Why teaching current events helps teach well…everything!

As I continue to work through my Common Core Unit (which I will confess, I have made great progress in), I started to take a step back today.   I began to think about how I can connect the past, specifically the American Revolutionary War to what is relevant to my students today.  I mean the Revolutionary War is not that exciting for a kid in the Bronx whose mind is more on when he can get to the park to play baseball or who just sent him a text.  Even though the American Revolution  is very relevant to their lives and important in building domain knowledge, the reality is they really don’t care – that is unless we help them understand why they need to.

So I started thinking about what I have done in the past that has captured my students attention and in many ways it is what is current.  I tend to find that if I can somehow get them to turn on the news or check out the endless media outlets on the web, the students become engaged and often tend to find me the next day to tell me what they discovered on their own about the topic we covered in class.

More, I really have begun to rethink how I can use what is current to some how get the kids to connect the current to the past.  I rely on  CNN or Youtube  to often grab their attention.  And in terms of my focus on finding the argument or the basis of the argument, what could be better?

So, what is current (or what have I used) and how have or would  I made a connection – check out some of the videos below for that answer…

Casey Anthony verdict:

The reality is she is a hot topic.  Even though she may be old news by September, her case will not be and in Science class what better way to argue the merits of DNA and how it has effected the outcomes of trials, then her case.  Showing the clip as an introduction to a unit on DNA or Forensics would really set up a great foundation for a project on criminal investigation, and whether DNA (or the lack there of) has changed how juries make their decisions.  Taking it one step further – extracting DNA is a great project.  A great explanation of the materials needed and the steps to do it can be found here.

Chilean Miner Rescue:

I actually stopped everything I was doing in an Literacy class to afford the students the opportunity to watch this as it was happening live.  What followed was an amazing discussion of why they were trapped, how they survived, why the world was so involved, what was going to happen to them, and even why they had to wear sunglasses.  The bigger point was the students began to develop a sense of empathy leading not only to a discussion about the lives of the miners but why mining is important and the ways in which mining needs to have more regulation and safety checks.  (Oh and if you were to do this now – I would present the argument as follows: is it worth risking the lives of rescue workers and spending the money to save someone?

Population control:

Both these videos set up a great debate on the role of government and a couple’s right to have a family.  In Pakistan, the death of babies (especially girls) is on the rise and in China, the 31th anniversary of the One Birth Policy will be marked in September.  Both these videos set up a great argument based unit of the role of government in the personal decision of people or even a unit of Utopian/Dystopia societies!

The role of the media when covering a news story:

This video to me is one of the best examples of exemplifying the age old question of the media’s responsibility during a news story.  Does the media have a responsibility to prevent or stop something from happening or are they supposed to just stand their and let it happen?  In a literacy class this would really start a good debate.

These are just a few clips I have used or am planning on using this year to help spark the argument in the classroom and begin to touch on Common Core Writing Standard One.   Now of course, not one of these will work for my American Revolution Unit which is what I was aiming for in linking the past to the present but I am tossing around the idea of using footage from the Egyptian protests (which I did use this past year in class) to have the students dig deeper into the ideas of rebellion to affect change.

Even though it wasn’t tea being through into the bay or a bloody battle, some of the footage and commentary, like this one,

is a good example of how a group of unhappy people can work together to demand reform.

But you tell me what you think  is easier to grasp for our kids  – the video of Egyptian protests or  a picture of the Boston Tea Party like the one shown below;

The Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party


3 thoughts on “Why teaching current events helps teach well…everything!”

  1. I had my students create Current Events Scrapbooks throughout the year! It was a great assignment because it actually had the students looking in the news for current events. They could either make a virtual scrapbook (website), a paper scrapbook or a powerpoint. They presented one of their events to the class!

  2. I am going to have to pass this idea along if you don’t mind. This year the 8th grade social studies teacher is having her students make their own “textbooks” throughout the year as their own personal reference guide for all things American History! But I really like the current events idea! Thanks for sharing.

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