Approaches to #GlobalEd: Understanding and Solving Global Problems

Jennifer D. Klein
“There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you.  The world doesn’t care what you know.  What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.” –Tony Wagner

Another essential goal of global education is to help students understand the roots of our most pervasive global problems, and to develop students’ ability to come up with new solutions.  Young people are often told they’re being prepared to lead change in the future, yet youth movements are creating real and immediate change as much as any other grassroots movements on the planet.  The truth is that young people can be catalysts of change now, but to do so they need to understand the history behind and nuances of our most pressing, borderless problems.  Even more importantly, students need their divergent and creative skills developed so that they can learn to ask good questions and ultimately develop innovative new solutions.

This requires a significant shift toward student-driven, inquiry-based pedagogies in the classroom; rather than teaching toward a set of known answers, we now need to foster classrooms where an unusual, unexpected answer is the best answer, and we are preparing students with the habits of mind which will allow them to navigate an uncertain, volatile future.  As teachers, we need to pose questions with many possible answers, and to help students see every answer as valuable and worth considering if it offers a constructive solution to the problems faced by our increasingly interconnected societies.

At the Moses Brown School and the Berkeley Carroll School, students chose from the Millennium Development Goals and worked in teams explore the nature of the problems underlying each goal–where these problems exist, what the repercussions are, and what solutions are being posed and tried by governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Using the platform of TakingITGlobal to connect with organizations and youth around the world, students worked together to analyze solutions, and each team presented on what they believed to be the best solution for their global problem in a particular context.  At Moses Brown School, 9th grade students produced videos and letters designed to persuade their student government to invest in the organization of their choice.  At the Berkeley Carroll School, students put on a global issues fair for their peers, to educate their broader community about a myriad of global issues and solutions.  Please note that both projects will be presented at the annual conferences of the National Council for Social Studies (November, 2013) and the National Association of Independent Schools (February, 2014).

Try this in your classroom:  
Create a “global village” activity in which teams of students are given the roles of different countries–and their share of 100 pennies based on the actual economy of that country.  This can also be adapted to include objects for household use or other resources.  Give the whole class a set of everyday challenges (food for family, education for children, home, health care, clean water, etc.), and have students work in teams to determine how to best spend their limited money (be sure that no team has enough resources to afford everything, so that choices are required).

See an excellent, more developed model of a global simulation with middle schoolers at the Heifer Global Village.  This approach is not just for older students, either; see John Hunter’s extraordinary work with 4th graders through the World Peace Game.

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