History and Current Issues for the Classroom

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Globalization in a Modern Asian Experience Class

by Guest Blogger Sophia Bae, Syosset High School

Robert Scoble

One of the main topics I address in my Modern Asian Experience class is globalization and the interconnectedness of the world. It is a topic of relevance that has many manifestations – whether we are discussing the explosive popularity of Psy’s Gangnam Style, comparing the benefits and drawbacks of our education systems in relation to China and Japan, or exploring the disappearance of a manufacturing base in America, in order to reflect on our societal and economic interdependence.

The Choices Unit, International Trade: Competition and Cooperation in a Globalized World, provides substance and enrichment to our class discussions. The student readings provide a valuable background in setting up the historical context of trade and globalization as well as introduce key definitions of important economic terms such as comparative advantage, protectionism, and World Trade Organization (WTO), etc.

For this unit, I use Mardi Gras, Made in China, a 2006 documentary by David Redmon that follows the life-cycle of Mardi-Gras beads from a small factory in Fuzhou, China to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

I also utilize Thomas Friedman’s 2004 documentary, The Other Side of Outsourcing, which explores the impact of globalization in India. In addition, the class examines numerous current events articles that address issues of labor in the United States and China, as well as controversies involving working conditions at Foxconn, which manufacture many familiar products such as iphones and ipads. The activities and role-playing options from the Choices Unit is an excellent way to engage in an in-depth discussion of the role of values in creating economic policies, whether from a U.S. perspective or the perspective of other countries.

While I used the presentation of options suggested by the Choices unit, I created my own approach to option 5. For the concluding activity, the students work in small groups with the goal of producing an agreed upon option 5. This exercise requires them to actively articulate their key values and use their negotiation skills while encouraging students to reflect on labor laws and policies regarding corporate and individual responsibilities. It also allows the groups to recognize the limitations of what America as a single nation can do for other countries. Inevitably, the recognition of these limitations promotes discussions about national sovereignty and the need for workers in other countries to resolve their own problems. What I find particularly valuable about these discussions is that they become a concrete way for a student to argue his/her stance on economic and philosophical perspective of positive sum vs. zero sum game.

While this unit was used in my senior elective in regards to contemporary issues in Asia, I was also able to apply the assignment as part of an election project in my 9th grade AP World class that investigated the presidential candidates’ positions on economic and political issues. Furthermore, my colleagues plan to incorporate the materials in their senior economics classes, Economics of Inequality and AP Microeconomics

International Trade: Competition and Cooperation in a Globalized World is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.

Technology Integration in the Classroom

Edutopia recently put together a short video of why the integration of technology in the classroom is so vital.

Over the past several years we’ve been integrating more and more technology into our curriculum units and our Teaching with the News lessons. With Scholars Online Videos you can bring university scholars and policy experts into your classroom. Now with iBooks Textbooks those scholars are integrated directly in our text.

How are you integrating technology in your classroom?


Using Infographics for Policy Deliberation on Afghanistan

by Amy Sanders
Yarmouth ME High School Teacher & Choices Teaching Fellow

Infographic 5 © Newsweek

I incorporate the CHOICES curriculum, The United States in Afghanistan, into my Middle East Studies course. The curriculum is an excellent resource that provides helpful information about Afghanistan’s history, geography, and people, and is the framework around which I build our study of Afghanistan.

When teaching CHOICES units, I often modify the policy deliberation into two distinct phases: first, I have students share key points related to their policy options; second, I move into a “fishbowl” discussion to deliberate the pros and cons of the policy options.

In the past, when teaching the CHOICES unit about the US Invasion of Iraq, I located data that the US Department of Defense reported to Congress. Before we began policy deliberations, I would project some of the data from these reports (which included, for example, graphs of weekly security incidents or percentage of Iraqis with electricity). I would ask students to sit with members of their policy option group and to confer and take notes about how each graph/chart related to their policy option. When we began the fishbowl deliberation, I had color copies of the data available in the center of the table. Students would reach for a relevant graph or chart to back up a point they wanted to make. This method encouraged students to incorporate additional relevant, current evidence into the deliberation.

I wanted to try something similar for our policy deliberation on Afghanistan, and this time asked students to analyze infographics related to the war in Afghanistan. I created a handout introducing students to infographics (which includes an analysis sheet). Students divided into small groups, with each group analyzing one infographic. I used the infographics from the links below:

Infographic 1 – The White House – Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq

Infographic 2 – Internews – Violence Against Journalists in Afghanistan

Infographic 3 – Asia Foundation – Visualizing Afghanistan: A Survey of the Afghan People

Infographic 4 – Plumegraph.org – Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

Infographic 5 – Newsweek – Where’s the Money Going in Afghanistan?

Infographic 6 – US Action  – Ten Years of War in Afghanistan: Bridges NOT Bombs!

Infographic 7 – National Post (Canada) – Blood and Treasure

Infographic 8 – New York Times – Indicators of Worsening Security Situation in Afghanistan

Students rotated the writing responsibility in their infographic analysis and recorded interesting insights and thoughtful questions – including about media bias. Small groups then shared their analysis with the whole group; as teams presented, students within policy option groups conferred about how the data related to their policy option.

Overall, student feedback about the lesson was positive, including these comments:

“Visuals stick in the brain better.”

“This activity gave me a new way to think about data and a new outlook on the war.”

“It made all of the data and numbers relative, which made me better understand the implications of the war.”

“I saw trends that I hadn’t really thought about before.”

“Some of the infographics broke down abstract numbers and helped me to relate to them.”

“The infographics we looked at brought different perspectives and showed how you can manipulate data and numbers to make a point.”

“The infographic about the danger in Afghanistan helped me to see the progression of danger very clearly. It helped me to see visually that conditions there have not necessarily gotten better even after 10+ years of war.”

“This data helped me to better understand and reinforced a lot of what we already learned from the [CHOICES] curriculum.”

“I’d never really thought about how many civilians in Afghanistan have been killed by insurgents vs. the US military. The data showed that far more have died at the hands of insurgents. That was eye opening.”

Immersed in a media-rich world, students are drawn to visualizations of data, and infographics give us new ways to think about and understand information. I believe it’s important for educators to help students both to make connections to their prior learning and to analyze and challenge the information presented in infographics. Students’ analysis of infographics tied into the CHOICES curriculum on Afghanistan and helped extend student learning. It was fun and engaging too… a win/win for my students.

The United States in Afghanistan is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.

Teaching the U.S. Role in the Middle East in 11th & 12th Grade Social Problems

DoD photo by Sgt. KimberlyJohnson, U.S. Army

By Guest Blogger Hayley Vatch

Choices Teaching Fellow

The U.S. role in the Middle East is a surprisingly popular topic of interest for students in my 11th and 12th grade Social Problems class.  Although the class is focused on U.S. domestic social issues such as poverty and racism, I also make time to address more global issues such as the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the refugees who have left these countries.  Studying the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is not only important for my U.S.-born students with relatives or friends who serve in the military, but also for the high population of students at my school who are refugees.  The public high school where I teach in Denver, Colorado has students from over 40 countries, with the second-largest population being from Iraq (Mexico is first), so I mainly focus on the U.S. in Iraq in my teaching.

Since my Social Problems course is only a semester, there is limited time to delve into a topic as complex as the U.S. presence in the Middle East.  Below is a fairly flexible plan that I have used the past two semesters of this course.  Combining Choices’ Teaching with the News resources, the Choices unit A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq with a National Public Radio audio clip, a Veteran guest speaker, and information from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees makes for a concise but informative, well-rounded, and thought-provoking study of the U.S .in Iraq.

Days 1-2 – Essential Question: Where is Iraq and who are its people?

Resources: As a warm-up, students create a KWL chart for the U.S. war in Iraq.  At this time they complete on the “Know” and “Want to Know” sections.  The “Learned” section is completed at the end of the unit. A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq – Student Book p. 2-13, Teacher Resource Book p. 6-7 (Part I reading and study guide questions)

Days 2-3 – Essential Question: Who was Saddam Hussein and what was Iraq like before the U.S. invasion?

Resources: A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq – Student Book p. 14-25, Teacher Resource Book p. 29-30 (Part II reading and study guide questions)

Day 4 – Essential Question: Why did the U.S. invade Iraq?  How does the war in Iraq affect Iraqi people and U.S. military?

Guest speaker: I use a good friend who served in Iraq in 2004 and again in 2007 with the U.S. Marine Corps.  I have my students write down at least one question that they would like the speaker to address.  I give the questions to the speaker a day ahead of time to give him an idea of what the students know and might not know.  Students’ homework is to write a reflection on what they learned from the speaker.

Day 5 – Essential Question: What are the social, political, economic, and human costs of war?

Resources: Teaching With the News lesson The Cost of War. I print out the appropriate reading from the web site and give each group of 3-4 students the graphic organizer handout along with one of the three web site readings.  They complete their own portion of the graphic organizer using the reading, and then we share our notes as a class.  I also always show the Scholars Online video from the lesson plan entitled “Why is it important for high school students to understand the costs of the United States’ wars?”  Students answer this question using information from the video as well as their own opinions as their exit assignment for the day.

Day 6 – Essential Question: What effect has war had on the civilians of Iraq, particularly those who have been displaced by the war?  What is the refugee experience in America like for Iraqi refugees?

Online Resources:

UNHCR data and summary of Iraq’s refugees

NPR audio clip about the struggles of refugees in America

Day 7 – Essential Question: How do people of various backgrounds perceive and experience the U.S. war in Iraq?

Resources: A Global Controversy: The US Invasion of Iraq– Blogging Iraq activity found on p. 55-59 of the Teacher Resource Book

Complete the “Learned” section of the KWL chart as an exit assignment.

A Global Controversy: The U.S. Invasion of Iraq is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as an iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.


Martin Luther King Day Speaker Tells of Current Human Rights Violations in Darfur

By Derek Reichenbecher
Choices Teaching Fellow and High School Teacher, Farmingdale, NJ


Last summer I attended the Choices Leadership Institute on Human Rights. One of our guest speakers was, El Fadel Arbab , a refuge from Darfur who now lives in Maine.  (Read about his incredible story here). I was so touched by El-Fadel’s story this summer that I wanted to bring him to Howell, NJ to tell his story to our students.  When I relayed the story to my supervisor in September he was hooked.  Our school was shut down for almost two weeks due to Hurricane Sandy, so we will have school on MLK Day.  I’m pretty excited that El-Fadel will be our guest speaker that day.

Inviting a speaker on MLK day to talk about present day human rights violations around the world  is a great way to help students place the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in a broader global context.  A few Choices units that can help teachers make these types of connections are the Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy, and Confronting Genocide: Never Again.

The Choices 2013 Summer Leadership InstituteThe 1960s: Upheaval at Home and Abroad, will include significant content from the Civil Rights unit.

Genocide and The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

By Kenneth Hung, Choices Teaching Fellow and high school classroom teacher, Philadelphia, PA


I am putting together a unit on Genocide and R2P to be used in my Contemporary World Conflicts class this January.  The goal of the unit is to have students understand and assess whether R2P could have/should be used as a justification for intervention in the recent Libyan conflict and current Syrian conflict.  This is what the unit is looking like so far:


Have students define genocide using the “wall” activity in the Choices Confronting Genocide: Never Again curriculum
. Have students read the Genocide Convention and Defining Genocide handouts and answer questions.  I’ll also ask them to evaluate if certain historical events might be considered genocide (see Day 1 of curriculum again), The Genocide map in the curriculum is a great visual for the students.


Lecture on history of genocide from Confronting Genocide Teacher Resource book and lecture notes on R2P from the 2012 Choices Leadership Institute.


Show the movie The Devil Came on Horseback, which looks at the tragedy in Darfur as seen through the eyes of an American military observer.  I’ll use movie to critique the argument that R2P should be used in Darfur.  I’ll also use some notes I have on the Arab Spring’s impact on Libya and Syria, including Choices Teaching with the News (TWTN) on “The Conflict in Syria” and other TWTNs on the Arab Spring.

Debate Project

I’ll then divide students into 4 groups – students will conduct research and then debate the following positions, probably in a Structured Academic Controversy format.

  • R2P should have been used against Qaddafi in Libya (YES/NO)
  • R2P should be used against Assad in Syria (YES/NO)


Students will post a reflection on my website with their opinion on each debate topic. Students must address at least two arguments used by each side in the two debates.

If anyone knows of some great resources and readings that might be useful to me in this unit, please post them in the comments section below.

2012 Leadership Institute

Choices just completed its 2012 Summer Leadership Institute, which centered around the Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy unit.  We welcomed twenty-three exceptional teachers from across the country.  These new Choices Teaching Fellows are now planning outreach activities in their schools and at many state conferences.  Visit our Upcoming Workshops page to see if a Choices workshop will be held at an event near you. We hope to receive your application for our 2013 Summer Leadership Institute! Details will be available in January.


Choices Teaching Fellows

2012 Choices Teaching Fellows


Choices Teaching Fellows met with students from 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa to talk together about Arab Spring.



The U.S. in Afghanistan unit in a Comparative Philosophy of War Class

By Guest Blogger Lisa Carter
Choices Teaching Fellow, Housatonic Valley Regional High School, NY

We have just completed the Afghanistan unit in an honors level seniors course, “The Comparative Philosophy of War”. We spent the semester studying attitudes about fighting wars throughout history and ended the course with an in-depth look at the war in Afghanistan. My students LOVED the unit. We began our study with a field trip to NYC where we visited the 9/11 memorial and then the United Nations where we had a special briefing on Afghanistan by Kieran Dwyer, a member of the Peacekeeping staff.

We followed the unit as is written and used the supplemental materials as well as the Scholars Online videos. The “Looking at Afghanistan” lesson was extremely successful in terms of identifying students’ impressions about Afghanistan. There was a lot of great discussion and they realized just how much they had to learn about the details of the country before they could begin to really understand the situation there. My students did not have any difficulty with the reading materials and there was much animated class discussion throughout the unit.

We watched the films Human Terrain, Restrepo and clips of Charlie Wilson’s War. I plan to include Afghan Star next year. The films, along with the Scholars Online videos, were extremely important in helping students understand different aspects of the war as well as the Afghan culture.

I took about three weeks to complete the unit in a modified block schedule. This is a ten-day rotation where I see the students for seven meetings. Four meetings are 48 minutes long and three are 72 minutes long. The 72-minute blocks were the most interesting as we could combine film and discussion in a comfortable amount of time.

The role play was excellent. The students were so well prepared and had become so curious about the details of the war and life in Afghanistan that many began to follow the war more closely in the media and they conducted some of their own research about Afghanistan and the war. They could speak to the complexity of the political, geopolitical, cultural and economic aspects of each option. Those students who were the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked great questions as well.

I give a survey to students at the end of this course and nearly every student cited the Choices units as the best part of the class. (We also used Responding to Terrorism in September). I look forward to teaching this unit again next year!

Using Choices in the Middle School Classroom

By guest blogger Caitlin Moore, Excel Academy Charter School

I just finished teaching a unit on foreign policy for an 8th grade government class at a high performing urban charter school in East Boston, Massachusetts. It serves 210 middle school students from primarily East Boston and Chelsea. Approximately 72% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and approximately 55% speak a language other than English at home.

My students and I had a fantastic time learning about the tools of foreign policy and how U.S. foreign policy has changed over time. One major benefits of this unit was that it provided middle school students with a memorable broad overview of U.S. history that should provide a better foundation for the many details in their high school classes. In addition this provided a fantastic introduction to key vocabulary that will help in any future social studies class as well as in understanding current events in the world today (isolate, neutral, deterrence, terrorism, aid, sanction, treaty, negotiation, compromise).

At the core of this three-week unit were modified Choices materials. We completed two modified options role plays – one on the Challenge to the New Republic: the War of 1812 and one on The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons. Below is a description of few ways that I used ideas, texts and activities provided by Choices to create this experience. I hope that some of them are useful to other middle school teachers.

1. Teaching about Values and Interests: I spent two class periods at the beginning of the government course exploring the idea and interest. The pay off was huge – students would refer to this idea throughout the course and it provided an easy yet rich framework for them to analyze political decisions. Below are a few middle school specific tricks.

a. Explicitly teach the concept of Values and Interests and their characteristics. While the values themselves have multiple meanings, I found it helpful to define the difference between values and interests. I used the short definitions below as well as listed explicitly the characteristics of values and interests (for example, people sometimes believe opposing values; interests are often easier to identify; people often justify their actions using values).

Values – What is important to a group of people
Interests – What will benefit a group of people (you can attach a price tag to interests)
Laws – The rules of a country, what is allowed and forbidden.
Morals – What a group of people considers to be right

In addition to providing explicit notes I also created a mini-scenario in which a person has to choose between spending $5 dollars at Burger King or donating the money to save the environment. We played around with this idea using different values and practicing the vocabulary.

b. Play with the concept of values often. My students really enjoyed using their value cards to play the simple card game ‘War.’ One student would place a Values card down. They would then try to convince each other which value was more important. Whoever ‘won’ each round got to keep the cards. Whoever had the most cards at the end of time — 2 -8 min seemed to work– won the game. In their desire to win, students practiced using the language of values in a context free environment. This made it easier to evaluate the same values when discussing subjects like the War of 1812 or nuclear weapons. When disagreements got heated it was fun to have a pair present their argument and have the whole class vote on which was more convincing).

2. Using the Options Role Play. The options role play is what makes Choices so fantastic – especially with middle school students who love to discuss and perform. The assigned role-play positions are extremely helpful because it makes middle schoolers feel like they are engaged in a doable challenge. Instead of trying to develop their own position, they can devote their energy to finding specific evidence, making their argument understandable to their peers, and building on each others’ points (three major middle school skills). Below are a few tricks that worked for me:

a. Making positions accessible. The language in the positions is challenging and does require small modifications so that all students can access it. At the 8th grade level, I photocopied the ‘options in brief’ for students and had them analyze this small piece of text in terms of values, interests, key points, and summary of position. I found sentence starters/frames such as the following to be very helpful:

A person who believes this position values _____________________ because____.

A person who believes this position would be willing to sacrifice that value of _______________ for ____________.

A person who believes this position would never allow____________________.

A person who believes this position is afraid of/that___________________________.

A person who believes this position would be will to negotiate or compromise on the topic of __________________________.

A person who believes this position thinks it is necessary for ________________________ to happen or else __________.

Then for homework I gave students the full option summary as well as the beliefs and arguments. The accompanying questions required students to do a fair amount of summarizing in their own words as well as evaluate their strongest arguments by circling them and reading them out loud (signature required) in a convincing way. The time investment to help students understand, articulate, and ‘own’ their positions definitely paid off in the role play.

b. Setting students up with background knowledge. For me, this was the most intimidating step of using Choices. There was so much fantastic information in the units, but I felt overwhelmed (at first) in trying to figure out what I needed to communicate with students so they would have a successful options role play. In addition, the text font size and layout is geared to high school students. Below are some strategies that allowed my students to access the ideas in the text:

  • Read the options roles first, and then backwards plan the important information. After reading the options in brief I summarized the discussion for myself in 1 to 2 sentences. Then I went back through the information and only used sections that most directly related to the discussion.
  • Use the primary source quotations throughout the text. These were so well chosen that I was always able to create mini-synthesis activities around them. They are so easy to find in the text (bold, large, italics) that I could easily find and then recopy them into my own worksheet. In addition, students were able to weave them into the debate which helped reinforce the need for high quality quotations in all types of discussion/writing (not just for English class).
  • Use the Scholars Online. These short videos were well organized and students felt so smart listening to experts talk about each topic. We enjoyed watching them together as a class. There was a huge added benefit in the fact that we could re-watch the most complicated ones and work together to take notes. It allowed me to coach their listening and note taking skills much more easily than when I am delivering notes at the front of the room.

c. The Options Role Play itself. I think that any format that you use for the role play (Socratic Seminar, Harkness Discussion, Model Congress/Model United Nations, Debate) will work. I chose to use the parliamentary procedure of Model UN because that is what I felt most comfortable with. One of my colleagues always uses debates when doing a modified options role play with her 6th grade students. With clear positions and an arsenal of high quality evidence and quotations, it’s hard to go wrong. I think that any format that your students are already used to will work.

Digital Tools for Active Learning

The Choices Program is midway through a multiyear initiative to increase our use of digital media as a teaching tool. While we are enthusiastic about the potential of digital curriculum, we want to make sure that any new materials we produce enhance, not obstruct, the most important part of the student experience—what happens inside the classroom. In terms of student engagement and active learning, we believe there is no substitute for the face-to-face interaction that happens between teachers and students during class. At Choices we are committed to active learning. We focus on developing materials that foster a participatory, student-centered experience because we want students to engage actively with history and think critically about its relevance to the world they live in. With this in mind, the Choices Program has been looking at ways to use new media (including video and audio content) to make the process of reading a digital student text more active than the traditional print format. We have a lot of ideas, and I am excited about the prospect of making the text come alive for students in new ways. We have also had conversations about digital lessons, and our videographer Tanya has developed some amazing digital tools to go with some of our new units.

We know that technology can sometimes be distracting. We do not want to isolate students on devices that detract from group activity. Whatever digital tools we develop, we want them to help teachers foster analytic discussion and productive classroom work. Digital curriculum materials have a lot of potential, but they cannot and should not replace the absolutely essential role that teachers play in student learning. They need to be designed in service to an active and participatory classroom experience.

These are some of the things that we are thinking about as we begin discussions about digital curriculum. What do you think about how digital materials can be used effectively in the classroom?

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