, I decided to watch all together using my projector and screen and I am happy that I did. The videos provided good detail and were great conversation starters, and the sequence walked my classroom through the start of the war to the journey of refugees. The material was pretty heavy, and the camaraderie and community viewing allowed for us to process what we viewed.

For elementary students there are more basic resources and a page for activism after kids learn about the situation. As I told my students, your first responsibility to learn as much as you can, then you can teach others and make your voices heard. I ended the unit with opportunities to make change and an impact that varied from talking to others about the situation, teaching other students, writing letters or editorials, creating fundraisers for an organization, and learning about the refugees who live in our town and attend our school.

The Benefit of Helping Teens Find Their Purpose in Life

From KQED news, a story from Mind/Shift about a semester-long elective called the QUESTion Project designed to give adolescents a space in which to wrestle with big questions about who they are, where they are headed and what matters most in their journey through life. The project helps students answer the most difficult question: What is my purpose? What do I want to become in life?