I ponder why every teacher in every discipline does not seize on the opportunity to begin each and every class with current events. Regardless of the discipline, news web sites are now designed with tabs that identify geographical regions, areas of interest, such as Finance or Science and Technology, and even categories of leisure, such as Travel. So why take the time to do this?
1) Relevance. Students and constantly asking “what does this have to do with anything? why do I need to know this?” One of my classes is currently studying “Macbeth”, and as we build a psychological profile on him and anticipate future outcomes, Donald Trump dominates the headlines on every news channel. Where do we see similarities between the two? differences? And what about Lady Macbeth–how does she manipulate and control his actions? Do we see anybody like this with Trump? Associations and connections are made, and students begin to understand the importance of analyzing what leaders say, what others say of them, what they do, and how we might be able to anticipate their actions in the future.
2) Navigating Information. We never open one news source. Typically, we will look at three from different parts of the world. Usually, the three sources are American, British, and Korean or Japanese. Students look at the headlines that often time match, yet the content seems different in its presentation, tone, and analysis. What a better way to teach students about bias, facts, subtleties, and sources than to do informal side-by-side comparison on a daily basis.
3) Innovative Thinking. We recently came across an article on a discovery at Harvard University–solid hydrogen. As we investigated further, we looked at images of the crystal lattice structure, discussed why it would be a more powerful rocket fuel, why it will replace copper as an ideal conductor of electricity. And this is English class! I asked the students if they discussed this in their science class, and unfortunately, they said no. They have been focused on “other” topics. We then pulled out a Periodic Table of Elements to look at other possibilities with gases, and why or why not this can replicated. Science is now, and science is happening all around us, changing at breakneck speed. While fundamentals are important, so too is the connection between theory and practice, between the “book” and what is being worked on in laboratories across the world now.
4) Producers vs. Consumers of Information. One of the articles students wished to explore further (students choose as a group where and what we read) was the recent announcement of expanding the Keystone Pipeline and which companies serve to benefit from this. This led us to exploring stock prices, market reactions to news, and specific data headings on a typical Yahoo Finance stock report. Hands went in the air as students sought to define P/E ratios, EPS, Dividend and Yield, etc.. As a statistics or math teacher, these types of discussions, explanations, analysis of data, and then prediction of future trends is exactly the higher order thinking skills our students will need.
Finally, keeping up with current events makes a better teacher. As professionals, we must be lifelong readers and help our students become engaged citizens of the world. What is happening now matters. We fail if we do not foster awareness and thinking about the here and now and how this may forecast events to come.