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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Awards Assembly with a Twist

I have sat through a number of great and some mind numbing assemblies at the end of the year.  (You know the ones-where everyone gets a certificate and the few that don’t, don’t care?)  Don’t get me wrong, I think that students should be recognized for their successes. (Students loved being honored on my “wall of fame” bulletin board in my class…but I digress).   I recently attended an awards assembly with a twist at the the Black River Middle School in Chester, NJ. 

The Hall of Fame
This assembly had both staff and students proud and excited.  It was a “Hall of Fame Induction” honoring outstanding alumni of their middle school.   (Alas, I graduated from this same school system, but since there is no one alive that can attest to that, and there was no BRMS at the time, I am not eligibleJ).  What a great way to have students learn about their own potential, through the eyes of someone who had sat in their very same chairs not so long ago. 

Sharing Memories and Inspiration
The inductees represented a wide range of areas of success from politics, law and community volunteerism to business and athletics. Each honored guest gave a short speech with some anecdotes about their time at the school (some pointing out their teachers) and then pointing out that any one of the 7th graders in that audience could achieve their dreams if they just put their minds to it.  Joseph S. Pizzo, language arts teacher, created the Hall with his students “to honor exemplary former students and community members who provide real-life success stories for our students.”  That’s the key, not just real life, but connecting to their lives!

Project Based Learning

I cannot help but think of all of the potential learning opportunities that can come just from having students participate in all phases of the planning process- from collecting nominees, research, etc. to planning the actual event (writing, reading introductions, writing press releases, letters of invitation, etc).  The selection process itself, from setting criteria, weighing candidates and making the selection is a great lesson in decision analysis.  Sounds like a problem based learning activity waiting to happen- complete with critical thinking processes and multiple writing opportunities.

I want to thank Joe Pizzo for inviting me in and invite the rest of you to share any twists that you might add to your end of the year assemblies.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Get Kids Thinking: Security vs Privacy-Do we have to choose?

Middle school and high school students love both their cell phones and their privacy.  The recent news that the National Security Agency is tracking cell phone data is a great topic to get kids thinking critically.  This relevant lesson gives our students some understanding of perspectives, media literacy and the Fourth Amendment.  You can use this scenario with links and resources and the SCAN© critical thinking strategy to help students understand these complex issues:

Privacy or Security – Do we have to choose?
In a democracy, it is the job of each citizen to be educated and involved in the government so that abuses do not occur.
Recently, it has come to light that the National Security Agency has been keeping track of everyone’s cell phone data- not just the suspected terrorists, but everyone’s.  They are not listening in on conversations, but they are keeping track of who is talking to whom and how long.  This surveillance is said to be similar to the information on the outside of an envelope- you can see who the message is going to and coming from and when it was sent.  You cannot see the contents.  Some people feel very strongly that the agency is acting against the Constitution by collecting information from innocent people without cause.  Others think that anything that can help prevent or catch terrorists is worth the sacrifice.  At what point would you say it has gone too far?
Take part in the discussion of concerns and issues caused by the Patriot Act and decide what should be done.
Read this news story “What You Need to Know about the NSA Phone Tapping Program” or watch this video: Breaking News to get started.

US News & World Report has a section called The Debate club which provides different expert opinions on hot topics.  In this case the question is “Should Americans be worried about the National Security Agency’s Data Collection?  You can have your students go right to the site to see the four perspectives they provide.  They can even vote for the one they agree with most.

Here are the links to the separate perspectives.  Assign students different perspectives to represent and let the discussion begin!

Alberto Gonzales:   Former Attorney General
Gonzales believes that since our enemies use every available tool to hurt us, we should use all of our available tools and technology to keep us safe.  He believes that as long as there are rules to govern how the information is used, and we are keeping an eye on these activities, they are worth the loss of privacy.  He states that we have no expectation of privacy for records that are held by a third party – in this case the phone company.  

Shayana Kadidal:  Senior Managing Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights

Kadidal is against the search of all American citizens’ phone records.  He believes that even though they are only collecting “metadata” – the connecting numbers and locations, you can figure out things about the content.  For example, if you have called a lawyer, people may think that you are guilty of something.  Who you call on your phone should be private.  He is afraid that the rules that allow collecting information from Verizon could easily be applied to peoples’ other records, such as bank statements, credit card information and internet search information.  These can provide detailed pictures of our private lives.  
Jonathan Turley:  Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University
Turley is alarmed that the National Security Agency has begun collecting information on millions of average citizens.  He feels that although our leaders at the moment may have our best interests in mind, future leaders may begin using the data for their own purposes of power and greed.  He quoted Benjamin Franklin’s warning that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  He is afraid that this breach of privacy is just the beginning of living in a society where we are constantly under surveillance.
Jon Yoo:  Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice
Mr. Yoo believes that the collecting of cell phone metadata, phone numbers and locations, does not represent a threat to our rights.  Our Constitution protects the contents of all of our communications and this policy is within those rules.   Analyzing the data of all Americans and focusing on those that communicate with known terrorists can help us find terrorist cells and stop future attacks in the U.S.  This activity has been approved by Congress and is covered in the Patriot Act which was enacted after 9-11 to protect us from further attacks.

Some simple video perspectives:
Ron Paul speaks against the practice:

This lesson is available as a free scenario this month on the online SCAN discussion tool.  This engaging platform guides students through the SCAN steps in an engaging, interactive format. 
Ask the right questions and get your students thinking and writing.  How would you use this lesson?