Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Emotional Engagement in Education, Part Two: Motivate Students with Class Action

January 31, 2008

This is the second post in a three-part entry. Read part one and part three.

How do you respond in your classroom to a societal, medical, or environmental concern? Here's the next step in planning how to use such a problem as a springboard for a class project.

2. Connect your curriculum to the problem: This step is pretty straightforward. An essential question could be, "How can our class or school most effectively fight the spread of West Nile virus in the local community?"

We already know of simple things that help -- such as getting rid of standing water in buckets, tires, and so on. You can even watch an e-book on the subject to see what really needs to be done.

Now, it is time to look closely at your curriculum. Is persuasive writing on the list? Have your students write letters to the editors of local newspapers to encourage change and to civic organizations to request small grants for community educational campaigns. Script and produce audio programs to broadcast over local radio stations and post as podcasts on the Web, and use tools such as's PersuadeStar to support the class in becoming more persuasive writers. In this case, students need to become more persuasive not simply to meet a standard, but in order to save lives. This matters more.

If your standard is simple expository writing, what about using a tool, such as My Brochure Maker to create handouts to distribute to the community? Tell your students they have to make their writing accurate, clear, well organized, and concise, because it is going to be distributed community-wide, not just graded and handed back.

And how about seeking funding or support for printing costs from local health officials, hospitals, and civic organizations? You'll need your persuasive writers back on deck to make that happen.

Is digital storytelling something you are working on? This project provides an opportunity to move beyond simple personal stories. Instead, your students can start making public service advertisements that can help save lives. The PSA Research Center is a great resource on how to make PSAs.

As for science, your students had better be good readers, because they have to understand the life cycle of the mosquito and how viruses work.

You see, you and your students are going to be point people in an effort to save lives. Folks are going to want the facts, and the kids will soon learn that these facts are pretty interesting -- and more than a little scary. Now, that is engaging. Oh, and because hands-on science is the kind that makes the learning stick, consider joining a great online project, offered for free twice a year by the Stevens Institute, called Bucket Buddies.

In math class, your students will need to get better at collecting and analyzing data. There is significance to the number of West Nile virus cases in your state and the surrounding ones, but if you don't know what the percentage of infections are in rural settings versus urban ones, whether those infections are happening within 100, 50, or 25 miles of your school, or any other piece of hard, quantifiable data, you just won't be ready to do what must be done.

Again, your students are no longer doing math just to make the teacher happy; they are doing it so they can save lives. Here is a great place to learn how easily a spreadsheet can become a part of your world.

For social studies, your students will need to get started with Google Earth and your state's resources about geographic information systems so you can talk intelligently about the battle against this virus. Where is the water? Where are the bugs?

Music, art, physical education, and health all play key roles as your students design posters, compose songs, and pull out all the stops in their effort to help the community fight West Nile. Together, you and the kids will be on a mission -- and the learning, the foundational reason for school, will simply have to happen.

Click here for part three of this entry, but feel free to respond below about my suggestions here or add some of your own -- or both.

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