Student Well-Being Opinion

When Tragedy Strikes, Internet Resources Can Enrich ‘Teachable Moments’

By Steven D'Ascoli — December 15, 2015 2 min read
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In the escalating landscape of global terror attacks and violent events within our boarders, it is critical that we as educators provide our students with time and space to conceptualize what is happening both in their local community and in the world at large. As teachers we have the unique chance to create and foster necessary avenues for students to share ideas, ask questions, and discuss topics that leave them searching for relevant answers.

Steven P. D’Ascoli

Even if educators don’t know how to approach these conversations, we are fortunate to live in a hyperconnected world that offers an abundance of resources. After the events of the Paris attacks unfolded over a long weekend of sorrow and uncertainty, I knew that I couldn’t jump back into my curriculum. I didn’t know what to do, only that I needed to do something.

As a connected educator on Twitter, I decided to utilize other Internet avenues to leverage an entire community of educators to gain insight and momentum. We as teachers can access a myriad of resources that can guide “teachable moments” we might otherwise let pass into history.

While searching in particular for ideas on how to approach the Paris attacks myself, I came across a very thoughtful blog post by Karen Murphy, international director of Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit organization devoted to studying the historical development of genocides. In the post, Murphy offers strategies for teachers to discuss the Paris attacks. Her suggestions included having students write down and discuss their questions or concerns, look at memorials and understand why things are memorialized, and even come up with ideas for Paris memorials to remember the victims and the social injustices that occurred. Inspired by her ideas I created my own classroom activities. Murphy’s article was the catalyst that allowed me to offer truly meaningful and transformative experiences to my own students. It took away the paralysis of tackling this overwhelming global event within the walls of my classroom.

Being a reflective practitioner connected to other professionals afforded me the opportunity to harness the information I needed and create powerful learning experiences for my students. It also reaffirmed that our students’ education does not exist in a vacuum, unrelated to local and global events. Rather, educational experiences ought to be emboldened by the current events we are entrenched in. As educators, we need to have the resolve to take a step back from our mandated curriculum to embrace fertile opportunities that support our students’ pursuit for answers to authentic life dilemmas.

Schools are a critical conduit and we educators are granted the great responsibility of crafting truly meaningful curriculum experiences that equip our students to wrestle with tough situations. By doing so, we can raise up a generation that has the grit and wherewithal to deal with an ever-changing world. By harnessing information via technology and engaging in meaningful discussions with peers, we can make a difference.

Steven P. D’Ascoli has been teaching for nine years at Valhalla Middle High School. Previously, he was an adjunct professor at the school of education at Pace University, Westchester County Campus.

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