Good Kids, Mad City @GKMC18

The Chicago-based Good Kids, Mad City describes themselves as, “Black and Brown young people united in fighting to end violence in our cities. We call for more resources to underserved communities.” As youth groups nationwide are working hard to get gun legislation passed, these youth are looking to eradicate the underlying causes of gun violence such as poverty, mental health issues and a lack of resources.

Good Kids Mad City: A New Student Movement is Born out of the Streets of Chicago, Baltimore and D.C. writes that the group began to organize after Parkland to create a model of youth safety that calls for:

Investment in Youth Employment– Many youth in communities of color have complicated living conditions and have to provide for our families, but there aren’t enough resources. Gun violence is a symptom of poverty.
Investment in Schools– Schools should provide mental health support and other wrap-around services to help students heal from trauma and to address non-academic barriers to learning.
Investment in Communities– Communities hardest hit by violence need sustained investment in health, education, employment, and housing.

These Chicago Teens are Fighting the Underlying Causes of Gun Violence states, “Chicago’s punitive stance on gun violations has contributed to high incarceration rates, particularly in low-income neighborhoods of color, according to a 2016 report from Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. The students behind Good Kids Mad City say this approach contributes to a cycle of violence and poverty — and that it doesn’t address why people feel the need to carry guns in the first place.”

Follow the group on Twitter @GKMC18

The group also started a Go Fund Me to raise money for their work. 


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.


Change the Ref: Manuel Oliver

I was truly honored to meet Manuel Oliver from Change the Ref on Thursday as I went to support students from @50milesmore who were marching from Worcester to Springfield to protest at Smith & Wesson for gun reform. Oliver lost his son, Joaquin, in the Parkland tragedy, and turned to his art as a form of activism. Founded in the memory of their son Joaquin who was one of the 17 victims, Manuel and Patricia Oliver are committed to making sure that their son’s life and the lives of the other 16 victims are never forgotten and that real change happens to prevent future tragedies like this from happening ever again. Change the Ref uses urban art and nonviolent creative confrontation to expose the disastrous effects of the mass shooting pandemic and to help push for gun reform. IMG_8257

WALLS OF DEMAND is a nationwide art project, and a way for Manuel Oliver’s son, Joaquin, to have a voice. These murals have a very powerful image so it’s hard to look away, and hard to ignore. These walls trigger people to think about gun violence, and the need for change.

Follow their powerful work by visiting their website or on twitter at @changetheref



Register to Vote!

“The pace of new voter registrations among young people in crucial states is accelerating,” writes Michael Tackett and Rachel Shorey in Young People Keep Marching After Parkland, This Time to Register to Vote.  And, they write, “[Youth]  could even help shape the outcome of the midterm elections. If voters in their teens and 20s vote in greater numbers than usual… the groundswell could affect close races in key states like Arizona and Florida, where there will be competitive races for governor, the Senate and a number of House districts in November.”

It is essential that we teach our youth not only the importance of voting to uphold a democracy, but also how to register and how to vote.

There are many resources available to help educate and register our youth to vote. The youth activist group March For Our Lives has an online toolkit. offers information about laws and registration as well as information on how to vote. And even sites like Wikihow have information on how to vote in the United States. There is no shortage of information.

According to PBS, Only 58% of all eligible voters voted in the 2016 election, yet voting is one of the foundations of a strong democracy. We need to teach our youth the importance of voting and the process.




“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.

Social Activism in the Olympic Games

In the 9th century BCE, the “Ekecheiria”, or the Olympic truce, was a time period when the  ancient Greeks created a temporary peace; they put down their weapons and allowed athletes, families and spectators to have safe travel to and from the site of the Olympic games. The Olympics were to be a time to celebrate sport, and a time to have peace between warring city-states.

Over two thousand years later, some Olympic spectators believe that there is no room for politics at the games– that the athletes should show allegiance only to their sport, and leave their political and personal opinions our of the arena. The IOC themselves in rule number 50, state that “No form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed in and above the stadia, venues and other competition areas which are considered as part of the Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia, venues or other sports grounds.” This rule is an attempt “to prevent the Games from being used as a platform for protests, demonstrations or the promotion of political, religious or racial propaganda.”

Yet throughout history, the Olympics have set an international platform for political activism.   18 Times Politics Trumped Sport in the Olympic Games History includes a timeline of politics in the Olympic arena, and   A Not So Brief History of Politics and the Olympics explores a history of social issues such  gender, race, and LGBTQ, as well as the issues surrounding the geography of the games themselves, and boycotts.

In the article 7 Of the Most Memorable Olympic Protests in History we see a wide range of political activity, ranging from 1906, when Peter O’Connor, an Irish long jumper, wanted only to wave an independent Irish flag, to Jewish athletes boycotting Hitler’s 1936 games, to the Cold War Boycotts in 1980 when the US persuaded more than 60 countries to boycott the games.

In her recent article, Athletes Don’t Have to Win Gold To Make a Statement, Amy Bass, author and history Professor, explores contemporary protests in sports such as the “Take a Knee” movement in the NFL, openly gay US skier Gus Kenworthy critiquing Pence, Lindsay Vonn’s politically charged words against Trump, and concludes that, “Rather than worry about who may or may not take a proverbial knee with a medal around their neck, maybe we need to understand that protest is the best of us and US — taking a stand, expressing an opinion and bringing home the gold.”

The history of protest and activism in sports allows for many engaging questions with youth:

What is the role of sports in a society?

Should athletes be involved in protest, or should they only perform in their sport?

Are athletes change makers in society?

Should athletes be sensitive to the views of their paying fans?

How does the nationalism of the Olympics both divide and connect people?


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.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

In September, a novel I wrote called The Pirates of Cologne was published by Levellers Press. It is YA book that is based on the true story of the Edelweiss Pirates, over 5,000 working class German youth, who fought against the Hitler Youth and were part of the organized resistance. Many of the kids were imprisoned, beaten or killed for their involvement, and they were considered war criminals by the German government for sixty years after the war until they were finally recognized in 2005.

Unknown copy

I think of these heroic kids today,  on International Holocaust Remembrance day, and on most days.

On the first page of my novel there is a quote from Elie Wiesel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” How do we teach our youth how to recognize injustice and empower them to protest? How do we give them opportunities to develop a voice to speak out, and the skills to learn, research and build strong arguments?

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, here are some resources about the Holocaust for elementary, middle grade and YA readers.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

information on the Edelweiss Pirates

Middle Grade and YA titles

The Pirates of Cologne  The year is 1942, and thirteen-year-old Sebastian Jaeger has escaped from a Hitler Youth camp and returned to the city of Cologne. Five years earlier, his father, a Communist leader, was imprisoned, leaving Sebastian alone to care for his grandmother. Attracted by the possibility of true friendship, Sebastian joins a group of street kids called the Edelweiss Pirates who make a game out of their rebellion against the Hitler Youth and the Nazis. But their childish antics soon take a more serious and dangerous turn as they begin to work with the organized resistance.

The Book Thief Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s novel is about Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl It is 1942 in Holland and the Germans have invaded. All Jewish people are frightened for their lives, so the Frank family hide. Life is dangerous but they hope for the best – until they are finally discovered. Anne Frank was a real person, and this is her diary.

Milkweed He’s a boy who lives in the streets of Warsaw. He’s a boy who steals food for himself and the other orphans. He’s a boy who believes in bread, and mothers, and angels. He’s a boy who wants to be a Nazi some day, with tall shiny jackboots and a gleaming Eagle hat of his own. Until the day that suddenly makes him change his mind. And when the trains come to empty the Jews from the ghetto of the damned, he’s a boy who realizes it’s safest of all to be nobody.