When was the last time you explored the nuances and depth of another person’s culture? The students in Chanda Bloom’s 7th grade social studies class at Hereford Middle School in Monkton, Maryland, wrestle with these questions on a daily basis. Between understanding the circumstances that have influenced the modern expression of another culture, to considering the variance of sub-cultures that can exist within a single society, Bloom tries to find real world examples of these issues to share with her students.
“The physical world changes cultures, and cultures change the physical world,” says Bloom. “So I might show a video clip of like floods in India and they can make those connections.”
While Bloom could embed video resources from a variety of different sources, she was excited when she learned that her district, Baltimore County Public Schools, is a subscriber to NBC Learn. With more than 20,000 stories, including many with a focus on events occurring outside the United States, the site has become her go-to video database.
“I love it,” says Bloom. “I remember when I was 11 years old and my parents watched the news. My son is always like, ‘The news is always so boring.” But then when you play it in the classroom in the context of what you are learning, it is a totally different thing.”
NBC Learn not only provides relevance, context and a clear hook for teachers in different subject areas, but for Bloom the resource also helps reach her students at their own individual levels. She can teach to her students’ different modalities and engage them in ways that are authentic to her teaching style and captivating to her kids.
“I really like to use video in combination with text,” says Bloom. “That to me is such a magic combination. I think it just hits so many different aspects of the brain and development. If you have kids that are struggling readers, then you can show a video clip and it can really help those kids kind of make sense of things. I think it just adds another dimension to their learning.”
Tactically, NBC Learn’s resources can be used in a multitude of ways. For Bloom, she not only uses them to introduce new topics but also to ignite critical thinking.
“A lot of times I’ll use them as conversation starters,” says Bloom. “We’ll watch a video and I can ask a question that maybe is a thought provoking question that can spark classroom conversations sometimes or debates.”
Those debates come in all forms, whether it’s about a particular hot button issue or simply a fun extension activity that helps reinforce a key overarching lesson of her social studies class.
“We have something called the Themes of World Cultures that are themes from our curriculum guide. They guide us in the way that we look at cultures and countries,” says Bloom. “Every year in both 6th grade and in 7th grade, I’ve been able to find NBC Learn clips that match to that and it’s kind of like a game. I play a clip and they have to figure out which theme it most matches to.”
These themes include understanding how the physical world influences cultures and cultures influence the physical world, how cultures meet and exchange ideas and goods, how they struggle with tradition, and how they can gain or lose power over time.
“[NBC Learn] is just an absolutely perfect fit for what I teach the kids because we look at cultures from the very beginning,” says Bloom. “What’s nice about NBC Learn is that they have short video clips that can go with almost every topic that I study. Even if it’s something that’s historic, before video was ever invented. A lot of times they have films and video clips about things where maybe they go back to historical sites and they talk about those historical sites. I can still put them in to the ancient history too.”
For example, during a lesson that NBC Learn observed, Bloom introduced her students to Europe by playing a clip from Matt Lauer walking on the floor of the Colosseum in Rome. The story, featured on the TODAY Show as part of the “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” series, showcases what life was like for gladiators, the animals that they battled, and average citizens.
In addition to showing the Colosseum video, Bloom’s lesson plan included 5 other NBC Learn stories that she felt would help expand students’ background knowledge and prompt their intrigue for future lessons about Europe. During this initial lesson, Bloom showed a Jane Pauley piece from 1989 discussing the history of the Rhine River in Germany and an NBC Learn original story about an ancient castle that is being constructed today in France using 17th century techniques. Due to limited time, she wasn’t able to get to all of the resources included in her lesson plan, but she was also hoping to show a modern video about a train station in Budapest that closed in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis and a video that was originally broadcast back in 1976 highlighting the importance of the Magna Carta.
“I couldn’t believe that I found something about the Magna Carta and it was an old one,” says Bloom. “I think the kids love watching the old clips because you see the ‘80s hair and all that. But then I know they think it’s really cool when you play the new ones where you see Lester Holt and they’re like, ‘Hey! I know who that is.’ It just feels like something that is exciting for middle schoolers when they watch the news in the classroom and kind of see what’s happening.”
At the conclusion of her lesson, Bloom turned the table on her students and had them play journalist by working with a partner and interviewing them to find out what they are most interested to learn about Europe. The activity was the perfect way to summarize the class’s initial introduction to a brand new continent.
“What I found was most valuable today was that when they left, they were excited about the things that they were getting to learn about with Europe,” says Bloom. “It helped excite them about what they were getting ready to do much more [than] if they had just looked at the text only.”
The videos not only enhanced Bloom’s lesson but also gave a critical touch point to her students as they delved deeper into future topics.
“What’s going to be great is that I know a month from now when we are doing immigration, they are going to say, ‘Remember that video that we watched’ and they are going to have that connection to be able to go back to that,” says Bloom. “I think that is very valuable. I’ve used NBC Learn a lot and I’ve used it in other ways too, but this was a nice preview.”