October 27, 2021

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Steal These Ideas: Curriculum From the 2020-21 New York Times Teaching Project

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A year ago, The Learning Network fulfilled a longtime dream and welcomed 60 educators to the first-ever cohort of The New York Times Teaching Project. Now that members of this group are officially alums and we’ve welcomed a new cohort of 40, we want to spotlight just a fraction of the work they did, in the hope that it might inspire you — whether you’ve ever taught with The Times or not.

Even given the near-daily upheaval of teaching during a pandemic, our inaugural cohort managed to both come up with imaginative ways to teach with the news daily and design immersive semester-long curriculum projects that engaged their students in deeper work.

Perhaps the best thing about this group, in fact, was the community we built that helped get us all through what was a difficult year for classrooms and newsrooms. For us Learning Network editors, the insights these teachers offered from schools across the country were invaluable in helping make our offerings as responsive as possible. For our participants, the cohort gave them like-minded colleagues with whom to collaborate, commiserate and create.

As one participant, Hannah Lipman, puts it below in the “one-pager” she made during our final meeting, she got “feedback that felt full of hope and heart” on the projects she presented, and was “pushed to do better for my students by observing the greatness from our cohort.” As facilitators of the group, we couldn’t agree more, and we were “pushed to do better” too.

From the first post we did together — the much-needed “80 Tips for Remote Learning From Seasoned Educators,” which went up just before the school year began — to the cohort’s contributions to our daily features (like the idea in this Lesson of the Day for playing “Among Us” in the classroom) to their thoughtful guest appearances on webinars like “Talking About Race and Racism in the Classroom,” we literally couldn’t have offered some of our most popular features this year without the teachers.

Thank you again to these 60 educators for giving us so much, so generously. We hope their ideas can inspire you, too.

Below, we highlight some “news you can use” in the form of just a few of the many contributions these teachers made — and will continue to make — toward the larger goal of helping others connect curriculum with the world today.

Over the coming months, we hope to publish more about these ideas and many others. Stay tuned.

Each cohort member completed a curriculum project that meaningfully embedded Times resources, from the articles, essays, graphs, photos, videos and podcasts in the daily report to the 150-plus years of information found in our archives. We have chosen a handful, below, in the hope that these projects might ignite curriculum ideas for you.

  • Examining Climate Change Attitudes Through Data: Three science and math teachers from across the country, Alina Acosta (Denver), Sohum Bhatt (San Francisco), and Keshia Williams (Montgomery, Ala.), teamed up to use Times data on attitudes toward climate change to prompt students to collect and share related data from their own communities. They started by analyzing Times graphs on climate change and chose a topic, like deforestation or climate justice, to research further. Following their analysis and research, the students created surveys, interpreted and displayed the results via data visualizations, and then wrote argumentative essays related to the topic for the Learning Network’s annual Student Editorial Contest.

  • Considering Monuments and Memorializing: Jen Coleman, an English teacher in Alabama, used The 1619 Project as inspiration for a project that invited students to consider local Confederate monuments and ask: How should we memorialize the past? Students each researched a specific monument, then chose a real audience of stakeholders — such as state representatives or local newspaper readers — and wrote argumentative pieces aiming to persuade them to adopt their views on what should be done with that monument and why.

  • Redefining the American Dream: How do you define the American Dream in 2021? That’s the question Kelsey Francis, an English teacher in New York, put to her students, and asked them to answer by finding articles, images, music and poetry that spoke to the theme, then to reflect by considering the question in light of what they found.

  • Telling the Truth Through Fiction: Kendra Radcliff paired stories from The Times’s Decameron Project, fiction written in response to the events of 2020, with classic texts from the past to invite her Atlanta students to think about the role of fiction as the “lie through which we tell the truth.” In response, they each created a video that explored a universal theme across texts.

  • Amplifying Indigenous Voices: How can we include more Indigenous voices in the A.P. U.S. History curriculum? Erin Pinsky spent last year answering that question as she enriched her course with information about both local Connecticut tribes and the experiences of tribes nationally. Via spotlights on public policy topics like tribal land sovereignty, voting rights and the impact of Covid-19 on native communities, Ms. Pinsky’s students made connections between current news reports and American history.

  • Understanding Identity and Community: During a school year where building community was more important than ever, several participants did projects related to identity, all of them using Times reporting as starting points. Jennifer Carlson’s English-language learners in Maryland explored the stereotypes and expectations others have placed on some aspect of their identities, and then created photo essays to contrast those with the way they would like the world to see them. Hannah Lipman’s middle school students in Louisville, Ky., developed a narrative collage that used the claim-evidence-reasoning protocol to show their individual and collective understandings of the meaning of community. Rebecca Temple’s students in Mississippi created podcasts in which they interviewed the elders in their lives to learn more about their identities and cultures. And in Wisconsin, Claudia Felske’s English students used the literacy educator Rudine Sims Bishop’s metaphor of books as mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors to read a variety of texts, then create a “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors” reflection of their own.

  • Investigating Civic Responsibility: “In a nation where individual beliefs frequently eclipse action on behalf of the collective good, students will conduct a yearlong investigation into how civic responsibility is viewed domestically and globally,” wrote Judi Freeman in her original proposal. Beginning with her own Boston high school, Judi’s project connected nearly 400 students in over 50 countries around the world. You can learn much more about the results of this project, and participate yourself, by visiting the website created to support the project.

  • Reflecting on Social Change Via Mathematical Modeling: Students in Avery Pickford’s precalculus class in San Francisco started by using the math-modeling process to make sense of and reflect upon the purpose of education, and how this purpose is connected (or unconnected) to The U.S. News & World Report college rankings. Then, they worked in groups to walk through a similar process on a Times-covered topic of their choice connected to social change, from mental health to the sustainability of tuna fishing to supporting incarcerated mothers.

  • Tracing Issues Through History: In Mary Reid Munford’s classroom in Atlanta, students traced a topic through American history to see what progress has — or hasn’t — been made. Studying issues in the news like the War on Drugs and women’s rights, students answered the questions “What progress have we made? How and why was it made? What hasn’t changed? What progress do we need to make?” via the creative medium of their choice, whether a podcast, infographic, cartoon or video.

  • Imagining the Neighborhoods We Need: As part of a yearlong action-research project inspired by “The America We Need,” Sarah Garton’s students in St. Paul, Minn., studied economics with a focus on social issues by considering the problems impacting their geographic and ethnic communities. After choosing broad topics, they researched the various societal structures that influenced their chosen issues, examined bias in reporting on the topic, then wrote their own editorials in response.

Are you planning to teach with The Times this school year? Tell us how! Post a comment or write to us at [email protected] Or, if you’ve completed a project that meaningfully uses Times resources, pitch an idea for our Great Ideas From Readers column by filling out the form you can find there.

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