Real-world applications can help engage students in new Common Core challenges

journalism-ccssIn order to give students purpose to engage deeply in the Common Core, District 21 in Wheeling, Ill. has partnered with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a journalism organization, to bring real-world issues and a global perspective to students.

By framing the Out of Eden Walk and the Everyday Africa Project with problem-based, authentic learning units connected to the Common Core, students had the opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field, peers from around the globe, and their own communities to solve real-world problems.

The Out of Eden walk features Paul Salopek, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Pulitzer Center grantee, and National Geographic Fellow, who is walking around the world for seven years. Paul is walking the original path of human migration beginning in Ethiopia and ending at the southern tip of South America. The primary goal of the walk is to take a ‘slow approach’ to journalism, hearing and sharing the stories of those he meets along the way who wouldn’t normally have a voice in the media. A secondary goal of the walk is to reach students across the world and be a part of their learning experiences through his journey.

(Next page: How the projects impacted students and their learning)

The Everyday Africa Project, envisioned and designed by photographer Peter DiCampo and writer and editor Austin Merrill, portrays everyday life in Africa through images on Instagram and via the Everyday Africa website. The images send a message of familiarity and common human experience, rather than the too-often assumed poverty, war, hunger, and hardship. Merrill and DiCampo work with students and teachers to change perceptions through images and storytelling, of people and places on the African continent.

The Everyday Africa Project has many contributing photographers and a multitude of followers from across the world using the hashtag #everydayafrica. The project has inspired many spin-off projects with similar goals including, but not limited to: #everydayeasterneurope, #everydaymexico, #everydaycuba and #everydayasia. Students are encouraged to contribute photos of their everyday experiences to share with the intent of breaking down stereotypes and misperceptions of people in a wide variety of places.

With more devices in the hands of our students at home and in school, it is more important than ever for students to become not only active information seekers, but also globally conscious individuals, world digital citizens, and effective communicators and collaborators. The more globally aware our students become, the more effectively they will be able to use the devices at their disposal. More importantly, they can learn from others near and far while making a difference in their world. We want to find a way to bring a stronger global curriculum into all classrooms, and we started by creating a global continuum for students.

Level 1: Globally Aware–Has a broad understanding of culture, history and world issues with recognition of differing perspectives and viewpoints.

Level 2: Globally Cosmopolitan–Is at ease and familiar with culture, history and world issues with the ability to analyze and apply different perspectives and viewpoints to communicate in a global society.

Level 3: Globally Competent–has a solid understanding of the knowledge and skills people need to understand today’s connected world, comprehends global events and has a capacity to collaborate peacefully, respectfully, and productively across the world.

Level 4: Globally Conscious–Possesses a deep and consistent understanding of other people and cultures. This knowledge is integrated into his/her everyday actions.

Both of these projects have made significant changes to the work and learning of 3rd through 8th grade students and teachers. When the idea to bring the projects to Wheeling School District 21 was conceived, the intent was to infuse Common Core Standards and curriculum with purpose, global learning, and engagement. While these goals were exceeded, there were unintended, yet exciting, benefits that came out of the students’ experiences.

Students and teachers found deep and purposeful ways to integrate technologies such as Twitter, wikis, blogs, podcasts, videos, and Google apps to share their voices, develop ideas, research information, and collaborate with others. Students also participated in Hangouts with Salopek, education and journalism experts at the Pulitzer Center, and other teachers and students involved in these projects around the world.

We also challenged ourselves to make these projects into units that were not only based on standards, but that were truly authentic (solving a real world problem, creating a real product for real people). Planning begins with identifying social science or science standards and purposefully connecting those standards to a current classroom, school, local, or global issue. Then, blend in any literacy and math standards that will be taught or assessed. The unit is kicked off by students engaging with the problem and being empowered to help solve it. Standards-based content and skills should be connected to the problem so students have a purpose for learning the standards and content deeply.

Lastly, the product is created to share the possible solutions with the intended audience. For the Out of Eden Walk students were motivated to help solve the problem of kids not being globally aware. They created video products convincing their audience, other kids, to get involved in world news, wrote and shared their local stories, and used their grade level Twitter account to share daily news stories. They even shared these items with Salopek in the event he was able to share their stories, podcasts, and videos with kids he comes across in other countries.

During the Everyday Africa Project we looked at the problem of misconceptions based on living locations. Our students created a blog of photographs showing the world everyday Northwest Chicago suburbs to dispel myths of all suburbs being affluent and different from big cities. The blog was tweeted out as well as shared with similar projects going on in Ghana and the Bronx in New York.

After the conclusion of both projects, several teachers and students shared this was the best thing they have ever done. In reflection of the Out of Eden Walk project, 7th grade teacher Amy McCall said, “I can’t wait to do it even better next year.” In both cases, we have seen students and teachers develop on our global awareness continuum, get deeply involved in the content and skills, and use technology to connect with others around the world while solving real problems. Read more about our 3rd grade Out of Eden Walk project here.

Tracy Crowley is a former elementary school teacher who currently works as an K-8 Information Literacy Specialist in CCSD21in Wheeling, Illinois.

In his role as Education Director for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Mark Schulte works with teachers in the US and Europe to show students how global journalism can be an exciting way to learn about the deep connections we have to the rest of our world. The Pulitzer Center’s education program offers teachers the expertise of hundreds of journalists looking at issues ranging from women and children in crisis to food security to climate change — all from an international perspective that emphasizes local connections and student-driven projects.