Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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U.S. Immigration: Legal v. Illegal (Part 2 of 3)


[IMMIGRANT FAMILY LOOKING AT STATUE OF LIBERTY FROM ELLIS ISLAND] (ca. 1930) courtesy of Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-50904].

View “Part 1: Ancient Immigration” of this series on immigration.

We’re used to hearing about “illegal immigration” in the U.S. today. Emotions run high as people attack and defend modern immigration to the U.S.

All this clamor can hide the fact that this is really the first time in U.S. history that there has been a problem called “illegal immigration.” Yes, Chinese immigration was halted by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of 1907 allowed the U.S. to stop Japanese immigration by having Japan outlaw emigration. And the Immigration Act of 1924 was an attempt to sharply lower the number of Jewish, Catholic, and Asian immigrants entering the country.

But the very success of these measures meant there were no “illegal immigrants” in those periods. Unwanted groups were effectively kept out or their numbers lowered—they did not continue to enter the country in large numbers. The immigration “issue” was how to manage existing (legal) immigration populations.

Today, there are no groups targeted as “unwanted” in the way those earlier groups were: people from all nations are welcome to emigrate here—the only caveat is they must do it legally. But the definition of “doing it legally” has been fundamentally changed over the decades since WWII.

For the majority of our history it was just very easy to enter the U.S. legally. If you were not part of an “excluded” group, gaining permanent residence in the U.S. was simple and quick. There were no written exams. The tens of millions of people who came here through Ellis Island only had to have their name appear on their ship’s register and pass a physical exam so brief that the doctors giving it called it the “six-second exam.” Some had to show the address of a person already living in the U.S. who they could stay with. That’s it. Those immigrants were free to live the rest of their lives in America, and become citizens by passing a civics and history test.

That easy entry began to change after WWII. By the late 20th century, gaining permanent residence required a permanent visa, and citizenship required having a visa, a full-time employer who would pay to sponsor you, and other requirements that cost money, required good English skills, and took years of dedicated effort to fulfill.

This means that people today who claim that immigrants back then “followed the rules” while (illegal) immigrants today don’t are on pretty thin ice. When it’s easy to follow the rules, people do it. When getting into the U.S. legally is very difficult and expensive, people either don’t or can’t do it.

When you’re teaching the topic of immigration, consider discussing these points with students:

  • Beginning with Irish immigrants in the 1840s, there has always been a “bogeyman” immigrant group that native-born Americans were told to fear: Irish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, Eastern European, Mexican, etc.
  • Most of those who stirred up panic about and/or violence and laws against new immigrants (Nativists) were themselves immigrants or first-generation Americans trying to find a way to move the negative focus from their own group to another.
  • Fears about immigrants were usually religious: Irish, Italian, and Eastern European Catholics sent Nativists reeling with terror that the Pope would take over America. Eastern European Jews were not welcome either. This is because the majority U.S. population up until the late 1800s had been Protestant, and change always scares people.
  • All originally “unwelcome” groups eventually gained acceptance in the U.S.; our history is one of continually expanding our welcome, and emigration to the U.S. continues to grow.

Engaging students in a conversation about the role of immigration in their families (past and present), in their town, in their state, and in their region is a good way into the topic. Everyone in your class is touched by immigration; if it is a politically charged topic in your school, town, or state, it’s important to look at the history of immigration in your area to see that new groups are often feared at first but find acceptance as time passes. This can help students see that immigration has often caused controversy but always improved our nation.

Most Americans don’t know a lot of facts about immigration past or present. For a historical overview, see American Passages,  “Coming to America: Immigrants at Ellis Island.” For the present, go to the Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States, 1960-2013 by the Pew Research Center.

Additional Resources for Teaching About Controversial Topics:

Should schools allow discussions of controversial issues?

The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice, session 5, “Feelings Count- Emotion and Learning

Social Studies in Action, “Dealing With Controversial Issues

Ancient Immigration (Part 1 of 3)

Original caption: Viking trading ship of the 8th century leaving on an expedition from Dawn Ladir Cliffs, Norway. ca. 1901-1933

Original caption: Viking trading ship of the 8th century leaving on an expedition from Dawn Ladir Cliffs, Norway. ca. 1901-1933

Immigration is a hot topic in the U.S. today, loaded with political meaning and characterized by heated debates over who is coming to this country and why, and who should be allowed to come here and who shouldn’t. It seems like a very modern problem, but immigration has always been a part of human life.

From migration to immigration

Of course, in prehistoric times, there was no immigration, only migration. The “im” means “into”, and was adopted once kingdoms and then nation states were created and people had a political identity based on where they were born. If they left the state they were born in, they weren’t just moving to unclaimed land; they had to move “into” another political state. Before this political in-migration, there was only migration—moving from one territory to another—and that’s what humans did, constantly.

As we’re learning with each new fossil discovery, moving over long distances did not start with homo sapiens: very early human species were leaving east Africa and covering thousands of miles to move into Asia and northwest Africa. This travel wasn’t just something we did, it’s likely what made us who we are. The “Human Migrations” unit of Bridging World History explains how traveling and encountering new climates, landscapes, animals, foods, and challenges led to the development of the first human cultures. Language, music, tool-making, and social organization were all responses to the needs and challenges of migration.

Why did we move so far and so often?

Anthropologists believe that climate change was the key motivator. During the Pleistocene Era which lasted from about 2.6 million years ago to about 11,700 years ago, there were a series of ice ages. Each one drove humans to leave the places they were in as they became colder or dryer, following familiar livestock or searching for new sources of food. We can never know what really happened then. Did people communicate with each other about their growing problems? Did advance groups travel and return to tell about better lands elsewhere? Did people compete with each other, racing to be the first to reach better territory?

What we do know is that over tens of thousands of years, moving became ingrained in the human lifeway. City-states, empires, kingdoms, and nations with borders you have to get official permission to cross are all recent, upstart ideas invented mere seconds ago on the historical scale. When the Sumerian city-states were formed in the fourth millennium BCE, they were a sharp rebuke to millions of years of free human travel. Creating Great Walls, sentry posts, border crossings, citizenship tests, and passports were all steps away from the old human tradition of free migration.

How do we begin to teach about immigration?

Knowing that free, long-distance migration is in our genes and our blood, how do we teach it today to students who will likely never experience it for themselves? First, we introduce them to this part of their human heritage by studying the past. Anthropologists have debated the date for the first arrival of humans into the Americas for decades, but now they are also questioning long-accepted timelines for human entry into Asia, Australia, northwest Africa, and Europe. Homo sapiens were not the first humans to enter these regions, and different species of humans did not fight each other to the death, leaving only homo sapiens to inherit the Earth. Different types of early humans mingled and produced new generations of mixed humans, who then mixed with homo sapiens. We all carry Neanderthal, Denisovan, Erectus, and other human DNA. Different types of early humans lived and worked side-by-side. Migration was not a threat but an opportunity to the first humans.

We can study how that attitude changed over the millennia, as human societies became richer and more organized, and humans began to claim land as their own and fight anyone who tried to enter it. This eventually leads to the history of city-states, empires, and kingdoms, and right up to the modern nation-state. That’s where we’ll pick up in our next post on the topic of immigration.

Animas River Spill: How Scientists Assess Risks

HP_6_testingwaterTwo weeks ago contractors working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally breached a containment wall at Colorado’s Gold King mine, spilling three million gallons of toxic waste that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow. People who live near the river in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation are still asking questions. Are heavy metals buried at the bottom of the river? Will they kill insects, fish, and birds? Is it safe to swim or drink the water?

Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure and Health,” explains how scientists assess risks to human health when people are exposed to harmful substances. Many of these risks happen at low levels every day: we inhale air pollutants, or consume traces of pesticides on our food. Other exposures, like the Animas River spill, happen suddenly and then dwindle away, but may leave residues behind.

Risk assessment is a multi-step process that asks a series of questions:

  • Is there a hazard – i.e., have people been exposed to something that we know is harmful?
  • How much of the harmful substance(s) is needed to cause harm?
  • What actual exposure has happened? How much of the harmful substance(s) have people come in contact with? By what pathway (for example, drinking water, inhalation or skin contact), and for how long?
  • Based on what we know about the substance(s) and the exposure that has occurred, or is likely to occur, what harmful results do we expect?

EPA is collecting water samples from the Animas River and from shallow drinking water wells near the river to test for unsafe levels of 24 types of heavy metals which are common contaminants in drainage from old mines. Some heavy metals are serious health threats: lead causes neurological damage, cadmium can harm kidneys, and arsenic exposure can increase the risk of several types of cancer.

As the plume of mine waste flows south into Lake Powell in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico have lifted restrictions on using river water, although they have warned residents not to drink untreated water. It may take years to measure long-term impacts on soils, insects, fish, wildlife, and human health. Scientists are just starting to report and assemble findings about how the BP spill in 2010 may have affected ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, and many questions still surround that much larger research effort.

What would your students want to know if a toxic spill happened in their neighborhoods? (Has anything like the Animas spill happened in your area?) Who would they trust to measure the impacts? What kinds of tests would make them feel safe? There’s no single right answer to questions like this, but events like the Animas spill can launch thoughtful debates about risk and exposure in everyday life.

Exit Slip: Neural Pathways and Political Discussions

Copyright: ikopylov / 123RF Stock Photo

How does it feel to be back in the building? I always enjoyed the first two weeks of the school year, meeting new teachers and reconnecting with peers, receiving class rosters and wondering what my new students would be like, setting up the classroom, and planning like crazy.

At my school we sometimes held informal discussion groups about articles related to our teaching practice, much like a book group would. Here is some food for thought collected from the web this week, either to consider on your own (and comment on below!) or share with others. This week, we are thinking about how we build students’ skills gradually in order to meet instructional goals and how to safely and fairly discuss political issues with students.

1. Guest Column: Don’t Short Circuit Education, a June post on Learning Lab/WBUR written by Alden Blodget, is about the importance of focusing on the learning process, instead of just focusing on achieving the goal. “We need to create schools that nurture the growth of neural pathways, the circuits, that result in engagement and recall. And educators need to trust that, if students build the circuitry, the lights will go on.” Learn more about how you build these paths in Neuroscience & the Classroom. Alden Blodget is a content contributor to the series.

2. In Politics in the Classroom: How Much is Too Much, by Steve Drummond on NPREd, Diana E. Hess and Paula McAvoy discuss whether or not politics should be allowed in the classroom and if controversial topics should be used as learning opportunities. Hess says, “My view is that if you’re going to have students involved in authentic politics, then it’s really important to make sure you have issues for which there are multiple and competing views, and you don’t give students the impression that there’s a political view that they should be working toward.” Read the article to find valuable considerations for class discourse. Do you talk politics with your students? If so, what has worked for you to create a safe and well-rounded discussion?

(Image Copyright: ikopylov / 123RF Stock Photo)

How to Analyze Crafted and Captured Moments in Photographs

Photos are immediate—they are unstaged, unplanned, caught in the moment to stand as witnesses to history. …well, some of the time. Some photos really are all that, and they really do capture a moment that speaks to millions of people.

For example, John Filo’s famous photo of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State University in 1970: Kent_State_massacre

Filo did not stage this photo. It went out to the American public via LIFE and other magazines and communicated the shock of the incident, in which National Guard soldiers shot and killed unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War. But between Filo taking the photo and LIFE publishing it, one little edit was made: the pole behind Ms. Vecchio, that looks like it was coming out of her head, was airbrushed out.

Someone in Editing somewhere thought that pole coming out of the young woman’s head was too distracting and took it out. That someone wasn’t the photographer, in this case, but would it have mattered if it was? Does perfecting a photo after the fact take away from its integrity? If a photo is staged, can it be as powerful as a lucky shot taken on the fly? Is crafting a moment less authentic than capturing one?

We put this question to students in a continuing effort to give them more authority and control over their reading of photographs. (See Selfie: Bringing Personal Meaning to Photos). Photos seem to be unquestionable to most students: they have one clear, set meaning to give the student that the student must passively receive. We want to show students that this is not always, or not completely, true. As Makeda Best puts it, instead of stopping at asking ourselves and our students what we see in a photo, we have to “look more closely and ask questions of why we see what we see.”

In Selfie, we showed strategies to bring meaning to Dorothea Lange’s famous 1936 photo Migrant Mother:

This image is so famous, and so ingrained in our minds and eyes that it’s hard to believe that it was only one of five photos Lange took of this woman and her family. Lange saw them when she visited a pea-pickers’ camp in California while documenting the effects of the Great Depression. Lange made no secret of the fact that she took several photos before she felt she got just the right one to tell the family’s story. Here’s how Lange described it:


From Essential Lens: #8014 (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-9058-C)

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. [She] seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. …I did not approach the tents and shelters of other stranded pea-pickers. It was not necessary; I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment.”

Show your students the five related photos in Essential Lens, “Disaster and Government Response.” Start like Lange did, from a distance with #8015, then to #8016 – #8018. Then go to the final shot, and the one Lange knew was best: #8014. Ask students:

  1. What do you see as you “approach” the family? What was missing from the first four photos that Lange felt she finally got in the fifth?
  2. The first photos are taken at a distance. The first shows all of the children, while the next three show just two of them. What do you notice about the final photo? (It is a close-up.) Do you think Lange made this choice to get closer deliberately? If so, what was she trying to capture?
  3. Why do you think the two older children are in the final photo? Do you think Lange asked them to step in?
  4. The mother has the same worried expression in all five photos; what does she do in the fifth that makes it even more powerful? Do you think she did this consciously, to give a better photo? Why do you think the children hide their faces?

Discussing student responses helps them understand that crafting a moment for a photo can be just as powerful as capturing one by surprise, and that sometimes photos are a mix of lucky accident (such as Lange finding this family), and careful artistry (taking multiple shots and possibly asking people to pose a little). Also, they can consider how editing photos, even to remove objects that someone judges as distracting (like with Filo’s photo), can undermine authenticity.

Try this exercise with other photos in the Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum collection. Students can choose a photo that speaks to them and research the photographer to find other photos on the same topics. They may assess the artistry that went into that photographer’s work, and what makes one or two of their photos famous while others on the same topic are not.

Selfie: Bringing Personal Meaning to Photos

EssentialLens_MakedaBestWhen students see a photograph in a classroom, a textbook, or a school project, they often treat it just like a poem or short story: they try to clearly state what the photo “means.” They believe that a photo has a unique, incontestable meaning that is clear to the perceptive viewer. A photographer wouldn’t take a photo without having a message in mind, the reasoning goes, so that message must be clear in the photo s/he took, and if I can’t find it, there’s something wrong with me.

It’s hard to convince students that this is not true (for photos or for poems and short stories, but we’ll stick with photos here). Photos cross a line between art and reportage. They can have a clear message when they are reportage. When they are art, they are open to almost endless personal interpretation. When they are a mix of both, photos can challenge the most perceptive viewer. The student looking at the photo is not just a data analysis machine taking in information and processing it. The power of photos is in their immediacy: they are shots of real people in real situations that the viewer takes in through the lens of her or his own life experience. In short, the viewer makes the meaning. As historian of photography Makeda Best puts it, instead of stopping at asking ourselves and our students what we see in a photo, we have to “look more closely and ask questions of why we see what we see.” This is a big shift. It gives the student authority over the photo instead of the other way around.

To teach students to use their own experiences to analyze a photo, practice on the photo mentioned below using the Focus In activity from Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. (Watch Makeda Best demonstrate the Focus In activity in the “A Closer Look” video.):

Start with Dorothea Lange’s masterpiece “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1936. Students may have seen it before. It is one of the most famous photos in the world. Too often, students move past their initial emotional reaction to this photo to try to discern its objective meaning. Following the steps in the Focus In Method for Analyzing Photographs, try to get your students back inside their own heads and hearts and experiences as they analyze “Migrant Mother.” Click on the link for a detailed description of each Focus In step. This step-by-step process can take the burden of finding meaning off students by encouraging them to make meaning.

Focus In Steps

Step 1: Observe

Step 2: Build on Your Observations

Step 3: Make Inferences

Step 4: Formulate Further Questions

Note: Here is a link to information about the photograph “Migrant Mother.”


How are you using photographs in your classes? Share in the comment section below.

Learning from the 2014 Nobel Prizes

Perhaps the Nobel Prizes recipients don’t make the same headlines as baseball’s World Series challengers, but every October the stories behind their work are just as exciting. These are discoveries, theories, works of art, and acts of humanity that have been years in the making. The work touches us in fundamental ways and constitutes the “shoulders of giants” referred to by Isaac Newton. If you don’t quite understand the laureates’ achievements, you can see the fundamental principles and related concepts at learner.org.


Learn how game theory applies to “rock, paper, scissors” in Mathematics Illuminated.

Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics

Jean Tirole, a French theoretical economist, won the award for analysis of market power and regulation. Tirole studied how to regulate industries with a few powerful firms, such as telecommunications firms. You can hear from Nobel committee chair Tore Ellingsen on the significance of Tirole’s work.

Tirole’s work was based on the mathematical concepts of game theory, which you can learn about in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 9.  The online text provides familiar examples, including zero sum games, and prisoner’s dilemma. Watch the video to see how game theory even applies to “rock, paper, scissors.”

Once you have a handle on game theory, see how government regulations have been applied to big players in the auto, energy, and airlines industries in Economics U$A, program 7, “Oligopolies.” This program looks at how big industries manage to write the rules of the marketplace.

Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology and Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Several of this year’s laureates followed the principle of thinking small. The medicine/physiology and chemistry prizes involve looking at objects down to the size of a single cell or molecule. The Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology was awarded to three researchers who found the brain’s mechanism for establishing our position in space, a mental GPS-like system. John O’Keefe found that we carry “space cells” in our brains and May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser expanded the concept to a grid in which these cells operate.  The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for work in microscopy allowing scientists to see down to this level at “super resolution.”

This level of microscopy has applications across all fields of science research. Wolfhard Almers at the Vollum Institute in Portland, OR explains how, using wave microscopy, he and his colleagues were able to isolate a single nerve cell to understand what it does after releasing a transmitter. His research is covered in Rediscovering Biology unit on Neurobiology.

“I still haven’t gotten over thinking it’s really cool, that I can go into work every day and take pictures of atoms and I can see individual atoms with this microscope,” says graduate student Tess Williams. The lab where she works at Harvard investigates the structure of superconducting materials. Find out more in Physics for the 21st Century unit “Macroscopic Quantum Mechanics.”

Nobel Prize in Physics

The three physicists who shared the Nobel Prize in physics gave new meaning to “keeping the lights on.” They invented a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the LED, electricity is directly converted into light particles, photons, leading to efficiency gains compared to other light sources where most of the electricity is converted to heat and only a small amount into light. Explore the many facets of light and heat with your students in the workshop series Shedding Light on Science, especially unit 2, “Laws of Light.

Nobel Peace Prize

Indian and Pakistani activists Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai attracted the attention of the international community to the issue of child rights and shared the Nobel Peace Prize. From the earliest waves of immigration in the U.S., children have been used as workers and denied a formal education. Thomas Rivera wrote about his experience as a migrant child agricultural laborer in the memoir, “And the Earth Did Not Devour Him/Y la Tierra no se traiga.” Read about Rivera’s background in American Passages, unit 12, “Migrant Struggle.” His translator, Evangelina Vigil-Piñón discusses Rivera’s work and its place in Chicano literature in the Learner Express: Language Arts modules.

Learner-Featured Scientist Pardis Sabeti Leads Ebola Research

Pardis Sabeti

Pardis Sabeti

Since medical professionals in Dallas diagnosed the first case of Ebola on U.S. soil on September 30, 2014, much of the news surrounding the science of the issue has focused on containment, quarantines, and potential treatments involving plasma transfusions. To a certain extent, sensational media coverage has dominated and created the fear of a potential Ebola outbreak in America.

The reality is that the threat of contracting Ebola in the U.S. is “exceedingly uncommon,” according to the CDC. However, the ability of the deadly virus to adapt and mutate is relevant to everyone on the planet, regardless of location. Fortunately, scientists are now tracking the genome of Ebola in order to understand its mutation and fight the virus.

After learning that Ebola had reached Sierra Leone, Dr. Pardis Sabeti, host of Annenberg Learner’s Against All Odds: Inside Statistics and computational geneticist at the Broad Institute and Harvard University, led an international team to better understand the 2014 outbreak, which is the largest in history. Sabeti has been studying the Ebola virus for the past five years. In early summer 2014, Sabeti and her colleagues collected virus samples from 78 patients in Sierra Leone in order to sequence the viral genome using the million-dollar DNA-sequencing machines housed at the Broad Institute. Their research, published in early September, found 50 mutations that arose as the virus spread in the early weeks of the epidemic. The study, which includes five authors who have since died of Ebola, stresses the importance of “genomic surveillance” in developing vaccines and therapies for this particular variation of the disease, which researchers believe originated around 2004 in central Africa before moving from Guinea to Sierra Leone in May 2014, all by human-to-human transmission.

Sabeti will be able to sequence more recent samples of Ebola once a thousand more vials of diseased blood, currently stored in freezers in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, are transferred to Harvard.

To help explain this type of genomics research to your students, Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, unit 29, details how statistics aided researchers in uncovering how a harmful genetic mutation, sickle cell anemia, actually acts as a source of resistance to Malaria. In addition, the video discusses how Sabeti used the Malaria study as a model in her research on the genetic sources in an individual’s resistance to Lassa fever, a virus that is similar to, yet less notorious than Ebola, and which kills thousands of people in West Africa every year.

In the Against All Odds video, Sabeti notes that thousands of people are exposed to Lassa but do not become ill, suggesting they may have some sort of genetic resistance to the infectious disease. Sabeti and her fellow researchers want to find what these protective mutations against Lassa fever are in order to develop new treatments.

Eric Lander is the head of the Broad Institute and is featured in Rediscovering Biology, unit 1, “Genomics.” In a recent New Yorker article, Lander responds to the question of whether or not Ebola will evolve into an airborne disease, saying, “That’s like asking the question ‘Can zebras become airborne.’” Lander points out that Ebola is very unlikely to evolve from a disease that is spread through direct contact to one that can survive in a dehydrated state and spread through the air. He does note, however, that Ebola could possibly become more contagious.

In Against All Odds, Sabeti describes the battle between human beings and disease as “The non-stop, evolutionary arms race between our bodies and the infectious micro-organisms that try to invade and inhabit them.” The relatively new technology of genome sequencing gives humans another powerful weapon in the fight against viruses like Ebola.

Prevention Month Recruits Parents, Students, and Teachers to End Bullying

antibullying pic_SPcreatedPSFor children and adolescents across America, October is usually a festive time of year, associated with costumes, candy, haunted houses, and corn mazes. Since 2006, though, October also marks National Bullying Prevention Month, an awareness campaign started by the PACER Center. Rejecting the idea that bullying is simply a normal part of childhood, PACER initially developed a bullying awareness week that would take place every October. National Bullying Prevention Week grew into an entire month in 2010.

The theme for 2014’s National Bullying Prevention Month is “The End of Bullying Begins with Me.” Already this year, students across the country have celebrated by participating in anti-bullying 5K runs, wearing blue for the World Day of Bullying Prevention, and signing online petitions. In the last week of October, students have the opportunity to combine Halloween with bullying prevention. While trick-or-treating, participating children and teens can hand out cards to the neighbors and community members, encouraging them to sign an online bullying prevention pledge.

This year’s awareness month also has special significant since, in January 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created the first federal uniform definition of bullying. The definition was developed in order to aid in the research and monitoring of bullying – specifically its effects and prevalence, determining who is at risk, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent it.

The official definition from the government agency marks another departure from viewing bullying as a harmless rite of passage. It is increasingly considered a public health threat.

Between one in four and one in three students say they have been bullied. These are alarming statistics since the effects of bullying can include decreased academic performance, lower scores on standardized tests, and struggles with depression and anxiety that continue into adulthood. Connections between bullying and suicide, however, are often oversimplified. It’s important to know that no direct cause and effect relationship has been established between bullying and suicidal behavior

To prevent bullying in their classroom, teachers may benefit from understanding how a student’s emotional state affects his or her ability to learn and function in school. Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 2, discusses how, even without bullying, children and adolescents have trouble understanding their emotions and the emotions of others. They can be easily swept away by negative emotions, and the result is that students may not be able to motivate themselves or engage in meaningful learning.

While the science behind bullying prevention has uncovered many useful facts and statistics, researchers have yet to identify the best way to prevent bullying. However, most agree that prevention and awareness require a community effort.

For parents and teachers, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the KnowBullying mobile app, which has specific resources for educators, information about warning signs, and even a feature that reminds adults that it is time to talk to their children or students about bullying.

While dedicating a month to prevention of the epidemic of bullying is admirable, awareness needs to be a priority the entire year.

Share the ways in which you raise awareness for bullying prevention among your students in the comments section below.

How can schools prepare for discussions of controversial issues? (Part II)

MCR D7 TalkOn Monday, we looked at the reasons why schools should allow discussions of controversial issues. See Part I. Now let’s address the how.

What can school leaders do? Schools could preemptively address parental and other concerns by preparing teachers through professional development and appropriate planning. The following are just a few ideas to consider so that current news events may enrich instead of derail curriculum plans.

1. Set up the school-wide goals. What do you want students to gain from the experience? Will they learn to think objectively? Discuss difficult topics while respecting each other? Examine historical influences on current events? Collect facts and differentiate between credible resources and voices that are just stoking a fire? Brainstorm ways they can work towards a solution for the community?

2. Discuss appropriate approaches for these conversations. Meet with teachers early in the school year and determine procedures and guidelines. For example, not everyone will agree that opinions need to be left out of the conversation, but we are human and we arrive to the discussion table full of opinions, preconceptions, and biases. What are appropriate ways to deal with the whole human package that the school and parents would be comfortable with?

3. Determine which professionals in the school would be best to handle discussions. Do students have advisers or a school counselor that they can talk to? Are there teachers in the building who are willing to tackle issues with their students and who have expertise they could share with the group? Social studies and literature teachers could offer natural safe spaces for students to work on issues.

4. Designate a liaison between the school and the parents and guardians. This person, whether an administrator, teacher, or parent volunteer, can provide parents with information and field questions and concerns. Consider developing guidelines for how administrators and teachers will handle any challenges to or concerns about the classroom discussions.

5. Respect an individual’s preference to sit out of the conversation. Not every teacher will be comfortable talking about difficult issues with their students, and that’s valid. Some teachers might recognize that they have a bias due to personal experience or just might not feel comfortable leading a discussion safely. What resources can these teachers direct students towards when questions occur?

What can individual teachers do? At the individual teacher level, here are some ideas for guiding students in respectful conversations about controversial topics and what it means to be a part of a community. (These videos below could also be used for professional development on this topic.)

1. Develop students’ understanding of multiple points of view. For example, teacher Wendy Eubank’s students simulate a town hall meeting, role playing characters that have a stake in an outcome, so they can learn to express their ideas freely. Students have researched facts from multiple sources and are asked to consider multiple viewpoints. Watch Social Studies in Action, program 31, “Dealing with Controversial Issues,” to see this and other examples of activities at varying grade levels.

2. Structure discussions to allow every student a chance to share, listen, and evolve. For example, JoEllen Ambrose does a fantastic job leading students through a discussion about individual rights versus public safety related to news topics students are already familiar with. She asks for students to respond to questions physically and verbally, by grouping themselves by agreement and providing personal examples to support their opinions. Watch students specifically discuss their ideas about police power and individual rights, especially related to racial profiling. See workshop 7, “Controversial Public Policy Issues,” of Making Civics Real.

3. Empower students to act as a member of a community. In the introductory video for Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ Martina Grant’s students discuss their “universe of obligation;” reasons why people choose to act and not to act during times of crisis; and how history is connected to their own lives and experiences. Once we understand why individuals or communities fail to act during a time of crisis, we can work together to propose possible solutions or realistic ways people can act.

News comes and goes as one event overshadows another. Underlying themes and issues persist, and teaching students how to discuss these themes and work together to build a stronger community that can problem-solve should be an important goal of any school. Meanwhile, the beauty of the internet is that resources we often need are a click away. Please share more links and ideas that you find helpful on this topic in the comments. I started a list here.

Here are some links to some additional resources:
Discussing Controversial Public Issues in the Classroom, via TeachingHistory.org
Michael Brown, via Facing History.org
Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply, via Edutopia