News Battle: BYOT Students vs Brian Williams

The Lead-up:

Setting: Any class, USA

The class opens…

Teacher: “Have you seen the news! Oh my goodness, what a story!”

Students: “No.”

Teacher: “Do you even watch the news!?”

Students: “Sometimes… if my Mom is watching it in the morning.”

Here is a piece of news for teachers: Students don’t watch the news. I know. It is shocking to me, a history teacher interested in global politics. But it is true. The average high school student is not interested in global news. For the most part, news is what happens to other people, not to them. News happens in far away places, to far away people. I love watching Brian Williams and finding out what is happening around the world. However, it won’t generally catch student’s attention. Here is how I got them interested.

Failed Plans:

I have done a lot with the time at the start of class. My first year teaching I used to just dive right into notes=FAIL. I was in a graduate class once with another history teacher who said he opened up class with an essential question; a bellringer. Awesome! An English teacher at my school used to open with reflective journals.  Terrific!

I joined those ideas and had students respond to essential questions in journals. Brilliant! I then had to correct 2-3 entries in 75 journals each week=FAIL.  The idea just created more work for me with no clear, long-term educational value.  Challenge: I teach 9th grade modern World History. Never mind the opening, I have a hard enough time trying to engage students with my regular lessons. I see students every other day for 88 minutes. I needed something to quickly draw in students’ attention at the start of class while offering a bell time transition.

All the News Fit to Print Say:

Aha! I like news, why wouldn’t they? So every day for the past few years I would check news headlines until I found 3 interesting ones. I tried 2..too short..I tried 4-5…too long… 3 seemed to be the ideal number for catching their attention while allowing time to settle down. 3 headlines got them interested without boring them.

At first I just told them the events; exciting headlines I had grabbed online. Then last year I gave the students a part of the news story and had students guess the rest. I picked that up from another teacher I observed. Students had to guess the people, places, and/or topics of the events. “China is now the world’s leading consumer of…” You could only imagine the responses the students offered. Sometimes the entire class would  laugh at the more silly suggestions. Humor is not the worst way to start class!

Something was still missing.

Revelation: I had a computer and I had a projector. This year I pulled up news events on the projector. I just kept my browser open and we looked at the pictures, videos, and maps on the websites themselves. We still played the guessing game but after the answer was guessed we took a look at the website. The result was that the 10 minutes we spent on current events was generally regarded as the students’ favorite use of class time.

The Main Event:

At some point mid-year I made a final transition. I was still spending a bit of time each day prepping the “best” news stories for the next day’s class. Then I asked myself, why don’t the students search for their own news? I knew I wanted to keep a similar experience to what was happening already. So I tweaked the process a little. I told students at the start of class to break out their cell phones. I gave them 2 minutes to find an interesting headline on my suggested news websites. We would spend the following 10 minutes talking about the news stories the students looked up. I would still have my 1-3 news stories to share as a backup. Still, it was a great practice of classroom BYOT. In fact, it was my first baby steps into a BYOT classroom.

It worked! Students were looking up the news. They were actually reading past the headlines. Of course, there are students who were checking out their Twitter and not looking up news stories. But how many were doodling or thinking about their Twitter before, when it was just me giving the news? Sure I could put Brian Williams on the projector and watch his perfect broadcast of the news with the students. Some would get into it, most wouldn’t. I remind myself that I am not teaching Brian Williams. I am trying to teach the next Brian Williams. I am trying to give him/her the opportunity to find the world interesting. In my class, we are doing it…one news story at a time.

Have you found ways to engage students using technology in the classroom, let us know in the comments below!


**UPDATE: This article was written before Brian William’s 6-month suspension in February 2015.

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