“We overwhelm children with all the suffering and evil in the world, but do we enable them to act?”
Educator Sister Joan Magnetti
“I learned that you can change the world in small doses, one at a time.”
Sixth Grade Girl
Sixth Grade Girl
To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can act effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.
Susan Gelber Cannon
“Change the world. Details coming soon.”
At the National Council for Social Studies [NCSS] Conference in Boston, I introduce teachers to Think-Care-Act Projects, designed to empower students to take informed social action. The workshop helps teachers incorporate social-action projects in history classes and school culture. Participants learn a manageable Freirean model of social action that incorporates critical and creative thinking, compassionate local and global care, and informed and effective social action. The resources in this blog enable teachers to help students think, care, and act regarding local and global problems in pragmatic, age-appropriate ways that empower rather than overwhelm them.
Handouts for my workshop are linked below. My www.teachforpeace.org website features numerous resources to promote critical thinking, compassion, and action. These and other links are provided to get you started on think-care-act projects with your students.
· Think-Care-Act Project steps include critically thinking about local and global issues that affect people, animals, and the environment; evaluating personal passions and talents to select the most cared about issues; formulating and implementing effective action plans with achievable goals; communicating actions taken; and evaluating effectiveness.
Sixth Graders Change the World with Think-Care-Act Projects in 2014: An account of last year’s project
To make a difference in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can act effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local. Sixth graders showed they are ready to tackle problems of all sizes with their Think-Care-Act Projects.
Just before spring break, sixth grade history teachers piqued their students’ curiosity with a seemingly simple homework assignment: “Change the world. Details coming soon.”
For several weeks, under their teachers’ guidance, sixth graders thought deeply about their unique talents, hobbies, qualities, and values they could employ in changing the world for the better. Next, they considered the problems involving people, animals, and the environment that drew them to action. They combined their unique skill-sets with their passions for service as they embarked on a research and social-action project that culminated with each student making a difference at school and in the community.
In 2004 I had introduced the project to my sixth grade history students calling it the Citizenship Action Project. Character educator Dr. Usha Balamore, had adopted the project for the entire fifth grade at her school, changing the name in honor of my book title and the steps of the project. Thus, this ten-year anniversary of the history-class final project was now called the Think-Care-Act Project. It now involved our school’s entire sixth grade with the guidance of my fellow history teachers, Mrs. Bert Howlin, Mr. Larry Henderson, and Mr. Steven Ramirez.
Why does a social action project belong in a history class curriculum? Said a former student, “All year we’ve been studying people who made history. Finally we get to make history ourselves.”
Making history ourselves
Projects were as varied as the students themselves. Students worked alone and in small groups, researching issues, learning about root causes, contacting organizations active in solutions, taking hands-on action, and preparing to teach their peers about their topics. The culminating event was the Think-Care-Act Fair held in Middle School on May 20. Sixth grade “experts” taught Lower and Middle School visitors, teachers, and family members how they, too, could change the world.
Melanie and Skylar researched the problems of poverty in the local community. Their research led them to an organization called Our Closet that provides clothing to people who cannot afford to buy clothing. “I cared about Our Closet because it allows people to look nice for jobs and to support their families,” says Melanie. She and Skylar spoke to twelve Lower School classes about the organization, collected bags of clothing at school, and collected a truckload of clothing at an off-campus site. “I care personally about this problem because I realized how many clothes I have and how little others have,” Skylar reflected.
Aiden advocated for the Gift of Life Donor Program, educating classmates and adults about the need for organ and tissue donors. He participated in a 5K Donor Dash and used social media, including a blog. “I was able to spread my message to people in Africa, Bermuda, and all over the United States. I realize I may just be a kid, but anyone can make a difference,” said Aiden.
Adam and Emily sang at a senior center, employing their love of music to bring joy to others. An audience member told Adam, “Son, you made me smile today.” Adam realized, “It made me feel good to know that by doing something that makes me happy I could affect others as well.”
Matthew knows someone who uses a Seeing-Eye dog, and of course, he knows Einstein, one of our school’s own Seeing-Eye-puppies. He combined his love of animals with his love for people as he and Mrs. Fran McLaughlin took Einstein to visit residents of a retirement home. He also taught his peers about the Seeing Eye training process. In another animal project, Torrie and Paige created a slogan, “Unleash joy with a homemade toy,” as they created hand-made toys for the dogs and cats at the local SPCA.
Grace researched the issue of e-waste. “Electronic waste is bad for the environment because when e-waste is put in landfills or incinerators it releases certain toxins into the air” and wastes useful materials. She learned about our school’s e-waste policies and taught her classmates about community recycling programs. “I care about this problem because of my passion for technology and my love of the Earth,” reflected Grace on her project choice. Other environmentally focused projects included Justin’s work to monitor water quality in fishing streams and the efforts of Natalie and Katie to educate neighbors and peers about the importance of protecting bats by building bat houses. “Bats are important to the world,” states Katie. “They eat pounds and pounds of mosquitoes and other insects.” Natalie concurs, “This prevents some diseases from spreading to humans.”
Projects ranged from teaching how to save a life in an emergency, to how to prevent bullying, to how to train a dog, to how to adopt an animal from a shelter, to how many calories are in chicken patty lunch—and why it matters.
Educator Sister Joan Magnetti asked, “We overwhelm children with all the suffering and evil in the world, but do we enable them to act?” The Sixth Grade Think-Care-Act Project does just that.
--Susan Gelber Cannon, November 2014
LINKS TO RESOURCES:1. CHANGE THE WORLD: SUE CANNON'S NCSS WORKSHOP HANDOUT : Classroom handouts for Nobel Peace Prize Bingo, Human Rights Role Plays, and Think-Care-Act Project directions (including student sample work), as well as slides for #NCSS2014 Session 493.
2. TEACH FOR PEACE WEBSITE-Resources for teaching students to think, care, and act for the greater good
3. PeaceJam-How to Start video Good 2-minute intro to the process of informed action
4. Do Something: Causes Website Selection of various arenas in which to take action