Educating Students On Today’s Hot Topics

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In a society where there is 24/7 media coverage on current news events, it is often difficult for adults, let alone middle school students, to form their own opinions on the hot topics in today’s society.

One class at Federal Hocking Local Schools is working to help those students sort through the mountains of information, conduct their own interviews and research and form their own educated opinions on many of today’s controversial topics.

Students in Robin Hawk’s “controversial topics in a democratic society” class, with the assistance of CARE students from Ohio University, have spent the school year focusing on several controversial topics.
The CARE program is a partnership between the Ohio University Patton College of Education and Federal Hocking School District.

This fall, the class worked on topics including fracking, ebola, animal cruelty, terrorism, the school dress code and many others.
For each topic the students were grouped with a CARE student to work in small groups.

“The CARE students helped to plan the lessons and research the controversial topics,” said Hawk, who added that the students in the class also were able to decide on the topics they wanted to cover. “They got more information and learning out of it because there were interested in the topic.”

One topic that has gained the most attention from the class was fracking.

Student Tyler Wilson explained that the district has three injection wells located within its boundaries which made it even more relevant to the students in the class.

After the students learned the basics on fracking, they were divided into groups to dig deeper into the specifics, looking at everything from fracking and the law to the potential for earthquakes associated with fracking.

The groups brought in guests to interview on the topic including a CEO of a drilling company and advocates against fracking.

Students were also given the freedom to determine how they wanted to display their presentation with some selecting posters or displays.

The students working on research surrounding the relationship between fracking and earthquakes constructed a model house on a fracking site. They then demonstrated the effects of fracking on the ground and the result to the property and house. As Ashlynn Jarvis explained, the pressure from the injection well causes the plates and faults to shift which can cause earthquakes.

The topic of fracking has led to the students presenting to multiple groups and audiences, concluding with a presentation slated for March in Washington D.C. before the Secretary of Education.

William Elaskey, a professor in the college of education and board member at Federal Hocking, along with some of the CARE students, Hawk and students Mason Dishong, Herron Linscott, Donnie McCain, Nathaniel Reed, Gregory Wilson and Tyler Wilson, traveled to Cincinnati earlier in the fall to present about fracking at the National Network for Educational Renewal conference. The group has also presented to the the local rotary and the Patton College of Education.

As the students were working on their final projects for the class this past week, they took time to look back on what they had learned and accomplished through the semester.

Herron Linscott said that the class and the work with the CARE students has allowed for the students to collect more information to create their own opinions on the topics.

One of the main purposes of the class, said Hawk, is to allow the students to form their own opinions based on the evidence they gather.

“The teachers let us develop our own opinions on what is true and not,” said Mackenzie Schloss.

Hawk referred to the concept as progressive education, placing the learning on the shoulders of the students.

“This teaches them how to use their mind well to make and develop informed decisions,” said Hawk.

Throughout the course, students have interviewed 25 individuals ranging from teachers and administrators at the school to business people and advocates for particular causes.

The students have also had the opportunity to take field trips which related to the topic they were discussing at that time such as going to OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital when researching ebola and the animal shelter when researching animal cruelty.

It is a unique learning environment in today’s schools, but according to Principal Cliff Bonner it is exactly the type the school is striving to implement.

“That class (controversial topics in a democratic society) is a model for the district’s operating principles,” said Bonner. “It is engaging the students with an inquiry-based model. That is what we try to do here.”

Bonner added that it was nice for the school to be able to incorporate the CARE students into that type of a learning environment so that they can one day bring that to their classrooms.

As part of their final topic for the course, the students have been working on a video to submit to a contest through the Patton College of Education on why public education is important. That video will be entered for a chance to win $1,000 for the class.