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The World is Your Stage - Using World Events as Teachable Moments

One thing that all teachers will understand is that the world is in a constant state of change. The last several years have taught us that world events affect every student, both in and out of the classroom. While real-world events can sometimes be a distraction, redirecting your students' inquisitive energy and curiosity can be a benefit! This article will look at ways to incorporate world events into the classroom. No matter what subject or grade you teach, you can help your students connect with the real world and learn lessons that will last a lifetime.

World Events as Teachable Moments: Project Based Learning (PBL)

Project-based learning allows students to connect their current curriculum to events in the surrounding world. Because it involves something related to the students' real-world experience, students may make connections they wouldn't have otherwise. This is a great opportunity for learners with different styles. Auditory and visual learners do well in a typical classroom setting, but project-based learners might appreciate this new approach. Project-based learning activities can be useful for any subject. 

Project-based examples include:

  • Science: A science teacher may note an upcoming eclipse. Depending on the student's level, this can become a project in a few ways. For middle school students, have the students chart the lunar phases leading up to the eclipse. Other options include a graph based on where the eclipse will be visible and at what time. This can get your students interested in astronomy, but it also will give them something to look forward to.
  • Social Studies/History: Social studies or history teachers can plan a project around an election; this could be a national or local election. Students can observe which areas have higher voter turnout. You could also stage a mock debate between two groups of students. This allows them time to communicate differences and work together as a team to develop arguments.
  • Math/Science: If you have experienced a recent weather event, such as a blizzard, hurricane, or tornado, it is a great chance for your students to learn something new. A math teacher may ask students to create a graph illustrating the likelihood of the weather event, temperature ranges, and more. The applications for a science teacher here are plentiful as well.
  • English: A language arts teacher can use project-based learning as well. One great example is having students write a letter to the book's narrator (or another character). This allows some creative freedom and allows students to express themselves and gain a deeper connection to the curriculum and the book itself.

What to Avoid When Using World Events as Teachable Moments

If you struggle to engage your students in world events and how they connect to the curriculum, consider avoiding these two mistakes:

  1. Do not have students simply keep a journal of current events. While the idea with PBLs is to keep things relatively open-ended, these projects have a start and an end date. Asking students to keep a daily journal of current events is unlikely to have the desired effect. Instead, students will treat this assignment as compulsory and may not engage them as fully.
  2. Do not repeat the same activities over and over. Activities like this work well because they capture the imagination of your students. However, a PBL activity once a week will likely cause your students to "check out" and not approach their work with as much curiosity and enthusiasm.

Tips When Using World Events as Teachable Moments

As teachers, we know the best part of the job is seeing a student "get it." Incorporating real-world events into your lessons can make these moments happen more often! 

Below are some tips to help your students stay engaged with world events and project-based learning:

  • Focus on real-world events that you know your students are already aware of. While there may be political unrest worldwide, students may be less engaged if they are unfamiliar with the event. Global events such as the World Cup and the Olympics are good events the students may already be aware of and interested in.
  • Allow students freedom, but guide them. Make sure you point them in the right direction, but allowing them to work independently (or with partners) can yield more fruitful results.
  • Start with facts and allow your students to reach their own conclusions. When students discover new knowledge independently, they are far more likely to retain it.

Written by David Anderson
Education World Contributor
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