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Puzzling Words and Word Puzzles

Understanding any subject matter -- whether it is political science, economics, or mathematics -- demands that we develop a new vocabulary so we can explain ideas within that particular context. Developing a "current events" vocabulary can be done by finding ways to play with the meaning of words. Students' understanding of and interest in key terms can be increased by defining selected words and examining their etymology.

Etymology is the study of the history
of words and their changing use.

For example, a circadian rhythm, explained in a program on light, might seem incomprehensible at first. The phrase is simplified, however, once a student knows that the word circadian comes from the Latin word "circa" meaning "about" and "dia" meaning "day". By knowing the Latin root, students can understand that a circadian rhythm occurs in about a day because it depends on alternating cycles of day and night.

Sometimes a word might be interesting to explore because the word is in the midst of redefinition. For example, family comes from the Latin word "familia" meaning "household" and included servants. Over time the common use of this term has shifted. In the 50's "family" was defined as a man and a women and their biological children. In the recent news programs, the meaning of family has become a serious debate.

Sponsoring Puzzling Words and Word Puzzles

Teacher and students who enjoy playing with language might find this a fun project. Students would watch the program with a notepad and pencil jotting down a few words each week that were of interest. They would ask those students in distant classes on this project to join them in this activity. Then the students would use dictionaries to explore the etymology and history of the words. These words and some notes about them would be added to a Circle glossary.

As the glossary develops, the words and meanings could be used by the students participating in this project to create word puzzles such as acrostics, riddles or crossword puzzles. The students might also want to use the background of the word, some of the embedded words to create a word pictures to help make the meaning more memorable.

Publishing Puzzling Words and Word Puzzles

For this project idea, the sponsoring class may want to publish their section in two parts. One could be the glossary of words with their etymology, and definitions. The second part could be a series of puzzles, word pictures and word games that the students have created using the words in the glossary.

News Detectives

Reporters often have to hunt down their stories by following clues, collecting facts and interviewing people. A violent incident or a discovery of weapons at a school might be the beginning of a program on violence in schools. Reporters will need to explore the scale of the problem by talking to students, teachers and principals at school across the country. They may search newspapers across the country for stories that involve school violence. Juvenile halls, alternative schools and special programs aimed at reducing violent behavior are places reporters may explore for facts and clues that will contribute to their story.

Sponsoring News Detectives

The News Detective Project helps students discover the connections between national and international stories and their own community and region. The sponsoring classroom takes the lead by identifying a national or international news item and inviting students to be news detectives searching for local and regional news related to that issue. They should encourage their partners to identify the national and/or international implications of the selected items.

For example, after watching a news segment on aid to Somalia, the students might explore how this action affects people in their community. Perhaps there are families in the community who have fathers, mothers, sons, or daughters sent to Somalia. What is their personal reaction to this complicated problem? Or students might approach the broader issue of hunger -- and how to address this problem in their community. Perhaps there is a local food bank struggling to survive. Meals on Wheels might be an active community agency.

Recognizing the common themes, regardless of the geographic scale, might prompt students to investigate local problems and become more involved in finding solutions for community problems. With some good detective work, students may find that the problem of hunger exists in their own community.

Publishing News Detectives

The sponsoring classroom would collect, select and edit these contributions for the News Detectives section of the news magazine.

This project encourages students to learn more about one another's communities and regions. It may also help students to understand that their different communities share many similar concerns but with specific details determined by factors like their population density, geographic location, transportation and local economy.

Circle Surveys

News stories often report controversial issues discussing the different sides of a complex issue . For example, recently a special committee was assembled by the Senate to explore the role of women in the military. The committee recommendation was that women continue to be banned from all combat units. But there were many people who disagreed with this recommendation.

Often newspapers, news-magazines and television stations conduct or report the results of public opinion polls. What is your opinion of this recommendation and how would it have been viewed by your Learning Circle partners?

Sponsoring Circle Surveys

The sponsors of Circle Surveys will be interested in measuring the response of the circle participants on topics that are currently in the news. One way to sponsor a project on surveys is for the sponsors to pick an issue that was covered in one of the news or feature segments and design a short survey for the students in the other classes. For example, after a feature program on women and combat, the sponsoring class might send the following opinion survey to the Circle.

A committee of military experts appointed by the president to make recommendations to the Senate announced last week that women should continue to be banned from combat, both on the ground and in the air.

What do you think?
(A) Women should be banned from all combat.
(B) Women should be banned from ground combat but
permitted to fly in combat.
(C) Women should be permitted to assume any job for
which they are qualified, including combat positions.

The sponsoring class specifies the procedure for collecting and reporting the information. For example, in this survey, the request may be to collect the responses of male and female students separately.

Publishing the Circle Surveys

The class conducting the survey will have an opportunity to hone their math skills by computing percentages and graphing the results. The class can explore the possibility of regional differences in response rates. The results will be shared with the Learning Circle along with a summary statement explaining their reason for the survey and their interpretation of the findings. The sponsoring class might ask partner classes to explain why they voted as they did on a particular survey so that all members of the Learning Circle can find out more about what their partners think and believe.


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Copyright © 1997, 2002, Margaret Riel