9/11 – Was there a common story that united Americans?
Iran Hostage Crisis – Did the students accomplish their goals?
Navajo Code Talkers – Why would they volunteer for WWII when they had been treated so badly by the US government?
Celebrity Diplomacy – What drives it? What impact does it have?
US relations with Asia – How should the US deal with North Korea and its nuclear threat? How has cultural interaction been a part of the change in US relations with Japan since the end of WWII?
Public Diplomacy – What is the effectiveness of strategies like divestment, specifically examining the case of South Africa under apartheid?
As the major focus in our US foreign policy unit, students chose a topic to research and share their findings with me and the class. In one section, these are the topics students have presented so far, and we are about halfway done. I had planned to be done, but between extensive presentations and follow-up questions from the class, we have several more to hear. A few students made movies, but many are relying on Power Point presentations. The medium seems to matter less than the expertise. I allowed students to do whatever they wanted for the presentation, and focused my attention on getting them to dig deeply and really own their topics. I have told the students that the work delivered by their classmates is as much a part of the curriculum as if I was presenting on it.
This is going even better than I imagined. As I think about why the students’ work is so successful, I think it is a combination of things. They are very interested in the topics they chose. I stressed the need for them to become experts, pointing out that they need to know more about their topics than they plan to share. One student studying the Iran Hostage Crisis actually chose to write an essay. I asked him to share his findings briefly, and he ended up giving a twenty minute presentation. Also, the students created their own class rubric, which set high standards, but ones of their own design and agreement. They worked hard enough learning the information and what they think of it to exhibit confidence in their work, even though I know many were nervous. Finally, this class has developed a sense of community over the course of the year. There are many different personalities in the class, but they have taken my efforts to build a learning community seriously and have invested in the class.
We we still have more presentations to go, but the quality of the discussion that has followed each presentation has been impressive. When we have completed all of the presentations, we will have a roundtable discussion that takes us back to the original essential questions about US foreign policy that the class generated in the beginning of January. Not everything works out as well in the classroom as it does in my head. But it can. Sometimes it is even better.