Sara Leonard and Lauren Sturner
Incorportating Current Events into Social Studies Curricula

Problem: Students have difficulty recognizing themes they learn in their History classes to current everyday life.
  • Too much information is overwhelming
  • Limited time for Current Events instructions
  • Students do not make the time in their lives outside of school to incorporate the knowledge of what is happening around them in the world
  • Some articles may be too advanced for student capabilities
  • Historical information is irrelevant to student life

Solutions: Create a class web blog where students and teachers can link what happens in the classroom with Current Events
  • Use political cartoons (current and historical) to discuss major themes
  • Compare and contrast historical documents with current articles
  • Upload pictures, articles, videos, songs for students to comment on

Check out our group's Current Events Resource Notebook.

CT Feedback

Lauren My CT thought that the blogging idea would work well with some classes but not as well with others. He felt that it would be an effective way to work with current events in his AVID class, whereas he thought that his “regular” classes might have more of a challenge with the material. He thought that it would be worth trying the blogging idea with all of the classes but that some students might not be as engaged in the material and might not be as good at keeping up with it as others. I think that this problem could be fixed by simply adapting the material on the blog for different skill levels. He seemed to think that students with limited computer access would be able to complete the assignments by using computers in the library.

Sara My CT liked our blog idea. The biggest strength she identified was that it does not take up classtime and that that assignments we assign can be flexible.

A Blurb About our Blog

One of the greatest challenges in teaching is connecting curricular content to students’ lives. This is an issue that affects all content areas. When students are able to personally relate to material covered in class they are more likely to remember it and gain long-term mastery of the subject. Therefore, it is important to consistently help students understand that what they learn in school is pertinent to real life.

For social studies courses in particular, connecting content to students’ lives can be a significant challenge. It is often difficult for students to understand how relatively remote historical concepts relate to current issues. While current events and news articles could provide this helpful and necessary link between historical content and modern concerns, there are many obstacles to consistently implementing a study of current events in the classroom. Time constraints make it nearly impossible to spend a large portion of class time on material that strays from explicit curricular goals. Conversely, in a world that is constantly overloading students with information, independent assignments involving current events are often ineffective because students are unable to sift through and evaluate information on their own. They cannot separate relevant content information from the wide array of extra irrelevant information that is available.

While this issue is most applicable to social studies classes, it truly affects all classrooms. Current events topics apply to material taught in all content areas. Further, the benefits of current events studies are helpful to overall student learning and development. Studying current events helps students develop their ability to read documents and access the validity of sources. They can help model writing, expand vocabulary, and generally improve literacy skills. The study of current events in school also helps to develop a citizenry which is engaged in worldwide events and an awareness of important societal developments. In trying to create a solution to this problem, we looked for a way to effectively integrate the study of current events without taking a lot of class time. We felt that a current events blog would provide the freedom to explore current events in depth without eating up valuable instructional time. Through a blog, teachers could direct student learning by choosing specific current events that connect to content currently being covered in class. In this way, students gain the experience of reading through news articles, viewing newscasts, and analyzing political cartoons while at the same time making guided connections between real life and classroom content; learning is relevant and meaningful. Assignments could be completed at home or during free time in class, but ultimately students are independently exploring important issues and having a silent discussion about material that matters.

We set up a model blog and created three different potential “styles” of blog assignments, each of which is geared towards a different grade level. The first blog post is an assignment designed for students in 11th or 12th grade. In this assignment they are given two different political cartoons, one modern and one historical, and are asked to analyze them and make connections between the two. The assignment then goes as step further and asks them to look for their own current event and draw conclusions about the topic that the blog examines, in this case the role of the government in times of financial crisis. This assignment is beneficial because it asks students to use higher level thinking to analyze the political cartoons and then apply what they learned to guide their own thinking.

The second blog is designed for students in grades 8-10. It asks students to look at a series of videos and articles that relate to the role of the news media during both the Vietnam War and the current war in Iraq and then analyze the sources in order to compare the role that the news media had (has) during each conflict. This assignment is slightly easier because all of the information is provided to students. They do not need to do research on their own but they still gain the benefit of analyzing current events on their own and finding modern connects to historical events.

The final blog post was designed with 6th and 7th grade students in mind. The blog is basic because at this level we are focusing on guiding students to make the connections between content and current events. It requires students to examine one cartoon and make some relatively overt connections. This example benefits students by developing some initial analytical skills and once again encouraging them to make historical connections. Students at this level are not likely to have encountered this skill and it would be overwhelming for them to learn both the act of blogging and drawing these connections at one time. If proven successful, the blogs at this level could become more detailed and challenging as the school year continued.

One of the main benefits of the blog concept is that it is flexible. It can be adapted to fit a variety of grade levels and content areas. As demonstrated through our examples, it can be a useful tool for students of all abilities. We created three different types of assignments in our blogs, but the possibilities for blogging assignments are unlimited. Through all blog assignments though, students are able to really examine current events without taking up a significant amount of class time. They can be encouraged to respond to each other’s posts so it truly becomes a silent dialog. In this way, students who are less inclined to speak in class are able to share their thoughts and ideas.

In addition to the blog, we also created a Current Events Resource Notebook as a second artifact. During our research for this project, we came across many valuable tools and guides that teachers can use in order to find sources for a blog or incorporate current events in other ways. We felt that it was important to share these materials as developing teachers in order to practice communication with our colleagues. The notebook also explains the versatility in which current events can be applied to curriculum, encouraging those who are uncomfortable with the blog site to pursue other means of inclusion. The online notebook shares ideas for individual news mediums as well as specific content-related ideas. Through this electronic communication of ideas, we can develop ourselves as better teachers and more importantly, give our students collectively a better education.

Ultimately, a current events blog serves as a versatile way to make classroom material relevant and develops students’ abilities to read and analyze sources while encouraging them to stay aware of worldly developments.