Political leaders across the USA are being sworn into office this month. As elected officials, they’ll help make decisions that affect towns, cities, and states across the USA. Young people have a lot of opinions and ideas about the issues affecting their futures. That’s why so many students are exploring American Perspectives, a project based learning unit that allows students to form and share opinions about some of today’s most important issues such as education, health care, the economy, energy, immigration. Students have access to information about a variety of political perspectives through guiding questions, videos, texts, and images.
This week, we are excited to highlight a 5th grade class from Fox Meadow Elementary School in New York, USA as our PenPal Stars!
In addition to teaching about current US policies, this unit is a great way to invite students to learn about and practice social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. As students debate political issues with peers from around the world, they have opportunities to develop respect, successful collaboration skills, social engagement strategies, and more! Studies show that students that regularly practice SEL show more positive behaviors, experience an 11 percentile point gain in academic performance, and are more prepared for success in the workforce.
Although American Perspectives focuses on the US political landscape, students from around the world participate and give feedback on the project. Often times, students from other countries provide information about their country’s political policies allowing our global community to compare governments. In order to debate current political policies, Mr. Beaconson’s students used their social and emotional learning (SEL) skills to create a mature, respectful conversation about their opinions.
We reached out to class 5DB to learn more about how global project based learning helped them advance their opinion writing skills, form political beliefs, and deepen their understanding of the US political landscape:
PENPAL SCHOOLS: Why do you think it's important to learn with other students from around the world?
S: I think it is important to learn with students from the other side of the world because students around the world have very different opinions, and different ways of living, and it is interesting to know what it is.
J: Because you can see how others think, and that can affect you in a lot of ways, even changing your ways of thinking.
C: I think it is important because then you can see their prospective.
Michael: Because it will change the way you look at things.
What was the most important lesson you learned in this project?
J: That people have different opinions, and sometimes different opinions can help solve the problem.
S: Your opinion is not the only right one.
J: I think that the most important lesson is that the world isn't perfect, and that even though you have your own ways of thinking the of how the world should be, the people who are in charge are in charge.
How has your project changed the way you think about the world?
S: My project changed the way I thought about the world because I used to think building a wall was horrible, but now I don't really know if it is good, or bad.
S: I think I will start to take care of the world more, and stop being so careless because it could ruin the earth and everything will be polluted and infected.
Joanna: Now I realize how much work it is to take care of such a big community.
S: I feel like I am more prepared for tests that I am going to have later in life.
What has been your favorite thing about learning with PenPals?
N: My favorite thing about learning with PenPals is seeing other people's opinions and perspectives.
A: I like how I can post my own opinion because people really seem to care about it.
S: I liked writing to other people around the world.
N: The comments, I love getting helpful and inspirational advice.
S: My favorite thing about learning with PenPals is that I get to see what other students my age around the world write about, and to learn from their writing.
What is the most interesting thing you learned from your PenPals?
A: I got to learn how to comment, instead of just saying good job, and that was really hard for me.
N: How different the education is here then somewhere else.
N: I have learned A LOT of things from Pen Pals but of everything it is probably the unemployment rate in America.
D: I learned that 25% of kids drop out of school.
S: I learned that there isn't just one answer, and laws and situations are difficult to solve. I also learned that some things are really serious and I can't believe I didn't know about them.
What advice do you have about being a great PenPal?
N: Be nice and think about what you are saying before you post it.
J: Be you and do not just say something because someone else said it. Do it because you think it.
D: Just write what you think, and don't worry about what other people write. Be confident that what you think is correct.
These students stood out as PenPal Stars because they created a respectful space for peers to talk about their political opinions. Their discussion responses are well-researched, providing evidence from the text, videos, and their own lives to support their arguments. Check out these future political leaders’ ideas in this project based learning example:
“I think that a good way of improving our education policy is by deciding on the teachers salary by their teaching quality, because we can't have teachers show up at school and just read from their textbooks have the same salary as the teachers who have patience and teach each concept thoroughly. (Click to Tweet) If they don't have the same salary, then it kind of forces the teachers to work hard. It is also unfair for the students at school who are receiving poor education because they have to pay the same amount of money.”
“I think schools around the world should consider not rushing kids. When children feel rushed they feel they should do things faster. A way you could fix being rushed is go through it many times until you think everyone knows how to do it. Being rushed can cause lack of education some people start to get behind talking in a come voice could make children feel more relaxed. before moving to the next subject make sure no one feels rushed. Being rushed is a bad feeling. So many people don't graduate from high school every day as it said in the video 65% of people aren't up to their grade level I think that's because they’re worrying a lot and are not focused on school. If teachers did not rush there kids I think more people could graduate.”
“One thing I would get rid of is homework. I don't think it's good to get rid of homework fully, I just think that lots of teachers give to much of it. For example, I have read articles about some cities in Switzerland getting rid of homework because of parents complaining to principals about their kids being very stressed about homework. I even get a little stressed sometimes with homework. We still need homework to get smarter, and remember all the things we learned that day or week, but we don't need tons of it. I do appreciate homework, but not a lot of it. I think we should get rid of some homework, not all, but some.”
“Hi, I am in 5th grade at Fox Meadow school. I love writing and love my school. Even though I love my school there is definitely some things that I know I could improve in education, or test scores. After reading this text and watching this video I realized that education isn't perfect everywhere. If I had the power to improve Public Education around the world, the first thing I would do would be make classrooms smaller. Someone I know transferred to a private school after two months of six grade at public school. At his private school he had a class of 5-10 kids and two teachers. This could solve two problems. The first problem that this could fix would be test scores. If classrooms are smaller, then teachers could give more special help on things that there students are struggling with, but have already learned. If students get more time specifically on one thing, then when they take their test, they will be easily prepared and ready, which would most likely increase test scores. If schools had smaller classes like that in elementary School, and maybe 15 or 20 kids in middle school, it would be easier to understand the more difficult things in high school, and that would most likely result in less high school dropouts, and more people that could go to college, and get a better job when they are older.”
“If I were in charge of my town’s school district then I would make sure that if some people need to learn things slower or differently than the average student in their class then they should have extra help with whatever they need help with. So that way by the end of the year they will be at the same level as the average student in their class. If a student is more than average then they should be able to do more of what they do not know that way they can learn more by the end of the year rather than just reviewing what they already know. That way when they get to high school they will not drop out because of their grade level and how their progress is. If anyone is absent from school the school district should have a camera that shows everything that their class learns so that way when the student comes back after they are absent they already know everything that their class learned. And they will not have to fall behind because they missed one to two days or more and they will be able to do whatever their class does without a problem. Like math, or science. And even if their is not a camera that shows the student what they are learning the teacher should go over to the students house and drop off a little piece of paper that says what they learned that day. And if they have any problems with that the teacher should be at school early to help them with whatever they need help with. Also I think that every child should be treated the same and that no teachers should ever choose any favorites. Because it leaves children thinking that they are not important and that the other child is better than them. It makes them so sad and they have to enjoy their life because they only have one life to live so they should life their life and have so much fun.”
“If I would change one thing about the US education policy, I would get rid of electronic devices at school because kids are learning to learn in a way that is not good for their mind. Electronic devices are bad for the brain because kids are learning to get really attached to the device that they think that is their only world and sometimes children get upset when they have to put the device away. Devices should be taken away at school because sometimes children don't do the thing that they are suppose and they play games and go to inappropriate sites. When a child goes on to an inappropriate site they could lose privileges like using the device. But sometimes it isn't even the child's fault. Maybe when they were working an inappropriate link or ad pops up. Another reason devices should be taken away at school is because of cyberbullying. Children could be on a school appropriate site at home and could get hacked. When a child gets hacked at school or at home their personal information and passwords could be see to the person who hacked.
“I think that people should be more careful about breaking pipes with oil and gas, and other types of things holding dangerous types of energy. I also think that people should fix what they broke, and try to not release the types of energy that would spill out. It could badly change the habitat around you, including water contamination, and damage to the local environment around you.I also think that people should find more ways to power cars. If the government does find a way to power cars that doesn't affect the natural environment around you, i think people should use that new way a lot more often than electrical cars and gas.”
“I think that pollution is a very big deal in the United states and the government should definitely invest a lot of money in renewable energy because the sooner we change it the less of an issue it will become. It is our responsibility to take care of the earth and if we don't we will all suffer even if it might not seem like a very big deal, it is. I also think that Solar panels and electric cars should be less expensive so it is more accessible to more people. I think that everyone all over the world should give a thought about what they think about renewable energy. Renewable energy is very important for the next generations because it is very, very unfair that they were born into a world that was destroyed and polluted by there parents and grandparents and it is their responsibility to clean up this destroyed world that was left to them.” (Click to Tweet)
“Nonrenewable energy is not friendly to the environment. Despite the challenges and the costs of having renewable energy, the US government should try to invest more resources into renewable energy, to protect the plants, animal, human beings and the Earth. If Carbon Dioxide is causing climate change then we stop producing so much Carbon Dioxide. The developed countries can also chip in to help developing countries to spend more on renewable energy. Everyone has to work together if they want to make the world a better place. This is what I think the US can do.”
“I think that the US government should indeed invest more resources into renewable energy, because if we use energy that is unrenewable, then someday we will run out. I think that solar power energy is very efficient, because all you really need is a few boards of solar panels, and you have your electricity. You also will never run out, because the sun will never stop shining. Same thing for wind turbines, that use the wind to make electricity. Also for wind turbines, they only need winds to make electricity. All you need is a wind turbine. The wind will never stop blowing, unlike coal, which is limited on earth. I think that if the government really wants to have citizens change to using renewable resources for their electricity, they should make the resources a little cheaper, because the only reason that citizens don't buy the solar panels, is because they are too expensive. But if the government makes it cheaper, the citizens will start buying the solar panels. They also have to realize that maybe their descendants will one day have to electricity, which will mean to smartphones or computers!”
“The impact immigrants have on life in the United States is widely varied; they can help start businesses and further expand industries. However, they can also lead to partial downfall of the United States. The immigrants are really a "hit or miss," to put it into perspective. For example, Donald Trump wants to completely ban Muslims from coming to the U.S., mostly because there have been several cases of terrorist acts from citizens who have identified as Muslims. However, according the the article, immigrants have started businesses that have become very well known - such as ebay, Google, and Yahoo! In conclusion, immigrants that come to the United States can definitely have a great impact, but they can also be a liability to the United States (once again - the situation seems to be a "hit or miss.").”
“I do not agree with building a wall on the US-Mexico border. A wall isn't going to help stopping immigrants and we already have little walls that stop people from from Mexico to the US so they or we can't climb over to the other country illegally because people can't come over without a visa or a green card. Also, if we have a wall why it isn't only people from Mexico coming illegally, we have people from Europe as well. Putting a wall on one border isn't going to make a difference and isn't going to stop the majority of immigrants. Lots of immigrants come in from the eastern border. Lots of immigrants came/come from New York. It's not going to make a big enough difference that it's not going to be worth the money, the Mexicans probably won't pay for something they don't want.”
“To make sure that people don't cross illegally, I would have some sort passing place that they have on bridges that make you pay a few dollars. But instead I would have those that would make sure that people had a visa or a green card. I would also have that people say why they want to pass if they don't have a visa or green card. If I was running away from war and knew that America had protection and would go there but they would say that I was illegally crossing even though I was just running for my life and for protection. So my answer to the question of should the US government build a wall is no. Though maybe we should have a way that people could still enter if they were running for their lives.”
“I think that the president should build a wall but have military troops near the wall to check people if they have guns, knives, or weapons. The people who don't have any weapons should go to the other side of the wall maybe through a passageway where the military troops are. The people who do have weapons should be sent back to Mexico with military soldiers and they should be put in jail. The people who do not have any weapons should be escorted to America with workers to start a new life.”
“I would make sure that people have enough money to pay for their health. If some people couldn't afford to pay for their care, then I would make sure that they would get helped out. This is important and just like it said in the video, president Obama also helped people who couldn't pay for their appointments. Another thing that I would do is make sure that everyone has a health insurance so they can easily go to the doctor when they are sick or need to be cared for they can pay with their insurance. I will make sure that if somebody is sick and they can't go to the doctor because they can't pay, I will do it for them or at least help them out. If I was part of the government I would want to keep my citizens and if somebody is sick and can't go to the doctor then they have a chance of passing away and if we want to keep our citizens then we need to help them out so they can get the proper treatment and stay alive. Health care is important and is expensive so if someone needs help I will help them in the best way that I can.”
“I think that the US should get some people healthcare for free. Those people are the citizen's who are in poverty should get health insurance for free. There should be special hospitals that people in poverty can go to. It is very unfair for the people that cannot afford insurance and the government should make it fair.”
“If I were to change one thing about the US health care system I would ban bad drugs. Over hundreds of young aged teens have been addicted to drugs, I would band this because lots of adults have died or been sent to a special hospital to try and get you to stop taking bad drugs. My opinion about bad drugs are that they are very bad and unhealthy.”
“I would improve the US health care system by having the government step in to help those who are too poor, elderly, or have disabilities, because often times these people don't get the health care they need, and having the government step in would benefit these people, and possibly raise our life expectancy. Also, the health care that is given to these people should be high-quality, to make sure that they get better, and try to prevent future illnesses from arising. I think that people should have access to high-quality care without having a relatively high cost, to make sure that people that are unemployed, or cannot pay otherwise to get health care can get better.”
“I would improve the US health care system by having the cost of medical help the same for everyone, because if elderly people have to have more medical help while paying less, while the people without having more medical care have to pay more, it seems a bit unfair, but keeping the prices the same for the same care, that seems to make it not benefiting the elderly in every way.”
“One thing I would change in the US economic policy, is taxing. Taxing is a very important part with money. Taxing adds money to your purchase, which in my opinion, is not fair at all. How could people just add more money to your purchase, and you didn't even buy anything else?!
I don't think that tax is fair, but others do. Like what if you spent $500, and then it changes to $520?!? That would be so much money. I definitely would take out taxes from the US economy.
And taxes also make you spend more money. Spending more money means having less money. Having less money means you have to get a good paying job. But what do you know! Lots of the good paying jobs near you are taken. Then you have less money.”
“I can see that people who graduate from college are more likely to have a job. It makes sense. People want the smartest people to be in their company. You get paid for having a job and if you would own a company, would you want to pay someone who does less work or doesn't have as much education to have as much money as someone who works hard, never gives up, and has a good reputation? Jobs are important. They help you get money for a family and for a childs education. If you didn't go to college, you will probably not get a job, or a job where you don't get paid as much. If you don't get a job, your child might not have as much money for education. If you don't have as much money for education, your child may not go to college and they might not have a job. A solution to this problem might be to print more money, but keep the prices of items. Then people will get more money from their jobs and they can use it to help their children. Money is hard to get. You need to work hard. Printing more money might help, or having more companys that don't need to work as hard, so more people can have jobs. Jobs don't only help you, they help others.”
“If I could change one thing about the U.S. economic policy, I would make less machines. I would do this because machines have been taking possible jobs from people who need them. For example, the article says,"Machines do so much more work in today's factory. This has decreased the number of jobs offered at factories and can decrease wages for unskilled workers like Maddie". I would keep some machines because if they are more rare at factories, the people who make them will get more money from them. If anyone is in need for a job and looking for one, they could just go to a factory to get one. With the process being slower, more people will be needed. Also, machines can break-down, or go haywire, or even explode. When this happens, nothing will get done, because the machine has to be fixed. With people, there will be no delay.”
“From reading the article I think that the government should make schools less money because then they people that aren't that wealthy could get a good education just like wealthy people, and then they could get a job and make money to buy a house, food, and shelter! I also think that the economy should raise down taxes because than people and adults don't have to stress about them, and so they don't have to get annoyed about them.”
Wow, it looks like class 5DB is full of future political leaders! These answers are excellent examples of opinion writing. Each student states a claim, them provides details and evidence to support their thinking. These opinions advance our global learning community’s ideas about the current US political landscape.
Congratulations, Mr. Besancon’s class! You are excellent examples of PenPal Stars. We are excited to see you put these ideas into action in the future!
Want more project based learning ideas that support SEL? Check out these PBL examples:
PBL Example: Let’s Talk about Immigration
PBL Example: Student in Florida studies the impact of immigration
Students discuss news about gun violence in America
PBL Example: Student explores diverse perspectives through documentary filmmaking