Prior to last Tuesday's devastating events, your students may not have known a lot about Haiti. Now it is consistently being talked about on the news, and they are often hearing about it at home. In the midst of this tragedy, you can view this event as a teachable moment, addressing character education (empathy and giving), geography, and current events.
Your students need to know that Haiti encountered a great deal of poverty prior to the earthquake, that not all citizens had electricity, food was scarce, and waters that surrounded the island were so disgracefully polluted that they could not get any water from it or even swim in it.
Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, a contributor to the website Care.org, pointed out in a CBS News article, "By talking to your kids about the disaster in Haiti, they can learn that children from different parts of the world all share the common experience of humanity. It's important for them to understand that not all countries of the world are like America. Some countries are poor. Some countries have populations that struggle every day to get fresh water, food, a home. There are places out there full of children that don't have toys all the time, TV, the Internet, video games."
How is teaching about the Haitian earthquake a learning opportunity?
- Your students can learn vocabulary to understand the ramifications of poverty and disaster. These are words I gathered by looking through the features currently offered at CNN: transferring, orphans, preventable, critical, vital, inflatable hospital, intensive care unit, suffering multiple injuries, in-laws, collapsing, rations, relief, stable, sustained, rubble, correspondent, not life-threatening, displaced, refugees, and magnitude. Discuss these words with the students.
- They can use this current event to compare the earthquake to those in history. In 1755 in Lisbon, Portugal, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.6 killed 60,000 residents. On July 27, 1976 in Tangshan, China, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake claimed the lives of 255,000 residents. Here is a website including information about some of the most devastating earthquakes in history.
- Students can bring in newspaper articles from home as more assistance is offered. Create a timeline of pictures and articles showing how people are helping others in this traumatic time. Additionally, reading the newspaper expands students' schema and helps them to understand the most important news that is occurring in the world compared to their nation, state, and community.
- Simply talking to your students about not having the luxuries of electronics and toys may be a major empathy-related lesson in itself. Children often take things for granted and not realize that people have much less than them. Some child may be pouting that he or she did not receive the iPod Nano he or she wanted for Christmas, but they need to realize iPod Nanos and other "everyday conveniences" are not a possibility for the poverty-stricken families in Haiti.
- Students can respond to photos. They can write descriptions based on photos from the destruction that they locate on the Internet.
- Share an interactive map with your students. This online interactive map as well as this map from CNN teaches about the geography of Haiti as well as the areas that suffered the greatest devastation. Students can click parts of the map to view pictures from around the region. You can show it using a classroom projector as well.
- Although my district is not permitted to use Skype, you can possibly use it to chat with another class in the United States or world. Have your students share information they learned about the Haitian earthquake using Skype. Perhaps they can discuss with another class how they are going to be helping the victims of the earthquake. (This is not completely related, but you can read this awesome article and watch a video about using Skype in the educational setting.)
How can your students help?
- Your school can raise money for the cause. Whether it is the students in your classroom, a number of classes, or the entire school, any assistance can make a difference.
- If your students have items (old clothing or shoes, for example) that they are able to donate, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, including the subject line "Donation of" followed by the products they are willing to donate. A staffer will locate a relief and development agency that has the ability to transport collected items to the affected regions of Haiti.
- Families can be made aware that they can open their homes to a Haitian child. I was reading an article where a woman in Massachusetts mentioned in a comment that it is her ten-year old son's idea to open up their family home so a child feels safe in this challenging time. Several other families in the comments shared her concern. Families can also donate money to Haiti ($10.00) using texting or attending functions that are raising funds.
- You can sponsor a child from Haiti as a class. World Vision is just one organization that is dedicated to helping children in other countries. This is particularly a Christian-based organization I have heard a great deal about, but I am sure there are many incredible organizations that are offering to assist. Child sponsorship of a Haitian refugee can ensure clean water, nutritious food, health care, and education. Many organizations make it possible for you to write and receive letters from your child, which can be a great opportunity for your class. Save the Children is an organization where you can simply donate to the cause.
- Find extensive coverage by kids for kids from Scholastic Kids Press Corps. You'll find interviews, tips on how to help, how the Haitian community is coping and more.
- This Scholastic News Online article about the crisis in Haiti presents the crisis factually, but in a student appropriate manner. The article includes vocabulary and a paired worksheet.
- People are encountering great distress in locating loved ones who are in Haiti. If you need help in locating a loved one in Haiti, please call (888) 407-4747 or e-mail email@example.com.
- National Public Radio (NPR) also has compiled a list of excellent organizations that are working diligently to assist Haiti.
- This article from the New York Times Learning Network offers several tremendous suggestions as well.