Classroom Conversations: Using Multimedia to Explore Global Issues

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Originally published on the Edmodo Blog

Each day, we hear a story in the news related to the impacts of migration, climate change, or language loss. These stories are important touchstones of our times, impacting individuals, families, and our local and global communities. How can educators bring these topics to the classroom while connecting them to students’ daily lives?

The Global Oneness Project presents multimedia stories exploring these issues. We provide accompanying lesson plans—aligned to standards—to help teachers integrate these stories and issues into classrooms. I’ll offer some examples, which will include teacher-led, one-on-one, and small group classroom discussions as well as reflective writing questions to challenge students’ critical thinking skills.

Because these themes can be easily integrated across subjects, stories of migration, climate change, and language loss provide an interdisciplinary approach to learning and offer important cross-cultural connections. And because they are presented through multimedia storytelling—text, photography, and film—they meaningfully engage students’ visual and critical thinking skills.

When students have an opportunity to explore timely, global issues with their peers, pose potential solutions, and reflect on their own lives, learning becomes alive and relevant, compelling students to think about the world and themselves in new ways.


What are some ways students can discuss migration in the classroom?

The news today includes story after story about refugees and migrants fleeing their countries. According to The Washington Post, roughly 10.5 million people worldwide are being forced to flee their homes due to persecution, war, and other safety issues in their own countries. Children make up a large share—46% in 2012. In 2015, the refugee crisis hit extreme proportions, with a million refugees and migrants arriving in the European Union that year alone.

One effective approach to exploring this global issue with students is through photography and film. Why? As I see with my own children, students are continuously using film and photography to tell their own stories through social media. This activity primes them to learn through these mediums. Films and photography tell universal stories across boundaries and languages. They also expand students’ world and introduce them to struggles and innovations beyond their daily experience. This paves the way for engaging classroom conversations.

I particularly like this photo essay, “Crossing Borders,” by Ciril Jazbec. The photographs document Syrian refugees—individuals and families—migrating through Europe. The photos reflect the intensity, hardship, and sheer enormity of this displaced population. “Far From Home,” the accompanying lesson plan, provides ways to comprehend and analyze the photographs using teacher-led and one-to-one discussion questions. Prior to viewing the photos, students are asked if they have heard about the migrant/refugee crisis and what stories they have come across in the media. After explaining that refugees usually travel lightly and can only take one bag with them as they flee, they are asked: If you had to pack one bag with five items, what would you bring? Why?

As a class, students discuss the activities and actions taking place in the refugee camps as depicted in the photos. They are also challenged to consider how photography may communicate differently than a written piece.

This story is one among several that are a part of a Migration Collection from the Project. Other stories include a film about a Salvadoran immigrant and her experience transitioning to the United States and a photo essay that documents the Interoceanic Highway in Peru and the negative consequences the construction is having on indigenous cultures, including immigration and unplanned migration.

Climate Change

What does climate change look like in coastal communities around the world and what are some classroom discussion questions to explore the potential impacts?

Impacts of climate change are especially suited for presentation through film and photography due to their engaging imagery. One of the Project’s short films, Isle de Jean Charles by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, documents two families who are facing a future where rising seas, coastal erosion, and storms are threatening to wash away their home on a small island of the Louisiana coast. Scenes include submerged houses, dying trees, children fishing, and residents describing their personal challenges. Such scenes bring this community and its challenges to life, vividly drawing students into real-world stories of climate change.

In the accompanying lesson plan, “A Vanishing Island,” students are guided through a classroom discussion with questions such as: What are some advantages and disadvantages to living near the coast? What do the characters in the film like and dislike about living on the Louisiana coast? And, What might the residents of the island lose if they became climate refugees? Through reflective writing prompts, students are asked to pretend they are journalists covering the story of the Isle de Jean Charles.

Take a look at the Climate Change Collection. It contains this story from Louisiana as well as ones from Alaska, Kiribati, and the polar regions of our planet. Common themes embedded throughout the Climate Change Collection include connection to home, coastal living, change versus tradition, cultural displacement, bearing witness, responsibility, and sustainability.

Language Loss

How does language provide a sense of identity? What might be lost when a language disappears?

UNESCO estimates that half of the 7,000 living languages spoken today will disappear if nothing is done to preserve them. In the United States, many Native American languages are struggling to survive—more than 130 of these languages are currently at risk, with 74 languages considered “critically endangered.” Each of these endangered languages preserve priceless cultural heritage.

Every student can relate to the experience of speaking a language and the significance this has to their identity. Many students have relatives that speak other languages, giving them access to valuable stories, cultures, and traditions. What might happen when a language disappears?

This question is explored in our 9-minute film, Marie’s Dictionary, about Marie Wilcox, a Native American woman who is the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni, and a dictionary she created to keep the language alive. In the accompanying lesson plan, students are challenged to consider how important it is for Marie to preserve her language. In one discussion question, students are asked: What would’ve happened if Marie hadn’t created her dictionary? Do you think it matters? And students are asked to write essays detailing innovative ways of preserving languages.

Marie’s Dictionary is one of a number of Project’s films and photo essays that highlight threatened cultures and explore the value of cultural diversity.

Global Conversations

Experienced through multimedia, these three global issues create global-to-local connections and challenge students’ assumptions. Teachers can integrate these stories into current curricula to provide a relatable context for global challenges. I’ve heard some thoughtful student responses to these stories over the years. What strikes me each time I share them with students are the personal connections they make, even if the story or issue is taking place on the other side of the world. This is the unique power of film and photography—to engage and compel creativity and problem-solving. In the classroom, the use of multimedia storytelling to convey important global issues creates meaningful opportunities for learning.

Image from the photo essay, "Crossing Borders," by Ciril Jazbec.

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