Engaging with the news

Here’s an example of how a morning news discussion will work at Triangle Learning Community Middle School (TLC for short):

Let’s take this article from today’s (April 4) Washington Post, titled Short on graves, China turns to sea burials

Here’s the first paragraph:

BEIJING — In this country of almost 1.4 billion people, life is an unending struggle for resources — money, property, even spouses. And it doesn’t get easier in death.

And here are some examples — in italics — of questions I’d ask of students at TLC:

If China has 1.4 billion people, how many people do each of the world’s most populous countries have?  Do these countries have similar issues with burying their dead?

country pops
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population

One of the major strengths of the TLC model is that we’re small enough that teachers know what each student is reading and learning, so we can help students make all sorts of connections.

For example, some potential TLC students met this past Friday to discuss world events, and we talked about an article from the BBC, which noted that Hong Kong has population pressure.  Using Google Earth, we learned that Hong Kong is about the same size as the city of Durham, NC, but has more than 28 times the population (7 million for Hong Kong versus less than 250,000 for Durham).

This made me wonder how burials work in Hong Kong, and so I found this article from Time Magazine.


How did I find that article??  By entering a simple search:

HK burials

See how much we were able to engage with an article from the Washington Post using only the first paragraph?? 

This is the sort of active reading and curiosity about the world that we will model at TLC.

Here are a few more examples of how we’d engage with various paragraphs from the Washington Post article.  For example, this paragraph mentions several Chinese cities:

In the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, officials recently announced a $160 bonus for families that scatter ashes at sea. In Shanghai, officials upped their offer in the past year from $65 to a more persuasive $320. Topping them all, however, are the coastal cities of Shaoxing and Wenzhou, which are offering $800 and $1,290, respectively, for sea burials.

Where are these cities?   We would find Guangzhou, Shaoxing and Wenzhou on Google Earth — as well as Shanghai, which is the biggest city in China (by population) and is mentioned in paragraphs 19 & 20.  We would also find Beijing, which is way up north, and if I included it in this map, it would be hard to read any of the cities.  As you can see below, we made a place mark on Hong Kong (“Packed people in Hong Kong”) when we discussed it on Friday. Over the course of three years at TLC, students will make more than 1,000 place marks on Google Earth as they learn about the world.

china map

Here’s one final example of engaging with a paragraph

Cremation — long shunned — was promoted as practical, even patriotic. Even Communist Party leader Mao Zedong had declared his wish to be cremated (in vain it turns out, as successors embalmed his body for permanent display in Tiananmen Square).

What was the funeral like for Mao Zedong in 1976?

Here are some pictures I found online — looks like millions came to Tiananmen Square (another location we would find using Google Earth) and that people all over China wore black armbands to mourn Chairman Mao.

I know from talking with friends who lived in China in the 1970s that the mourning period after Chairman Mao’s death was about a week long.  Let me see if I can confirm that — yes, it was 10 days of mourning, according to this book excerpt I found:


One of the things we will work on in depth at TLC is how to conduct sophisticated research.  That would include learning how to use Google Books to search pages of books, as well as regularly visiting the library to read actual (gasp) books.

The TLC model for morning engagement with the world is to take an interesting current news article — such as this one about burials in China — and to use such articles as a springboard to a host of issues that might include world population, modern Chinese history (Who was Mao?  When did he come to power?  What is a communist?), or even science issues dealing with the myriad environmental issues raised as China industrializes and has a thirst for energy and material goods.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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