Engaging Students in Contemporary World Problems with Critical Thinking

A student poster titled 'Sustaining a Child's Right to an Education' from the 'Creating Our Future' lesson'Interview with Darrellene Canada

In this interview Darrellene describes how she is using Facing the Future's high school textbook to engage her Contemporary World Problems students in critical thinking.

School: Lakes High School, Lakewood, WA

Grade: 12     Classroom Size: 30

Subject: Contemporary World Problems

 Classroom Challenges:

  • Achievement Gap
  • At-risk Youth
  • Classroom Management
  • Gifted/Advanced Learners
  • Large Classroom
  • Large Group Activities
  • Special Needs/Inclusion
  • Differentiated Instruction

Click on a topic below to read more about Darrellene's work:

Please describe your experience with Facing the Future materials and how you use them in your classroom:

"I designed a semester-long course as a collaborative experience for my students to explore global issues, sustainability, effective governance, peace and conflict, and how and why people address global issues through personal and structural solutions. The class is comprised of three "projects" and students demonstrate their learning from each through an oral presentation and reflection. 

A student poster from the 'Deep Space 3000' lessonThe class starts with students reading Unit 1 from It's All Connected called 'Getting Started with Global Issues'. The background reading prepares them to participate in a Model United Nations in which they act as country delegates, writing and presenting resolutions that address specific global issues. Unit 6 from It's All Connected is then used as a springboard for the 'Deep Space 3000'  project in which students design a spaceship that is going to leave the Earth for 3000 years and return with healthy, happy inhabitants [see Lesson 39 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. The class culminates with the Creating our Future Action Plan Project. 'Unit 7: Possible Future and Sustainable Solutions', serves as the foundation for this unit [see It's All Connected]. After selecting an issue from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, students answer the question, 'How do we create a just and humane world for ourselves and for future generations?' by using an action-planning model, visualizing their desired future, identifying objectives, developing a plan to address local and global issues, and implementing their vision through action and service planning. 

Facing the Future
allows you to adapt to fit the rest of your curriculum. It’s adaptable to everyone. I love it. It makes teaching Contemporary World Problems easy. My only problem is that I don’t have time to do more because there are other units I have to teach. Using It's All Connected has made Contemporary World Problems an engaging class that also meets standards and requires critical thinking."

Darrellene uses the following Facing the Future resources:

A lot of teachers struggle to find room in their curriculum for supplemental materials, like Facing the Future materials. How did you do this?

"I do it because Contemporary World Problems fits with It's All Connected. It would be very hard to adapt It's All Connected to U.S. History because of the specific curriculum required for that class. But each unit of It's All Connected could be a unit of Global History or Contemporary World Problems. For Contemporary World Problems, there is not a better source to cover what you need to cover. There are some topics that you need to supplement if you want to go in more depth, but all the topics are covered. "

What standards were used or met when using Facing the Future materials?

"I know that the Environmental and Sustainability Education standards in Washington state are covered. There are state standards for units for Contemporary World Problems that are covered. It also covers 21st century skills like critical thinking, collaboration, writing, technology, and creativity. All those skills are found within the units. If it were not, I could not have based Contemporary World Problems on this."

What were your main objectives/goals for this unit?

"My mission statement for the course is that my kids will be knowledgeable, compassionate, global citizens. With those attributes, I believe they will make informed choices and do what is good for humankind, not just what’s best for America. I want them to care and to ask themselves 'what can I do about it?' I don’t want apathy.

The essential questions for my course are:
  • How can youth be involved in global issues?
  • What does interdependence mean to me?
  • What does interconnectedness mean to me?
  • How can youth be global citizens?"

How were these goals met?

"Every project has an oral presentation. They have to convince us that they’ve met the goals of the project."

How do Facing the Future resources help you address your classroom challenges?

"The book [Engaging Students Through Global Issues] itself is engaging. My students try to steal my book. It’s colorful, they love the 'Youth in Action' sections, it’s easy to read. It’s adaptable so I can easily make it fit with my classes."

Darrellene's classroom challenges include:
  • "Achievement Gap

  • At-risk Youth

  • Classroom Management

  • Differentiated Instruction
    I have some special education kids who would never be able to do the work we do in my class. So I modify the materials. Instead of group based projects, I give them independent study.

  • Gifted or Advanced Learners

  • Large Classroom or Large Group Activities
    I alternate between group/independent work to accommodate all learners. Because not everyone wants to work in groups. You need to be self directed too.

  • Special Needs/Inclusion"

Did you make adjustments to Facing the Future lesson(s)/reading(s) for your classroom type?

A student poster titled 'Sustainable Solutions to Poverty' from the 'Creating Our Future' lesson"For the 'Deep Space 3000' project which I do with Unit 6, I told the students that the 1,000 people they take in their spaceship have to reflect the global village [see Lesson 39 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. We get this information from If the World Were a Village.”

For Unit 7 I changed the focus from global issues to the Millennium Development Goals because that connected with the Model UN work and the resolutions that they’d written on helping countries meet the Millennium Development Goals. This time they were writing action plans about an Millennium Development Goal.

I had the kids make political cartoons based on the Millennium Development Goals because it forces them to have a message - it’s an editorial in a picture. It’s hard for kids to have an opinion and this forces them to have one."

What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"The projects themselves. The 'Deep Space 3000' one scares them initially because of the drawing, but then they get into it [see Lesson 39 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]."

What resources do you use to complement Facing the Future materials?

"Often you can take one piece from Facing the Future and expand from it. It’s very inclusive and includes everything.

  • I use Fast Facts, Quick Actions links and the graphics from Facing the Future.
  • I often use the video Sustainability in the 21st Century as an introduction.
  • I make up reading packets myself. I go online and compile reading packets.
  • I use a song from Carrie Underwood called 'Change'. I pass out the lyrics and then have students write a rap, song, or poster about the lyrics."

How did these resources complement each other?

"I start off with It's All Connected, that’s a given. Sometimes the Facing the Future material is broad, and then I’ll pull in specific resources. For example, the info on the Millennium Development Goals and the UN is fairly brief so I implement that with other things, like how to write resolutions."

Did you incorporate an action project or service learning component into this unit?

"Unit 7 is an action plan and that I called 'Creating Our Future Action Plan Project' [see It's All Connected].  In fact, one of my students in the pre/post tests wrote that she now knew how to write an action plan and she could become involved in things. I want my kids to be active and this helps."

Do Facing the Future materials help you be a better teacher?

"I think so. All teachers are looking for new ways to engage students. Or something you can modify to fit in with what you are already doing to engage students. It allowed me to expand on what I was already doing. Contemporary World Problems is so interdisciplinary."

Does using these materials help you reach your professional goals or help you grow as an educator?

"Definitely. I cannot tell you enough l how much I love It's All Connected. The book is not just content, it’s good teaching. If it’s good teaching, then you’ll meet your standards and engage kids."

Have Facing the Future materials helped you participate in school or district-wide sustainability projects?

"We did a project called Operation Yellow Ribbon. After 911 there was a community in Canada that opened up to Americans who couldn’t get back to the U.S. because they were flying back from overseas. We did a project to thank those communities. One of the schools is involved is making their school and city green. We’re going to partner with them to engage in a green project next year."

How do you assess this course?

"Very few kids fail Contemporary World Problems and that’s because they like it. There are usually project based assessments. They do the questions for each chapter."

What advice, if any, would you give to teachers using these Facing the Future lessons for the first time?

"First read through it and find out where you want to start. You don’t need to start at the 'beginning'. Think about what you can incorporate into what you already do so it’s less overwhelming. Look for a connection to what you already do. Change as you go."

Tell me about something within this course that went well and something that did not go as well.

"Sometimes in the project the students missed the most important part. And then I ask myself, did I not get it? So I look back at my teaching and adjust to make the points less ambiguous. For example, I changed the 'Deep Space 3000' activity to include the global village instead of just Americans. It’s often teacher error and I have to adjust. Sometimes I try to cover too much and sometime less is more.

They love the projects. There is not one that we’ve done that they haven’t liked. 'Youth in Action' is a great piece. Kids like to see what other kids are doing."

Student Artifacts

Below you will find more student work samples from Darrellene's Contemporary World Problems course.

A student poster titled 'Ensure Environmental Sustainability' from the 'Creating Our Future' lesson   A student poster titled 'Reducing Infant Mortality Rates' from the 'Creating Our Future' lesson
A student poster titled 'Sustainable Solutions to Eradicate Poverty' from the 'Creating Our Future' lesson  A student poster titled 'Water Pollution Facts' 

Learn more about Darrellene's work


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We equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future through hands-on curricula and professional learning.

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