By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

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 work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 Presidential Elections Unit Focuses on Critical Thinking, Cooperation, Creativity, and Civic Engagement

“Try to be informed—not just opinionated.”
Northern Sun bumper sticker

It’s that time again: a presidential election year.  As we did in 2008 and 2012, my colleagues and I will include a four-week presidential elections unit in our fall 2016 sixth grade history class curriculum.  I have updated my previous election-year blog to provide background and links to involve students in active learning about the 2016 election.

Sixth Grade Policy Wonks

This is a timely and dynamic presidential elections unit to fire up sixth grade future voters and is easily adaptable to various grades.  First, teachers introduce students to the history of presidential campaigns in the United States, focusing on the role of political parties and the media in recent years.  Next, students interview three adult family members to elicit major issues of concern in the presidential election of 2016.  Analyzing our survey results to determine major issues for voters, students in each sixth grade history class work in four cooperative groups researching party positions on major issues such as the economy and jobs, taxes and government spending, health care and education, national security and foreign policy, immigration, the environment, and more.  They will watch and analyze televised debates as well as research using party websites, library reference websites, and other media. The focus is on issues and platforms rather than personalities and individual candidates.

In 2016, this is a particularly interesting approach, as much of this election year media focus has called attention to the personalities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as much as—perhaps more than—their proposed policies.  Little attention at all is directed to the candidates or policies of the Libertarian and Green parties, also running presidential candidates.  Our presidential unit is meant to broaden the viewpoints of our students—and families, encouraging debate about issues rather than personalities.

Sixth Grade Campaign Managers
After the research phase, we form new working groups in each class, and students move from being non-partisan researchers to campaign managers for one of four parties: Democrat, Republican, Green, and Libertarian.  Running a “political campaign,” students work in cooperative groups to create a candidate stump speech, party platform brochure, visual campaign advertisement, and campaign video.  Each item presents a positive view of the group’s party platform and candidate for president, without denigrating other parties. 
Setting up campaign tables in Middle School hallways, political party campaign groups present their campaign media to Middle School “voters” as the Middle School holds a realistic mock election run by the entire Middle School history department on Election Day in November.  By focusing on issues, research, and identification of media’s role in the election process, teachers and students alike become more active and informed citizens. 
Family Involvement is Key

Families are involved from the beginning of this project, providing supplemental understandings and personal insights for their children.  In my book, Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future, I describe the elections issue research process in detail, and I emphasize that family involvement is key to the success of the project.  Students see their teachers, classmates, and adults at home engaged in the civic process. 

Essential Questions:

Throughout the process we focus on the following essential questions:
1.    What does civil discourse look like and sound like?  How can we disagree respectfully?  Why are respect and civil discourse important in society?
2.    How can citizens become informed and involved in the election process?  Why should they?
3.    What are the important issues of this election?  How can we find out?
4.    What is the role of news and Internet sources?  What is the role of campaign advertising?
a.    Where do citizens become informed about an election?
b.    How do citizens determine the bias, or point of view, of a news/research source?
c.    What is propaganda?
d.    Does unbiased reporting exist?

Several resources are helpful in the course of this project, including party platforms from party web pages.  Teachers identify websites with content at readable grade levels to introduce the issues, but students also eagerly venture out of their comfort zones to understand the complexities.  They bring articles and web links to the attention of their peers and teachers daily. 
As we make the transition from being nonpartisan researchers to role-playing the campaign staffs of one of four political parties, we analyze videos of historical campaigns as well as a set of campaign-ad spoofs to discuss the power of graphics, jingles, slogans, and video-production techniques to influence public opinion. 
In our classes, we have the opportunity to help students develop the ability to think critically and engage in respectful civil discourse about presidential election issues.  Rather than focusing on political personalities and partisanship, we can stimulate intelligent and thoughtful participation in the political process.  In the short term, we can research party positions and the media’s role in electoral processes.  In the long term, we can pique students’ interest in becoming informed citizens who vote responsibly and participate in their communities.  Seize the time to engage your students in the political process, whether you have days or weeks to devote to this crucial process.

-Susan Gelber Cannon, September 2016

RESOURCES Helpful links: 
·      Download Sue Cannon's student research packet: PART 1: Election Research Packet-4 party 
·      Download Sue Cannon's student group campaign directions: PART 2: Campaign Project Directions &Rubric  

Online Resources for researching the 2016 Presidential Elections, the issues, the media, and the candidates:

5.    CNN Elections Page  
9.    League of Women Voters: provides an informative guide to the elections process, including useful tips on analyzing media, watching debates, campaign finance, and more.  Downloadable PDFfile
11.SIRS  (library-linked subscription resources): Access Social Issues Resource Series (SIRS) via the EA Library REFERENCE page. Look for Elections 2016.
14.Candidate websites: Remind students NOT to give personal information to any of these websites.  They may search the sites without giving any of your information.  We use sites from Democrat, Republican, Green, and Libertarian parties.
15.Compare media content: Peruse headlines from a variety of news sources online such as those listed below.  Compare lead story selection, headline word choices, and story content.  How would the media in another country present this news? Compare Fox News with MSNBC for example, or Time for Kids with Indy Kids.  Ask yourself questions about each site’s objectivity and perspective. 

·      Al Jazeera  
·      BBC News  
·      CNN 
·      Democracy Now   
·      Fox News 
·      Indy Kids 
·      MSNBC 
·      National Public Radio 
·      New York Times 
·      Time for Kids 
·      Time Magazine 
·      ZNet

20.Play the Constitution Center’s Game: Seize the Vote!Answer questions about voting rights to gain voting rights for your players.  

21. Letters to the Next President: Issues from students across the country are posted and indexed by topic, including gender wage gap, police brutality, student debt, economy, and so much more.  Good format for studying issues and writing.

22. Join the moderated debate format that may be useful to classroom teachers.

23. Commission on Presidential Debates: debate format and schedules for 2016 presidential and vice presidential debates

Sunday, August 28, 2016

TEACHING EMPATHY: Book Review of UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, by Michele Borba

As we prepare for classroom activities with children and conferences with families, we will find many helpful rationales and resources in Michele Borba's book, Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me-World.  Along with this summary, find links to empathy-building activities.  I recommend this book to teachers and families of students of all ages.

“But why should we want our kids to empathize?  For starters, the ability to empathize affects our kids’ future health, wealth, authentic happiness, relationship satisfaction, and ability to bounce back from adversity.  It promotes kindness, prosocial behaviors, and moral courage, and it is an effective antidote to bullying, aggression, prejudice, and racism.  Empathy is also a positive predictor of children’s reading and math test scores and critical thinking skills, prepares kids for the global world, and gives them a job market boost….

“Empathy is core to everything that makes a society civilized, but above all it makes our children better people, and that’s why I’m concerned.  In the past decades, our kids’ capacity to care has plummeted while self-absorption has skyrocketed, and it puts humanity at stake.  Today’s culture values ‘Me’ more than ‘We.’”
(Michele Borba, from the introduction, p. xiv)

Summary:  Readable, anecdotal, and practical, Michele Borba asks families, teachers, and coaches who work with children to counter “selfie society” and help children develop empathy and become “Unselfies.”  Connecting empathy to quality of life, personal achievement, and humanity’s future, Borba organizes her book in three sections, asking us to help children develop empathy, practice empathy, and live empathy by becoming upstanders and changemakers.  This is a good book to recommend to parents and guardians to read, and from which teachers and administrators can share excerpts for discussion or in school newsletters.  As well, teachers will find the book chock full of games, discussion prompts, and classroom fundamentals to lay a foundation of empathy building.

Borba cites numerous and varied studies throughout the book, always pointing to the importance of empathy in children’s achievement and success as well as in their development as compassionate and courageous human beings.  Using the phrase “Empathy Advantage,” she is clearly aiming to make believers out of achievement-oriented parents/guardians and teachers.  She reminds us that empathy can (and must) be cultivated, practiced, taught, and encouraged.

Borba starts by citing studies that identify dropping levels of empathy, increased cruelty to peers, more cheating, and higher incidences of mental health issues in today’s youth.  (See Introduction pages xv-xvi for details.)

In Part One: Developing Empathy, Borba suggests numerous ways to teach emotional literacy, encouraging us to tune in to each other and tune out the distractions of digital devices.   With age-by-age strategies in Chapter 1, she suggests such steps as creating “sacred family times” without digital media use, eating together, reading and discussing books about feelings, and taking time to discuss feelings with both boys and girls.  (See pages 21-24 for details.)  In Chapter 2, Borba discusses ways to help children develop moral identities and ethical codes.  Countering the “self-esteem” building trends, she asks us to avoid nurturing narcissism and instead nurture altruism in our children.  She shares such practical strategies as holding family meetings, identifying family values, creating moral mottos, acting as role models for ethical and caring behavior, and sharing strategies to help children monitor their own behavior: “Grandma Test: Would I do it if my grandma heard about it?” or “3Rs Test: Could it damage my relationships or reputation, or might I regret it later?” (See pages 34-45 for details.)  In Chapter 3, Borba describes practical ways to help children understand the perspectives (and feelings) of others.   Calling this ability to “gateway to empathy,” she invites parents and teachers to ask children to “Do it over,” Role play from the other side, “ and “Freeze and think,” about how their actions have affected others.  Rather than spanking, yelling, shaming, or rewarding children, Borba asks adults to plainly explain why an action is hurtful, to express disappointment in selfish behavior, or help the child/teen recognize how their actions impact others.  This type of “inductive discipline” activates empathy.  (See pages 50-70 for details.)  Finally, in Chapter 4, Borba discusses using literature and movies to develop empathy.  Citing research that suggest digital reading is less conducive to promoting reading enjoyment, she urges children (and families) to share REAL books (especially fiction) to learn about other cultures, others’ feelings, and new perspectives.  Further, she invites us to pose “What if?” and “How Would You Feel?” questions as we read or discuss literature with children and students.  A list of age-by-age strategies to promote moral imagination concludes the chapter and the section.  (See pages 76-92 for details.)

Part Two: Practicing Empathy begins with Chapter 5 and examples of techniques to promote children’s ability to self-regulate their emotions.  The ability to self-regulate allows children to both calm themselves as well as recognize others’ needs.  Yet, in our high-stress society, Borba worries (and research acknowledges) that stress promotes violent and selfish behavior and inhibits compassion.  Thus, she suggests ways parents, teachers, and coaches can model calmness and teach self-control, using mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, identifying our bodies’ signals, and using positive message “self talk.”  (See pages 98-116 for details.)  In Chapter 6, after citing scientific studies asserting that kindness is catching (and leads to personal happiness), Borba cites many examples of school children practicing daily acts of kindness.  Harvard University’s “Making Caring Common” Initiative has publicized disturbing evidence that students perceive that their parents value achievement over kindness.  To counter this trend, Borba asks us to actively teach kindness and show children how important it is.  Again she asks us to model kindness, and she gives examples of family and classroom kindness “rituals” that go beyond monetary rewards.  Kindness pledges, kindness jars, kindness walls all help children to build kindness into daily actions.  (See pages 125-140 for details.)  Chapter 7 invites us to boost “us” and “we” thinking.  She wants us to build recess into our school schedules and free-play time into our children’s lives to allow children to build collaborative and problem solving skills.  Citing Elliot Aronson’s psychological research, she promotes cooperative learning groups in school as a way to allow children to get to know each other by working together on structured tasks.  She also encourages us to use such activities as Mix It Up Day, family meetings, cooperative games, and youth service groups to enable kids (and families) to work with a variety of people on meaningful tasks.  See pages 152-164 for details.) 

So how to bring empathy into action?  This is the topic of Part Three: Living Empathy.  In Chapter 8, Borba shines a spotlight on kids who stick their necks out and demonstrate moral courage.  She discusses factors that encourage children and adults to be bystanders rather than upstanders: “Powerlessness,” “Vague expectations,” “Peer pressure,” “The diffusion of responsibility,” “Empathy arousal (feeling too bad to help),” and “Weak adult support.”  How can we encourage children to help?  We can expect them to help, set examples ourselves, show them examples of heroic people, stop solving their problems for them, and using baby steps to larger acts of heroism and helpfulness. With pneumonic devices, Michele Borba offers parents, teachers, coaches, and kids steps for such empathetic actions as intervening to stop bullying.  “STANDUP,” for example, reminds kids to Seek Support, Tell a Trusted Adult, Assist the Victim, Negate (rumors, insults) with a Positive View, Design a Detour, Use a Distraction, and Pause and Rethink (See pages 178-182 for details.)  Finally, in Chapter 9, Borba asks us to empower children to become “changemakers.”  Using steps very congenial with our “Think-Care-Act Project” model, Borba suggests we help children see themselves through a “growth Mindset” lens, able to develop empathy and exercise it increasingly effectively.  Next we emphasize effort over results, and suggest practice and evaluation.  (See pages 201-213 for details.)

Classroom/School Applications:

1.    Share articles with families to invite them to be part of the process of teaching empathy.
a.   Harvard’s Making Caring Common Initiative offers a concise four-page list of suggestions for families to use with children to build empathy:
b.    Share The Atlantic’s article on Denmark’s program to teach empathy in schools:
2.    The book is chock full of practical mini-lessons as well as larger projects.  Try some of the breathing exercises on page 113, for example:
a.    “Buddy Breathing:” Sit back-to-back and try to match breaths while deeply breathing.
b.    “Belly Buddies:” Children recline with stuffed animal or pretty stone on tummy, and feel it go up and down with deep breathing.
c.     “Candles and Flowers:” Child imagines breathing in a flower and blowing out candles. 
3.    Consider undertaking Think-Care-Act Projects in your school by grade level or in your own class.  Detailed rationales, resources, handouts, and directions can be found on my blog:
4.    Try some of these classroom activities, described by

 “Mobilizing children’s moral courage to be Upstanders may be our best hope to stop peer cruelty,” says Michele Borba (p. 181).  It also may be key to the quality of our children’s lives and our development as true human beings.

Susan Gelber Cannon
August 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Changing the World…. One Project at a Time: Fighting Hunger
 EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership.

Dr. Elizabeth O. Crawford, an education professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Susan Gelber Cannon, a middle school teacher, author, and developer of Think-Care-Act Projects, are pleased to present our second collaborative year of sharing Think-Care-Act-Projects [TCAP].  Our EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership allows Episcopal Academy sixth graders and Dr. Crawford’s senior UNCW pre-service education majors to consider personal qualities and talents, identify passions for social change, and act to change the world for the better.  Through video sessions, my students and those of Dr. Crawford have inspired and encouraged each other to make a difference. 

Below, and for previous four blog posts, you will read future teachers’ guest blogs about their TCAPs, with links for research and teaching suggestions.  Happy reading and thinking, caring, and acting!—Sue Cannon

Fighting Hunger: A Look Into The Problem Of World Hunger
Think-Care-Act Project by Chelsea Anderson and Jenna DeHart
University of North Carolina at Wilmington, May 2016

Food is one of the major necessities needed for life. Without food, individuals do not have the nutrition needed to concentrate and focus, or the energy needed for survival. Without food, there is no living. For our Think-Care-Act Project we researched why there are so many people hungry across the globe and how educators can teach about this world issue to their students and get them to become young solutionaries to this pressing problem.

Causes of Hunger

The primary cause of hunger is poverty. Individuals living in poverty often cannot afford healthy foods or have access to transportation to get to the food. Lacking empowerment and resources to escape it, individuals find it hard to escape poverty (World Food Programme, 2016). In developing farming countries, for example, farmers cannot afford seeds to plant crops to feed their families (World Food Programme, 2016). The hungry usually do not have access to other components of life such as education, water, and land, and therefore the cycle of hunger is not broken easily.

The world has stores of 2.9 trillion pounds of food, enough to feed every individual in all nations twice.  However, there is no explanation of where all of this food is going, considering how many people are hungry (Royte, 2016). In developing countries, much food is lost because there are no sturdy roads, adequate refrigeration, or steady climates to keep the food fresh. In developed nations, however, there is a different story. Restaurants serve too much food, individuals forget about leftovers in the refrigerator, and food is being thrown out before the expiration date (Royte, 2016).  Food is wasted in spite of the fact that hunger exists.

Teaching about World Hunger

The first action step that should be taken when it comes to addressing world hunger is education. Students, especially, do not realize how big of an issue hunger is unless it impacts them directly or they are told about it. Students will develop a personal interest in the problem if they become passionate about becoming solutionaries toward the issue. It is important to show students the issue at hand either through personal narratives, children’s literature, web resources, or videos. It is also necessary to show students other children who are taking action on the same problem and becoming a solutionary. This will inspire students to see that age has nothing to do with being able to take a stand on an issue. A lesson on this issue should include having students come up with solutions on what they and their families can do to reduce the number of hungry people, starting in their own communities.

Our Action Plans

Working as a pair, we focused our actions differently. Jenna placed more of an emphasis on education. She taught a lesson to third grade students to show them that hunger is a prominent issue affecting individuals and families around the world and locally. Jenna and the class then came up with solutions that they can do individually or with their families to help with the problem. 

The solutions varied from hosting a food drive, to donating canned food, to donating money, or to volunteering with their families at a soup kitchen, food bank, or Salvation Army. For example, a student and his family volunteered at a soup kitchen to serve meals to families in need.  Jenna also collected canned food from friends and family to deliver to the Second Harvest Bank and donated money to the World Food Programme to help with funding education and various programs locally and globally so hungry individuals can escape poverty and have a better life.

Chelsea’s approach was geared towards supporting global organizations that focus on finding innovative solutions to the problem of world hunger. She directed a youth group with middle and high school youth in Morganton, North Carolina in their participation in World Vision’s “30-Hour Famine.” Chelsea helped organize and promote the youth group’s participation in the program and help them receive sponsors as they fasted for thirty hours and worked together by participating in team-building games and simulations of how people must survive when they must support themselves when they are hungry and living in impoverished areas. She was able to Skype in with the youth group throughout the thirty hours to support and encourage them for their participation. 

Chelsea noted how many of the students shared how excited they were to be able to make an impact on the world through their participation.  They now had a greater outlook on what some people have to deal with and do to survive in the world. She shared that the youth group raised over $400 to support World Vision and also donated over 100 pounds of food to their local soup kitchen.

Teaching Resources and References

Information on Think-Care-Act Projects:

Seven great lessons to teach kids about hunger and food insecurity. (2013, September 10). Retrieved from

Milway, K. S., & Fernandes, E. (2008). one hen: how one small loan made a big
         difference. Toronto: Kids Can Press.

Suggested Books. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Top 10 books to help kids understand hunger - Lasso the Moon. (2012, September 13).
Retrieved from Royte, E. (2016, March 01).

How 'ugly' fruits and vegetables can help solve world hunger.

10 ways to stop world hunger. (2013, October 02). Retrieved from

What causes hunger? | WFP | United Nations World Food Programme - Fighting Hunger Worldwide. (2016). Retrieved from