Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Problem Based Global Teaching
Global education is often a matter of bringing topical issues into the classroom in an engaging way that helps students appreciate the complexity of the world they live in. One way to help students realize that they are not just bystanders concerning the key questions that will affect their futures and potentially the fate of the planet is through problem based learning. Students often enjoy serious role play and particularly when they deal with scenarios involving today's headlines.
Students today with their ready access to all kinds of media and information are eager to part of not just a national but a global conversation and because of the Web 2.0 revolution they are primed to do so. After all it is their their blogs, their use of Digg and Twitter feeds, their YouTube uploads that are driving much of what
the media is now interested in writing about and vice versa. Those readers in the main happened to be under 30 and for schools to ignore the power of this transformation in our literacy and news consuming habits seems to be folly. Yet as Pew and other surveys routinely point out the Internet particularly in its Web 2.o form still tends to be viewed skeptically by schools.
But where and how to get started? Global education lends itself in my view to problem based learning, and to innovative uses of technology.
After all the issues related to global learning are ever changing and we have yet to come up with perfect textbook answers to respond to them. Clearly both of the last two facts tend to make teachers more nervous and less comfortable with the idea of including global education. The prevailing culture suggests that teachers need to know the answers and to be in control of the information. What to do?
My advice is to go slow and convince yourself that the old ways of doing business –teacher leading a lecture discussion with students textbook on text following along -- while comfortable and manageable are not working to prepare students for the 21st century world they actually inhabit. Employees don’t discover problems scattered around in textbooks, and answer sheets are nowhere to be found in the modern office. Workers collaborate and communicate online and form project teams that have goals and missions as they seek out evidence for their arguments. Apart from this the evidence suggests that students are bored out of their minds in the traditional settings and many of them simply tune out—and quietly rebel by failing to read set materials and “going through the motions” when it comes to responding to questions.In too many schools the situation is reminiscent of the old Soviet Union teachers pretend to teach and the students pretend to learn.
How to wake students up and engage them is tough—you have to find the right ways into the issues, but if you read newspapers with great world coverage like the New York Times on a regular basis you are sure to find on a fairly regular basis stories that can excite passions and energize conversations and most importantly of all--spark research and the kind of authentic learning that stays with the student long after the test is completed. Take this one I found in the New York Times magazine the other day. It is entitled the Peanut Butter Solution. The article tells the story of how a French pediatrician discovered a cure for child malnutrition and in doing so revealed the fault lines between the interests of free market western capitalism and those of the developing world. So this story can be educational in the best sense if teachers can find the time to think through how to use it in a classroom as a way to help students understand not just the way global economics works, but also the deeper moral questions that often get ignored by the media related to the need to respond to the continuing tragedy of global childhood malnutrition kills five million children a year and a third of all deaths of children under five. So the question for students after reading this is what would you do about the situation. Before they are able to answer that question it is a good idea for them to understand other points of view that they might not have entertained prior to answering that question. They can best do this through participating in a simulation.
After reading the New York Times article students might review an analogous set of facts involving patents in the case of HIV drugs that prior to the Clinton Foundation interventiuon were unaffordable for most of the developing world where the problem of HIV was most severe. This article has a good summary of the issues.
What would be an ideal set of activities for a unit like this? Perhaps a simulation like this:
Divide up the class in teams representing:
i) The French company that holds the patent.
ii) A country in a developing world that wants to develop the same kind of company as Paul Farmer in Haiti has done
iii) A US Peanut coalition that wants to manufacture and sell a peanut based product to the developing world.
iv) An international team of experts that is developing recommendations for what UNICEF, and World Patent bodies should do in regard to this issue.
Have each present their reports on why their views should prevail and argue their cases based on evidence that they have found in researching the issues. Have the international team of experts hear the cases being made and then in turn present their own findings. If one group wants to appeal have them present their case to another group of independent experts sitting in quasi judicial manner and have them write their report either upholding the intial recommendations or reversing them.
Provide a rubric on what kinds of evidence and arguments will be most favorably considered. Complete the assignment by asking the students to write how personally they would resolve the issues and the arguments and evidence they considered to reach their conclusion.