Higher Learning

I recently started teaching junior high school and quickly realized that the possibilities for content are greatly expanded compared to the primary and elementary level. These young adults are mature enough to approach all sorts of ideas and they are ready to question your assertions and defend their beliefs. It is an invigorating and formative age.

The exciting part for me is that it is actually possible to incorporate some of the reading and listening that I do in my own life into discussions and activities for my students. In this post I will recommend a few sources of written, spoken, and video content that you may find interesting on its own, or find creative and efficacious ways to incorporate into your lessons.

The site Longreads vets and posts long form journalism from around the world (though with an American focus) and chooses top picks from its weekly output. The range of stories is broad and the sheer volume of articles is staggering. Helpfully, you can search by a short list of topics and use their “Best Of” and “Editors’ Picks” to try and narrow down your search. Bonus: they have a word count and estimated read time before most articles.

Likewise, I keep the Guardian’s Long Reads in my podcast subscriptions and download when a title piques my interest. All topics are drawn from the Guardian’s print sources but are all ‘long form’ and so comprise deeper dives into topics, experiences, and opinions.

I subscribe to the PBS Idea Channel on Youtube to get 10-15 minute explorations of a variety of topics, diverse as “Is the internet a public place?”, “What’s the difference between history and the past?”, and “Is Super Mario a surrealist masterpiece?” It has channels separating its “fun” content from its “serious” content but all is presented in the same approachable manner that is engaging and thought provoking. It may be especially useful for the teacher that finds it difficult to keep up with what kids are ‘into’ these days.

Maria Popova has been running Brain Pickings for about 10 years and the quality of the content is always exceptional. She covers a wide range of topics but generally extracts the nuggets of wisdom from popular and obscure literature of all times and genres. Whether she is talking about an ancient Greek’s letters to his mother or the existential observations of a wonderfully illustrated children’s book, she always ends the article with suggestions of how to delve deeper into the topic.

A newer find for me is the hilarious and poignantly honest Wait but Why. You will have to read it and vet it for yourself because writer Tim Urban does use the odd curse word, but always in a natural way a modern teenager wouldn’t bat an eye over. Older posts are pop culture commentaries and observations while recent posts are sparser and follow specific themes more akin to journalism.

For a panoply of great articles, browse The Electric Typewriter. You will be glad you did.

Finally, I can’t say enough about Hardcore History. Dan Carlin’s approach to the themes and events of history is fresh and engaging. Perhaps you have to be a hardcore history fan to sit through his audiobook-length discussions, but considering that the podcast has been one of the most popular for years, we know there is a large and loyal audience out there. More recently I have listened to the Revolutions Podcast by Mike Duncan, which is also quite good but lacks something of the colour and contextualization that Carlin brings to his work.

Please comment if you have any sources of content that would be suitable for use in the junior-high classroom.

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