Student perceptions, Google Earth and OBL

Last week, amidst all of the OBL debrief, I was really pushing my class to think bigger and more globally.  During some of our discussions about whether this changed anything, I got the sense that many of my students did not understand the importance of the lines that we crossed.  As more information was presented, we processed it as a class and took the excitement as an entry into how we think of ourselves in a global perspective (as I’m sure many have).

After hearing in my gradclasses about some of the successes with Google Earth, I decided it was time to take a tour.  After spending a night trying to figure out whether our school computers would support a ten-year-old PC gamepad (from my own adolescent gaming days), I looked up the GPS coordinates of some major cities in the Iraq and Afghan war as well as took my own little flight tour around the area of Pakistan where OBL was taken down.

The next day, we booted up the classroom PC (a lengthy process) and shot some questions around about the places we’d heard about during the course of this larger-scale war on terrorism.  The gamers were all impressed with how spontaneously a game controller became a learning tool.  (And how I got criticized for my flying.  I crashed only twice before took it really easy.)  As I took them on my tour, we inferred from the satellite imagery what the climates were like, leading to one of my favorite quotes of the week: “Why does TV keep telling me that Afghanistan looks like one big huge desert?”  Somewhere along the way, some of my students had begun confusing images from the war in Iraq with that of Afghanistan.   I dismissed the idea that Afghanistan and Pakistan were just deserts (of the poor, apparently, too) by showing them pictures of new schools, beautiful monuments or just otherwise “normal” city features that my students haven’t been exposed to.

While I’m impressed by how engaged and curious my students were in our use of Google Earth, I can’t help but feel that I now feel more obligated to teach a little more to the state of being that the United States is in — a decade now of war.  As I hear of college buddies returning from Afghanistan; as I hear of teachers starting units on The Things They Carried; as I wonder at how I’m going to end the year; and as I revisit where I was when 9/11 happened, it’s a goal worthy but difficult to even know where to start.  Hopefully just with a short tour and a few questions, I’ve at least sparked the questions and curiosity of my students’ minds, so they, too, can guide the venture.

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