How to set up a project for high school students...
November 26, 2009 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I want my students to develop the habit of reading about current events (local to international). Instead of reading a required book over the summer, I would like them to select one to two articles a week from a list of sources I provide them and comment on the articles.

(asking for a friend)

I'd like my students to create their own blogs and post their comments once or twice a week. There would be about 600 students for me to keep tabs on throughout the summer. This is for 13-17 year old high school students at a conservative Catholic school.

My questions are:

What publications should I use? I have developed a small list, but I'd like to hear your ideas. (Although the school is conservative, I'd like to get all perspectives)

How can I realistically keep tabs on the blogs of 600 students?

What kinds of exceptions can there be? (For example, what if the student goes to Jamaica for three weeks and has no internet access)

What should the consequences be if a student doesn't do some or all of the project?
posted by degoao to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest publications that are available online, and ones from all ends of the spectrum. For example, you can take Al Arabiya and Yedioth, the Advocate, etc.
I'd suggest having them take a look at the same event from the perspectives of two different publications, which could teach them a lot about learning how to be a critical reader.
posted by alon at 9:14 AM on November 26, 2009

What publications should I use?

The Economist.
posted by pravit at 9:20 AM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

The summer before my sophomore year of high school (Catholic all-girls school, maybe 120 students in my class), our history teacher gave us a required summer reading task of keeping a news journal along the lines of what you're proposing, only on paper. I believe the assignment was to write a little journal entry once a week on a news article of our choosing for two months.

I think she recommended some publications like the local papers (Chicago Trib and Sun Times) as well as nationally respected/recognized news sources, but gave us discretion to choose other sources (for instance, if we were traveling and wanted to use the local paper in whatever town we visited). I actually think that letting us choose our own sources was an empowering and positive thing in terms of getting us to read about current events. Perhaps you could do something like require that X number of entries be from your recommended list, and give more flexibility for the remaining entries. I'd recommend the The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal as sources high school students may not yet be familiar with, but which their parents may subscribe to.

On preview, I agree with alona on possibly having students write on the same event as reported in two different sources.

As for keeping tabs on 600 student blogs, I have a couple thoughts. You could limit the assignment to one month with two or three weekly entries and split the students into three groups (i.e., 200 June bloggers, 200 July bloggers). That would make it easier to manage. Some type of customized RSS feed would also help--something set up such that you're viewing all entries by the June bloggers for the week of June 6-12, etc. (I am so not the person who should be recommending this, as I'm not a user of RSS feeds, but my husband assures me it's possible.)

For students who go on vacation, you could simply require that they end up with the correct number of total entries by the end of the month, which would mean they do four (or six) entries the week they return to make up for the previous week. (My assignment was such that we could simply save newspapers and write up our entries a week late because the whole thing got turned in all at once in September.)

(I'm getting awfully wordy with this answer because I thought the assignment I had in high school was memorable and useful.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:35 AM on November 26, 2009

If your goal is to get the students to develop the habit of reading current events, I don't think that you pre-selecting the articles is the way to go at all.

Why do they have to make a blog? Is that your secondary goal? Making a blog will not help them develop the habit of reading current events.

Why not make a handout with a bunch of suggested sources and get them to mail the articles to you instead? They could send you a link a week with a 5 sentence commentary.

Make your criteria specific, think about the type of articles they should send (ie. not all sports, not all editorials, etc.) and communicate this. If you want them to read about current events, don't forget they may not know what constitutes "current events"; you need to model what you are looking for. You can make up a simple table with all of their names and the criteria and when they email you their article, you could just check it off.

Instead of asking what the consequences of not doing it should be, you should be wondering what will the reward for doing it will be.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 9:59 AM on November 26, 2009

This is a bit of a derail, I know, but I'd suggest you think about a policy on how to deal with the students using blogs posts as their reading material (versus news articles). I think that the first reaction might be to discount bloggers as real news, but this would be a grievous error.

Certain bloggers provide deep, serious analysis (ie, yglesias, kausfiles, ezra klein, paul krugman, ross douthat, felix salmon, marc ambinder, justin name a small few) but, almost more importantly, bloggers tend to critique each other's thinking.

The point here is that there are numerous bloggers who can both help inform your students as well as help them learn to be suspicious of the conventional wisdom. Discounting bloggers because they aren't "real" journalists (whatever that means), would deprive students of, what may be, the direction that journalism is going.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:02 AM on November 26, 2009

You might want to see if you can make these blogs available on an intranet, or something similar, or give students the option of using nicknames. I can imagine 14-year-olds writing things that they later come to regret having written, which are then available on the Google for all eternity.

It'll give them freedom to write what they really believe.
posted by j1950 at 10:39 AM on November 26, 2009

A thought about using blog posts as source material: (most) bloggers more openly editorialize than traditional print journalists even if they also report valid information. What if the assignment were something along the lines of the following? Each week, one post would be based on a news article (or multiple articles on the same topic) intended to be taken as reporting rather than as opinion piece(s)--the student examines the article or articles for political bias, writes up his/her opinions on the topic, and suggests additional questions that should be asked about the event or situation. The second post each week could be a sort of blogger roundup in which the student references and comments on several blog posts that addressed the same topic s/he wrote about in the first post of the week.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:44 AM on November 26, 2009

I'd like to suggest the Christian Science Monitor. It does a good job of providing more in-depth articles than the AP or Reuters and is balanced in viewpoint.
posted by reenum at 11:34 AM on November 26, 2009

The Guardian

Seconding that a certain number of the required entries be from other blogs. I would also consider that they should be reading each other's blogs. This will create a culture of engagement which has potential to affect their interactions within the school time. I'm not very technically savvy about these things (others please jump in /fix), but if you also had a private login discussion board among your students to discuss each others' blogs, I think that would be a good idea.

My reference frame is that in my university courses I sometimes do one page summary sheet assignments which are placed on reserve and are required readings in the course. This has created a situation where someone in the class is the local 'expert' on x, and other students know who to ask. It has also generated student discussions beyond class time.
posted by kch at 12:08 PM on November 26, 2009

Emphasize non-profit and public news sources over private ones.

The person who most inspires me w/r/t tech in the classroom is the blogger behind Remote Access. Check out some of his old blog posts, or e-mail him and ask him the questions in this AskMe post and I'm pretty sure he'll have something smart to say about the topic. (The front page of his weblog is hacked as of today, but his contact info is still up.)
posted by msittig at 4:21 PM on November 26, 2009

Not sure about the technical side of things, but if you created a "source randomizer" that students had to access, then draw their article from, you'd be more sure of them reading diverse sources. I'm basically envisioning their visiting the randomizer website, hitting "randomize!", and then a news source for them to check out that week/month pops up.

You can also check out global news sources here, at the Newseum "Today's Front Pages" page.
posted by mdonley at 12:51 AM on November 27, 2009

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