Friday, January 9, 2009

Teaching current events

Walking into school today, I was asked if I wanted to teach a lesson on the Russian invasion of South Ossetia / Georgia this last August, 2008. First, I went over the geography of the region. I had been warned about the possibility of the kids having a narrow world-view... So, I was definitely up to the challenge; having been across the Atlantic a few times, this was pretty exciting for me.

I had only a few minutes to prep. I started by explaining the geography. The day before, I had been in the Geo class with Robin and Emily,frantically helping students one-on-one with reading maps. I then read the article aloud to the class, explaining the significance, step-by-step. We summarized, and then I handed out the article and realized that I should have done that from the get-go. I assigned students to small groups to answer a chunk of the worksheet, each assigned question had to do with asking about either the article itself or the importance of the event.

Finally, so that everyone got the answers, I talked about how a strong knowledge of current events (and thus, journalism) revolves around talking (or interviewing) people. So, from the groups, I selected an interviewee/expert who would stay in place as the interviewers would rotate for the rest of the hour, trying to share the information and getting all the details. In practice, I thought this would give the students a feel for how news can travel by just word of mouth. They hesitated with getting up at first, but once they finally got moving, their interest/enthusiasm seemed to accelerate.

With a few minutes left, students finished with their work and putting on their backpacks, I had them form two lines to summarize the main idea of the conflict. One side was to form the Russians and the other Ossetia, and before anyone could leave, a couple leaders from each side had to give me their side's interpretation of the events. The bell rang, they left, but fortunately some with smiles on their faces for having gotten energized with the activity.

In reflection with the classroom teacher, we both agreed I did talk too much from the get-go. That has a problem I have been aware of, and I need to just set a countdown timer for myself and treat my opening remarks as if I were in an impromptu speaking event on high school speech team... that way, once I went over time, I would at least know if I disqualified myself (in this case, from the interest of my students) by the time I was done talking. Otherwise, I enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed trying to add some context to the events and trying to break down the motivations. The kids definitely showed me that they got my message when they picked up the 'punchline' of the lesson intro to explain why they were lining up in their lines as class ended: land = money.

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