I blogged back in February about working with my friend Ben Curran, to teach current events to his fifth grade students in Detroit, Michigan. Ben, a phenomenal teacher at an urban charter school, is also one of the founders of Engaging Educators.
Ben and his students recently made a two-minute video that showcases what they learned about Syria:
Ben’s students produced some of their best work of the year when presented with real world problems that they had to wrestle with. The big one for Ben’s students was: why would a leader kill his own people?
This question led to other questions: What do streets in Syria where this killing is taking place look like? What is the predominant religion in Syria? What are economic and political conditions? What role should the US and/or the UN play in this conflict?
Sadly, Ben’s students had to get back to their curriculum (and end-of-year tests), so they did not have time to explore these questions in as much depth as they would have liked.
But what if we could create an environment that used events in Syria as a springboard to learning about the world in general?
Bo Adams, head of the middle school at Westminster Schools in Atlanta, read my blog entry about empathizing with what’s happening in Baba Amr, a neighborhood in the city of Homs in Syria.
That’s the idea behind Triangle Learning Community — TLC for short — the middle school we’re opening in Durham, NC, in fall of 2014: we will allow students to have the flexibility to recognize that a story — such as what’s been going on in Syria — is particularly compelling and therefore worth taking the time to unpack in a thoughtful way, rather than as an add-on.
Imagine what would happen if, instead of grabbing an hour or two every week to look at events in Syria, Mr. Curran’s students had the flexibility to spend three hours a day for 10 days working on understanding Syria. Imagine what they could have learned.
At TLC, we won’t have to imagine what students learned — students will exhibit what they learned in videos and podcasts and web pages. They will regularly communicate what they are learning about, and in the process, they will develop their communication skills.
Taking time to learn about the world in which we live is time well spent — but we need the flexibility to dive deep so we can develop a deep sense of empathy.