Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Citizenship Education and Websites

Knowing that new technologies can often mediate, and yes, even complicate, teachers' efforts of helping their students become more informed and active, I wish to include a few helpful websites that could be of great use in the civic mission of the social studies. Knowing that the social studies can play such an important part in getting students involved in bettering their communities and world, hopefully, teachers seize the educative tools around them to develop future citizens capable and willing to address current and future challenges. Please, feel free to share other websites and resources with social studies educators by replying to this tread.

1. Soldiers Angles & Grace is Gone (for a review)

-After viewing the movie Grace is Gone, PG (2007), which describes the hardships of a father in telling his two little girls that their mother, a soldier serving in Iraq, has passed away in battle, my students were overcome with emotion in trying to help those families affected by the horror of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While is true that the movie tugs at one's emotions (thus recommended for emotionally ready high school audiences), it does a great job in articulating the hardships families encounter when a member is sent overseas. As a result of the movies' ability to serve as a discussion piece, students sought a way to make a difference in the lives of soldiers and their families.

This strong desire to make a difference led my students to the Soldiers Angeles website (see above). This website allows students and citizens the opportunity to adopt soldiers, send care packages, letters, blankets, make donations, and even phone cards to displaced U.S. soldiers. Providing both financial and emotional support to U.S. soldiers and their families, students really seized the educative potential of this website in becoming active and caring in their community.

2. Free Rice
-This website is a wonderful way to both build students' vocabulary and allow them the opportunity to make a difference. When students visit the site the first thing they see is a word with four possible definitions. If students chose the correct definition from the possible choices, the foundation donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. While many students are frustrated because they lack the financial resources to make a difference, this website goes a long way in suggesting just one of many other ways students can help those in need. With over 36 billion grains donated as of June, 2008, the funds come from advertisers whose names are listed on the bottom of the screen. As students answer words correctly, the words will get progressively hardly. When students answer incorrectly, the difficulty resets itself. I am a frequent visitor to this website and I can only hope that both my vocabulary and civic spirits have grown as a result!

3. World News
-Advocating the need for teachers to infuse a global perspective in their teaching, I have found the website World News helpful. With articles and headlines from newspapers from around the world, including such news organizations as BBC, CNN, Reuters, Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, The Times of India, The Independent, The Peoples Daily, The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, New Zealand Herald, Khaleej Times, and The Guardian. The website does a good job of offering regional and global, political, economic, entertainment, scientific, and business news. It MUST be said that in no mean is this website a substitute for reading the country of interests' local newspaper. However, it does a good job of compiling a diverse array of news from around the world utilizing global sources (even though, as expected, there's a detected Western bias is the sites' presentation). The pictures from around the world section could be a useful educative tool in debunking and clarifying stereotypes. Also, the site provides the opportunity for students to utilize their foreign language skills in news from around the world. There is also a section where students can locate headlines and news from major international cities.

4. One Campaign
- A foundation that has set out to 'make global poverty history'. Besides raising awareness and contributions to help accomplish this mission, the website does a wonderful job of describing the many ways students can get involved (see )

5. Bullying and Lawrence King

- After coming across an article on the brutal and senseless death of a 15 year transgender student, I found myself looking for sources to talk to students about bullying and difference. While gay rights (i.e. marriage and civil unions) are often controversial topics in the curriculum, no one can dismiss the topic of defending and protecting human rights. Shouldn't the social studies have an obligation to encourage critical discourse? After having students read an article on the tragic killing of Lawrence King by a classmate, students began to make larger connections to issues of bullying and discrimination. In fact, many students advocated a desire to speak out against and halt bullying in all its many forms. To get more ideas in developing an awareness campaign to speak out against bullying, students turned to the website Stop Bullying Now: Information, Prevention Tip, and Games. This website is a product of the U.S. Health and Human Services: Health Resources and Services Administration, and is geared for a variety of grade levels. With advice for those being bullies, bullies, and those that witness bullying, the website serves as an effective information and discussion tool. If you would like to review more websites on bullying, feel free to review teaching tolerance

6. Play the News Game

-Ever wish you could make current events more interactive and engaging. Impact Games may be able to assist in this quest. As report after report critisize the degree of U.S. citizens' knowledge about the rest of the world (i.e. as in 1 in 7 U.S. citizens being able to identify Iraq on a map), the social studies must take bold measures to teach students about our planet and diffent global perspectives. One way of doing that is through the use of current events. This website allows students the opportunity to learn about important events from newsheadlines from around the world. After chosing what story most interests them, students are then able to play an interactive game based on the features of their chosen story. In June, the games included Oil Prices Soar (where students could learn about, forecast and even side with different parties involved in higher engergy costs), No Confidence in Lee (which took students inside of the Korean Beef Protests), and The Olympics as a Global Stage (depicts the contraversy of the 2008 Beijing Olympics). The strategy of the game is to educate students on the situation, and then, to get students to chose a role, take action, and predict the future. Another great feature of the website is the discussioin threads for each current event. Students can post their views and even respond to the views of others that have played the game. One of my favorite discussion was on Iran Security Talks. However, teachers should also be aware that funding and support comes from advertisers.

7. Zinned Project-For those of you familiar with Howard Zinn's important work A People's History of the United States, Bill Bigelow from Rethinking Schools alongside Zinn have developed a teacher's guide for the text. I am a BIG fan of many of the activities/lessons included in this free download. Ranging from stealing a student's purse to prompt a discussion on Columbus' 'discovery of America' to a U.S. Mexico War Tea Party, this resource provides numerous role plays and questions that encourage students to rethink who writes history and why.

While the teaching packet includes the lesson plans and activities, you will probably want to purchase/borrow a copy of his People's History text and a copy of his documentary Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train Click Here for a preview.

To download the free lesson plans and activities click here

For those of you attending the 2008 Annual Conference of NCSS in Houston, they will be distributing the complete teaching packet (including DVD and text)to some participants.

8. iCue-Ever wish you could use news videos to supplement a current events or social studies lesson? Providing current and historic footage on important economic, political and social conditions, this website does a great job of organizing mined NBC news reports and mini-documentaries.

Federalism, merchantilism, and even a video file on the use of 2008 presidential political campaign commercials placed in video games to reach young voters (YES! It's true), this website correlates to many topics in the social studies. Furthermore, the websites states that all footage and documents have been 'vetted by seasoned teachers'. Besides providing both primary and secondary sources, the website encourages students to participating in monitored forums, special activities and featured learning games. Best of all, there is NO advertising placements.

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.