Finding Common Ground (Part II)

Michael NachbarBy Michael Nachbar, GOA Executive Director

In my last post I proposed that coursework should foster and expose the connections that exist between topics, subjects, and ideas. Getting students to see these connections begins with thoughtfully constructed classes and assignments. Below are a few class assignments that GOA teachers created that help students to begin to see common threads connecting ideas and people.

1. An early unit in Bioethics covers the ethics of mandatory vaccination. In preparation for a position paper, students read an article from the Washington Post, watch a PBS Frontline documentary, interviewed someone from their school about their own school’s vaccination policies, and curated for their Google+ community, articles from no fewer than a dozen different news sources. Students in the class assembled articles from news sources ranging from the New York Times to the hispanicbusiness.com. Students engaged in lively discussion with their teacher and one another on the four essential questions of ethical inquiry. Later, students wrote a paper about the ethics of mandating a pertussis vaccine.

This assignment splices science, history, policy, ethics, and humanities. And, to top it off, students from around the world compare vaccination policies from their own school communities to see first hand, some complex ethical questions playing out in the real world.

2. Our Global Health course asks students to research a health issue whose problems are exacerbated by popular, cultural, or national beliefs and policies. Students prepare by reading Steven Johnson’s Ghost Map about struggles eradicating cholera in Victorian London. Then students choose their own contemporary global health issue to analyze in the same way and are encouraged to choose an issue that directly affects their family, school, or community. The blend of science, history, and sociology works here, as does the leveraging of the global online environment: look to your own community and come back to class with your findings as a way to diversify perspectives.

When students get to share their own perspective, and listen to the perspectives of their peers, their ability to connect with one another, and connect with ideas, grows. This is how we can begin to teach our students to see what mosquitos and schools (see my earlier post) have in common.