Imagine well-informed students spending the first few hours of their day learning about the world by reading news articles from around the world (articles they choose), talking about the best story they read, and then having a thoughtful discussion that puts the most compelling stories into global context.
At TLC Middle School, we will typically begin our mornings just that way. We will read, discuss, and write about news from around the world — taking our news from a variety of sources.
I’ve previously described in some detail how mornings will work at TLC — today I want to focus on the reading. In this long blog post (sorry — but we do a lot!) I will describe in detail how I modeled the sort of active and engaged reading of world news we will ask students to do.
The morning I did this, Jan 14, 2014, turned out to be a great example to show how three stories from around the world expanded my global horizons. It also showed how the act of making Google Earth place marks along the way deepened my learning and allowed me to better empathize with these three groups of people:
- refugees fleeing a civil war in the capital city of the Central African Republic
- a traffic cop in Kabul, Afghanistan, who refuses to take bribes, and
- people in Charleston, West Virginia who have not been able to drink their water for days, thanks to a chemical spill in the Elk River.
In this blog post, I am modeling not only what I learned, but how I performed research along the way — I’m demonstrating the sort of active engaged inquiry reading that we aim to develop in students at TLC.
So here’s what I did —
I started with the front page of the New York Times:
My eye was drawn to the colorful picture in the middle, and so I decided to read the article about the tent city of 100,000 people in the city of Bangui — a city I’d never heard of before. This story also piqued my attention because I have heard about Central African Republic and its ongoing civil war — I remembered hearing on NPR that its president recently resigned — but I’d not had time before to read the whole story. Assuming you don’t have time to follow that link, here are some of the basics, from a screen capture of the NPR story:
Below, I’ve embedded a short 5-minute video that shows how I brought the Central African Republic to life while creating a set of Google Earth place marks around Bangui, the capital. This is the sort of work students would do for each of the articles they choose to read (though students would of course not regularly have time to make videos showing their work).
One point I did not make clear in the video is why the people are fleeing Bangui and heading to the airport — what makes the airport safer?
Well, there are French peacekeeping troops camped out at the airport, as this paragraph from the article explains:
Now, Google Earth won’t have images that recent — so we have to guess where the camps are located for now. But 70 acres is something we can help students picture. An acre is about the size of a football field. Picture 70 football fields filled with people living in the conditions described above. Then read — and empathize with — the rest of the article.
That took me about 15 minutes, and was well worth the effort.
For my next article, I checked out the front page of the Washington Post:
My eye here goes to that picture of the policeman with his leg up in the middle of traffic in Kabul, Afghanistan. I read, and was fascinated by, this article about how a traffic cop in Kabul resists the temptation to take bribes, despite his low salary of $200 per month.
As with Bangui in Central African Republic, we can now bring Kabul to life using Google Earth — I make a place mark on Kabul and I look at some of the pictures of Kabul provided by Google Earth.
The article mentions that the UN made a short video about “Uncle Traffic” and I wanted to find that video … so I performed a simple web search (which I’m showing again as a model for how students could eventually do this sort of thing on their own).
When I clicked on the second source that mentioned Uncle Traffic, I found a YouTube playlist from the UN that led me to this 2 1/2 minute video of Uncle Saboor in action:
It’s neat to hear his native language and see the subtitles that explains his integrity and why he acts the way he does. He says that no matter who was in control of Afghanistan, he did his job the same way:
This new information from the video gives us a new detail and thus a chance to drill in and find the “Ansari roundabout,” where Uncle Traffic typically works. I was able to find the GPS coordinates of that roundabout, and I made a 57-second video that shows how cool it is when you are able to pinpoint the location of a person in the world:
This article also gives us a chance as a class to discuss the Taliban (Uncle Traffic notes that he worked at his job just the same under their rule as he does under the current rule).
If students had not heard of the Taliban before, we’d probably go through this primer of the Taliban for middle school students that I put together around the time Malala Yousafzai was shot in 2012.
One powerful element of TLC’s approach to learning is that our teachers will know — for all three years — what articles students have read previously, so teachers can help students make meaningful connections to prior knowledge.
This great article about an honest civil servant in Kabul who refuses to be bribed will serve us well the next time we read an article about corruption and bribes. And it might serve as an entry point for us to discuss the ongoing War in Afghanistan.
Finally, a third story I read about yesterday was the chemical spill in West Virginia that has made it so that people there can’t drink the water. I did not see a headline about it, but it had been in the news, and I thought it would be a good story to picture using Google Earth. That way, we can see where the spill happened and how the bad chemicals got in the drinking water.
I read a bit about the spill, learned the name of the company where it originated, and did an image search for the company “Freedom Industries” in Charleston:
As I scrolled down through the results from that image search, I found one that looked promising:
From that Google Map, it was pretty easy to find Charleston and then create my own place marks using Google Earth, which help me picture what’s going on in West Virginia.
After about 45 minutes of reading and making place marks in one morning session, I have learned a bunch, and I have a new collection of place marks on Google Earth. My place marks are evidence of how I have expanded my global horizons and learned about the world.
Here’s a 3-minute video that shows all of the place marks I made yesterday morning:
I have been making place marks using Google Earth for about five years, and I have well over 1,500 place marks. It’s a record of my learning and engagement with the world.
Students at TLC Middle School will make at least 10 place marks per week, which translates into more than 300 per year; that means entering 9th grade with a portfolio of nearly 1,000 place marks.
That’s significant because the more place marks you have, the more you can see connections between places in the world. For example, I just learned about the honest police officer in Kabul (place marked at the top of the image below) and if you check my blog, you will see that a few days ago, I learned about how the Taliban in Pakistan killed a police officer in the Essa Nagri section of Karachi (place marked at the bottom of the image below):
Now my brain can associate Pakistan with Afghanistan — and I can think about courageous police officers in each place. I can also think about the influence of the Taliban in each of those two countries in a more concrete way.
If we do our morning news session thoughtfully — which we will — students will start making their own connections. It won’t happen overnight — it will take modeling by me and the other teachers at TLC — but once students learn how to use news articles to ask questions about the world, empathize with other people, and make connections, they will have internalized a powerful approach for lifelong learning.
By the way — after everyone makes place marks, we come together as a group and everyone (students and teachers) makes a “pitch” about the most interesting story they read and why we should discuss that story. We then vote; discuss the winning story; and then we all blog for 15-20 minutes about what we learned. Here’s a more detailed description of the first two hours of a typical morning at TLC.