Here are great ideas for how to address the difficult topic of war in the Ukraine, from Ask a Tech Teacher collaborator, Christian Miraglia, recently retired from teaching after thirty-six years:
As events unfold in Ukraine, people want to know how the situation might play out. Glancing at the Apple Newsfeed or Twitter for minute-to-minute updates becomes an obsession. For many students, checking on Tik-Tok and Instagram is their source of information. In the classroom, questions on the location of Ukraine, the why of the Russian invasion, and what does the future hold are commonplace. So how does a teacher navigate these conversations?
As a history teacher, I made it a priority to teach my students how to check the reliability of sources. This became increasingly important over the past decade as social media became the primary source for news. It was not uncommon for a class to start with a comment, “Did you see …?” My response to the student was, “What was the source of information, and how do you know if it is reliable?” A typical year in the class began with learning how to source information using the Reading Like a Historian lessons from the Stanford History Education Group. I also utilized the Civic Reasoning curriculum, which focused on developing critical thinking skills to navigate social media and news. With Ukraine dominating the news cycle, these skills are still essential.
Here are some basic principles and resources that can be helpful when addressing the conflict in Ukraine. These tenents are applicable for any sensitive topic or event discussed in class.
- As with any subject when using social media as a tool for study, teachers should review postings as some material may not be suitable for student consumption.
- Use the Civil Discourse materials from Facing History and Ourselves at the beginning of the year so that both you, as a teacher and students, have a framework for approaching complex subjects. Some students may have family or friends serving in the military or have students who may have family from Ukraine.
- Ask the student about the source of information. Check social media feeds and news feeds so students can compare the credibility of sources. Providing students with sentence frames for responding to the question is necessary.
- Ask students why the event is important. Keep in mind that our students may be asking questions based on their fears. For example, students may ask if the events in Ukraine will lead to World War III.
- Make use of geography tools such as Google Maps or the history of Ukraine in maps found on the Washington Post site, as many students do not have a sense of the expansiveness of the world.
- Use proven resources such as Brown University’s Choices Program, which provides teachers with comprehensive lessons on the crisis.
The past five years have created challenges for teachers time and time again with global and national events. Our students are on a similar journey. The description on the Stanford History Education Group’s Civic Reasoning page reads, “Students are confused about how to evaluate online information. We all are.” With each critical piece of news comes a chance to provide our students a platform to voice their concerns and synthesize the information they consume. One might call these “hard conversations,” but embracing these opportunities with the proper resources ultimately builds the foundations of becoming informed citizens.
Christian Miraglia is a recently retired 36-year educator and now Educational Technology Consultant at t4edtech where he also blogs at Edtech and Things Related. He can be found on Twitter @T4edtech, Linkedin, and on his YouTube Channel Transformative Edtech.