I did a lesson with my 7th grade today that I built around the revolutions and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. The goal was to engage their curiosity and then, through collaborative effort, investigate what is happening. I started the lesson putting my Tweetdeck on the SmartBoard. I had added three columns to it: #Egypt, #Libya, #revolution. I explained to them how I use Twitter to connect with other educators and learn with them, but that it can also be used to learn about events happening around the world. They were really interested. Most of them had heard of Twitter but had never seen it used as a learning tool.
They watched the Twitter stream and started trying to read the posts, but we quickly realized that it was simply going by too quickly. So many people were posting so many ideas and events that there was no way to read it quickly enough. I could have gone to Twitter, but in truth, I didn’t think of it at the moment. Instead we had a conversation about what this amazing stream showed about what was happening. Even without fully reading the tweets, it was apparent to them how important what was happening was to the people connected to it. It peaked their curiosity – mission accomplished.
It was time to build in some background for their investigations. While they had all heard something about things happening in the Middle East, no one really knew what was going on. One girl said, “I asked my parents, but they just said it was really complicated.” I had them go to our class Edmodo account to introduce them to some of the resources available for them in their inquiry. I had posted links to the home pages of the BBC, of CNN and of the English version of Al Jazeera. We talked about the need to multiple sources for news and how that would enhance their understanding of what was happening. Having studied Islam this year, they recognized how important it is to have a source that speaks from a Muslim perspective. We watched a BBC video, “Eighteen Days that Shook the World,” and looked at an interactive map of the Middle East and north Africa that highlights unrest in each country, also by the BBC.
Their task, for the rest of the hour long class and for the coming week, was to learn. I told them that they were going to be evaluating themselves at the end of the process. The task was to investigate and dig deeply into areas that interested them. I told them that I wanted them to ask questions and search for answers. another part of their job is to post to Edmodo, so that they can learn from each other’s work. When they find an interesting article or important facts, they are to post it. They created streams for each country, so that all of the facts about Egypt will end up in one place.
Then they set to work. I never cease to be amazed at what students can and eagerly will do when they are interested and engaged. The minutes flew by, as they shared sometimes aloud and sometimes simply on Edmodo. The interactive map had the poverty level for each country. Immediately two students were researching the US poverty level. “I just want to be able to compare them,” she said. Her search had nothing to do with completing an assignment; it had to do with her own learning and desire for understanding. It wasn’t about “school;” it was about her.
At the end of class, I brought them back together and asked them about the process. What had this work been like? Across the board, they said that they had learned “SO” much. They loved reading each other’s posts, learning from each other. They felt smarter than they had at the beginning of class and couldn’t wait to tell their parents what they now knew. The topic was no longer too complicated for them, because they felt like they knew how to find answers, and they wanted to keep searching and learning.
Truly, I hadn’t known if it would work this way. I had hoped it would, but I really wasn’t sure, so at the end of the class, I was ecstatic. Sometimes a plan just works!