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International Day of "-----"... there's a STEM learning opportunity here!

Written by Ben Newsome on April 14th, 2016.      0 comments

I was spending some time preparing scheduling video conference science lessons the other day and noticed just how many "International Days" can be found listed through the United Nations. Seriously, there are heaps of them! Everything from World Meteorological Day on March 23 to International Literacy Day on September 8 can be found, with links to further a lot more information than may meet the eye. Everything from how to get involved, extra support materials such a background history and fact sheets on why the topic is important, technical resources including country profiles, campaign partners as well as simply how you can get involved to make a difference. A great example of this is World Malaria Day on April 23, where the campaign is clearly designed to inform the public about the current situation and what the World Health Organisation is working to do about it.

Blue United Nations logo
United Nations: So many International Days to choose from!

So, what on Earth to do with all of these International campaign days? Well, like any science teaching & learning sequence it would be logical to work out if any of these days fall within the time you're planning on running the unit and go from there... but on the other hand why not flip this on it's head and plan your lessons to occur when the days actually occur in the first place? As usual this would take some planning to execute properly but even if you get 60% to 70% of your science lessons close to the day itself you can leverage the campaigns to create STEM learning opportunities for students regardless. This would take some teamwork amongst your fellow teachers and of course this has to fit with your local curriculum needs but considering that you more or less know the main sequence of science lessons you plan to deliver during a teaching semester anyway, it might not be all that difficult to just switch some units around to fit a particular day you and your students might be passionate about. Who knows? You just might grab the attention of some students that the science topic that you're teaching about has worldwide and current implications!

With this in mind, here are a few teaching ideas that you could easily implement if you decide that you want to use these International campaigns to create a sense of purpose and immediacy to your science lessons:
  • Have students design posters, create a blog, a podcast or any other research project on the United Nations campaign topic. Not only does this create a clear student outcome that can be measured as an assessment unit, it will help the campaign itself gain traction with interested people as your students would be effectively promoting the campaign cause. Of course, anything public would need to have the school approval for the usual child protection and image issues plus the content generated would have to be scientifically accurate, but you can use this as a student learning opportunity too! How? You can state the requirements of scientific accuracy, fairness and attribution of intellectual property clearly to your students... isn't this what is required in scientific discourse, journalism and public information campaigns anyway? Nothing like bringing the real world back into the classroom!
  • If the students are clearly excited about a particular topic, why not go all out and arrange a school fair or information night around that topic! This is the sort of thing that turns up for National Science Week or Education Week all the time so why not do this for an International Day that your students care about? If the students are prepared to put in the time and the resource requirements aren't too high it could only mean that your students will be more engaged with your unit of work. Plus, you just might raise public awareness enough to attract donations to the cause or at least create some community discussion around world events at your school. A seed for creating a learning hub perhaps? If you're keen on this idea, here's an article on some creating a science fair with some ideas to get you started.
  • Why not connect with a school from overseas and discuss the topic with students from another culture? With video and web conferencing so accessible these days it really is just a matter of turning on a device that's connected to the internet and getting the software to work. Time zones are not necessarily an issue either as you could create a special breakfast session to meet another school that is having an evening BBQ - why constrain learning to between 9:00am and 3:00pm? This might also be a focus event for that information evening I mentioned earlier too, you just need to keep an open mind. The one important point is to use a time zone converter and run a few test calls with the remote site to make sure everything will work okay on the day. Here's some tips on video conferencing in the school environment to get you started plus it might be worth connecting with other teachers using meet up sites via the Centre for Learning & Collaboration (CILC) or Collaborations around the Planet (CAPspace)
  • Another way to engage with the campaign is to ask a guest speaker to come to your school to talk your students. As a subject matter expert, they could bring a wealth of knowledge to your classroom and allow students to converse directly with someone who is directly involved with focus topic itself. This subject matter expert could be a doctor, a scientist, an engineer, a community worker, a science communicator, an author, a government representative... the list only limited to your network and your ability to mesh you classes schedule with that of the speakers.
These are just a couple of quick ways of engaging your students with issues of global importance. I figure that if it's good enough for the United Nations to be interested in it, perhaps it's good enough for us to care about it too. Besides, having a focus for your science class can get into will certainly help with classroom management and maybe just give you some creative space to express your own interests too!

Happy teaching,


Ben Newsome
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