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Four Steps for Transforming Students Into Young Activists

Editor's Note: How can we encourage students to take action? Adam Carter, social studies teacher at the Schutz American School in Egypt, shares the steps he has taken with his students.

By guest blogger Adam Carter

adamcarter.pngAs educators, we need to guide our students in not only learning about important global issues, but also toward ways they can become an active part of addressing these challenges. This will allow students to learn the power of their own agency, take control of their learning, and become active problem solvers.

One way to do this effectively is through a simple 4-step process:

  1. Study the issue: This represents the inquiry-based method of identifying an issue and, based on the grade level and teaching style, either presenting the content to students or guiding them to research and identify the challenge and understand it in a local and global context.
  2. Research what actions are being done to reverse or alleviate the problem: It's important that students understand that there are many inspirational people, both professionals and everyday folks, who have devoted their lives to addressing some of the world's most pressing problems. Part of the learning experience stems from recognizing that even the worst crises can be alleviated or even solved.
  3. Come up with a class-led potential solution: Sometimes this stems from a teacher's suggestion, but whenever possible, we should encourage students to come up with their own proposals, which means we need to build in opportunities (such as brainstorming sessions or research activities) for them to formulate their own solutions, even if they are modeled on pre-existing projects or successful approaches.
  4. Turn ideas into action: This is where the proposal turns into direct involvement, in the form of outreach, spreading awareness, making a contribution, or service learning. Again, students should lead as much as possible, taking control of the learning experience. The level of teacher involvement here differs significantly based on grade level and resources available. 

Below is an example of my students using this process to take action.

Funding a Kiva Microcredit Project to Address Sub-Saharan Poverty

1. Study the issue

When studying the causes of poverty of sub-Saharan Africa in our 7th grade geography class, we learned that one of the reasons many people in the region are poor is because they lack the capital or the banking services needed to start a business.

2. Research what actions are being done to reverse or alleviate the problem

This provided the perfect segue to introduce the microcredit phenomenon. I was able to show my students how microcredit institutions work using my own experience and knowledge—including two field reports about an emerging shopkeeper in Guatemala and a Cape Verdean farmer's goat cheese business. Personalizing the lesson makes the learning journey much more meaningful for students.

3. Come up with a class-led potential solution

We had an engaging discussion about the successes and potential pitfalls of microcredit, and then the students explored Kiva's website—one of the best-known microcredit lending programs—based on the prompt, "Can we use the microcredit model to make a difference in the world?" By letting the students come to that conclusion (or not), they are taking control of the learning experience.

4. Turn ideas into action

Next, students used the Kiva site to filter through projects to choose a recipient from one of the sub-Saharan countries we were discussing, and then presented their case to the class. I encouraged students to help fund their chosen project if they desired, inviting them to make a short presentation to their parents or other potential donors. After making our class donation, we were then able to check up on the recipient in the coming months with regular updates from Kiva. 

Recognizing their power to change lives

My students learned so much more than the basic facts; they saw firsthand that if they search for a solution and band together, they have the power to change lives. Most schools have the famous Gandhi quote, "Become the positive change you want to see in the world" plastered somewhere in their halls; we as teachers need to provide students with the tools to actually carry out this pledge.

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