Resources for Teachers Teaching about Trayvon Martin

Tomorrow we will begin a formal discussion of Trayvon Martin’s murder in my classes.  As all my students are of the colors that causes them to experience police harassment and distrust in lighter communities, there won’t be much need for background.  We’ll read this article to establish facts, and then use the following protocol:

  1. Students are presented with readings (and sometimes video) on the event
  2. The class constructs a list of the facts of the event based on the texts and their knowledge
  3. The class lists questions that the event raises
  4. The class discusses the questions

This will allow my students concerns and voices to dictate the class, as it should be in a case like this that affects them so personally. This “class” could take anywhere from a day to a week, and that needs to be the case.

If I taught a more diverse group of students, I might use some of the readings below to help my students who don’t experience race-based discrimination on a regular basis.  This reading list also serves as a good list for white teachers who might not fully understand why people are so angry (I’ve had three such conversations in the past week).  Each article speaks for itself, and all should be read. Continue reading Resources for Teachers Teaching about Trayvon Martin


Guest Post: A Pi Day Lesson for History Teachers

As math teachers around the country gear up for the one day a year some students get excited about math tomorrow, (at least if my remeberance of high school is correct), I am happy to share this History of Pi (Day) Lesson from my friend and former colleauge, John Mcrann, of the Bronx Lab School.

I’d like to thank Steve for letting me “math-evangelize” through his blog.  One of my biggest goals as a mathematician and math teacher is to connect my students to the ways in which they use mathematical reasoning in their lives outside of my class. One way that I’ve had some success doing this in the past is to teach about the history of the discipline – empowering students to see math concepts as solutions developed by other humans to solve human problems rather than problems on a page.  On pi day, I shared this lesson with some history colleagues at our school who were interested in these ideas and I submit them here for anyone who’s interested. Please let me know what you think.

Pi Day History Activity (Download the Power Point) Continue reading Guest Post: A Pi Day Lesson for History Teachers

Resources for Teaching about Kony 2012

I’ve been quite bummed as my students near the end of a major research project with students for Project Citizen (which they will display to the public next Tuesday), because I have not been able to have deep conversations with my students about the Kony campaign.  It’s the perfect teaching opportunity:

  1. Students are engaged and curious about the content (I heard about it from a half-dozen students before any major media picked it up),
  2. The truth about the situation is far more complicated than it seems at first, and
  3. What appears at first to be a black and white moral issue reveals many shades of gray after further inquiry.

I’m hoping students will still be excited for it in a couple of weeks, especially because the teacher(R)evolution job has put together an incredible wealth of resources  to investigate the Kony2012 phenomena in much depth.  There’s enough great stuff there for a week’s worth of lessons, as well as to kick-start a great inquiry-based research unit.  Check them out and I hope there will be many great, complex conversations in classrooms in the coming weeks.

Can't Wait to Have Students Read This

There’s an interesting op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times, “Why China’s Political Model Is Superior.” The author Eric X. Li, makes some claims in it that are beyond radical from an American perspective:

In the history of human governance, spanning thousands of years, there have been two major experiments in democracy. The first was Athens, which lasted a century and a half; the second is the modern West. If one defines democracy as one citizen one vote, American democracy is only 92 years old. In practice it is only 47 years old, if one begins counting after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — far more ephemeral than all but a handful of China’s dynasties.

The power of this piece for helping students develop is that its perspective is so radically foreign.  Were any US politician to write such a piece, their career would be over.  This might even be true for academics.  It completely challenges most of the assumptions of  American political discourse, and therefore will be useful to help students a) make those assumptions plain and b) really think critically about the extent to which America is democratic.  I’m looking forward to an in-depth discussion of it in a Socratic Seminar with students in the coming weeks, and will be saving it for use in all future social studies courses I teach.

3 Ways to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Have Your Students Participate in the Manning Marable “Along the Color Line” Speech Contest
While there is more to the contest than just writing about King, one of the suggested lessons focuses on King’s legacy, and Dr. Marable’s view of it.  The King lesson is here, and full contest information and suggested lesson plans are here.

Remember King’s Reality
Last Martin Luther King Day, I wrote about four lessons students, and their teachers, can learn about Dr. King that challenge common misconceptions about his life and work:

  • Sometimes, history happens by accident
  • King dreamed of a whole lot more than white and black boys and girls joining hands
  • King fought against terrorists
  • King was a human being, with flaws
Learn about the People Who Made King’s Work Possible, and Lessons we Can Learn From Them
My most recent article on Education Week Teacher tells the story of the Septima Clark and Bernice Robinson, whose work became the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement.

Some Amazing Questions: Follow up on Black Friday Lesson

I had great conversations that carried into today after the Black Friday lesson I did with them yesterday. We spent the second half of today using the Right Question Institute’s Question Formulation Technique to move further with deeper inquiry into the issues raised by this lesson and to help us answer our essential questions for the unit: How democratic is the US? & Does my vote count?

My students came up with some incredible questions, which means I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed with even beginning to think about how to move forward.  I’m leaning towards letting them make that decision (democratically) tomorrow.  Here are their questions, which I’ve categorized.

Questions about Democracy

  • How democratic does the government consider itself?
  • What makes something democratic?
  • Is democratic being liberal or conservative?
  • If we have democracy do we have to be socialists?
  • What makes the US democratic?
  • If our government is capitalist, how can we expect the government to be democratically successful?
  • Can the US be democratic without a capitalistic system?

Questions about Voting

  • Why would a democracy want an electoral college?
  • How much of the 99% votes?
  • Can my vote get canceled out?
  • Are certain votes rules out?
  • What happens when we can’t decide with votes?
  • What limitations do voters face?
  • Should the US give workers a voice?
  • Do only rich people’s votes count?
  • Who is in charge of making votes count?
  • Whose vote really counts?
  • Does the rich vote count more?
  • Does age matter when talking about voting?
  • How does capitalism play into voting?
  • What are the demographics of voters?
  • How does the voting system work?
  • Does the youth vote actually count?
  • Do you think at the age of 18 you are capable of making decisions that can effect the US?
  • Why would the people that usually don’t vote be motivated to vote?
  • Do you think when our generation votes our type of government will change?

Questions about how the Government Works

  • Where is the government when these events happen?
  • How is the government run through parties?
  • Is the country more liberal or conservative?
  • Who declares if the country is Republican or Democratic?
  • Should a state be labeled Democratic or Republican?
  • How can a president change his political views during his presidency?
  • How does the democratic government work in the US?
  • How much power should one person have in a government?

Questions about History

  • Was it necessary for capitalism or democracy to come first for the second one to happen?
  • Does capitalism cause democracy?
  • What was the first type of government the US had?

Questions about Laws

  • Why is pepper spray legal when police use it?
  • Why didn’t the government get involved with the aggressive shoppers?
  • Why is it okay for shoppers to camp out and not for protesters?
  • Why is it okay for cops to pepper spray people in NY if pepper spray is illegal?
  • What laws are they making?

Questions about the Police

  • If people are allowed to protest, why do police attack protesters for protesting?
  • Should police officers think about the rights of others?
  • How are citizens affected by police decisions?
  • Why do you think cops think they can do whatever they want?
  • Why did cops think it was right to pepper spray innocent protestors?

Questions about Values

  • Why is violence accepted during shopping by non-violent protesters are arrested for being democratic?
  • Why are they worried about safety when it comes to protesting but every year a person gets hurt during Black Friday sales and they don’t stop that?
  • How do the conflicts between capitalism and democracy affect the nation?
  • How can we balance the ideals of democracy and capitalism?
  • What brings more conflict to the US, capitalism or democracy?

General Questions

  • Do the majority fully agree?
  • Is “the younger you are, the less you know” really true?
  • Can we manage to have safer Black Fridays?

Questions about Economics

  • Why is it better for business to be privatized?
  • What would the US economy be with a Communist government?
  • What would you want to pursue other than a capitalist lifestyle?
  • What does how much we pay people show the values of our society?
  • How do we eliminate poverty without becoming communist?

Question Comparing to Other Places

  • Do you think Democracy here is different from anywhere?
  • Do you think capitalism is different anywhere else except New York?
  • Why hasn’t there been another form of government?
  • Which countries are democratic?
  • What are the other practices of other democratic countries?
  • Is there a way to make our country more democratic?

Resources I'm Using to Talk About Black Friday Violence

My lesson on Monday will ask students to think about the values of capitalism and democracy through the lens of looking at Black Friday and UC Davis violence.  I hope some of the resources will be helpful to others.

Do Now: What is the message that the creator of this image is trying to communicate?  What is your reaction to it? (4 minutes)

Ask students to turn to the person next to them and share what they wrote.  Then, ask for three volunteers to share what their partner had to say. (6 minutes) Continue reading Resources I'm Using to Talk About Black Friday Violence

Announcing a Great Opportunity for Students: Along the Color Line Video Contest

Please share this with any teachers you know.  Dr. Marable was very important to me, and I can think of no greater tribute to him then to share his work so that it inspires new social critics.  I have written a curriculum to to support the project, which you can find here.

“Along the Color Line” Video Contest: Teens Speak Out About Current Events

“Along The Color Line”, written by the late historian Dr. Manning Marable, was a public educational and information service dedicated to fostering political dialogue and discussion, inspired by the great tradition for political event columns written by W. E. B. Du Bois nearly a century ago. This video contest provides high school students with the opportunity and incentive to use scholarly research to analyze and pose solutions to some of the social issues that Manning Marable addressed in his writings such as sexism, racism, imperialism, and poverty. It continues the spirit of “Along the Color Line” by fostering critical analysis on political issues and public events that had special significance to African Americans and to other people of color internationally; allows students the creative license to translate the rigorous research that Dr. Marable used in his “Along the Color Line“ columns into a creative and accessible video medium; and empowers students to speak out about the material conditions of their lives to an audience of teachers, activists and community members at “A New Vision of Black Freedom: The Manning Marable Tribute Conference” sponsored by Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies from April 26 – April 28, 2012.

Curriculum Connection: An adaptable weeklong curriculum developed by a NYS certified HS teacher is available free for educators. It provides educational units and background reading for teachers of Civics, Government and US History to connect this contest to their classroom while meeting several Common Core writing (1,4,5,6,9) and reading (1,2,4,6,8,9,10) standards.

Contest Requirements: After becoming familiar with Manning Marable’s column “Along the Color Line” style of blending scholarly data with political analysis to address social issues, students will create a 2-3 minute long video presentation that features their research and analysis of a social issue that is important to them and their community.

Criteria: This contest is limited to students currently enrolled in high school anywhere in the US. Submissions will be judged on depth of knowledge of social problem being discussed, originality, and creative expression. Students can submit individually or through their teacher as part of a class project.

Submissions: The due date is February 17, 2012 before midnight. Submissions should be sent to Only one submission per email and per student. Students must include their name, age, grade, and full contact information as well as the name, address and phone number of their high school. Videos longer than 3 minutes will not be accepted.

Finalists: The top finalists will be special guests of the conference, where their videos will be screened. The first place winner will be announced at conference.

Prize: $250 Prize, one of Dr. Marable’s books and the video featured on the conference website.

For more information or questions contact:

More from Occupy Wall St: Teaching About Direct Democracy

One of the most powerful parts of visiting Occupy Wall Street is experiencing the Human Mic and direct democracy in place there.  This morning, I came across this incredible video that captures both that I will be showing in class on Monday (via Zaheer Ali / @ZaheerAli):

As impressive as the video is, it’s important to remember this is a piece of propaganda put out by the movement.  We’ve been working on sourcing the past week, so this will give students a great opportunity to try out their sourcing skills.

I imagine most students will be pretty taken by the film, so to force students think more rigorously about the implications of direct democracy, I’ll follow up the video by reading this op-ed from the New York Times this week about direct democracy in California:

But as California, the nation’s most populous state, marks this anniversary, the accumulated impact of direct democracy has made it virtually ungovernable. A two-thirds vote was required in each chamber of the Legislature to approve new taxes as a result of Proposition 13, the fabled tax initiative adopted in 1978.  Ballot-box budgeting locks in large portions of the budget; Proposition 98, passed in 1988, dedicates about 40 percent of the state’s general fund to public education.

Previously: Resources I’m Using to Discuss Occupy Wall Street

Resources I'm Using to Discuss Occupy Wall Street

I’ll be discussing Occupy Wall Street with my students on Wednesday (and longer, if they are interested).  I’m also hoping my grade team will be up for delaying our planned field day on Friday for us to take a field trip to visit and have our students do a citizen journalist project.  I’m preparing for a few different types of conversations based on what my students are most curious about, and I’ve divided the resources accordingly.

General Overviews

Life in Liberty Square
Responses of the Media & Politicians