Screenshot of the Choices Program Teaching with the News website.News and current events are an important part of any good social studies curriculum. Incidentally, it’s also part of my dissertation study, but more on that another day.

The trouble with creating lessons around the news and current events is that it’s time consuming, and it’s always new. A good webquest or other lesson involving Internet-based resources requires time to research, collect, and curate those resources. It’s quick and easy to pull a NY Times article for reading and discussion; it’s time consuming to collect six to eight rich resources that cover a topic in some depth.

Well, if that’s your problem, here’s a potential solution: Choices and Teaching with the News.

Back when I was in grad school, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop about the Choices Program. It’s an approach to social studies education that focuses on policy making and deliberation.

Rather than teaching facts and concepts in chronological order, they organize their curriculum around broad issues and then use case studies to help students explore those issues. Their materials are really cool, although the actual books for their curriculum aren’t free.

What is free, though, is their Teaching with the News section. These are short, self-contained lessons built around topics in the news. Each lesson has graphic organizers and a collection of web-based resources for students to conduct some research, and in the end the students should be sharing their research and deliberating on or debating some question.

Teaching with the News: The Conflict in Syria

A good case in point is this lesson on Syria. We just wrapped up our year in AP Government (the test was last week). After we debriefed the test, I asked the students if there were any issues or topics they wanted to explore that we hadn’t addressed throughout the year. One girl suggested Syria. It seemed like a very timely suggestion, given the rapid resurgence of Syria-related articles in the news this week.

This now meant that I was on the spot to develop a lesson overnight that would do such a rich topic some justice. When I sat down to look for some resources, I thought I’d check with Choices first, and low and behold there was already a lesson there that fit my needs.

We went through the introduction, a brief discussion, and the assignment of groups on Friday. They’ve got the weekend to do their reading and research, and Monday we’ll meet up to share and begin our deliberation and discussion of the broader questions.

But what I like is that the resources are pretty varied. There’s a video that summarizes the whole conflict (from AP), a collection of interviews with people directly involved in the conflict (they’re very powerful), as well as a PBS Frontline series that looks very interesting. I hope to find the time to watch it tomorrow.

So what’s the point? Check out what they’ve got, and then find a way to follow them – Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, whatever. Periodically, you’ll see updates about new Teaching with the News lessons which are entirely free, and I’m sure you’ll find them interesting and stimulating!