A Social Studies Teacher Reflects on the International Youth Forum

We can all remember the times we discussed current events as part of our social studies classes in high school. I have fond memories of cutting out newspaper articles and writing summaries on white-lined paper. As a student, I enjoyed being called on by a teacher to give a summary of the topics being taught. Fast forward a couple decades; I am now on the other side of that desk providing students with the same memorable experiences.

Over the last two years, my students have had the unique opportunity to discuss current events with their international peers through videoconferencing programs offered by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. Just several weeks ago, our school [Cornell High School] had the honor of hosting an event with Reza Aslan, bestselling author and scholar. Using a talk show platform designed and produced by the class, students led the conversation with Mr. Aslan.

IMG_8443Cornell Student Interviewers with Dr. Reza Aslan, and Dr. Steven Sokol

Many social studies teachers in the region may already be familiar with the videoconferencing programs provided by the Council each year. Included in this repertoire is a unique type of videoconference heavily focused on collaboration: The International Youth Forum.

The International Youth Forum is a series of videoconferences in which the same students participate several times throughout the school year. Dr. Steven Sokol, President and CEO of the World Affairs Council, moderates the fora, which are focused on topics selected by the students. Last year, the topics were chosen from among the One Young World themes. What I found so interesting was watching my students talk with their peers internationally about something rather broad, such as education or human rights, and realizing that they have many more common attributes than differences.

One of the sessions that stood out most to me, covered the topic of Human Rights. Students in a South African school presented about the rights of women and human trafficking. Following the discussion, my students began exploring the issue of human trafficking in our own region and were shocked to find it is widespread in the United States. This led to a complex discussion of who is responsible for putting an end to human trafficking. Ultimately, my students agreed that although they could try to point the finger at criminals or government, in the end, we are all culpable.

I am really excited about this year’s International Youth Forum, which will focus on Global Trends using Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, a report published by the National Intelligence Council, as inspiration. Students will analyze the trends identified in the report, and discuss the implications on their lives with their peers from around the region and the world. I cannot imagine a better way to help prepare our students for their future.

The 2013-2014 International Youth Forum will kick off on October 30, 2013 with a presentation and discussion featuring Mr. Tom Sanderson, Co-Director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. To register for this videoconference and the rest of the International Youth Fora, see our website.

By Kris Hupp, 21st Century Teaching & Learning Coach at Cornell High School

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