How (and Why) to Talk About Holidays and Religion in Your Classroom

How (and Why) to Talk About Holidays and Religion in Your Classroom

In this blog, we revisit how to talk about the holidays and religion. While these tips are especially applicable right now, they can be used to help us understand cultural celebrations any time of year. Cue singing children:            It’s that time of year… Christmas is so near… Wait! Can we say that in a public school?! The holidays are a time for tradition. For instance, it’s the annual time of year when educators grapple with questions of faith and inclusion in their classrooms and schools. What is appropriate to celebrate? What decorations are allowed? Can the choir sing “Silent Night” in the Christmas—oops!—holiday concert? To avoid potential controversy, some schools ban the mention of holidays or religions altogether. Yet, in this divisive atmosphere (hate crimes against Muslims were up 67% in 2015, and hate crimes of all kinds spiked after the election), it’s even more important to know how to talk about this and not just sweep it under the (prayer?) rug. With the fire (from the Yule log?) burning so hot, it is understandable to not want to add any fuel. However, in an increasingly diverse society, schools have an obligation to help students collaborate across cultures and religions. We can’t learn about other beliefs by pretending they don’t exist. Give students the gift of understanding this holiday season, and let them help guide how we handle these questions. Three of our favorite strategies for real learning—not just feel-good gestures—when discussing holidays and religion in school: Give students a voice: What do you know about the traditions and celebrations that are important to your students? Provide opportunities for students...
Community Transformation through Social Justice, Sustainability and Education

Community Transformation through Social Justice, Sustainability and Education

Students of Detroit Community Schools in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood were faced with a challenge. All across the city, as well as in their own neighborhoods, the water was getting shut off – leaving residents to collect rain water from roofs using rain barrels. However, the water was not safe for drinking. The students, guided by their teacher Bart Eddy and a team from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, looked for solutions. The students have been converting industrial tricycles that transport water purification units to residents who have had their water shut off. The Water Cycler units run on solar power to purify the water collected in the rain barrels. As part of the Water Cyclers project, Creative Change Educational Solutions (CCES) is linking together the real-world experience with classroom content through a well-developed curriculum. “This curriculum will help students address issues surrounding climate change, and will all be woven into the youth employment and leadership.” – Bart Eddy, Educator We have united the different parts of the project, showing how science, sustainability, and social justice are connected. Through their work and our framework of lessons, students are learning not just what it means to be part of a community where we help each other, but also hands-on skills to convert the bikes, teamwork, leadership among peers, creativity, the science behind the Cycler units, and the importance of local and global...
Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

Curriculum and the Power of Story: Empowering students to write a positive future

This post builds on earlier articles about the curriculum I believe students need to thrive into the future. There is simply not enough room here to describe the stunning units teacher colleagues are designing, so please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this inspiring work and the achievement results. Or, check out our case studies.   To thrive in the 21st (and 22nd) Century, students will need to solve many “grand challenges” ranging from global climate change to local food security. Turning these complex topics into effective learning experiences is daunting at best. How can educators design units and courses that make content accessible and relevant–while also meeting standards? Creative Change has developed a method that uses the concept of story as a powerful metaphor for designing instruction. In this approach (which we call “Inquiry as Narrative”), learning unfolds as a story about real world issues. In the narrative, learners (and other stakeholders) are characters, communities are the setting, and interdisciplinary topics form multiple plot lines. Learners move through the story through a process of engagement, inquiry, decision-making, and action. Through this process, students discover what’s at stake and gain the skills to become “authors” of positive solutions. Here’s how an upper elementary unit on food and health might unfold: Stage 1: The story begins Opening lessons situate learners in the plot and setting. Sample lessons: Through interviews and journaling, students identify foods they eat, like, and have access to. (This opens up questions about food security and social justice.) Students assess the foods they eat based on health and nutritional value. Students use poetry and creative writing to express the food traditions important to their families and cultures. The writing, discussion,...