Classrooms should be places that are linked to the outside world. One of the many ways that you can make this happen is to program for current events. As a tool for literacy, social studies, science and even math, current events create a place to share news and explore student connections to them in a controlled and safe environment. As a place for learning, classrooms offer a forum that can follow the rules of discussion and debate and encourage students to compare points of view and even bias in the media.
With the real-time coverage of the quake and tsunami disaster in Japan unfolding in front of us, students will be watching these horrific events in a way that is reminiscent of the Twin Tower explosions during 9/11, 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami that decimated parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. What does this mean? Well, for starters it means that our children and students cannot be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world. If it is a major news event - whether war, natural disaster, plane crash or terrorist attacks - our youth will be watching and attempting to process it.
It used to be that these events were mere words on the page with a black and white photo in the newspaper. Hard to come across and even harder to imagine, disturbing news items were experienced by adults and kept within mature circles of conversation. Now that our students are actively pursuing information and media stories, it is the job of teachers to prepare them for what they are going to find.
We need to teach about global issues and the power of humanitarian efforts in minimizing loss of life and supporting the international community. We need to assure them of their safety, but be careful to educate them about the reason that these natural disasters occur and perhaps why they are growing in severity and magnitude. We need to expose the linkages between media, point of view, bias and news-making. Students have to understand why these stories are covered in the manner that they are; who covers them; who owns the networks that determine what is news-worthy; how this all impacts on the final video clip, tweet, headline or streamed video link that they view.
In short, we need to create a world for them that is safe from harm, but not ignorant of it. Give the tool of critical thinking when exploring current events. Their eyes are already open to them, but how they process what they see and feel is largely up to us as teachers.