Monday, 7 September 2015

The first day of school...the plans have changed

The Syrian refugee crisis has shaken me. I look at the faces of Syrians still in Syria, those who have made it to Europe, and those who have gotten to Canada. I can't imagine taking such risks, and this drives home the fact that, for Syrians fleeing their homes, the risks outweigh staying.

I want to do something, and the first thing I wanted to do was sponsor a Syrian family. This seems especially fitting for me, as my husband was one of the 68,000 Vietnamese refugees to make it to Canada as a result of the nation's sponsorship program. Obviously, this is a big step, and we're not quite ready to make a commitment.  But I still want to do something. 

This led me to make the decision to delay my first week plans for school. Instead of jumping right into short stories and plays, two of my classes are going to complete guided research about Syria and the Syrian refugee crisis. The ultimate goal is for students to write letters to Hon. Chris Alexander (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) and MP David Tilson (our local representative). Fortunately, I am able to delay getting into the regularly scheduled program, which is already full, because I have a department head who encourages us to try new and different things, and a principal who is more interested in deep learning than content coverage.

I have struggled to figure out how I can bring this topic to my students. Fortunately, I am connected on Facebook and Twitter to a great number of educators who have been sharing articles and their experiences. My rough outline of what I think I am going to do is here.

A colleague and I were talking about images, specifically the horrifying image of Alan Kurdi drowned on a beach in Greece. We also brainstormed some quotations, but the one that really stuck out to me was Joseph Stalin's quotation “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic”. I decided against using the image of Kurdi drowned, which has spurred the increased interest in helping Syrian refugees, as his aunt has requested that people remember her nephew as he was: smiling and happy. I decided that I am going to have students look at an image of refugees in Germany and an image of Alan Kurdi in happier times.

I am hoping that these images and what they represent will bring encourage discussion and interest, before students are tasked with doing some research. Because it will only be the first day of school, I have found the research for the students. They will have access to a variety of articles, images, and videos to help them (and me) understand the crisis and what Canada is (or isn't) doing.

To be honest, I am rather uncomfortable with my new first day plans, as I am taking three risks:
1. students will engage and discuss on Day 1 (what if they don't?)
2. my clear goal, but vague "travel map" will get us to the letter (what if the goal is only clear to me? what if we get lost?)
3. the technology will work (please don't fail me!) 

Hopefully, by the end of the week, the students and I have powerful letters to send and strengthened empathy for the Syrians forced from their home.

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