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PenPal News in Action

Over the past few months, I have been working with Michael Bernstein at PenPal News to develop curriculum for PenPal Red/Blue, a six-week exchange where classrooms across the country are sharing and learning about election-year issues. I recently had the pleasure of spending the morning with a sixth grade class in Manhattan who has been participating in PenPal News Red/Blue. It was incredible to see the program come to life!

During my visit, students were learning about our economy and reading a piece called What America Does For Work. The group of students I observed decided to take notes on the article before responding to their penpal. Because the article presented two visuals, a few students decided to create T-Charts in their notebook to help them understand the data in the chart. I was overwhelmed with excitement when I saw the initiative they were taking! Students were able to compare and analyze the information to make important overarching observations about the change in jobs over time.

While the students were undoubtedly remarkable, I was most blown away by the teacher! When building curriculum for PenPal News we try to provide enough structure so that teachers feel comfortable, while at the same time leaving enough room for creativity so that teachers can make each lesson their own. The teacher I observed created two tools to help her students with PenPal News. Firstly, she created a protocol poster to provide students with a visual agenda and some simple rules to abide by when using the program (see below.) She also created a “Power Word List,” where she chooses powerful vocabulary from the article (which she has pre-read!) to preview with students so they begin the article feeling prepared.

I am so fortunate that I had an opportunity to observe this incredible class. Get into the classroom if you can…especially if you are developing an EdTech tool!

Make sure to check out PenPal News and take a look at our one-minute explainer videos to see how we take challenging issues and make them accessible for 12-18 year olds.

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