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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The news out of Egypt this week has been gripping and fascinating, and made me really miss my days as a classroom teacher. All week I've been thinking: what would I do if I were in the classroom? How would I teach these events? These were the kinds of events that I jumped to incorporate into my curriculum and instruction.

I felt it was part of my job as an educator to help students understand, interpret, analyze, and connect with major world events. Even though I wasn't an expert on every world event, I tried to find ways to facilitate my students' learning, to guide them through complicated content.

I've been wondering this week how teachers are bringing the events in the Middle East into their classes. I found this article useful on ways to teach about the unrest in Egypt. They offer many interesting suggestions, mostly relevant to middle school and high school. But I also wondered about how an elementary teacher could share some of this fascinating news with students.

Appropriate for K-6?

My son, a first grader, has had no choice but to hear about Egypt all week from his parents who are glued to the news. We've engaged him in deep discussions about social change, how governments are formed, the power of language, and the use of violence. He's learned a dozen new words and has internalized them because they are part of our conversations. He also hears them on the news, and he's now using them. We put a map of the Middle East up on his wall and have talked about how geography has impacted politics. He's coming home from school asking, "What happened in Cairo today?" and, "Can we watch Al Jazeera?"

What I learned this week, through engaging him in these conversations, is that seven-year-olds are capable of getting deep into what's going on in the world. Okay, so many of you might already know that, but having never taught early elementary, I questioned how teachers could make Egypt relevant and understandable to young children. Not only was this possible, but my son was really excited and curious about what's going on. This, I remembered, was the thrill of teaching -- to see children become fascinated by the world, by their learning.

Higher Order Thinking

What an exciting time we are witnessing and what a fantastic opportunity to get kids of all ages thinking about these profound and pertinent questions. I guess if I was in the classroom now, in spite of being apprehensive because I don't know much about the Middle East except that it's really complicated, I'd just dive right in and be a learner along with my students -- an excited learner witnessing a major world event.

Here's things I know I would do:

  • Raise questions around freedom, around speech, and the role of a military
  • Create opportunities for students to relate and identify with the underlying feelings and issues that Egyptian, Tunisian, and Syrian people are dealing with
  • Make connections between what they already know (many are currently studying African American history and the Civil Rights Movement this month)
  • Evaluate the media's portrayal of these events (any biases? differing perspectives?)

What are you doing to teach about the events in the Middle East, or what would you like to do? We want to know! Please share ideas and resources on this topic.

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