Connecting Current Events and Science to Encourage SEL
A former science teacher’s take on integrating StudySync’s SyncBlasts™ into the science classroom.
By Kayla Demuth, Academic Designer and Former High School Science Teacher
Current events. When I was in the classroom, I oftentimes used these when I needed to buy myself some time at the beginning or end of a class period. I’m not proud of that, but it’s real. At best, current events facilitated reading comprehension and enlightened students to things like new technologies or global crises. At worst, they are boring and mindless assignments. There are a lot of things I would do differently if I ever went back to the classroom, and one of them would be to make sure that all my assignments had clear meaning and value to my students. So when I heard that McGraw-Hill had an exclusive partnership with StudySync and SyncBlasts™, I got excited.
These SyncBlasts are current event articles in science, but offer teachers an endless number of tools and ideas to make the content in these articles meaningful to students.
They offer every article in three different lexile levels, comprehension questions to ensure students are understanding what they are reading about, “Quikpolls” so teachers can get a feel for how their students feel about the topic, and writing prompts and discussion questions that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) surrounding the topic.
All these tools that come along with these current event articles inherently help teachers give the content more value and meaning to their students, but in reading many of the included discussion questions and prompts, I couldn’t help but think about how teachers could take these a step further and support their students’ social and emotional learning (SEL). Here are a few ideas:
Learn about emotion and how to handle it in the classroom
One of the first SyncBlasts I came across while I was exploring the site was called “Feeling Blue.” It discusses some scientific findings about interpreting other people’s emotions and brought up meditation as a possible tool to help identify not only one’s own emotions, but also the emotions of others. I think this could be an awesome article to give students toward the beginning of the school year as teachers start to set up classroom culture, and it offers a vehicle for candid discussions about identifying and regulating emotion in a positive, productive manner.
How it supports SEL: An integral part of implementing social and emotional practices in the classroom is explicit instruction in it. Having students read and discuss this article is a great way to show how to handle emotions and what that could look like in your own classroom. Teachers could even carve out a couple minutes of classroom time for meditation here and there to reinforce positive practices throughout the school year. Conversations surrounding this article would touch on two social and emotional core competencies: self-awareness and self-management.
Use the discussion questions to facilitate a classroom debate
Some of the articles, like one on vaccinations, are potentially controversial. After students are assigned the article and the class has a general discussion surrounding them, you could place students in teams and assign them a “side” they must argue for or against (teachers could even be intentional about placing students onto teams where they must argue against their initial beliefs). The students could utilize the extra research links provided by the SyncBlast, along with their own research, to come up with their arguments and, ultimately, debate another team. The topic of these debates oftentimes can be driven by the discussion questions that the SyncBlast offers.
How it supports SEL: Debates inherently hit on a few of the core competencies of SEL since they require students to communicate effectively, listen, work with a team, respect others, and potentially take on different perspectives. These debates, when facilitated effectively, could provide valuable opportunities for teachers to reiterate the importance of these skills in everyday situations, while also giving students opportunities to practice these skills.
Enhance student problem-solving skills
Many of the articles discuss relevant societal issues such as concussions, superbugs, and alternative energy sources. After students read articles over these sorts of topics, teachers could assign a mini team project in which teams must come up with alternate solutions to the problems or an awareness campaign. They might even interview others to learn more about how these topics affect lives now and how lives could be affected in the future.
How it supports SEL: These team project ideas would support relationship skills and responsible decision-making core competencies. Complex social problems require students to be able to take perspectives on issues that are relevant to their lives. Students would also need to be able to work in a team atmosphere effectively in order to identify problems, come up with ideas to solve problems while realizing constraints (either societal, scientific, or financial), and maybe even get into a discussion about ethical responsibility.
The topics and discussion questions offered by SyncBlasts give teachers endless opportunities and ideas to support students in their learning of content and social and emotional literacy. These SyncBlasts can be a valuable, time-saving resource for teachers and help make the science classroom not only a place of curiosity and wonder, but also a safe place where students can learn to listen and respect different perspectives, work together to come up with solutions, and maybe even learn some coping strategies for when frustrations arise.
I would love to hear your ideas on how you use, or could use these SyncBlasts in the classroom!
Kayla Demuth has been with McGraw-Hill for one year as an Academic Designer for the middle school science programs. She comes from the high school classroom where she taught physical science and biology. Her time as an educator helped spark a passion in helping students realize their value and become the best versions of themselves. She now takes this passion and applies it to her current role by getting involved in research and training surrounding social emotional learning. Outside her job, she enjoys visiting new coffee shops and hanging out with her husband and ten-month-old daughter.
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