After hearing of Peter Jenning’s death the other day, I got to thinking about my Freshman Government class. My teacher had told us that we could earn extra credit by watching the evening news, or reading the daily paper, and periodically writing short papers about what we had heard or read. Needless to say, like many ninth graders, the thought of paying attention to the news seemed a bit odd. However, the idea of getting students to form good news collecting habits (other than news about their favorite singers, athletes, etc.) fits perfectly with several higher order Social Studies benchmarks. Getting students to think about the Core Democratic Values, government, law, and economics in a critical manner is easier if they have some real world experience to base the conversation on. Rather than have the students do the “research” at home on their own time, when it’s unlikely to be accomplished, the tech savvy educator can use the Internet to pull from local, national, and international news sources every day, without the need to pay for a classroom subscription to Scholastic News or the local paper.
I’m particularly excited about this in a one to one learning environment. Students with laptops not only have access to the news sources, but can also compare how different media sources report on different stories, developments, and issues. Not only do they get good practice using the Internet to gather news, but they can compare how accurate and/or impartial the sources are. Once you have a regular routine established it would be possible to have students check the daily local paper online for stories that might affect them or their livelihoods in some way (they may be shocked to realize there are issues that affect even kids) and then have them apply the Core Democratic Values, or other social studies concept, to write an essay or hold a debate about which side of the issue makes most sense and why. High school students could use such sources as the BBC News to study world issues, while elementary students could use local papers to discuss issues of curfews, skate boarding, environmental pieces, etc. Be careful though! You should make sure to scan the news sites you’ll be using during planning time to ensure that you don’t direct them to any questionable news content or stories.
Personally, I’m looking forward to exposing middle school students to Social Studies concepts applied in the present as well as the past.