I would love every class in California (at least) to learn about what is happening to the educational system. A lesson on the budget cuts this year is engaging because it affects students personally, and can be related to academic subjects at any grade level. I’ve spoken to and organized protest activities with K-5th graders, so my suggestions are tailored to elementary schools. I would welcome any further ideas, for any age group, or any account of what you’ve already done in the classroom: e-mail RebeccaH.Glaseremail@example.com to contribute.
Kids have responded well to talking about money first. $4.8 billion – do they know how many 0s are in a billion? What’s the most expensive item they’ve ever purchased? What’s the most expensive item their parents have ever purchased? How many of those could they buy with $4.8 billion? If they’ve learned long division, let them to the math, or write it out big for them to see. If they’re learning about calculators, use them; but most calculators don’t have enough places for 4.8 billion (cross out as many 0s from both numbers as you can, then divide).
Talk about what is likely to disappear in response to losing this money. Extracurricular activities, teachers, staff, and per-student spending (already atrocious) are the big ones. Use the statistics, or let them do the math: classrooms might increase by 35%, between 10,000 and 14,000 teachers have already received pink slips, and California is already 46th-47th in the nation for per student spending. Have students imagine what their classroom would be like with $24,000 less invested in it for the year. (Key point: school won’t be canceled. They won’t get to stay home, hang out, or watch movies.)
Lead into what we can do about it; I think it’s best to let them develop their own plan as much as possible. Ideas worth suggesting to them range from a 30 minute activity (write letters) to a project that can last weeks (write and perform a play, a song, a rap, or other performance). Making posters with writing or images are effective and appropriate to a public school setting: on April 18th we prompted them to draw and write about their favorite part of school, and are now making “budget cut monsters” (because the budget cuts are monstrous) and a banner that we traced their silhouettes onto, colored in, and drew them holding signs with a written message. Put up a large poster low on the wall, write a brief “Dear Governor” message at the top, and leave the rest blank for students to write their own messages in colored markers. Tearing up mock pink slips, having a march around the school, making buttons, hats, t-shirts, etc are all possibilities. Present the idea of an appropriate time to make lots of noise – this is it – and let them plan out a slogan to shout, play drums and other instruments, or go to the other extreme and stage a silent protest.
Document what you do. If possible, take digital pictures and video, which can go into school newsletters, be posted on classroom walls, or be posted on the internet for the kids to look at themselves. Kids and parents love photos and these media make it possible for them to reach an unlimited audience- they can even make their own newsletter about their actions, write e-mails to government officials with a video of their performance attached, or develop a slideshow or powerpoint presentation. They can start their own blog or are more than welcome to contribute any writing, pictures, or video to this one.
In the words of Fairmount Elementary students: STOP STEALING OUR $ SCHWARZENEGGER! Let us know what you have to say!